Humbug?!

In Longfellow’s classic I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day every stanza ends with the phrase “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Unless you’ve been living someplace that doesn’t get the daily news, you might be saying, “Peace on earth? Really? I just don’t see it….” Or as Ebenezer Scrooge might say, “Peace on earth? Bah! Humbug!” 

A humbug is an imposter, or something empty of meaning. 

The third stanza of I Heard The Bells seems almost to slide into that Christmas humbug note: “And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said. ‘For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.’” 

Indeed, even for those who call themselves a Christian, Christmas could become a humbug if…

  • … it’s all about busyness or just trying to “survive the holidays” 
  • … we get more excited about Santa Claus coming down the chimney to fill stockings than we do about Jesus coming down to Earth to be born in a manger 
  • … our main focus is on gifts—both what you’re giving and what you’re getting—and then we regret putting ourselves into debt 

Between Malachi (the last book of the Old Testament) and Matthew (the first book of the New Testament) is a time span of about 400 years that is called “the dark period.” God had promised through Jeremiah that He would restore the Israelites and rebuild Jerusalem. There were promises of the Messiah coming to set things right, but after 400 years of darkness, the mindset of most Israelites was probably, “Messiah? Peace? Bah! Humbug!!” 

What God really promised through Jeremiah was a peace that came about as a result of two things: (1) forgiveness of sins and (2) restoration of a perfect relationship with God. The Hebrew word for “peace” is shalom, which means one’s personal sense of wholeness and well-being, free from anxiety and fear, knowing that all is well between my soul and God. 

This is what God promises—I will cleanse them from ALL the sin they have committed against Me and will forgive ALL their sins of rebellion against Me (Jeremiah 33:8). 

This shalom is what comes through the First Advent of Jesus! As Longfellow observed, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to men.” 

And this is what Jesus brought—

  • She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21 NIV). 
  • Now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to Him through the blood of Christ. For Christ Himself has brought peace to us… (Ephesians 2:13-14 NLT) 
  • Therefore, since we are justified (acquitted, declared righteous, and given a right standing with God) through faith, let us grasp the fact that we have…peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) (Romans 5:1 AMP). 

The bells and carols and remembrances of Christ’s First Advent should send our hearts soaring in anticipation of Christ’s Second Advent—when Christ shall return to take all of His own to be with Him forever, where He will wipe away every tear and where we live forever with Him in the New Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 33:9; John 14:3; Revelation 21:1-4). 

Let us guard against Christmas ever becoming a humbug—an imposter, something empty of meaning—but let’s make sure the rich meaning of Christ’s peace dwells richly in us! 

Join us this Sunday as we continue our look at the carols of Christmas! 

A Radical Change In Perspective

My friend Josh Schram shared a great message yesterday, wrapping up our series called Fading Gratitude. 

Josh was transparent about some of the struggles he overcame during his younger years, explaining how his decision to be grateful even for those roadblocks completely changed his perspective.

When we’re not intentional, our gratitude naturally begins to fade. It’s not that we’re intentionally ungrateful, but we just merely forget to be thankful. 

Our fading gratitude creates a domino effect. When gratitude fades we live with… 

Anxiety can keep us from even trying to pursue what God has planned for our lives. 

When a large group of people needed to be fed, a couple of Jesus’ disciples forgot about the miracles Jesus had already done in the past, and as a result, they became anxious about what to do next. 

Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” (John 6:7-9)

Yet Jesus multiplied more than enough for everyone to eat AND there were more leftovers than there was food that they originally started with! “So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves” (John 6:13).

That’s why Jesus tells us, So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34). When we’re grateful for what God provided yesterday, and we’re thankful for what He’s providing today, it will cut short any feelings of anxiety about what God will do again tomorrow!

“No amount of regret changes the past, no amount of anxiety changed the future, but any amount of gratitude changes the present.” —Ann Voskamp 

Gratitude can radically change our perspective! 

If I’m not choosing gratitude, then gratitude is fading. I can be grateful for things I originally thought were holding me back. I can give those things to Jesus—He is not only more than enough but He also gives back to me more than I gave to Him. 

 

What Is The Church Supposed To Look Like?

If someone asked you what a church is supposed to look like, do you describe steeples and crosses, stained glass windows and big wooden pulpits?

Guess what? The first Church in Jerusalem had none of those things!

Luke the historian describes the church this way: “They studied and prayed together, they ate with each other, they fed the hungry, and they took care of the poor. God performed miracles through them, everyone thought well of them, and people were getting saved every single day” (see Acts 2:42-47). Other historians of the day noted that Christians started the first orphanages, the first feeding programs, the first homes/schools for the blind, and the first medical dispensaries. They described how the Christians changed the cultural understanding of marriage and family, and how they gave dignity to women, children, the elderly, and the sick. 

They did this by putting their faith into action, just as Jesus described (see Matthew 25:31-40). James reminds us that this required a deeply personal faith and a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude. In fact, James went so far as to say that faith in Jesus wasn’t enough. 

Faith without works is dead. Works without faith is useless. We must believe it and live it. We need both faith and works.

Everyone can do this… 

  • if a young kid is hungry, get involved with feeding them
  • if an elderly lady in your neighborhood needs a friend, stop by for coffee
  • if a neighbor is sick and can’t cover their usual tasks, mow their lawn 
  • if a high school student can’t go to homecoming because she can’t afford the dress, take her shopping and buy the dress for her
  • if someone has an extended hospital stay, collect their mail and water their plants
  • if no one is visiting them in the hospital, go sit with them for a while

Jesus said, “When you do this for others, you are really doing it for Me.” 

Luke didn’t say, “Every day the Christians were preaching.” He says, “Every day the Christians were serving. And then every day God was adding to their number people who were being saved.” 

Your faith in action speaks a sermon louder and more convincingly than any sermon ever could. 

How will you show your neighbors the love of Jesus this week?

Let It Go

Scholars are unsure of the date that Obadiah wrote his book. We know that it took place after invaders had caused problems in Judah and Edom responded in a way that angered God. Some scholars place this date after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judah in 586 BC, and others think it’s more likely to have occurred during the reign of Jehoram around 840 BC. The bottom line is that the date doesn’t matter because the underlying feud which led to God’s pronouncement of judgment had been smoldering for hundreds and hundreds of years! 

The feud was between Jacob (the father of the nation of Israel) and his twin brother Esau (the father of the nation of Edom). Esau was born first and should have received his father Isaac’s blessing, but Jacob took the birthright that was supposed to belong to Esau. 

As you might imagine, “Esau seethed in anger against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him; he brooded, ‘The time for mourning my father’s death is close. And then I’ll kill my brother Jacob’” (Genesis 27:41). Jacob escaped Esau’s initial rage, but 400+ years later, when the Israelites left Egypt and were on their way to Canaan, the Edomites—trying to even the score—refused to let the Israelites pass through their territory. 

Now another few hundred years have passed and when Judah was invaded, the Edomites not only didn’t do anything to help their brothers, but they piled on with the invaders (vv. 10-14). Once again, their rage at the descendants of Jacob exploded!  

For this, God pronounced judgment on the nation of Edom through His prophet Obadiah. 

Edom’s downfall is very instructive because we are ALL liable to the same fate! 

  1. It starts with pride. Pride keeps us from forgiving our offenders because we think WE have to be the one to even the score. As C.S. Lewis noted, “Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”
  1. It then becomes thoughts of plotting our revenge. Jesus warned us of the dire consequences for dwelling on these kinds of thoughts (Matthew 5:21-22). 
  1. It next morphs into cheering on those who attack our offenders.
  1. It eventually becomes our revenge in action, which then brings God’s judgment against us!

Always remember this: It is God’s place to judge, but our place is to forgive our enemies and “get revenge” by blessing them beyond what they deserve (Romans 12:17-21). 

You might say, “But what they did to me is absolutely inexcusable!” You are probably right, but you are not going to make anything right. Making things right—handing out appropriate justice—is God’s business. Again, C.S. Lewis reminds us, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

There are three important words to remember when someone has wronged you: LET IT GO!

Carrying a grudge against someone who has inexcusably wronged you is toxic to your life and doesn’t leave room for God’s justice. LET IT GO!

If you missed any messages in our series called Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can check them out here. 

Close To God

Imagine being close enough to hear God’s voice—Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:21)

Here’s a great question I recently heard: “What if God doesn’t want to give us answers, because He wants to give us His presence?” 

Perhaps if God showed me my whole path, I might just take off down the path as fast as I could. Maybe I’d even say something like, “Thanks, God, I’ll take it from here!”

But God wants me close to Him. He wants me to hear His voice at every single step saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” 

The model prayer that Jesus taught us is all about that closeness and total reliance on God’s close presence: 

  • Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name [close enough to worship Him intimately],
  • Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven [close enough to know His heart].
  • Give us today our daily bread [close enough to rely on Him for all of my daily needs].
  • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors [close enough to know His forgiving love for me and for others].
  • Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one [close enough to His strength to say “no” to temptations that would entice me off of His path].
  • For Yours is the kingdom, and the glory, and the power forever [close enough to bask perpetually in His glory and His power].

God wants us THAT close to Him—to rely on Him, to lean into Him, to be empowered by Him, to be protected in Him. 

A good question for all of us to ponder: How close to God am I?

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Evidence Of Christian Maturity

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Evidence Of Christian Maturity

     One of the first evidences that anyone is a child of God is that he hates with a perfect hatred and seeks to live a holy, Christlike life. … 

     I bless God that I have learned to have very little respect for the vision of the man with the measuring line. When I see an angel with it, I am glad enough; but when I see a man with it, I tell him that he must give me a warrant from God and show me how he is to know the elect by any other method than that laid down by our Lord Jesus Christ: “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). … 

     He who truly grows in grace does not say, “Dear me! I can feel that I am growing; bless the Lord! Let’s sing a hymn. ‘I’m a-growing! I’m a-growing!’” I have often felt that I was growing smaller; I think that is very probable, and a good thing, too. If we are very great in our own estimation, it is because we have a number of cancers, or foul gatherings, that need to be lanced, so as to let out the bad matter that causes us to boast of our bigness. 

From The Autobiography Of Charles Spurgeon 

Some Dos and Don’ts for Christian growth:

Do—hate those things that keep you from God’s presence
Do—seek to be conformed to the image of Jesus

Don’t—look at other people as your measuring line
Do—make sure your life is fruitful according to God’s standards

Don’t—brag about your growth
Do—humbly thank God for your growth
Do—be quick to repent of un-Christlike things the Holy Spirit reveals to you

Not How But Who

This is part 3 in our series looking at phrases that sound biblical and then asking, “Is that in the Bible?

Statement #3—This is how you should take Communion.… Is that in the Bible? Quite simply: No, it’s not. 

Every church seems to celebrate Communion with its own unique style, typically following an age-old tradition. There’s nothing wrong with traditions per se. The only thing we have to watch out for is when traditions become the focal point, instead of the thing the tradition is pointing us to. Almost as if we are celebrating the celebration (see Isaiah 1:11-14; Mark 7:1-8). 

In 1054 AD the Great Schism occurred between the Roman church (in West) and the Byzantine church (in East). One issue that led to this schism was Communion. The West used unleavened bread, saying that sin was removed. The East said that sounded like they were adopting Judaism, so they used leavened bread, saying that the “rising” symbolized new life. 

Even today there are differences and disagreements—only administered by a priest … only certain church officials can “bless” the elements … a common cup … individual cups … unfermented juice … fermented wine … unleavened wafers … pieces torn off a full loaf of bread. The Bible never says about Communion, “Do it this way.” All of these are man’s traditions. 

Passover was first instituted in Exodus 13. This is before the Law is given through Moses (Exodus 20) and before the instructions for the tabernacle are given (Exodus 25). In the first version, the sacrifice of the lamb was in individual homes, the lamb’s blood was shed on the doorposts of that home, and the family ate the lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs together at home. 

After the tabernacle was operational, there was a change (Deuteronomy 16). Now the sacrifice of the lamb was in the tabernacle, the lamb’s blood was sprinkled on the altar, but the family still ate the lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs together at home. 

By the time of Jesus, there were newer traditions which weren’t prescribed in the Bible that involved as many as five cups of wine, a very specific order that the meal was presented, and the singing of Psalm 113-118 (sometimes people sang all the way through Psalm 138). 

In the last supper Jesus shares with His disciples, we see some of these later elements. We read about the different cups of wine, the unleavened bread, the supper of lamb, and the singing of a hymn (Luke 22:14-20; Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). 

I want to specifically focus on the second cup of wine Jesus used in this supper. Paul calls this cup the cup of thanksgiving and the cup of the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:16, 21). Why? Because Jesus switched cups with us! 

The Bible tells us that we have all sinned, and therefore we are supposed to drink the cup of God’s wrath—For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup of His wrath, and the wine foams and is red, well mixed; and He pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth must drain it and drink its dregs (Psalm 75:8 AMP). 

But Jesus switched cups with us. He took the full wrath of God upon Himself, and then gave us God’s new covenant of forgiveness—“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant…. This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. … For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 33:31-34). 

Jesus said, “When you drink this, do this in remembrance of Me.” THIS is what we’re called remember and celebrate! 

It’s not HOW we celebrate Communion but WHO we remember when we do celebrate. 

Let’s not celebrate the celebration, but let’s celebrate the Savior who paid the price so that we could celebrate the forgiveness of our sins under God’s new covenant! 

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