Saturday, December 25, 2010

Eagerly Waiting

Christmas. Who doesn't love it? How can you not enjoy reflecting on the most amazing miracle ever recorded, when transcendent God stooped to associate with humanity? But Christmas calls us to do more than look back. It calls us to look ahead with joy - or dread.

We cannot reflect on Jesus's birth without remembering why he came. He was not born just so we could have neat nativity scenes and songs about sweet baby Jesus. His main goal in life was not that we could get presents in his honor. His mission was set from before creation - he came to save sinners. Jesus was born to go to the cross, and to rise again and be glorified.

And we know that the story does not end there - Jesus is coming again! Christmas should remind us to not just look back on this wondrous event, but to look forward to its spectacular consummation. He came the first time to humbly go to the cross and die for our sin, but the second advent will have a significantly different goal:

"Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." (Hebrews 9:25-28)

Christmas rightly taught should bring about two distinct reactions, depending on our standing before God. Those of us who are in Christ, who have had our sin dealt with, should experience both joy and eager expectation. We rejoice in what Jesus has done "by the sacrifice of himself", and long for the day when he returns to bring our salvation to its ultimate consummation. One of the all-too-often neglected marks of a Christian is an eager waiting for Christ's return. So this Christmas, if you are in Christ, ask yourself if you properly love the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ.

For those who are not saved, however, there is no such longing for his return. The thought of Jesus returning can bring only the dreadful realization that he is not coming again to deal with sin yet again. He is coming to judge, to crush his enemies beneath his feet, to slaughter the rebels who refused to submit to his righteous rule. They know that the second coming marks the end of the time of forbearance, that there will no longer be a chance to deal with sin, and that it is time to face the appointed judgment. No wonder they will do anything to turn the focus of the holiday away from Christ! Who wants to be reminded of such a fate?

This Christmas, I would encourage you to ponder what your attitude towards Christ's return says about the state of your soul. Are you eagerly longing for it? Horrifically dreading it? Or perhaps totally apathetic towards it?

Monday, December 13, 2010

You're not moving? You're not moving. I can't believe you're not moving.

Recently I read through 1 Samuel, thinking a look at the life of David would be good preparation for the Christmas season. Sure enough, I noticed one parallel I hadn't picked out before - not with David per se, but with the ancillary characters.

Early on in 1 Samuel, we read about the lazy, apathetic priest Eli. He of course would go on to lose the priesthood due to his extreme passivity. Others have noted how frequently the scripture mentions him sitting or lying, a subtle way to illustrate that he wasn't exactly a man of action. The most extreme example of this is found in 1 Samuel 3.

Samuel had been given by his parents to tabernacle service, and he was sleeping in the tabernacle when God called to him. Thinking it was Eli, he kept going to ask the old priest what he wanted. The third time, Eli figured out that it was God speaking. Don't let that slip by too quickly - the creator of the universe was speaking! What an incredible occurrence! And Eli, the high priest, whose whole life's work was to be devoted to serving God - when he perceived that God was speaking audibly, how did he respond?

Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the young man. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Yeah, okay. The one person on earth who should have been most excited about this spectacular, earth-shattering news that God was speaking basically said "God called? Take a message. I'm going back to sleep." Oy.

Fast forward a thousand years, give or take. The parallel I see in the Christmas narrative? Can you imagine what the Jewish religious leaders were thinking in Matthew 2 when the magi showed up? Here were people who had traveled a long, long way because they were certain the long-awaited hope of Israel, the Messiah, had been born. The greatest announcement they could imagine had just been made, and how did they respond? At best, they just pointed the magi in the right direction and asked for a report of what they found. Where was the excitement and urgency? Was there no one to celebrate and go with them? This was what they had supposedly been wanting for generations, they even had the promise on the tip of their tongues, and when it was finally here, at best they couldn't be bothered to walk a couple thousand feet to Bethlehem.

And total apathy about the Messiah is the best possible spin. Notice this shocking phrase in verse 3: "When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." Far from being their hope, it seems they found news of the Messiah's birth was terrifying. We could analyze why - fear of Herod trumping fear of God, lack of faith that the Messiah would do what God said he would, love of status with the Romans (a theme which would come back later). Regardless, rather than longing for Messiah's appearing, these guys were at best apathetic towards it and more likely in dread of it.

So what about us?

We have perpetual access to God's word. The creator and sovereign Lord of all that is has spoken - and we have a record of it in the Bible! Is our attitude towards that any better than Eli's apathetic laziness? Is it similar to the Jewish leaders' dread? Do we pay lip service to admiring God's revelation, yet cringe at the thought of actually listening because of what it may cost us? Are we waiting for something 'better' than God's word (I speak as a fool)?

If the fact that God has spoken isn't enough to get us moving, what could it possibly take?

Saturday, December 4, 2010


OK, so this is a bit late - think of it more as a Thanksgiving retrospective than a preview. After what was essentially no-post November, I may actually have a few minutes here and there to post this month. So here we go.

I love Thanksgiving. Not because of any of the 'traditional' aspects - although I do love the meal and watching the Lions lose - but because it may be the holiday that most directly illustrates the absurdity of atheism and all forms of godlessness.

We hear so much around the holiday about the importance of being thankful. Even secular, anti-Christian sources remind you to think of all that you have to be thankful for. Yet these folks apparently never stop to think that thankfulness is meaningless unless it's directed: it makes no sense whatsoever to be thankful for some provision unless you are also thankful to its provider.

To whom can an atheist (whether admitted or merely in practice) possibly be thankful for the myriad graces they enjoy? Random chance? Millions of generations of genetic mutations that somehow proved to be beneficial? Uncontrollable chemical reactions in the brains of people they'll never meet that have a butterfly effect on their lives? String theory and the particular variation of the multiverse in which they happened to spawn? Their best possible answers make it seem like I'm hacking merrily through a field full of men of straw.

Consider one of the great Psalms of praise, Psalm 100. I had to memorize this in children's chapel way back in the day, so I'll quote it in the KJV like I remember it. At the center of a great exhortation to praise God and give Him the thanks He deserves, we find this as the ultimate reason for our thankfulness:

Know ye that the LORD, He is God:
It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves;
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

He is God. He made us. We are His. Everything we have, all that we are, is owing to God creating, sustaining, and providing for us. As Paul asks, "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?"

Small wonder, then, that when Paul begins his great indictment of humanity, he starts by recounting our thanklessness: "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." Nowadays we don't just have people refusing to thank God, but openly pretending He doesn't exist. They're trying to be thankful for the gifts without acknowledging the giver. Tragic and suicidal.

So this Thanksgiving - and every day - remember not only for what we should be thankful, but to whom we need to be thankful. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."