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Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Gospel at Christmas

“ John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Mark 1:4

What is the message of Christmas any way? You hear lots of things about that this time of year. “Christmas is for caring” says one. “It’s gifts and presents,” says another. “No, it’s peace on earth and goodwill toward men” chimes in a third, a little closer to the truth.

But really, what is the message of Christmas all about? You ask most people and, unless they’ve just come straight from an ACLU meeting, they’ll know at least the basics – Christmas has something to do with Jesus, and God sending Him into the world as a baby, and that somehow this gift was meant to save the world. Most will know at least that much.

But again, I’ll ask, what exactly is the heart of the Christmas message? And what are we supposed to do with it, once we’ve understood it?

When it gets right down to it, the thing we need to understand is that the Christmas message is exactly the same as the message of the Gospel. There really is no difference. For Christians, Christmas is not a separate thing, tucked over in a corner of the year all by itself (even though we sometimes treat it that way). It’s not that we have this nice, sentimental little story about a baby in a manger who was visited by shepherds and wise men, and then we have this other story about a Christ who was rejected by men, crucified and then raised from the dead on the third day. It’s all part of the same wonderful story – the record of what God has done to save His people from their sin! It’s the announcement of the Good News that God saves sinners!

And so the message we need at Christmas is the same message we need to hear at Easter and every other time of year – it’s the message of repentance from sin and of faith in Christ Jesus for salvation for those who believe. It’s the good news that sinners like us can be reconciled to God and made His children and heirs, if we will turn from sin and by faith trust in His Son as Savior and Lord

My prayer for you this Christmas Season is that God will give you ears to hear the marvelous news of what he has done in sending His own Son to die in the place of sinners. And that he'll give you a heart to believe that He did this even for you -- if you will trust in Him. So that, no matter what you've done or where your life has taken you up to this point, if you will repent of your sin (which means turn away from it in order to turn to Him) and trust in Christ (believing that He is able to save even the worst of sinners and give them new life in Him) you too can be saved.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Giving

“Where your treasure is there will your heart be also”
Matthew 6:21

Giving and Christmas go together. Everybody knows that. Even before Ebenezer Scrooge got straightened out by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future and went running through the streets of London giving away his wealth, people have identified Christmas with giving. It’s in the air this time of year. There are fund raisers at work and at school, bell ringers in front of every store and shopping mall, and more than a few reminder from the pulpit.

And Americans seem to be listening. More than $260 billion will be given to charitable organizations this time of year (most of it through Christian organizations, by the way!). That’s something we should be glad about. Americans are still the most generous people on earth – and I believe God has blessed us because of it.

And yet, one thing we have to keep in mind during this time of holiday giving, is that the attitude of our hearts toward wealth is something we need to be aware of all year ‘round. Sometimes I find that, even as I’m giving to help the poor and support missions, my foolish heart can be filled with greed. Whether a desire for the latest new gadget, the shiniest jewelry or the biggest HD TV , it’s easy to become discontent with what you have and thus be tempted to give less for those in need in order to have more of what you want.

My prayer for our church --and for every Christian in the prosperous West -- is that God will continue to free us from our obsession with wealth and things that so easily captivate our souls. I pray we will refuse to give in to the thought that says, “I’ve already done enough” and instead will ask God for even greater opportunities to do more to extend His kingdom and meet the needs of those around us who are hurting.

Believers, let’s ask God to make us truly generous all year around with our time, our money and our very lives. Let's give and serve and sacrifice in a way that makes God look good (see Matthew 5:16), and in a way that will leave people no choice but to come to the astounded conclusion that having Him really is more valuable to us than having those things the people of the world live and die to possess.

Treasure Him!