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Transformed at the Core

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Paul, in Romans 12:1-2, declares that a believer’s reasonable response to God’s mercies is to offer himself or herself as a living sacrifice. A Christian is not to be conformed to this world’s pattern but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. This will allow us to know God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. As Paul finishes chapter 12, he will describe how this commitment is worked out in social contexts. In other words, Paul will address what practical Christian service looks like. To be transformed by God, we must allow the Lord to control all of our being. When we do this, there are some amazing by-products in the way we practically serve as Christians.
In Romans 12:3-8, Paul informs believers that they are called to find their place in the body of Christ. In fact, he speaks of a serving faith. This faith is a special gift from God, enabling believers to carry out ministry, their service to God. According to the ministries He calls and equips us to do, God gives us different measures of this kind of faith (see: 1 Cor 12:9; 13:2).  There is also a serving grace that enables us to identify and use our gifts for God’s glory.
The Church, Paul explains, is like the human body. All Christians are part of that one body (vv. 4-5). But just as the body has different parts with different functions, so too, the church has people who are very diverse and serve that church in different ways (vv. 6-8). This means that each of us needs to carefully understand our role in the church and not think more of ourselves than we should (vv. 3-4). What Paul says in these verses is highly relevant to any church, for we are all too often tempted to swell with self-importance and forget our place in the community. Textually, Paul addresses this issue here in Romans because he knows that the Roman Christians are struggling with this very issue (cf. Rom 11:25; Rom 14:1-15:13).
As God’s children, how are we to think of ourselves? We are not to think too highly of ourselves. In other words, know where you fit and influence in that area. No one in the body of Christ is to presume another’s role or the ability to speak into an area for which they are not qualified to speak. The body does not work as a democracy, but it must work together for it to work. This is why Christian service is a by-product of being a living sacrifice.
When God owns the deed to our life, we can function amid our diversity in unity as God’s Church. How? Because we can keep the main thing the main thing, to know God and make Him known. However, when we get our eyes off of our purpose, take back the deed for ourselves, we operate out of selfish motives and hurt one another and the cause of Christ. When we come to Christ, our gifts and abilities are sanctified (set apart) for His service. This is a by-product of being a living sacrifice; we find our place in the body of Christ.
Paul addresses another by-product. Believers are to discover the many manifestations of love (Rom 12:9-21). Notice that this passage deals with how a believer is to lovingly relate to both fellow Christians (vv. 10, 13, 16) as well as those who are not yet believers (vv. 14, 17-21). Paul begins by writing, “Love is to be genuine.” “Genuine” or “Sincere” is a translation of a Greek word that means “not playing a part.” It is a word that comes to us from the theater. Our love of others should not be faked or merely external. It should reflect the attitude of the heart.
It’s impossible to continuously play a part. To be fake is draining. God does not want our love to be a mere portrayal, but deeply personal, coming from the transformed core of our being. This is beyond both action and emotion because both are the result of a heart conformed in substance to Christ Jesus’s. Those in Christ are part of God’s family. God’s family is diverse but united in love by His Spirit. By His Spirit, we ought to care and show our caring through loving acts of kindness towards one another.  Even further, as a reflection of that love, we are to bless our persecutors and not curse them. The believer, the Christian, responds to evil with good in the hope that the offender will come to repent and be redeemed by placing their trust in the Lord.
You may ask, “How can I do this?” How can I selflessly find my place in the body of Christ? How can I selflessly love both the Christian and the one who is yet to become a believer? Even more, how am I to show love and goodness to those who pour hatred on me? Good questions. The answer, present yourself as a living sacrifice to God. Only when we present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God can we have these godly by-products gush from the deepest part of our being. A spring of love can only come from a transformed (metamorphosed) source.
A spring is only as fresh as its source. When I give God the deed to my life, He transforms me from the core of my being. It is this transformation that allows for purity to flow from that which was once contaminated. We are fulfilled when we are who God created us to be. We are at peace when we do what God has created us to do. Such a life is made possible when we realize that it is not about me, but Him. This life is only possible as I lay myself before Him and say, “I am yours – all of me is Yours.” Then, goodness and godly purpose will pour out of my inner being, out of our inner being. Only then will we be satisfied and our service sanctified (set apart) for our Lord’s kingdom. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Who is the Owner?

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The victorious life of a believer can be summed up by answering one crucial question. Who is the owner? Who is the owner of your life? We can answer this question and live it out in a number of ways. We can be a “timeshare” Christian holding onto the ownership and let God have the façade of ownership without the deed to our life. We can be a “rental” Christian holding onto the ownership and allowing God to move into our life. God can change the rooms around and clean up, but only as the real owner, self, agrees to let Him. Certainly, any significant changes God must get approved. God can stay but does not hold the deed to our life. Neither of these choices is reasonable. For life to work, God has to be the owner. God must hold the deed. It is only when God is the owner that we can experience the victorious Christian life. This, after all, is the only reasonable response to God.
Paul speaks of ownership in Romans 11:33-12:2. In Romans 11:33-36, Paul leads us in worship of God for His wisdom. As Paul ended Romans 5-8 celebrating God’s unshakable love for His people, so he ends Romans 9-11 celebrating God’s marvelous plan for humankind.  He ends his discussion by proclaiming God’s glory. In short, Romans 11:33-36 teaches us that we cannot penetrate the mind of God. He does not need to consult us before He decides what He is going to do. At a certain point, we must stop questioning and demanding answers and simply believe and worship. Romans 11:33-36 is a beautiful hymn of praise Paul shares with us. He proclaims the wisdom and mercy of God in saving both Jews and Gentiles (all peoples). This is a fitting way for Paul’s section on doctrine Romans 1:18-11:36 to end and what follows, Paul’s practical instructions, to begin. Christian doctrine must lead to Christian ethics. The transformation (metamorphosis) made by God in the believer’s spirit must be shown in our daily life.
We discover in Romans 12:1-2 the basic commitment required of the Believer in light of all that God has done. The rest of the section describes how this commitment is carried out in daily life’s changing situations. Paul writes: “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. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Paul writes of the “mercies” of God. The noun “mercy” occurs seven times in Romans 9-11; the verb occurs twice, and the synonym “compassion” appears twice in Rom 9:15. According to the hermeneutical principle of repetition (a principle used for studying and applying Scripture), it seems that this is God’s motivation in exercising His sovereignty. God is a merciful God. In fact, God’s mercies are written by Paul in the whole of Rom 1-11. The Gospel (Good News) is a message of God’s mercy on humanity.
How are believers to respond to God’s mercy? They are to dedicate themselves to God (v. 1).  We are to “offer” or “present” ourselves to God. There must be a complete surrender of the person (body), the whole person, mind, and flesh, are to be given to God. Christians are no longer to see themselves as belonging to self, but as belonging to God. God is the owner! In fact, we are to “offer” ourselves to God as an act of “worship.” We respond to God’s mercy by dedicating ourselves to God. There is also another way believers are to respond to God’s mercy. Believers who are dedicated to God are to be consecrated (Rom 12:2).
We who are dedicated to God are to be consecrated. To be dedicated to God is to be separated to or belonging to God. Another word, consecration, is used to describe this offering of self to God. To be consecrated is to be set apart for the service of God. As a “living sacrifice,” we belong to God and are useful to Him and His divine purposes.
How are believers consecrated? They are not to “conform to this world” or, as the Phillip’s Translation puts it: “Do not let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.” The transformed Christian has a posture of resistance to any values, goals, and activities contrary to God’s ways.
Believers are not to be molded by the world but are transformed by renewing their minds. “The word “transformed” comes from the Greek word metamorphosed. Meta means radical, and morph means change. Therefore, transformation means radical change. This radical change comes from God. Philip’s Translation reads: “Let God re-mold your minds from within.” The thoughts of a Believer’s mind are renewed.
This is a crucial idea in Paul’s conception of the Christian life (see: Rom 1:28-29). When we come to Christ, we are transformed into a new realm of righteousness and life (see: Rom 5-8). Nevertheless, our minds are not immediately changed; our thinking still tends to follow the well-worn ruts of the old way of life. Thus, we are called to engage in the lifelong process of changing the way we think. We change the way we live. Think of it this way, the believer is continually being molded from within by the power of God. This transformation occurs in the life of a believer to show (exemplify) the Christlike life!
What is the basic commitment required of the Believer in light of all God has done? In other words, how are Believers to respond to God’s mercy? Believers are to dedicate themselves to God. Believers are to be consecrated to God. How are believers to be consecrated?  Believers are not to be conformed to the pattern of this world. Believers are to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Why are Believers transformed? A believer is transformed to show (exemplify) the Christlike life as they test and approve in practice God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Who is the owner of your life? Life only works when God is our owner. Won’t out give yourself to Him? Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

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)!