Monthly Archives: December 2011

Gospel Theology in our Christmas Carols

We love singing all the Christmas carols this time of year.  It’s because we are so mindful of Christ birth. But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  this will be a sign to you; You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  Most of the time (because we’re in a hurry) we only sing the first and maybe the last verses of these great carols!  Shame on us!  And shame on you, worship leaders!  We are leaving out some really important theology and as a result robbing our congregations of knowing more about the Christ, the promised One.

We sang some carols today during a monthly lunch gathering of senior adults and a retired pastor leaned over to me – after we sang all four verses of “Joy to the World” –  and he commented on how we seldom sing all the verses.  He was right.  Patience is a virtue and the fruit of the spirit.  We miss out on so much when our impatience leads us to skip verses such as;

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found
far as, far as the curse is found.

You won’t hear this verse sung in arrangements on any Disney Christmas albums.  So if yours is a Disney Christianity, you can stop right here. You need not read any more of this article.  However, if the Christ you worship at Christmas is more than just a baby born in a manger, if to you, He is the Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Emmanuel, and the One Peter confesses “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God,” then lets take a look at the oft excluded verse 3 of Isaac Watts’ “Joy to the World.”

We start this verse with “No more let sins and sorrows grow or thorns infest the ground” and we recognize the fall of man.  This is the story we know from the opening chapters of the Bible when Adam and Eve – of their own free will, and tempted by the serpent – disobeyed God and ate the fruit from the forbidden tree.  When they confessed that they had ignored the one instruction God had given them, He cursed the serpent, then He cursed the woman and the man and he cursed the ground.

“Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field” Genesis 3:17

“He comes to make his blessings flow.” What kind of blessings?  We often think of blessings as ‘stuff’ that is not the case here.  Jesus is the blessing from God – the One who brings salvation from this curse.  Watts appropriately uses the verb “flow” because Jesus is the Living Water.  He is the curse lifter, the Redeemer of the earth.  He is the Promised One that the prophets spoke of.  He clothed Himself in our injured flesh and entered a world that had been cursed – a result of a fallen humanity.  He died a sinners death, was buried and rose again bringing us eternal life and returning to us the fellowship between God and mankind that we haven’t been able to know since the garden of Eden.  And He will come again and the curse will be completely lifted and we will once again enjoy the fullness of His presence.

Far as the curse is found.” The blessing of Jesus is also relief from the curse.  He will return again to gather his children and resurrect the dead in Christ.  The curse will be lifted and he will make all things new again.

“Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street.  On either side was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it. and His bond-servents will serve Him;” Revelation 22:1-3

“And behold, I am coming quickly.  Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” Revelation 22:7

Christ has not yet returned.  Verse three is sung in anticipation of His second coming.  In this one carol, sung at Christmas time, we celebrate His first coming and we also, with our spiritual eyes, look forward to His return.


The Music of Christmas

This past weekend the Choir and Drama teams presented our Christmas program.  What a fantastic job these wonderful people do each year!  I have such a privilege to work with singers and actors who love Christ and long to see Him lifted up.

Notice I purposefully used the word presented rather than performed.  In today’s culture, anything put to music is expected to be for the purpose of entertainment.  Entertainment is defined as [a : amusement or diversion provided especially by performers <hired a band to provide entertainment> b : something diverting or engaging: as: a public performance.]

We greatly desire to overcome this expectation for music and drama in the church. Our motivation is not to perform but to encourage.  I believe that churches should have a different motivation for the way they use music and drama.  We hope to see music used in the more Biblical practice of encouraging the fellowship of the family of believers – to remind ourselves and one another of the richness we have in Christ Jesus.  On Sunday, in particular, that we would Marvel at the Manger and how Jesus chose to come at the humblest of times in the poorest of places and present Himself to the least of all peoples.

The root word Entertain has a slightly different definition –[a : to keep, hold, or maintain in the mind <I entertain grave doubts about her sincerity> b : to receive and take into consideration.]  That is our goal! – to “maintain in the mind” that Christ is Lord – to “receive and take into consideration” that He Who was born in the manger was and IS the Son of God.  We use music and drama because it helps us in our efforts to “maintain in the mind” and “take into consideration.”

The challenge we undertake each year is to remind the body that Christ is the center, not only of Christmas, but of our very lives.  All of us need these constant reminders.  We long to lift Him up through the songs and scripts we present, but we also hope to use those songs and scripts to challenge the church body to lift Him up with their lives – to weave Jesus in to the fabric of their everyday lives.  Accordingly, on Sunday, we ended the morning with a congregational song declaring Jesus to be the Messiah.

Jesus Messiah
by Chris Tomlin | Daniel Carson | Ed Cash | Jesse Reeves

He became sin who knew no sin
That we might become His righteousness
He humbled Himself and carried the cross
Love so amazing love so amazing

His body the bread His blood the wine
Broken and poured out all for love
The whole earth trembled and the veil was torn
Love so amazing love so amazing

Jesus Messiah Name above all names
Blessed Redeemer Emmanuel
The Rescue for sinners
The Ransom from heaven
Jesus Messiah Lord of all
All our hope is in You
All our hope is in You
All the glory to You God
The Light of the world
Jesus Messiah
Lord of all
The Lord of all
The Lord of all

 

Lord of ALL! Lord of the season. Lord of the church.  Lord of our homes.  Lord of our song!  Lord of our friendships.  Lord of my life.  Lord of all we say and do.  He is the Messiah and He is LORD!

40 is Beautiful

My wife had a birthday yesterday – the BIG one.  I gave her a hard time more than once throughout the day.  She was a good sport about it or rather, she endured it.  I was nice too, though.  I gave her presents and told her she was beautiful and a treasure.  Is it my fault she chose to go antiquing?  She set me up with so much great material!

Her version of 40 is not like I remember 40 being.  It seems younger, somehow.  Perhaps it’s because she has always carried herself with an upright maturity.  She was a young grown-up when I met her.  I’m not saying she took herself too seriously, in fact she was and is quite silly.  The times we are silly together are some of our favorites.  She keeps life fun for all of us.

For me, her 40th birthday is not a mark of her age, but a measure of the richness of years we have spent together.  I value her more today than when we first joined our lives.  In fact, her value to me is more than I could have ever imagined back then.  To me 40 is not a mark of her rising age, but of her increasing value.  I’m reminded of the line in one of our favorite movies – one of the few chick flicks I will admit to liking.

Joe Fox is browsing through the old book section in the “Shop Around The Corner.”  He asks George about a certain book there and George offers some information regarding the significance and age of the book and the following conversation is heard:

George Pappas: The, uh, illustrations are hand tipped.
Joe Fox: And that’s why it costs so much?
George Pappas: No, that’s why it’s WORTH so much.

(from You’ve Got Mail)

It’s not the age alone that brings the value –  the book was a treasure to begin with, and as time has passed, it’s kept it’s value and even increased it’s worth.  That’s my wife at 40.  She is a masterpiece and wonderfully crafted to begin with.  This has not changed.  But the careful detailing and craftsmanship, evidence of the Masters hand on her life, has been polished by the years of her living out her purpose and loving the ones God has given to her.  She was created with a purpose.  A part of that purpose, I’m delighted to say, is to be my partner, friend and the treasure I happily serve.

Happy Birthday, Melanie.


December 16, 1983

December 16, 1983 is a date, for my family, that will never be forgotten. My first memory of that day was at 5th grade recess.  Our school principal came outside to give me a message that my brothers and I would need to get on the bus to go to our papa and granny’s after school.  It seemed strange to me that he, The principal himself, came out onto the playground in the cold to give me the message personally, instead of just sending a message through my teacher.  In his demeanor there seemed to be something more that he wasn’t telling me.  But as a 10-year-old, I shrugged it off and went back to playing with my friends. We were digging tunnels in the snow which had drifted against a hill.

So after school, my two younger brothers and I boarded the bus to Granny’s, still unaware of the life-changing news that we would soon hear.  We arrived at Granny’s and were instructed to begin our homework. Mom wasn’t home yet from her doctor visit. (She was pregnant with the youngest of us 5 brothers.) I think Granny sensed our worry, or at least our curiosity as to the reason why we weren’t taken home after school.  If Mom wasn’t home yet, then Dad would have been there on the farm to greet us. I did wonder why, but I couldn’t have imagined this. She assured us that Mom was just fine after her doctor visit and that she would be coming soon to let us know what was going on.  I think Granny knew that we needed to hear about such a tragedy from our own mother.  I guess after that, we did some homework, played and caused the usual trouble.

When Mom arrived, I wasn’t ready for the news. How could I be? Mom sat us down and said, “Boys, I have some bad news.”  My first thought was about Dad.  Was he okay?  The she said the words that I would never forget.  “Our house has burned to the ground. Everything’s gone.”  We began crying as the weight of these words sank in. I still recall the pain and hurt that I felt then.  We all hugged Mom tightly and cried with her. My youngest brother cried with us, but I wondered if he really understood or if it just upset him to see all of us so emotional.  My first thought for him was about his beloved pink blanket.  In my 10-year-old mind I couldn’t imagine how my 4-year-old brother could survive one night without his pink blanky.When faced with this kind of loss, so many thoughts swirl around in your mind.  And it’s interesting how kids think of these things so differently. I thought of the money I had been saving in a Hershey’s cocoa tin in my closet.  I think I had saved about $20 from birthday money and money I had gotten from Dad for picking up walnuts.  I was saving for some Star Wars action figures to add to my collection. A collection which was now destroyed by the fire. And my $20 had burned up in the fire.  But Mom and Dad had money – no, their money burned up, too. How much had Mom and Dad lost?  I was too young to understand their loss, but I knew that it was bigger than my $20.

Later in the evening, Dad arrived covered in soot and ash.  I had never seen my dad cry until that day.  He hugged us and Mom and assured us that God was going to take care of us.  When I smelled the smoke on him, I pictured our house in flames.  I knew that he had fought the fire for his family.

The memories get further apart after that but I know we stayed the first couple of days with Granny and Papa.  The very next day Granny and Mom went to town for some shopping.  We’d lost everything.  Now, in my mind we needed everything. What store do you go to to get everything?  I remember my papa had given Mom some money to make sure each of us had nice clothes to wear to church.  We were still singing “What Child Is This?” for the service on Sunday, and he knew we that would need something nice to wear.  A few days later we moved in with my other grandparents.  They had more room and the extra bathrooms necessary for our big family.  We celebrated Christmas there, and I got the Star Wars toy that I wanted – the toy version of the hoverbike from Return of the Jedi. (By design, it broke into 3 pieces on impact, just like in the movie.)  I appreciated that toy so much and the giving hearts of my parents.  It was strange to celebrate Christmas in a home that wasn’t our own.  Our home was gone now.  Or was it really?  Words like “home,” and “family” now took on a bigger meaning than ever before.