I’m in trouble this Christmas season. My wife signed us up for Hallmark Movies Now. So don’t blame me when these five things happen.
I’m in trouble this Christmas season. My wife signed us up for Hallmark Movies Now. So don’t blame me when these five things happen.
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! Psalm 106:1
We often talk about the benefits of being thankful this time of year, but it is also important to look at what can happen to us if we are not. Psalm 106 begins by calling the people of God to praise and thanksgiving. The following 12 verses continue by reminding them of God’s great and merciful works. How He showed His power and set them free from the slavery in Egypt, parted the Red Sea to get them to safety, and covered their enemies with water. As they remember God’s goodness toward them, we see thanksgiving flowing from grateful hearts as they recognize the Lord and His mighty works.
Then, a few verses later, we find a drastic change as we are told how they soon forgot His works and did not seek His counsel. Later, when they were in the wilderness, they began to lust for the pots of meat they had in Egypt and began to test God in the desert. As they started to demand meat, as if the Lord had not given them something they deserved, we find this in verse 15, “And He gave them their request, but sent leanness of into their soul.”
The Lord had granted them their fleshly desires, which was meat in the form of quail, but the meat did not satisfy them. The more they ate, the more it left them empty, and for some it even caused disease. Ingratitude works much the same way. When we think that we need something more than what God has already given us or has promised to provide, we tend to find that when we get what we desired, our longings had deceived us. The reason for this is because we should be feasting upon God, through His word, in remembrance of all He has done on our behalf. When we begin to forget God, and ingratitude begins to set in, it doesn’t matter what we receive, we will still want more. If God and His great mercy are not enough to fill our hearts with gratitude, nothing will.
Gratitude flows freely from a heart that is full of God, mindful of His great works, and aware of His grace to such unworthy and sinful creatures. The sinner, who hungers and thirsts after righteousness and has been filled by the justifying work of Christ, can find themselves in any harsh situation that this life has to offer and still have hearts that rejoice and are full. However, the one who forgets God’s great works toward them and begins to think they deserve something more can be in the most pleasant of all earthy positions but will live with souls which are lean.
The same Gospel that saves us from our wretched condition is the same Gospel that will fill our souls with joy for all eternity. We are never to forget how great His love is for us, that we should be called sons and daughters of God. To go about our lives without this at the center of who we are, will bring a leanness to our souls that will never be satisfied by anything else we try to put in its place.
This Thanksgiving, if your heart has been forgetful of God’s great love and works toward you, or if you find yourself unsatisfied with what the Lord had done for you, it is time to seek His face and remember His goodness. Do not let one more day go by without spending time in His word and calling out to Him in prayer. The most excellent holiday meals will not cure the leanness of soul which accompanies ingratitude toward God, and if you have remembered your God and your heart is full of Him, then any lack you face this holiday will not be able to empty the joy and gratitude which fills your soul. Godliness with contentment is great gain.
May all our hearts burst forth with gratitude toward our great God this holiday season!
Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations. Psalm 100
I am of the opinion that the way many Christians are responding to the so-called war on Christmas is wrong. We live in a time when many people, organizations, and business will not publicly say “Merry Christmas” because it might offend someone. Likewise, many of the traditional decorations and songs will no longer see the light of day. Starbucks even has the audacity to fail to decorate their coffee cups to our liking. This has prompted many people to say that there is a war on Christmas.
What many Christians don’t realize is that the Prince of Preachers himself, Charles Spurgeon, also had a war on Christmas.
“We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. (Charles Spurgeon, Sermon on Dec. 24, 1871).”
Since I refuse to be taken in by the in the genetic fallacy, I would strongly disagree with the conclusion some might derive from this that it is sinful to celebrate Christmas because of its origins, but we must agree that it is not a holiday mandated by Scripture. So my questions for those who believe that there is a war on Christmas would be, “Would you consider Spurgeon part of the war on Christmas if he were alive today because he certainly would not say, Merry Christmas?” Or is he a man with Christian liberty exercising his conscience?
The point of those questions is this, just because some people will not say Merry Christmas, or decorate their businesses the way we want, does not mean there is a war on Christmas that we must hold at bay.
I bring up the Spurgeon quote only to prime the pump and get us thinking. I believe there is a more direct problem with the way many Christians respond to the “war on Christmas.”
Building on the premise laid out by Spurgeon that there is no biblical mandate that we celebrate a holiday called Christmas in December, we, therefore, have no biblical foundation to require anyone to celebrate Christmas, not even other Christians. If it has no biblical basis, then it is a tradition of men. Some non-biblical traditions of men are good, and some are bad, but they all become evil if we make them a requirement to be a Christian in good standing.
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” – Colossians 2:8
Now some may protest and say, but we are not saying they need to celebrate it to be good Christians, and you said some traditions are good. All we are saying is that it is a good tradition that should not be under attack, and stores should not be so worried about offending people. They should say “Merry Christmas” because that is what holiday it is. To that, I would say, I understand the sentiment. Political correctness has run amuck, but is the Christmas holiday the hill upon which we really want to take a stand?
The foundational problem with political correctness is that it trades truth for falsehood to avoid offense, but what exactly is the reality of the Christmas holiday that they are violating. What holiday truths need to be pressed upon those who refuse to celebrate it or are trying to avoid offense? Santa, elves, reindeer, decorated trees, the Christmas spirit?
There are wonderful truths of the birth of Christ that every Christian should broadcast to the world, even if it is illegal to do so and lands us in jail, but we do not need to convolute those truths with the traditions of the holiday. Doing so does more damage than good.
Until I hear better reasons why we should fight the “war on Christmas,” my conclusion is this, as much as I love and celebrate Christmas every year, it is not a holiday required by the word of God. Christians should not require other Christians, and certainly not non-Christians, to celebrate it.
The good days are to be expected, and bad days are surprising and strange. Perhaps we have an unconscious assumption that is causing us grief. Wendell Berry, in his book, Jaber Crow, describes the “old-timers” in a way that seems lost on many people today.
“As much as any of the old-timers, he regarded the Depression as not over and done with but merely absent for a while, like Halley’s comet.”
Though many may wrongly interpret this as fear, there is health in this way of thinking. For many of us, we have been promised the world by our politicians, and we have believed them. It is true that we may chuckle at the thought that any one person thinks they have that much control, but conservatives and liberals alike often believe the that the state of our existence will continue to progress and that humanity will build its tower to heaven. This, of course, is false, there are good days and bad days ahead for all of us. Scripture itself tells us that when fiery trials come upon us, we should not think that something strange is happening to us (1 Pet. 4:12).
Moving to a more personal level, as long as our health is robust or our jobs feel secure, we think we can handle anything, but in the words of the late Rich Mullins, “We are not as strong as we think we are.” It does not take much for us to begin to feel our weakness. The problem is that when we don’t feel it, a false sense of our own competency begins to blind us.
Lousy days may not be the blight on our existence we think them to be. If we believe God’s word, which reminds us that God is working in our favor as much on our bad days as on our good days, we have no reason to lament the rough days like we are prone to do.
When I think, for example, about how quickly I am prone to forget about my daily connection to God through prayer, I thank the Lord for the days that knock me to my knees. I am much better off on my knees in prayer after taking a hit than walking confidently without Him.
Maybe it is just me, but too many “good” days in a row and I begin to forget that we are living in a fallen world, even when the evidence is all around me. Those are the days I walk in a fog of self-sufficiency, and it is not until I am hit with a reminder of my frailty that I am brought back to a favorable frame of mind. If this is true, then some of my “bad” days are actually my good days, and some of my “good” days are actually my bad days.
Some days it is abundantly clear how much I need Jesus. On the other days, I’m delusional.
Several Christian leaders recently released a statement which was designed to clarify the Biblical position on human sexuality. The statement said nothing new about these issues. Christians have held every proposition in this document for thousands of years. What is new over the past years, is the outrage that comes from those who disagree with statements like this. It is not merely disagreement but venom.
What is pictured above are some of the tame responses; the ones that left out the profanity-laced threats. We live in a time where if a group of people holds to a view of marriage that agrees with almost all of human history, 50% of today’s population will consider them bigots. Some will even call them Nazis and fascists. In condemning them, however, these new moral revolutionaries condemn most people who have ever lived.
The tide is indeed turning against those who hold to the biblical teaching on sexuality. So much so that the warning of being “on the wrong side of history” comes with some empirical force. This, however, should not surprise believers.
In history, when the authorities came for Christians, it was rarely ever because they were “Christians,” it was usually because of some other trumped-up charge. They often said that believers lacked patriotism, or indicted them with some other anti-social behavior. The same will happen in America if these trends continue. They will not say, it is because we are Christian that we need to be punished, but because we are hate-filled bigots abusing those around us through discrimination.
The important thing to remember is that the “wrong side of history” will not ultimately be determined by consensus, but by the only true God who revealed Himself in scripture. The Christian must remain faithful to God. To do this, we must never waver from His word, and we must continue to love those who hate us for it.
If we can only respond to this outrage with belligerence, maybe we should not respond at all. Not being belligerent does not mean that our logic cannot be sharp or our arguments strong. Nor must we water down the wrath to come for those who will not repent, but to quote Francis Schaeffer, “There is only one kind of person who can fight the Lord’s battles in anywhere near a proper way, and that is the person who is by nature unbelligerent. A belligerent man tends to do it because he is belligerent; at least it looks that way.. . .. We do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight, but because we must for God’s sake. If there are tears when we must speak, then something beautiful can be observed.”
May God be your strength, truth your anchor, and love your battle cry.
And he [Samson] was sore athirst, and called on the LORD, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised? Judges 15:18
It seems that many times when we have been strengthened by God and have done something great for the Lord, we soon afterward find ourselves confounded by our weakness. That is why this passage about Samson is so encouraging. Here is a man that, by the strength of God, defeated many of the enemies of Israel, and then, moments later, finds himself about to die from the lack of something as simple as water. When God gives us some sort of victory in doing His work, it is easy to begin to see ourselves as stronger than we really are. So the Lord often allows situations to arise that keep us dependent upon Him. We often thank the Lord for His grace in times of triumph, but how often do we forget to thank Him for our times of defeat. If all things actually work for the good of those that love Him, then grace comes in many forms. It comes in strength, but it also comes in defeats by showing us our weaknesses.
When we are on top, it is easy to begin to think that this is where true life and happiness are to be found. We start to crave more of it. Success breeds the desire for more success. Until, if God does not show us our weaknesses, we begin to think that this is what we need to be happy. We start to believe that this is what life is about, and without it, contentment starts to disappear. In weakness, Christ calls out to us and says, don’t find your hope and peace in the good or the bad times, find it in Me, I am your salvation. Experiencing weakness has a way of shaking from our hands many of the earthly things we think we need because, through grace, it causes us to set our eyes on eternity, by realizing that we are not invincible.
I can remember one beautiful summer night we had a barbeque with the family. It was one of those times when you are usually at peace enjoying the cool summer evening. But this particular night I was miserable. I had been suffering from a chronic illness for some time. I didn’t know if I would ever have enjoyment again, but I remember at that moment, a thought came to me about finding my sufficiency in Christ. It didn’t matter if, through suffering, I would ever enjoy another moment of this life. I have Christ! What else do I need? Our real victory is not found in the conditions of this life, even if our victories are Godly. Our victory is found in Christ.
When the Lord opens up the hollow place, like he did to give Samson water, and the truths of Christ’s sufficiency begins to run toward us, we find ourselves revived even when the land is still parched.
With everything going on recently, (Charlottesville, North Korea, Barcelona, etc.) I was happy to preach this past weekend on when sin brings you low. This sermon looks at Micah 7 and explores two ways sin brings us low; from the sin around us to the sin within us. It then looks at the answer and the proper response. The MP3 of this sermon can be downloaded at the link below.
It is that time of year again. Excited teams of Vacation Bible School volunteers are lining up to put on a meaningful week of ministry for kids. What many do not realize is that, like the five stages of grief, there are emotional stages to working VBS, and we do not want you to be caught off guard.
Below you find the emotional cycle upon which you are about to embark.
Here is what you need to know about each stage:
I can’t wait until VBS!
At this point, you are slightly delusional, but your excitement is honorable. You are about to embark on an important, and, for some kids in attendance, a life-changing ministry.
This week is going to be great!
Monday has finally arrived, and you have a picture in your mind of a week full of beautiful moments where you will be surrounded by children who were born without sinful natures.
What was I thinking?
It is here that you begin to realize that the image you had in your mind does not entirely line up with reality. From the kid who consistently confuses craft time with snack time, to one who thinks every Bible question should involve a discussion of his fidget spinner collection, things do not go as smoothly as planned.
Am I even human anymore?
By Thursday you are exhausted, and the spiritual vision becomes even more cloudy. You truly begin to wonder if this is making a difference in the life of these kids as Perilous Pete, as you mentally refer to him, continues to be disruptive regardless of the fact that you continue to guide him lovingly.
Glad that is over!
This stage is often the shortest-lived. It is usually recognized right about the time the final assembly closes in prayer. You are spent and ready to go home and hide for a week. Then Pete, now known as Precious Pete, runs up to you, gives you a big hug and says “Thank you, I didn’t know Jesus loved me, but I do now.” At this point, you immediately jump back into the first stage of the cycle.
VBS is ministry, and we should never expect it to be easy, but like all ministry, it will always be worth it.
It is hard to believe that it has been almost nine years since I posted the video below on YouTube. Of course, some of the images in the video make it look like it is 20 years old. Though the media may be dated, the truth stays the same. This is a clip from a sermon I preached called, Can You Lose Your Salvation?
It is not wrong for you to pursue your joy. The problem with fallen man is not that we seek our pleasure, but that we are seeking it in cisterns that can hold no water. As John Piper puts it, “we are far too easily pleased.” God has offered Himself to us as our source of infinite joy, while we continue to seek our pleasure in things such as T.V. binge watching or hours of social media. Once we become Christians, our search for pleasure should increase, and God should be the source of our delight.
I am currently leading a class at Bethel Grace Baptist Church through John Piper’s book, Desiring God. This book is a treatise on pursuing our joy in God. Each week Coen Tate, Matt Teays, and I will be covering a chapter from the book. Also, don’t miss lesson one taught by Pastor Jeff Saltzmann. If you would like to follow along, the lessons can be found online at the link below. They can also be found in podcast form at the Bethel Grace Baptist Church podcast in iTunes.
There are currently five lessons available, and a new one will be posted each week. There will be a total of 15 lessons.