Monday, December 29, 2014

This manger scene was different

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics, based on Biblical principles, in various institutions. One place they visited was a large orphanage. It was nearing the holidays, and they introduced the orphans to the traditional Christmas story for the first time. They told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem and finding no room in the inn, and that Jesus was born in a stable and placed in the manger.

Throughout the story, the children sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.

As a follow-up activity, each child was given three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was also given a small square of paper, cut from yellow napkins which the children tore into strips and carefully laid in the manger for straw. Small pieces of flannel from a thrown away nightgown were used for the baby’s blanket.

As they made their way around the room to observe the children, one of the Americans noted that all went well until he got to the table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As the American looked at the little boy’s manger, he was startled to see not one, but two babies lying there. Quickly, he called for the translator to ask the boy why he had reconstructed the story in this way.

Misha spoke through the translator and very accurately recalled the story that had been told until he came to the part where Mary put Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story and said that when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at him and asked if he had a place to stay. Misha told Jesus that he had no mama or papa, and no place to stay. Then Jesus told Misha that he could stay with him. Misha said he couldn’t stay with Jesus, because he didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But Misha told the translator that he wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so he thought about what he had that maybe he could use for a gift. Then he had an idea.

He asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told Misha that would be the best gift anybody had ever given him. “So,” Misha said, “I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him — for always.”

As Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed. The little orphan boy had found someone who would never abandon or abuse him, someone who would stay with him — for always.

This manger scene was different. But it fits right in with the story of Christ’s birth. As the Bible says, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Did you get that? You and I are orphans, but Jesus has come to adopt us.

I don’t know what you got for Christmas, but it doesn’t compare with what the Christ of Christmas has for you.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Jesus: The name above every name

Here’s the name above every name in Great Britain this year: Muhammad. A survey conducted by a parenting website has declared the name Muhammad to be the most popular name for baby boys in Britain, surpassing previous favorites, Oliver and Jack. Muhammad jumped 27 spots from last year to claim the top spot on the list of the 100 most popular baby boy names for 2014.

That may be so. But, the name that is above every name has been given by God to Jesus. “You shall call His name Jesus,” the angel said to Joseph, “for He will save His people from their sins.” It is a name that is set apart, even by those who don’t believe in Him. Philip Yancey wrote, “Today, people even use Jesus’ name to curse by. How strange it would sound if, when a businessman missed a golf putt, he yelled, ‘Thomas Jefferson!’ or if a plumber screamed ‘Mahatma Gandhi!’ when his pipe wrench mashed a finger. We cannot get away from this man Jesus.” Or from His name.

But Jesus’ name in His day would have been as ordinary then as Bob or Joe is today. This was a time of a revival of Jewish pride, and parents were naming their children after the heroes of the Old Testament again. So Mary was named after Miriam, Moses’ sister. Joseph was named after one of the patriarchs. And even the name “Jesus” was a form of the Old Testament name, Joshua, which means, “He shall save.” So the thought that someone named Jesus could be the Messiah was unthinkable. For people raised in that time and in that tradition, Phillip Yancey wrote, it would have been scandalous to even consider that someone named “Jesus” could possibly be the Son of God. Jesus was just a man; He was Mary’s oldest boy, a carpenter who grew up in Nazareth, for goodness’ sake!

Paul wrote, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him (Jesus) and given Him the name that is above every name.” Sinclair Ferguson argues that Paul was making a clear connection between the name Jesus and the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. Isaiah wrote 700 years before Christ, “Truly you are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. … For thus says the Lord …’I am the Lord, and there is no other’ … And there is no other God besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. … To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”

Here’s the point: God is the only Savior, God says of Himself in Isaiah. Jesus, says Paul, is that Savior. God is the Lord before whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess, God says in Isaiah. And Jesus, says Paul, is that Lord.

This is why the birth of Christ divides time, as well as nations, even families. At His first appearance, Jesus hid Himself in plain sight, as a babe in a manger. At His next appearance, He will split the skies as King of kings and Lord of lords. He will not come, hat in hand, asking for us to “please accept Him.” He never did that in His first coming. When He returns, it will be to consummate God’s perfect plan for all of mankind and judge the world in righteousness.

“When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found, Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.”

May Christ alone and His righteousness alone be yours this Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Funny: Horus Ruins Christmas

Horus crashes a Christmas morning service, and things don't work out quite the way he had hoped...

Horus Ruins Christmas

...and even if you're not familiar with all of these popular internet conspiracies explaining away the story of Jesus, the video is so well done that it's funny in it's own right.

From the video's creators:
Hey, did you know that the life of Jesus was stolen from the Egyptian God Horus?

Oh, you know stuff about Horus? Well, I mean it was stolen from Mithras.

Oh, you know stuff about Mithras too? Well, whatever pagan god you've never heard of is the one that the life of Jesus is stolen from.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Jesus did not come to make bad people good

When I was growing up, I used to set out rabbit gums. They were wooden boxes with a trap door; the animal would smell the bait, enter the box, hit a stick that was connected to the door and the trap would slam shut. Every morning before the school bus came, I would run down in the woods and check my traps. I can’t tell you how many possums I caught. I can tell you how many rabbits. One. They’re just too smart. But nobody ever accused a possum of being smart. Ugly, yes. Slow, yes. But smart? Why do you think there’s so much free possum meat on the highways and byways?

So, let’s suppose I go on a campaign to “Save the Possums.” Somebody is already committed to saving the whales and the snails and the males. I want to save the possums, but how am I going to do that? Let’s say I realize that the only way to save the whole possum race is to become one. I somehow add to my human essence the essence of possum, and believe me, you won’t find that fragrance at Belk’s, and I come in the likeness of a possum. I travel down, way down, down to possumland, where those critters live. Where will I find those possums so I can save them? Well, I know I can find most of them waiting by the side of the road, watching for cars to come so they can run out in front of them. So I would go to them and speak possum to them, pleading with them to change their ways. “Look!,” I would say, “you don’t have to do this. Step away from the road and that oncoming transfer truck and follow me back to the woods. That’s where we will find the possums with three or more brain cells left, frolicking in a way that only possums can.”

What do you think? Would it work? I don’t know, but I can assure you that I am not interested in that plan at all. I can think of little worse than becoming a possum.

Friends, as greasy and distasteful as it might be for us to consider trading in human form for possum posture, that pales in comparison to what Jesus did when He left glory and put on humanity, coming in the likeness of a man to save us. He was and is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made,” as stated in the Nicene Creed. There is no way our finite minds can begin to comprehend how high He was and therefore how low He had to come.

There’s something else about my possum-pretending that pleads for pointing out. It would not do for me to just become a possum and implore my furry kinfolk to change their sneaky and destructive ways. I would have to somehow give my life in exchange for theirs. Just as it was not enough for Jesus just to come and live a good life and show us how to “be better people.” Jesus Christ did not come to earth to be our example; He came to be our Savior and our Lord. To accomplish that purpose, Jesus was born to die. He said of Himself, “The Son of Man must suffer many things ... and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

That little baby, born long ago in a manger in Bethlehem, did not come to make bad people good or good people better. He came to make dead people live.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mild He lays His glory by

I heard Frank Turek say at Elon a few years ago that the greatest miracle ever performed was creation, because God made something out of nothing. Others say the greatest miracle of all time was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Still, others cast their vote for the incarnation. Wayne Grudem wrote, “It is by far the most amazing miracle of the entire Bible. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become a man and join Himself to a human nature forever so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.” We can disagree about which of the three events in history is the greatest miracle, but the incarnation is amazing and glorious, and worthy of our study and attention. May I say also that I take issue with those Christians who refuse to acknowledge Christmas because of all the arguments they muster:

Dec. 25 is not the actual day Jesus was born, there are pagan celebrations connected with Christmas, it’s gotten too commercial or any number of other reasons. We understand those arguments, but we also understand that the incarnation is a fact, a real event, and we celebrate that! It is the birth of the Messiah, the coming of our Savior that we celebrate on Christmas.

Philippians 2:6-11 is considered by many to be the greatest doctrinal statement in the Bible relative to the person of Christ. It is called the “kenosis” passage because of the word used in verse 7: He “emptied Himself.” I wish we could really grasp with our understanding how high He was and how low He came. But there’s no way we can. It’s like asking your dog to understand Shakespeare, when you’re still working on trying to make him understand “no.” Or, “be quiet.” But there is much we can know, even with our limited, finite minds, and the plain truth in the Bible is that Jesus, who always was and is coequal with God, took on human flesh in order to die for us on the cross.

It is precisely because the incarnation is essential to our faith that it has been in the crosshairs of heresy from the third century. Arius proposed in 320 A.D. that only God the Father was eternal and that He produced Jesus Christ out of nothing as His “first great creation.” This heresy was refuted by the Council of Nicaea that produced the Nicene Creed, and which states in part, We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.

Sadly, the heresy of Arianism lives on today with people who practice the Unitarian, Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness religions, among others who deny that Jesus was and is coeternal with God.

Why is this important? Because the incarnation of Christ is essential to our salvation. And because the understanding of what Jesus did by leaving glory and becoming a man is essential to our own humility. Jesus was equal with God. But He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” He laid aside the independent exercise of His divine attributes and was born in a manger.

“Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”

That’s why we celebrate.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


It happens every year. Before the leaves can change from green to orange–and before those leaves descend to the ground–businesses start promoting their Christmas ads. Or as many businesses call them, their “holiday” ads. And this undoubtedly Hulk-rages every Christian on the planet into a wreath-colored green.

“How dare they remove ‘Christ’ from ‘Christmas!'” we cry. Just like the Hulk, we promise these business that they won’t like us when we’re angry.

Calm down, proverbial Bruce Banners.

Really. What’s so wrong with the word “holiday”? Is the word so bad that it warrants sign picketing in front of the local Home Depot? Does someone really need to start the 732nd online petition forbidding the term? Do our embittered protests really affect anything?

Is the word “holiday” so malevolent that we ought to make the banning of it our hill upon which to die? Is there not a better way to spend our Christmas time and energy? And, more importantly, is this really the best way to combat the underlying problem?

No. No it’s not.

The word “holiday” comes from the Old English haligdæg, which means, “holy (halig) day (dæg).” It was used to describe things like religious festivals, meaning that businesses using the word “holiday” to describe religious events like Christmas isn’t necessarily anything new. The word has been used this way for a long time. So, contrary to popular conservative Christian opinion, the 2005 Boston “holiday tree” scandal, in which the word "holiday" was used to describe a Christmas tree, wasn’t anything new.

(Not to mention that “Christmas trees” are more than likely the residual result of pagan worship.)

The reality is that the word “holy-day” isn’t that bad of a word to describe a day slated to represent the birth of God’s Son. I would argue that it’s not just not a bad word (double negative, anyone?), but that it’s a fantastic word. I mean, if the day that we celebrate the earthly incarnation of the heavenly Creator’s Son is not a “holy day,” then I don’t know what is.

This is what the word “holy” entails. It can’t be ascribed to anything or anyone else better than the God of the Bible. The word literally means, “to be whole or intact” and “that which cannot be transgressed or violated.” God alone is completely intact, and so he is himself holy and emanates holy-ness, which thus warrants Christmas--the worship of his holiness coming to earth--as a “holy-day.”

The point is that it’s not that bad for a business to forego using the word “Christmas” in lieu of the word “holiday.” This is because, in so doing, they are still employing a powerful word to describe an even more powerful event. Even if they don’t realize it. It just speaks to the deep-rooted reality of the birth of Christ.

Even Santa’s elves can’t tinker with it.

I know what you’re thinking, though: “It’s not the word ‘holiday’ so much as it’s intentionally not using the word ‘Christmas.'”

I get it. But this thought unveils an even deeper concern. You see, there is a reason that these businesses don’t use the word “Christmas” to describe Christmas. There is a reason that they want to, as we say, “Remove the ‘Christ’ from ‘Christmas'” or “forget the reason for the season.”

It’s because they don’t know the Christ of Christmas.

This much is obvious, but the problem is that we would rather persuade them to use the word “Christmas,” than persuade them towards Christ. We would rather fight for the lost world to use Christian words than fight for their lost souls to become saved. We would rather force unbelievers to act, and think, and live like a Christian without accepting the Christ of Christianity.

This, friends, is the true crime of the Christmas season.

If anyone is attempting to remove the Christ from Christmas, it’s us. When we force unbelievers to act like a Christian without telling them about Christ, we do more damage than any secular business could ever do by using the word “holiday.”

Thus, we shouldn’t have a problem with an unbeliever using the word “holiday.” We should have a problem with why they use the word “holiday.”

So, this year, instead of picketing your local hardware store, or signing an online petition, or posting that enfevered Facebook post, let’s deal with the root of the problem, not its symptoms.

The truth is, you can’t take Christ out of Christmas, regardless of what word you choose to use to describe it. He’ll always be the reason for the season. Our job is to get unbelievers to see Christ, not say “Christmas.”

First posted on

Monday, December 1, 2014

A thankful heart is powerful medicine

When Ben Carson spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast last year, he told a story about a very successful businessman who liked to buy exotic gifts for his mother on Mother’s Day. One year he was so excited because he found these birds that had been trained. They could sing, they could dance, they could even talk. He bought two of them and sent them to his mother. He called her on Mother’s Day and asked her how she liked the birds he sent. “They was good,” she replied. “No, mother, you didn’t eat those birds,” her son said. “Those birds costs $5,000 apiece. They could sing, they could dance, they could even talk!” His mother said, “Well, they shoulda’ said something.”

A silly story that makes a point. We need to speak up. Dr. Carson was using the story to illustrate the danger of political correctness. I want to use it to underscore a different problem. OK, you ask, about what should we speak up?

In her book, “Twelve Baskets of Crumbs,” Elisabeth Elliot writes, “Tell it like it is’ is the watchword today. But suppose …it’s actually beautiful? Suppose the clerk who waits on you happens to be the most gracious one you’ve ever encountered? Tell them. Tell them now.” We need to speak up when someone deserves our praise and thanks. OK, so let me ask you this. Who always deserves our thanks and praise?

If your answer is “God,” go to the head of the class. We should speak up and give thanks to God because He is our creator and our savior. We exist only because He made us, and we find our greatest joy and only hope in knowing Him through His son, Jesus. A thankful heart is powerful medicine. A thankless heart, on the other hand, starts a terrifying downward spiral.

Take a moment and read Romans 1. In the second half of the chapter, Paul describes what I would call the pathology of a debased mind. He traces the steps men and women take to get to the place finally where they are “given up” by God to live life completely on their own terms, and they are “filled with all manner of unrighteousness (and) evil.” Where does this deadly journey begin? The Bible says it starts when someone suppresses the truth about God, who has plainly revealed His existence in creation: “the heavens declare the glory of God.” Instead, they do not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him. The decline continues as their thinking becomes futile and their foolish heart is darkened. Then, though they claim to be wise (enlightened!), they become fools. Next, they exchange the glory of God for images or imaginations or other substitutes for God. As a result, God gives them over to run after the lusts of their own hearts, and the downward spiral continues and gets worse.

That’s the bad news. Here’s the great news. That downward spiral can be reversed. Stopped in its tracks and turned around. Start by doing the opposite of what the text describes. Honor God as God and give Him thanks. Your thinking will be clearer and your heart will be filled with His light. You will grow in God’s wisdom and learn to recognize and renounce your own foolishness. And God will bring you into close fellowship with Himself.

Ann Voskamp wrote, “When you’re looking for joy, you will always find it hiding in your gratitude.” Take it out of hiding. Give thanks to God. Say it out loud!