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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Every day is Christmas

It’s Christmastime, so it’s time for the seasonal handwringing over our culture’s reducing the season to little more than a time for gift-giving and sentimental movies. To be sure, I have no problem with giving or receiving gifts, and I’m sometimes up for a sentimental seasonal movie.

And I also share the concern for our culture. It is beyond sad that our culture loves the Christmas season but rejects out of hand the biblical Christ. I read in the Christian Post that “the American Family Association is calling for a limited one-month boycott of Radio Shack, accusing the company of censoring the word ‘Christmas’ from its holiday promotions and advertising. ‘Until Radio Shack proves it recognizes Christmas by using it in their newspaper, radio, television advertising and in-store signage, I will boycott its stores this Christmas,’ a boycott pledge on AFA’s website states.”

Please do not misunderstand me, but I’m not too stressed over whether Radio Shack uses the word “Christmas” in its holiday promotion and advertising. Part of that may be because Radio Shack is completely inconsequential to my life. It’s probably been ten years since I was in a Radio Shack!

Frankly, it seems to me that professing Christians think too small. You see it in the popular slogan: “Remember that Jesus is the reason for the season.” Again, I understand the sentiment, and I’ve heard it repeated by sincere Christians as well as strongly voiced by church members whose living is marked by ungodliness.

I have come to believe that we Christians cannot change our culture by threatening to take our business elsewhere when portions of our culture do not externally heed our demands. What the good folks at the American Family Association are unwittingly promoting is, in my estimation, a culture of Pharisaism. It is a requirement that people conform externally to certain demands. Say “Merry Christmas” or else!

Let’s face it: the Christmas season is important to our culture because of the economic impact it has on the economy. We wish that were not so, but it is what it is.

Here’s my main point, though: Jesus is not merely the “reason for the season,” as catchy as that slogan is. Jesus is the reason for life. For the Christian, Christmas draws special attention to the incarnation of Christ, the “infleshing” of the Son of God. Without Christ’s coming to earth and becoming man, he could not have died as our substitute. We would still be in our sin. We would have no hope. God, whose essence is holy, could not receive unholy creatures.

Consequently, the One who knew no sin became sin for us, that we would be accounted righteous in the sight of God and received by him (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). That is what the birth of Christ is all about. God was claiming a people for himself, and the coming of Christ was a necessary step in that process.

So we rejoice in the coming of Christ not merely during a particular season recognized by culture and church calendars. Every day is Christmas! Every day is a day of rejoicing and gratefulness to God. “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:12).

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Are we amazed at grace?

Doubtlessly, one of the most widely-sung and best-known hymns of Christianity is “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

Perhaps familiarity has bred dull thinking. Have we lost the significance of the words “amazing” and “grace”?

I think that there is far too much of the Pharisee within all of us. You remember our Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. Luke records that Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.” A Pharisee and a tax collector went into the temple to pray. In our culture we hold neither Pharisees nor tax collectors in esteem, especially with the nefarious activities of the Internal Revenue Service coming to light in recent months. In Jesus’ day, Pharisees were among the most highly esteems persons in Judaism. They were conservative, hard-working, and honorable men.

We often think of Pharisees as those self-righteous Jews who went around condemning anyone having a good time because some religious law somewhere was being violated. That the Pharisees were self-righteous is true. The reality of the matter, however, is that most people who condemn the Pharisees as being self-righteous are themselves self-righteous. Excusing one’s own trespasses while denouncing those of others is a ubiquitous human trait.

The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable does little more than articulate a pervasive human condition: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

We would not be so crass as to voice such a description of ourselves. When we observe the sinful lifestyles of others, however, how often do we have the attitude of the Pharisee?

Clay Layfield, minister of worship at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Georgia, pointed me to a new hymn entitled “Not in Me.” We plan to introduce it to our congregation one Sunday evening soon. “Not in Me” was composed by Eric Schumacher and David Ward with the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in mind, and you can hear it here. Look at the first verse:

No list of sins I have not done,

No list of virtues I pursue,

No list of those I am not like,

Can earn myself a place with You.

O God! Be merciful to me—

I am a sinner through and through!

My only hope of righteousness

Is not in me, but only You.

The hymn rightly notes that nothing in us warrants God’s acceptance of us—not the sins we have not done, not the virtues we have esteemed, not a comparison with those we deem less worthy for whatever reason. Our depravity permeates all of our being; our “only hope of righteousness is Christ alone.”

The second and third verses continue the theme:

No humble dress, no fervent prayer,

No lifted hands, no tearful song,

No recitation of the truth

Can justify a single wrong.

My righteousness is Jesus’ life,

My debt was paid by Jesus’ death,

My weary load was borne by Him

And He alone can give me rest.

 

No separation from the world,

No work I do, no gift I give,

Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands;

I cannot cause my soul to live.

But Jesus died and rose again—

The pow’r of death is overthrown!

My God is merciful to me

And merciful in Christ alone.

Only an awareness of ourselves in our sinful state and an awareness of what God has done on our behalf can help us understand that God’s grace is indeed amazing.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

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