Celebrate with all the good cheer you can afford

candle-lr

We have nearly arrived at the great merry-making season of the year. On Christmas-day we shall find all the world in England enjoying themselves with all the good cheer which they can afford. Servants of God, you who have the largest share in the person of him who was born at Bethlehem, I invite you to the best of all Christmas faire—to nobler food than makes the table groan—bread from heaven, food for your spirit. Behold, how rich and how abundant are the provisions which God has made for the high festival which he would have his servants keep, not now and then, but all the days of their lives!

Charles Spurgeon (as published in Peace by Stephen J. Nichols, p. 92)

Living in her Old Testament faith

candle-lr

Mary was not chosen because of any human merit, not even for being, as she undoubtedly was, deeply devout, nor even for her humility or any other virtue, but entirely and uniquely because it is God’s gracious will to love, to choose, to make great what is lowly, unremarkable, considered to be of little value. Mary the tough, devout, ordinary working man’s wife, living in her Old Testament faith and hoping in her Redeemer, becomes the mother of God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (as published in Peace by Stephen J. Nichols, pp. 28-29)

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Zondervan and Thomas Nelson have put a ton of titles on sale from their catalogue. Obviously, it’s going to be a bit hit-and-miss, but here are a few worth checking out:

The Culture of Like

Aimee Byrd:

Really, what’s going on beneath much of our playful, self-indulgent, liking banter ruse is the fact that it’s all a marketing ploy. Is it a coincidence that I liked a fitness website and now I get ads run on my page for losing weight and breast implants? I don’t know, maybe some comments I’ve made about exercise also contributed. But the point is, advertisers are trying to customize to our liking. Every commercial on TV now wants us to like them on Facebook. Their crazy computer spiders (how creepy is that?) skulk on our every cyber-move and pounce in with the customized add. Liking a website is their free ticket to advertise their latest sell.

Merry Christmas from Chuck Norris

Remember Van Damme’s ultimate splits commercial? I think CGI Chuck’s got him beat:

When nothing created everything

Joe Carter:

Throughout history people have been awed and thrilled by retellings of their culture’s creation story.

Aztecs would tell of the Lady of the Skirt of Snakes, Phoenicians about the Zophashamin, and Jews and Christians about the one true God—Yahweh. But there is one unfortunate group—the children of atheistic materialists—that has no creation myth to call its own. When an inquisitive tyke asks who created the sun, the animals, and mankind, their materialist parents can only tell them to read a book by Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins.

But what sort of story are they likely to find? Should they be told, as famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking claims in his book The Grand Design, that “the universe . . . create[d] itself from nothing”?

Since Hawking’s explanation is a bit too drab and not specific enough for bedtime reading, I’ve decided to take the elements of materialism and shape them into a purportedly accurate, though mythic, narrative. This is what our culture has been missing for far too long—a creation story for young atheistic materialists.

Get Saved From What? in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Saved From What? by R.C. Sproul (ePub) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Who is the Holy Spirit teaching series by Sinclair Ferguson (audio and video download)
  • The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul (audiobook)
  • Reformation Profiles teaching series by Stephen Nichols (audio and video download)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

22 Productivity Principles from the Book of Proverbs

Eric McKiddie:

Some of these principles you can find in secular productivity literature today. (Indeed, many of the proverbs can be found in secular ancient Near East literature, verbatim.) But seeing them in God-breathed Scripture reminds us to adopt those principles with a God-centered perspective. Other principles in the list don’t get as much ink or pixels in productivity books or blogs. Let us consider how to incorporate those in our mindset and our workflow, so that we can glorify God all the more in the work that we do.

Links I like

Rural vs Urban Ministry

Really great conversation between Jared Wilson and Stephen Um:

We Need Another First Impression of Christmas

Barnabas Piper:

We only get one first impression at anything. There is no going back to re-live or re-experience them. They fade over time and all of the experiences between the first one and the present form an entirely new impression. We lose that sense of wonder, fear, amazement, or intrigue. Instead you become comfortable, at ease, or maybe apathetic or annoyed.

Except when we get to experience something through the eyes of someone else.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In addition to yesterday’s list, here are a few new ones:

Along with those, Westminster Books has a number of “real” (ie. print) books on sale:

…along with TONS of titles on sale in their bargain/clearance section. Go check them out.

How Not To Repent

David Murray:

I suppose we all still hoped that despite appearances, there had been true repentance, that Haggard really had owned his sin, taken responsibility, accepted the blame, and sincerely confessed his guilt.

But a recent blog post raises a huge question mark against that hope. In Suicide, Evangelicals, and Sorrow, Haggard used the recent suicide of another megachurch pastor’s son, Isaac Hunter, to continue his attempts at resurrecting his name, reputation, and ministry. His post really is an almost perfect example of how not to repent.

So why highlight it? First, because it will help us to spot these characteristics when dealing with others who have fallen into public sin and scandal. Sadly, there are predictable patterns to these things that we’d do well to acquaint ourselves with so that we are not duped.  And second, because we can use it as a personal heart-check to examine how we respond to our own sin.

What the Bible Actually Says About “Calling”

Ron Marrs:

Whatever the use, it is clear that there is little consensus on what “calling” actually is. It seems to me that its use has devolved into one of those “Christianese” words that people use and trust that everyone understands.  What makes things even more interesting is that the word is often used in our culture, even by unbelievers, to describe what a person feels like they were put on this earth to do.  There is no “caller” even though they feel “called.”

 

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

One of the things I’m most grateful for about this blog is the opportunity to share great books with you—and 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, Thomas Nelson, B&H Books, and Cruciform Press, I’m giving away a whole pile of books (keep reading for the complete list). But there’s more than books this time around—Logos Bible Software has generously included three copies of the Logos 5 starter base package, featuring nearly 200 books! You’ll need to sign up for a free Logos account in order to win (which you can do here); you can also download free apps to read your books on any device here. Here’s a look at all the books in this year’s prize pack:1

… 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 PunchTab widget below and answer the following question in the comments: What’s the big thing God’s been teaching you in 2013?

This contest ends on Friday, December 20th at midnight. Thanks to all who enter!

One final note: Logos Bible Software would like to send a special thank you to all participants who enter using the email entry option in the Punch Tab app (nothing spammy, I promise!). As a thank you from Logos, you’ll receive a discount on the purchase of several titles, including To Live is Christ To Die is Gain for $14.95 (regular $16.95), and 15 percent off both The Pursuit of God and Spiritual Waypoints.

A lovely sound penetrating the soul

candle-lr

Behold here what the Gospel is, namely, a joyful sermon concerning Christ, our Savior. Whoever preaches him rightly, preaches the Gospel of pure joy. How is it possible for man to hear of greater joy than that Christ has given to him as his own? He does not only say Christ is born, but he makes his birth our own by saying, to you a Savior.

Therefore the Gospel does not only teach the history concerning Christ; but it enables all who believe it to receive it as their own … Of what benefit would it be to me if Christ had been born a thousand times, and it would daily be sung into my ears in a most lovely manner, if I were never to hear that he was born for me and was to be my very own? If the voice gives forth this pleasant sound, even if it be in homely phrase, my heart listens with joy for it is a lovely sound which penetrates the soul.

Martin Luther (as published in Peace by Stephen J. Nichols, pp. 79)

The regal emblem of a scepter

candle-lr

So Caesar gave the command in order to tax the whole world (Lk. 2:1). The star gave the command that magi from the east would voluntarily come, bearing gifts (Mt. 2:11). Augustus won his throne through a great deal of killing at the battle of Actium. The Lord Jesus won His throne at the battle of Golgotha, where He conquered and crushed the devil by dying, and not by killing. The star in the east, the one the wise men followed, was a star that declared a coming kingdom, a kingdom that would never end. This is the kingdom of the true king, before whom the most magnificent kings in the history of the world were but flickering types and shadows.

Note the contrasts. Taxes are coerced from the populace, for kings are afraid that if they weren’t mandatory, then no one would pay them. But the first tribute that came to Jesus was tribute borne by traveling aristocratic foreigners, who were under absolutely no obligation to bring their gifts—other than the internal obligation that God had given them. The difference between these two forms of taxation can also be seen in how these rulers undertake their rule. Augustus insisted that taxes be paid to him. Christ came down to insist that the fundamental payment be made by Him. And because He humbled Himself freely, God saw to it that tribute flowed to Him freely and without coercion.

The star of Bethlehem is therefore the regal emblem of a scepter, a scepter of never-ending glory. That glory is the glory of free grace, which means that we are ruled in liberty. We give in the same way that the wise men did, out of sheer gratitude.

Douglas Wilson, God Rest Ye Merry: Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything

3 gift ideas to share Christ with your kids

I have a confession: I’m woefully behind on my Christmas shopping this year. I’m pretty sure I’ve not been this far behind since before Hannah, our second child, was born. And, of course, it’s her we’re struggling to find the right gift for.

Maybe you’re in the same boat as me. If so, I hope today’s post can be a help. Here are three gift ideas to share Christ with your kids:

lightlings-cover

The Lightlings by R.C. Sproul.

Ligonier Ministries has a number of resources available for children, but this is one of our favorites in the Armstrong house. This book 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.”

(Learn more or buy it at Ligonier Ministries, Westminster Books or Amazon).


Sammy and His Shepherd by Susan Hunt.

This book, a child-friendly exploration of Psalm 23, helps children “grow in their understanding of the metaphors the psalmist used in composing this beloved poem. But more important, they will gain a deeper appreciation for the one who is the subject of the psalm: the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.”

(Learn more or buy it at Ligonier MinistriesWestminster Books or Amazon).

(Incidentally, Westminster Books has these two titles along with The Prince’s Poison Cup available as a set.)


Bundle_1-12_787x598_grande

Buck Denver Asks: What’s in the Bible?

Phil Vischer began producing this DVD series a number of years ago, walking children through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. While obviously there are going to be a few quibbles here and there due to your particular theological emphases, the series itself presents a very good—even excellent—look at the core truths of the Christian faith in a way that’s highly engaging for kids.

(Learn more or buy it at Amazon or What’s in the Bible)


So those are three gifts I’d encourage parents to check out for their kids. What are a few ideas you’ve got?

The day God waged war

candle-lr

I’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with Christmas, or at least a lot of the trappings surrounding it. The struggle to create a “perfect” Christmas, the whole Christmas-karma nonsense… But one of the things I desperately struggle with is our lack of understanding of what Christmas is really all about.

Christmas—the incarnation—is a declaration of war.1

And yet, more often than not, we shy away from this understanding, don’t we? We joyfully embrace what happened that day and all the details of the story—

The Son born of a virgin, the shepherds attending Him, the angels singing, all of it.

But we forget to talk about why. Why did Jesus come to be Emmanuel—”God with us”? Why was it necessary for Him to come at all?

And, of course, we know the answer. We know why Jesus came. We know the baby didn’t stay a baby, but became a man who would die in our place, perfectly satisfying the wages of sin. We know the Easter story… and yet we don’t seem to connect the it to our Christmas celebrations.

We need to connect the dots. We need to remember, as some have said, that Jesus was born in the shadow of the cross. To see, as Simeon did, who this baby truly was and rejoice as he did:

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 2:29-32)

Simeon doesn’t rejoice simply because he’s seen the baby Jesus—he rejoices because he’s seen God’s salvation. He’s held Him in his hands. That’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?

Can you imagine what our Christmas celebrations would look like if we had that same sense of awe?

This year, remember Christmas not just as “Jesus’ birthday” as some of us tell our kids, but as the day God waged war on sin and death. For when we do, it changes the celebration. It doesn’t remove the joy or the excitement. It doesn’t turn what should be thrilling into a funeral procession. If anything, remembering this only deepens our excitement.

For Christmas is the day God waged war—and it’s a war He wins.

Celebrating Christmas is telling the story of world history

candle-lr

In our celebration of Christmas, we are telling the story of world history. Just as the Fourth of July tells the story of independence from Britain, so Christmas tells the story of our successful war for independence from the devil. Christmas, and all the symbols of it (whether trees, carols, or Handel’s Messiah), are markers, monuments built from stone. They are an Ebenezer—thus far the Lord has helped us.

And practice. We order our lives around the life and accomplishments of Jesus. We do this, not so that we might live like pagans in between our holidays, but rather so that these holidays will mark and bound our lives, lives that are lived in the light of the conquering gospel.

And since we believe that the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, by this celebration we are not only living out our own worldview, we are declaring to unbelievers what the worldview of the entire earth will someday be.

Douglas Wilson, God Rest Ye Merry: Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything

He must stoop in order to lift

candle-lr

In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must also disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.

C.S. Lewis (as published in Peace by Stephen J. Nichols, pp. 18-19)

Around the Interweb (12/26)

Partnering to Remember

 

Image via Tim Brister

A few weeks back, I wrote about the benefits of memorizing Scripture. Tim Brister wants to help you develop this discipline by partnering to memorize the entire book of Philippians by Easter 2011:

The goal is to memorize the entire book of Philippians by Easter Sunday (April 24, 2011) through partnering with other believers using the memory moleskine.  Paul praised the church in Philippi for their partnership in advance of the Gospel, and in the spirit of that partnership, this project intends to bring Christians together for the deepening work of God’s Word in their lives.  Simply put, we are partnering to remember.

Using the Cahier moleskine, we have created a pocket-size notebook that provides a practical and accessible way to memorize Scripture. Through collaboration with The Resurgence, a customized PDF has been created for you to download with a week-by-week outline for memorizing the book of Philippians in 16 weeks using the English Standard Version (ESV).  On one side of the moleskine you simply paste the week’s verses to memorize, and on the other side you write your reflections on the verses while indicating how many times you rehearsed them each day.

You can download the materials here.

Also Worth Reading…

 
Justin Buzzard: “The Gospel is not like dessert”

Ben Reed: “The art of small talk”

Desiring God: “An Open Letter to Clarence the Angel (from the film It’s a Wonderful Life)”

David Platt at CNN: “My take: Why my church rebelled against the American Dream”

CNN on Francis Chan: “Christian famous” pastor quits his church, moves to Asia”

In Case You Missed It…

 
Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick

Charles Spurgeon’s 1859 Christmas message, “A Christmas Question”: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

William H. Smith: “When I look into the manger, I come away shaken as I realize…Christmas is disturbing.”

The Paradox of Christmas

Terrific video from Igniter Media (don’t be surprised if you see it at your church tomorrow):

Merry Christmas everyone!

HT: Michael Krahn

Disturbed by Christmas

© Gareth Weeks

From William H. Smith’s 1992 World Magazine article, “Christmas is disturbing: Any real understanding of the Christmas messages will disturb anyone” (emphasis added):

Many people who otherwise ignore God and the church have some religious feeling, or feel they ought to, at this time of the year. So they make their way to a church service or Christmas program. And when they go, they come away feeling vaguely warmed or at least better for having gone, but not disturbed.

Why aren’t people disturbed by Christmas? One reason is our tendency to sanitize the birth narratives. We romanticize the story of Mary and Joseph rather than deal with the painful dilemma they faced when the Lord chose Mary to be the virgin who would conceive her child by the power of the Holy Spirit. We beautify the birth scene, not coming to terms with the stench of the stable, the poverty of the parents, the hostility of Herod. Don’t miss my point. There is something truly comforting and warming about the Christmas story, but it comes from understanding the reality, not from denying it.

Most of us also have not come to terms with the baby in the manger. We sing, “Glory to the newborn King.” But do we truly recognize that the baby lying in the manger is appointed by God to be the King, to be either the Savior or Judge of all people? He is a most threatening person.

Malachi foresaw his coming and said, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” As long as we can keep him in the manger, and feel the sentimental feelings we have for babies, Jesus doesn’t disturb us. But once we understand that his coming means for every one of us either salvation or condemnation, he disturbs us deeply.

What should be just as disturbing is the awful work Christ had to do to accomplish the salvation of his people. Yet his very name, Jesus, testifies to us of that work.

That baby was born so that “he who had no sin” would become “sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The baby’s destiny from the moment of his conception was hell—hell in the place of sinners. When I look into the manger, I come away shaken as I realize again that he was born to pay the unbearable penalty for my sins.

That’s the message of Christmas: God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, man’s sin has alienated him from God, and man’s reconciliation with God is possible only through faith in Christ…Christmas is disturbing.

HT: CJ Mahaney