Our Lord and God, our brother and friend

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Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.—Isaiah 7:14

Let us to-day go down to Bethlehem, and in company with wondering shepherds and adoring Magi, let us see him who was born King of the Jews, for we by faith can claim an interest in him, and can sing, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” Jesus is Jehovah incarnate, our Lord and our God, and yet our brother and friend; let us adore and admire. Let us notice at the very first glance his miraculous conception. It was a thing unheard of before, and unparalleled since, that a virgin should conceive and bear a Son. The first promise ran thus, “The seed of the woman,” not the offspring of the man. Since venturous woman led the way in the sin which brought forth Paradise lost, she, and she alone, ushers in the Regainer of Paradise. Our Saviour, although truly man, was as to his human nature the Holy One of God. Let us reverently bow before the holy Child whose innocence restores to manhood its ancient glory; and let us pray that he may be formed in us, the hope of glory. Fail not to note his humble parentage. His mother has been described simply as “a virgin,” not a princess, or prophetess, nor a matron of large estate. True the blood of kings ran in her veins; nor was her mind a weak and untaught one, for she could sing most sweetly a song of praise; but yet how humble her position, how poor the man to whom she stood affianced, and how miserable the accommodation afforded to the new-born King!

Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendour.


Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening (Photo via Lightstock)

Christmas specials and me

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I have a confession: I’m not a big fan of Christmas specials, movies or very special episodes of our favorite sitcoms. It’s rare for me to enjoy a Christmas special in general. Every once in a while, I hear about a special or movie I should check out… but I never do. Here are a couple:

1. Elf

This came out when I was still trying to figure out if I actually enjoyed Will Ferrell or not. Sometimes I’m still trying to figure that out, actually. But when I saw the trailers for it years ago, it just didn’t look all that interesting. Am I wrong?

2. It’s a Wonderful Life

Yeah, I know. This is one of those “how could you not have seen it??” films. But here I am, having never seen it. Nor do I plan to.

And then there are the “classics” I’ve seen and really, really hate. Here are two of those:

1. Home Alone

Seriously. This movie is everything that is wrong with an entire generation.

2. Jingle All the Way

No… just, no.

However, lest you think I am a complete Scrooge, there are a few I genuinely enjoy. Here are two:

1. A Muppet Christmas Carol

This is one of my favorite takes on Dickens’ classic story. Michael Caine is wonderful in this.

2. Die Hard

Second-most violent Christmas movie ever made (behind Home Alone):

 

Honorable mention: Community—“Regional Holiday Music”

Glee parodies + Jehovah’s Witnesses + Christmas = the greatest espionage story ever rapped.


Photo credit: katiescrapbooklady via photopin cc

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Immanuel, the story of the Bible

This is a nice piece by Ryan Higginbottom.

What are we teaching our kids to treasure?

Jeff Hutchings:

Many of us have spent time and money meeting with lawyers to ensure our treasures/property is inherited by our children. It is important that we identify what we value and how that plays out in our lives, because our kids will value what we value.  My hope is that as I raise my kids I will be able to lead them towards things of eternal value rather than just an earthly value. I want them to have eyes that turn away from earthly things.

How can I help my children understand eternal values?

 How to Change Your Mind

Joe Carter:

After reading the entire post the vast majority of readers will snicker at such a hyperbolic claim and never implement the method I outline. A smaller number will consider the advice intriguing, my assertion only a slight exaggeration, but will also never implement the method. A tiny minority, however, will recognize the genius behind the process and apply it to their own life. This group will later say that my claim was an understatement.

This post is written for those people.

The Deep Magic of Christmas

Barnabas Piper:

Christmas hurts. “The most wonderful time of the year” is not for many people. And all the sentiment and smiles we can muster do nothing to dull the pain; they merely mask it.

10 Ways We Can Remember to Be Christians this Christmas

Kevin DeYoung:

We love Christmas. We can’t wait for the day to come, and many of us can’t wait for the season to be gone.

But whether you love every nook and cranny about the holidays–or consider most of it “noise, noise, noise!”–there is no excuse to be grinchy and scroogeish. Here are ten ways we can remember to be Christians this Christmas.

On Being Extra-Scrooge-y

Catherine Parks:

But now I see myself–I’m a cynical 80-year-old in a 31-year-old’s body. I hear about Santa bringing toys to children around the world, and wonder why he doesn’t visit the slums of Mumbai. My Facebook feed is an absurd string of terrible news from all over the world mixed with videos about how to tie a ribbon or fold a napkin. (And let me tell you, nothing brings out the self-righteousness in me quite like social media.) But I know cynicism and a critical spirit are not the answer to over-sentimentalizing Christmas. These things just increase my awareness that I lack love–it’s easy to think I love strangers in Iraq, and yet the truth comes out as I have no love for those who don’t think like me in my own social circle.

HT: Tim

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Just a couple to add today, in addition to yesterday’s list:

And if you missed these last week at, these titles by C.S. Lewis are still on sale:

The Loins of Leah

Lore Ferguson: “Rachel was loved, Leah was hated, but God brought the Lion of Judah through the loins of Leah. Don’t waste your suffering.”

The healthy leader

This is really helpful

Let’s Rethink Our Holly Jolly Christmas Songs

Russell Moore:

But then this man explained why he found the music so bad. It wasn’t just that it was cloying. It’s that it was boring.

“Christmas is boring because there’s no narrative tension,” he said. “It’s like reading a book with no conflict.”

Now he had my attention.

Top Ten Theology Stories of 2014

Collin Hansen highlights a few of the most significant events of 2014.

Joy to the World: A Christmas Hymn Reconsidered

Alyssa Poblete:

Watts’s father issued a challenge. He told Watts that if he struggled with the songs they sang, then he ought to do something about it. Perhaps he should attempt to write something different. This moment set Watts on a lifelong pursuit to write lyrics that exalted Christ and reminded Christians of their hope in his saving work on the cross.

This desire is evident in the way he wrote “Joy to the World.” Watts was inspired to write the timeless tune while meditating on Psalm 98. Verse 4 gripped him: “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” And this is exactly what Watts set out to do. Little did he know that this song would spark a joyful noise that would ring through the ages.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few to start off your week:

The Unbreakable Laura Hillenbrand

This profile of Laura Hillenbrand is well worth reading.

Advice for a New Elder

Garrett Kell:

Our church recently recognized a brother named Mark to serve as an elder. To welcome him, I reached out to a few dozen friends who serve as elders at other churches and asked them to send me advice they would give to a new elder. Here’s the summary of what they would say to a young man who is stepping in as a new overseer.

What each country is known for

Mary’s radical declaration of consent

Karen Swallow Prior:

Last Christmas, placards proclaiming “God raped Mary” were posted around the property of a Youth for Christ chapter in Toronto, Canada. Likewise, an atheist web site claims of the biblical story, “There was no asking Mary ‘Hey, do you consent to this?’, she had no choice, god just knocked her up and told her afterwards.” Then there’s the Internet meme depicting an illustration of Mary emblazoned with the words, “You think you got it bad? God raped me.” Even some lighthearted half-believers—who concede the historicity of Mary, but not the supernatural circumstances around her son—theorize that she was raped, not by God, but by a Roman soldier, as portrayed in a 2002 BBC documentary.

However, whether one considers the scriptural account to be the inspired word of God or merely a literary text, understanding it properly requires an accurate reading of its actual words. Whether one interprets the story of Christ’s birth as literal or metaphorical (or both), a faithful reading, as is true of the reading of all texts, starts at the literal level. I am a Christian, the kind who believes in the literal virgin birth of Christ, as well as his literal death and bodily resurrection. But I’m far less offended as a Christian by unbelieving than I am as an English professor by misreading.

A dangerous passion for growth

Andrew Heard:

The most dangerous people in our Christian community are the leaders and evangelists who not only long to see growth but who also have the closest sympathy with the needs and concerns of the sinners we are seeking to reach. That is, the people who feel most keenly the needs of the unconverted sinner, who feel most keenly their pain and the difficulties caused by the churches that are meant to be attracting them: these are our most dangerous church members. Why? Because that sympathy for the sinner can very easily overpower any other concerns, such that they see almost every issue through the lens of what will make it easy or hard for the sinner to connect in to church life. And because they long to see these people won to Christ and part of his people, they will feel most keenly anything that might potentially make it hard for them—things like what we say, what we do. They will even see some biblical ideas and practices as concerning when it comes to reaching unbelievers.

Christmas Is the Greatest Mystery

David Mathis:

It is a glorious revelation, and it’s also a great mystery. This is the greatest mystery in all of history, how God himself became fully human without ceasing to be fully divine, that God, in all his God-ness, united himself with all man-ness. Church history has coined it “the hypostatic union,” the joining of two distinct natures in one undivided person (“hypostatic” is just a fancy word for “personal”). Jesus is fully God and fully man in one spectacular person.

In awe of the incarnation

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And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… John 1:14a

Let’s just stop and sit with this verse for a moment: “The Word became flesh.”

It’s so easy for us to lose our sense of awe at little things like this. To read a verse like John 1:14 and gloss over what it says. But we should never do this.

Ever.

Remember: Jesus—the Word through whom all things were created; the light of the world, who brings salvation to all who believe in his name—became flesh. That God would take upon human flesh is simply mind-boggling:

  • The omnipresent became present.
  • The infinite would become finite.
  • The invisible became visible.

And what’s more—he dwelt among us. Literally, Jesus, John says, “pitched his tent” among his people, calling us back to the days of the tabernacle in the wilderness. There, in his tent, God dwelt among the people, though he could not be seen by them. But Jesus, the Word made flesh, could be seen and could be touched.

The only Son—unique and one-of-a-kind, who is exactly like the Father in all of his attributes.

Do not shrug this off. Do not nod in assent. Let your jaw drop as you really think about what John has just said. Jesus is the Word made Flesh. Immanuel, God among us.

Photo via Lightstock

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few new Kindle deals for you:

Through the Eyes of Spurgeon

here’s the trailer for the documentary I wrote along with director/producer Stephen McCaskell (also one of the hardest working people I know) this year:

The Dumbest Thing I Ever Said

Erik Raymond:

What is the dumbest thing you have ever said? You probably don’t want to repeat it. Since, I think it is edifying, I’ll reset my moment. I was a new Christian and was talking to my wife one Sunday afternoon when I dropped this gem on her: “Christianity is so easy. I don’t see what the big deal is.” But, I wasn’t finished– “I read my Bible, pray and talk to people about Jesus. Then, we go to church on Sunday and hear someone preach. What is so hard about it?”

A Time to Speak

The Gospel Coalition is committed to God’s multi-ethnic vision for the church. We are aiming to do a number of things during the next several months to bring this important conversation to the forefront. On Tuesday, we are grateful to sponsor this week’s “A Time to Speak” event live-streamed from the historic Lorraine Motel and National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Several of our Council members and other contributors will be participating, including Darrin Patrick, John Piper, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Voddie Baucham. We hope you’ll tune in on Tuesday, December 16, from 4 to 6 p.m. CST at live.kainos.is.

Moroni From the Realms of Glory

Tim Challies:

You’ve got to be careful what you share online. Over the weekend Facebook and Twitter were suddenly inundated with links to a new recording of the Christmas hymn “Angels From the Realms of Glory” mashed up with “Angels We Have Heard on High.” It was recorded by The Piano Guys and features David Archuleta, a one-time runner up on American Idol. It is a creative recording that intersperses shots of the musicians with video taken to record the world’s largest nativity scene. The song is beautifully sung and the music is rich; it is no surprise that it quickly gained over one million views. Well and good, right? Well, except for one thing: It’s purpose is to separate you from Jesus Christ.

The Christmas Story Is All Wrong

Aaron Earls:

The nativity scenes in our homes and churches have the figures neatly arranged around a quiet child wrapped in a clean blanket placed in a quaint manager in a Pinterest-worthy stable.

But if we allow ourselves to look past the sterilized sheen of those ceramic or plastic nativity sets, we know that wasn’t really the case.

Think of all the things that are “wrong” with the biblical Christmas story.

When God Speaks, We Should Trust

Jacob Abshire:

Mary must have had her back to the angel when he spoke because it was his greeting that troubled her, not his appearance. “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” This was not your typical “hello”!

Describing her as “favored one” was pretty significant. It didn’t imply that she had or did anything in particular to warrant God’s goodness. Rather, it implied that God, out of His goodness, wanted her to be favored. He intended to make her the mother of our Lord. Now that is significant!

I’m giving away a whole pile of books for Christmas!

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One of the things I’m most grateful for about this blog is the opportunity to share great books with you. This Christmas, I have the privilege of giving some of you a ridiculous pile of great books, in partnership with the fine folks at Crossway Books, David C. Cook, P&R Publishing, B&H Books, Kregel, Bethany House, and Faithlife!

Here’s what’s up for grabs this year:

… and don’t be surprised if you see some more items added to the list before the giveaway is through!

Best of all, three of you will be receiving this fantastic collection of books! You read that right—there are three sets to win.

To enter, all you need to do is use the Rafflecopter widget below and answer the following question in the comments: What’s the big thing God’s been teaching you in 2014?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This contest ends on Friday, December 19th at midnight. Thanks to all who enter!


Photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

The best and worst Christmas songs, part 2: electric boogaloo

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Ah, Christmas… the time when we eat delicious food, spend time avoiding uncomfortable conversations, celebrate the birth of Jesus… and, listen to a whole lotta Christmas songs.

Last year, I shared five of the best and worst Christmas songs. Some are ones that I joyfully listen to (much to my wife’s chagrin). Others, well, not so much.

But I realized there were more out there. And so, here we are: the best and worst Christmas songs, part two:


Best: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

This one was on last year’s list, too, but with a different arrangement. Dustin Kensrue, under the Modern Post moniker, released a new version on his Child of Glory EP, and it is delightful.

In fact, do yourself a favor: buy that EP and just put it on repeat. It’s one of the few Christmas compilations I really enjoy.


Worst: Christmas Shoes

This one was by popular demand—and in fact, I am fairly certain my distaste for the song caused me to block it from my memory.


Best: The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)

Paul McCartney made last year’s “worst” list. This time, he’s got a really nice take on a classic song to make up for it:


Worst: All I Want for Christmas is You / Last Christmas (tie)

This is a terrific pair of yuck: one in which Mariah Carey sings about Christmas, but not about Christmas. The other is Wham.


Best: O Come O Come, Emmanuel

Sufjan’s a bit passé these days, but this take on this classic song is wonderful.


Worst: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Because, as we were reminded in 1984, it’s important to feel as guilty as possible at Christmas time, just like Jesus wanted.


Best: Please Come Home For Christmas

I love Blues. Therefore this song by Charles Brown wins.


Worst: Christmas Don’t Be Late

Because the Chipmunks may, in fact, be made of pure concentrated evil (as evidenced by the movies).


Best: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Okay, I know I shouldn’t include music performed by the same artist twice on a list, but I’m doing it anyway. I really enjoy this take on O Little Town of Bethlehem by Dustin Kensrue.


Worst: Funky, Funky Christmas

I had completely forgotten until recently that the New Kids on the Block made a Christmas record. Oh, how I wish I this information was still lost to me.


Photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

Links I like

Bob Jones University apologizes for failing sexual abuse victims

“On behalf of Bob Jones University, I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding, and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault,” said president Steve Pettit, addressing students and faculty earlier today. “We did not live up to their expectations. We failed to uphold and honor our own core values. We are deeply saddened to hear that we added to their pain and suffering.”

Look for the full report to be available for download at netgrace.org this morning at 11 am.

Inside Christian publishing

This is a really good interview between Dave Harvey and Justin Taylor.

The Danger of “Prove It!”

JD Payne:

Two phrases are commonplace that hinder the mission. One is often assigned to church members; the other one seems to attach itself to church leaders. In theory, they appear to be different.  In reality, both are the same.

This member says, “We’ve never done it that way before.”

That leader states, “We’ll do it that way if you can prove that it works.”

Both are tragic statements. They reflect a deeper state of unwillingness to move in new directions–sometimes even if the Spirit is leading.

The 10 Commandments of Christmas Eve Church Services

Chris Martin nails it.

The Benefits of Sitting Under Expository Preaching

Eric Davis:

Now and then, it’s good to stop and bask in the kindness of God with respect to what we have been given in the Bible. It is the word of God. God has spoken. God has spoken. And it’s all here in Holy Scripture. Not one word missing. Not one word misspoken. Not one word mistaken. Incredible.… The only thing that makes sense, then, is to preach Scripture in a way that seeks to stay surrendered to the biblical text so that the message is discernibly directed by the authorial intent of the particular passage. That is expository preaching. And because God’s word is so valuable, expository preaching imparts blessing in many ways.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Adam Ford does a nice job with this one.

Will We Have Peace This Christmas?

Chris Hefner:

We are not the first generation to experience despair due to war and racial tension. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America’s premier poets, lived through our nation’s Civil War. Henry’s son, Charley, fought in the Union Army. The war raged for four long years over the issues of slavery, state’s rights, and national unity. In November 1863, Charley was badly wounded in battle. Passionate feelings about the war welled up as Henry nursed his son back to health. On December 25, 1863, Henry expressed his thoughts as he penned the words to the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

Links I like

Confessions Of A Hardcore Homeschooler

Stephen Altrogge:

I used to think homeschooling was the way to do school. You know, the divinely designed method of schooling. And although I wouldn’t quite come out and say it, I kinda looked down on parents who didn’t homeschool. Why? Because I was a self-righteous idiot who drank a lot of his own awesome sauce.

Then I made a few discoveries that changed my mind regarding the issue of schooling.

Who Was St. Nicholas?

Kevin DeYoung:

Why was Nicholas so famous?  Well, it’s impossible to tell fact from fiction, but this is some of the legend of St. Nicholas:

He was reputed to be a wonder-worker who brought children back to life, destroyed pagan temples, saved sailors from death at sea, and as an infant nursed only two days a week and fasted the other five days.

Moving from probable legend to possible history, Nicholas was honored for enduring persecution. It is said that he was imprisoned during the Empire wide persecution under Diocletian and Maximian. Upon his release and return, the people flocked around him “Nicholas! Confessor! Saint Nicholas has come home!”

10 Historical Myths About World Christianity

Brian Stanley:

As followers of Christ and adherents of the Bible, Christians are called to be a people of the truth. Thus, it is crucial that we seek to understand our tradition as accurately as possible. So consider these top ten historical myths about world Christianity.

The high cost of jargon in fundraising

As someone who works in fundraising, this is helpful.

Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos

Yep.

Why the Church Should Overthrow Nostalgia’s Reign

Aaron Earls:

Whatever it is you enjoyed as a child, be it book or board game, television show or toy, someone is looking to tap into those memories and entice you to enjoy it again.

While Revelation records Jesus as saying He makes all things new, Hollywood is saying it makes old things new. In the world of entertainment, nostalgia is king. That’s especially true this time of the year.

Church As the True Local

Jonathan Parnell:

The mission of God is a mission through his people, the church, who communicate his wonders by advancing his gospel. This community of “little Christs” who advance his gospel, as we’ve seen, do so as the on-the-ground expression of Jesus’s supremacy. And the scope of this advance, with all its historical freight, happens in both distance and depth.

 

 

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

And although it’s not an eBook, the ESV Reader’s Bible is a steal at $14.99.

Imagine if this happened while you were waiting for your plane…

This is amazing:

8 Suggestions for Applying the Gospel in Light of Brown, Grant, Gurley, Rice and Others

Thabiti Anyabwile:

Yesterday following the morning service a dear and faithful brother approached me at the door. In his customarily intense way, he looked me in the eyes and thanked me for the sermon. He expressed his appreciation for how the gospel was present throughout the exposition. Then he moved from appreciation to loving critique. Not about the sermon, but about my posts on Ferguson-related themes. He asked if I thought the gospel should run throughout Christian comments and responses to Ferguson.… When I told my wife about the conversation she looked at me with that “I’ve been telling you that” look. So, here goes. An attempt to apply the gospel in actionable ways to these Ferguson—Staten Island—Cleveland—New York kinda times we’re in.

 Love among the Pixels: Fidelity and Romance in the Digital Age

Hannah Anderson:

For all the obvious pitfalls, it seems that love and fidelity in the digital age may have a new snag: backburner relationships. Unfortunately, our friend is not alone. Facebook is increasingly cited in divorce proceedings while texts and e-mails document cyber trails of indiscretion. The reality is so prevalent that there are even apps that allow you to monitor your partner’s online behavior. But for all the obvious pitfalls, it seems that love and fidelity in the digital age may have a new snag: backburner relationships.

How Not to Preach Matthew’s Birth Narratives at Christmas

Eric McKiddie:

It may seem to be impossible to misinterpret the birth narratives in our advent sermons. What could be easier to preach at Christmas than the birth of Jesus? What could be harder to misread than these plain, simple stories of Jesus coming into the world?

But when we turn off our interpretational radar, we are likely to crash and burn.

Unfortunately, pastors often substitute secondary applications for the primary interpretation in their Christmas sermons. We sideline the main purpose for these stories – to teach about Jesus – and focus on the incidental actions of the characters instead.

How does that happen? Let’s look at Matthew’s birth narratives and see.

How to make a hit Christmas song

It hurts (but it’s also true):

HT: Mike

The first glimpse of the promise—and the hope of promises still to be fulfilled

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So where the promise begin? Where do we see the first glimpse into God’s plan for restoration?

The very moment sin entered the world.

When God created the world, He called it “very good”—it was a world without sin, without suffering or sorrow. Everyone and everything lived in perfect harmony. But, the crafty serpent—the one John identifies as Satan himself in Revelation 12:9—came and tempted the first woman with a promise:

To be like God.

He questioned God’s command, placing doubt into the mid of Eve—and Adam who was right there with her.

So the two ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and “their eyes were opened.” And when God saw what they had done, and confronted them, God cursed them all. He curses the woman to pain in childbirth and enmity between her and her husband. He curses the man to fruitless toil, instead of fruitful labor.

But notice, even as He curses the serpent, God makes a promise:

The LORD God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

And here we have it: the first glimpse into the promise.

One day the offspring of the woman would come. He would be injured—his heel would be bruised by the serpent—but he would crush the serpent.

That’s the promise: this mess that was made would be undone by the death of the serpent—and his death would come at the hands of this Promised One.

And the good news is this hazy first glimpse into the promise is just the beginning. Over time, the Lord would make the identity of the Offspring clear… beginning with a promise to a pagan man, Abram (later Abraham), from whom He promised to make a great nation, and to whose offspring he would give the land of Abram’s sojourning (Genesis 12:1-7; 13:15; 17:18).

And as we continue to read through the Old Testament, the promise becomes more and more clear. The promise was repeated to Isaac, and then again to Isaac’s son Jacob, and then once again to Jacob’s son Judah. And from Judah’s family, we meet another man, a man named Boaz, who would redeem a Moabite woman named Ruth and her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi. And Boaz and Ruth would have a son, named Obed, who would have a son named Jesse… and he would have a son named David.

And to David, God made another promise, saying He would “will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. …the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (see 2 Samuel 7:8-16).

David, the man after God’s own heart, God’s “prince over [his] people Israel,” was a man. He would die, and his son would take the throne after him. He would build a house for the Lord, and his kingdom would be established forever. But this promise, though it referred to Solomon in part, wasn’t about Solomon. Instead, it was Someone who would come after. And as Israel abandoned the Lord, God continually prevented their outright destruction for the sake of his eternal covenant with David. And as he would send prophet after prophet, he continued to speak this promise:

The offspring of David, the “stump” and “branch” of Jesse, would come. And we would know Him because of a sign: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

And of this child, it was said that, “the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousnes from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

So who is this one whom God promised to send?

One upon whose shoulders the government would stand. One whose government and increase would never end. Whose throne and kingdom would be established forever.

God Himself.

And in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the child who would be born of a virgin, God did come. And his government has been established. There will be no end of His rule. He will reign with justice and righteousness forevermore.

This is the good news we celebrate at Christmas, the greatest Christmas gift of all: the coming of the Lord.

God fulfilled His promise. And if God fulfilled this one—one that literally changed the entire world—will He not do the same with those yet to be fulfilled?

For the Christian, Christmas isn’t just about celebrating the birth of Jesus, nor is it only celebrating the fulfillment of a promise made long ago. It’s a reminder that God will fulfill every promise He has made to His people—that the good work He has begun in us will be brought to completion, that He will indeed make all things new, and that all who believe will stand before Him forever, without fear of judgment.


Photo credit: ChaoticMind75 via photopin cc

Five books to read near Christmas

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Yeah, I know. You probably don’t want to think about that word any more than I do right now. I mean, Christmas has so much baggage surrounding it that it’s hard to have much fun. But it’s coming (just a few weeks away, friends).

Despite how we might feel about travel, awkward conversations, and the risk of really loud toys entering our homes, there is so much for us to be thankful for in the season, particularly as we remember the significance of the birth of Christ.

In light of this, we’ve been working to develop traditions in our family to help us be mindful of this truth. And, because it’s us, many of those traditions happen to revolve around books. Here are a few recommendations for books worth reading as we lead up to Christmas, both for personal enjoyment and family use:

Peace by Steven J. Nichols

This is a stunningly beautiful devotional that Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Trust released last year. Peace offers readings for the Advent season (four Sundays and Christmas Eve), as well as hymns and carols, readings from Christian theologians throughout history (such as this one from Augustine), and most importantly reminds us of the “earth-shaking implications of Christ’s appearance.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


God Rest Ye Merry by Douglas Wilson (read a review here)

Okay, yes, Wilson is not for everyone. Some find his writing style pretty off-putting (he’s clever and he knows it). But in this volume, Wilson deconstructs the many false reasons for the season, provides an answer to the all important question, “how then shall we shop,” and shares how Santa Claus may or may not have slapped Arius across the face at the Council of Nicaea.

Buy it at: Amazon


The Lightlings by R.C. Sproul

An Armstrong family favorite, The Lightlings weaves an allegorical tale of redemption, focusing specifically on the incarnation. “A race of tiny beings known as lightlings represent humanity as they pass through all the stages of the biblical drama creation, fall, and redemption. In the end, children will understand why some people fear light more than darkness, but why they need never fear darkness again.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

This is the latest Advent devotional written by John Piper (the 2013 edition, Good News of Great Joy, is also well worth revisiting). Piper offers short daily readings (25 in all), intended to guide us in experiencing the joy of Christ in this season. I particularly enjoy the fact that Piper doesn’t stick to traditional Christmas passages, leading off with Luke 19:10, and Jesus’ declaration that He came to seek and save the lost:

So Advent is a season for thinking about the mission of God to seek and to save lost people from the wrath to come. God raised him from the dead, “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). It’s a season for cherishing and worshiping this characteristic of God—that he is a searching and saving God, that he is a God on a mission, that he is not aloof or passive or indecisive. He is never in the maintenance mode, coasting or drifting. He is sending, pursuing, searching, saving. That’s the meaning of Advent

Buy it at: Amazon | iBooksDesiring God (free PDF download)


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This is one of the stories we’ve been waiting for a loooong time to share with the kids, and probably need to wait a while longer yet. I’ve long been a fan of Dickens, and am eager to share this classic tale of transformation with the kids as they get older.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

What are a few books you’d recommend reading for personal reflection or family enjoyment as we prepare for Christmas?


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