“I Didn’t Know God”

At first when he answered the phone I thought it was a joke. I had reconnected with a friend I hadn’t talked to in ten years. But he sounded nothing like the friend I used to know. I even told him it didn’t sound like him. Of course, that made things awkward for a bit. As we did small talk I went back over my phone and reviewed how we had reconnected. Same phone number. Same Facebook page. Same guy. And yet, totally different.     

I slowly was starting to accept the reality that I really was talking to my old friend when he clarified, “You know Cameron, we really haven’t talked in a long time. A lot has happened since then.” He continued, “I think I got saved 4 years ago.” I was shocked.

This is the guy I went to Bible college with. This is the guy who had wanted to preach his whole life. This is the guy who traveled on evangelistic teams to churches and spent his summers sharing the gospel with young people.      

He went on to describe for me his frustration at repeatedly trying to preach, but never being satisfied with it. He came to the point where he gave up on preaching entirely. But that bitterly low point of frustration caused him to realize something incredible. “I didn’t know God,” he confessed to me. “I knew about God. I knew about the Bible. I was drawn to the experience of preaching and the feeling that came with it. I think that is the same reason I was drawn to evangelism. But I didn’t have a real relationship with God.” 

He went on to describe for me how he started sincerely praying to and seeking God. And God changed him. Radically. So much so, he was a different person. Other people in his life began to take notice. “My wife asked me what had changed,” he said. “I hadn’t said anything about it at first because I didn’t know what to make of it.” 

Our unexpectedly awkaward conversation had changed into a mutually encouraging moment as he began to share with me the lessons God had taught him since his conversion. I apologized for being rude, and he accepted the apology, and we had a great time catching up for a bit.

When I got off the phone, I sat on our couch and stared out a window for several minutes. It was so stunning, yet so refreshing and glorious to see God radically transform one man’s life. This is, in fact, how the Scripture describes salvation.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Many people in this world gravitate towards religion for the experience. They confuse the emotional fervor of a thrilling worship service or shared moments of religious experience with a genuine relationship with the living God. Unfortunately, many church leaders today are guilty of encouraging this kind of behavior. It is a spiritually draining, inadequate substitute for your soul’s satisfaction. If you are in one of those categories, or find yourself in one of those kinds of churches, you can be free from the emptiness that comes with religion apart from Christ. Look to him. He is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  Only he can satisfy the desire in your soul for something better, because he is the “something better” you are thirsting for. 

~CP

The Weak Church: Making Much of Christ

Planted in Weakness

Christianity has enjoyed a position of strength in Western society for a long time. The church once commanded kings, encompassed nations, and dominated the world. But things were not always this way. Before the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Byzantine Empire through the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., Christianity was not known for its strength, but for its weakness.

Christianity was a strange sect to the Roman Empire. Belief in one God, not a pantheon of gods, was like atheism to the Roman mind. Christians also refused to deify Caesar and participate in ritual offerings to him, offerings that were often mandated by the Roman government. Rumors spread, claiming Christians devoted themselves to cultic rituals and incestuous practices at their love feasts. To make matters worse, Christians followed a man who had been publicly crucified as a criminal at the hands of the Roman Empire. Such devotion to Jesus invited scorn, ridicule, and even martyrdom.

No image better represents the reputation of the early Christians than the Alexamenos graffito found in Rome. It depicts the body of a man with the head of a donkey on a cross (presumably Jesus), while a man below raises his hand in worship. Crude Greek letters etched in stone read, “Alexamenos worships his god.” 

Enduring in Weakness

Today, Christians are once again beginning to taste a small measure of the cup of shame that we drink in association with Jesus. How can we, like those early Christians, learn to endure? By rediscovering one simple truth—we were meant to thrive in weakness. We have become so addicted to the luxury of strong institutions, strong cultural influence, and strong political power that we have forgotten and neglected the power of the cross. 

Paul latches on to this concept in 2 Corinthians 12. Since he could powerfully boast in the extraordinary experience of a heavenly vision, God crippled him with weakness.

 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, 
a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me,
to keep me from becoming conceited. 

This “thorn in the flesh” could have been a physical ailment or perhaps direct Satanic opposition. We’re not sure. What we do know is God sent it to humble Paul. And, like most of us would respond, Paul prayed for its removal.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 

Paul was not wrong for seeking the Lord in this way. But God had work to do in Paul that he could not otherwise accomplish unless Paul was weak. So God left the thorn.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

What Paul learned, and what we need to grasp as Christians in the 21st century, is the truth that God’s power is perfected in our weakness. We probably wouldn’t say this out loud, but we often imply by our words and actions that a good church is rich, self-sufficient, ecstatic, and strong.

But Paul is telling us God delights to use humble, poor, needy, downcast, and weak people in his plan. Our weakness presents us with an opportunity to make much of Christ, but our strength prevents us from making much of Christ. Which is why Paul concludes,

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Advancing in Weakness

What we need today is not a strong church, but a weak one. To advance the gospel in this world, the church must make much of Jesus Christ through our weakness. How can we make much of Jesus when we never need him? How can we make much of Jesus when we refuse the paradox of the power of the cross? The world will continue striving for power, seeking to cover up its weakness with fancy façades that vanish like grass in midsummer’s heat. But it cannot be that way for the church. In Christ, when we are weak, then we are strong.

~CP

Is Peace Even Possible?

Words cannot do justice to the tragedy and devastation our nation has experienced over the past month. Within the pressure-cooker of the Coronavirus pandemic we continue scraping at the festering wound of sinful racism. My heart breaks for my fellow black neighbors and for every police officer out there. Yes, the Christian heart pulses with compassion for all people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9-10); every human life is made in God’s image and equally precious in his sight (Genesis 1:27).

Which is why I get equally angry when anarchists with a political agenda hijack our national tragedy to serve their self-destructive end. Make no mistake, these rioters add insult to injury on those in the black community who rightfully pursue justice and peacefully protest. They undermine the very fabric of peace and order in our society and unnecessarily place our law enforcement officials in harm’s way. And I have to wonder—is peace even possible for our country?

There are rare moments in American history when we may have more in common with certain historical parts of the Bible than less. I think now is one of those rare moments. I’m referring to the crucifixion of Christ in Luke 23. In it, the gospel writer makes a point to establish Jesus’s innocence.

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.”

It seems like the case would be closed. But the Jewish leaders have insidiously incited the people to condemn Jesus, so the crowd unanimously cries out with the most shocking of demands:

18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.

There he is—Barrabas, the Insurrectionist. Does that name carry new meaning for you now? It’s the insurrectionists keeping us awake at night. It’s the insurrectionists burning our businesses, spray painting our monuments, and slashing police tires. It’s the insurrectionists who murder for the sake of anarchy. There seems to be no greater contrast than that of Barrabas and Jesus. The irony is the Jewish leaders had already accused Jesus of insurrection, but they failed to provide the evidence. Now Pilate, ready to release innocent Jesus, faces the inexplicable dilemma of unjustly substituting an innocent man for one already condemned to die. We read the gut-wrenching conclusion.

20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.

Injustice. Shame. Insurrection. Do you see the substitution God made on the cross for us? Innocent Jesus bore it all. Why? To pay the penalty your sins and for mine.

And it’s no secret that racism was an equally divisive and explosive sin-problem in 1st century Israel. Romans, Samaritans, Jews, and the surrounding nations harbored deep-seated hatred towards one another. So when Jesus, a Jew, died for the sins of mankind, it was very difficult for Israel, God’s chosen people, to understand God had thrown the door wide open to people “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” In the book of Acts, the companion book to the Gospel of Luke, we read of the gospel spreading from Ethiopia (Acts 8:26-40) to Rome (Acts 8:16-31). When this new reality sank in, it left even believing Jews speechless (Acts 10:1-11:18). God’s gospel is a global gospel.

Peace with God results in peace with each other. Jesus Christ bore the injustice, the shame, and the guilt of insurrection on the cross that we might confess our sins and be forgiven. But he also died on the cross to tear down the racial wall that has separated our country. So yes, peace is possible. Our generation needs Jesus to “tear down this wall” that runs through the heart of America. He’s the only one who can do it. Think about this truth in light of one final passage in Ephesians. Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that they, as uncircumcised Gentiles, were at one time considered outsiders to the promises of God. But God tore down that wall and made peace between Jew and Gentile.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

We can only have peace with one another by first being at peace with God. When we confess our sins against God and repent, claiming Jesus’s innocent death and resurrection on our behalf, Jesus makes us into “one new man in the place of the two, so making peace.” We join together with those “from every tribe and language and people and nation” to praise God for his unmatched mercy and forgiveness poured out on us sinners. Oh how desperately we need this gospel truth in our world. How desperately we need it in our nation. How desperately we need to model it in our churches. If we are to find peace, we can only find it in Jesus.

~CP

How God Kills Pride

When I was a jr. higher in youth group, God used a particular passage of Scripture to grab my attention and strengthen my faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

These two verses clearly teach us salvation is not a work we can do, but a gift of God obtained by faith. God forgives us by grace through faith so we would not boast in our own wisdom, determination, will-power, goodness, or anything else we suppose could earn us forgiveness with God.

It has taken me much longer to realize God intends to kill my pride with this same truth, not only in my salvation, but also in my new life in Christ. Read carefully the very next verse. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (vs. 10). Even as we cannot boast in our salvation, neither can we boast in the works we do after we place faith in Christ, because we are “his workmanship.” The works we do as believers “God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This work of God in us by grace through faith kills pride in any credit we may take for the good works we do as Christians.

We need to remind ourselves daily as believers that the starting point of our salvation, trusting Jesus by grace through faith, is also the lifeline of our daily sanctification. Why? “So that no one may boast.”

This truth can make a big difference in how we interact with unbelievers. It humbles us to realize God is working in and through us by his grace. It also gives us common ground with others as we call them to repentance. The good I do is all of Christ. And the good that an unbeliever can become is all of Christ. It’s the same foundation from start to finish, and it all exalts Jesus Christ. This is how God graciously kills any pride we may take in the good we have done.

~CP

Sex Enslaves

I have seen a lot of people complaining in the social media universe about the lewd, sexually explicit nature of the Super Bowl halftime show. Last night millions upon millions of grown men and boys watched in a stadium or on their screens at home—often with their mothers, sisters and daughters fully present—provocatively “dressed” women act out sexually charged dance routines all in the name of entertainment. It was no accident. I mean, come on, this is the Super Bowl we are talking about, perhaps the most culturally iconic sports even in all of American society. I did not watch the half-time show (I was intentionally putting my two girls to bed with my wife), but it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what was going to happen, given who it was taking center stage last night.

Here’s my simple take—Americans will complain, get angry, go to social media and multiply likes upon likes, but they won’t stop it. In fact, they can’t stop it. Why? Because sex enslaves.

I am not talking about the healthy privilege that one man and one woman enjoy in a covenant commitment to each for life, called marriage. I’m talking about the raw, unfettered, sexual drive that we knowingly unleashed a long time ago in our culture. I’m talking about taking something good the Creator has given us, sexual intimacy within marriage, and turning it into an idol that we worship. Sex enslaves countless numbers of women in our society through human trafficking, yes, but it also enslaves untold numbers of souls. We have a porn problem, even in the church, because sex enslaves. We have a sexual revolution on our hands because sex enslaves. And the ones driving the revolution will in the end be engulfed by their own revolution because sex will make clear it is the master, not them.

The sexual revolution can put on a nice face. It will tell us not to judge, that your belief is OK for you to hold but not for me, that we should just be tolerant. But in the end it gets up in your face, as we saw last night, and bites like a serpent. Sex-enslaved individuals targeted an innocent Christian cake baker in Colorado named Jack Phillips, and sued him all the way to the Supreme Court. He won the case, only to be targeted again. Sex-enslaved individuals have already shut down several Christian-based adoption agencies, wishing that orphans would go homeless rather than let them be taught biblical principles of morality. Sex enslaved individuals will promote a #MeToo movement only to reenact sexual perversions on the silver screen, which Americans gladly pay to watch. Sex enslaved individuals want your children and my children to be forced to learn from sex education curriculum in our public schools, starting already in California.

Sex enslaves and then destroys the human soul. It can enslave and destroy you, and it can enslave and destroy me. That is why, though Americans may protest, we won’t stop. Indeed, we can’t stop, because we are slaves to sex.

The only hope for a culture this far gone is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel teaches us that if we confess our sins, including sexual ones, we are forgiven by grace. And if we watch sex acts, we are complicit in sexual sin (Job 31:1-4; Matthew 5:28). It’s serious—Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sexual sins. If someone wants to argue with me that men should just get over it, that it is their own problem if women act or dress in a provocative way, we simply need to recognize God already told us that certain portions and acts of a woman’s body are off limits to everyone’s view except that woman’s husband (Proverbs 5:15-23).  

Grace forgives us of such wrongdoing, when we confess it, and that same grace frees us from enslaving sexual desire. The gospel is the precious key that unlocks us from our chains to sin. Paul tells us in Romans 6, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” When we believe in Jesus, we die to our sin, and we live in Christ. Sex enslaves; grace frees.

“The gospel is the precious key that unlocks us from our chains to sin.”

Grace also kills our pride in any self-righteousness. Religion and morality never saved a single soul. It is not as if I have the power to deliver myself from slavery to sexual sin. Only Jesus Christ can do that. And if Christians want to make a difference in our culture, we need to humbly start by seeking to share the gospel with every opportunity we have. We don’t sympathize with sin, we call it out for what it is. But we do so graciously, humbly, pointing others to Christ, knowing we ourselves are only sinners saved by his grace. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). I pray Jesus will give us grace and strength to do just that.

~CP

Redeeming the Culture (part 2)

It’s been a few weeks since I posted part 1 of this discussion. Since that time I have had the opportunity to listen to others, dig deeply, and gather a bit more insight into the concept of “redeeming the culture.” I even stumbled across a website where a guy had posted recordings of a video game he was playing. At different points in the game he overlayed Bible verses on the screen that highlighted the redemptive aspects of his gaming habits. You can’t make this stuff up.

Today I’d like to address some of the objections I received to my last post. cloudvisual-208962-unsplashSo grab the popcorn, it’s gonna be good! After dealing with these objections, I want to bring us back to why this all matters. I want to bring us back to the gospel.

Objections

  1. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I do admit I have a limited perspective on this topic. I also need to point out, however, that blogging is not the best medium for extensive, in-depth discussion. My last blog post more than doubled the length of what I should write. And I’m sure a lot of people didn’t read it for that reason. So why write about this now?

    I tackled this concept because I wanted to hear back from people and learn more. But I also wanted to make a theological point that seems to be missing from the discussion. And, as it turns out, I’m not alone. After I wrote part 1 of this series, I discovered a theologian none other than D.A. Carson wrote a book several years ago entitled “Christ and Culture Revisited.” Apparently Carson doesn’t like the phrase “redeeming the culture” either. It turns out Tim Keller is in the same boat. I merely mention these men to point out I’m not alone.

    There is a lot more to read and discuss. But for now I am purposefully focusing these posts on the theological concept of redemption. I hope it provides you with some food for thought.

  2. You have misunderstood what the phrase “redeeming the culture” means.Last time I stated that redemption in the Old Testament is relational in nature. Even if property is involved, the role of kinsman redeemer was always filled by a particular person. And I made the argument that the only Redeemer in the New Testament is Jesus Christ. We are not in the position to redeem anything, especially culture.

    But—some have objected—we are commanded to redeem some things. We are told to “redeem the time” in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5 (KJV). It’s true, the Greek word in those passages literally means to “buy up” something. But Paul is using a metaphor. It’s very much like our modern phrase, “buying time.” We all know you can’t actually buy time. What we are really saying is a person is trying to make the best use of their time.

    So some proponents say that “redeeming the culture” simply means “making best use of the culture.” It’s not a term loaded with any theological meaning. It’s simply a metaphor, so don’t bring theology into this.
    ben-white-197668-unsplash
    But here’s my problem with that argument. If you read the modern translations, the vast majority of them no longer use the word “redeeming” in Ephesians 5:16 or Colossians 4:5 as in the KJV. Why? Because it’s clearly a metaphor. We do not want to confuse a New Testament concept as crucial as redemption. So, for clarity and accuracy, the translations say something like “making the best use of the time.” Even BDAG, the best Greek lexicon, makes it clear these verses use the word metaphorically (“to gain something, especially advantage or opportunity, make the most of“). The command is that we make the best use of something, not redeem it.

    IF (and that’s a big “if”) proponents of “redeeming the culture” intend to use the word “redeeming” or the concept of redemption metaphorically, I’d suggest they follow the lead of Bible translators and stop using the words “redeeming” or “redemption.” It gives the false impression that “redeeming the culture” is rooted in a theological argument, when in reality it is only a metaphor.

    But the bigger problem is proponents of “redeeming the culture” do in fact have a theological motivation for their view. “Redeeming the culture” is more than a simple metaphor. So they have hijacked redemption terminology to serve their theological view. What is that theological view?

  3. Redeeming the culture is a biblical mandate.
    I was not surprised to discover proponents of “redeeming the culture” use Genesis 1:28 to support their view. It says,And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

    Many Christians believe this passage provides a mandate for all of humanity. We have obligations to fulfill before God, “to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Some Christians take that logic a step further and teach that part of exercising this dominion over the earth includes “redeeming the culture.”

    However, not everyone agrees with that assessment. Kevin Bauder has a helpful short article challenging the notion of a cultural mandate in Genesis 1:28. He makes the point that God is blessing Adam and Eve rather than commanding them (as God says at the very beginning of the verse). I would encourage you to read the article. Through my own personal study of blessing terminology in the Old Testament I can say Bauder is definitely on to something here. I believe Genesis 1:28 teaches we are the blessed, crown-jewel of God’s creation. This is who we are (an ontological reality); we are blessed image-bearers of God.

    While we were made in the image of God, we were also created for a purpose. And, I believe, that purpose in our age is to preach the gospel. When we set our focus on “redeeming the culture” instead of (or in addition to) preaching the gospel, we damage the gospel in two crucial ways.

The Gospel Mandate

First, there is a Redeemer, and I am not it. This world needs so much more than any “cultural transformation” I can offer. They need Christ! I dare not substitute my works, which are filthy rags apart from faith in Christ, for the finished work of the Messiah. It’s not just a poor trade—it’s a destructive one that robs God of His glory. Redemption is not something Christ has called us to accomplish, because He’s already done it.aaron-burden-233841-unsplash.jpg

Second, instead of focusing on making disciples of all nations, we may easily settle for something far less. Make no mistake—Christians should make a difference in this world. I am seriously committed to abolishing abortion in America and have given of my time and talents to help our nation to that end. But my image-bearing actions ought to shine as salt and light to point people to the one Redeemer Jesus Christ! As is so often true in Christianity, what we don’t say is as important as what we do say. I fear some have exchanged the gospel of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, with a man-centered view of cultural redemption. What good is a culturally reformed nation that will still die condemned to hell apart from Christ?

What it boils down to is two competing systems. One system says the cultural mandate is our first priority, while the other says the gospel is our first priority. One view hijacks the idea of redemption to serve a theological system, the other view lifts up Jesus Christ as the only Redeemer for the sins of mankind. I know that some of my good brothers and sisters in Christ may disagree. I only ask that you carefully consider what I say in light of Scripture. We need to be careful, lest we rob God of the glory that is due His name.

CP

Competing with Christmas?

Emily and I have a deep-seated desire raise our 4 year-old daughter with Christ at the center of our family this Christmas. But it can be hard to compete with the excitement of presents, the glow of lights, and the taste of treats. I have confession to make- it’s not just my daughter who has a hard time concentrating on “the reason for the season.” It is hard for Evelyn to keep Christ in Christmas because it is hard for me to keep Christ in Christmas.

If you are like me, you have a lot going on. Gifts to order, a tree to decorate, lights to string up, parties and programs to attend, Christmas music to play (gotta hear ’em all!)- the list seems endless. How can we keep focused in the midst of the craziness?

I’d like to recommend that instead of competing with Christmas this year you leverage it. Earlier I made the argument that we should emphasize the season of Thanksgiving in order to adequately comprehend the meaning of Thanksgiving. And we can carry that same mentality into the Christmas season. Every good teacher knows repetition aids learning. You need to establish a pattern of worship this Christmas season that will help you see the beauty of the incarnation in a fresh way every day this month. With that thought in mind, here are a few recommended resources to help you keep Christ at the center of your Christmas every day in December.

Come, Let Us Adore Him by Paul David Tripp

This book is a daily advent devotional designed to keep you meditating on the incarnation all throughout December. For example, last night Emily and I read the devotional for December 3rd which focused on the promises of God as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. You can click on the link here and read about the book for yourself. But, in summary, I like this book for it’s

  1. accessibility (short, 2-3 page devotional readings)
  2. theology (Bible-saturated truths about the incarnation with a recommended short Scripture reading at the end)
  3. relevance (each reading includes suggested ways to discuss that day’s topic with your child or family)
  4. repetition (it covers every day in the month of December)

Creative Connections

If we are going to leverage Christmas, we need to be creative. However, I would not recommend reading Christian symbolism into cultural Christmas elements (like Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas) as if pagans intended the Christmas tree to always represent the cross. I think that practice is misleading at best and dangerously confusing at worst.

However, I am a fan of using cultural Christmas elements as a springboard into gospel-centered discussion. This year I bought a Lego advent calendar for Evelyn. She was kind of disappointed at the size of the first set we opened, but has since caught on to the fact that we get to open a new set every day and put it on the tree. Now she reminds me that we need to do the Lego advent calendar.

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And every time we reach for that box, I am reminded to start the discussion of what I have read the night before in Tripp’s advent devotional. This morning as I built a Lego fireplace with her, I explained to her what a promise was and how God kept his promises by sending his Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins. We talked about how we can be confident that Jesus will save us, because God always keeps his promises. We will have this type of discussion every day in the month of December as we build sets from her Lego advent calendar. Thank you, Lego!

You can do this with any type of Christmas cultural element that you cherish. The beauty of it is we all have the opportunity to create our own family traditions, to be creative in how we keep the gospel fresh on our minds every day.

Isaiah Christmas

One final spiritual exercise I would recommend relates to your Bible reading habits. Author Tony Reinke has produced a simple Bible reading plan that takes you through the book of Isaiah in the month of December. Every day Reinke helps you know what to look for by sharing a few insights about the upcoming reading. He also helps you understand the overarching purpose of the book of Isaiah and how it relates to the incarnation of Jesus Christ. I would recommend reading his introductory comments by clicking on the link here. There is one extra step, and that is to create a Twitter account if you don’t already have one. Perhaps someday he’ll make everything available on his website, but until then you will need to search #IsaiahChristmas on Twitter to read his comments.

This format has given greater meaning and depth to my daily devotional reading. I look forward every day to opening my Bible and learning more about Christ’s incarnation from the Old Testament. Then I just take a moment to Tweet my favorite verse from each day’s reading. Today’s verse was Isaiah 9:6:

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.

My hope and prayer for you is that you will truly be able to keep Christ in the center of your Christmas, not by competing with Christmas, but by leveraging it. I encourage you to establish a routine every day that keeps the gospel in the forefront of your mind. May you see more of Christ this Christmas than ever before.

C.P.

21 Days of Giving Thanks – Day 15

In an effort to emphasize the season of Thanksgiving, I’m celebrating it all through the month of November. Earlier I explained my 21 Days of Giving Thanks challenge (which you can read about here). Today let’s give thanks for hope.

Day 15 – Give Thanks for Eternal Hope

Life is hard, incredibly hard. It can be laden with sorrow, discouragement, and despair. Ironically, in a culture that is increasingly liberalized and focused on “casting off the shackles,” dystopian stories abound in both print and media. According to the modern narrative, we should end up happy. But we are not. We are a society that is hopeless and sin-sick. We are bent on pleasing ourselves, and we have reaped the consequences of shaking our fist in the face of God. Then, after living life “my way,” all we have is death.

But in the midst of the despairing attitude of our current age God breathes life and hope. Romans 15:13 says,

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Our God is not the God of despair, but of hope. He promises eternal life to all those who lay down their arms of opposition to him, repent of their sin, and cast their souls entirely on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for salvation. While Christ paid for our sins on the cross, he also verified the authenticity of his sacrfice by rising from the dead. Our hope is not a dead hope, but a living hope, centered on the crucified and risen Lord.

You can give thanks this Thanksgiving because of this eternal hope in Jesus Christ. All who trust him have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:4) This world will never fully satisfy you because it is not meant to satisfy you. Some day believers who see Christ face-to-face will experience hope fulfilled.

Challenge: Thank God for the eternal hope available to all in Christ Jesus. If you do not have this hope in Christ, turn from your sin to the Savior and make him your true hope.

CP

21 Days of Giving Thanks – Day 1

Walk into about every major retail store this week, and you will find Christmas decorations galore. Why? $$$. Simply put, Christmas sells better than Thanksgiving. But I’d like to make an argument for Thanksgiving first, then Christmas. I’m not going to enter into the “Is it OK to listen to Christmas music yet?” debate because it’s totally preferential. I mean, some people like to listen to Christmas music all year long. And we should be thankful all year long, too. But I think there IS an argument to be made for emphasizing certain holidays within certain periods of time.

As a Christian, I find a lot to celebrate about at Thanksgiving. We are actually commanded to be thankful several times in Scripture, and thankfulness is presented as the cure to much of our spiritual sickness (See Colossians 3:15 and Philippians 4:4-7).

But the only way we’re going to really benefit from Thanksgiving is if we keep it in our mind’s eye for a consistent amount of time. The only way it will impact our children is if we consistently make a big deal about being thankful over an extended period of time. That’s why I think that November should primarily be about Thanksgiving, and December should primarily be about Christmas. We’re losing a lot in our secular moment, and the entire season of Thanksgiving is not the least of them.

So for the next 21 days leading up to Thanksgiving I am going to post 21 reasons for giving thanks. Along with those 21 reasons I am going to issue a challenge. Will you join me in 21 days of giving thanks?

Day 1 – Give Thanks for the Gospel

As I have already written, the salvation we have in Christ makes us new creatures who have many reasons for giving thanks. We don’t have to blaze past Thanksgiving on to Black Friday after our turkey, parades, and football, because we recognize there are so many other reasons for why we can be thankful.

Challenge: Take time to thank Jesus for the gospel and it’s impact on your life. Then commit to the “21 Days of Giving Thanks” challenge.

CP