Monthly Archives: December 2012
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
– Hebrews 13:8
Every year at this time as we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus to the virgin Mary, I don’t suppose it occurs to too many merrymakers that what they’re really celebrating is the Incarnation. All of the other miracles are in service of that central miracle: God became man. And in becoming, through Spiritual conception, the man Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God did not cease to be God. Baby Jesus, from the moment of conception to the straw habitation of the manger, was fully God and fully man. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
When we put our minds long to the idea of Jesus being one hundred percent God and simultaneously one hundred percent man, they naturally feel overwhelmed. The orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation is compelling, beautiful, biblically sensible, and salvifically necessary, but it is nevertheless utterly inscrutable. And that’s okay. In the end, the Incarnation is not for analysis but for worship.
But when we read Colossians 2:9 — “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” — the inscrutability of the Incarnation widens. The baby Jesus who was wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, was also omnipresent Lord of the universe. Omnipresence is one of God’s impassable attributes; God cannot not be omnipresent. So for Jesus Christ to be God incarnate must not mean he was no longer God …
Christmas Eve I saw a stable, low and very bare,
A little child in a manger.
The oxen knew Him, had Him in their care,
To men He was a stranger,
The safety of the world was lying there,
And the world’s danger.
– Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, “The Stable”
Grateful for Gospel-Centered Discipleship’s featuring an excerpt from my book Gospel Deeps today.
One snippet from the snippet:
This means that God picked us. In the days of my youth in Houston, Texas, I played pick-up basketball or football with my buddies nearly every weekend at our favorite park. When it came time to form teams, I enjoyed very often being the first or second pick. I had serious game, I assure you. Then my wife and I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. I stopped playing sports every weekend.
Several years later on a visit back home, the old gang decided to get together to throw the pigskin around. We began to form teams, and even though I had given no more demonstration of my current fitness level than simply walking from the car to the field, I was picked second to last. Oh, how the mighty had fallen! I was humiliated. All these guys had done was look at me; I guess several years had taken the sheen off their memories of my athletic prowess. I suddenly looked less Tom Brady and more Tom Bosley.
I felt very keenly in that moment how good it feels to be picked. Everybody wants to be picked. The gospel tells an interesting story about being picked. If I had to relate it to my weekend football humiliation, I would put it this way: God looks at the available selection, sees that I have no evident talent or ability and that in fact I give …
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.
Yet another story in the news about a church that botched report of sexual abuse on its premises. We are hearing about more and more, and there are still more besides, as the problem is certainly more prevalent than just what we see reported. Quite often in retrospect these cases reveal not simply mistakes made but systemic dysfunctions in a church community and a church’s discipleship culture. Below is a list of safeguards: some are obvious bare minimums, others are harder to implement and run deeper than superficial processes and procedures, but all are ways to help establish a church community as a safe place.
1. All employees and all childcare and youth volunteers, or anyone else who has regular contact with children in the church or as a representative of the church, ought to undergo a criminal background check as thoroughly as possible. It will also help if volunteers in these areas are required to be members of the church, assuming membership in a church entails clear communication about covenant responsibilities and church discipline.
2. A church should have a membership structure and a church should exercise church discipline.
3. Churches ought to have a “safe sanctuary” policy in place. Get consultation with an outside firm if necessary, but have a thorough, thoughtful plan in place that “intentionalizes” safety for children and others at risk. This plan should also include processes and procedures if a known sex offender or abuser wants to attend the church.
4. Every officer in the church should …
“[T]here was in Stephen and the saints the fullness of a container, but in Christ, there is the fullness of a spring. Their fullness was given to them by someone else and so is derivative. In Christ, there is the fullness of a fountain, which proceeds from himself and depends on no one else. The medieval scholastic theologians expressed this well when they said that Christ’s and the saints’ fullness differ as fire and things set on fire. The fullness of the ocean is too small to express this. The removal of even a drop or two diminishes it to some degree, but you can light a thousand torches from the fullness of fire and it is not diminished at all.”
– John Preston, The Fullness of Christ