Goodbye 2013

Today, as I type this, it’s December 30, 2013.  The Internet is currently littered with articles and blog posts recounting the highlights and “worst of …” events of the past year.  It’s a time for reflection and looking forward.  Depending on your worldview, the future may look bleak, or so bright you gotta’ wear shades.  But, one theme that seems to ring loudly at the end of each calendar year is the tendency to give voice to our regrets.  Being human, it’s hard to ruminate over our lives without feeling the pangs of our fallen condition and the reverberations of our mistakes.

So, as we stare 2014 in the face, please allow me to offer a bit of Christian perspective.

I don’t know where the quote originated, but I like the phrase, “No one will ever get well until they give up their dream of having a perfect past.”  Folk are often haunted by their past.  We live with the current results of the choices and behaviors of our bygone days and there’s not a person alive who wouldn’t like to go back and fix something they messed up. But it’s unchangeable.  It’s set in stone and remains exactly what it is.  No amount of grieving or regretting can alter what has already occurred.

So, what should we do?  Too often people think that they can atone for their past mistakes by feeling really bad about them.  I’ve had people tell me that they don’t deserve to be happy because of errant decisions they made at some point in the past.  But, is that even effective?  Obviously not.  No amount of feeling lousy on their part can change the reality of what has already been.

The simple reality is that we cannot fix ourselves.  It is our intrinsic inability that got us into this mess in the first place.  Only unmitigated ego assumes that a broken person can fix his own broken condition.  And that realization, despite being a tad frightening, is a very good place to be.  Because this is where Christianity shines most brightly.

Christianity begins with the realization that we are incapable of saving ourselves from ourselves.  After all, if we cannot solve our own problem, then the solution must exist somewhere outside of ourselves.  That’s the very essence of what repentance is.  It is turning from our way of thinking and behaving, taking sides with God against ourselves, and admitting our utter dependence on Him.

But, equally and wonderfully, Christianity also offers the only full and complete cure for our lousy histories: a clean slate.  The salvation that Christ accomplished not only paid our sin debt, it cast our history of rebellion and stupidity “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12)

Or, as Micah put it —

“Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love.  He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins Into the depths of the sea.” (Mic. 7:18-19)

Or, as the writer of Hebrews states —

“For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Heb. 8:12)

So, here’s my point (and I do have one).  Why are you making yourself sick by hanging onto the things that God has forgotten?  Why are you punishing yourself over things that Christ has already been punished for?  Why are you clinging to your hurtful past when it has been effectively erased, removed, and atoned for?

In Christ, we are new creatures.  We have experienced a new birth, from above. Old things are passed away. (2Cor. 5:17)  So, it’s okay to be happy.  In fact, it’s okay to be joyous.  Celebrate the fact that, despite your efforts to condemn yourself, God’s plan and design kept you from your self-destruction and saved you from His judgment.  And that’s a pretty good reason to be happy and grateful.

You see, the answer to everything that’s wrong with us does not reside within our flesh, our strength, our wills, our intelligence, or our abilities.  The answer is Christ and Him alone.  But, He’s a complete answer, a fully-effective cure, and a sufficient present to erase our past.

So, here comes 2014.  Bring it on.  May the new year be full of blessings and good news.  But, if it’s not, it’s good to know that we are in the hands of a sovereign who does everything for His greatest glory and our greatest good.  And that means, despite whatever circumstances may come, we will end up exactly where He has determined to take us … safe, sound, whole, forgiven, and well.

I’ll see you in the new year.

 

 

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All the Christmas Stuff

This is the time of year when people are thinking about lighted trees, gift giving, twinkly garland, and an overweight elf who visits the whole world in a single evening.  It’s Christmas.  The Christ-Mass.  And all the usual debates have re-ignited.  Churches that don’t spend much time on the doctrine of Christ during the year get all up-in-arms because American retailers are taking Christ out of Christmas.  Fox News has even managed to turn Santa Claus into a race debate.  Last night I saw a commercial for the Rockettes Christmas show at the Grand Ole Opry House.  The 30-second ad included rapid fire images of dancing toy soldiers, children around a tree, synchronized high-stepping leggy dancers, and a quick glimpse of a classic manger scene … had to get at least a passing reference to Jesus in there somewhere.

Anyway, each December I get email from folk who have seen one of the many YouTube videos that people have made from our teaching on Christmas traditions.  I’ve lost count of how many versions there are out there floating around on the interwebs.  Usually, my correspondents want to know where they can find that teaching.  So, in order to save time, I’ve compiled the various messages I’ve taught through the years that have to do with Christmas.

Let me add this one caveat, though.  I always try to say, whenever I’m discussing this topic, that my purpose is to expose the history and traditions that surround this time of year.  Personally, here in my house, we don’t really observe the day.  The kids are grown and we don’t exchange gifts, so I’m able to let the season pass without much hubbub or ballyhoo.  However, I am not advocating my view as if it were the view that all Christians must adopt.  It’s up to your family, your convictions, and your freedom of conscience.  I simply want Christian folk to be educated.  And since this season is referred to as “the holidays” — or, the holy days — I think it’s incumbent on us to enquire how this demonstrably sub-biblical observance became so central to the church calendar.  (And by that I mean, the birth of Jesus is not celebrated or observed as holy or a feast day anywhere in the Bible.)

So, here’s a quick list of links that will take you to the various messages and articles that are hosted on the GCA website.  I hope they encourage the saints to think about their traditions and make certain that Christ remains preeminent during this season, and all year long.

The most popular message (the one that has been reiterated on YouTube frequently) reaches all the way back to 2005.  It was actually a two-part message right in the middle of our series on the book of Luke:

Christmas Traditions

The Birth of Christ 

Now, when you listen to the Christmas Traditions mp3, it’s true that I quoted from Ellen G. White, co-founder of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and referred to her as “he.”  That was an error on my part.  I know that.  You can now resist the urge to inform me of my mis-citation.   Oh, and Cat Stevens, it turns out, did not write “Morning Has Broken.”  The lyrics were the work of Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965).  That issue has been resolved.

The next time we broached the topic of Christmas was during our teaching on the book of Acts:

Christmas and Acts 12

And the last audio program about the season was during our teaching on the book of Ephesians:

A Calvinist Looks at Christmas

As well, I’ve written a Q&A article on the topic, but I don’t remember how long ago it was penned …. or, typed.

Christmas Q&A

And an earlier blog post.

Again, I hope those resources are helpful.  I know there are arguments that are contrary to the position I’ve taken.  I understand that most folk who put up a tree are not worshiping it.  When people put wreaths on their door they are usually not commemorating the return of the sun.  And I am intimately familiar with the debate over whether Christian usage can sanctify words and practices that were once associated with paganism.  That is why I don’t make Christmas a “test of fellowship” and I don’t expect everyone to take the same approach that I take.   But, I equally think that Christians should be educated and wise in how we participate in the  practices and traditions that have been handed down to us.

 

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Systematic Theology, Christology — Weeks 4&5

We are in week 33 of our Systematic Theology series.  And this week we continued our study of Christology, concentrating on Christ’s deity and preexistence.  Here are links to the videos and a free, downloadable pdf of the notes from the last two weeks.  Hope it’s helpful!

Systematic Theology – Week 32 – Christology Part 4

Systematic Theology – Week 33 – Christology Pt 5  

Christology Weeks 4&5 notes

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