Category: Advent Intervention

5 THINGS WE CAN LEARN FROM OUR CHILDREN AT CHRISTMAS

There’s a reason Jesus tells us to come to him like children. Trust is at the heart of how children experience Christmas. Here are five ways we can learn this from our children.

One Christmas, quite a few years ago, my then 3-year-old daughter was into staging plays about the nativity. “I be Mary, mama, you be Jofess,” she would instruct, and off we would go through the house on a wintry morning on our own journey to Bethlehem.

One day, wanting to gauge her understanding of the whole story, I asked, “But where’s Jesus?” Seemingly surprised that I didn’t know, she pointed to a spot right next to me and stated confidently in her tiny voice, “He’s right there!”

And I had a moment. It was as if I suddenly realized he had been travelling around the house with us all along. It was so palpable, I had a sudden urge to turn to the space beside me and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there!” The presence of Jesus standing next to me felt very real that day, through my daughter’s believing eyes.

With the trusting confidence of beloved children we learn to surrender ourselves to a loving Father and believe that what he says is true and good.

Jesus wants us to learn from kids

There’s a reason Jesus tells us to come to him like children. In their simple faith, kids have not yet learned to doubt the truth. Become like children, humble yourselves, and you will inherit the kingdom, Jesus tells the disciples (Matt. 18:1–4). Bring the children to me, says Jesus, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as them, and I want to pray for them (Matt. 19:13–15).

We too can learn to trust him, even though we do not see him. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet. 1:8–9).

There’s a reason Jesus tells us to come to him like children.

With the trusting confidence of beloved children we learn to surrender ourselves to a loving Father and believe that what he says is true and good, that he is for us, and as Emmanuel, he is God with us. We are not alone.

Though we cannot see him standing next to us, we trust in his presence and in the knowledge that he will not leave us. Trust is at the heart of how children experience Christmas. Here are five ways we can learn this from our children.

1. Expectant anticipation is good

As I talked with my teenage son, I learned what was meaningful to him about our Advent celebrations when he was a little guy. He told me the time we took to prepare slowly over days of lighting candles and reading stories allowed him to enjoy anticipating Christmas. He never doubted that Christmas would come, because every preparation we made indicated that it was, indeed, on its way.

When it did come, we took the time to open gifts slowly, savoring each one and allowing others their turn to increase the enjoyment of everyone. As we teach our kids to wait to open the presents they see under the tree, we learn to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).

2. We can trust our Father

Things are not always as they seem. As parents, we have perspective our children don’t, because we see the big picture. They become anxious when an activity is over, when the treats are gone, or when it’s time to go home from the party. Many a meltdown is the result of their limited knowledge.

We know that the desires of their hearts will be met again, many times, and we are confident in our ability to provide it again for their delight. There is so much more to be seen that they do not see.

As we teach our kids to wait to open the presents they see under the tree, we learn to walk by faith and not by sight.

Romans 8:24–25 says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Likewise, we can trust that what God says will come to pass, and anticipate the perfect working of his will with patience.

We are often the instruments that cultivate this good fruit of the Spirit in the lives of our children. Don’t freak out! Like a loving parent, God is faithful to reassure us that he will also meet our needs and desires in the best possible way.

3. It’s good to desire good gifts

Now that they’re older, I have to ask my kids for their Christmas lists every year. When they were little they needed no prompting and proclaimed their desires with confidence.

I’ve saved some of those carefully printed lists from the days of asking for doll accessories, computer games, cars, and candy. Who doesn’t want to see their children’s eyes grow wide as they finally get to unwrap what you’ve been up to for their good?

God’s generosity is overwhelming, unexpected, undeserved, and simply to be enjoyed and trusted as an outpouring of abundant love.

Our desire to give good gifts to our children, simply for the pleasure of watching their joyful response, is one of the ways we image God. Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9–11).

Did you know that your generous Father delights in hearing you ask, and longs to fulfill the desires he has given you? (Psalm 37:4)

4. You can never have too much of a good thing

This may seem counterintuitive, and no one knows it better than a kid at Christmas, even if they have a tummy ache. However, applied as a spiritual principle, it’s true. God’s resources are unlimited and never-ending. It’s not a promise of material wealth, but of everything we truly need.

Our desire to give good gifts to our children, simply for the pleasure of watching their joyful response, is one of the ways we image God.

Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. How do we convey this generosity to our kids? One of our favorite family traditions in recent years is a trip to downtown Seattle to see the Christmas sights, do some shopping, and watch a movie. The first year, unable to decide which movie to see, we decided to see both. It was great fun to see the shock on our kids’ faces when Dad agreed to underwrite not one but two movies on the same evening! Now we look forward to repeating the experience yearly.

Similarly, there are times when God’s generosity is overwhelming, unexpected, undeserved, and simply to be enjoyed and trusted as an outpouring of abundant love.

5. Celebration is life-giving

Kids love a good party. A healthy child’s desire for celebration reminds us that we need to take time to recognize our benefits. There is much about life on this earth that is commonplace and oriented around laborious effort, but we can easily lose our joy if we focus only on toil. Any parent who has tried to convince their child to complete their chores in a timely way knows this is true.

We build moments of celebration into our lives to nurture a sense of wonder and create opportunity for gratitude. Christmastime gives us the best reason of all for celebration—God’s lavish gift of Jesus, born to live and die to save us, is the reason that we celebrate by giving gifts to each other.

We rejoice in knowing that the one whose birth we honor is here: God with us, always, until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). The assurance of his constant presence affirms our trust even when (especially when!) we don’t remember he’s right there, next to us.

[lollum_button text=”Original Post” url=”http://theresurgence.com/2013/12/24/5-things-we-can-learn-from-our-children-at-christmas” size=”big”]

3 tips for sharing Jesus with others this Christmas

Even as our culture drifts away from Christendom, Christmas is still the most likely time of the year for non-Christians to consider matters of faith. Here are a few tips to help you step out of your comfort zone and talk to non-Christians in your world about Jesus.

It was a Christmas Eve service in 1992, and I had been recruited to play the role of one of the young shepherd boys. With typical 90s flair, the night retold the birth of Jesus with skits, carols, praise banners, and awkwardness. Yet the gospel was preached and many who had been invited by friends responded by turning to Jesus and receiving the gift of God’s grace.

Why is any of this important?

Well, because one of the people who responded to the gospel that night was my dad.

Christmas comes with more opportunities to give people the gift of the gospel than any other time of the year.

You’re probably aware that Christmas is that magical time of the year when lights are up, stores are full, and millions celebrate the angel’s declaration of “peace on earth” by stressing out over the perfect gift or their frustrating family members.

But what you may not be aware of is that Christmas is also the most likely time of the year for non-Christians to consider matters of faith. From the carols that are sung to the nativity scenes that are set up, over the next few weeks Jesus is placed front and center in our cultural eye more than at any other time of the year. Like my dad, many people are more open to Jesus during the Christmas season.

While it is certainly true (and curious) that there are those in our culture who consider it an offensive social taboo to talk about Jesus during his birthday celebration, the bottom line for Christians is that Christmas comes with more opportunities to give people the gift of the gospel than any other time of the year.

As we prepare to celebrate the incarnation of Christ into the world, here are a few tips to help you step out of your comfort zone and talk to non-Christians in your world about Jesus.

1. Don’t hate on Santa, use him

Whether you like it or not, Santa Claus is a part of the cultural landscape of December. And he’s likely not going anywhere. Apart from a few troubling stalker tendencies (“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake”!?), he seems like a pretty nice fellow who genuinely wants little boys and girls to try their best to be good. If they behave, they’ll have earned themselves a place on the nice list and be showered with presents instead of punished with coal.

Santa is not the enemy. Santa is an opportunity.

Come to think of it, Santa would have been right at home with the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Santa, like the Pharisees, has a fondness for rule-keeping, good behavior, and rewarding high performers.

However, the message of “try harder, do better” is not good news, and it’s not Christianity. It’s a depressing cultural distortion known as moralism, and is about as liberating as being chained to a treadmill and instructed to run to China. No matter how hard you try, you seem to find yourself in the same place—just more tired and cynical.

But instead of seeing Santa as an opponent to be protested or a myth to naively endorse, Christians should see him as one of our greatest opportunities to astonish people with the gospel. Santa is not the enemy. Santa is an opportunity.

Christian, you don’t need to blow Santa up. Just contrast him with Jesus.

The gospel shows us that the true gift-giver is Jesus.

The gospel is a beautiful scandal that turns the Santa story on its head. InEphesians 2:8, Paul reminds us that the unfathomable joy of salvation is the undeserved gift of God.

Santa says, “Earn it.” Jesus says, “Receive it.”

Santa says, “If you’re good, you’ll get my love.” Jesus says, “Only my love can make you good.”

Santa makes a list and warns, “I’ll be checking it twice.” Jesus fulfilled the list and declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

You don’t need to blow Santa up. Just contrast him with Jesus.

The gospel is an explosion of hope that brilliantly outshines the dull moralism of Santa.

The good news we get to celebrate at Christmas is that Jesus came into the world to detach our hope from our futile attempts to “be good,” and to attach it to himself. By living the life we couldn’t live and dying the death we deserve to die, Jesus gives sinners on the naughty list (if you’re human, you qualify) the gift of God’s love. That’s news worth telling someone over the next few weeks.

2. Redeem religion

While Christendom may be dead, it has left in its wake some quasi-religious cultural traditions. For many non-Christians, attending some sort of church service during the holiday season is as much a part of their family tradition as chopping down a Christmas tree. It allows them to check off the “God” box (at least until Easter). This kind of thinking is nothing more than dead religion that is devoid of the life-altering power of the gospel. But it does come with one redeemable caveat: the opportunity for people to encounter the life-altering power of the gospel.

The gospel is an explosion of hope that brilliantly outshines the dull moralism of Santa.

That friend or family member of yours who doesn’t know Jesus is far more likely to attend a Christmas Eve or Christmas service with you than any other time of the year. Thom Rainer, president of Lifeway Research, has pointed out that “if there is a given day where more unchurched non-Christians are likely to attend church, it would be on Christmas Eve.” Another study by Lifeway shows that 47% of households will attend a Christmas Eve or Christmas service as a part of their celebrations.

So go ahead and invite them!

This year, we have scheduled our Christmas Eve services around the local Christmas parade that takes place a block from our church. Snowflake Lane is one of our city’s favorite traditions, with performances, lights, and Christmas carols. By choosing to schedule our services before and after the parade, we provide an opportunity for our church members to “double up” and invite loved ones to a local celebration plus a Christmas Eve gathering with a gospel presentation.

3. Remember the King’s promise

To many believers, the thought of evangelism can make them feel more uncomfortable than a hammer at a Miley Cyrus video shoot. Christ’s command to leave our comfort zone and be his witnesses often leaves us feeling like Peter stepping out of the boat into the waters of the impossible (Matt. 14:26–33).

Don’t get me wrong; I totally get it. The fear is real. It’s just misplaced. We all experience those moments on mission where we seem to be sinking like Peter under the chaos of the storm. But that is only because we have taken our eyes off the one who rules the weather (Mark 4:41).

We will be as bold for Jesus as we are aware that he is with us.

The key to living out the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19) is in the verses that surround it. In verse 18, Jesus reminds us that he is the King and possesses all authority. He may have humbled himself to a manger, but now Christ reigns once again from his throne. Then in verse 20, King Jesus makes a game-changing promise: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Here lies our courage! Christ’s promise is what fuels his command. We will be as bold for Jesus as we are aware that he is with us. As John Newton once counseled a fearful Christian, “When you cannot see your way, be satisfied that [Christ] is your leader.”

The most important four words you can remember this Christmas season as you step out and give the gift of the gospel are the same four words that Jesus gave to put steel in the backbone of those who loved him: “I am with you.” They are the very words that God has spoken to breathe courage into his people again and again (Josh. 1:9Isa. 41:9Jer. 1:8).

Think about it. If the Author loves you completely and is with you continually, why should you fear the other characters in the story?

Freely we have received. This Christmas, let’s freely give.

Christmas Generosity

How can we reflect God’s generosity toward our family, our church, and our world at Christmas?

As a dad at Christmas time, I want to reflect God the Father’s heart to my family, my church, and the world. And his heart is generous! Very generous. My favorite Christmas verse is “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

God gave. And during the Christmas season, we celebrate the greatest gift ever: Jesus.

Generosity to my family

God the Father gave us something he valued most and we needed most: his beloved Son, Jesus. Christmas is the advent of God entering our world in human form on a rescue mission. During Christmas, I want to mirror God’s gracious heart for his family as I spend time with mine. I want to give my wife and daughters generous gifts. This doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive gifts, but I do want my gifts to be costly. I don’t wish to skimp or be cheap—the Father didn’t and isn’t. I want my family to receive from me the gift they want the most.

During the Christmas season, we celebrate the greatest gift ever: Jesus.

Generosity to my church

As a pastor, I understand how important year-end financial gifts can be to the church. Offerings given during the month of December make up a disproportionate amount of monthly funds during the year. I enjoy doubling my average monthly gift each December, and when possible, I like giving even more than double. Giving to the church is an act of worship. And worshiping Jesus through sacrificial and costly gifts seems to be a fundamental part of the biblical nativity narrative (Matt. 2:1–12). It’s the very best kind of historical re-enactment.

Generosity to the world

While the arrival of Jesus literally did change the world, I realize there isn’t anything I can do at Christmas that would have such far-reaching results. But I enjoy being generous to the point I want others to experience it too. I like to help others feel that same buzz that comes from giving good gifts. So each Christmas season, I set some money aside for spontaneous giving.

During Christmas, I want to mirror God’s gracious heart for his family as I spend time with mine.

Some years this looks like giving cash to the parents of a needy family secretively so they can go big on Christmas Day with their kids. Other years it may look like partnering with solid charitable organizations like Angel Tree or Operation Christmas Child. I have a discretionary amount to give to help people to give who wouldn’t be able to otherwise. In this sense, those who are poor can give generously as if they were rich. And that to me is one of the big ideas about the good news of Christmas: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

[lollum_button text=”Original Post” url=”http://theresurgence.com/2013/12/12/Christmas-Generosity” size=”big”]

5 ways to love your neighbor during Christmas

The whole Christmas season celebrates God with us. Because God is with us and for us, we are not alone. And neither should our neighbors be, as we have great opportunities during this season to connect with them.

Recently my family and I moved. With moving comes all the obligatory tasks of packing boxes, finding moving trucks, and bribing friends to help you with copious amounts of pizza.

What else comes with moving? A new set of neighbors. People who God knew I was going to live by and who I have been called to know and love.

We can often get lost in the question, Who is my neighbor? Our lives are filled with different places where we connect and relate to other people. These are the places where we shop, work, and live. Jesus taught us that no matter if it’s at work, the gym, the play area at the mall, or right next door, a person in need is your neighbor (Luke 10:25–37).

A joyful season—for some

I grew up in Las Vegas, a city where many people go to spend their Christmas alone. Often it is a place to numb their depression about being alone during a time of year when connecting with family and friends is so important.

The truth is that you don’t have to be in Vegas to find people who are alone during the Christmas season. Many of us have neighbors or co-workers who have a deep sense of dread rather than joy about the Christmas season. Their disdain for Christmas is not rooted in an ideological culture-war, but rather in an emotional pain—they have little to celebrate or few loved ones to celebrate with.

Jesus taught us that no matter if it’s at work, the gym, the mall, or right next door, a person in need is your neighbor.

The Christmas season is amazing. We get to remember and rejoice that Jesus loves us enough that he would not stay far off at a distance, unfamiliar with human life, but rather he became a human to experience all that we experience. He would be a God who is able to empathize with all our struggles and joys (Heb. 4:15).

The whole Christmas season celebrates Jesus as Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Matt. 1:22–23). This changes everything for us. Because God is with us and for us, we are not alone. And neither should our neighbors be, as we have great opportunities during this season to connect with them.

We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Here are some ways we can express Jesus’ love to our neighbors this Christmas season:

1. Love listens

Throughout the Old Testament, God constantly heard the needs and cries of his people. All around us are people with needs during this holiday season, but because we are so busy we often don’t take notice. Take the time to really listen to the needs of your co-workers, friends, and neighbors. Be proactive in finding out if they have somewhere to go. In the midst of all the great Christmas festivities, don’t miss the needs of people around you.

2. Love draws near

When God heard the cries of his people, he didn’t stay removed and wish the world well. Instead he drew near: he came down to earth and took up residence with us. He wasn’t content to just give us distant instruction, but rather close, transforming connection.

Because God is with us and for us, we are not alone. And neither should our neighbors be.

Take a step to draw near to your neighbors this week and include them in your holiday parties, family traditions, and church worship services. This is the time of year where people are usually more open to connecting, conversing, and church. Take advantage of that.

3. Love takes the first step

Here is where it counts. Jesus did not wait for the world to embrace him or roll out the red carpet. Even to this day much of the world stands in opposition to him. Yet Jesus chose to engage and take the first step because he loves first (John 3:16).

Because we are loved by Jesus, we are called to take the first step toward our neighbors. We can’t wait until we just bump into them at the mailbox or while taking out the trash. Let’s go over and knock on their door. For many of us, this could be a life-changing decision. Maybe we have lived next to someone for years and still don’t even know their name. This year, invite them to come over to that ugly sweater Christmas party and drink too much eggnog. Or tell them to come hang out for that inevitable white elephant gift exchange with your community group.

4. Love is inconvenient

Jesus wasn’t in need of more friends or relationships. He had perfect fellowship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Yet Jesus chose to move toward us at great expense. Becoming human, he experienced loss, betrayal, and even death. It is a major understatement to say that Jesus was willing to be inconvenienced to reach us. Jesus’ love motivates us to endure the inconvenience of disrupting our plans to reach out to our neighbors and invite them into community.

5. Love endures

After the Christmas season has passed and the tree is back in the box or out in the dumpster, let’s not put these new relationships away. Rather, we should endure in loving our neighbors and seeking to draw them into community with us and Jesus. This is exactly what Jesus has done with us, showing us patient love that does not give up (1 Cor. 13).

This is the time of year where people are usually more open to connecting, conversing, and church. Take advantage of that.

So yes, go nuts in filling up your schedule with great holiday activities and events. Have a blast in making memories with your family that will last a lifetime. Just look around and see who you can bring along with you. Draw near to those who are alone and don’t forget them during this significant time of year.

Jesus draws near to the broken-hearted and those who feel alone. When you were alone in your sin, Jesus came looking for you so that you would never be alone. Because this is the love that saved us, we can love like this as well.

So reach out. Extend joy to your neighbor and be generous about loving and connecting with others. That is the whole point of Christmas.

[lollum_button text=”Original Post” url=”http://theresurgence.com/2013/12/16/5-ways-to-love-your-neighbor-during-christmas” size=”big”]

6 Ways to Handle Stress this Christmas

With Christmas fast approaching, I’m sure a lot of people (me included) can feel that pull of stress and exhaustion.

It is like sitting at the top of a stress slide, scooting forward inch by inch. We know what is coming, and we might already be worried about how we will land in the bark chips at the bottom. While Christmas may always be busy, here are a few simple things to think about that have helped me control some of the stress.

1. Traditions are tools

Traditions are tools that we use to make culture, to make memories, and to make childhoods. Traditions are not a base that we have to tag or we can’t count the run. Failure to make the gingerbread house does not make your Christmas a sham, for example.

If we were craftsmen, we would not mark our success by how many of our tools we touched. Instead, we’d look at the product. The point of gingerbread houses, cookies, homemade stockings, Christmas pajamas, hot chocolate, presents, shopping, caroling, lights, and every joyful tradition you can think of is joy. If you are failing to get that result, that’s a heart issue that using more tools will not help.

Joy is not something that you can manufacture through traditions—it is something you can shape with traditions.

But the joy itself cannot come from festive moments, new gifts, or tasty treats. The joy can only come from our salvation and our hearts resting in that. After that, joy is expressed in our physical world through our traditions, through what means we have at hand.

If your Christmas is not joyful, get things right with God. The joy of our salvation is the substance of celebrating. Traditions are simply a human response to great joy. Love your traditions because of why we have them, but never love them apart from our deepest joy in Jesus.

2. Know when to not let go

You can reduce stress tremendously by tightening up on the normal things rather than loosening up.

Tighten up your standards on yourself first, and then your children. Do not use the holidays to have a self-indulgent spiritual slump. When you feel rushed, it is easy to give yourself leeway that you shouldn’t.

Baking a lot of cookies is not an excuse to snap at your children. “Needing” to run errands is not an excuse to ignore your small child’s temper tantrum and just buckle them up napless and mad to go peeling off to the mall. Do not get into a cycle of bribing with treats instead of blessing with them. This is a time to follow through. Be clear, be calm, and be consistent. This will not decrease your workload, but it will sweeten it considerably! It is also a great gift to your children, helping them to celebrate such a precious time from a place of security and peace.

3. Size it up or sit it out

If you are finding it impossible to do the things that you think you need to do while maintaining joy in your home, you need to lower the standard. Years ago, we went to a wedding where one of the bridesmaids no longer fit into her dress and wore it down the aisle unzipped in the back. That’s not what you want to be.

Fancy traditions, fun shopping expeditions, huge parties, or insanely perfect gift-buying are all beautiful things to do, but not if you no longer are able to fit them into your family’s life. There comes a time to either size it up or sit it out. Be reasonable about what you can accomplish, and do what you can joyfully.

4. Prepare your children for disappointment

Anticipating opening presents is such a fun thing for kids, that it’s easy to forget that Christmas is full of temptations too. It is a good idea to talk to your kids about what to expect. With our kids, my husband and I talk about envy and thankfulness. We talk about people less fortunate and people more fortunate. We try to have our children be aware that Christmas morning is hugely joyful, and that we all need to discipline our hearts and stay in grateful fellowship.

We have used the illustration of running with our kids: Look in front of you, look at the way you are running, and be thankful. Whenever you start to look at what other people are getting, or what other people are doing, you are likely to run into something, and it will probably be a big envy tree.

This certainly applies to grown-ups too. Do not spend a lot of time or energy examining the motives of celebrations of others. Christmas celebrations are a response to our salvation. Look at your own feet and at your own work. The fact that people out there are just talking about Santa, holidays, and Xmas, and being all greedy and ugly and commercial about it really doesn’t matter. The power of a joyful, thankful, God-honoring celebration is not changed because some people do not know God and are trying to mimic it. Psalm 37:1 sums this up nicely: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!”

Do not spend your time getting wound up over the sins of others. Do not tie yourself into knots over unbelieving family members or friends who are doing things wrong. Take responsibility for yourself, and leave their hearts to God.

5. Get your head in the game

With so much happening all the time, it is easy to slip into a pattern of virtual life. When we view our phones and computers as relaxation, we can start turning to them when we feel stressed. Live in your home with your family. Don’t spend all your time looking at other people’s ideas—have some of your own!

Try leaving your phone on the counter all day and skip Facebook. Spend your downtime actually down and not hopping all over the virtual world. You are needed in the real world, so be there.

6. It’s all about Jesus

And lastly, the best way of all to keep from getting grumpy and wound up and stressed out about Christmas is to remember what we are doing in the first place.

We are celebrating that God dwelled among us, that he sent his Son to redeem us. This is not a big burden; this is about the absence of a burden. We are not obligated to party. The excitement, the joy, the laughter, the lights, the food, and the presents: this is all part of the glory of having been forgiven. We are free to do this, and we are free to do this with light hearts. Because, “To us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isa. 9:6).

That child wasn’t just born to be a neat story from a long time ago—he was born so that the world might be born anew in him.

This is not just the birthday of our Savior, but one big collective birthday celebration for all who have been born in him. Don’t let a little anxiety or a big to-do list separate you from the joy of that salvation.

It isn’t that we shouldn’t be stressed because Christmas doesn’t really matter anyways; our stress is simply pointless. Christmas is so much bigger than our little efforts to mark it. It is so far beyond us, that we should take comfort in knowing that our celebrations—our paper plates of cookies, our singing of glorious carols, our joyful gifting to others—can only scratch the surface of a joy that is so big, so vibrant, and so deep that it changed the world.

The love of the Father for his perfect Son is so great that we have been caught up in it. Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas, indeed.

[lollum_button text=”Original Post” url=”http://theresurgence.com/2012/12/17/6-ways-to-handle-stress-this-christmas?utm_content=bufferaefbd&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=google&utm_campaign=Buffer” size=”big”]

How to Live in a Secular World

How should Christians relate to a secular society that does not know Jesus? Paul’s letter to Titus sheds light on this scenario, showing us how God’s grace should motivate Christians to be good citizens and neighbors.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. Titus 3:1–8

Christians are a minority in our secular culture, which largely doesn’t honor Jesus. That’s not going to change, but there’s an ongoing debate among Christians about how we approach a secular culture that doesn’t agree with us about Jesus.

As we think about our relationship with our society, it’s important to remember we too were once far from God, but he saved us through his grace. It’s with this grace in mind that Paul teaches us, through his letter to Titus, how we should respond to a secular society.\

 

Grace results in good citizens

The first way Christians should engage a secular culture is the same way we always have. We’re to be good citizens, obey the law, submit to authority, and not cause rebellion, strife, or insurrection. We are to be obedient to the law except for when it would require us to disobey Jesus. Christians need to live under the law of the land—it’s one of the ways we manifest our faith in meekness through Jesus Christ.

Remember we too were once far from God, but he saved us through his grace.

 

Grace results in good works

Christians should care about the people living around us in our city, and we should be active in working toward the common good. We have a responsibility according to this text that goes beyond the walls of the church. Yes, our priority should be the people in the church, but we are also responsible for the well-being of our neighbors and our city.

 

Grace results in good words

Christians shouldn’t speak evil of anyone. We may disagree with someone, but we can still respect them. This is one of the ways we reflect the goodness of God. It’s not that we don’t call out false doctrine, but we do it in a respectful and loving way.

Christians should care about the people living around us in our city.

We have more opportunity than anyone in the history of the world to use our words negatively on the Internet. Words are critically important. When Jesus’ disciples were criticized for not ceremonially washing their hands, Jesus emphasized that it’s not what goes into our mouth that makes us unclean—it’s what comes out of our heart. If the gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, washes us from sin and gives us a new identity, then good words can flow out of a good heart.

 

Grace results in good manners

Christians should be courteous to all people. Good manners are very important, because the basic posture of a Christian is that we see others as more important than us. That means we treat them with respect, dignity, and honor.

Christians shouldn’t speak evil of anyone. We may disagree with someone, but we can still respect them.

Jesus was strong and bold, but he was also deferential, gentle, meek, and mild. That’s the way Jesus loves and cares for us, and we want people to see Jesus.

In the United States, many Christians act as if something has been stolen from them, and they approach non-Christian culture in a very combative and antagonistic way. To make an impact on our culture and see people meet Jesus, we must be good citizens, do good works, speak good words, and display good manners. If we’re going to be filled with the Holy Spirit and live in a culture where the rhetoric is toxic, we need to be an exemplary in our actions. Otherwise, people will never see Jesus in us.

[lollum_button text=”Original Post” url=”http://theresurgence.com/2013/11/17/how-to-live-in-a-secular-culture” size=”big”]

Internet Hate & the Gospel

The living God is grieved when our attacks and slander bring disunity to the body of Christ. There is a better way to spend our time than arguing with other Christians over the Internet.

“Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.” –C.H. Spurgeon

As a young pastor of a growing church, I am in the most demanding season of my life. We are setting up and tearing down in a community college gym every week. We have outgrown our kids space and are trying to raise $750,000 to renovate a new location. I have been working long, hard hours as our church toils to see the gospel proclaimed, sinners saved, and Jesus made great. And to top it all off, our church has recently been experiencing gossip and attacks over social media by fellow Christians who have never been through the doors of our church.

I have found myself increasingly disappointed and dismayed for those who fill their hours engaging in rock-throwing like this while displaying no interest in resolving their disagreements face-to-face. Have you ever experienced this in your ministry? Have you ever been guilty of this?

I used to be divisive and foolish like this. Early in my walk with the Lord, I was one to proclaim judgment over ministries that didn’t preach my version of Christianity, and I was even verbally unsupportive of leadership in a church I attended. But this is not what God wants for us.

Our speech should reek of grace and be seasoned with salt.

 

Being right vs. being godly

The living God is grieved when our attacks and slander bring disunity to the body of Christ. There is a better way to spend our time than arguing with other Christians over the Internet. King David declares in Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” The reverse is true as well: How bad and unpleasant it is when brothers have disunity!

 

You might be missing something

Consider this: Your current theological position may not be the one you die holding. Look back at your walk with the Lord. Are there positions you once held that you no longer believe to be the truth? Maybe you have not yet arrived at your final destination, and the Lord may be continuing to shape and mold you. Be careful in making it seem that if someone holds a different position on a secondary issue then they are outside of the faith.

God is grieved when our attacks and slander bring disunity to the body of Christ.

Rather than contending for disunity over secondary topics, you could begin to contend for unity on the essentials of our faith—the things that are of “first importance…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3–4). Your time and energy would be better spent contending for the proclamation of the gospel or encouraging brothers and sisters to make much of Jesus.

 

Your witness is more important

Christian, you are being watched. The outside world sees how you engage with, disagree with, and relate to your brothers and sisters within the church and with those outside the church. Paul gives us good counsel: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:5–6).

Our speech should reek of grace and be seasoned with salt. When discussing secondary issues with other Christians, go out of your way to show respect and love for others. If you find that you cannot do that, please do not hit Enter and post your comment.

Your current theological position may not be the one you die holding.

Let the Scriptures speak for themselves: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12–13).

As I mentioned, I have been guilty of rock-throwing and criticizing from a distance. Gossip like this is something all of us can slip into, even if only in private conversation. It’s a lesson we all need to learn and an area where many of us need to repent. As you read this, I pray that you would ask God to show you where he is calling you to repent and grow in maturity to represent Jesus well to all.

We are not God’s protectors. He is sovereign, and he is far more concerned with his glory and his name being made great than we are.

[lollum_button text=”Original Blog on The Resurgence” url=”http://theresurgence.com/2013/11/27/internet-hate-and-the-gospel” size=”big”]

Why Christians Go Postal

Originally posted on The Resurgence by Mark Driscoll – July 12, 2010

It was only last week that the Washington Post asked for my opinion on the New Jersey pastor calling for Christians to stop using Facebook. Had I known what would erupt this week, I might have agreed with him.

The big idea of my Post blog was that Facebook doesn’t cause adultery, people do. Calling for a boycott of Facebook is not the answer because the issue is the heart. Even if someone doesn’t commit adultery because of Facebook, if that sin remains in their heart, they will find another way to act upon it. Sadly, after the story broke, it was revealed that the pastor protesting against Facebook was, in fact, guilty of prior adultery, along with his wife. Of course, their adultery had nothing to do with Facebook, according to the news reports. So, while I pray for the couple to get beyond whatever may be troubling their marriage by God’s grace, it simply confirmed my big idea that sinners are ultimately responsible for sin.

Facebook, like many technologies and cultural phenomena, is an opportunity for my heart and the hearts of others you and I interact with to be revealed and transformed. Funny that this week, a simple comment I made appreciating the talent of Jay-Z generated hundreds and hundreds of comments across multiple threads on my Facebook page. Compare that to nineteen comments on my post regarding a news article about the Christian who is being raped, beaten, and tortured for his faith and needs some people to push for his freedom.

The backstory is this. While flipping through TV channels recently, I noticed an enormous concert by Jay-Z. The event was simply epic. Madison Square Garden was packed and people were raising their hands and singing along with religious zeal. By no means a hip-hop expert, but someone who did grow up listening to the earliest days of rap as a non-Christian, I have been aware of his influence for some time. He has sold fifty million albums, garnered ten Grammys, and was honored as one of the Ten Most Successful Artists of the previous decade by Billboard Magazine. He’s also helped to launch the careers or at least influence the music of Beyoncé, Eminem, Rihanna, Kanye West, Notorious B.I.G., Timbaland, Linkin Park, and Dr. Dre, among others. Some of these friends joined him on stage for the portion of the concert I watched, which was quite a performance.

Back to Facebook, where I posted that despite using bowling words, Jay-Z is a genius. I was very surprised to see how heated the ensuing debate became. Scanning the comments, it became clear that there was a polarization between two camps of thought about how Christians should engage culture. One side citedPhilippians 4:8 and 1 Peter 1:13ff and advocated that Christians should not listen to music like Jay-Z. The other side cited 1 Corinthians 9, Romans 14, and John 17:15and advocated that Christians have freedom in Christ and should be in the world but not of the world. All in all, it was a predictably ugly display of Internet flame-throwing where it gets personal fast and people say things digitally they would never say in a face-to-face conversation. Still, I’d like to address the issue of how Christians should engage culture—mostly for those caught in the crossfire of the two extremes.

This blog is not intended to defend everything I’ve ever said and done, as, like all sinners, there are things in retrospect I would say and do differently. This blog is also not intended to defend or impugn Jay-Z. He’s a gifted producer and musician, some of his lyrics are vulgar, and though it will likely never happen, if I ever got to chat with him I would be curious to hear what he thinks about Jesus.

Are You a Missionary?

What I’ve found over the years is that whenever I speak about something culturally related from a Christian perspective, a debate rages. This has been the case since the earliest days of my ministry. This is because I consider myself a missionary in culture. When we started our church we did so in what was among the least churched cities in the nation, seeking to reach the least churched demographic—young, educated, single, urban men. The truth is, these kinds of young men are generally missing from the American church. One thing these men of all races are doing is listening to rap music.

So, as a missionary, I find it a good thing to be aware of what is going on in culture in general as well as in music in particular. Though not a musician myself, I have some five thousand songs on my iTunes account from a wide range of genres and styles. Music is among the most defining and revealing aspects of any culture, and so in addition to enjoying some music, I study lots of music. This endeavor is helped, in part, by a communications degree from one of the top programs in the nation, where I spent a few years analyzing advertising, marketing, political speeches, film, music, and the like.

Here’s the big idea: it’s not about music, it’s about missions.

The God of the Bible is a sender by nature. He is a missionary God who has sent his people into the world since Abraham. In the Old Testament he sent prophets like Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Jonahover cross-cultural boundaries. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to live as a man, in a particular time and place, with a particular people as a missionary in a sinful culture. The Father also sends the Holy Spirit to Christians so that we, like Jesus, might also live as missionaries in culture. The gospel that portrays this most clearly is John, where Jesus says roughly forty times, “The Father has sent me,” and then says in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

As a missionary, I do not view culture passively, merely as entertainment. Rather, I engage it actively as a sermon that is preaching a worldview. I teach my children to do the same. Their computer is fully visible in the middle of our kitchen and dining area, with protective software to help ensure they are not prematurely exposed to content they cannot handle, dangerous people, and also such things as pornography. The television used by our five children is also mounted for all to see in the most visible section of our home to help ensure we actively oversee our children’s cultural intake. That television also has a password that my wife or I must enter if anything is to be recorded or watched beyond a certain age-appropriate rating.

We also watch shows with our children. Those shows are recorded on a TiVo so that we can stop and have discussions during them, helping our kids understand the ideology that is being presented and how to think about it critically. We want our kids to be innocent but not naïve. Naïve Christians are the most vulnerable to engaging culture ignorantly and unpreparedly. If a Christian kid does not know how to walk as a Christian in culture, it’s no surprise that once he or she leaves their parents’ home after graduation, they are statistically likely to fail continue walking with Jesus.

The attitude we have for our children is the same we have for our church. This is why we have a pastor leading film and theology discussions. This is why we have a large contingency of Christians who are in the music business but do not wave the flag of Christian music. Rather, their theology informs their songwriting and artistry. Like our children, our goal is not to create a safe Christian subculture as much as to train missionaries to live in culture like Jesus. This helps explain why we baptized, by God’s grace, almost a thousand new converts last year alone—people who simply would not have connected with a typical Christian church existing in a cultural cul-de-sac.

Syncretism vs. Sectarianism

Regarding missiology, the question is, how are Christians to be missionaries in their cultures? Historically, and biblically, there are two erroneous extremes that Christians swing between: syncretism or sectarianism.

Syncretists go too far into culture, abandoning or diluting the gospel in the name of relevance. Liberals in the early twentieth century did this by pandering to the high culture of academic modernity and abandoning belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, the supernatural, and the divine nature of Christ. The shells of mainline churches are their legacy. Most recently, the Emergent Church did much of the same as they chased after the postmodern mood of our culture by questioning the virgin birth of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, and God’s design for heterosexual marriage.

Sectarians are better known as fundamentalists who impose man-made rules on people in the name of achieving holiness by avoiding sinners and hiding out in a “Christian” culture. They are prone to seeing others sin more easily than their own sins of hypocrisy and religious pride, while arguing about morality when they should be explaining how to be redeemed. Whereas syncretists go too far, sectarians don’t go far enough. Neither follows the entire example of Jesus, though both would disagree passionately.

The general concern of sectarians is that to be in culture is to be in sin. All Christians are commanded by God to avoid universal sins—offenses the Bible condemns for all people in all cultures—as well as particular sins, or offenses that are sinful for some people under some circumstances but not for all people under all circumstances. Christians are to do so without unfairly condemning or restricting the freedoms of fellow Christians who involve themselves differently in controversial cultural matters. For example, I personally disdain cigarettes, but I cannot forbid everyone in my church from smoking, because the Bible does not. This is, in part, what Paul means throughout the New Testament when he speaks of weak and strong Christians. In truth, every Christian is both weak and strong. We all have some areas in which we need to restrict our freedoms because of our weaknesses, while we are able to use our Christian liberty in areas in which we are strong.

Unity, Not Uniformity

I recognize that Christians will have different personal convictions in matters of culture and I welcome those differences that are not sinful, because what pleases God is unity, not uniformity. Uniformity undermines mission and often is promoted by erroneous restrictive and permissive theologies. Restrictive Christians go too far and name everything a universal sin, forbidding some cultural activities that the Bible does not, such as listening to certain musical styles, getting tattoos, watching movies, smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol moderately, enjoying some sexual pleasures within marriage, and body piercing. Conversely, permissive Christians tend to name everything a particular sin and bless activities that the Bible forbids, such as drug use, fornication, homosexuality, and cohabitation before marriage.

I’m not advocating either a permissive or a restrictive approach to debatable cultural issues. Rather, I am encouraging Christians to involve themselves in culture not merely for the purpose of entertainment but primarily for the purpose of education. As a missionary, you will need to watch television shows and movies, listen to music, read books, peruse magazines, attend events, join organizations, surf websites, and befriend people that you might not like to better understand people whom Jesus loves. For example, I often read magazines intended for teenage girls, not because I need to take tests to discover if I am compatible with my boyfriend or because I need leg-waxing tips, but because I want to see young women meet Jesus, so I want to understand them and their culture better.

Garbage In, Garbage Out?

Sadly, a theology of “garbage in, garbage out” remains quite popular but has numerous flaws. First, there is no such thing as a pure culture untainted by sin and sinners, including Christian entertainment, which has had its share of scandalous behavior. One such example is the fact that as I’m writing this blog, the leader of a major Christian television network has publically confessed to adultery. Second, it is uncertain what distinguishes clean “Christian” and unclean “secular” entertainment forms and why Bibleman is so much better than Spiderman.

Engaging culture requires discernment by God’s people to filter all of the cultures they encounter, Christian and non-Christian, through a biblical and theological grid in order to cling to that which is good and reject that which is evil. As we engage culture (watching films and television, listening to music, reading books, shopping at stores, and so on), we must do so as theologians and missionaries filled with wisdom and discernment, seeking to better grasp life in our culture. We do this so we can begin the transforming work of the gospel in our culture by contextualizing the good news of Jesus. Not compromising. Not changing. Contextualizing. Practically, this means doing what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:22–23, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” The truth is that every ministry is contextualized, the only difference is to which culture and which year of that culture. Everything from pews to chairs, sound systems, projectors, suits, and a printed Bible in the English language are very recent missiogical contextualizations in light of the two thousand years of Christianity.

For those who are familiar with my ministry, this all may seem very confusing in light of comments I have made on other cultural issues. For those who have raised objections and questions in a gracious manner, with all sincerity I want to say thank you! They help me learn how to articulate more effectively my deeply held biblical convictions about Christ, Christians, church, and culture. They help me learn and grow, which I appreciate and need. 

One helpful taxonomy I have used for years to help teach on missiology is as follows:

·     Receive – There are things in culture that are part of God’s common grace to all people that a Christian can simply receive. This is why, for example, I am typing on a Mac and am going to post this blog on the Internet without searching for an expressly Christian computer or communication format.

·     Reject – There are things in culture that are sinful and not beneficial. One example is pornography, which has no redeeming value and must be rejected by a Christian.

·     Redeem – There are things in culture that are not bad in and of themselves, but can be used in a sinful manner and therefore need to be redeemed by God’s people. An example that has resulted in a great deal of media attention is sexual pleasure. God made our bodies for, among other purposes, sexual pleasure. And, although many have sinned sexually, as Christians we should redeem this great gift and all its joys in the context of marriage.

As you can see, each issue requires discernment. Liberal syncretists tend to receive too much. Fundamental separatists tend to reject too much. So, while I would reject yoga because it is a Hindu worship act, it is possible for the Christian to redeem some of the exercise principles, as my friend, Rose, extols. Likewise, it’s not a sin to watch a film such as Avatar, enjoy the technological mastery, and learn about how to tell a great story. But, it is imperative for a Christian to not embrace the blatant pagan worldview that does not distinguish between Creator and creation, upon which the entire storyline of the film is constructed.

That said, is it possible to appreciate the musical and entrepreneurial talent of Jay-Z without praising his character or beliefs? Yes. Is it possible to watch and listen to Jay-Z to learn about culture, what people are valuing, and why some men have much larger audiences than any preacher because of how they present their message? Yes. Should Christians agree with the every message he and other artists present? No. Should Christians who like rap check out guys I have enjoyed getting to know a bit, such as Lecrae? Yes. Should all Christians listen to Jay-Z? No. Should Jay-Z sit down and talk to me about Jesus? Yes. Jay-Z, whenever works for you is good for me, and if need be I’d even watch a Nets game.

For further reading, I have addressed this topic at length in my book Radical Reformission(2004), in numerous sermons since, and last week a Mars Hill pastor wrote a blog about how we engage culture .

[lollum_button text=”Blog from Mark Driscoll” url=”http://theresurgence.com/2010/12/07/why-christians-go-postal-over-facebook-jay-z-yoga-avatar-and-culture-in-general” size=”big”]