Theology of Art (Piper)
John Piper offers a wonderful theology of art, in which he defines art as that which is done not merely for utilitarian purposes, but to move or affect.
Strengths of this definition:
What we could add to this brief definition:
Urbanization & You
The world spins madly on, and as it spins, our population continues to increase.
Over and over again, artists have questioned our tendency to clump together in urban centers and destroy the natural world around us. At the same time, philosophers and theologians contemplate how historical truths apply in an ever-changing landscape.
We often take our surroundings for granted, but that can be dangerous. Rather than accepting the status quo, we should follow the lead of artists like Yang Yongliang and consider where our trajectory will take us. For those of us who believe in God, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of our time, our energy, our people, and our world.
Good Design & Good Results
Good design has dramatic effects upon the human brain. We have all sensed that in one way or another — maybe through an abstraction painted by Pollock, a computer designed by Apple, or a sunset displayed by God. But have you ever wondered why?
“Why We Love Beautiful Things” (you can read it here) is a well-written article that explores the connection between good design and science. It is worth reading for anyone who enjoys art and its relation to our brains. Here is how the article ends:
“We think of great design as art, not science, a mysterious gift from the gods, not something that results just from diligent and informed study. But if every designer understood more about the mathematics of attraction, the mechanics of affection, all design — from houses to cellphones to offices and cars — could both look good and be good for you.”
I would add that science, too, is a gift from God. Science does not diminish from art, but adds to the incredible wonder of our complex, yet utterly coherent, world that God has made. From a theistic viewpoint, art and science compliment each other because they have a common Creator, so these findings should not surprise us, but rather encourage us as we pursue the arts and sciences.
Photo: NY Times (click image for link)
Valentine’s Day & God
Depending on your stage of life, Valentine’s Day can be exciting, romantic, confusing, lonely, or depressing.
Whether or not you are in a relationship, holidays like these raise expectations so high that sometimes those expectations are impossible to meet. Today, some people will be let down because they are not in a relationship. Others will be let down for by their significant other, their fiance, or their spouse. The plain fact is that human beings eventually let us down.
On days like these, we must remember the Kingdom of Heaven. Valentine’s Day is not part of the liturgical calendar, of course, but as an artifact of our society, what does Valentine’s Day remind us about God and our relationship with him?
1) God cares about your loneliness. (Gen. 2:18)
2) God establishes friendships, families, marriages, and churches, so you do not need to be alone. (Gal. 3:28)
3) God provides companionship when no one else does. (Ps. 62:2)
4) God restores relationships and will eventually heal every heart. (Rev. 21:4)
No matter how this day goes for you, be comforted that God cares. After all, He is the One who created relationships in the first place. Although we often miss out on healthy relationships, and although we sometimes mess them up, God is always there to heal our broken hearts. When we place our expectations in him, we will never be disappointed.
On this wonderful MLK day, let us remember the sacrifice and dedication of all those who have continued Christ’s work of bringing together all people. Our God is a God of reconciliation, and He is the one who unites different races and ethnicities. Let us celebrate His work through His Son and through His people.
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us… He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News.
(Selections from Ephesians 2-3)
Desiring Joy Not Joyful Suffering
I am deeply concerned about a trend in some Christian circles to glorify suffering, as if suffering is somehow a good thing. Over the past few months, I have heard that suffering should not only be anticipated, but gladly accepted because of its benefits. Of course, this is not exactly a “recent” trend, but one that can be traced back to Catholics in the Middle Ages. To this, I would like to offer an important clarification.
First of all, there is nothing good in suffering itself. God does not delight in the suffering of a person being killed, nor did Jesus find any satisfaction in His crucifixion. Suffering involves suffering, and we know from Scripture that God abhors violence. Simply put, God does not delight in pain.
Errantly, it has been said that “there is nothing inherently evil about suffering,” but this needs to be qualified. Although this is true for an athlete in training or a religious person who fasts from a meal, this is not normally what we mean when talking about “suffering.” Usually, suffering involves physical, emotional, and relational pain. We cannot categorize all suffering as the same. Some sufferings are voluntary or amoral, while other sufferings are involuntary or immoral.
Experiencing this latter kind of suffering, a sufferer undergoes pain, and the reality of that pain should never be diminished. There is nothing good about a child dying. Nothing good about an instance of abuse, murder, rape, or any other horrific evil in the world. Evil is evil, and it would be a tragic error to ever suggest otherwise. As it says in James 1, our good God has nothing to do with causing temptation or evil.
When the Bible speaks of finding joy in the midst of suffering — such as in 1 Peter — joy is not found in the suffering itself. Rather, the joy is found despite the suffering. Joy is found in God — in His steadfastness, in His comfort, in His healing, in His power, etc. — and not in the circumstances that surround us. Trying to find joy in painful circumstances is like trying to cool off in the midst of a heatwave; it is an empty mind trick.
We should never be surprised or be caught off guard by suffering, but at the same time, we should not anticipate or glorify it. Like Jesus, we can pray for the cup of suffering to pass from us. Since Jesus was not a masochist, neither are we as Christians. I would argue that we should pray that suffering passes from us, lest we try to be more holy than Jesus. Following Jesus’ example, we can ask God for another way and for healing from our pain.
The joy that we experience in our suffering is God Himself, not the circumstances of our suffering. For that reason, we should not fear suffering, nor should we exalt personal comfort as the ultimate goal. It is through difficulty that our vision becomes clear. We can see who God is — perfect, faithful, and safe — better than we can during other times in our lives.
God allows for suffering because sometimes suffering is a lesser danger than a false sense of perfection, comfort, and ease. God never delights in pain itself, but like an athlete in training, He can see the benefits beyond the pain.
If suffering were necessary for joy or for God’s glory, we would expect to suffer in heaven. But to the contrary, we know that the ultimate joy lies beyond the suffering of this present world. May our eyes see beyond this pain and look towards the everlasting comfort that is coming…
A Reminder About Quarreling (2 Tim. 2:14)
2 Tim 2:14
Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
Pastors and church leaders are called to be spiritual “reminderers.” The goal of ministry is not to invent new ideas or new teachings. Instead, men and women need to be reminded what God had already communicated. And when it comes to quarreling, a reminder is what we need.
The reminder not to quarrel is presented before God Himself. God is the authority here, not man. The reason for not quarreling is not ultimately for ourselves, in other words, but because of God.
Quarreling matters to God because it is against His own character. Within the Trinity, the three persons do not argue but exist in perfect unity. Love and respect are made possible in the world because love and respect first existed within God. Rather than condemning or quarreling with us, God displayed His love to the world. (John 3:16-17)
The warning in 2 Timothy 2:14 is not to quarrel about words. This does not mean we should drop out of school, burn our dictionaries, or stop discussing important matters. The warning concerns trivial arguments that damage others. Because of the sin that so easily entangles us, even healthy debates can go astray and, sometimes within seconds, turn into worthless quarrels. As soon as we depart from loving communication in order to prove a point, we sin against others and against God.
In other words, as men and women, we often engage in arguments that do not help the people around us, but ruin them. We need reminders not to quarrel because if we are honest with ourselves we sometimes prioritize arguments over people. As followers of Christ, however, we are called to re-examine our motives, cease from pointless debates, and pursue peaceful and constructive conversations with one another.
Explicit & Implicit Theology
When leading congregations, Christian leaders must be aware of both explicit and implicit theologies. What people believe determines how they act, and because of that, church members will continue to act according to the theologies that they hold. Without an awareness of both explicit and implicit theologies, church leaders can waste time, spinning their wheels on technical fixes to problems, while ignoring the deeper issues that are involved. Though it can take years, but church leaders need to address the explicit and implicit theologies of their congregants.
To begin with, explicit theology is what a church expressly believes. Explicit theology is usually easier to determine because of its public nature. What a church explicitly believes can be gathered from mission and value statements, doctrinal position papers, sermons, liturgy (including the hymnody), and various other items that express belief. While explicit theology is often accurate, it can sometimes be more of an expression of intent, meaning that not everyone may hold to the same ideal. Even still, explicit theology is usually the starting point for understanding what a congregation believes.
Implicit theology, on the other hand, is underneath the surface per se, and for that reason, it is much more difficult to determine. The term implicit theology refers to those beliefs that are held, but may not be fully expressed. Peter Cha, for example, illustrated how difficult it is to interpret implicit theology from merely what is visibly seen (i.e., artifacts), and that church leaders must take time to question what is unseen. In fact, congregants themselves may not even be aware of their underlying beliefs until they are explicitly pointed out. Implicit theology can include anything from the pastor is the most spiritual man in our congregation to real worship means the raising of hands. In most contexts, neither of the statements would be verbalized, but they can become part of the working assumptions of a congregation.
As Kevin Ford points out in Transforming Church, churches function best when their explicit theology matches their implicit theology and vice versa. If there is any discontinuity between the two, there will be underlying conflict. Such conflict should not be overlooked, but used as an opportunity to change either explicit or implicit theology, so that it better aligns with Scripture. To help encourage spiritual transformation, therefore, church leaders should be aware of both explicit theology and implicit theology, so that churches can be healthier and more apt to grow.
As church leaders help to develop local churches, they must look beyond mere technical fixes and focus on deeper adaptive change. In this effort, however, church leaders must take time to delve into the basic assumptions of a congregation, compare those assumptions with Scripture, and invest time in changing unbiblical assumptions. Simply changing the explicit theology (such as a doctrinal statement) will not change peoples hearts. Ministry needs to go deeper than what is espoused, so that heart issues, including what is assumed, can be sanctified for Gods glory.
Free D.A. Carson Books
As a gift from the Gospel Coalition, here are 7 free D.A. Carson books that have been read and loved by many. I am looking forward to reading these, and I wanted to pass them along. The books are in PDF format that can be downloaded, printed, or transfered to an e-reader.
7 Free Books
Missions Hymn: Hark, The Voice of Jesus Calling
Hark, the voice of Jesus calling,
“Who will go and work today?
Fields are white and harvests waiting,
Who will bear the sheaves away?”
Loud and long the master calls you;
Rich reward he offers free.
Who will answer, gladly saying,
“Here am I. Send me, send me”?
If you cannot speak like angels,
If you cannot preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus;
You can say he died for all.
If you cannot rouse the wicked
With the judgment’s dread alarms,
You can lead the little children
To the Savior’s waiting arms.
If you cannot be a watchman,
Standing high on Zion’s wall,
Pointing out the path to heaven,
Offering life and peace to all,
With your prayers and with your bounties
You can do what God demands;
You can be life faithful Aaron,
Holding up the prophet’s hands.
Let none hear you idly saying,
“There is nothing I can do,”
While the multitudes are dying
And the master calls for you.
Take the task he gives you gladly;
Let his work your pleasure be.
Answer quickly when he calls you,
“Here am I. Send me, send me!”
Hymn # 318 from Lutheran Worship
Author: Joseph Barnby
1st Published in: 1869
Technology’s Role in Christian Ministry
As Christians, we should have a modest view of technology within the context of ministry not too lofty and not too lowly. In itself, technology does not have the power to change lives, but God can use technology (such as the printing press) to further His kingdom. We live in a unique age that requires a theology of technology, and we need to think before we embrace whatever is before us.
Rather than overdosing on technology, the Church should use it strategically. Some tools can save time, which in effect can produce more time to interact in person. Some tools can help us reach more people, which can start new relationships for the sake of glorifying God. But of course, these tools need to be used in moderation and within reason.
A unique feature of the digital age is that technology is available on a massive scale not only who can own it, but where it can be used. Unlike the days of the printing press or even dial-up modems, new technologies are omnipresent in the sense that they travel with us in our pockets. Tragically, despite all of the contributions of the digital age, our gadgetry has led to the idolization of technology. Millions of people worship the newest device, while their other god(s) are quickly forgotten.
To avoid such idolatry, we must use technology for our purposes and to prevent technology from using us. Like craftsmen, we need to master our tools, so that they can be used effectively for the kingdom. As with any tool, technology should be used in a way that helps rather than complicates. This requires thought and planning.
Here are a few ways that technology can be used in quick and easily manageable ways:
Spark conversation with a thoughtful quotation
Respond to current events with a Christian worldview
Share web links that are encouraging and gospel-influenced
Introduce your church with a video
Raise funds for social outreach efforts
Praise God for what He is doing in your life
Invite locals to a church event
Advertise community events (e.g., a food drive)
Tell the community about changed lives!
Suggest Scripture passages to read
Start an online discussion
Invite members to an upcoming event
Alert members to important prayer requests
Encourage your congregation during the week
Post videos about social justice issues
Share what God is doing in your life
Respond to others posts with Christian love and biblical truth
Clearly, this list is not exhaustive, but such ideas show that technology can be gospel-driven and glorifying to God. As a general rule, we should avoid technology that glorifies ourselves, and instead, strive to honor God. This is not always easy, but according to 1 Corinthians 10:31, this is what we are called to do in every area of life.
What Makes “Christian” Art?
What makes “Christian” art? This debate has gone on for many years, but at least in my circles, the discussion has not progressed very far. In some ways, this question can be misleading because there is not necessarily a single answer. There are at least 3 ways to define Christian art:
1. In terms of source: art made by a Christian individual or a group of Christians.
2. In terms of motive: art intended to minister to others or to glorify God in a general way.
3. In terms of message: art that communicates a message about the Christian God or is somehow influenced by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Considering the Oxford dictionary as an example, there are various alternatives when defining a word. A single definition is not more “correct” than another, so we would be better off describing what kind of Christian art we are talking about. As a result, the conversation can advance further when we avoid semantics and focus our discussion on a specific kind of Christian art.
Jesus Hasn’t Forgotten
If you’ve ever been hurt in your life, you know that the memory doesn’t go away. Whether someone hit you, betrayed you, neglected you, or somehow otherwise injured you, the memory can remain for years. It may even replay in your mind when triggered by a sound or image. Even when forgiving the other person, you do not forget how much it hurt.
In a similar way, Jesus did not get “amnesia” when He ascended into heaven. Jesus still remembers the mockery, the pain, and the sacrifice that he received for me and you. His forgiveness is so much greater because of the fact that he forgives despite the memory of how much he hurt. After all this time, his forgiveness never ends.
1 John 2:1 tells us that Jesus, despite being hurt, is our advocate: “If anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” He is sitting at the right hand of the Father, pleading for us. Rather than forgetting what happened, he continually reminds the Father of his own righteousness and his sacrifice for us.
This truth can free us to forgive one another. Even when we remember, we can still pray for those who hurt us and ask God to bless them. This is what it means to forgive — not ignoring the past, but loving others in the present.
Book Review: The Bible and Other Faiths
In our current global milieu, we live in a world of religions, and increasingly, Christians are confronted with how to relate to these religions. Ida Glaser approaches these issues with clarity and authenticity in her book The Bible and Other Faiths: Christian Responsibility in a World of Religions. As a Jewish Christian who reaches out to Muslims, Glaser has firsthand experience in how crucial and delicate these matters can be. With an important contribution to Christian theology, Glaser helps Christians distinguish between primary and secondary questions, focusing believers on what we can genuinely know and cannot know from Scripture. In other words, The Bible and Other Faiths is an in-depth look at how the Bible speaks to our own personal interaction with people from other faiths.
In the first chapter, Glaser separates interfaith questions into two categories. On one hand, there are externally-focused questions that focus on judging other people: Are people from other religions saved? Is Jesus the only way to know God? Do other religions consist of any truth? These questions often dominate our religious dialogue, but Glaser argues that these questions may not be the right questions. (13) While this is somewhat controversial, especially for conservative Christians, Glaser says that these questions should be secondary to more pressing concerns.
According to Glaser, there is a second set of questions that focuses on other peoples welfare and our own responsibility, and it is upon these questions that she primarily focuses. (13) What is God doing among people of other religions? What does God require of us in response? How should we respond to other religions? And how to we apply the great commission and the great commandments to our interfaith context? Certainly these kinds of questions are related to the first kind, but this second set is more urgent in the sense that they affect our actual relationships with people.
Developing this further, the author outlines three major approaches to interfaith relations or more specifically, how Jesus applies to other religions. These can be generally understood as exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. An exclusivist holds the belief that salvation comes through explicit faith in Christ alone; that God only offers special revelation through Israel, Christ and the Bible; and that Christ is Jesus of Nazareth. In light of its exclusive claims, exclusivism strongly emphasizes our personal need to spread the message of Christ. Without this message and an affirmation of a particular doctrinal truth a person will necessarily go to Hell.
An inclusivist allows for anonymous Christians from other religions because salvation is through Christ, but not necessarily explicitly. It is possible for a spiritual seeker to find Christ, even if they meet him through another religion or know him by another name. Special revelation can be found apart from Christ and Scripture, including the possibility of finding some truth in the sacred texts of other religions. The Christ who saves is visible in the person of Jesus, but is not limited to him. This perspective emphasizes the sovereignty of God and an individuals response to the Holy Spirit more so than evangelism efforts.
A pluralist believes that salvation is available through all faiths, whether by denying the inconsistency of these religions or by diminishing the significance of such contradictions. Christ is cosmic in that He is merely one option among several. All religion, including Christianity, is humankinds response to the transcendent. There may be mistakes within a particular religious system, but these are to be expected. For a pluralist, what truly matters is not doctrinal correctness, but a genuine response of faith to the transcendent God, whoever that God may be.
While Glaser does not express a particular view, she persuasively illustrates how each camp interprets and omits Bible passages in order to support their respective presuppositions. John 14:6, for example, can be read through the lens of an exclusivist, inclusivist, or a pluralist. An exclusivist would read this verse loudly and emphasize the word the in the English translation. An inclusivist would agree that Jesus is the only way, but would recognize the possibility that Jesus could be the only way, the only truth, and the only life in an indirect way. A pluralist, though uncomfortable with such a verse, would point out that this was true at that time and for those people, but does not necessarily apply to all cultures and contexts today.
While this may be troubling for some, Glaser shows the importance of interpreting biblical texts within their literary context. Her approach involves reading John 14:6 in light of Johns prologue in chapter one. As she does so at least in my reading she disqualifies the pluralist interpretation, weakens the insistence for an exclusivist interpretation, and validates the possibility of an inclusivist interpretation. Whichever position we may take, we find that this passage does not solve all of the issues that we might have hoped. At the same time, however, by reading a passage within its broader context, we are more likely to see how Scripture was intended to be read. Rather than taking a verse out of context for our religious (and sometimes vicious) purposes, it is essential that we read Scripture with caution and humility.
The book addresses many other important issues, but at its core, focuses on the Bible itself and what it has to say about other religions. Personally, I found this fascinating. If nothing else, The Bible and Other Faiths is worth reading for its helpful summary of Genesis.
Regarding the Old Testament, Glaser discusses the Pentateuch, historical books, wisdom literature, and considers their broader cultural context. While all of this was very intriguing, most significant may be her comments about the Tower of Babel and Abraham. She persuasively argues that Abraham may have originally known Yahweh as El from Canaanite religion, and that the Israelites gradually came to the awareness the their God was unlike the other gods that surrounded them. This of course, seems to suggest that people from other religions could gradually come to know God through Gods special intervention.
Concerning the New Testament, Glaser shows that other faiths were frequently present in the Gospels and Acts. The Parable of the Good Samaritan becomes much more poignant when you consider that the Samaritans were idolaters in the eyes of the Jews. Likewise, the fact that Cornelius prayers are heard by God should sober us as we consider seekers from other religions. While Glaser recognizes that modern religious systems such as Islam or Hinduism are not specifically addressed, she proves that the New Testament can provide more instruction than we might originally think not so much in terms of philosophical argument, but in terms of loving others into the Kingdom of God.
In the final chapter, the author returns to her initial proposal that some questions are more important than others. In her view, in which she admits her own uncertainty, we cannot answer all of the questions with absolute certainty. The Bible was not intended to tell us everything that we want to know, but everything that we need to know or what God wanted to make clear to us. Thus, as surprising as it may be, she does not state whether the Bible is exclusive, inclusive, or pluralist in its claims for as she says, the Bible was not written with those categories in mind. For many, Glasers epistemic humility will be refreshing, while others may become frustrated.
As summarized in the final chapter, one of the main messages of the book is that our responsibility towards other religions is not always clear. However, we should continually search Scripture for guidance. Rather than making blanket statements about religions like Buddhism or Islam, the Bible provides us with insights of how to relate to specific individuals within different traditions. Scripture does not offer a single method, systematic approach to non-Christians, but reorients our own lives, so that we can minister more effectively to the people that we meet amongst the many world religions today. In other words, Scripture is more focused on people than systems.
It is important to recognize our ignorance when it comes to the Bibles silence, and likewise, we must recognize our own inability to convert others to Christianity. It is better to focus on our own response what the Bible does talk about so that we can be faithful to Gods call and eventually lead others to the truth of the gospel. Even though we may not know all of the answers to all of our questions, it is still necessary to reach out to all people in all parts of the world, regardless who or where they may be.
For the most part, I agree with Glasers position, and I share many of her concerns. However, I wonder how far we can separate the two kinds of questions that she discusses at the beginning and end of her book. Granting that there is a difference between extrospective and introspective questions, a reader should question how different these questions really are. And since most of the book is founded upon this dichotomy, this is an important issue to raise. Glaser herself admits that the two are related, but they may be more related than her book seems to suggest. (13)
My primary concern is that she does not answer a fundamental question that many Christians currently struggle with namely, is Jesus exclusive or inclusive? To illustrate this point, The Bible and Other Faiths teaches Christians how to interact with other faiths on a daily basis, but what happens when someone from another faith asks us an either-or question? Do we tell that person that we do not know, that Jesus is exclusive, or that Jesus is inclusive? Unfortunately, this book does help in that regard. While it helps us become more charitable, it does not help others by providing them with an objective answer to their most important question.
Even with this omission, however, Glaser offers a considerable amount of wisdom, and many Christians can benefit from reading this book. I found the book encouraging, instructive, and inspiring. Even though not all of my questions were resolved, a book like this that inspires further thought and investigation is definitely worth reading and re-reading. Most importantly, The Bible and Other Faiths focused my eyes on Scripture and challenged me to further search the text. Thanks to this book, I have been motivated to search my own heart and to change the way that I interact with people from other world religions.
Why Read Commentaries?
Regarding biblical study and the use of commentaries, Eugene H. Peterson uses a captivating illustration to demonstrate the reason why Christians should read commentaries. It is our way of entering into the vibrant conversation, of hearing many other voices and eventually expressing our own. I read this years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it. Since he says it better than I could, I’ll simply share his own words:
“…biblical commentaries have for too long been overlooked as common reading for common Christians… Among those for whom Scripture is a passion, reading commentaries has always seemed to me analogous to the gathering of football fans in the local bar after the game, replaying in endless detail the game they have just watched, arguing (maybe even fighting) over obersvations and opinion, and lacing the discourse with gossip about the players. The level of knowledge evident in these boozy colloquies is impressive. These fans have watched the game for years; the players are household names to them; they know the fine print in the rulebook and pick up every nuance on the field. And they care care immensely about what happens in the game. Their seemingly endless commentary is evidence of how much they care. Like them, I relish in a commentary not bare information but conversation with knowledgeable and experienced friends, probing, observing, questioning, the biblical text…. there is so much to notice, so much to talk over.” (Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book, 54)
Hymns that Inspire
For those of us who write worship songs, it is easy to fall into the same patterns. By reading lyrics of other songs, especially well written hymns and songs from other cultures, we can be moved to think in new ways and to expand beyond our normal categories. For a sample, check out this hymn shared by Thabiti Anyabwile.
How Sweet and Awful Is the Place
How sweet and awful is the place
With Christ within the doors
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”
“Why was I made to hear thy voice
and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?”
‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste
and perished in our sin
Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad
and bring the strangers home.
We long to see thy churches full,
that all the chosen race
may with one voice and heart and soul
sing thy redeeming grace.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
– Isaiah 9:6
As the lyrics of the Hallelujah Chorus, we hear these words almost every Christmas. The music of Handel’s song easily gets stuck in our heads, but I wonder if the words do the same. These words are too incredible to pass by.
Hours could be spent on each of these ideas. But for today, think about the fact that “the government shall be upon His shoulders.” Jesus’ birth signified that God had a better plan. As much as the Israelites desired a king, every kingdom failed. But God promised to send a Savior who would rule with power and grace. Even the responsibility of government would rest upon Him.
So in a world where so many things are going wrong, we all need to be reminded of who is in control. Whether we are Republican or Democrat, our hope should not rest in a politician to solve our problems. In fact, as followers of Jesus Christ, we should be gracious to public officials because they will never get it completely right. As hard as they try, Christ is the only one who can effectively lead our world towards peace and reconciliation.
This Christmas, try to reach out to someone with the good news of the gospel. If you know a public official, tell them how much you appreciate them. And rather than complaining about our government, remember that we are looking for a better, more peaceful kingdom that is yet to come.
Prayer: Jesus, we believe that you are the hope that we need. Whatever our need, help us to trust in You for our peace. You alone are our Savior.
Advent: He Can Be Easily Missed
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
– Isaiah 53:2-3
As most of us can admit, it is easy to miss the true meaning of Christmas! If we are honest, all of us can think back to years that didn’t have as much significance as we hoped. Whether we didn’t receive that present on top of our list, whether we have mourned the loss of a love one, or whether the time just passed too quickly… we have all missed the point from time to time.
Of course, we are not the only ones to miss the Christ in Christmas. From the very beginning of Jesus’ life, people did not see anything attractive or popular about Him. Scripture tells us that in addition to being born in a filthy manger, Jesus did not draw a lot of attention in terms of his physical appearance.
Unlike the movies that we see on TV, Jesus wouldn’t have been cast for any movies. In fact, the Bible tells us in John 1:10-11 that Jesus was despised and rejected by those around Him. Rather than seeking out His face, they hid from Christ and did not see any value in Him. In today’s terms, He was far from being a movie star.
This can be convicting because all of us are guilty about forgetting about Jesus. Many of us pay more attention to the movie stars and the latest Hollywood gossip than we do to Jesus Christ. But it is never late to change.
Christ calls us to notice Him, to recognize who He truly is, and to bring others with us to the manger. If we all do that, this Christmas will not be another empty holiday.
Prayer: Lord, forgive us for neglecting You. Like our friends and neighbors, we have lost sight of who you truly are. All of us have gone astray and looked to the idols of our greed, pride, and lust. Have mercy on us for not esteeming You as we should, and help us to to draw others to You, so that today, we will all recognize Your majesty as we should. Though born in a manger, You are the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
Advent: The Name of Jesus
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).
– Matthew 1:20-23
These are some of the most amazing verses in the Bible. In a few short sentences, we learn some amazing things about God’s love for the world:
* Through the power of Almighty God, a virgin will give birth to a son.
* This miraculous child will save his people from their sins.
* God will dwell with humanity through the birth of a child.
This is shocking because no other God has the power to cause a virgin birth. No other God has made the “first move” to save people from their sin. And no other God has loved humanity like our God.
In response to Jesus’ birth, we should be inspired to worship. We haven’t created our own salvation or found a way to stop sinning, so Christmas should remind us about how small we really are. All we can do is receive the amazing grace that God offers to us through Jesus Christ. God alone deserves the glory! None of our efforts can contribute anything more to what God has already done through Christ.
Prayer: Jesus, thank you for making us Your people and for saving us from our sins. We are amazed that You came to rescue us. Even your name reminds us of your forgiveness. We can never fully express our gratitude for what You have done for us, and we ask that You will continue to save us from the evil that surrounds us.