Happy Presidents Day!

gwmorality“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.” (George Washington’s Farewell Address)

Do You Love the Gift or the Giver?

A gift for youIn his book, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, Francis Chan famously asked, “Are we in love with God or just His stuff?” In a society that glorifies the prosperity gospel through shows like this one, it’s probably a fair question to ask.

But it also isn’t a new question that’s relevant to our culture only. About 1500 years ago, another Christian leader, Caesarius, Bishop of Arles, asked the same thing of his congregants. In its volume on the gospel of Mark, the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture quotes him as preaching the following: Continue reading Do You Love the Gift or the Giver?

The Reality of the Incarnation

incarnationtheodoret“For if the incarnation was a fantasy, then our salvation is a delusion. The Christ was at the same time visible man and invisible God.”

(Theodoret of Cyr, Dialogues [quoted in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture])

A Big God for Little People

I’m reading John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent 2013 during my devotional time this month. If you’re not already reading something specific to focus on and celebrate the Incarnation (or even if you are), go download the book. It’s free. You can’t beat free. The readings so far have been deep, meaningful, and encouraging. Today’s entry on Luke 2:1-5 was especially good, emphasizing how God uses the big things of this world to bless the little people who are his. Here’s the key section (emphasis mine): Continue reading A Big God for Little People

A Father’s Prayer

This prayer was written by General Douglas MacArthur. I first came across it while reading MacArthur: America’s General by Mitchell Yockelson. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds: a son who will know Thee—and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.

Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm: here let him learn compassion for those who fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength.

Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.”

A Resolution Worth Keeping

Every year on January 1st, teenagers around the country resolve to try harder in school, eat better, exercise more, get a job, save money, or be less distracted by the opposite sex. And every year on January 2nd, those same teenagers decide that it’s easier to just do nothing, and their resolutions are forgotten more quickly than information after a test is handed in.

As Christians, instead of setting goals that deal only with surface issues and are dependent on our own efforts, we should think like Paul, who wrote in Philippians 3, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (vv. 12-14). Paul wasn’t pressing on toward a healthy diet, a 4.0 GPA, or a PR in track. He wasn’t forgetting last marking period to press on in this one. Rather, he was counting everything except Jesus as loss (v. 8) and straining (because it’s not easy!) to become like Jesus in his life and in his death (v. 8-9) that he might gain Christ (v. 8) and the resurrection from the dead (v. 11). And he was doing it all as a response to what Jesus had done for him (v. 12). Paul’s goal wasn’t focused on self-improvement or motivated by pride; it was focused on Christ-likeness and motivated by reciprocating the love that he had been shown. He went on to say, “Let those of us who are mature think this way,” (v. 15) and, “join in imitating me” (v. 17). This isn’t something that only super-saints like Paul are called to do. It is to be every Christian’s goal. Every year. Every marking period. Every day. Continue reading A Resolution Worth Keeping

Are You a Wise Man?: Three Possible Responses to the Christmas Story

“The Magi Journeying” by James Tissot

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
     are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
     who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)

I’ve always been struck by this story, so much so in fact that it often finds its way into my devotionals this time of year. Matthew sets up such a stark contrast between Herod, the chief priests and scribes, and the wise men from the east, all of whom were operating with the same information, but none of whom reacted to that information in the same way. While at various points in the story, all three parties knew who had been born (v. 2), where he had been born (v. 5), and why he had been born (v. 6), their responses were vastly different, and I believe mirror the only 3 responses any of us will have to Jesus’ birth story this Christmas: Continue reading Are You a Wise Man?: Three Possible Responses to the Christmas Story

Kim Jong Il & the Story of Christmas

The passing of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il has monopolized a lot of news coverage since the story broke yesterday. Much more interesting than the story of his death, however, is the story of his birth … or at least the “official” story of his birth:

For everything that was wrong with Kim Jong Il’s thinking, he apparently recognized one theologically true fact: the solution to man’s problem lies outside the normal human experience. To be accepted as the “savior” of North Korea, he felt the need to make his birth appear to be supernatural. He had to be more than a man. From the Yamato Dynasty in Japan to the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, leaders have felt the need to claim some aspect of divinity in order to present themselves as saviors.

But they have all claimed to be men + something divine. They were somewhat divine or descended from a deity. They were partially god or one god of many. They were not the only God, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

Then there was Jesus: Continue reading Kim Jong Il & the Story of Christmas