Whenever faith tries to base itself on good living, whether the focus be on external morality or on inner spiritual purity, the result is the most sophisticated of all pagan religions. Though it claims belief in God, in practice such religion places no trust in the Lord Himself but only in its own theology. As thoroughly orthodox and as Biblical as this theology may be, it does not represent faith in the living God but in faith itself. Heaven help this religion of good works when it falls on hard times. … True faith depends not at all upon itself, nor upon its own system of piety, but rather upon the Lord alone and His faithfulness. … To have faith is to trust in the faithfulness of our God, knowing that faithfulness is first and foremost not a human but a divine attribute. … Genuine faith is not the faith to do anything at all, expcept to fall to the ground and die. …Consider the roots of a plant. Do the roots worry, or think at all, about producing flowers or fruit? No; they never see what happens above the ground. They never even see the sun or the sky. All they see is the dark womb of the earth, and their only job is to soak up moisture and nourishment from it, to feed in the dark underground of faith. … Paul describes as “taking pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart” (2 Cor. 5:12). Assuming that the opposite of sin is virtue, they conclude that a righteous life is one that will always be producing the visible fruit that is its own reward. Yet in the vocabulary of the gospel, the opposite of sin is not simply virtue but grace. As Paul puts it in Romans 5:20-21, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job
Why is it that we need Christmas?
Do we really need Christmas? Or is this season simply overrated? overhyped? Filled with a mega dose of Hallmark and imaginative play on lofty, surreal ideals? It seems overmarketed at least. It is the biggest retailing event every year. Yet, why? Why do we consistently support Christmas?
On a personal note, I need Christmas. And, well, there is only one reason why I need Christmas. It starts with the beginning of the story…
Long ago…in the peacefulness of beginning, God lived here on earth. His face was seen by the people he made, and His beautiful glory and presence was known and enjoyed daily. In that day, the world was a garden, a true paradise that defied any imagination to envision a surpassing, unparalleled perfect home. Injustice did not exist. Hunger was unknown. Poverty was not conceived. There was no disease, death, or decay. God’s beauty filled the earth. But, like all good stories, there arose conflict that threatened the beauty. The created wanted control. Humanity decided to write the story, to be their own master. It ruined paradise.
The result is that all of humanity now lives in a broken world apart from the perfect community enjoyed in the presence and glory of God.
Paradise is now remote from earth.
When our relationship to God unraveled, our relationships with everything else unraveled. The ideal became desolate and broken, remote from the real beauty and glory. Mankind experienced psychological, physical, emotional, social, etc. alienation from God. So, we became the antagonist against a very good God.
I need a guaranteed hope for rescue, for I will suffer from this same malady to death. There is no perfection in this life apart from a true rescue of body and soul. I need Christmas, because I really do need God to become a babe, live the life I couldn’t live, and give me a real rescue from the darkness. I want to know real beauty and glory, live it, breathe it, and be near. If my soul so longs for something greater, what would that greater be? The transformation of all that is broken into beauty that cannot be marred. Christmas is a person, a deliverer, a rescuer promised–Emmanuel, “God With Us,” come to set his people free. Free from fear. Free from hate. Free from self-love. Free from serving the lesser gods that will not be able to deliver the true rest for our souls, nor fill it to overflowing with graces of real love and glorious tangible beauty.
I confess I need Christmas, because I need the promised babe of Christmas. I need authentic transformational heart change. “To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins. If God loved us as much as that, surely we, in our turn, should love each other!” (I John 4:9-11, Phillips).
photo credit: unknown, internet
“If what you believe is the truth, and indeed you care about knowing the truth, why should you be afraid of challenging it? If the evidences backs it, your truth with be justified, and if not, why do you wish to continue believing a lie?”
I grew up in the south which used to be considered the Bible belt of the United States. I was raised in a conservative church environment that focused primarily on sovereign grace doctrine and even more heavily on the external behavior of a person, rather than on the heart of a person before God. I have experienced a great deal of pain from wrong teaching and a legalistic subculture, but I cannot say that about God. For awhile, I became very distrustful of pastors and most churches because of those experiences.
But, God never changed.
Confusion and real questioning left me in murky waters for an extended period. I did read the Bible, but what I heard from the pulpit did not match what I read alone in the quietness of my own home. Slowly, I began to understand that the focus on externals was nothing more than trying to legislate morality in an attempt to find continued acceptance from God. It was a tiresome treadmill of trying to do better and better that left me exhausted, defeated, and finally bitter toward the split personalities of hypocritical lives. During this time, I began to realize that even if my outward actions were deemed good enough to climb the ladder to God, my heart would betray me. How do you conquer motivations that are self-seeking? I began to “see through” those around me that talked the loudest about our duty toward God. There were holes in all the religious did or said. Life became a fish bowl. C. S. Lewis correctly pointed out seeing through everything eventually leads you to see nothing: “You cannot go on ‘explaining away’ forever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it…If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.” (The Abolition of Man, p.81). I could not “see through something” to see.
I remained stuck in the muddy creek bottoms struggling in murky water, unable to see; for there was a great disconnect between my life and the presence of God. And that was the one thing God wanted me to “see through” to more than anything…
Disconnected. I did not understand His incomprehensible Father love toward me, nor did I know how to be his child. You see, the gospel itself teaches clearly that God never did expect me to climb the ladder to get to Him, but that He was the Deliverer who was willing to come down to the skull mountain with radical redemption in order to restore a broken relationship with me.
Love was missing.
Empty religious performance creates the phony facade that everyone eventually sees through.
But, God’s love is not phony. It is the one thing to be remembered.
When I started asking God to see His love, He made Himself real and tangible to me in such full-disclosure and heart intimacy that I am left convinced and stupefied at a love so compelling and incomprehensible. I just flat out cannot deny the irresistible presence of God. The Scriptures were now streams of light piercing through the roily, high waters of confusion. Where before it was merely academic knowledge acquired, now the words are God-breathed to my soul, keenly powerful with the scarlet thread of His love deftly woven from page to page. So, although I identify with the struggle, the questions that come…I have been convinced by His irresistible love.
Love was the critical angle
where light passed through
the murky, clouded waters.
Understanding who God really was and what He had done for me was slow…there were a lot of working errors that had to be stripped away. I had misunderstood so much of the Bible having been taught it as a manual of how to measure up and “be like Jesus.” I can never be like Jesus; it is impossible, for purity cannot be corrupted. Our planet has never been home to a person so pure save the holy child who was born Lord at his birth. God never asked us to climb a ladder of do’s and don’ts to become accepted and loved by Him. No, God sent His Son down to us. It took “God here with us,” Immanuel, to satisfy justice and open the door to a Father-child relationship. So, the Son of Man, with a perfect life, came to satisfy the law’s demands. For if each of us are honest, there is no one whose heart does not deceive, who has never committed a wrong, and who is not indicted for anarchy against the Highest King. Yet, it is God’s very holiness that also transcends in love that ordained this sacred redemption. The Son of God emptied Himself of all privilege, made Himself nothing, and offered His body as bail; so that, justice would cry no more against us. “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him.” (Colossians 1:13-14). There is no one that loves like that–there is no greater love. There is no one that can love me unfailingly, laying it all down in order to attain intimate relationship with someone who had turned from that love. There is no one whose presence is so tangible that I cannot deny it, even if I wanted to, whose love will never be dissuaded, and whose daily song over me is His love. There is no one who will never break a forever promise, never ever abandon me, but remain eternally true. Jesus is a strong lover of my soul.
It isn’t about what I do that makes Him love me. No, it is all about His love performing change in me. His love infused me in such a authentic way that it is my final evidence for reality. No one has to make lists for me on how to live this life any more…there is a spilling out of what is now inside…love God…love each other. It is a spreading goodness. I continue to ask questions, but I am now regularly amazed at the answers found in the Book. The murky waters are moving, clear waters now, flowing freely from the Eternal Fountain.
It is written that God has “created all things for His pleasure.” At first thought that sounds selfish, until one realizes that His pleasure is that of giving His all. He’s not looking for something to get from us to fulfill His desires or to please Himself, but rather His pleasure is to give. –Christopher Bernard
“If you remove the enjoyment of God from faith, it ceases to be faith.
If you remove enjoying God from everyone of the thousands of acts of obedience, it ceases to be obedience. If you remove the enjoyment of God from life, it ceases to be life. ……It is remarkable that God has made joy the central point of those pieces.” ~John Piper