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Whose Job?

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The Scriptures leave no doubt that God has a salvific plan that involves each and every one of us. The question is: What is our responsibility to His plan? Another way of asking this question is: Whose job is it to see people come to Christ? God has a wonderful plan to reach the world with His loving grace. This salvific plan is divinely inspired but has woven within it the need for human participation. In Romans 10, Paul explains God’s plan and the part each of us is called to play.
Paul, in Romans 10:8-10, describes what one must do to be saved. The gospel message is salvation by faith in Christ. It is as near as believing in your heart and confessing with your mouth, and available to all who hear. One must believe on (trust in, have faith in) Christ as Lord and Savior.  Everything else is discipleship. What must someone do to be saved? Believe!
Who can be saved? Paul gives us the answer in Romans 10:11-13. He explains that salvation is for everyone who places their faith in Jesus as Lord. God offers salvation to all and saves all who ask Him in faith. Anyone who calls on the Lord will be saved.
Then, in Romans 10:14-15, Paul answers the question: How does someone know how to be saved? In fact, these verses lay out a logical sequence of necessary events for people to come to Christ. The importance of preaching is evident. Without preaching, no one would hear the good news of Christ to believe in Him and thus call on Him. This preaching is not to be mistaken as merely being relegated to a person speaking from a platform. Instead, it embraces every believer’s ministry, sharing the message of Christ’s love and salvation with others.
I believe Romans 10:8-15 powerfully speaks to world evangelization. God’s sovereign plan includes the taking of the gospel to all peoples in the entire world. Accordingly, Christ’s last words to the apostles (see: Acts 1:8) were that they would be used to reach out to the world with the gospel. World evangelization is the theme of the Bible. Not only is the Bible the basis for missions, but missions is the basis for the Bible. Therefore, from Genesis to Revelation, we see that world evangelization is God’s sovereign plan and that humanity has responsibility within His plan. How does someone know how to be saved? They are told!
I came across this account from the life of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. William Booth was entering a city one day. As he entered the city, his heart felt strange, and he began to look at those around him with tears in his eyes. Soon he pictured himself standing at the end of a pier that extended over a rough sea. On the dock was a large, beautiful choir, and church people wrapped up in fellowship with one another with great big smiles on their faces. His attention was then drawn to what appeared to be thousands of people, young and old, in the rough sea. Each person was struggling to get their head up out of the rough water to breathe. Some he could see was under the water, and others, with hopeless gazes, ready to drown with a forced gasp of water rather than air rushing down their throat. Those on the pier seemed not to notice those in the sea. Even though those in the sea were screaming and splashing. Even though the waves were huge and smashing against the pier, those on the dock seemed unmoved, unconcerned, wrapped up in their own world. William Booth began to sob as he realized the meaning of this vision. For too long, he had spent time within the walls of the church without even a peak off of the pier into the sea of dying souls. On that day, William Booth, who would later be known as General Booth, got a view of the unsaved that turned into a burden that turned into a vision that started what we know today as the Salvation Army, a ministry reaching hundreds upon hundreds of thousands for Jesus Christ.
God has done the work necessary for people to be saved. However, He has invited us to be part of His salvific plan by being messengers of His grace. In this sense, each of us has the responsibility of knowing God and making Him known.  It is a privilege to be a part of God’s plan. Have you accepted His plan? What must someone do to be saved? Believe! Who can be saved? Anyone who calls on the Lord! Have you accepted the responsibility to be a messenger of His plan? How does someone know how to be saved? They are told! Why not give yourself to God right now? Why not accept the responsibility He has placed on all of us to know Him and make Him Known? Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Whose Choice?

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Romans is a fantastic book. In the first eight chapters, Paul lays out God’s incredible work of salvation. He explains salvation in three facets. The first facet is salvation as justification when we are made right with God through accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation. This is a work done in a believer’s life once they receive Christ. The second facet is salvation as sanctification. Sanctification is the work done in cooperation with the Holy Spirit to make us more and more like Christ. This is the work that is being done in a believer’s life. The third facet of salvation is glorification. This is accomplished in a believer’s life when Christ returns, and the Spirit’s work is completed. Paul clarifies that everyone needs to be saved by Christ, and all are offered salvation through Him.
In the second half of the book, chapters 9-16, Paul writes how those who have been saved ought to live. Paul will explain that they ought to live a profound life that reflects that of Christ. This is possible due to the metamorphosis a believer experiences after coming to Christ. A person who becomes a believer certainly experiences a change in position and an inner change as they become more and more like Jesus (sanctification). This is why the New Testament uses the Greek term “metamorphoõ” (where we get our word metamorphosis) to describe a transformation from what a person was apart from Christ into what they are becoming in Christ. As believers investigate and internalize the teaching found in Romans 9-16, they experience this radical transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In chapter 9 of Romans, Paul addresses God’s sovereignty (His supreme power, without any external influences) as well as human free will. For instance, when a person comes to Christ, whose choice is it? Is it God’s or the persons? This is a great question. I have heard it said that God’s sovereignty and our free will are two sides of the same coin. They are an antinomy. We do not fully understand how these two truths are reconciled with one another, but we know they do.
God’s Word does not present enough to fully understand how God’s sovereignty and our free will work together. But, it does present us with enough to believe they do. Both God’s sovereignty and our free will give us an understanding that leads us to confidence in God’s promises. God blesses us to be a blessing. God chooses to bless whom He desires. God desires to bless those who are faithful to him.
We discover two explanations in Romans 9 that affirm God’s sovereignty and human free will. The first is found in verses 10-13, where we find that God chose Jacob over Esau. The account of their lives is located in the book of Genesis.  Hindsight provides us with evidence of God’s right choice. Of course, a perfect God could do no less than perfection. What we discover is that through God’s sovereignty, we have the ability to choose. However, our choice will never thwart the salvific plan of God. What does all of this have to do with us? We can place our trust in God’s plans and promises. Knowing God is in control ought to bring us peace. Knowing that we are responsible for our own choices ought to lead us to obedience.
The second explanation is found in Romans 9:17-18. We discover that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh. Verse 18 reads: “God has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.” Let me first note that neither here nor anywhere else in Scripture is God said to harden anyone who had not first hardened himself. The fact that Pharaoh arrogantly hardened his heart against God is made explicit in the biblical account. In a sense, then God hardening Pharaoh’s heart could be called a judicial act, abandoning him to his own stubbornness. Human stubbornness and divine judgment in the hardening of the heart is seen in God’s word to Isaiah (“Make the heart of this people calloused,” Isaiah 6:10). It is also applied by Jesus to His own teaching (Matt 13:13-14) as well as by Paul to his. Look at it this way. God raised up this particular Pharaoh to show His power. We repeatedly find in Exodus these words, “I have let you (Pharaoh) live for this reason—that you might see my power and that my fame might spread throughout the earth” (Ex 9:16).
Again, note that God did clearly harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 9:12, 35; 10:27; 11:10), but not until Pharaoh had hardened his own several times (Ex 7:22; 8:15, 32). In other words, God elevated a particular person to fight against Him. Still, that person also made his own choice, which God foreknew before God punished him with a continuous hardened heart. We discover that the Bible affirms God’s sovereignty as well as human free will and responsibility. I believe two things about this passage. First, God has the power and right to work out His divine plan as He sees fit. Second, God’s sovereignty does not violate His integrity. What does this mean for us? We ought to be confident that God is in control and mindful that He created us to have free will and, therefore, be responsible for our decisions.
Let’s go back to the original question. When a person comes to Christ, whose choice is it? Is it God’s or the persons? This is a great question. The answer is, YES! God has chosen you and provides a way for you to choose Him. I do not fully understand it, but I know enough to believe. How about you? Have you explored God’s Word, knowing enough information to believe? Can you place your trust in God’s plans and promises? I pray that not only can you, but you will. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Discipleship Pathway

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It’s a new year. For many, a new year marks a new beginning. People make New Years’ resolutions. Some begin new hobbies or commit to breaking old habits. For me, the new year provides an opportunity to assess and correct my alignment. I stop and ask, “Am I heading in the right direction?” I also ask, “Am I doing what is necessary to get where I desire to go?” Since my most important relationship is with God, and my greatest desire is to know Him and make Him known, I want to make sure I am on and walking (progressing) along the discipleship pathway.
A disciple is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and is committed to the mission of Jesus. Matthew records our shared mission with Christ:
“Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matt 28:18-20).
We are to make disciples. Disciple making is entering into relationships to help people trust and follow Jesus, which includes the whole process from conversion (reach) through maturation (raise) and multiplication (release). Thus, Crosswinds’ strategy is to faithfully reach people with the love and message of Jesus Christ as they take the step to believe. To raise them to follow Christ as they discover what it means to belong to Him and His church, as well as become who they were created to be. As we release them to partner with God to bless others by advancing His kingdom. We desire to be disciple makers who, as disciples of Jesus, enter into relationships with others to help them trust and follow our Savior and Lord.
Crosswinds have developed a discipleship pathway that has benefited its “travelers” significantly. We believe the first and most important step on the pathway is one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We have a yes box created to help believers develop a daily time alone with God (TAWG). Since we are created to do life with God and others, we have one-on-one discipleship groups that meet for an extended period every other week to look at God’s Word and do life together. Community happens more in circles than rows. Therefore, we have small groups of 8-10 people that meet every other week to pray, engage in a sermon-based study of God’s Word, and fellowship. We have service teams where we grow in Christ and community with one another as we live on mission through serving on a Crosswinds ministry team (on-campus) or with a Crosswinds mission partner (off-campus throughout our region). Lastly, we have our large gatherings that take place on Sunday mornings on our Canandaigua campus, through live streaming of these services, online throughout the week, and at our Hopewell campus, which meets at the Ontario County Jail. If you want more information on any of these opportunities, go to www.crosswinds.church or call the church office (585) 394-5857.
Jesus declared that He came to bring us abundant life (Jn 10:10). Jesus Himself provides the biblical definition of life – especially eternal life: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). Interestingly, this definition makes no mention of length of days, health, prosperity, family, or occupation. As a matter of fact, the only thing it does mention is knowing God, which is key to real abundant life, which is spiritual abundance.
The Christian life revolves around, as Peter writes: “Growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 3:18). This teaches that the abundant life is a continual process of learning, practicing, and maturing, as well as failing, recovering, adjusting, enduring, and overcoming. So, when I ask, “Am I heading in the right direction?” I am really asking if I am growing in my relationship with God and others in making Him known. When I ask, “Am I doing what is necessary to get where I desire to go?” I am asking if I am participating in spiritual practices that assist me, by the Holy Spirit’s power and leading, to live on mission with Jesus. Let me encourage you to take some time to evaluate and position yourself rightly on the discipleship pathway. It is an exciting life-giving journey. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

New Year 2021

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We made it to 2021. Now what? Throughout 2020 I heard people say, “If I can just make it to 2021.” I understand. 2020 was an unusual year in many ways, but a new year does not automatically erase all the crazy. It is, however, a natural time for a reset.
Growing up with the advent of home computers and into the tech age, I learned a quick fix for computer glitches, reboot. I know some tech-savvy people winched a bit when they read that, but it often works. I simply turn off and start up my computer, phone, well you get the picture. More times than not, it fixes the problem.
A new year allows for a reboot of sorts. Again, the ushering in a new year doesn’t magically erase the crazy, but it does present the opportunity for a reboot or reset of sorts. I am not talking about a mere new year’s resolution. I mean an opportunity to exhale the stuff of last year and breathe in the fresh air of awareness that God is present and working. This is not something we need to wait until a new year to perform. It ought to be a daily practice. The new year simply offers an excellent opportunity to do it as last year passes, and the new year is beginning.
There is a term used in some Christian circles, the “victorious Christian life.” The victorious Christian life is the life that is lived, by faith, in a moment-by-moment surrender to God. It is a life rooted in faith where believers place their trust in the Lord in all circumstances.
God has promised victory to everyone who comes to faith in Christ. The key to this life is our identification with our Savior. The access to the victorious Christian life is to be in total union with God, letting Him be the Lord of our lives.
Paul writes to the Roman believers:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:3-5).
Through faith, which is witnessed to in baptism, the Christian takes part in Christ’s death. The glory of our Heavenly Father is shown by His power in raising Christ from the dead and by transforming the lives of Christians into the image of His Son. This happens progressively in a believer’s life through sanctification (set apart for God and becoming Christlike) and completed at glorification when Christ returns, and this work is finished. Sanctification is glorification begun, and glorification is sanctification finished. The believer’s participation in Christ’s death assures us that we shall share in His resurrection, achieving final and complete victory.
I have a yearly practice of setting time around New Years Day to ponder all that transpired the past year and planning for the new year. Part of this spiritual exercise is rebooting. I exhale the stuff of last year and inhale the fresh air of awareness that God is present and working. I am His. My ultimate victory is secured in Him, and my present victory is lived as I walk in faith by the power of His Spirit, being led by Him. This is true for every Christian. Let me encourage you to take some time to reboot and walk in victory in Christ today. Here’s to a victorious 2021. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Day After Christmas

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Most, if not all of us, experience a letdown after Christmas. Certainly, the season often inspires feelings of warmth, joy, and belonging. But for some, this time of the year can evoke feelings of loneliness, stress, and anxiety. Add the unusual stresses of 2020, and I believe we all understand to one degree or another that the holiday blues is a real phenomenon.
In Matthew West’s song Day After Christmas, he writes:
Here comes the letdown Christmas is over
Here comes the meltdown, there goes the cheer
But before we have a breakdown, let us remember
The light of the world is still here
It is easy to allow the letdown of the coming and going of Christmas’s celebration to persuade us that we have to wait until next year to experience the seasonal joy. However, the real reason for the season, Jesus Christ, came with a purpose that is further reaching than any day or season.
God created us to live in relationship with Him and radiate His glory. We have been created to know Him and make Him known. The problem is that we have all sinned and have fallen short of His glory. We all deserve the wage of sin, which is death. Yet, due to God’s extravagant love for us, He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to provide for us the way for eternal life. Real life, eternal life, and hope and joy for even today are gifts for all who will trust in Christ as Savior and Lord. Jesus did not come to give us a holiday, but real life as His children.
In his gospel, John writes that the true light came into the world for an eternal purpose that impacts all who receive Him today. We read:  “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:12-13). This is the first reference in the Book of John to the new birth. John writes of those who “receive” Christ. This image, receive, is the first John uses to define “believe.” Those who receive Christ, who believe, are given something spectacular.
We are offered a gift in Christ. If you do not see a gift held out to you, or if you see it but do not accept it as real, you won’t stretch out your hand to take it. Believing in Jesus involves seeing Him presented as God’s Son, accepting that description as real, and simply stretching out your hand to accept God’s gift of eternal life. You then become what you were not: “a child of God.”
Anyone who has received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is a child of God. Many people wrongly believe that everyone is a child of God. Since human beings are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27). Aren’t we all His children? The Bible says no. Every single person is God’s creation and loved by Him, but we only become His children when we are adopted by Him (Eph 1:5; Rom 8:15).
The child of God is made right with the Lord and given access to Him and His abundant provisions. These provisions are not to be thought of as merely material, but also emotional and spiritual. For instance, Christ is present in our heartache. His love is true and power available to His children. Christ came because we need Him. We all need Him for our salvation and to live a genuinely abundant life. Christ did not come to save those who walk in perfect faithfulness, who are strong, and always stable. Christ came to give the unfaithful, weak, and unstable hope.
I like how Matthew West’s ends his song Day After Christmas:
Happy day after Christmas
And merry rest of the year
Even when Christmas is over
The light of the world is still here
Wherever you find yourself today, know that the light of the world is still here. We are called to receive Him! If you have yet to receive Christ, won’t you do so right now? Those who receive Him are children of God. They are indwelt by His Spirit and offered His provisions for their wellbeing! If you have received Christ, won’t you take a moment and meditate on what it means that you are a child of God?
Being a child of God does not make us immune to hurts, habits, or hang-ups. It doesn’t mean that we won’t deal with let downs and perhaps meltdowns. But, it does mean that He is present and offering to walk with us in all the highs and lows of life, leading us to a place where we walk in the freedom He has granted us, filled with His peace joy. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

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When we speak of classic Christmas carols, God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman has to make the list. Although it was celebrated in Britain in 1833, it is thought to be hundreds of years old. It was composed to teach the mostly illiterate masses about Christian sentiments during the holiday season. It was a teaching tool and a way to spread the message of the gospel.
The lyrics are thought to date back to the 15th century, where some of the word’s meanings are different from today. For instance, “rest” then meant “keep,” while the word “merry” would have indicated a strong individual. When we modernize the title God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, it becomes “may God keep you gentlemen strong.” You can just picture this song being sung to encourage people during the season that God was present, able, and willing to strengthen and protect them by His grace and might. It makes sense why this song has remained popular these many years.
This carol really underscores the power of Christ and what His arrival means to all who embrace Him. It is referred to in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843. In Dickens’ classic tale, at the first sound of – “God bless you, merry gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!” – Scrooge seized the ruler, sending the singer fleeing in terror. It is fitting that God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman would become so closely associated with Dickens’ work depicting the story of hope and redemption in the life of a hate-filled man.
The song begins with a call to remember “Christ, our Savior, was born on Christmas day” to bring salvation. The song proceeds to outline the birth of Christ and concludes with a challenge to sing praises to the Lord, “and with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace; this holy tide of Christmas all other doth deface. O tidings of comfort and joy.” The real birth of Christ ushered in His redemptive work on the cross and victorious resurrection. Those who turn to Him for salvation genuinely walk in His power.
Peter, writing of the redemptive work of Christ, proclaims:
“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:17-21).
The passage calls those who acknowledge God as God and Christ as Lord to live holy lives in Him. We ought to live in awe of God, desiring to walk in His strength and leading.
Believers have been set free from Satan’s power, or the power of sin. By Christ’s blood, which is of considerably higher value than “silver or gold,” by the precious sacrifice of the “lamb without blemish or spot,” the penalty of our sins has been paid. To save all people through Christ, this plan of God was established “before the foundation of the world.” From Christ’s birth until His Second Coming, people have the opportunity to find salvation in Him. Because God began and completed the plan of salvation, our faith, and our hope of sharing in the resurrection are based on Him.
The birth of Christ offers us confident hope that we can be redeemed in Him, that we can indeed be found strong in Him, and love others as we become like Him. This is only possible by the power of Christ ushered in by our Savior’s birth allowing us to sing, “God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember, Christ, our Savior, was born of Christmas day.” Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

The Little Drummer Boy

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I love Christmas music. It is a highlight of the year for me. I still enjoy putting together a Christmas Playlist. These songs of the season help me embrace the wonderful story and precious gift of Christ’s birth. One classic that has made all my playlists is The Little Drummer Boy.
Interestingly the song we know now as The Little Drummer Boy was initially titled Carol of the Drums because of the repeated line “pa rum pum pum pum,” which imitates the sound of a drum. No one knows for sure who wrote the song, but as best as we can surmise, Katherine K. Davis wrote the song in 1941. However, others have been credited with having written the song. What is known for certain is that there have been hundreds of recordings of the song over the years, with some appearing on the Billboard’s Hot 100. Pentatonix version even hit number one.
My earliest memory of the song is from the stop-motion animation made for TV Christmas classic The Little Drummer Boy. I am not old enough to have seen it debuted in 1968, but have enjoyed it many times over the years.
The song is about the birth of Jesus Christ and the gifts presented to the newborn king on this momentous day. The part of the song that has always touched me is, “I have no gift to bring…that’s fit to bring our king.” The boy only had a drum, and with his modest gift, he offered what he had and “played his best for Him,” and we are told the Christ child “smiled at him.”
What I didn’t appreciate for years before becoming a parent is how unlikely it is that Jesus’ mom, Mary, would have desired for a drum to be played at Christ’s birth. You know, the never wake a baby, and all of that stuff. Still, my heart is stirred by the boy’s modest gift, especially when compared to the extravagant gifts offered by the Magi. The drummer boy offers what he has and does so with all his heart.
Truth be told, I have never seen myself as extremely gifted. I am not trying to belittle myself. It’s just that I have friends who speak, play instruments, sing. They are like the one-man-band playing all the instruments on their own. I am not envious of any of them but appreciate the breadth of what they bring to the Lord’s kingdom table. I, however, have a few gifts. We all have at least one gift given to us by God for service in His name (see: Rom 1:11, 1 Cor 12:7-11, Rom 12:3-8, & 1 Peter 4:10). It doesn’t matter how many gifts we have or what those gifts happen to be. What really makes the difference is that we use them for His glory and the benefit of others.
The founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, is quoted to have said, “God has had better men than me, but He has had all of me.” I can’t begin to say that God has always had “all of me,” but I genuinely desire for this to be true in my life. When I think of all God has done for me, how can I want anything else. Paul states it this way in Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Paul is referring back to all he has written in Romans 1-11 about the “mercies of God.” As followers of Christ, we are to give ourselves entirely to God because of His saving grace. What do you give the God who has everything? We give the one thing we have the actual power to give, ourselves.
With the gifts I have, I attempt to “play my best for Him.” You know, “pa rum pum pum pum.” My playing is not always perfect, but I believe as I play, God smiles at me. This is true for each and every one of us. He is so worthy of everything we have to offer. When we offer it up to Him, we are blessed, and others benefit from it. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

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The Christmas season is here, and that means Christmas music. I can hardly wait every year to begin playing the songs of the season and of our Savior’s coming. One classic Christmas hymn that has always moved me is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Just the first words, “Oh, come, oh, come, Emanuel, and ransom captive Israel,” gives me chills.
“O Come, O Come Emanuel” is actually an 8th and 9th century Latin hymn. It takes us back over a thousand years to monastic life, where this hymn was used, much like today, in preparation for the Christmas celebration. It was traditionally sung during the final week of Advent. This hymn is possibly the oldest Christmas carol that is still in use. It was later translated by John Mason Neale from a French draft and made its way into the Church of England’s official hymnal in 1861. It has become a very familiar song for believers worldwide that is sung in anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s birth.
The hymn serves as a guided tour of the Old Testament prophecy of Christ’s coming and messianic work. Each stanza calls up a major theme of prophecies about the Messiah. Each textual matter is a prayer to Jesus under a variety of prophetic names. The refrain is the answer to the prayer: “Rejoice, Emmanuel will surely come!”
The hymn embodies a dynamic tension between what has already passed and what is yet to come. It expresses anticipation of the birth of Christ, who has already come. It also anticipates the return of Christ, who will come again. The song presents a beautiful musical dance between Israel awaiting her Messiah and that of the Church awaiting His return.
The song actually serves generally as a running commentary of Old Testament prophecy, and its many images of Jesus found in their passages. The very first verse references Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Jesus is God-with-us; God, who comes to Earth to save His people.
In particular, one can see this hymn as specifically being a commentary of Isaiah 11. For instance, the carol in part references Isaiah 11:2-3: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear.” Jesus came and will come with wisdom to judge and to set things right.
This hymn has remained popular, I believe, because it reminds us as Christians how we long for another place, one where the coming Messiah wipes the tears of those in sorrow and those cast down under life’s weightiness. The hymn makes a request for wisdom, salvation, victory, and safety. Of course, these are only ultimately found in Christ.
As we approach Christmas, let’s do so celebrating our Savior and Lord, who has come and will return to reconcile all His people unto Himself. He will bring justice and peace. As we celebrate Christmas, let’s rejoice in Jesus Christ, who is Emmanuel, God-with-us. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

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Thanksgiving is behind us, and Christmas is right around the corner. You don’t have to know me very well to know how much I love Christmas and the Christmas season. My with bemoans how early Christmas decorations appear, and I start listening to Christmas music on the first of October.
The Christmas classic, “It’s beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” excites me just listening to it.  The repeated line, “It’s beginning to look a lot lie Christmas everywhere we go,” puts a smile on my face. I am into Christmas trees, tacky decorations, the giving and receiving of gifts, well, you get the picture. As much as I like the stuff of Christmas, however, it is the true reason for the season that excites me most.
When I was growing up, Christmas was a sure time I could get family to go to church with me. Christmas Eve service has always been a time to remember and celebrate my Savior’s coming. Still, it has also been a time when I have been able to get those who typically don’t give God or church a thought to consider Him and perhaps come participate in a Christmas Eve service.
The stuff of Christmas is great, but if allowed, it can distract us from the true meaning of Christmas. This causes us to drift off course from genuinely celebrating Christ.  After all, Christmas literally means the celebration of Christ.
I am challenged by these words found in Hebrews:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1-2).
As we look at those who have completed their race (see: Hebrews 11), let’s grasp hold of the baton handed off to us.  Let’s run in the strength of the Lord and the encouragement of their witness. We are to “lay aside every weight.” Even good things, like the stuff of Christmas, can hinder us. We are also to lay aside sin. The very nature of sin is to entangle us. Sin is an obstacle, not a spur to those of us running the race for Christ. By the way, the race we run is not a sprint but a marathon. So, we need to run with Spirit enabled endurance.
How do we run? We run “looking to Jesus.” As a runner concentrates only on the finish line, we, believers, set our gaze on Jesus. Jesus has already crossed the finish line and is waiting while running with us through His Spirit, who indwells us. Christ has already done everything necessary to ensure that we, too, may cross the finish line if we continue in faith.
Let me encourage each of us this Christmas to enjoy the holiday, but even more, keep Christ the center of our celebration. Let’s not lose the reason for the season amid the stuff of the season. With that said, I am so thankful it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Present Pain, Future Glory

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As I look at the Bible as a whole and see the progress of redemption laid out from God’s creative work at the onset of humanity, the account found in Genesis, to the triumphant second coming of Christ, written in Revelation, I am blown away. There is a scarlet thread of salvation woven throughout Scripture, leading to each and every one of us. This is a beautiful reality we call the gospel, the good news.
When Paul wrote Romans 1-8, he laid out the gospel in great detail. God inspired him to write of the first facet of salvation, justification (being made right with God), in chapters 1-4. Then, in Romans 5-8, Paul writes of the second facet of salvation, sanctification (becoming more and more like Christ). In the second half of Romans 8, Paul writes of the third facet of salvation, glorification. Glorification is the final act of God in salvation. Occurring at Christ’s return, when the believer receives a glorified, imperishable body (never to wear out or become sick), glorious (beautiful, perhaps radiant), powerful (not superhuman but at full strength), and spiritual (dominated by God’s Spirit). This is a wonderful future reality for all of us in Christ. In the second half of Romans 8, Paul teaches us how to live as those being sanctified, yet to be glorified, and does so wrapped in sure hope and glory.
Paul declares in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Think about it. No suffering amounts to anything compared to the Way who is Christ (I was lost, but now I am found). No sufferings amount to anything compared to the Truth, who is Christ (I was seeking truth, but now I know the One who is the Truth). No sufferings amount to anything compared to the Life who is Christ (I was dead, but now I live) (see: John 14:6). Here is the good news. No amount of suffering can compare to what I have in Christ, or what I will have in Christ when He returns, and I leave this world of suffering behind and spend eternity with Him in Glory. How do we endure present sufferings? We do so by placing our hope in future glory. We are to live by faith right up to the gates of paradise.
We discover in Romans 8:18-21 that those in Christ place their hope on the Spirit for a future complete release. In fact, we are told in Romans 8:22-27 that those in Christ are actually helped by the Spirit to overcome our weaknesses. The Spirit who makes us holy, more and more like Christ, gives us what we need, even intercedes on our behalf, to lead us through this fallen world to the finish line, where we see Christ face-to-face. We even receive this precious promise: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).  We can be confident that nothing can hurt God’s people so deeply that God cannot turn it around for His glory and our good.
In Roans 8:29-30, we learn what God has done for us. We can be sure of this. If we have placed our faith in God, we have been called. If we have been called, he has predestined us for complete salvation. He has justified us. Right now, our Lord is sanctifying us, making us more and more like Christ. If God is sanctifying us, He will one day complete the work He has begun and will glorify us.
In Romans 8:30-31, Paul concludes by declaring that we in Christ are more than conquerors. We learn that those in Christ respond reasonably to God’s love. Along with the previous seven, these two verses provide a conclusion of God’s plan for His people. It is a summary of sorts of Romans 1-8. The final nine verses of Romans 8 are so wonderful that every Christian should be thoroughly familiar with them. Paul declares that God is for us and that no one can succeed against us. Paul didn’t simply ask, “Who can be against us?” The answer to this question would be many. Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” God is for us in Christ, and we will share in His victory. Paul declares, “nothing can separate us from God’s love” (Rom 8:39).
Yes, we will face hardship. God’s people have always faced hardship. However, nothing will separate us from God’s love. Not only can no one or anything alienate us from our God, but we are actually more than conquerors through Christ who loves us. Nothing can separate us from God’s love and the ultimate victory we will share in Him!
I pray you have decided to receive Christ as your Savior and Lord. I hope you have chosen as a believer to focus on Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to make you more like Jesus. I implore you to find hope in future glory. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!