For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, December 31, 2012

To Resolve, or Not To Resolve

December 31.  End of a another year.  Time for everyone to be all pensive and introspective about the previous year and optimistic and resolute about the coming year.  Honestly, since the whole thing only lasts a day or two, I'm not sure what the big deal is, but...anyway. 

There are two lines of thought about the whole resolution thing.  Well, there are probably more than two, but it's easier to say two because then I only have to deal with two. (Sorry, feeling a little ADHD this morning)

I thought about writing a nice post about how we can make a biblical argument both for and against resolutions, but I've recently read a couple really good articles on each so I thought I'd just do the responsible blogger thing and capitalize on someone else's work (Apparently, I'm also feeling a bit cynical this morning).

First, I read this great little piece from Paul David Tripp where he argues that God-made change in our lives isn't about one or two dramatic moments, like making resolutions, but is instead about 10,000 little things in the course of our lives.  He says in part: 

You see, the character of a life is not set in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments. The character that was formed in those little moments is what shapes how you respond to the big moments of life.
What leads to significant personal change?
  • 10,000 moments of personal insight and conviction
  • 10,000 moments of humble submission
  • 10,000 moments of foolishness exposed and wisdom gained
  • 10,000 moments of sin confessed and sin forsaken
  • 10,000 moments of courageous faith
  • 10,000 choice points of obedience
  • 10,000 times of forsaking the kingdom of self and running toward the kingdom of God
  • 10,000 moments where we abandon worship of the creation and give ourselves to worship of the Creator.
And what makes all of this possible? Relentless, transforming, little-moment grace. You see, Jesus is Emmanuel not just because he came to earth, but because he makes you the place where he dwells. This means he is present and active in all the mundane moments of your daily life.

Then there is this post from Tony Reinke where he argues that resolutions have a good biblical basis.  He points to 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 and then says:

From this text, here are a few bulleted points to meditatively ponder:
  • By his power (δύναμις) God is eager to fulfill (πληρόω) the totality (πᾶς) of our faith-filled resolutions (εὐδοκία). Which means …
  • God cares about our resolutions, all of them — and he sets no limit to their number.
  • Our resolutions are legit only because God, by his power, is resolute on our eternal good in all things (Romans 8:28).
  • True godly resolutions focus outward: on God, on Christ, on divine glory, and on the good of others (2 Thessalonians 1:3–4, 11–12).
  • Shortsighted resolutions, resolutions with me as their end, are powerless and destined to fail.
  • True resolutions should fit within the context of our eschatological hope (2 Thessalonians 1:5–10).
  • True resolutions should fit within the reality of our union with Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:12).
  • True godly resolutions — “works of faith” — focus on God’s enabling power, thus they seek for what only God can provide.
 So, do we resolve or not?  Are we to make resolutions because they focus on God and His enabling power, or do we not make resolutions and instead look for those 10,000 little things God is doing on a daily basis?  Well, I'll just take the easy way out and say: it's both. 

Evaluation, which is at the heart of year end resolution things, is a good thing.  We ought to always be looking at our lives, our discipleship, our service, and making sound biblical judgements about them.  As a result, I think we always ought to have some clear Christ-centered goals in mind; and we ought to strive for them.  

Yet, at the same time, we should know that these resolutions are not magic pills.  Our lives don't suddenly change over night because we wrote down a really fun goal on New Year's Day.  It really is about the daily walk with Christ, the 10,000 little things each and every day.  We can and should set goals, and then we should settle in for the daily grind of moving toward those goals, knowing that the whole thing is a process; just as God's work of sanctifiying us is a process.  

The confidence we have is this:  "that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)  I pray that God does much in you life this year (and mine!) and that when the end of 2013 comes we can honestly say that we have become more like Christ over the course of the last 365 days.  After all, that's the one goal that really counts.  

And now to get you in the resolving mood, here's the O. C. Supertones and their classic on the subject, aptly titled "Resolution."  Enjoy, and Happy New Year, Everyone!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Songs of Christmas: Conclusion

As much as most folks look forward to Christmas and to all the activity, most also tend to dread the days that follow.  We spend so much time and energy on the various celebrations, that once it’s over, there is a kind an attitude of “Christmas is over, now what.” So many people struggle with the post-holiday let down. 

I did a little search on Post-Christmas Blues and I found hundreds upon hundreds of articles and blog entries dealing with the subject. Maybe you’ve never suffered the post-holiday disappointment that so many others feel.  Personally, I’ve never had a bad case of it, but I do admit that there is something a little depressing about taking down all the decorations and staring at the blank walls again.

Anyway, one way that we can address the issue is simply to remind ourselves that the events we celebrate at Christmas don’t represent the ending of anything, but only the beginning.  Christmas isn’t over, because the coming of the Christ child is only the beginning of what it was that God was doing at that moment in history.  And the reason for His doing it was intended to have lasting, even eternal, effects.

So on this day after Christmas, I want to focus on the continuing story with one last look at the songs of Christmas recorded in Luke’s gospel.  I’ve already posted about the songs Zechariah, and Mary, and the angels.  Now I want to consider what happened after the angels left and the shepherds went back to their fields.  Luke tells us that once that time had been completed, Joseph and Mary took the infant Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord in the Temple. When they arrive they meet a man in the temple who has one last song to offer regarding this child who was born.  Even though the Christmas story proper may be over, this last song is a reminder that what God is doing is only beginning.  The story is continuing.  In a way it answers the question, so what do we do now?  Here, then is Simeon’s Song:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:25-32, ESV)

Simeon is a devout man of God.  He is a man that God has clearly spoken to.  And though he wasn’t there the night Jesus was born, he is very much a part of this Christmas story.  He has been waiting a long time for this.  And he has some things to say in the praise he offers to God that help us to be reminded of what this all means; what this child is about.  The song says, “What child is this?”  Well, Simeon tells us.

I. He says of Jesus that HE IS A CHILD OF PROVIDENCE.  His address to his Lord shows that Simeon recognizes that all of this has happened in accordance with the will and way of the Sovereign Lord of the universe. From the beginning of his praise God, he recognizes the hand of God at work.  This is His doing.  This is part of His plan. Indeed Scripture is clear that the sending of His Son was the plan from the very beginning. And what God had ordained, His providential hand guided and directed the events of history to carry out. 

Have you ever stopped and thought about all the would be coincidences that come together in the Christ event.  It just so happens that Caesar has called for a census that will require Joseph to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem which is where the Messiah is to be born; and right at the time Mary is expecting. It just happens that Rome is in charge of the world at the time, which brings into being the punishment of crucifixion which Jesus will endure; a punishment perfectly described in Psalm 22 before it ever existed.  The Empire has brought about peace and safety for travel making the spread of the gospel message at this time more effective than at any other time in history up to that point.  It almost seems like somebody planned it that way, doesn’t.

And of course, Somebody did. Jesus’ birth is no accident.  The timing of it is no accident.  The events surrounding it are no accident.  And all that will follow in the life of this newborn child is no accident.  In fact, all that has happened down to this very day is no accident, because our Sovereign God is still at work bringing about His plans and His purposes for His glory in all things. 

Simeon knows this to be true because He knows His Scriptures.  He knows God has been planning all this.  Furthermore, God has promised Him directly that He would see at least the beginning of God’s fulfillment of this plan.  Which leads to the second thing seen in this song about Jesus.

II. HE IS A CHILD OF PROMISE.  Simeon sings that his life is now complete.  He is now free to depart this life in peace, he says.  Why?  Because he has seen the answer to God’s promise. He knows His Scripture.  He knows the prophecies concerning the coming Christ.  He knows that God has promised to send His Messiah.  God promised, and God is always faithful to His promises.

As 17th century Puritan Timothy Cruso said: “Promises, though they be for a time seemingly delayed, cannot be finally frustrated. . . . the heart of God is not turned though His face be hid.  He said, “The being of God may as well fail as the promise of God.”

God would cease to be God if He were not faithful to His word.  Simeon knows that.  He has seen the fulfillment of it.  This child, this Christ of Christmas is the proof of it.  And that proof carries beyond just this holiday.  Furthermore, Simeon recognizes the truth that this Sovereign God, in his providential plan, had promised not only to send this child, but to send Him for a reason.

III. HE IS A CHILD OF PURPOSE.  Simeon was waiting for the “consolation of Israel.”  What Luke means by that is that he was looking forward to the inauguration of the Messianic age.  He was looking forward to the redemption of his people, and knew that would only come through God’s Messiah. 

God didn’t take on flesh simply to make a spectacular statement.  He didn’t come simply so we could blow our budgets on gifts we don’t even need once a year; so that we could decorate and celebrate and all that.  Not that there is anything wrong with Christmas celebrations.  That’s all fine and good. But in the midst of our celebrating let’s remember the purpose, the reason he came.  Jesus Himself summarized it quite plainly in Luke 19:10, “for the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. 

That simple little verse is the gospel message in a nutshell.  It reminds us that we are indeed lost.  The state of man apart from God is one of complete depravity and lostness. The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.  Because we are lost, because we are bound by sin and enslaved by the enemy of God, the Son of Man came.  He was born as a babe in order to one day die as a sacrifice; to give his life in atonement, as a substitute in our place.

No wonder Simeon was so overjoyed.  He looked on this child and he saw the salvation God was bringing.  He may not have known the details, and every indication is that he didn’t live long enough in this world to see any of it come to be; but he knew this was a child of purpose.  He knew this child was born of God to save the children of God. And because of that, Simeon recognizes one last thing about the infant Jesus.

IV. HE IS A CHILD OF PREEMINENCE.  He is a child of superiority, of incomparability, of supremacy.   Whatever synonym you want to use, this child who is born is above and beyond everything else in all of creation. He is first. Not only is Jesus part of the plan, he is the plan and the promise, and everything is focused on Him.  Everything was created by Him and for Him.  He is not only the Son of God, but God the Son, the eternal one, the focal point of all of life and all of history and all of the future.  As I tell our church again and again, it’s all about Him; all about Christ; all about God.

Now, you ask, how did you get that from the words of Simeon’s song?  I’m glad you asked.  The first word of this sentence in Greek is not the word Lord that most English translations start with.  It’s the word “Now.”  Now, Lord.  The “now” is emphatic.  Now, finally, this is the moment.  The moment for what?  The coming of the Messiah?  Yes, but look at the rest of the sentence. Now, Sovereign Lord, let your servant depart in piece; Now dismiss your servant.  That’s a Semitic phrase which means, “let me die.”  Now, Lord, finally, I can die in piece?  Why?  Because He has seen the salvation He has been promised.  He has seen the fulfillment of God’s plan and purpose.  And that fulfillment is greater than anything else in all of creation, even his own life.

In light of the glory of salvation in Christ, nothing else matter, not even life in this world.  Jesus is preeminent. He is greater and grander and more glorious than anything else in all the universe.  Which is why Paul could say in Philippians 3, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ(Php 3:7-8).  He is our treasure.  He is our hope.  He is the light of revelation and the glory of Israel.  He is the glory of the church.  Who or what do we have but Christ?  Nothing apart from Him.

Christmas is over.  The celebrations have ended.  The decoration will come down.  The presents will begin to wear out.  The food is either consumed or goes bad.  So now what?  The answer to that question is found in another:  who is this child?  Who do you say that He is?  Who is Christ to you?
Do you know Him as the child of providence, sent by the Sovereign had of God; the child of promise, sent to fulfill the plan of God; the child of purpose, sent to bring Salvation to the people of God; and the child of preeminence, sent to take first place in your life?  Is Christ preeminent in your life?  Is He your all in all?  Is He the central focus of all things, so that even life and death in this world takes a back seat to simply knowing Him?  Is Christ your all sufficient treasure? The celebration of Christ’s coming doesn’t have to end.  It doesn’t have to be only about one day each year.  Let each day mark a celebration of His salvation and His plans and promises and God works in and through you.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Songs of Christmas: Part Three

When it comes to singing songs, we don’t always get the words right, do we?  A lot of times it’s because we’re not really listening.  You’ve probably read some of these misheard hymn lines before; things like:

-“Have a little chocolate, Jesus” instead of “have a little talk with Jesus”

-“Bringin’ in the sheets!” instead of Bringin’ in the Sheaves.  I guess they thought it had something to do with laundry.

-One little boy sang Amazing Grace and thought that God had “saved a wrench like me."  Not sure what that would even mean.

-Another child must have been hungry as they sang the great old hymn Up from The Grave He Arose.  Instead of Low in the grave He lay, they sang out “Low in the gravy lay.”

-And that well known version of the Christmas favorite, Silent Night, where the kids are hungry for some heavenly peas.

We laugh at those, but the truth is, often the adults are just as guilty as the youngsters of not really listening.  How often do we sing songs in church like we’re on auto pilot?  We’re not really thinking of the words.  We either just blindly read what’s on the page or we let them roll out from memory without ever really stopping and concentrating on the words we sing.

Colossians 3:16 gives us the impression that as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts to God, that part of the reason we do that is to teach, and encourage and to admonish one another.  That means we need to take time to listen to the words we sing and fully grasp the message being given.  Our singing is a part of the ministry of the Word, just as the preaching and teaching is.

In this next post concerning the songs of Christmas that Luke records for us in the opening chapters of his gospel account, we come to the song of the angels.  (Technically it says the angels “said”, but we all like to think they were singing).  Like any other song of praise, or any other announcement for that matter, we ought to carefully consider what is being said.   It’s just a short song, but that doesn’t make it any less significant.  

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"  (Luke 2:13-14, ESV)

This is a significant song for many reasons, not the least of which is the subject of the song and those who are singing it.  Any song about Christ as sung by angels ought to get our attention.  And once it has our attention, we ought to reflect on the meaning and message of the song.  Let me suggest three things in particular that this song of the angels tells us about the birth of Christ that we are celebrating at this time of year.

I. It leads to PRAISE TO GOD.  The first words of the song make it plain that this birth announcement is the bring praise to God.  Glory to God in the highest.

The testimony of Scripture is that all of creation has as its goal and purpose the glory of God. He created everything for His own glory. Everything that exists has its existence from God and for God. Romans 11:36 says, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”  All things are to declare and proclaim His majesty and supremacy and greatness and power.

The angels tell us that this event is no different.  This birth, this Savior who is born, God taking on flesh, causes them to sing Glory to God.  Like everything else God is doing and has done, like everything else in life, this is all about God and His glory. Everything about God that is worthy of our giving Him adoration and praise is wrapped up in this one event.  Christ, in fact, is the centerpiece of God’s plan for the ages.  From before the foundations of the world, it was all about Christ.  Everything in the world today is about Christ.  All that will happen from now and all through eternity is about Christ and His glory.  It’s all about Him.  All glory to God.
II. We see that this birth also leads to PLEASURE IN HEAVEN.  The angels give glory to God in the highest, which can not only refer to the highest praise, but glory in the highest place, in heaven.  You can almost sense the angels’ joy as they make the announcement, and certainly you can see it in their praise and worship as a result. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever really considered the aspect of the angel’s rejoicing in our salvation before.  It’s worth taking time to consider because on the one hand, these angels are not in need of redemption.  They are perfectly obedient, and you might think they would look down on humanity and our sin and rebellion.  Yet instead, they rejoice in our redemption.

But this song of the angels could possibly also refer to the pleasure of God Himself.  Jesus said there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels when His children repent; not specifically that the angels alone rejoice.  And who is in the presence of the angels but God Himself.  Perhaps the joy expressed is His.

King James says, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”  But the ESV I’ve quoted above is a better rendering: “peace among those with whom he is pleased.  Again, it may be that the pleasure and joy in heaven is not just the angels’, but it may be a reflection of God’s own joy at what He’s doing. Certainly God is pleased at the work of His hands.  Certainly He is pleased at seeing the outworking of His eternal plan.  And He is ultimately pleased at this, the centerpiece of that plan.  Just as He is divinely pleased when each of His children comes to Him in repentance and faith; made possible by the birth and later death and resurrection of this His Son. So whether we’re speaking of the joy of God, or the joy of His angels, it’s worth noting that this event brings pleasure in the highest, not just on earth.  Yet, it does affect earth…

III. This announced birth is said to bring PEACE ON EARTH.  From our perspective, perhaps the best news of all is that the Savior born on that night will bring peace on earth. 

Of course, we have to define that, don’t we?  Because as we look around the world and around our nation, we see anything but peace.  The economy is as unstable as it’s been in decades, causing folks to be stressed and frightened.  The most recent national elections showed clearly just how divided our nation is on so many issues.  Not to mention the violence that continues to run rampant not only in our big cities, but closer and closer to where we live all the time. Even within our homes we find fighting and squabbling.  Husbands and wives, children and parents, struggling just to get along sometimes.  And it’s been that way since we left the garden.  If Jesus truly came to bring peace on earth two thousand years ago, why are we still in this predicament?

Because that’s not the kind of peace we’re talking about, is it?  Certainly, one day Christ will return and will finally put an end to all war and all struggling and all stress and all pain and suffering.  But in the meantime, He brings peace of another kind.  In fact, it’s peace that’s even more significant that any of those.

What we often forget is that mankind is at war with God.  Since sin first entered this world, there has been a conflict going on.  A war of rebellion is which we are willing participants.  Scripture says that apart from Christ, we are enemies to God with an inability to please Him, to glorify Him.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Our greatest need is to find an end to that conflict; to find peace with God; to find reconciliation between God and man.  And Christ is that peace.  When the angels sang of peace on earth, in one sense they were simply speaking of the Christ Himself.  The savior who is born is himself peace on earth.  He is the Prince of Peace, the author of peace and the mediator of peace between God and man.

Jesus is our peace.  He has made peace possible with God through his shed blood on the cross.  The angels knew that what the reason for the incarnation.  They knew what God was planning, or at least part of it.  And so they sang with all their angelic being: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” And should angels sing, while we keep silent?  They sang though salvation would always be somewhat of a mystery to them, something they will never experience.  How much more should we sing, who experience the salvation that babe born in a manger would bring.

The father of English Hymnody, Isaac Watts, summed it up in these lines:
Thus Gabriel sang, and straight around The heav’nly armies throng;
They tune their harps to a lofty sound, And thus conclude the song:
“Glory to God that reigns above! Let peace surround the earth!
Mortals shall know their Maker’s love, At their Redeemer’s birth.”
Lord, and shall angels have their songs, And men no tunes to raise?
O may we lose our useless tongues When they forget to praise.
Glory to God that reigns above, That pitied us forlorn;
We join to sing our Maker’s love, For there’s a Savior born.

I pray that you would know the joy and pleasure of this song.  And I pray that who have a real and saving knowledge of the Savior born in Bethlehem, we would lift our voices to sing His praises along with the angels

Monday, December 17, 2012

Guns Don't Kill People: Redux

After the horrors of this past weekend, and the typical liberal response in blaming guns and law abiding gun owners, I sat down to write a little piece about the fact that the issue is not guns, the issue is sin.  Then, I realized that I had already written that piece back in July after the Colorado incident.  So, why reinvent the wheel.  Let me just "reprint" that piece with a couple summary comments.  Here is the post from July:

Guns Don’t Kill People; Sin Kills People

It didn’t take long for liberals to start sounding the “gun’s are bad” drum after last weekend’s tragedy in Colorado.  One article blames the carnage on everyone from the NRA to every supporter of the 2nd Amendment.   Of course, the media eats up that angle.

Never mind the fact that they completely ignored the “other”shooting in Aurora.  Back in April, in this same city, a man walked into a church, much like that movie theater, with the intent to wreak havoc.  In this case, however, an off duty police officer with a conceal carry gun took the shooter out after only one person was killed. 

It’s still a tragedy.  One senseless death is as tragic as twelve.  But that one armed citizen was able to keep the tragedy from escalating.  Had there been such an armed citizen in the theater that night, who knows how many might still be alive or even uninjured.  The media won’t report on that “other” shooting, however, since it doesn’t fit their anti-gun agenda.

Still, all of this misses the point.  We can argue all day about the “guns kill people” vs. “people kill people” slogans.  The truth is we have to look at the real culprit here.  It’s the same culprit that has been responsible for every death since the beginning of time:  sin.  Guns don’t kill people, sin kills people.

Go back to the beginning.  After the initial act of rebellion that brought sin into the world, the first act of sin recorded for us in anger which led to murder.  We are shown immediately that sin leads to death.  The first death we read about isn’t Adam slowly drifting away from old age, but Adam’s eldest son killing his own brother. 
Scripture doesn’t say how Cain killed Abel.  Could have been with a rock.  Could have been with a club.  Could have been with his own bare hands.  Personally, I think we weren’t told for a reason.  It kept the liberal media of the day from starting a “ban rocks” campaign; or “ban the club;” or maybe even “ban the hand,” that one has a nice poetic sound, doesn’t it? 

Whatever Cain used, I can guarantee that is wasn't a 9mm, or a .38, or a shotgun, or any other firearm.  Guns don’t kill people, any more than rocks kill people, or clubs, etc.  It’s not the instrument, folks. It’s the heart.  Sin kills people.

Sin is killing all of us, in fact.  Death exists because of sin.  Apart from sin, there would be no death.  Apart from sin, tragedies like the one in Colorado would be unheard of.  It’s time to stop blaming the instruments, stop looking at the externals and realize that the true problem is our sin nature.  And without addressing that sin nature, nothing will ever change.

Dr. Al Mohler from Southern Seminary had a wonderful response to this event.  He concluded in part by saying:

We are reminded that evil can be answered only by a cross. We must grieve with those who grieve. We must pray for Gospel churches in the Denver area who will be called upon for urgent ministry. We must pray for our nation and communities. And we must pray that God will guard ourselves from evil — especially our own evil. And we must point to the cross. What other answer can we give?

Indeed, what other answer can we give?  The answer isn’t passing more gun laws.  More gun laws merely disarm law abiding citizens and prevents them from defending themselves.  Criminals are criminals because they don’t follow the law; because they are sinners.  

Let’s instead address the real issue.  Sin is killing us.  We need to point people to the cross, because only there will we find a cure for sin, and thus a cure to the results of sin. 
I still believe everything I wrote here, and I would simply reemphasize those last two thoughts:  
1.  Gun control is not the answer.  Time and again statistics show that having an armed citizenry lowers crime rates.  Criminals are less likely to attack a target where they know someone might be shooting back.  One concealed carry permit holder might have stopped this deranged man in Connecticut resulting in fewer casualties.  Disarm the people and criminals will have an even more free reign of terror.

2. Sin is still the culprit.  The Gospel is still the answer.  The Church in America needs to wake up and stop trying to entertain the masses and start preaching the Gospel.  One can argue that many are preaching the Truth and that American's hearts are just hardened.  There is some truth to that.  But there are also too many so-called churches who think there mission is to entertain and be hipster-cool, while the soul of the nation withers.  Jesus Christ is the only answer.  Changed hearts are the only answer.  Until then, sinful and selfish people will continue to do sinful and selfish things.  Preach Christ and Him Crucified!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Songs of Christmas: Part Two

Song titles are interesting things.  Most of us take them for granted.  But songs haven’t always had official titles.  Most often, they were simple referred to by the first word or words of the first line. Even when they had titles, folks would still often just think of those first lines.

For example, one of the best known songs in the whole world is actually entitled “Faith’s Review and Expectation.”  At least that was the title the author first gave to the song.  I’m sure you know it.  However, we don’t know it by the original title. Instead, we’ve come to know it by the first line:  Amazing Grace how sweet the sound.  Most of us probably didn’t even know Amazing Grace wasn’t the title of that song, did we?

Anyway, in this second look at the songs of Christmas foun in Luke’s Gospel, I want to look at Mary’s “Magnificat.”  It’s called that, because as the song begin in Luke 1:46, Mary sings of magnifying the Lord.  The title, “magnificat” comes from the Latin word for magnify or glorify. 

I know we Protestants want to be wary of too much emphasis on Mary, but I like this song because it gives us some real clues as to the kind of person she is.  And though we don’t want to “venerate” her, we do know she is someone who has been blessed by God and has a life that glorifies Him, so we can learn from her example. Hopefully, our desire is to also be people who are blessed by God and who live lives that glorify Him.  So by looking at this song, and catching a glimpse of Mary’s heart and life, maybe we can learn how to be that kind of person. 

Here is her song from Luke 1:46-55 (ESV):
46And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever."

 My soul magnifies, or glorifies, or lifts up the Lord.  The Greek word means to make something increase, to extol or to declare to be great.  Mary says that her very soul declares the greatness of God.   The very essence of her being is focused on magnifying, glorifying, exalting and extolling the name of God.

I don’t know about you, but I want the same thing to be said of me.  I want my life, my very soul, to exalt and glorify God.  I want to be the kind of person God can use, the kind of person who magnifies God with my life. If you want to live a life that glorifies God, then consider these four characteristics in particular that we find in this song of Mary.

I.  Number one, we should have an AWARENESS OF OUR SCRIPTURE.   If you want to exalt God with your life, then you need to know your Bible. In reading Mary’s song, one of the things that should jump out right away is how richly these words reflect a knowledge of Scripture.  Throughout this song she alludes to verses in Psalm 103, Psalm 22, Psalm 44, Psalm 89, Psalm 98, Psalm 147, and Psalm 25. Many also see echoes of Job 12, and 2 Samuel 22, and Genesis 12, and Genesis 17, and Micah 7. Others suggest that Mary prays as she does based on what she has learned from other hymns of praise sung at times of God’s gracious and glorious intervention in the lives of his people.

Specifically we can mention the words of Moses in Exodus 15, and Miriam in Exodus 15, and Deborah in Judges 5, and Asaph in I Chronicles 16, and especially Hannah’s prayer. In fact, if you go to 1 Samuel 2 and read the words of Hannah as she praises God for the gift of her son Samuel; and if you set that song right next to this one, you’ll see that there are virtually parallel to one another.

There’s no accident in all this.  It’s not as if Mary got lucky.  And yes, we know that these are words inspired by the Holy Spirit.  But He worked through Mary, and through her experiences with God and with His Word.  And it’s obvious that she was a young woman who was very familiar with that Word.

Dr. LigonDuncan once said, “The Bible, you see, should be our book of books. Whatever book we love; whatever books we love, whatever books we study, the Bible should be our book of books.  The Bible should be our book of books.  If we want to live lives that truly glorify the Lord, then we need to know our Scripture.

II. The second characteristic of that kind of life is an AWARENESS OF OUR SOVEREIGN.   Not only does Mary know her Bible, but she obviously knows the God behind the Bible.  In fact, this is the primary source that we go to in order to learn of Him, isn’t it? The truth is you can’t know God apart from knowing about Him; that is to say, we can’t truly know the God of the Bible apart from how He has revealed Himself in the Bible.

That may be the biggest problem we have in the church today.  People come across something in the Bible they don’t agree with, and they say something like, “Well, my God would never do that;” or “my God isn’t like that.”  And if that’s the case, if your God doesn’t line up with Scripture, then your God is just that: ‘your god.’  He’s not the God of Scripture.

God has clearly revealed Himself in His Word, and it’s through that Word that we come to truly know Him.  We need to come to the Bible with a commitment to let God be God; to let Him reveal Himself as He pleases.  He reveals Himself as Father, in spite of what the feminists say.  He reveals Himself as a God of wrath as well as a God of love, in spite of what the liberals want to say.  He reveals Himself as Sovereign over all things in the universe, in spite of what our own hearts may want to say. 

And as we read His Word, as we see His revelation of Himself, as we learn these facts about God, we should then allow that information to lead us to understanding.  It’s at that point that our knowledge about God becomes personal knowledge of Him. If we want to truly glorify God with our lives, we must truly know Him. 

III. The third characteristic we see here is an AWARENESS OF OUR SINFULNESS.  The more we come to know Him, the more we come to know ourselves as well. Once we spend time in the Word, spend time with God in prayer and praise, truly coming to know His majesty and holiness, the one thing that will stand out immediately is our sinfulness.

Now, this might step on the toes of those who claim the immaculate conception of Mary, which suggests that Mary herself was born without sin.  But it’s obvious in this song, that Mary was aware of her sin. The most obvious evidence of that is in the opening sentence.  “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior.”  My Savior.  She recognizes her need for a savior.  All throughout this story we have absolutely no indication that Mary thought of herself as without sin or worthy of adoration in any way.  Just the opposite, we see her humility before her God.

It’s one of the consistent images we have in Scripture of anyone and everyone who has an encounter with God and truly comes face to face with His majesty and holiness that the immediate response is to be aware of our own lowly state, our own sin, our own lack of holiness before God. Think of Isaiah’s famous words when given the vision of God on His throne high and lifted up.  He says, “woe to me!  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”  Our sin is so obvious in the presence of God’s holiness.

1 John 1:8 says that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  And then two verses later he puts it even more bluntly.  Verse 10 there says: “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”  Unless we have a biblical understanding of our sinful state, then we don’t know God, and His Word has no place in our lives.  However, the opposite of that is to come to acknowledge our sin, to believe what His Word tells us, and to then look to the only one who can do anything about it.  The reason it’s important for us to be aware of our sinfulness is because it’s only then that we understand and acknowledge our need for a Savior.  Which is the fourth and final characteristic in this song…

IV. We see an AWARENESS OF OUR SAVIOR.   Mary not only acknowledges by her words her need of a Savior, but recognizes who that Savior is.  My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of me.  The Mighty One has done great things for me.

Once we know our sinfulness and our need of a Savior, we need to see that Christ is the one and only answer to that problem.  He is the way the truth and the life.  He is the good shepherd who has laid down his life for his sheep.  He is the answer, the solution, the way out, the key, the remedy, the source, the ultimate cure.

Because we know the rest of the story, right?  It wasn’t just that God sent His Son in this miraculous way.  It was the reason for which He was sent.  He came to live a perfect life, fulfilling the law in His flesh and then giving that life as an atoning sacrifice on the cross of Calvary.  Because of our sin, God must bring judgment, but in mercy He chose to judge Christ in our place, to punish Him for our sin, to pour His wrath on His own Son so that we might become sons and daughters of God.  

This is why Mary is rejoicing.  This is why Zechariah was rejoicing.  This is the source for all the joy in the other songs  we read in Luke’s Gospel:  God sent us a Savior in the person of Jesus Christ.

We need to see that forgiveness of sin is our greatest need, and then see that only Christ is the one who can meet that need.  We need to cry out with Martin Luther who said, “No other God have I but Thee; born in a manger, died on a tree.”  No other God, no other source of salvation, no other mediator between God and man but the man Jesus Christ.  Only then can we begin a life that will ultimately bring honor and glory to Him, and only then will our souls magnify the Lord.

Monday, December 10, 2012

As Doomsday Approaches

Of course everyone knows about the whole Mayan calendar thing. Their “Long Count” calendar ends on what we would call December 21, 2012, which means it’s the end of the world.  Up until now, I’ve never given it any real consideration. However, an article in yesterday’s USA Weekend insert in my newspaper has caused me to rethink it a bit.

The article is entitled: What, me worry? 6 other views of doomsday.  But it’s the subtitle that got my attention: “Scientists explain why the end of the world will NOT arrive in 2012.”  Uh-oh.  Anytime “scientists” state something with absolute confidence, I get nervous.  Mainly because they are often known for thumbing their noses at God, and we all know what that’ll get you.

According to one scientist the universe is guaranteed to go on for another billion years.  Of course, this coming from someone who thinks it’s already been here a billion years, so I don’t put too much stock in that.  
Gladly, the article does go on to de-bunk a bunch of those crazed end times scenarios folks are always screaming about:  giant asteroids, mysterious planets on a collision course, black holes swallowing us…well, whole.   I appreciate the sentiment of one physicist quoted as saying: “Crazy. People always worry about the wrong things.” 

Or maybe he meant to say “Crazy people always worry about the wrong things.”  We’ve certainly seen that in church circles as well, with all the end times novels being treated as theology textbooks, sparking all kinds of misinformation and misunderstandings about Scripture’s teaching on how the end will come.  But I digress…

The reason the article got my attention is simply because when scientists say it absolutely can’t happen, I start looking over my shoulder to see God coming with an “Oh, yeah?  Watch this.”  Not that God reacts to man’s arrogance with a any need to defend Himself.  But it does often happen that man is forced to eat his own words.  

So what to do now?  I don’t buy into the Mayan theory.  But I don’t put stock in the scientists absolute either.  What’s a guy to think?   How nice it was to come in this morning, thinking about this things, and seeing this post from our friend Jon Cardwell over at Justification by Grace.  I think it put it rather nicely, and hope he doesn’t mind my re-posting his thoughts here (head over here to read the original).

There are some things that you almost don’t need to say anything about– like the Mayan Calendar! Sakes! Even as I type these words, I really can’t believe that I’m addressing this.


Because the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012, there are cuckoos out there whistling a very Beatles goo goo ga joob, “I Am the Walrus” kind of “the world’s going to end” mantra.

Do you honestly expect me to believe that a people who failed to extend their legacy, who could not propagate their own progeny because of human sacrifice, to the extent that there are no Mayans whatsoever today, are going to accurately predict the end of the world? There are no Mayans today. None. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Come on, people. There are no Mayans today and there are no Incas. There are no Edomites. There are no Amalakites…

…yet, a “civilization” that failed to make it into the last several hundred years is going to have a calendar that provides the key to the end of the world? I don’t think so.

They have already inaccurately predicted the end of the world because the world’s end came when logic flew out the window. Yes, that’s right. The world came to an end the moment that anyone took the Mayan calendar seriously for a second.

I for one, am enjoying the world’s end; and enjoying it so much so that I may have a cup of tea with my wife and laugh about something really believable: Barney Fife purchasing a septic tank for his parents’ wedding anniversary.

I think he’s got it right.  Let’s just enjoy it.  And let’s get on with life in the meantime.  As I said in a post about the whole Harold Camping fiasco, the book of Acts opens with an angel telling Christ’s disciples to stop looking to the heavens and get busy with what the master told us to do.  Jesus is coming back, the end is indeed coming, and we are to be watching for Him. But until then, stop worrying about when it will happen and get busy serving so we are found faithful when He does come. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Songs of Christmas: Part One

We have a tradition of sorts in our family, which has nothing to do with any real spiritual merit.  It’s simply this: we have a rule against singing Christmas songs until the day after Thanksgiving.  That’s not because I don’t like Christmas songs.  I love Christmas songs, just like I love music in general.  Music is a huge part of my life.  I have music going on almost all the time.  In the office, in my truck, wherever.  I love music in general and music that exalts God in particular.  And to be honest, like most folks, I have a special attraction to many of the songs of the Christmas season.  It’s just that I want to keep enjoying them, and sometimes we can really overdo it, can’t we?

But it’s good and right that we should let music be a big part of our Christmas traditions.  Music is a big part of the life of God’s people in general.  In addition to the Psalms themselves, God’s Word is full of songs scattered all throughout the narratives of God’s dealing with His people.  Even in Paul’s letters to the churches, we have glimpses of what were probably early Christian hymns being sung in the church.   The history of God’s people is full of songs and singing and praising God with all kinds of music.

It seems that as God reveals Himself to His people, and reveals what it is that He is about to do, the natural response of the people is to break out in song.  The announcement of His Son’s birth is no different and we find many “songs” as Luke’s gospel begins. So for the next few weeks I’m going to post a few meditations looking at these first Christmas songs, if you will, and hope God will teach some things about who He is, what He’s doing, and how we should respond.

The first is in Luke 1:67 and following where the priest Zechariah receives a vision from God while serving in the temple one day.  The angel Gabriel comes and tells him that his barren wife will bear a son who will prepare the way for the coming Messiah.  The priest’s lack of belief causes him to be mute until the child is actually born, and then when his tongue is loosed, he begins praising God.

This song of Zechariah is extremely rich with content.  So much so, that John MacArthur once preached a six part series on just this one song; this one passage.  Six hours of teaching on these verses.  I promise not to take that long, but instead just focus on just the last verses of the song itself, verses 78-79, and the description we are given of the Christ, the Messiah.

“…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:78-79, ESV)

Because of the tender mercy of God, a sunrise will visit from on high.  King James says “dayspring from on high.”  Other translators say things like a rising sun will come from heaven, or the dawn from on high.  The word refers to a rising light.  And it’s this theme of a rising light that I want to focus on.  In speaking of the Messiah who is coming, whose birth we begin to celebrate during this Advent season, Luke tells us that he is coming like a light.  What kind of light?

            I. A LIGHT THAT OVERCOMES DARKNESS.   Verse 79 begins, “to give light to those who sit in darkness.”  The image of light coming into the darkness is one that is repeated over and over in Scripture. I don’t know if you’ve ever stopped to really think about that.  This world that we seem to love so much; this world that we want to cling to, and want to gain approval from, and extend our stay in is described in Scripture as darkness.  It’s a shadow. 

Not that it began that way.  God created the universe and everything in it and called it good.  But once sin entered the picture, we have been sinking further and further into darkness. In spite of all our advancements, in spite of our all our technological achievements, in spite of all we’ve been able to accomplish through the power of the human spirit, our problem is still the same.  We are trapped in the dark and are in desperate need the freedom, the liberty of the light.

The good news is that not everyone is trapped in darkness.  Those who know Christ have had the light of Christ shown into our lives, and have been called out of the darkness into His marvelous light.  Do you remember the day the Light of God shined into the darkness of your life? Do you remember what it was like to see yourself as you really were and know that God offered you light, hope and life?  Sometimes we lose sight of that transformation in our lives, and we act like we’re no different than this dark world in which we live.  Jesus came to bring light into the darkness of sin.  He came to overcome that darkness, and through Him we too are overcomers.  And more than just some metaphor about dark and light, this light He gives actually transforms us from death to life.

            II.  A LIGHT THAT OVERCOMES DEATH.  The second phrase in verse 79 says that this rising light, this dayspring who is Christ, comes to shine on those in the shadow of death.   Jesus said in John 8:12 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The light of life that overcomes death.

Death is a fearful thing for most people, but it’s something every one of us will face, no matter how hard we might try to avoid it.  Hebrews 9 tells us that it is appointed a man once to die and then to judgment.  God has set the day of our departure from this life and we can’t change that.  However, we can see a change in what that day means.  Although death is the ultimate enemy, through Christ’s death and resurrection, he has overcome that enemy.  For the Christian who lives in the light of Christ, leaving this world isn’t something to be feared, but a homecoming to be anticipated.

Consider the apostle Paul’s attitude as he faces his time of death.  In 2 Timothy 4:6-8 he says:  For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (ESV)

Doesn’t sound like he’s despairing, does it.  In fact, that word “departure” in verse 6 is a very expressive word.  It was used by armies when it was time to strike their tents. Sailors used it to refer to losing the moorings and setting sail. Travelers used it to refer to the end of a journey, when the horses were put into the stable. Those in the legal professions used it to refer to the freeing of prisoners. Paul doesn't face his death with a spirit of fear. He knows there is more to come after he passes through death's shadow! And he knows that because he knows the one who is the light of life. 

Zechariah is giving us such a vivid picture of what the Messiah is coming to do.  He is bringing the light of freedom from the darkness of sin.  He is bringing the light of life that overcomes the final enemy of death. 

            III. A LIGHT THAT PROVIDES DIRECTION.   God knows that we are lost on our own.  This disease of sin not only darkens our eyes and leads us to death, but it confuses us and causes us to chase after the wrong things in the wrong ways all for the wrong reasons. 

The enemy is called the father of lies.  He has lied since the beginning, when he slithered into the garden and twisted God’s own words to confuse Eve and Adam.  And he’s been using the same tactics ever since.  But Zechariah reminds us here that the Messiah is coming to “guide our feet into the path of peace.”

We desperately need that way of peace, because it’s the way of peace to God.  And apart from Christ, we cannot know it.  Romans 3 tells us how truly depraved we are, that none of us seek God, that we have all turned after our own ways.  And verse 17 there says that “the way of peace they have not known.”  We are truly like lost sheep, wondering without any direction, without any hope of finding life or peace or true happiness.

But the Messiah has come to change all that.  He is coming to guide our feet into the path of peace.  He is the light that guides us to eternal life and continues to guide us every day of our lives in this world.  He is the light that overcomes death, having given himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross of Calvary.  He is the light that overcomes the darkness of this world, the sin that has enslaved us, and gives us liberty and life and leading.

Hopefully you can see why Zechariah was so enraptured, why he couldn’t help but break out in a song of praise and thanksgiving.  Because of God’s tender mercy, He brought this light into the world.  And that light is the reason we celebrate this season.  That light is the reason for the songs we sing, not only at this season, but all year long.  The light of Christ is the inspiration behind every song we sing, every word we preach and teach, every prayer we utter.

Speaking of songs, there’s an old Welsh hymn by S. M. Sayford that carries the same message as Zechariah’s.  It says:
“Redemption! Oh wonderful story, glad message for you and for me;
That Jesus has purchased our pardon and paid all the debt on the tree.
No longer shall sin have dominion though present to tempt and annoy
For Christ in his blessed redemption the power of sin shall destroy
Believe it O sinner believe it. Receive the glad message – ‘tis true;
Trust now in the crucified Saviour, salvation he offers to you.”

I pray God has shown you the truth of this message, and shone His light into your heart.  If not, I pray you would look to Christ even now.  If you have seen His light, I pray you would be faithful in using this season as a great opportunity to show Him to others.