Don’t Discount the Boring

As we march the Christmas tree back into their unlit closets, we cannot help but slip back into the mundane cycle of life that had guided us through the weeks leading up to holiday. More often than not, we regret this return to normalcy, offering a little sighs under our breathe as life’s engine begins to hum at full speed. Though human nature often discounts the ordinary running of life in favor of extraordinary events, Christians should value the monotony. God uses ordinary life to form extraordinary character.

In Matthew chapters 1-2, God supernaturally reveals his will for the wisemen and Joseph through a series of four dreams. They are not alone. In Luke 1 and 2, we read that angels appeared to Zechariah and Mary. The supernatural story of Jesus’s birth could provoke a hunger in our hearts for dreams, visits from angels, and miracles. But upon closer inspection, the supernatural pushes men and women to ordinary action. Zechariah fulfills his husbandry duties and names a son. Joseph marries Mary and then takes his family to Egypt, and then to Nazareth. The wisemen take the alternate route home. The shepherds go hang out in a stable with a baby. No one storms Herod’s castle, reforms the Sanhedrin, or starts a nationwide revivalist ministry. The characters of the Christmas story simple do the next ordinary thing in faith. And as they do, the extraordinary happens, Jesus comes to save us from our sins.

Instead of regretting the return to normalcy that yips at the heels of every holiday season, Christians should welcome the ordinary. When we follow the commands of Scripture in our marriages, places of work, churches, schools, and friendships, the kingdom of God goes forward. Ordinary obedience transforms our souls, helps in the salvation of others, and facilitates the growth of our local church. The kingdom of God does not need the help of senators, conference speakers, or celebrities. Nor does the kingdom advance primarily when we step out of our comfort zone, jetting off to Africa or Asia for some type of monastic mission work. The kingdom normally expands when shepherds, teenage newlyweds, old priests, and Magi follow Christ in the ordinary things of life whether that is here in America, or in South Africa, or in Indonesia. Jesus said in Luke 16:10:

One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.

Don’t fear the boringness of your life. Embrace it. Obey God as you eat your cereal, wash your car, buy groceries, watch football, and help your kids with their homework. Even in the ordinary, you and me can accomplishing the extraordinary through faith by God’s grace. God is faithful!

Happy New Year!

Memo: April’s Cancer Update – Christmas 2020

As we wait for the glories of the Christ child to once again pierce the darkness of Christmas Eve, April and I want to bear witness to how the Christ child has blessed us this December. This past Monday, April endured her latest set of scans replete with needle pricks, swallowable dyes, and not so comfortable beds that drift in an out of large machines. Then like children bouncing around the house the night before Christmas, we waited to unwrap the results. On Wednesday, December 23, 2020 with the help of April’s talented UVA medical team, we unwrapped the latest report and found good news! Though a few new nondescript nodules have dotted the scans like misplaced Christmas light, the overwhelming majority of her tumors have either shrunk or remained stable. One has even decreased from 4.5 centimeters to 3.2 centimeters. The favor of Jesus rests upon my sweet bride.

But that divine favor does not eliminate all sorrow and hardships. Much like the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge, April and I find ourselves living in the past, present and future. We look back at the pain and uncertainty that hovered over our last Christmas and give thanks for the radical improvements that have occurred in April’s body. She just made a Yule Log Cake (Hello Christmas!). We seek to stay in the present reveling in the good news of the day as we watch our three kiddos open Christmas presents, embrace Christmas cookie decorating, and sing “Joy to the World” at the top of their lungs. Lastly, the future also hangs about us like a damp, ill-defined midst. We know April will have to endure more scans, back pain, and days away from our children. April wishes she could reshape her future like Scrooge. Sadly, it remains both fixed and elusive.

Though we do not know what the content of the next report will be, we do know something of the sender’s character. He is our savior, the Christmas child, Christ the Lord! Psalm 100:5 declares, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever.” We know this is true because the baby in the manger, lived, died, and rose again to save sinners like April and me. He humbled himself to the point of death on the cross so that we might be exalted to live with God. And he guides us through life with more love and power than even one of Scrooge’s spirits. The famed pastor and theologian, John Calvin, rightly noted that when God’s people descend into hardship, “[God] will not desert them, but will powerfully help them should they need his aid.” In short, the light of Christmas morning reminds us that our future will be snuggly wrapped in the love of God. Though the results of April’s scan will invariably contain variation, we know the love of God will remain fixed. Because of that first Christmas long past, we too can sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased (Lk 2:14)!”

Thank you for rejoicing with us this cold December day. We covet your prayers and support. They warm our hearts, manifesting the love of God. We hope our good news infuses a little gospel cheer into your Christmas celebration.

More importantly, we pray that you too will discover the joy of the Shepherds, and of Mary and Joseph who knew that Jesus, “the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people the sheep of his pasture.” God is good all the time!  

Merry Christmas!  

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The Story of Christmas, The Gospel of Jesus

Sharing the Christmas story with my church family has proved to be one of the highlights of the holiday season. I construct my narratives the around four-part gospel presentation (God, Man, Christ, Response) highlighted in Greg Gilbert’s book, What is the Gospel. I am excited to share one of those retellings of the Christmas story with you today.

The Script below was designed to be read aloud in a congregational setting. But I believe it will hold up quite well when you read in your comfy chair or at the kitchen table with your family. I hope this recounting of the Christmas story helps you rediscover the joy of knowing that the baby in the manager is Jesus, our Messiah who saves us from our sins.

Merry Christmas!

In the Beginning

The Christmas story is a political story. But it is not the story of elections, debates, and shady deals. Yes, King Ahaz gets a less than honorable mention, the Emperor Augustine makes a brief appearance, and the wicked King Herod sets the divine family on the run. But the Christmas story is not about these men and their governments.

As Jesus would one day tell the Governor of Judea, “My kingdom is not of this world.” 

According to the Bible, God’s kingdom transcends the limits of earthly space and time. God lays claim to the universe and everything it: physical and spiritual, visible and invisible…and even you and me. Psalm 89:11-12a declares that, “The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have created them;” The triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) deserves to be worshiped for he created and sustains the universe. 

God also created the first humans, the first royal couple, Adam and Eve. God designed them to lead all humanity to love and goodness, placing them in the center of his beautiful world, the Garden of Eden. For a glorious season, the first couple lovingly nurtured the flowers that swayed in the summer breezes, the creatures that danced in the meadows, and the fish that splashed about the oceans. All was good, pure, and right. All was peaceful between God and man, between man and man, and between man and nature.

But, this glorious world would not last. Adam and Eve would fall from their thrones.

The Political Crisis that Necessitated Christmas

One day, Eve entered into a conversation with a wicked serpent, whom God had tossed out of heaven. This snake told Eve that God was a liar who would exploit the first royal couple.  

First Eve and then Adam believed the snake. They thought rebellion against God would enable humanity to reach heights of unimaginable new achievements. When the first man and women sunk their teeth into a piece of forbidden fruit, they kicked off the greatest revolution of all time.

But their rebellion did not go as planned. When Adam and Eve struck out on their own, they discovered that the snake had lied and not God.

God had kept nothing good back from them. God had only protected the human leaders from all that was evil, rotten, and deadly. And now as Adam and Eve looked about God’s once good world, they saw fear, misery, and death. The very essence of their souls and the very foundation of the world had been corrupted. Adam and Eve were naked before the Lord. Try as they might, they could not undo what they had done. The kingdom of light had been replaced with the kingdom of darkness. The peace was gone. They were rebels against God.

Sadly, the corruption did not end with the reign of Adam and Eve. The first king and queen bequeathed their legacy of deadly rebellion to all of their descendants.

Take King Ahaz for example.

Isaiah Chapter 5 reports that Ahaz’s once shook with fear because an army of sword clad Syrians stood outside his castle gates. But all was not lost. God decided to help Ahaz. God told Ahaz, “Do not fear” for you will prevail. To prove that his message was not a divine prank, God gave Ahaz one genie-like wish. The king could have asked for a star, a dinosaur, or a gold nugget that weighed a million pounds. The universe was his for the asking. But instead of taking God up on his offer, Ahaz said, “No thanks.” The king wanted nothing to do with God’s salvation. He wanted to keep the rebellion going.

Despite all our iPhones, electric cars, and 85-inch flat screen TVs, we modern men and women have not progress beyond the rebellion of Ahaz. We all have spoken angrily to a child, stolen a pen or pencil, and harbored some really bad thoughts about a neighbor, family member or an ex. We have all sinned like Adam and Eve and Ahaz, believing God to be a liar. And like our first parents and all the kings and queens of old, we too will die. Though we cannot shake our fear of death, we will not ask God for help.

But God is not deterred. Humans like you and me cannot keep God from being God. Though Ahaz did not want a sign, God still gave the king a sign, a sign that would be for all people. Isaiah 5:14 reports “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel.” God would once again walk peacefully among his people. The kingdom of heaven would be restored. The Prince of peace was coming! 

Baby Jesus: Defeats the Rebellion

On Christmas morning, God again dwelled with the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. When the baby in the manger became a man, he set out to restore the kingdom of God. He overthrew sickness, rebuked the waves, and vanquished demons. He reminded the heirs of Adam and Eve of the glories of God, preaching peace, joy, and salvation. The serpent too reappeared, seeking to persuade Jesus to follow the first Adam into rebellion. But Jesus refused the offer. The kingdom of God was advancing. A new Adam, a new king had come. Seemingly just as he was about to ascend to the throne of Jerusalem, the Jewish and Roman rulers of the day intervened and crucified Jesus, preserving the political systems of the ancient world. His followers were bewildered by the cross. Perhaps the snake had not lied. Perhaps men and women truly could contend with God and defeat the kingdom of righteousness.

But Jesus had not been defeated. Three days after dying on the cross, Jesus stepped out of the tomb. When the women went to anoint Jesus dead body, the found not Jesus but an angel who declared, “He is not here, he is risen.”

Jesus burst through the serpent’s wall which had built with the slimy bricks of sin and death. The Scriptures reveal that the Wonderful Counselor had intended to die all along so that through his sacrifice he might liberate the descendants of Adam and Eve from the kingdom of darkness. Through his birth, life, death, and resurrection, Jesus had defeated the rebellion!

All the descendants who follow Jesus through the breach are welcomed back into the kingdom of light. Shepherds, prostitutes, prideful men, sex-crazed teenagers, and angry kids are all invited to repent and believe! When Jesus died, he suffered not for his own sins but for our sins. He satisfied the wrath of God with his righteous life, exchanging his holiness for our rebellion. As we step through the hole in the wall by faith, Jesus clothes us in his righteousness and fills our hearts with his spirit, providing us with the credentials and the power to once again walk with God forever. The Prince of Peace had come!

Come Worship the King

Because of the Baby in the manger, we no longer have to follow in the footsteps of our father, Adam. Though Adam brought death to all men and women, Jesus has brought eternal life to all. As the hymn says, “you will no longer need to fear the grave. Christ was born to save.” Those who repent of their sins and believe on the cross for salvation become sons and daughters of the Mighty God and will reign with Jesus in heaven. Those who believe will find the peace that Adam and Eve had lost through their rebellion.

The question we now face this Christmas season is this: “Do we have peace with God? Have we repented of our sins and trusted in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for our salvation? Is the baby in the manger, the Prince of Peace, my savior?”

If your answer is no, I encourage you to come and repent and believe before another Christmas comes and goes.  

If the baby in the manger is your savior, rejoice with great joy! No more let sin and darkness reign! You have been delivered from the rebellion. You no longer have to live in fear for Christ dwells with you, leading you to love, gentleness, kindness, mercy, and glory! Joy to the world, the savior Comes. Let earth receive her king.

Merry Christmas!