Beyond Gratitude this Thanksgiving

 

Earlier this week my children were excitedly discussing the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday. Considering they are yet to come off their Halloween sugar high and the fact that Christmas is right around the corner (not to mention upcoming birthdays for two of them), I was extremely pleased that they were looking forward to a holiday like Thanksgiving which seems considerably less materialistic in nature. As I continue to listen from the other room, one of them runs in and says, “Dad, you know why I can’t wait for Thanksgiving!?” Anticipating something meaningful was about to be shared, I said “Tell me why, buddy.” He then blurted out with great excitement, “Because then you will let us listen to Christmas music!”

I had to laugh, because his answer pretty much reflects the reality of the season at our house. We intentionally do as much as we possibly can to put off the celebration of Christmas until after Thanksgiving is over. There is certainly some flexibility to this decision and it in no way indicates any kind of disdain for Christmas. We just feel that it is very important to take advantage of the holiday of Thanksgiving to help emphasize the importance of practicing a lifestyle of thanksgiving. Unfortunately, just like Christmas, there is great danger that the true meaning behind Thanksgiving can be obscured by our materialistic culture and values.

Before you start nodding in agreement and mumbling to yourself about all of those ungrateful pagans out there that don’t acknowledge that God is the giver of all good gifts, let me be clear that I am especially talking about the materialistic culture and values of those that are within the family of Christ. I am not saying that we as Christians are not thankful to God for what he gives us; I am merely saying that gratitude for stuff is the shallowest kind of thankfulness and still reflects that our priorities are material in nature. True thanksgiving is not about merely being thankful for stuff (though we certainly should be). It is not about being thankful for gifts; it is about being thankful for the giver. It isn’t even about being thankful for God’s blessings; it is about being thankful for God Himself.

I was recently struck by the truth and simplicity of this fact while reading Psalm 107:8-9. “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” Notice that we are grateful for God’s love and works, but he is the one for whom we are ultimately thankful. He is the one that satisfies the longing soul. It is not for the stuff he gives, but for he himself that we give thanks. We are compelled to offer our thanksgiving to God because He is the only one that can satisfy – only he can fill the emptiness within us. If we become fixated on the gifts we receive from God like health and wealth and relationships and toys then we will never be satisfied. While those things are good, they are never enough. However, when what we want is God, then we are content no matter what other blessings we receive. This is the key to true thanksgiving!

Today, as you offer thanks for family and friends and for turkey and pie and football and killer Black Friday deals don’t forget to spend some time going deeper. I challenge you to go beyond mere gratitude this Thanksgiving and contemplate God and his endless love and infinite goodness. Consider the immense spiritual blessings he has bestowed upon you like forgiveness and salvation and strength and power and courage. Offer thanks that he is your deliverer from trouble and distress. Thank him for being your wise guide through the difficulties of life. Be thankful that he is your protector, provider, friend and sovereign king. Have a truly happy and blessed Thanksgiving while practicing the words of the psalmist, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so!” (Psalm 107:1-2).

Advertisements

Christ-follower or Blessing-follower?

christmas-present-1

“2016 – the year without presents on Christmas.” This (accompanied by a few masterfully timed sighs) was the dramatic exclamation of my ten year old a few days before Christmas. His over-the-top theatrical outburst was due to the fact that we decided to move our traditional family Christmas activities (including presents) to Monday and intentionally focus on celebrating Jesus on Christmas Day. In the interest of full disclosure, this was primarily due to the busy nature of a Sunday Christmas rather than any super-spiritual aspirations on our part. However, this decision has taught me at least one thing: regardless of my best efforts and intentions, to small children Christmas is about one thing – getting presents!

A Fatal Flaw

In children, this is generally cute and eventually outgrown along with many other childish attitudes and behaviors. However, it does reflect one universal and fatal flaw in the human condition – we make everything about us. This includes the gospel and salvation. A common focus of gospel presentations and personal testimonies is all of the good stuff we get from God. We get joy. We get peace. We get a savior. While each of these is good and true, this is essentially a reversal of emphasis between two aspects of a single truth. The truth: God sent Jesus to earth and provided a way of salvation for all mankind. Our distorted perspective focuses on the benefit we gain from receiving this gift, while the true emphasis is on an awesome God giving a gift that we need.

 

A Self-centered Gospel

This may seem like the proverbial splitting of hairs, but as we build upon this faulty foundation our faith can take a very self-centered turn that was never intended. If the focus of the gospel is all about us getting joy and peace and salvation rather than about a great God giving us those things, than our life of faith becomes all about what we can get from God. The Christian experience becomes all about personal needs and desires. Following Jesus becomes nothing more than a means of getting what I can from God, from faith, and from the church.

This type of self-centered faith is why there are so many professing Christians who seem to live like nothing more than moral unsaved people. You know the ones I’m talking about – the “Christian” who might cuss more mildly, drink a little less, and go to church several times a month. But when it comes right down to it, these professing Christians are just living for themselves and have found a way to add God into their life on their terms. They want the blessings of being a Christian without any of the personal sacrifice or inconvenience.

The Heart of the Gospel: Sacrificial Love

I am not denying the tremendous blessings that come as a result of salvation. I am simply saying that the American church tends to overemphasize the getting to the neglect of the giving. You see, at the very center of the gospel story is God Himself giving up His place at the right hand of the Father. God gave up His high position in heaven to become human in order to redeem us. The very heart of the gospel is that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” The heart of the gospel is sacrificial love!

As we build upon this foundation, we will certainly receive blessings, but we will also live a life intentionally focused on imitating the kind of sacrificial love we see in Jesus. My faith becomes about responding in worship to a God to whom I am eternally grateful. My Christian experience becomes all about opportunities to sacrifice my wants and desires for the sake of serving Jesus through service to others.

A Practical Impact

This change of perspective will have tremendous practical impact on one’s daily life. You will be less offended when your rights are violated. You will be less hesitant to help someone in need. You will be more willing to go out of your way to serve someone. You will certainly be less concerned about getting your way all the time.

There will also be an impact on your attitude and behavior toward the local church. You will view church as an opportunity to use your gifts for the blessing of others. You will be more willing to sacrifice your preferences, like music, and decorations, and preaching styles. You will be less determined to make everyone cater to your comfort and desires. In short, you will desire to serve in the church rather than simply be served by the church.

Life as God Intended

I am not proposing that we do not receive blessings from God and I am certainly not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy them. They are a real and special and important part of what God has done for us. However, just like presents at Christmas, we cannot let these benefits and blessings become our primary focus. They are not the whole story. My prayer and desire for every true Christ-follower is that while enjoying the blessings of faith, you will live a life in passionate pursuit of the God of the blessings rather than the blessings themselves. That is living the way God intended; that is living in the manner that Christ lived. I challenge you to examine your own heart. Are you a Christ-follower or a blessing-follower? Prayerfully consider the answer and remember, it isn’t too late to make the change today!

Some Reasons to Go to Church on Christmas

church-669556_1920

Browsing the internet today, I was reminded of one of the more shocking and ironic practices in the Christian world. No, I’m not talking about some obscure ritual like snake handling or drinking poison. And I’m not talking about some strange, random practice by some small and insignificant group of nut jobs. I’m talking about the increasingly mainstream practice in some of the largest and most prominent evangelical churches in the country of canceling church on Christmas Sunday. For a variety of reasons I think this is ridiculous. I mean, seriously?! It’s Christmas. The day we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. And we think it’s a good idea to not go worship on that day? That baffles me.

Now, I feel that I must stop and acknowledge that many of these churches are wonderful, gospel preaching churches that love God and His people and want to do what is right. I am also aware that missing one Sunday of church is in all likelihood not going to send a church careening headlong into apostasy. I am not even saying that this decision is necessarily wrong and I have no desire to condemn the churches that are canceling their services this Christmas. I am simply saying that I don’t understand the reasoning behind it. In light of that fact, I want to offer some reasons why I think going to church on Christmas Sunday is a wonderful idea.

  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday is a great way to celebrate our Savior’s birth. Not to be too obvious, but it is Christmas. And Sunday. Seems like a good day for some church.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday affirms the belief that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Not that we cannot make Christ the center of Christmas from home, but it seems appropriate to set aside a little time to go to church if it’s really all about Him.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday is a testimony to what is most important to you. Like it or not, your actions do speak louder than words. By going to church, your actions loudly declare that church, worship, God’s Word, and other believers are important to you. More important than, say, presents or sleeping in.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday can be an act of sacrificial love toward God. There are things that are inconvenient about a Sunday Christmas, but we can sacrifice our conveniences out of love for God and appreciation for all He gave up for us.
  • Going to church on Christmas demonstrates a genuine understanding that church is about worship and not personal gratification. It really is all about Him, not me.
  • Going to church on Christmas is a proclamation that Christmas is not just a cultural celebration. It is a religious observance that commemorates the coming of a Savior, the forgiveness of sins, and redemption for all mankind.
  • Going to church on Christmas acknowledges the importance of the faith community in our individual lives. Though many churches cancel services to provide for family time at home, going to church affirms that our church family is equally important.
  • Going to church on Christmas can be an opportunity to serve. Many people will go to church on Sunday, some for the first time. When you show up ready and willing to serve, you can have an impact in their lives.
  • Going to church on Christmas can create a great foundation upon which to build the rest of your Holiday festivities. You don’t have to give up family time, special dinners, presents, or other traditions to go to church. You can go first and then enjoy a special day of celebrating that is truly focused on Jesus.

I know that we all celebrate in different ways, but I hope that you will consider joining many of us who will be at church Christmas morning. I personally can’t think of a more appropriate way to start the day than gathering in the name of Jesus with a group of his followers to praise Him on His special day. Merry Christmas!

Some Thoughts on Thanksgiving

intercede-christian-stock-images

Thanksgiving as a holiday is many things to many people. It might be little more than a day off to one or a significant and profoundly meaningful day of reflection to another. It could be about turkey and football or the end of fall and the beginning of Christmas. Perhaps it is a day for family gatherings, parades and Charlie Brown specials. Whatever your Thanksgiving entails, I’m guessing that in the midst of it all there will be a time of reflection and giving of thanks. For the Christian, this should be a special day filled with worshipful gratitude to our heavenly Father, but even for those who are not a part of the family of faith it is generally a special day filled with greater than usual gratefulness.

It’s about more than more.

Though gratitude should be a constant companion of every Christian, we generally find ourselves putting forth greater effort over the holiday season to “be thankful” and “count our blessings.” Along with everyone else, I usually focus on the quantity of my thankfulness. You know the drill: more thankful for more stuff more often. While this is certainly good and commendable, I have found my thoughts going in a little bit different direction this year. I’ve been thinking more about the quality of my thankfulness.

Don’t forget quality!

I don’t mean how good I am at being thankful, but rather the quality or substance of that for which I am thankful. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I should be thankful for everything. However, I recently read a statement that caused me to consider the types of things for which I am most frequently thankful. The quote by D.A. Carson is this: “…by and large, our thanksgiving seems to be tied rather tightly to our material well-being and comfort. The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value.”

While a general attitude of gratefulness and thanksgiving is important and becoming in the life of a Christian, it can also be an effective gage of where our priorities really lie. This realization has led me to consider whether all or most of my gratitude is focused toward material things, possessions and physical blessings. There is much to be thankful for that is outside of the scope of the material realm.

Expand your thankfulness.

Here are some areas to consider as you offer thanks this holiday season and the rest of the year.

  • Spiritual blessings and not just stuff. Are you as thankful when you are shown grace, mercy and patience as you would be if you were given cash or some other material gift?
  • Meaningful relationships. Do I value people or am I merely thankful for I get from those relationships?
  • The Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence. Are you truly grateful for God’s direction in your life and His Word that is available to you?
  • Spiritual growth. Do you feel as grateful when your children manifest Christ-like character as you do when they excel in school or sports? Are you as thankful for personal spiritual growth as you are for career or personal success?
  • Trials and difficulties. Are thankful for the hard things God places in your life or are you only grateful when life is easy?

Be thankful for your treasure.

Obviously we should also be thankful for material blessings and personal comforts, but that isn’t world that we should be most preoccupied with. After all, Jesus tells us in Matthew 9:19-21 that we should “…not lay up … treasures on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Make it your goal this season to evaluate what is truly most important to you. If necessary, make some adjustments and be sure to offer thanks for your real treasure.

Let Freedom Ring

The Fourth of July is upon us with all of its hot dog and fireworks filled festivities. Add an “Independence Day” sequel, the anticipation of the Summer Olympic Games, and Presidential elections later this year and you have a recipe for a heightened sense of patriotism all around. It makes for a perfect time to stop and think about what a blessing it is to call this great nation home. America, with all of her flaws, is still a land of immense blessing and opportunity. We may be tempted to gripe and complain about imperfections, but we are privileged to live in a land of tremendous freedom.

America’s Greatness

This dedication to the ideal of freedom has largely driven America’s greatness. Our founding fathers stoked the flames of this ideal when men such as Patrick Henry cried out “Give me liberty or give me death.” Freedom is one of the most treasured things that we have. We should thank God often for our freedom, particularly in light of the many men and women who have willingly risked and lost their lives in order to gain or preserve it for us. Freedom is truly a gift from God and should always be treasured as such.

God’s Idea

In fact, the very idea of freedom is God’s idea. We may have claimed it and even corrupted it a bit, but the idea began with God. His desire from the beginning was that mankind would be free. Free from sin, free from death, free from the control of others. We were meant to live in the freedom of being His. Though mankind lost that freedom when Adam sinned in the garden, God had a plan to restore it through His Son. That’s why Jesus said, “If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The freedom that sin stole from us was restored through Jesus and it is ours if we believe in Him. He is the one true source of all freedom – social, spiritual or otherwise.

America’s Downfall

The truth about freedom is that it was God’s idea and can only be achieved through a proper relationship with Him. Our freedom is very much connected with God’s own character. In the many years since the founding of our nation we have traded this idea of freedom for a lesser one and have attempted to remove God from the equation. Instead of pursuing freedom in Christ, we are pursuing freedom apart from Him. Instead of pursuing freedom as a virtue based in God’s character and will, we pursue freedom as a vice to satisfy my own selfish desires. We have begun to worship freedom itself and have forsaken the God that offers genuine freedom. In this way, freedom has become not only our means of greatness but the probable means of our destruction. By casting aside God in pursuit of something only He can give, we risk losing the very thing that made us great in the first place.

God’s Offer

However, both individually and nationally, it is not too late. Jesus promises to everyone who will know and accept it that the truth will set you free. The truth, of course, is God’s Word and this is where we find our hope for the future. When the unsaved world pushes for a freedom that ignores God and virtually eliminates Him from the equation, we find increased hopelessness and dissatisfaction. When Christians pursue a freedom that is primarily political and is largely defined by their convenience and beliefs, we also find very little hope. Our only hope is that we return one by one, heart by heart, to a commitment to loving and living God’s Word. It is here that we can find the freedom that once made us great. It is here that we can find the freedom we long for and true hope for the future.

Father’s Day Surprise

20160607_125735 (2)

A few days ago my wife called me at the office saying the kids had a surprise for me and would like me to come in the front door instead of the garage when I got home. With my interest peaked, I gladly agreed. As it turns out, they had ordered a father’s day gift for me and when it was delivered they decided they should just give it to me rather than try to move and hide the box for the next few days. They worked hard decorating the box with drawings and wrote Happy Father’s Day Dad in colorful, decorative lettering. They were so creative that certain letters stood out differently than others, resulting in my great surprise as (through the glass door) I read “FAT Dad” on the package. We all laughed once I came inside and realized the sentiment was much less offensive than it first seemed. In a matter of seconds I went from being surprised by the rudeness of an insult to being surprised by the excitement and generosity of my kids.

Honestly, that would be a pretty good way to describe my entire parental experience – one surprise after another. Some good and others not so good, but each exciting and important in its own way. As a new dad, I remember being surprised by how often a baby ate and how little they slept at night. I’ve been surprised by the large messes that can come from such little people. I’ve been surprised by hugs and cuddles and tackles. I’ve been surprised by first words and big words and hurtful words. I’ve been surprised by the questions: some sincere, some ridiculous and some never-ending. I’ve been surprised by silliness and foolishness, but also by wisdom beyond years.

I remember being surprised by that first realization that my own Dad was far more impressive than I had given him credit for. I was surprised by how exhausting kids can be, though I remember spending countless hours playing with him. I was surprised at how little I actually got to fish when I took my own boys fishing, despite the fact that I thought my trips with Dad were pretty smooth. I’ve been surprised by how hard it is to balance ministry and family, though my Dad seemed to get everything done and always have time for me. I’ve been surprised by how difficult parenting can be because Dad made it seem easy. I’ve been surprised by how much I took him for granted growing up.

I’ve also been surprised by myself. I’ve been surprised by how much I didn’t know and how much a child can teach. I’ve been surprised by how much I can love my children, yet I’ve also been surprised at how many other emotions I can feel toward those same little kids. I’ve been surprised by the anger I can feel and how quickly they can melt it away. I’ve been surprised by the overwhelming feeling that I know less what I’m doing the longer I do it. I’ve been surprised that there’s no system, no predictability and almost no trick that works from one child to the next.

Though I shouldn’t have been, I’ve also been surprised by God. I’ve been surprised by His love, grace and patience with me as a failure. I’ve been surprised over and over again by His forgiveness of my shortcomings. Though I should have known better, I’ve been surprised by His merciful hand in the midst of my mess. I’ve been surprised to see Him sovereignly working in my life and the lives of my children to shape us into His image despite ourselves.

Yes, I think my parenting journey is best summed up as a series of blessed surprises heaped one on top of the other. Though sometimes the surprise is not always pleasant, I can be sure there is another one coming just around the corner. To all of you dads out there, Happy Father’s Day. I hope you enjoy all of the incredible surprises of being a dad!

Don’t Be a Fool

directory-229117_1920

Fear. Paranoia. Mistrust of everyone and everything you hear and see. Overwhelming desires to seek payback. Desperate longing to survive the day without mishap. Ordinarily, these symptoms might be cause for concern, but not today. Today is April Fool’s Day and these are the normal feelings of pretty much everyone. And we like it! We laugh at things that would normally offend us and we lie with abandon for the sake of a joke. It’s no wonder that we label it a fool’s day. It is all in good fun, though, so I have no desire to play the role of the grouchy old man that has a problem with all the shenanigans. Though I have survived unscathed this year, I have certainly given some thought to the idea of foolishness and its counterpart, wisdom.

These are topics to which the Bible speaks a great deal, particularly in the book of Proverbs. To sum up the Bible’s teaching on the subject, we could say that foolishness is living life without regard for God’s truth. On the other hand, true wisdom is living and understanding life from the perspective of God’s truth. Accepting this biblically informed description of wisdom will lead us to several important conclusions.

  • There is no wisdom apart from God. He is the source and originator of all wisdom and it is futile to seek wisdom while ignoring or neglecting Him.
  • Wisdom must be sought in the Bible. If we truly desire to be wise, we must become consumed by God’s Word. It is in God’s Words that we find wisdom, not those of even the most intelligent of men.
  • Wisdom is active. It is not about amassing great knowledge or possessing unique information that others do not. Wisdom is about how you live and the choices you make. A wise person makes the choice to align their actions with the truth discovered in God’s Word.

As a result of sin, wisdom is not our default setting. Foolishness is. Unfortunately, many never learn to counteract that default setting and live their lives in a foolish manner. Fortunately for all those willing to accept it, God has offered his grace to us and will teach us His wisdom. All we have to do is admit our own folly, turn from it and seek Him. On this day where we enjoy a bit of foolish fun, make sure that you aren’t living life like a fool. I encourage you to take a moment right now to consider whether or not you are pursuing God and His wisdom. Commit to living the next moment in light of His truth. With God’s help that moment can turn into a lifetime of wise living.

Easter Is No Joke

At our church Easter egg hunt one of my little Awana buddies found an empty egg. When he opened it up and saw that it was empty, he said “Hey, who’s making jokes?” I knelt down and told him how when we did Easter egg hunts for our kids we always left one of the eggs empty. I explained that the empty egg symbolizes the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead and was no longer in the tomb. Through all of this, he listens as politely as a five year old needing a candy fix can possibly listen and then looked at me and said, “I still think someone’s making jokes.” So, laughing, I did the only thing I could – I gave him some candy!

As cute as that little guy’s response was, it wasn’t that much different from that of the first visitors to Jesus’ tomb. Even though Jesus had told them repeatedly that he was going to raise from the dead, they were apparently expecting to find a dead man in that tomb. As Mary arrived to find the empty tomb and then ran to find Peter and John, their collective actions reveal not belief but fear. I can just imagine them looking in, shaking their heads, and saying “who’s making jokes?” Even for those who had been closest to Jesus, it was too hard to believe that he had truly risen from the dead – at least at first.

It wasn’t until they saw him that they truly believed. That personal encounter with Jesus made all the difference for them. Rather than condemn their doubt Jesus commended their belief. He also commended all of those who would never see him physically but would choose to believe in him anyway. That includes you and I. For any of us who choose to believe, the resurrection is no joke. It isn’t a hoax. It isn’t a delusion. It is the promise of forgiveness. It is the promise of a savior. It is hope, joy, and peace. It is the key to life eternal and to abundant life right now. If you do not know him, then believe in him today. If you believe in him then live for him today. Because Easter is no joke – in fact it makes all the difference in the world.

 

 

photo by Zirguezi (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Do You Love Me?

chocolates

To the surprise of no one who knows me in the least, I must confess that I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day. Perhaps it’s the over-commercialization or the phoniness of the day. Or, more likely, I just don’t like to be told that I must feel or express a specific sentiment on a specific day (not that I have authority issues). Whatever the reason, I just don’t care for the Valentine’s Holiday.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against love or marriage or happy relationships or many of the other things that Valentine’s Day is supposed to represent. I just don’t like the day. However, through some reflection over the past week, I have come to appreciate one foundational assumption behind Valentine’s Day: love professed should be love expressed. Despite the way I feel about the holiday, I believe that this is the primary sentiment behind it and I am in whole-hearted agreement. Eventually, if we truly love someone than we will demonstrate it in some observable way.

While everyone enjoys being told that they are loved and appreciated, eventually those verbal assurances fade into inefficacy if not supported by some kind of action. This is a major reason that so many children and spouses feel unloved despite the fact that their spouse or parent would adamantly profess their love. It is also why churches are filled with Christians who claim to “love the world” at the same time that the world feels hated or neglected by the church. It is also why the Bible always speaks of our obligation to love one another in terms of action rather than feeling.

The overwhelming assumption behind the command to love is that our love will be expressed in an observable fashion. That is why Jesus said in John 13:35 that “your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” As a genuine follower of Christ, a prominent part of our responsibility to God and testimony to the world is a life that manifests His love to those around us. As Jesus did, we must love and accept others, offer forgiveness, live selflessly, be kind, and treat others as more important than ourselves. After all, this kind of genuine, observable love for others is evidence that we actually love God. As 1 John 4:20 says, “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Take this verse to heart and learn this valuable lesson from Valentine’s Day: Love professed must be love expressed or it isn’t genuine love at all.

The Christmas Gospel

Velden_floating_nativity_scene_on_the_surface_of_Lake_Woerth_11122009_11

I love nativity scenes! It thrills me every Christmas season to see the many different versions on display. From rustic outdoor sets to ornate glass displays, each puts its own unique spin on the Christmas story. They’re all different in presentation, but all the same in the fact that they are beautiful and elegant representations of the birth of our Lord.

As I’ve enjoyed the many different nativity themed decorations this year, I’ve found myself drawn to what is missing. In fact, it’s the same thing that is missing in most of our renditions of the Christmas story. It’s the mess. The ugliness. The chaos. Nativity scenes never depict the reality of a messy stable, a newborn baby, a young lady worn out from travel and giving birth.

In fact, the messiness of the story extends beyond the physical circumstances. Mary and Joseph’s lives were turned upside down. Though they knew the divine origins of her baby, many would assume her guilty of adultery. Their choice to obey God would cost them dearly in human terms. And it would cost others, too, like the families of the babies Herod slaughtered. Then there’s the purpose of this special birth – death. Jesus was born to die; and not just any death, but the most awful and torturous death the world had concocted to that point in history.

Our Christmas decorations, plays and festivities reflect our natural tendency to sanitize everything so that it seems nicer and more attractive. But the Christmas story isn’t beautiful because it is clean and perfect. No, it is beautiful because it is the pinnacle of God’s working in the ugliness of life. When you stop to think about it, that’s the heart of the gospel.

While the gospel is certainly good news of great joy to all men, it is necessitated by our greatest problem – God is Holy and I am not! I am sinful and my sin condemns me to hell and death. Worse, I can do nothing about it. It is only contrasted to this reality that the gospel is truly good news. We must realize that the full, genuine message of the gospel is messy and ugly before it is beautiful and joyous. It is slavery to sin before it is freedom. It is God’s wrath before God’s mercy. It is war with God before it is peace on earth. The gospel is about hope in the midst of hopelessness and salvation in the midst of helplessness. Christmas reminds us that there is beauty and hope in the midst of despair and hopelessness if we only trust in Jesus.

The ugliness of life doesn’t diminish the story of Christmas or the Gospel, but serves to enhance the beauty of the free gift that God has given us. This year, let the beauty and wonder of Christmas remind you of the beauty and wonder of the gospel message – Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. God came into our mess! He entered into the ugliness and darkness and He is our rescuer.

 

 

photo by Johann Jaritz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons