My Grown-Up Christmas List (Part 3)

So we’ve reached the last installment of my 3-part series motivated by the Christmas song “My Grown-Up Christmas List.” In the previous post, I listed out 4 things the lyricist asks Santa for which God has already promised to satisfy. In this post I intend to offer some encouragement for Christians to be agents of change practically in this world.

My basis for offering this encouragement is the Gospel. If I don’t lay this foundation then my encouragements will come across as guilt trips and fail to miss the crucial point that we need a new heart which only the Gospel supplies. If you work to improve social ills without the Gospel, then you will inevitably do it for your own self-satisfaction or to feel like your life has meaning. Your satisfaction needs to be established already by the Gospel in order to treat social ills correctly and to guard you from burning out.

So then, how does the Gospel function as the motivation for improving social conditions? Let me present three ways:

1. The mission of Christ’s first coming was to become poor so that the spiritually impoverished could become rich.

2. The mission of Christ’s first coming was to become broken so that the spiritually sick could become whole.

3. The mission of Christ’s first coming was to become fatherless so that spiritual orphans could become the children of God.

Think about how you have been affected in each of those three categories by the work of Christ. Now, I’m not going to spend time treating those. For the Christian, I think you can understand where I’m getting them from. (Perhaps in the future I’ll do a more thorough job with those points.) So with those three things in view, let’s turn them into Gospel-motivated, tangible action.

1. Impoverishing Ourselves for the Poor
Poverty is a major influence on a number of other social issues: racism, child neglect, drug addiction, and starvation to name a few. The more that people gather in urban areas, the less autonomous they become. That is, since people in urban or suburban areas cannot grow their own food, milk their own cows, and dig a well for their own water, they must have currency to exchange for life’s essentials. When a person does not have the power to earn enough money (due to either their own poor choices or uncontrollable circumstances) then they cannot get what they need to sustain life.

Poverty is becoming an increasing problem because the world is becoming more and more urbanized. And it is, in turn, promoting many other social ills. So what should Christians do?

Well to start, they should go to where people are hurting. This was Jesus’ method. He saw our poverty and came to us. Through sin, we were spiritually poor, having nothing with which we could bring to God to show our worth. So Christ, came to us that He might give us His righteousness and turn our spiritual poverty into unparalleled gain. Dear brothers and sisters, make it a mission to bring people out of poverty, just as Christ has done for you! Does this mean you have to go half way around the world? Nope. I guarantee there are poor people suffering in a city near you.

Second, they should give their resources so that the poor might become satisfied. Christ spared nothing for our sakes. He gave up His status, His comfort, His home, His company, and His love so that we might experience all of those things. Are you willing, with overflowing joy, to do the same for others so that they may know the Christ which you proclaim? And even if they don’t come to know Him, will you do it anyway out of gratitude to Christ?

2. Becoming Sick to Make Others Well

I won’t spend too much time here because this can become kind of abstract. But, here is my basic point: are you willing to give your comfort and even your health for the sake of others? Caring for people who are sick is a tremendous burden and puts you at risk of becoming sick yourself. But do you value your health and your comfort so much that you would hold onto it when you could give it for the sake of others?

Isaiah 53:5 tells of the day when our healing came through His stripes. Jesus was made sick and cursed so that our souls could be healed and we could be blessed. What a great Savior! Out of love for Christ, let us give up our comforts so that we may comfort others!

3. Fathering the Fatherless
For those of you who know my vocation, you will understand how dear orphan care is to me. Even though God’s adoption of Israel isn’t explicit in the Old Testament, they are referred to as His children many times. In the New Testament, one of the blessings associated with salvation is that of adoption. This elevates those whom God has redeemed from more than mere slaves or servants who owe Him a debt, but it assigns them the status of beloved children. At one time God was not our father. But He gave His only biological (begotten) Son, so that He could have myriads of adopted sons and daughters.

There are 147 million global orphans. There are 423,000 children in U.S. foster care who either need temporary care from loving foster parents or an adoptive family. Will you consider caring for orphans so that you may lavish them with the same love that God has lavished upon you? It is a parable to the world of what God has done to enlarge His family.

My prayer, brothers and sisters, is that you love Christ. I pray that you continue to see the many facets of His great love with which He has loved you. But my prayer doesn’t end there. I pray that the appreciation you have for Christ overflows in good deeds to those who cannot pay you back. Is that not what Christ has done? He has paid a debt that we could never pay, so that we could have eternal life that we don’t deserve.

So when next Christmas comes around, don’t ask Santa to fix the world. Trust that God will one day redeem it completely, and do what you can, with the power and influence you have, to enact change now. The poor, the sick, and the fatherless are in despair all year round. Don’t wait until next Christmas to be charitable, start now.

May your increasing gratitude toward Christ produce an increase of self-sacrifical deeds toward suffering people!

My Grown-Up Christmas List (Part 2)

In my previous post, I brought to the table a Christmas song entitled “My Grown-Up Christmas List.” The chorus of the song appeals to Santa for 4 essential things:

1. No more suffering
2. No more war
3. No more evil
4. Everlasting love

I made the point that this vision of society which the lyricist is asking Santa for has already been promised by one who is “much less fictional and way more powerful than Santa.” I also brought up the point that people should be doing what they can, within their sphere of power and influence, to bring about the songwriter’s requests without asking Santa.

This post is all about what God has in store regarding the end of suffering, war, evil, and His everlasting love. So allow me to take them point by point.

1. No More Suffering

Isaiah 51:10
“And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

Notice particularly the last part of this verse that goes “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” The imagery tells of suffering not merely ceasing, but it’s hurried departure away from God’s redeemed, joy-filled people. This would have been an exceptionally enticing picture to Isaiah’s audience who would be experiencing exile. Because of suffering, we are all experiencing exile in some way. Our bodies, minds, and emotions were not designed to suffer and be burdened. We were originally designed for the Garden of Eden which entailed no such suffering physically, relationally, or emotionally. But now, people suffer in these ways constantly. This is not as it should be. Isaiah’s prophecy pictures a day when this degeneration of the created order will be restored.

So why ask Santa for that which God has promised for His redeemed? Instead, find endurance for your suffering in the hope of God’s coming restoration. Find satisfaction in the the reality that Jesus became a “man of sorrows” so that you would have sorrow no more.

Matthew 5:3-4
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

2. No More War
Isaiah 2:4
“He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

When God’s final rule extends to the whole earth, those who make war will turn their implements into tools for tilling the land. Instead of fighting, people will be farming. They will be engaging in an activity which makes use of our natural resources and promotes human thriving. This is juxtaposed to war which uses natural products to make weapons which crush human lives and deny humans the ability to flourish.

Why again, would you ask Santa to cease all war? Is he powerful enough to do that? Instead, find solace in the fact that Jesus made the greatest act of war against our true enemies at the cross. And, all praise to God, He defeated them for our sakes!

Colossians 2:15
“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [Christ].”

3. No More Evil
Jeremiah 3:17
“At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.”

In this passage evil is portrayed as a condition instead of a force. The actions which cause the suffering and war which plague the world come out of people whose hearts are diseased by evil. God promises, that in this day, people will no longer be bound to their evil hearts. This is because God will give them a new heart and will put His Spirit in them so that they will gladly walk in His ways (Ezk. 36:26-27). Then we will no longer hurt and oppress one another, but we will delight in the delight of others as we worship God together.

Can Santa give you a new heart so that you are no longer fundamentally evil? Christ, through His death and resurrection, has secured for you a new heart and sent His Spirit to you. God will finalize all of this in days to come.

4. Everlasting Love
Psalm 103:17
“But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him…”

The love that we exhibit toward one another is typically motivated by self-interest or obligation. This is distinct from God’s love which proceeds from His character, not from an external pressure. God is love and God is eternal. Therefore, His saving, covenantal love is an everlasting love which has no condition. He loves you and saves you because He has loved you from eternity past. We do tend to think of His past love, but what about His future love? Since it is everlasting, that means His love will be showered on His children for eternity to come. What a great future God has in store for those who love Him!

Can Santa bless you with everlasting love and acceptance? Well, he doesn’t ever really promise those things because they aren’t within his power. He promises gifts which will satisfy you for an infinitesimally small amount of time. In fact, they normally just whet your insatiable appetite for more material goods. And they won’t satisfy your need for absolute love and acceptance which can only be found in the eternal love of God. And that love comes because God doled out the penalty for your failures and sin on His Son, Jesus Christ. What an infinitely greater gift then the dissatisfying material goods that you received today!

Romans 8:38-39
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I hope and pray that your heart finds such comfort in what God intends to do with this broken world that we live in. His plan and purposes are for our good and are all towards restoration. God is not simply going to burn this world to the ground, He is going to restore it to its former splendor in which no terrible thing will ever happen again. In the next post, I want to explore the responsibility that we who have been redeemed have in the restoration that can begin now.

Merry Christmas!

My Grown-Up Christmas List (Part 1)

There’s a fairly popular Christmas song out there called “Grown-Up Christmas List.” Perhaps you’ve heard it? It was written in 1990 by David Foster and Linda Thompson-Jenner, but didn’t get much attention. Then in 1992, Amy Grant covered it, adding a verse. Her version received much more acclaim than Foster and Thompson-Jenner’s. It has since been remade by a plethora of popular artists. The version I am most familiar with, and the one which I prefer, is Michael BublĂ©’s from his ‘Let it Snow’ EP.

I enjoy the music itself as well as the sentiment expressed in the lyrics. The author is speaking in first-person to Santa, recalling the days of sitting on Santa’s knee making requests. Now the author has come back, as an adult, to give Santa her new Christmas list. Instead of listing off the material items she wants, the author selflessly asks Santa for a total social and cultural restoration throughout the world. Here’s how the chorus goes:

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
Every man would have a friend
That right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list

As I previously noted, the song does carry a great sentiment and I would hope that most people desire the above-mentioned things. The problem is that the author is asking Santa.

Now, I know what you’ll say: “Dustin, the author understands that Santa isn’t real. She is just trying to express her desire for the world to be a better place in a poetic fashion.”

To which I would reply: “Yes of course.”

But two issues still remain for me:

1. Didn’t someone much less fictional and way more powerful than Santa already promise those things?
2. How can you begin to bring about that kind of restoration with the power and influence you have?

Consider these two questions for a moment. I will be giving my thoughts on each in a couple of upcoming posts.

My encouragement for you, dear reader, is to help this song come to life by doing something selfless for someone who can’t pay you back this holiday season.

Merry Christmas!
-Dustin

The Remarkable Trust of Mary

Luke 1:38:
“Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.”

Consider Mary’s statement for a moment. Well actually, let’s first consider what has led up to this statement by Mary.

The angel Gabriel, who is God’s personal messenger, is sent to bring Mary some exciting and very troubling news. The exciting news is that Mary has been picked by God to give birth to the Savior of the world. The bad news is that she is going to get pregnant outside of wedlock. It would look like Mary had been promiscuous. This had a number of consequences:
-Her engagement is broken along with her fiance’s heart
-Her whole family is disgraced
-Her family disowns her
-Her community hates her
-She is stoned (Dt. 22:23-24) resulting in her death and the baby’s death
-If they somehow weren’t stoned, then the child would be ridiculed his entire life for being born out of debauchery

So NOW consider Mary’s response to Gabriel in light of these potential consequences of her miraculous pregnancy. Observe three things that Mary understands deeply:
1. God is sovereign and will work things out
2. God is powerful and can do whatever He decides He wishes to
3. God is good and whatever He decides to do is good

This story should bring you to have the same kind of trust as Mary. It’s unlikely that your trials are as intense as hers, but you may be struggling and suffering. Know that God is sovereign, powerful, and good. The inevitable result will be the same trust and submission to Him as Mary.

May you know God richly and trust Him deeply!