All humans are broken without Jesus, and, therefore, no one is any better than another. While the Christmas season can feel overwhelming due to complex and sometimes sad emotions, the message we all need to hear and steadfastly cling to is the gospel of salvation in Christ alone. There is true and enduring joy in the world for all believers, despite whatever we may be feeling right now. Regardless of the particular season in life you may be going through at present, because of Jesus you are no longer estranged from God.
External and internal pressures to be happy can be unrelenting during the Christmas season. From carefully curated holiday photos and vacation posts on social media to jolly Christmas songs and merry coffee cups, there is a prevailing narrative that people should feel a certain way during the holiday season. But what about those who are currently going through the loss of a loved one, loneliness, depression, illness, financial stress, a faith crisis, family issues, grief, job loss, and more? How does one interpret the joyfulness of the season through these all-too-common lenses, despite the genuine efforts of Christmas movies to bring the “feels”?
While not every person may experience the amazing transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, here are a few ways we can have small and honest renewals of heart and faith during this holiday season.
First, remember that Christmas is about Christ.
Keeping our focus on Christ’s first coming and what that meant for us is the first step to taking our minds off our own troubles and onto the person who conquered them all, including even our final enemy, death. While we will face a variety of emotions and difficult circumstances in this life, which God uses to grow us in humility, we should not be ashamed because Jesus experienced the ultimate humility and suffering on the cross.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, through he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave, and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:6-8)
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By Jonathan Gibson — 2 weeks ago
Forgetfulness reflects fallenness; it is a manifestation of our human condition in Adam. Forgetfulness is another way of describing disobedience. Israel and her kings “forget” the Lord their God by disobeying and forsaking him (cf. Jer. 2:29 and Jer. 2:32; 3:21). We forsake because we forget. And we forget because we choose to forget—deliberately, willfully, consciously. We forget our Creator—his character and covenant and commands, his ways and works and words; we forget our Redeemer—his promises and precepts, his redemption and righteousness.
We human beings are forgetful by nature. I do not mean in a finite sense but in a fallen sense. We forget because we choose to forget—at least that is the case when it comes to our response to God’s character and covenant and commands, to his ways and works and words. We forsake our Maker because we choose to forget our Maker.
Biblical history testifies to this truth, especially the Old Testament. In Eden, Adam chooses to forget the goodness of God in giving him the freedom and pleasure to eat from every tree of the garden, bar one (Gen. 2:15–17). After the flood, Noah forgets the righteousness of God that he had preached about prior to the flood: he becomes drunk and is defiled by his son (Gen. 9:20–25). In Canaan, Abraham forgets the promise of God that he would provide him with a son from Sarah’s womb; instead, he takes matters into his own hands with Hagar (Gen. 16:1–6). Israel forgets God’s promise to be with them as he leads them out of Egypt; they complain of his absence in the wilderness (Exod. 17:7). Before entering the land, God warns Israel repeatedly to “take care” lest they “forget” the Lord once they are in the land (Deut. 4:9, 23; 6:12; 8:11, 14, 19; 9:7; 25:19; 26:13). When they enter the Promised Land, they fare no better. Not long after the conquest under Joshua, a generation grows up that does not know the Lord or the work that he has done for Israel (Judg. 2:10); they forget the Lord their God and serve the Baals (Judg. 3:7; cf. 1 Sam. 12:9). Israel’s kings are also forgetful of God and his covenant and commands. Saul forgets to devote the enemy to complete destruction; as a result, the kingdom is stripped from him (1 Sam. 15:10–23). David forgets the commandments of God and steals another man’s wife, committing adultery with her (2 Sam. 11); as a consequence, the son conceived by his affair dies and his family dissolves into bitter and deadly infighting (2 Sam. 13–18). Solomon forgets the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of his wisdom; he exchanges wisdom for folly and is led into idolatry (1 Kings 11:1–8); in so doing, the kingdom splits (1 Kings 11:11–13). During the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah, the prophets spotlight forgetfulness as a besetting sin of God’s people (Isa. 17:10; 51:13; Jer. 2:32; 3:21; 13:25; 18:15; 23:27; Ezek. 22:12; 23:25; Hos. 2:13; 4:6; 8:14; 13:6). In the end, Israel’s forgetfulness leads them into exile where they are made not to forget the judgment of God.
Forgetfulness. Since the day Adam transgressed the commandment concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we have been a race prone to forgetfulness. Forgetfulness reflects fallenness; it is a manifestation of our human condition in Adam. Forgetfulness is another way of describing disobedience. Israel and her kings “forget” the Lord their God by disobeying and forsaking him (cf. Jer. 2:29 and Jer. 2:32; 3:21). We forsake because we forget. And we forget because we choose to forget—deliberately, willfully, consciously. We forget our Creator—his character and covenant and commands, his ways and works and words; we forget our Redeemer—his promises and precepts, his redemption and righteousness. Moses captures well Israel’s problem and ours:
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, And you forgot the God who gave you birth. (Deut. 32:18)
Given this aspect of our fallen humanity, it is unsurprising to find commands in the Old and New Testaments to “remember” God and what he has done for us. In the Old Testament, we are exhorted to “remember” God as our Creator in the days of our youth (Eccl. 12:1); we are encouraged to “remember” him as our Redeemer and “the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered” (Ps. 105:5). The psalmist exhorts us, “Bless the Lord . . . and forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2). This kind of remembrance has formal expression in Israel’s weekly observance of the Sabbath and their yearly observance of various festivals.
Most of these festivals point Israel back to events in their past, serving to remind them of what God has done on their behalf, so that they will not forget him. The Sabbath is a weekly reminder of the rest that God entered following his work of creation; it is a reminder to Israel that they too should rest at the end of their working week. In the Passover, Israel remembers their redemption by God from the angel of death and from their enemy, the Egyptians; the victory is further commemorated in the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread; in the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), Israel remembers the giving of the law at Sinai, as well as offering the firstfruits of their wheat harvest to the Lord; on the Day of Atonement, Israel recalls their sins of the past year, repents of them with fasting and prayer, and asks God to forgive them through sacrifices offered by the high priest; in the Feast of Tabernacles, Israel contemplates God’s faithfulness in their forty years of tent dwelling in the wilderness; and in the Feast of Purim, God’s people are reminded of his gracious protection of them through Esther and Mordecai unmasking the evil plot of Haman to annihilate the Jewish people.
For Israel, these festivals serve as weekly and yearly reminders of God’s gracious work in creation and redemption, and as such, they encourage God’s people to remember the Lord and forget not all his benefits.
By Erik Raymond — 2 years ago
When our hearts and minds are restless and raging, we need help. It’s challenging to reason with ourselves when the boat of our mind is taking in the water of our emotions. Like the storm in the Sea of Galilee, we can only see the storm in front of us. The omnipotent Savior resting is eclipsed by our clear and present danger. We need to hear the words of the one who can calm the raging sea within us (Mark 4:35–41). Our access to this transforming power is the Word of God. More specifically, the promises of God in his Word. We need to hear, believe, cling to, and rest upon God’s promises.
Life has no shortage of problems. Jesus reminds his disciples to expect trouble (Jn. 16:33) and that each day has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6:34). During these times, rest seems like the furthest thing from our minds. However, suggesting it sounds almost as foolish as curling up for a nap while a tornado siren goes off.
But this is precisely what we need to do.
How? Here’s a brief encouragement: a picture, a story, and a memory device.
A Picture: Rest on the Pillow of God’s Promises
When our hearts and minds are restless and raging, we need help. It’s challenging to reason with ourselves when the boat of our mind is taking in the water of our emotions. Like the storm in the Sea of Galilee, we can only see the storm in front of us. The omnipotent Savior resting is eclipsed by our clear and present danger. We need to hear the words of the one who can calm the raging sea within us (Mark 4:35–41). Our access to this transforming power is the Word of God. More specifically, the promises of God in his Word. We need to hear, believe, cling to, and rest upon God’s promises. He is faithful, trustworthy, and unchanging. When the storm is flooding in and threatening to capsize you, rest your weary head upon the pillow of God’s promises. It’s your only hope, and it’s your best option.
When the storm is flooding in and threatening to capsize you, rest your weary head upon the pillow of God’s promises.
A Story: Jacob
In Genesis 35:1, God instructs Jacob to go to Bethel. Why? He’s lingering in Shechem because he’s afraid after the Dinah incident (Gen. 34:30). More specifically, God promised to bring him back to Bethel (Gen. 28:15) and Jacob himself vowed to go (Gen. 28:19–22). God is telling him to live in faith because God is faithful. So Jacob goes back to Bethel and sets up an altar to God. But then, God appears to him again and reminds Jacob of two significant events in his life (Gen. 35:9–15).
By Doug Ponder — 8 months ago
Christians must no longer ask, “Does my neighbor feel loved?” (according to their standards) but rather, “Has my neighbor been loved?” (according to Christ’s Word). Or, to borrow a phrase from the apostle Paul, we all must ask ourselves: Am I seeking the approval of my neighbor or of God? For if I were still trying to please my neighbor, I would not be a servant of Christ (cf. Gal. 1:10).
In view of the importance that our Lord gives the command to love your neighbor (Matt. 22:36–40; Mark 12:28–33; cf. Matt. 7:12; Luke 10:25–28), it is no mystery why Christians have followed suit in making much of the same. This is well and good, provided that we understand what is (and is not) required of us. Unfortunately, there are two common ways the neighbor-love command is hellishly misinterpreted and misapplied.
The first is when someone turns the command into a cudgel for beating the consciences of Christians, all but forcing submission in matters not required by the Lord (whether explicitly or by good and necessary consequence). This is not a new problem, but we did see a recent example of it in the dogmatic insistence that Christians who dissented from the government’s demonstrably arbitrary lockdowns and/or abstained from getting the Covid vaccine were failing to love their neighbors.1 Cards on the table: I think mounting evidence continues to justify the courage and prudence of those who refused to be blown about by every wind of the zeitgeist. As such, I think it would be good for the souls of any who publicly employed the neighbor-love argument in that way to issue an apology in the form of, “I was wrong. I’m sorry. You didn’t fail to love your neighbor.”
Yet I am even more concerned about the second way that we can abuse the command to love our neighbors, which I fear is even more common—and significantly more destructive—than the first. Namely, there is a growing tendency among many Christians in the West to redefine the second greatest commandment instead simply misapply it. To these misguided minds, when Christ said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he actually meant, “Make sure your neighbor feels loved by you.” The difference between those statements can be a matter of (eternal) life and death.
When Man Is the Measure, Truth Always Comes up Short
Though it was Protagoras who first said, “Man is the measure of all things,”2 it is postmoderns who have embodied that outlook par excellence. For the West today is a place where people not only feel free to determine what is true for themselves but also assume that everyone constructs reality according to their own desires.3 This is why Francis Schaeffer felt the need to speak of “true truth” (a tautology in every age before ours).4 He foresaw that a day was coming, and is now here, when people will speak of “my truth” and “your truth” as if such phrases have the power to settle any dispute about reality. Perhaps ‘2 + 2 = 4’ is true for you, a Harvard PhD recently opined, but ‘2 + 2 = 5’ is also true for others.5 That is the way of madness.
Yet many well-meaning Christians have failed to grasp how the postmodern ethos has infected (to the point of destruction) their own understanding of Christ’s command to “Love your neighbor.” In our hyper-subjective age, this command is emptied of all objective content. The result is that some cannot even conceive of a situation in which a Christian could fulfill this command in such a way that a neighbor who is loved according to God’s standards might not feel loved according to his own.
I have spoken about this with pastors around the country, and I regret to inform you that it is not a problem found only along America’s progressive coasts. To give just one example, a friend who lives in the pejoratively-labeled “flyover country” recently told me that his ecclesial superior rebuked him for failing to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). My friend was not at all certain that this was the case, nor were many of those who knew him best. So he asked, “Who gets to determine whether the truth is spoken in a loving way?” My friend’s interlocutor replied, “It all comes down to whether the person we are speaking to feels loved after we have spoken the truth to them.”
If Feelings Are the Standard, Then Jesus Is Sinful
All who think this way have fallen for the poisonous lie that hurt feelings, per se, are sufficient proof that you have failed to love your neighbor. Yet if that is so, we make Christ himself out to be a sinner! For there were not a few times when his words were poorly received by some of those who heard him.