Category: Incarnation (page 1 of 7)

Amazement at the Gift

“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” ~John 1:13

The coming of Jesus is a gift from God. It’s a gracious and loving gift. But it has to be received. You have to say “Yes.”

Romans 8 explains it like this: “If we are God’s children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” Galatians 4 tells us we are no longer slaves — You’re a son! You’re a daughter! God has made you an heir according to the promise. And if you are a co-heir with Christ Jesus, the first born of God, that makes you a first born of God with him.

And that should be astonishing to us.

Me. With all my sins, with all my flaws, with all my issues and problems. Me. God gives this incredible gift to me.

This is the essence of the Good News. This is the heart of Christianity. The amazement at the gift.

If you think Christianity is mainly about going to church and believing all the right things and living your life a certain way — there’s no surprise or wonder in that. Where’s the sheer happiness and incredible joy? If somebody asks, “Are you a Christian?” you’ll  respond, “Of course I am. It’s hard work but, yes, I’m a Christian. Why?”

When we think and talk like that, Christianity is something done by you. So there’s no amazement in being a Christian. But if Christianity is something done FOR you, if it’s a great gift given TO you, then there’s a constant sense of surprise and wonder.

“Are you a Christian?” The answer shouldn’t be, “Of course!” It shouldn’t be so matter-of-fact, so automatic and obvious. It should be, “Yes! Yes, I’m a Christian and it’s unbelievable! It’s a miracle! Me, a Christian! Isn’t that crazy? But, yes, Christ Jesus has given me his righteousness, holiness, and peace! God through Christ has made me his child! I’m his forever! Can you believe it? Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

These next few days are going to be hectic for most of us. There’s a lot to do, a lot to keep track of, there’s a lot going on. If we’re not careful, the significance of the season gets lost. The peace and joy gets crowded out by the chores and noise. And we miss it.

There’s a reason we give and receive gifts at Christmas. There’s a reason that gifts are such a central part of the Christmas experience. May the beauty of those gifts — the wrapping, the ribbons and bows, the colors — remind us that the beautiful salvation we share in Christ Jesus is a gift from God. May the abundance of the Christmas presents point to the forgiveness, the holiness, righteousness, and peace — all the salvation gifts lavished on us through Jesus. And when we’re opening presents in the coming days, may our eyes and our hearts be opened anew to the wonder of God’s matchless love for the world. And for you.

Peace,

Allan

Receiving the Gift

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me —
holy is his name!
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”
~Luke 1:46-55

Mary is moved in the deepest parts of her being. Mary’s not saying, “Hey, I think this could add value to my life.” She’s not saying, “This might help me be happy, this might help me reach my goals.” She’s not weighing the pros and cons and figuring out the costs and benefits and then making a decision. She’s all in! She’s totally caught up in the gift! And she’s giving herself to it completely.

She also sounds like she’s amazed that it’s happened to her. She’s thinking about God and all his salvation acts of the past and she’s remembering all of God’s promises down through the ages and now — he’s mindful of me! He’s looking out for me! He knows about me! Almost shock that God is blessing and honoring her. And she accepts it. In humility, this humble state. She identifies with the humble and hungry. And she says, “Yes.”

She told the angel right at the start, “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.” She’s not saying, “I understand everything. It’s super clear to me. I don’t have any doubts or any questions. The plan makes perfect sense and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

What she’s saying is, “I will accept this. I will follow this. I’ll pursue it. It doesn’t all make sense to me and I do have some doubts and some questions. But I’m saying ‘yes’ to God. I belong to him and let’s go with it.”

This is a very important thing. Some people won’t accept the great gift of Jesus unless every part of it makes perfect sense. Rationally, emotionally, logically, personally — it’s all got to totally add up before they’ll commit. But sometimes you can only do what Mary does. Just submit, give in. Despite your fears and reservations, even with your questions and doubts, accept the gift. Be humble. Be hungry like she says in her song.

“The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.” ~Galatians 3:22

It’s a gift. It’s the only way the life and light of Jesus can be yours.

Here’s some Breaking News: salvation by works doesn’t work. You might believe you can do enough good deeds or live a good enough life to sneak into a back corner of heaven some day. Or you might straight up reject Christianity altogether and think you’ve got enough on the inside to know how to live the way you should. Either way, you’re going to be dogged by fears and insecurities because you’ll never feel like you’re good enough or that you’ve done enough. Or if you do think you’re good enough, you’ll actually start to think you’re better than other people and you’ll be undone by your pride and your disdain for others. Or you’ll be whiplashed back and forth between the two.

Or.

Or you can believe in the truth of the Christmas gift, that you are healed and saved by grace alone through faith alone in the holy Son of God alone.

The coming of Jesus is a gift from God. It’s a gracious and loving gift. But it has to be received. You have to say “Yes.”

Peace,

Allan

To Us a Son is Given

If you’re a baseball fan, you must read this piece in the current Texas Monthly on Houston’s World Series Championship written from John Nova Lomax’s perspective as a long-suffering, life-long fan of the Astros. He discusses the dread, the curse, and the cosmic forces that conspired against the ‘Stros for 55-years but then aligned perfectly this season to deliver the long-awaited title. Lomax covers all the excruciating history from the Killer B’s, the Astrodome, and dramatic playoff failures to the sale of the team, the last place finishes, and the humiliating move to the junior circuit: “The indignity of indignities — being frog-marched, kicking and screaming, to the American League!” This is a great read. It’s tough if you’re a Rangers fan. But it provides some hope for us, too.

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“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
~Isaiah 9:2

The light comes from another place to heal us and save us. The great light from heaven allows us to see more clearly what God is doing in this world. The light gives us what we do not have: righteousness, holiness, and peace. The light does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. How can this light become ours? How do I get access to this salvation light?

“To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” ~Isaiah 9:6

It’s a gift. The righteousness, holiness, and peace is a gift. The forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life can only be yours as a gift. Isaiah talks about this in terms of a battle or a war. This is like a fight. The oppressor in verse four has to be defeated, the yoke must be broken, the bar has to be shattered. But…

“Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.” ~Isaiah 9:5

The great victory over evil does not require your strength. You don’t need to wear combat boots. You don’t need a spear or a sword. Melt them down! Burn them up! Someone else is winning the victory for you! To quote the apostle Paul: “Thanks be to God! He GIVES us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

This great salvation, this light from heaven that flashes with all its life and beauty and truth, comes to us as a gift. Again, Paul says “The GIFT of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!” The only way you can have it is to receive it as a free gift.

For a lot of people, that’s harder than it sounds. Receiving forgiveness and eternal salvation and everlasting life as a free gift — maybe that’s difficult. Some gifts are hard to receive. Some gifts require that you swallow your pride in order to receive them.

What if on Christmas morning you open up a present from your spouse and it’s a three volume set of books on dieting. Then you open up a gift from your daughter and it’s a three DVD set entitled “Overcoming Selfishness.” If you say, “Thank you so much for these gifts,” you’re admitting, “Yes, I’m fat and obnoxious.”

Some gifts are hard to receive because you have to admit you have flaws and weaknesses and you need help.

Maybe one time you were in a financial bind. You didn’t ask for any help, but a good friend of yours knew what was happening and gave you enough money to make a mortgage payment. He gave you enough to make a car payment or to buy Christmas presents for your kids. If that’s ever happened to you, you know that to receive a gift like that means you have to swallow your pride. You have to admit you need help.

The true heart of Christmas means that you are so lost, you are so broken, you are so unable to save yourself, that nothing less than the death of the Son of God can save you. That means you are not somebody who can pull yourself together and live a good enough life. You’re not capable. None of us is.

To accept the true gift of Christmas is to admit and even embrace that you are a sinner. You need to be saved. You need to give up control of your life and say “yes” to the Lordship of Jesus.

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the GIFT of God!” ~Ephesians 2:8

Peace,

Allan

The Good News

A Texas Longhorns football legend and the best two-way player Darrell Royal said he ever coached died yesterday. Tommy Nobis, a two-time All America and the only sophomore starter on the Longhorns’ 1963 National Championship team, passed away at 74. In my view, he is the greatest football player to ever wear the number 60, edging out contemporary linebacking cohort Chuck Bednarik. Nobis played both offensive guard and middle linebacker for the ‘Horns for three years, leading Texas to a 27-5 overall record and that national title. He was named All Southwest Conference twice, he was the team MVP twice, and in 1965 Nobis won the Maxwell Award as college football’s best all around player, the Outland Trophy as college football’s best lineman, and finished seventh in the Heisman vote. The expansion Atlanta Falcons made Nobis their overall number one pick in franchise history, outbidding the AFL’s Houston Oilers who also drafted him number one. And in that first NFL season, Nobis racked up an average of 21 tackles per game and won the league’s Rookie of the Year honors. He played in Atlanta for eleven years, leading the team in tackles for nine of those years, making the Pro Bowl in five of those seasons, and earning the nickname “Mr. Falcon.” From Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio to the College Football Hall of Fame and the cover of Life Magazine and the Falcons’ Ring of Honor, Tommy Nobis was the consistent picture of rich character, immense talent, and deep loyalty. God bless Tommy Nobis and his family.

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There’s a difference between advice and news. Advice is concerned about what you should do; news is a report about what’s already been done. Advice tells you to make something happen; news tells you something’s already happened and compels you to respond. Advice says it’s all up to you to act; news says someone else has already acted.

Let’s say there’s an invading army coming to town and they’re bent on killing all of you and destroying everything you have. What you need is advice. You need advisors. You need someone to explain, “OK, we need to dig the trenches down here and put the snipers up there. We need to move our troops in that direction and place the tanks over in this direction. We need to do these things to be saved.”

But what if a great and powerful king intercepts the invading army and destroys it? What does the town need then? You don’t need advisors, you need messengers. And the Greek word for messengers is angelos: angels. And these messengers don’t say, “Here’s what you need to do to be saved.” They say, “I bring you good news of great joy that’s for all the people! Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ, the Lord!”

In other words, “Stop running, stop hiding, stop building fortresses, stop stockpiling weapons. Stop trying to save yourself! The King has already done it! The King has come to save you!”

Something has happened, something has been done, and it totally changes everything.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all people!

Allan

The Light of Life

We’ve posted the video from last month’s 4 Amarillo Thanksgiving worship service on our church website here. If you were a member of the combined choir, there are some really good shots throughout of you singing — some up close! You might especially check out the 5:30 mark where we sing “When We All Get to Heaven,” highlighted by all four worship ministers singing a middle verse as a quartet. Kevin Schaffer leads the choir and congregation in the closing song, “By Our Love,” at the 49:00 mark. And my 21-minute sermon — yes, 21- total minutes! — is at the 28:00 mark. What a wonderful, wonderful night. I praise God for the unique fellowship and undeniable witness of our four churches and for the distinct honor to serve right in the middle of it.

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You know, light isn’t really what we see; light is the very element by which we see everything else. You walk into a dark room and flip the switch, you don’t really see the light as much as you see the coffee table leg that’ll kill your toes and the edge of the wall that’ll take out your kneecap. The light allows you to see reality, to see what’s really happening.

In Jesus Christ, our light, we see clearly what God is up to in the world. We see God at work forgiving and healing, repairing broken lives, bringing people back from the dead, feeding the hungry, defending the accused. We see God restoring and reconciling, calming the sea, driving out the demons, turning empty jars into overflowing containers of eternal joy. God is the only One who can fix things and he’s come here in Jesus Christ to do just that. He’s moved here.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~John 1:14

There’s a reason we put candles in the windows and hang lights on our houses and string lights around the trees at Christmas. May the brightness of those lights remind us that the light has dawned — and it is a great light. May the glow of those lights point to the forgiveness, the righteousness, and the holiness that is ours in Christ Jesus. And may the beauty of the lights open our eyes to the matchless wonder of God’s great love for us.

Peace,

Allan

The Heart of Christmas

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” ~Isaiah 9:2

This is a very well-known Christmas text, a famous Christmas text that speaks to the coming of the Christ. And it describes the condition the Christ is coming into as darkness. People are walking in darkness. People are living in the land of darkness. We read this a lot at Christmas, but we don’t ever read the verses right before it. The end of the previous chapter actually tells us why the world is so plunged in darkness:

“When people tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?… If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn… They will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” ~Isaiah 8:19-22

People are looking toward the earth for help. Men and women are looking toward themselves for wisdom and salvation.

Yes, we’re living in darkness; yes, things are really messed up; but we can fix it ourselves! There’s poverty and hunger, greed and lust; but if we’ll just all look out for each other and learn how to give more, we can change it! There’s broken lives, broken hearts, and broken relationships; there’s twisted bodies and warped minds and institutional vileness and moral evil all around us; but if we just vote for the right people, if we just pass the right laws, if we just use the right technology, if we just invest in the right companies, we can overcome it!

Listen, the message from the Hallmark holiday movies and the holiday music and the Coke commercials and emails and billboards is that we have it within us. The love and goodwill that exists in each of us is enough to create a world of unity and peace. In other words, we have the light inside us. And if we just work together, we can eradicate the darkness of the world. If we’ll all come together, we can overcome poverty and injustice, violence and evil. With what’s inside us, we can build a world of love and joy and peace.

Really? Can we?

We can’t save ourselves. Have you noticed?

We’ve been trying for centuries. We are completely unable to save ourselves. In fact, believing that we can save ourselves — that education or politics or hard work or some system or ideology  can save us — has only led to more darkness!

See, the Christmas message gives us a very realistic way of looking at life. At it’s core, Christmas is very unsentimental. It’s not mushy or fantasy. Christmas is not, “Cheer up! If we all pull together, we can make the world a better place!” Christmas is not optimistic thinking like, “We can fix the whole world if we try really hard.” And Christmas is not pessimistic doom, either, like, “Things are awful and they’re getting worse and nothing’s ever going to change.”

The heart of Christmas is this: Things really are terrible and we cannot heal or save ourselves. Things really are this dark. Everywhere. But, there is great hope.

On those living in deep darkness, a light has dawned.

It’s not, “A great light has sprung up from the world” or “The light has come from the people.” It’s ON the people, a light has dawned. ON the world, a light has come. The light has come from outside us. The hope has come to us from outside the world. Christ Jesus is that salvation light. That light is the Holy Son of God.

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not conquered it… The true light that gives life to all people was coming into the world.” ~John 1:4-9

The true light was coming. The eternal light that gives life to all people has come. The one light that shines in the darkness and overcomes the darkness — the light from above, the light from outside us has come!

And we celebrate that light at Christmas. But that’s not really the right word. We stare at it dumbstruck. We’re lost in wonder at it. We fall down on our knees in awe of it. God himself comes to us in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ to provide for us what we simply do not possess, to do for us what we could never do ourselves. He brings to us from outside of us holiness and righteousness and peace.

Peace,

Allan

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