Christmas hope no matter how dark the darkness

Christmas is a paradoxical holiday it is filled with such joy and at the same time reminds us of great losses. When studying the other night, I came across a message by Tim Keller that talks about how the light of Christmas dispels the shadow of death. I found it convicting and encouraging. I hope that you who feel overwhelmed this Christmas can find your hope in the light the gospel provides. We have much to be hopeful for and rejoice about. We celebrate at Christmas how Jesus came close.

“As silent as snow falling, he came in. And when no one was looking into the darkness, he came.” – Sally Lloyd-Jones

Just before Bonhoeffer was executed, he wrote this to a friend: “Death is the supreme festival on the road to freedom.”

“Death used to be an executioner, but because of the gospel, Jesus has made death just a gardener. All death can do is plant me in his love and make me come up in ways I’ve never been before.” George Herbert

What is Bonhoeffer saying? What is that? A light dawned on Bonhoeffer. In spite of the fact that there was darkness all around him, the shadow of the fear of death, because he believed Jesus Christ was from that other world, born into this world, Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the debt the human race owed to justice, so when we died believing in him we can have no fear of anything we have done somehow stymying us or drawing us down so we don’t have to be afraid of death in any way, what did that mean?

Because Bonhoeffer wasn’t afraid of death, he wasn’t afraid of anything. Because Bonhoeffer was afraid of death, he didn’t care about comfort. He didn’t care about affluence. He didn’t care about power or pleasure or sex or money. He didn’t care. That’s why his people said, “You have it made. You can be a successful professor out here away from Germany. You don’t have to go back in there.”

He didn’t want to not go back. Why not? The shadow of death did not fall on him. He lived in a dark world, but because he believed in Jesus, a light dawned. Because Jesus was born in a manger, that means this world is not all there is.

If you let the knowledge of what Jesus Christ is and has done dawn in your life like Bonhoeffer, you can walk around in any part of the world, any century, any situation without fear.

Bonhoeffer is the exact opposite of the kind of person western Civilization according to Ernest Becker is producing. He wasn’t obsessed with romance and love. He wasn’t obsessed with money. He wasn’t being driven to be successful. There was nothing frantic about him. Because he wasn’t afraid of death, he wasn’t afraid of anything. Christmas means fear no darkness. Christmas means fear not. The angels are always showing up in all the Christmas stories saying, “Fear not, Mary. Fear not, Zechariah. Fear not. Fear no darkness.”

Spurgeon said it this way.

The coming of Jesus to us, when he does really come into our hearts, takes away the darkness of ignorance, sorrow, carelessness, fear, and despair. Our night is ended once for all when we behold God visiting us in Christ Jesus. Our day may cloud over, but night will not return. O, you that are in the blackest midnight, if you can but get a view of Christ, morning will have come to you! There is no light for you elsewhere, believe us in this; but if Jesus be seen by faith, you shall need no candles of human confidence, nor sparks of feelings and impressions: the beholding of Christ shall be the ending of all night for you.

C. H. Spurgeon

“The beholding of Christ shall be the ending of all night for you!” Powerful profound truths to ponder this Christmas season. Thank you, Tim Keller. Thank you,  Charles Spurgeon. May the light of Christmas dispel the shadow of death in your life. May the hope and joy of Advent fill your heart as you seek him!

8 Profitable Ways to Read the Bible

By J.C. Ryle

One of the most insightful and practical preacher theologians I have ever read is J.C. Ryle his insights are deep his love for Christ is palpable. My only regreat in reading all the things he has written is that I didn’t find him when I was younger. Of all past theologians, I am most confident that J.C. Ryle would have had a blog his passion for truth and his ability to speak the truth plainly would have demanded it. I pray that you are encouraged by his practical insights and deep love for Christ as I have been over the years.

1. Begin reading your Bible this very day. The way to do a thing is to do it; and the way to read the Bible is actually to read it! It is not merely meaning, or wishing, or resolving, or intending, or thinking about it , which will advance you one step. You must positively read. There is no royal road in this matter, any more than in the matter of prayer. If you cannot read yourself, you must persuade somebody else to read it to you. But one way or another, through eyes or ears, the words of Scripture must actually pass before your mind.
2. Read the Bible with an earnest desire to understand it. Do not think for a moment, that the great object is to turn over a certain quantity of printed paper, and that it matters nothing whether you understand it or not. Some ignorant people seem to imagine, that all is done if they advance so many chapters every day, though they may not have a notion what they are all about, and only know that they have pushed on their bookmark ahead so many pages. This is turning Bible reading into a mere ritual form. Settle it down in your mind as a general principle, that a Bible not understood is a Bible that does no good! Say to yourself often as you read, “What is this all about?” Dig for the meaning like a man digging for gold.
3. Read the Bible with child-like faith and humility.
Open your heart as you open God’s book, and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!” Resolve to believe implicitly whatever you find there, however much it may run counter to your own desires and prejudices. Resolve to receive heartily every statement of truth, whether you like it or not. Beware of that miserable habit into which some readers of the Bible fall, they receive some doctrines because they like them; and they reject others because they are condemning to themselves, or to some relation, or friend. At this rate, the Bible is useless! Are we to be judges of what ought to be in God’s Word? Do we know better than God? Settle it down in your mind that you will receive all and believe all, and that what you cannot understand, you will take on trust. Remember, when you pray that you are speaking to God, and God hears you. But, remember, when you read Scripture that God is speaking to you, and you are not to “dictate,” but to listen!
4. Read the Bible in a spirit of obedience and self-application.
Sit down to the study of it with a daily determination that you will live by its rules, rest on its statements, and act on its commands. Consider, as you travel through every chapter, “How does this affect my thinking and daily conduct? What does this teach me?” It is poor work to read the Bible from mere curiosity, and for speculative purposes in order to fill your head and store your mind with mere opinions; while you do not allow the book to influence your heart and life. That Bible is read best which is practiced most!

Knowing God’s Voice Comes from Knowing God’s Word.

In my first post, I discussed how listening to others serves our brother and sister but also trains us to be quiet and listen to God. How does God primarily speak? I believe that if you want to listen to the voice of God you need to develop a love for the Word of God. The reason many people struggle with hearing God’s voice is that many Christians don’t read God’s word. The primary way that God communicates to us is through the Bible. Almost every Christian would agree with this statement. The problem is a gap between what we believe and what we practice is massive.  Al Mohler on his blog says “Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.”

When you have conversations with Christian teenagers their basis for the decisions they make are based on personal experience and personal feelings rather than an external standard of truth. According to Lifeway research, 53% of Americans have only read a few verses of the Bible. How can you recognize a voice that you have never heard? Many Christians think they hear God’s voice but if you don’t know God’s word how will you be able to tell the difference between the noise around you and the voice within you?

How do we move from reverence for the Bible to actually reading the Bible? It happens through decisive action at home and at church and with our kids.

At Home:

  1. Read the Bible yourself. – Don’t think about it, agree that it’s good, actually do it. Let your kids see you read your Bible.
  2. Read the Bible to your kids. Don’t just tell them to read the Bible show them how.
  3. Do Family Worship – Read a chapter in the Bible, Sing one hymn and pray together. It takes 10 minutes.
  4. Have conversations about the Bible.

At Church:

  1. As a Pastor read the Bible yourself. The reason people don’t read their Bibles is that pastors don’t read their Bibles.
  2. Preach from a Bible, not a phone.
  3. Preach messages that are saturated with scriptures rather than relevant quotes.
  4. Commit to an ongoing plan of discipleship in small groups or classroom settings.
  5. Preach exegetically – People need a systematic understanding of scripture not a sprinkling of verses from around the Bible.

How do we help kids love the Bible?

  1. Read the Bible ourselves.
  2. Answer questions they have about the Bible. Someone recently said that if your kids are not asking questions about the Bible they aren’t reading it.
  3. Be one Bible ahead of your kids.
  4. Read the Bible to them, then with them, then around them.
  5. Teach your kids to meditate on scripture not just speed read it.

One of the questions kids ask me most is why they don’t hear God’s voice and how do they hear God’s voice. The first thing you must do is to model for them the love of God’s word, find a church that preaches God’s word.

The Reformation for You and Your Family.

Tuesday we celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It was 500 years ago an Augustinian Monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg Germany. It was a small protest against the corruption in the church that has had ripple effects that are still being felt today. Many people argue that what Luther started was not good because it has created disunity in the church but the more you read scripture, the more you read Luther, and the more you realize that the Reformation was a clarification of the gospel far more than a reputation of the church of Rome.

We needed reformation then and we certainly need reformation today. So I thought it would be helpful to tackle a few of Luther’s 95 Theses that have particular relevance for us as well as for the kids we teach.

  1. #1 When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent”, he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance. – This is fundamental and primary. Kids need to know what repentance is and how their lives should be marked by the daily practice of repentance. Kids that don’t understand their need for repentance will never experience the sufficiency of Christ in His lavish forgiveness. More than ever our kids need to see repentance modeled to them and need to be called regularly to repentance.
  2. #92 Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people “Peace, peace” and there is no peace. – Our culture and sadly many even within the church are preaching and prophesying that the highest goal of Christian life is peace and personal happiness. This is a pernicious cancer in the very fabric of Christian life. To seek joy is a very different thing than pursuing happiness. Joy is understood in scripture as being founded in the person of Christ. It is Incorruptible because it is found in Christ who is eternal. Happiness is a feeling, it is personal it is undefinable, it is easily lost because we are fickle and this life is fleeting.

Book Review: Gospel Powered Parenting.

Have you ever read a book and it’s like the author is reading your mind? Well, I am 40 pages into Gospel Powered Parenting and so far I keep calling my wife over and telling her to read whole sections. It has to be one of the best parenting books I have ever read.

“I am convinced that the gospel is sufficient to answer all our parenting questions.”

I found this quote on the first page of the introduction of William P. Farley’s Gospel Powered Parenting and was immediately captivated.

Really? All of them? A colicky newborn, a defiant preschooler, and a prodigal teenager?  The gospel has the answers I need as a parent to deal with all these situations and more?

Farley submits that it does, and he does not disappoint unpacking how in this fantastic book. Honestly, this is the book I’ve been waiting for as a kid’s pastor. A book that never leaves the foot of the cross, and sees there in the gospel the wisdom and power we need to parent our children.

If you’re looking for a how-to manual, an index of sorts of how to handle specific and unique situations, this is not your book.

In Farley’s own words, “The emphasis of this book differs from that of many other Christian books on parenting. Most emphasize techniques. By contrast, Gospel-Powered Parenting­ will emphasize the parents’ relationship with God, with each other, and with their children, in that order. The emphasis of this book is that parenting is not primarily about doing the right things. It is about having a right relationship with God – a relationship informed by the Gospel.” –p. 51

He adds to that same idea later, “Have you ever noticed most books on parenting – Christian and secular – emphasize technique? … This book will take another approach. I want to change your thinking, especially how you think about God and yourself. If I’m successful, the techniques will take care of themselves. That is because what we do is a by-product of how we think. People change their behavior as their understanding of God and man change.” –p.69

2 things I love about this book

#1 Gospel, Gospel, Gospel.
It’s in the title, it’s on every page.

For example, Farley says that the fight against the world’s influence on our children will be won or lost based on parents understanding of the Gospel.

He says, “We change their hearts by teaching the gospel, modeling the gospel, and centering our homes on the gospel. The Gospel, rightly understood and modeled, makes Christianity attractive. Effective parents make the gospel so attractive that the world cannot get a foothold on their children’s hearts.” –p. 24

#2 Mom and Dad, it’s on us.
“God is sovereign, but parents are responsible. –p.22

And Farley really focuses in on dads, their presence, and their love of the Gospel. “When men abdicate, their children suffer. When men assume their proper role, parenting thrives.” –p.126

He continues “God holds fathers accountable for parenting because he has given them inordinate influence over their children. The Bible presumes, in the language of the Puritans, that fathers are a mirror in which their children look to out on their spiritual dress.” –p.129

If you want to buy the book here is the amazon link.