Whether you've finalized your 2020 resolutions, don't have plans to make any, or are somewhere in between, the best place to start thinking about change in the New Year is with the Word of God. Before you start figuring out how to get out of debt or shed those holiday pounds (and those are wonderful goals!), start with the Bible, and with prayer, ask God to guide your priorities. Even within the 66 books of the Bible, you may wonder where to begin, so here are some suggestions.
To many people, teachings of a virgin birth, a star, angels appearing unto shepherds, and a Savior being born may sound odd. It would be like cracking open a book for the first time and starting to read in the middle. You don't know any of the characters, the setting, the purpose, the conflict; you just pick up in the middle of the story. This year, in my preaching and personal study, I've been setting the Christmas story in its larger Gospel narrative story. The Gospel narrative follows these major checkpoints: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.
With Creation, we find the roots of Christmas. We find God's original plan - the Edenic perfection that God will one day restore. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Gen. 1:1) The Bible declares this. "All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made." (John 1:3) This is a fact that we must accept by faith. Adopting a biblical worldview with God as Creator places Him in charge. He sets the rules. We are the created. We receive our existence from Him. The purpose of our existence is inseparably wrapped up in His will. "It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves." (Psalm 100:3) Our departure from this realization created the need for Christmas.
I find it interesting that, as intelligent people, we ordinarily have no trouble inferring creative activity over against a hodgepodge of disorganized messes. For example, if I show you a fully wrapped gift that is placed under my Christmas tree, you naturally infer that someone wrapped the gift. If I place a tape dispenser, a pair of scissors, a roll of wrapping paper, and the gift on a table, how long would I need to wait for the gift to be wrapped? Years? Centuries? Millions of Years? Will it ever happen? Apart from the origins of the universe, we never apply the same assumptions about origins. And yet the universe is (obviously) far more complex than any of these other things that require agency to come together. Not to mention - wouldn't someone have to create the first matter from which all else evolved?
The story of Christmas - of God sending His Son to be the Savior of fallen mankind - can never make complete sense to people who reject the idea of creation. God created the world. He created you and me. He loves us and desires fellowship with us. The events of Christmas occurred to move us along this overall trajectory - of bringing us full circle back to the perfection God had created.
Are you like most Bible readers who skim past the genealogies? Sometimes we call them "the begots." Here at Christmas, the genealogies of Jesus give us insights. Matthew 1:6, in tracing Jesus's legal lineage, makes this point: "David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah." Those familiar with the Old Testament know the story well. Have you ever heard Jesus' family called "the holy family?" Go back a bit more, and you find that His ancestors weren't all that holy. David was king of Israel, and at a time when kings should have been at the battlefront, David was on the roof of his palace. He happened to see a woman named Bathsheba bathing, and in his lust over her, he committed adultery with her. Not only that, he also had her husband Uriah essentially executed by ordering him into a certain-death frontline situation. The sin would be found out, though, because Bathsheba became pregnant. That child perished, but a future child of the couple was named Solomon. This child became king and - get this - part of Messiah's lineage.
We've heard Romans 8:28 many times. We have it on paperweights, greeting cards, bumper stickers, and more. What God did in the birth of Christ, though, is an example of His Romans 8:28 ability. God endorsed neither David's murder of Uriah, nor his adulterous union with Bathsheba. But He did work David's tragic mess together for good - to bring us Christ.
The message is clear and powerful. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." (Rom. 5:20). That's what Christmas is all about. God is so wise, magnificent and gracious that He took a situation as shattered and horrific as what we created through sin and brought out of it the spotless Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Glory to God in the Highest!
Even the least adventurous among us enjoy the occasional exploration. For those who have been most sheltered, the curiosity of just how much greener the other side’s grass truly is can overcome our best efforts to be good. We do find, though, that once that first step is taken, the second step is much easier - and the third, and fourth. Eventually, our starting point is just a silhouette in the background shrinking out of sight, out of mind. This is the new normal. This is who we are now. There’s no going back. Even if we wanted to, could we?
But if you are God’s child, there are times that, no matter how much you tried to suppress it, you heard that still small voice asking you to return. You know this isn’t right. You know you shouldn’t be here right now. You know. But this is what you want. Isn’t it? You’re torn. You’re conflicted. There is a war going on inside. Your friends have no idea. In fact, nobody does - except God. That’s His Holy Spirit drawing you back, convicting you of your sin, letting you know that there’s always a place set for you at His table. So here’s the facts:
In 2 Timothy 2:2, the Apostle Paul instructs his protégé Timothy: "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." These words set forth an effective plan for spreading the Gospel and investing meaningfully in the lives of others. For this devotional, our focus is on the word "commit to." It means "to entrust, to commit to one's charge." A helpful picture of this action is the relay race where the one currently carrying the baton commits that baton to someone else who is reliable, who will, in turn, be able to hand it on to someone else.
As I was studying this text afresh recently, I came across a resource that explained reasons that professionals have identified for what they call "baton drops." What goes wrong that causes a costly baton drop. I was amazed to find principles that can carry over in our discipleship efforts to pass our faith on to those around us and future generations. Here they are:
You may be happy to learn that I have the same church attendance trends in my church that you have in yours. I have a handful of people who attend every week (and two of us are paid to be there). I have Chreaster Christians - those who attend Christmas and Easter. I have everyone in between. On average, it is safe to say that my people attend a couple of times a month. When I mentioned this to my Assistant Pastor, who joined our team a few months ago, he helped me learn that this is a nationwide trend. It didn't use to be the case, when I was a child. To be sure, there are cultural trends that have driven much of this, but it feels like there is more. To show my cards a little bit up front, I sense that we need a fresh look at our theology of corporate worship. So as I go through answering this question which headlines this blog, I hope to do so in a way that gets us thinking about the bigger picture.
Gaining God’s approval has concerned people since the beginning. Genesis Chapter 4 tells the story of the jealousy that arose within Cain’s heart, when God had respect for his brother Abel’s offering but not his own offering. This jealousy drove Cain to commit the first and probably best-known murder.
The first step toward meeting with God’s approval in this life and the next is to accept Christ as your personal Savior. The question above begins “as a believer,” which assumes that you have already trusted Christ. Scripture is very clear that “no one comes unto the Father but by [Christ]” (John 14:6). It is through God’s saving grace and the redemption we have through the blood of Jesus that “He has made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). As a believer, it’s not like you would meet with God’s disapproval in the next life. Your eternity is secure. There is no such place as purgatory. God doesn’t love you less when you sin (Romans 5:8).
Having trusted the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for payment for your sin, you may still wonder whether God will approve of your life. Here are some insights from the Bible to guide your thoughts on this.