God’s Gifts to Us

Gifts (B&W)

“When God planned the great work of saving sinners, he provided two gifts. He gave his Son and he gave his Spirit. In fact each person of the Trinity was involved in the great work of salvation. The love, grace and wisdom of the Father planned it; the love, grace and humility of the Son purchased it; and the love, grace and power of the Holy Spirit enabled sinners to believe and receive it.

The first great truth in this work of salvation is that God sent his Son to take our nature on him and to suffer for us in it. The second great truth is that God gave his Spirit to bring sinners to faith in Christ and so be saved.”

~ John Owen

J.C. Ryle on the Incarnation

Exchange (Red-Yellow-Orange)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ~ John 1.14

Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle elaborates on these words to deepen our appreciation for the Incarnation of Christ:

The plain meaning of these words is, that our divine Savior really took human nature upon Him, in order to save sinners. He really became a man like ourselves in all things, sin only excepted. Like ourselves, he was born of a woman, though born in a miraculous manner. Like ourselves, he grew from infancy to boyhood, and from boyhood to man’s estate, both in wisdom and in stature (Luke 2.52). Like ourselves he hungered, thirsted, ate, drank, slept, was wearied, felt pain, wept, rejoiced, marveled, and was moved to anger and to compassion. Having become flesh, and taken a body, He prayed, read the Scriptures, suffered being tempted, and submitted His human will to the will of God the Father. And finally, in the same body, He really suffered and shed his blood, really died, was really buried, really rose again and really ascended up into heaven. And yet all this time He was God as well as man!

Nowhere, perhaps, shall we find a more wise and judicious statement than in the second article of the Church of England. ‘The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, were joined together in one Person, that is to say, the Godhead and the manhood were joined together in one person, never to be never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very man.’

The Glory of God’s Incarnation

Incarnation (Red)

Martin Luther expresses his appreciation of Christmas, not just that Jesus was born, but how and to whom he was born:

If Christ had arrived with trumpets and lain in a cradle of gold, His birth would have been a splendid affair. But it would not be a comfort to me. He was, rather, to lie in the lap of a poor maiden and be thought to be of little significance in the eyes of the world. Now I can come to Him. Now He reveals Himself to the miserable in order not to give any impression that He arrives with great power, splendor, wisdom, and aristocratic manners. But upon His return, on that Day when He will oppose the high and the mighty, it will be different. Now He comes to the poor, who need a Savior; but then He will come as a Judge against those who are persecuting Him now.  ~ from a sermon from 1530

Remember Christ dwelt with us in humility so that we might approach him receiving the covenant of peace which he secured for us by the blood of his cross.  (Colossians 1.19-20)

The Christmas Distraction

Christmas Distraction

Jared Wilson counsels:

There is a great danger this Christmas season of missing the point. And I’m not referring simply to idolatrous consumption and materialism. I’m talking about Christmas religiosity. It is very easy around this time to set up our Nativity scenes, host our Christmas pageants and cantatas, read the Christmas story with our families, attend church every time the door is open, and insist to ourselves and others that Jesus is the reason for the season, and yet not see Jesus. With the eyes of our heart, I mean.

I suppose there is something about indulging in the religious Christmas routine that lulls us into thinking we are dwelling in Christ when we are really just set to seasonal autopilot, going through the festive and sentimental motions. Meanwhile the real person Jesus the Christ goes neglected in favor of his plastic, paper, and video representations. Don’t get distracted from Jesus by “Jesus.” This year, plead with the Spirit to interrupt your nice Christmas with the power of Jesus’ gospel.

The Lamb is a Lion

Mark 11.12-18 & Luke 19.45-47

Weak from the journey, the long travelling days/ Hungry to worship, to join in the praise/ Shock mad with anger that burned on His face/ As He entered the wasteland of that barren place


And the Lamb is a Lion who’s roaring with rage/At the empty religion that’s filling their days/ They’ll flee from the hug of the Carpenter’s strong arm/ And come to know the scourging anger of the Lord

Priests and the merchants demanded some proof/ For their hearts were hardened and blind to the Truth/ But Satan’s own law is to sell and to buy/ But God’s only way is to give and to die

– Repeat Chorus-

The noise and confusion gave way to His word At last sacred silence so God could be heard…

A Word From a VBS Valedictorian

Trekking incognito along the Emmaus Road, shortly after his resurrection, unrecognized even by the few of his own disciples who walked with him, Jesus challenged the groans of perplexity and faithlessness:

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24.25-27)

All of the Scriptures speak about Jesus? Really? Yep.  And in the video above, this young guy recounts the overarching reflections of the Messiah revealed in every book of the Bible.


Lord of Heaven & Earth

Michael Horton, in his book The Gospel Commission, offers this important corrective perspective of Christ:

The privatized view of Jesus merely as ‘personal Lord and Savior’ does not really provoke controversy today.  After all, our non-Christian neighbors shrug: ‘Whatever works for you’.  However, these ascriptions of praise to Jesus Christ were subversive on the lips of early Christians in the Roman Empire. After all, they were titles that Caesar had ascribed to himself.  People could believe whatever they wanted to in private.  Whatever they found morally useful, therapeutically valuable, or spiritually and intellectually enlightening was fine.  In fact, when it came to gods, the more the merrier.  The Roman Empire was a melting pot of cultures and religions.  However, whatever varied religions and spiritualities it tolerated, Rome insisted that they contribute to the civil religion that included the cult of the emperor.  God could have his heaven, or the inner soul, but Caesar was ‘Lord of the Earth’.

The early Christians were not fed to wild beasts or dipped in wax and set ablaze as lamps in Nero’s garden because they thought Jesus was a helpful life coach or role model, but because they witnessed to him as the only Lord and Savior of the world.  Jesus does not just live in the private hearts of individuals as the source of an inner peace. He is the Creator, Ruler, Redeemer, and Judge of all the earth. And now he commands everyone everywhere to repent.

Horton’s contrast between the early days and the common contemporary caricature is stark.  While the contemporary view is not so much wrong as it is deceivingly inadequate, we would do well to recalibrate any simple ‘Jesus meek and mild’ notions by reflection on the provocative power portrayed in the testimony of the Forefathers of our Faith.

Why We Need Jesus

According to Michael Horton: “Reason and morality cannot show us a good and gracious God. For that, we need the Incarnation.”


A passenger on a recent plane trip happily divulged his spiritual views. Raised in a conservative religious home, he proudly dismissed traditional Christianity, with its radical claims about Jesus of Nazareth, because it substitutes dogma for reason, he said. Fifteen minutes later, he became an apologist for a sacred cosmos, with tarot cards and astrology. But of course, he said, these were true just for him.

The encounter epitomized what we have all experienced in a culture that identifies reason with naturalism and faith with feeling. And it comes from a deeper problem: the attempt to “climb to heaven” on the rungs of reason, morality, and experience. The “search for the sacred” is what happens when our God-centered nature is taken captive by sin. Religion and spirituality are all about what we feel and think deep within our precious, delightful, individual souls. The true God calls us outdoors into a history that sweeps us into its wake. Yet we prefer to sit inside our own souls and minds, stewing in our own juices.

Biblical faith emphasizes that we cannot ascend to God on our own; rather, the God of the Bible descends down to us. Our inner self is not the playground of “spirit,” but the haunted plains on which we build our towers of Babel. In other words, our hearts are idol factories, in bondage to sin and spin. As Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17.9, ESV, used throughout). We look for a god we can manage rather than the God who is actually there.

In Romans 1 and 2, Paul affirms this. He says that everyone knows God exists and is a sovereign, righteous, and all-knowing judge. Jew and Gentile alike know God’s moral will and so “are without excuse,” but “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (1.18-23). Quoting the psalmist, Paul presents the universal indictment: “… all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written, ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one’?” (Rom. 3:9-12).

Given all this, we need to receive an external word from outside our hearts and to our hearts—one that stops our spin and gives us new hearts even as it is spoken. That’s just where Paul turns next in Romans:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus …. (3:21-24)

In other words, our hearts create spiritualities, therapies, and programs that arise out of our natural knowledge of the law, which we distort. Outside our hearts, and at the core of special revelation, is the surprising God, known uniquely in his Son.

There are, however, strong forces that tempt us to grasp the divine on our own accord.

Continue reading

The Christ of Christmas


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.     – John 1.1-4, 14a

This Christ of Christmas shines down through the ages like a gem with many facets. Each facet (or Hebrew name) reveals a different aspect of His personality, love, and provision for humanity.

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. – Proverbs 18.10


In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heaven and the earth.”    – Genesis 1.1

  • El = Mighty or Strong
  • Him = plural (Father, Son, Holy Spirit); Total Power and Might

This Christ of Christmas is the Creator, mighty and strong. he saw us in our mother’s womb. (Psalm 139) He createde us and has a special plan for every life.


Jehovah my Shepherd (Psalm 23)

This Christ of Christmas is our Shepherd. He desires to lead us through paths of righteousness.

Jehovah-Rohi says:

I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”  – John 10.11


Jehovah who sanctifies. (Exodus 31.13)

Sanctify = Consecrate, dedicate.

This Christ of Christmas desires to set us apart to walk in holiness, because He is our God.  

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.”   – 1 Thessalonians 4.3a


I am the Lord who heals you.” – Exodus 15.26

This Christ of Christmas is our healer; body soul, and spirit.

He himself took our infirmities, and carried away our diseases.”   – Matthew 8.16-17


“The Lord our banner.” (Exodus 17.12b, 13, 15)

The Christ of Christmas is our banner (Victory)! Lift Him up.

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”  – John 12.32


“The One who  is more than enough.”

This Christ of Christmas is more than enough to meet our needs in every situation.  What seemingly impossible need can we bring Him?

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen   Ephesians 3.20-21


Jehovah Our Righteousness  (Jeremiah 23.5-6)

This Christ of Christmas is our Righteousness.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”   – 2 Corithians 5.21


The Lord will Provide” a sacrifice – Genesis 22.13-14

This Christ of Christmas is our Lamb of Provision! All may partake of His free gift of eternal life.

Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”   – John 1.29

Let Us Bow Before Him! Continue reading

A Jesus Manifesto

“Christians have made the gospel about so many things… Things other than Christ.”  So opens the document, written by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, titled: A Jesus Manifesto.

I’ve long been a fan of Leonard Sweet, our theological differences aside. But Sweet’s love for Jesus, his love for God’s people, and his amazing story-telling ability make his books and articles a pleasure to read. Besides, I’ve not found our differences to come up that frequently in the things he writes. His focus is spirituality, not systematic theology.  At the very least Sweet always makes me think – and often makes me laugh.

I don’t know as much about Frank Viola. I’ve heard of him, but I don’t recall having ever read anything he has written – at least nothing before A Jesus Manifesto.

But as I read through this manifesto I found I appreciated the heart of both men. I also appreciate their effort to put into words something that needs to be said in this generation.  Paraphrasing the words of the old hymn, we need to “Turn our Eyes upon Jesus.”

To read the document click the link above.  On that blog you will also find links to download the document in .pdf, listen to the authors read their manifesto, and listen to Steve Brown interview the authors at Steve Brown, Etc.  Facebook users will also find a link to a group page discussing the manifesto.

Do You Know…?

Cracked Glass

Do you know the Christ of the Gospels? Or have you fallen into the trap to which Christians (especially, perhaps, Reformed Christians) who love doctrine and systematic theology are sometimes susceptible (unlike John Calvin, it should be said): fascination with dogmatic formula at the expense of love for the Savior’s person?

Sinclair Ferguson, from Yesterday, Today, and Forever

What is the Gospel?

love-dance.jpgGospel means “good news.” The good news is: you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe yet you can be more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope at the same time because Jesus Christ lived and died in your place. As the apostle Paul said, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 

That is the simple formulation of the gospel. More thoroughly we could say that the whole Bible is the gospel. It is a book about the God who rescues people from their moral and spiritual rebellion against him. The teaching of the Bible, the gospel, can be summarized under four heads: God, Man, Jesus Christ, and Our Response. 

Firstly, the gospel teaches that God is our creator. Thus he has the right to rule and command us as he does in his law. God is also holy, that is, he is absolutely pure morally, and he hates and punishes rebellion on the part of his creatures. He is more holy than anyone would ever imagine. 

Secondly, the gospel teaches us about human beings. We are creatures made by God and for God. We were originally created to live in relationship with God and we were morally pure. But because our first parents rebelled against God (just as we also all have done), human beings are now cut off from relationship with God and are subject to his condemnation. We are more sinful than we ever dared believe.  

Thirdly, the gospel teaches us what Jesus Christ has done for sinners like us. He became a man and lived a life of perfect obedience to God’s law, and then died as a sacrifice in our place under the judgment of God. He was raised from the dead and now reigns in heaven. The condemnation that he suffered takes away the necessity that we suffer judgment for our own sins- “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” The righteous life he lived is credited to us, not because we are actually righteous, but because of God’s mercy and grace- “in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 

Fourthly, the gospel teaches us how to respond to the good news. We turn away from our rebellion and put our trust in Jesus Christ. Despairing of our own worthiness to stand before God, we believe the promise that those who trust in Jesus Christ will be forgiven and declared righteous. Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ are accepted as loved sons and daughters of God, and God sends his Spirit to live in them. 

Counterfeit Gospels

 Martin Luther said that a sinner trying to believe the gospel was like a drunk man trying to ride a horse; he will always be falling off on one side or the other. The two errors that the sides of the horse represent are 1) legalism or moralism and 2) pragmatism or relativism or antinomianism.  

Moralism is the view that a person is made acceptable to God through his own attainments. Moralists are usually very religious, and often very conservative in their religion. Legalism tends to stress truth without grace. Moralists are usually very rules oriented, and depending on their success in keeping the rules they will be either arrogantly self-righteous or depressed and morose. If they go to Jesus for forgiveness, it is just to ask him to fill in the gaps they have left in their own religious performance. For the moralist, the cross is not the only basis for acceptance by God, but is an adjunct to our performance. 

Pragmatists are often irreligious, or prefer more liberal religion. They tend to stress grace over truth, assuming everyone is accepted by God and that we each have to decide what we think is true for us. Often relativists will talk about God’s love, but since they do not see them selves as deeply sinful people, God’s love for them costs him nothing. For them the cross is not the necessary condition of our acceptance by God. 

The gospel holds out to us a whole new system of approach to God. It rejects our attempts to justify ourselves before God, to be our own saviors and lords. It rejects both our pragmatic presumption and our religious attempts to earn our way into God’s favor. It destroys the perception that Christianity is just an invitation to become more religious. The gospel will not let us think Jesus is just a coach to help us get stronger where we are weak. To be a Christian is to turn from self-justification of all sorts and to rely exclusively on Jesus’ record for a relationship with God. 

Christians and non-Christians both stumble over the two counterfeits of the gospel. Many Churches are deeply moralistic or deeply relativistic. Christians who understand the gospel very clearly still look like the drunk man on the horse, as the desire to justify ourselves and trust in our own performance continually reappears. 

The gospel tells the pragmatist that he is more flawed and sinful than he ever dared believe. The gospel tells the moralist that he is more loved and accepted than he ever dared hope.