as great as it gets!

i taught from luke 2 this past sunday as we finished a mini-series heading into Christmas week.

aside from teaching the narrative and trying to highlight some of the context surrounding the incarnation, the thing that hit me the most is why we tend to miss the true meaning of Christmas.

and by “we” i don’t mean people, in general, i mean believers. it’s one thing to remind the world that Christmas is about Christ and celebrating His incarnation. it’s another thing for believers to lose sight of the significance of the incarnation because we’re focused on a cultural campaign or moral life.

let me try to ‘splain myself: i think it’s really easy for Christians to boil the incarnation down to a political platform or a fairy tale. many of us love to champion the causes of “keep ‘Christ’ in Christmas” and “i don’t say, ‘happy holidays.’ i say, ‘merry CHRISTMAS.'” we also love to reduce the advent of Christ to a folk tale about Jesus’ birthday. are those angles wrong in and of themselves? not necessarily. but we need to focus on the impact of Christ’s birth.

without the incarnation atonement is impossible because the curse of sin is on mankind and must be paid for by a man… but the man has to be without sin because if his blood is shed for his own sin, it cannot cover ours. in order to be a perfect man, divinity and humanity were placed in one person, Jesus Christ.

that’s why Christmas is “good tidings of great joy!” it’s not just to celebrate the birth of a great leader. and it’s definitely not for a political party to rally around. it’s dawn breaking in preparation for the sunlight that is the greatest news ever told.

in preparing for the lesson, i was burdened with the thought that many Christians act as if we’re waiting for greater news to come along. we get merrier at Christmas… we try to remember the “reason” for the season… but we run the risk of missing the great truth of the incarnation.

and when we do, the joy fades when the decorations come down. could it be that we’ve dressed up “Christian” Christmas so much because we’ve forgotten what we’re actually celebrating? our neat little nativity sets, our “better than the neighbors” light displays, our amazing musical performances (none of which are wrong, inherently)… just make sure they aren’t efforts to create joy in yourself because you aren’t really exulting in the truth of Christ’s coming.

THERE IS NO GREATER NEWS! the angel of the Lord will not bring you a greater Gospel than has been revealed, so celebrate the greatest news that has ever been and ever will be delivered. and it’s a Gospel you can celebrate every day, because Christ has come! and we don’t simply look back and celebrate a Christmas that occurred 2000 years ago, we celebrate a Christmas that has impacted every day in history since!

Merry Christmas! and remember, the Gospel is as great as it gets!

covenant and lovin’ it

DISCLAIMER: this post has not been triggered by any specific persons or events, but simply by the need for content at the institute.

we wrapped up a mini-series on the church a couple of weeks ago with our college and young singles class. the first three weeks looked at three metaphors used in scripture for the Church. the Church as a bride, the Church as a building and the Church as a body.

for some reason, even though (or maybe it’s BECAUSE) i’m single, i have a strong interest in the concept of marriage. i think it’s mainly because, spiritually, we see in scripture what a great proclamation of the gospel that covenant marriage is intended to be. we also see how serious God takes covenants, especially when His name is attached to them.

now, i cannot pretend to know what it’s like in other people’s shoes nor do i claim to have the solutions to their situations, but it strikes a nerve with me to the point of anger and grief when marriages break down. i’m sure that’s not unique to me, but i feel like we all have our little soapboxes and this is one of mine.

anyway, here are my thoughts from “the Church as a Bride:”

(i even used pastoral alliteration!)

-We’re Picked: Ephesians 1:1-12

God has chosen us for no other reason than He loves us! i’m sure this truth resonates more with the ladies (especially in light of the marriage analogy) but it is still a profound biblical truth for ALL believers that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (romans 5:8) and that He loved us before we loved Him (1 john 4). God has picked us out of love and set us apart for His purposes.

-We’re Protected: Ephesians 5:22-25, 28-30

Christ as the bridegroom protects the bride. He has our best interest at heart. He laid down His life for the Church, so that we might live. i know a lot of unbelievers (and many believers for that matter) have issues with the idea of submission to authority. but a true, loving authority can be trusted to lead for our good. it’s not just His right but His role and responsibility to lead and protect. i, for one, am thankful for that!

-We’re Purified: Ephesians 5:26-27

we’re made perfect and spotless! Christ does what we cannot do. He cleanses our sin and we receive His righteousness. the Church is a spotless bride! the Church wears white on our wedding day! how amazing is this?! when i consider my sin (not to mention the sins of others) and think that in Christ we’re set apart for the holy purposes of worship and ministry to the glory of God, i can’t fathom it! do we have issues? you bethca. do we mess up? uh, yeah. does Christ wash us with the Word of God and free us from condemnation? YES!

-We’re Promised: Revelation 19:7-8

we’ve been promised a faithful groom! no matter what, the Church will be joined to Christ. in all of the weddings i’ve been in (always the groomsman, never the groom) the groom always says “i do.” no matter what. no matter how nervous the bride is or how anxious she is about everything being “just right,” the groom always receives her. it’s an unconditional acceptance that Christ has promised us. and He is infinitely more faithful than any human groom.

notice that the Church has “readied herself” in anticipation of the groom. the Church is partly responsible for presenting herself to Christ, but our efforts don’t earn us His faithfulness. it’s already been secured. our efforts are the love response prompted by our affection for Christ.