Friday, December 27, 2013

The Violence of Christmas by Mike Cooper

The Violence of Christmas 

Do yourself a favor before Christmas. Read the Gospel accounts of Jesus' birth. Then read Genesis 1-3. Then read Revelation 12. Then throw in Romans 16:20 for good measure.
That's the whole Christmas story.
Christmas Violence
It's not simply the poetic and sweet story of a child's birth, welcomed by stars and angels. It's a violent war story. A cosmic war story. A conflict between fundamental forces of good and evil. As Mary labored in a place far from home, heaven and hell thundered and took up arms.
I think of The Fifth Element's Leeloo, who descends to Earth at the beginning of the movie, pursued by evil forces bent on the planet's destruction. She is perfect and innocent, but she's also here to fight. To spend her life redeeming a planet. Read those passages and watch the film again; it's a Christmas story.

I think of Alan Furst's spy novels, where whispers behind enemy lines invoke fury and danger. Where the small, the unsuspected, the few pave the way for the forces of good to erode and ultimately invade a land held captive by forces of evil.

And of course, I think of Die Hard,which we already knew was a Christmas movie, but think a layer deeper: a hero travels to a far-off land (McClane is a New York cop in Los Angeles) to reconcile with his estranged bride (she's changed her name) and has to rescue her from evil powers that hold her captive. Yippee-ki-yay.


Doomed by a Baby 

In Genesis, a serpent slithers into a perfect world and begins lying, eroding its foundations. In Revelation, this evil one has grown into a furious dragon: his power and dominion are far more menacing. He fumes and rages and casts down stars from the sky. But he's still doomed.
And the first attack against him isn't marked by the shout of warriors, the flash of swords, or the thunder of cannons. It's marked by the cry of a baby.

The world didn't welcome him. We only offered his laboring mother a reeking stable to protect her from the weather. The Christ child was born and laid in a manger, a place where animals eat. Later, while breathing his last upon a cross, he'd quote from a psalm that describes his death like this:
Like lions they open their jaws against me,
roaring and tearing into their prey . . .
My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
an evil gang closes in on me.
They have pierced my hands and feet.
(Psalm 22:13 ,16 )
The baby took his first nap in a feeding trough, and 33 years later, his death would be likened to being torn apart by wild animals. He would also tell his followers to feast on his body and blood, a way of symbolizing and experiencing union with him; to taste and see that he's good, that he's victorious over Satan, sin, and death. Think about that symbolism: only by tearing him apart and devouring him do we participate in his redemption.

There should be no question that Christmas is the greatest cause for joy that the world has known. Imagine if Christ hadn't come. Imagine a life where there was no eternal hope, where we were left to try to redeem ourselves.


Stop and Think 

Christmas is also a time for us to stop and think. Remember the whole story of Christmas, not just the easily marketed warm-and-fuzzy side. Remember that all of it—Jesus' condescension as a baby, his birth in a filthy stable, his sleep in a manger—reminds us of the muck he found us in. The nativity, so often depicted as cute and kitsch, is actually a painful depiction of our sin and fallenness. As Jerome once put it, Jesus was born in a dungheap because that's where he knew he'd find us.

Remember, too, that the Christ-child's birth caused hell to erupt with fury. Remember that their resistance was futile.

And remember, most of all, that the violence and humiliation of Christmas happened because God loved us enough to suffer all of it on our behalf and by our side. In Christ, we never have to be alone in our sorrows, pain, and humiliation again. The one who made the world entered it as a child and experienced all of its hardships and injustices so that by God's grace, he could be our comforter in the years to come.

Which is why at advent, we proclaim:
"Comfort, comfort my people,"
says your God.
"Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the LORD has punished her twice over
for all her sins."
Listen! It's the voice of someone shouting,
"Clear the way through the wilderness
for the LORD!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
for our God!
Fill in the valleys,
and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
and smooth out the rough places.
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
The LORD has spoken!"
(Isaiah 40:1-5 )
Mike Cosper is pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel and co-author of Faithmapping: A Gospel Atlas for Your Spiritual Journey . He writes on the gospel and the arts for The Gospel Coalition.

Monday, December 23, 2013

5 Things Christians Should Stop Saying - by Jason Johnson

5 Things Christians Should Stop Saying — JASON JOHNSON 



1. "It was a God thing ."

We say this to give God credit for something He has done and to deflect any attention from ourselves. The problem, however, is that biblically no single event is ever a "God thing". Rather, all things are by Him, through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:15-20 ). To say something was a "God thing" seems to draw lines of distinction between what God is and is not involved in that Scripture itself does not draw. I rarely hear anyone use this phrase when speaking of a particularly difficult or trying or devastating circumstance. We generally apply it only to the victories. The truth is, all of those are His things.


2. "God showed up in the end ."

We say this to put the power of God on display - to show that His will was accomplished and He came out victorious. The problem, however, is that it represents pretty narrow thinking on our part. The truth is that God doesn't just show up for us in the end -  He walks with us from the very beginning. Faith doesn't just celebrate the outcomes of God's involvement in our issues, it learns to see and savor His presence in the midst of them. It demands we trust Him in the process, no matter the outcome, believing that whatever He may allow to unfold He has both orchestrated from the beginning and planned to be glorified through in the end.


3. "God will never give you more than you can handle ."

We say this to encourage people who are going through difficult circumstances and to ensure them they are strong enough to handle it. The problem, however, is that this passage (1 Corinthians 10:13 ) actually teaches there will be times we find ourselves in situations we can't handle and that in those times the only way out is through Him. God's intent in this is never to push us away from Him but always to pull us into greater depths of intimacy with Him, so that we might know on an entirely new level that His grace is sufficient for us and His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9 ).


4. "Where two or more are gathered ..."

We say this to reassure ourselves that God hears our prayers or to justify why we don't attend church. The misapplications are endless. Examples: Where two or more are gathered...there's Church, or God will agree with us in prayer, or the Holy Spirit is among us. The context of this passage (Matthew 18:20 ) depicts the appropriate measures to be taken in administering church discipline - it s not a description of Sunday's service or Wednesday night's prayer meeting. It's true that God is among us - always (see #2). It's also true that Church is more than just a few people hanging out, and God can still be with you if you are all alone.


5. "The Bible says don't judge ."

We say this for obvious reasons - we don't want anyone to call us out. The problem, however, is that Jesus never says don't hold each other in the Body of Christ accountable to truth and righteousness and holiness - He actually commands that we do, but with humility and integrity (Matthew 7:1-5 ). We tend to have it backwards (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 ) - we point fingers at "those sinners" outside the Church but excuse and brush under the rug the sins within. We have a responsibility to call the speck out of our brothers' and sister's eyes - this is love; but not to the detriment of recognizing the log in our own - this is integrity. Let's not hide our sin behind the misapplication of this statement and miss out on the grace God wants to show us through it.

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