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When the Gospel Transforms Your Christmas Expectations

Guest post by Stephen Altrogge

I have certain expectations when it comes to Christmas.  I expect to drink egg nog, even though I don’t really like it.  I expect to listen to hours upon hours of Christmas carols.  I expect to watch the movie Elf.  I expect to drive around with my family and look at Christmas lights.  And I expect to get some gifts.  Twenty-eight years of Christmas experience has taught me what to expect.

But how would I feel if some of my expectations weren’t met?  What if I didn’t get to do the things that I so look forward to?  No Elf. No Christmas lights.  No nog.  No gifts.  Could I be happy?  Could I be content?  Could I rejoice in what I have instead of what I don’t have?

If I’m going to be content during Christmas, I need to make a concerted effort to remember what I have received, particularly what I’ve received in the gospel.  So what have I received?

Forgiveness – Through the gospel I have received forgiveness from God.  How quickly I take this for granted!  I deserve fury, but instead I have forgiveness.  I deserve wrath, but instead I’ve received mercy.  God has really pardoned all my sins.  They can’t come back to haunt me like ghosts from the past.  During the Christmas season I want to revel in my forgiveness.

Fellowship With God – Through the gospel I have fellowship with God.  Through the gospel God calls me his friend.  His son.  His heir.  His beloved. I can actually speak to God and he hears me.  He gives his presence to me, and his joy to me.  What is such a gift worth?  What would I pay for such a gift?  It’s priceless.  Precious.  Invaluable.  And because of Jesus I have it.

Freedom – Billions of people will wake up on Christmas morning as slaves of sin.  Unable to break free from the desires and passions that are ruining their lives.  Unable to change, but miserable because they can’t change.  Unable to love things that are truly lovely.  In Christ I am free.  Sin doesn’t rule me, Christ does.  He has set me free to pursue a life that truly matters.  Apart from Christ my life would be dark and aimless.  Christmas is a celebration of freedom.

This Christmas I can be content in Christ.  The gospel is enough to make me content.  Forgiveness is enough to make me content.  Fellowship with God is enough to make me content.  Freedom is enough to make me content.  What else do I need to be happy?  In Christ I have it all, and then some.

Guest post by Stephen Altrogge, author of Game Day for the Glory of God and the forthcoming The Greener Grass Conspiracy. Stephen blogs at The Blazing Center.

December 15, 2010 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Author,Christmas,Holidays,Life & Doctrine,The Christian Life | Author: Angie Cheatham @ 11:40 am | 0 Comments »

Navigating the Narratives

Shaped by the Bible’s Story or the Culture’s Story?
Guest Post from Jim Hamilton, Part 2

How does “God’s glory in salvation through judgment” relate to the moral, ethical, social, economic, and political issues in our culture?

Everyone approaches these issues from the perspective of a wider narrative. Homosexual marriage and abortion are questions that people look at from the perspective of the story of the whole world. The big story of the world told by the Bible has been challenged by academics who argue that the Bible doesn’t tell a coherent story, and that has weakened the confidence of some evangelical scholars and teachers. Others are distracted from it, or they really don’t think it can be established, or they haven’t thought about it because they’re more comfortable analyzing pieces of the puzzle than trying to put the puzzle together, or for whatever reason they don’t bring its relevance to bear on their thinking about these issues. As a result, many people, including Christians, have begun to operate as though the story told by the modern myth and fable makers is true.

These modern myth and fable makers are the witch doctors, medicine men, and shamans of contemporary culture. Today’s myth makers tell people that in a past so remote we can’t understand it (billions of years ago), there was a big bang, a huge explosion, and though it took more years than any of us can understand (and it seems the more they think about it the longer it took) everything ultimately resulted from a sudden unexplained release of energy. What caused that no one knows. That’s what they tell us. Everything came from nothing. And they can prove it. They have these machines that tell how long a rock has been decaying, and they have these complicated mathematical equations. Smoke and mirrors haven’t gone out of style.

Even though there have been some major scandals showing that some of these shamans have perpetrated some significant frauds, as long as we call them scientists, their integrity is not the issue and believing what they say is never regarded as taking anything on faith. Since the myth-makers say it, even if many of them disagree with each other, those who believe the myths have every right to insist that their beliefs are based on solid fact rather than faith.

According to their story of the world, there’s no God, no meaning, no absolute truth, no ultimate purpose, humans are no more valuable than animals, there is no such thing as ultimate morality, and everything is evolving on to something better, however better may be defined. If you ask them how they identify what is good, they tend to change the subject.

Make no mistake about it, this modern mythology has its morality: Inconvenient children can be killed if they are still in the womb. No sexual perversion is off limits. People of the same sex can marry each other. Those who object to the fundamental tenets of the myth and its morality are ignorant, immoral, and can be treated with righteous contempt for the public good. Those who reject the myth and its morals are bad people who can be ignored, dismissed, insulted, and mocked. The shamans, witch doctors, and medicine men are not to be challenged.

But what if the Bible tells the true story of the world? What if the biblical authors aren’t some less evolved collection of incoherent wild men who can’t agree with each other? What if the biblical authors really were every bit as human as we are? What if they can be shown to be in agreement with each other? What if they believed that God made all that is, and that he did so with a purpose? What if they tell us what that purpose is? What if they say that God is revealing all the glory of his infinite goodness by exalting the exact rectitude of his justice so that those who receive his mercy will be so transformed by it that they will sing about it forever? What if they all agree that God thus glorifies himself by saving people through judgment, and what if that is the center of biblical theology? Would that mean that the Bible speaks to pressing moral, ethical, social, and economic questions? I think so . . .

Jim Hamilton is author of the new release, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment.

The Great Reversal

Guest Post by Tullian Tchividjian

In C.S. Lewis’s masterful children’s story The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he tells of a country, Narnia, which is under the curse of the White Witch. This evil queen places a spell on the land so that it’s “always winter and never Christmas.” Under her control, the future of Narnia looks bleak until word gets out that “Aslan is on the move.” In the story, Aslan is a noble lion who represents Christ. He’s coming to set things straight. He’s coming to destroy the White Witch and thus reverse the curse on Narnia. The first sign of Aslan’s movement toward this cursed land is that the snow begins to melt–“spring is in the air.” The cold begins to fade as the sun rays peer through the dark clouds, promising the dawn of a new day. Everything in Narnia begins to change.

You’ll have to read the book to see how the story ends, but when I’m asked to describe the true meaning of Christmas, I like to say that the birth of Christ is the sure and certain sign that “God is on the move.” The arrival of Jesus two-thousand years ago ensured that God had begun the process of reversing the curse of sin and recreating all things.

In Jesus, God was moving in a new way and, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “winter began stirring backwards.”

All of Jesus’ ministry—the words he spoke, the miracles he performed—showed that there was a new order in town: God’s order. When Jesus healed the diseased, raised the dead, and forgave the desperate, he did so to show that with the arrival of God in the flesh came the restoration of the way God intended things to be. New life was given, health was restored; God was reversing the curse of death, disease, and discomfort. The incarnation of Christ began the “great reversal.”

Tim Keller observes that Christ’s miracles were not the suspension of the natural order but the restoration of the natural order. They were a reminder of what once was prior to the Fall and a preview of what will eventually be a universal reality once again—a world of peace and justice, without death, disease, or conflict.

To be sure, when Christ comes again, the process of reversing the curse of sin and recreating all things will be complete (1 Cor. 15:51-58). The peace on earth that the angels announced the night Christ was born will become a universal actuality. God’s cosmic rescue mission will be complete. The fraying fabric of our fallen world will be fully and perfectly rewoven. Everything and everyone “in Christ” will live in perfect harmony. Shalom will rule.

Isaiah pictures it this way:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

For those who have found forgiveness of sins in Christ, there will one day be no more sickness, no more death, no more tears, no more division, no more tension. The pardoned children of God will work and worship in a perfectly renewed earth without the interference of sin. We who believe the gospel will enjoy sinless hearts and minds along with disease-free bodies. All that causes us pain and discomfort will be destroyed, and we will live forever. We’ll finally be able “to enjoy what is most enjoyable with unbounded energy and passion forever.”

Christmas is the celebration of this process begun and the promise that it will one day be completed.

Guest post by Tullian Tchividjian, author of Surprised by Grace. Check out Tullian’s blog at On Earth as it is in Heaven.

December 10, 2010 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Author,Christmas,Holidays,Life & Doctrine,The Christian Life | Author: Angie Cheatham @ 8:36 am | 1 Comment »

Why Were Gold, Incense, and Myrrh Appropriate Gifts for Jesus?

To celebrate Jesus’ birthday, the wise men brought gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh. James Montgomery Boice shared why these gifts were more than appropriate for Jesus the King, High Priest, and Sacrifice.

Gold: It is easy to see why gold is an appropriate gift for Jesus Christ. Gold is the metal of kings. When gold was presented to Jesus, it acknowledged his right to rule. The wise men knew Jesus was the King of kings.

Incense: Incense was also a significant gift. It was used in the temple worship. It was mixed with the oil that was used to anoint the priests of Israel. It was part of the meal offerings that were offerings of thanksgiving and praise to God. In presenting this gift the wise men pointed to Christ as our great High Priest, the one whose whole life was acceptable and well pleasing to his Father.

Myrrh: Myrrh was used for embalming. By any human measure it would be odd, if not offensive, to present to the infant Christ a spice used for embalming. But it was not offensive in this case, nor was it odd. It was a gift of faith. We do not know precisely what the wise men may have known or guessed about Christ’s ministry, but we do know that the Old Testament again and again foretold his suffering.

James Montgomery Boice from Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.

December 7, 2010 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Books,Christmas,Holidays,Life & Doctrine,The Christian Life | Author: Angie Cheatham @ 3:19 pm | (3) Comments »

Sharing Christ the Newborn King

Christmas is the least intimidating time of year to talk about Jesus. The Christ child is portrayed in cards and on TV. Manger scenes are erected on church lawns and in city parks. You might even hear a carol about Immanuel in the mall.

He’s everywhere.

And so it’s a natural time to bring up a conversation about Jesus with your neighbors and friends. Maybe even invite them to church. Why not? It’s Christmas, after all.

We want to help you make your outreach as effective as possible, so we’ve put together a convenient packet of materials that you can pass along to those you might want to invite to your church’s Christmas service. We’re thinking that you’d prefer to do this kind of outreach with your family or small group, in cooperation with your church, so we’re making these kits available in bundles of 50. Each $50 kit includes:

  • 50 ESV Outreach New Testaments, Christmas Edition
  • 50 copies of The Good News of Christmas tract by Max Lucado
  • 50 customizable invitations for a Christmas event
  • 50 door-hanger bags
  • 1 Instruction card
  • 1 Reproducible church bulletin insert

One of our Facebook friends is further personalizing his outreach by including a candy cane with each bag. We think that’s a sweet idea.

Intrigued? For more information, including how you can order your kits, click over to GoodNewsOfChristmas.org.

December 3, 2010 | Posted in: Christmas,Evangelism,Event | Author: Crossway Staff @ 9:53 am | 0 Comments »