A Prayer for Christmas Morning

Father in Heaven,

We thank you for Christmas, and we thank you for gifts, good food, and family fun. But while these things are nice things, they cannot do any ultimate good to us because they cannot take away our sins. What is ultimate is that your Word, the eternal Christ, took on flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. He was found in human form in a manger, such a lowly birthplace for a King. Yet he did not remain a baby. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. And though he died, he did not stay dead. Father, you highly exalted him by raising him from the dead, giving him the name that is above every other name. So we thank you for the gift of a suffering servant who took our iniquity so that we might be clean.

Father, at Christmas we hear many stories about kindness, peace, and being “good for goodness’ sake.” But if we are honest, our goodness is nothing to showcase, nor has it ever been. We praise you that you do not look upon us and give us favor because of our goodness. You could never do this because before we knew you, we were slaves to sin: we were held captive by the law, which we could not keep. Thank you Father that when the fullness of time had come, you sent your Son to be born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law. You redeemed us through your Son and made us sons and daughters. He redeemed us by fulfilling the law in our place and giving us a righteousness we could never earn. So we thank you for the gift of a righteous man whose record is credited to our account.

O Father, would your Holy Spirit impress these gospel truths on our minds and hearts today, and everyday. As we open up gifts, let us remember that Jesus is the greatest gift that has ever been given. As we eat food, let us remember that the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. As we spend time with family, let us remember that we now belong to a new family which is bound together more tightly than our earthly families ever could be.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


Woe to the Idolater

In Luke 6:24-26, Jesus condemns people in general — and the Pharisees in particular — with four specific woes.  Here’s what he says:

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

Jesus is not condemning being rich, having a healthy plate for dinner, enjoying a good joke, or being commended by friends.  Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus is not a fun-sucker.

Instead, Jesus is condemning those who put their hope in those things. People who hope in riches usually don’t cheerfully donate to the homeless. People who hope in food don’t normally volunteer time at the food bank. People who get their kicks from insulting others aren’t selfless humanitarians. And people who love the praise don’t love to give credit to others when its their due.

Riches, food, humor, praise, and a thousand other things are all good. But when good things become ultimate things, they become idols. And idols will kill you.


Praise God Because He Creates

In 1 Chronicles 16, David sings a song of thanks to the Lord.  In verses 25-26, David sings:

For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be held in awe above all gods.  For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

What separates the LORD from all the other gods in the world?  He creates.  They are created.  That’s the difference between God and an idol, between the finite and the infinite.

And don’t just think of golden statues when you read “gods.”  Think power, money, sex, food, entertainment, sports, friends, success, looks, fashion, and any other good thing in this world.  They are all created things, and so they cannot comfort or provide in our darkest hour. But God is not created.  He creates, and therefore is everlasting and infinite.  So in your time of deepest despair, he is able to provide grace and mercy to help.


The Folly of Idolatry

We have heard over and over again that anything can be an idol.  It’s not only a sculpture, a carving, or a cast-iron statue.  It’s been jammed into our brains.  But how many of us believe it?

Isaiah 44 shows how foolish it is to worship an idol.  Isaiah’s logic goes something like this: a carpenter cuts down a tree, he cuts it into a log.  He uses half of it to make food and keep warm.  He uses the other half as a god to worship.  How stupid!

Well, that’s primitive and we (21st century people) would never do such a thing. Or would we?

Consider this: instead of cutting down a tree and worshiping it, we use “half” of our job, if you will, to give our families warmth and food.  We use the other “half” to obtain worldly success and fame and the praise of man.  What we are actually doing is sacrificing our family and our spiritual life so that we can worship at the altar of profit and recognition.

More than that, think about what we “love” (i.e. worship).  We “love” sports teams so that we can feel good when they win, and have an excuse to have self-pity when they lose. We “love” people so that they can be an avenue to get what we want.  We “love” our jobs so that we might receive the praise of man and get a fat paycheck to suit our ridiculous life-styles. We “love” food so that it can be a comfort to avert our attention from the sadness and depression in our lives and around the world. We “love” movies because it puts us into a fairytale story where life always ends up rich, happy, safe, or in love.  The list goes on and on.

Idolaters have fooled themselves into believing that idols can make their life fulfilling and satisfying. Instead, an idol is a life-draining, murdering, deceiving thing, because true idol-worship is actually self-worship.  We worship idols for our benefit.

These functional saviors cannot and never will deal with our greatest problem: sin.  Idols merely expose our sin and pride and desire to worship ourselves rather than God.  And the worst part is that when we get so deep into idolatry, we are like this man in Isaiah 44 who “cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’ (v. 20).

Jesus is the only Savior who can bring satisfaction and happiness.  He said, “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).  Jesus made this promise, and he still delivers today.  Every idol makes that same promise everyday, but not one has ever come through for anyone.


God’s Party and Our Praise

God is going to start a party with the best food and finest wine.  Isaiah 25:6 says, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine.” I imagine that there will be some decent music at this party as well (because every good party has good music).

One of the songs that will be sung is in verse 9.  God’s people will sing, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.  This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

This verse reveals 4 things about God and his people:

  1. God comes to us. We wait on him; we do not go to him.
  2. God saves people; we do not save ourselves.
  3. Salvation results in our gladness and joy.
  4. Our salvation is a reconciling of our relationship with God — not “getting into heaven.”

Let’s think about the fourth one for a moment.  Whenever Scripture mentions “the salvation of the Lord,” it is God bringing us to himself. God’s people are not simply rejoicing in the fact that God allows us to live in heaven and receive good things from him.  That is certainly part of it.  But it is not it. The redeemed are rejoicing because God has brought them from and oppressive enemy and destruction (which in the larger context of Scripture is sin, Satan, and death) to himself.    This is why they are singing, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him.”

Those who are truly redeemed wait for Jesus.  John Piper wrote, “Those who would be happy in heaven if Jesus wasn’t there, won’t be there.”  Is your rejoicing in God or in his gifts?  Is your gladness in the fact that God has brought you into relationship with himself or the fact that you get a lot of benefits from knowing him?  We need to examine ourselves daily and seek to make him our complete satisfaction.  Otherwise, we are making God out to be a divine genie and not the supreme treasure of the universe.