There was a time, many eons ago, when I was a young, strapping athlete (exaggeration) in high school. The sport was Water Polo. Beyond getting past the idea of running around outside in a speedo, there was that dreaded week before the season officially started; the week when you would work so hard that you couldn’t tell if you were getting in shape or digging your own grave—they called it “hell week.” Hell week was the week of intense preparation for the season ahead. This week was hard, exhausting, and physically demanding.
I believe in life, we have all encountered weeks like this; weeks that feel as though the enemy is winning on one level or another; weeks we’d rather erase or avoid altogether. Well, Jesus’ final week on earth, by any human standards, would have been considered such. There was probably a moment where it appeared as though Hell won the battle for humanity. In reality, it was one of the most heavenly weeks in human history. There’s never been a week where so much pain and so much glory, so much loss and so much victory coincided together in such divine harmony. This Easter, we remember and celebrate His final week where our victory was won, salvation secured, and condemnation erased!
I was having some difficulty determining where to start, so I’ll just come right out with it. We live in a Christian culture that has largely turned pastors into celebrities and made celebrities their pastors, and it is landing us in cultural hot water. Recent headlines in the news, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram expose this. On one end, it seems that whenever a famous personality, no matter how worldly they may be, says the name “Jesus,” it’s automatically promoted by many Christians as though Jesus Himself was speaking. On the other end, if a pastor can motivate, inspire, and humor an audience all while maintaining relevance and a cutting edge style, he becomes the next big Christian star, often amassing for himself wealth and reputation all in the name of the work of Christ’s kingdom. Celebrities seem to consume us. This isn’t shocking seeing that we are natural followers. We tend to follow the people that appear on the surface to be who we want to become. For the Christian, this makes a strong case that Jesus should be the only one who reaches true celebrity status in our hearts.
We often underestimate the power of influence. As I examine my life, I see it riddled with men and women who took the time to teach me, discipline me, hold me accountable, prophecy over me and pour God’s Word into me. I cringe when I think of the course my life might have taken without those people.
Becoming an influencer is not easy. It requires self-sacrifice, the willingness to love when it hurts, and the faith to take risks on people. It demands times when you get in someone’s face when they don’t appreciate it, and give someone opportunity when they don’t feel ready for it. It’s pouring in truth and drawing out faith. Of this one thing I am sure–if the church loses its influencers, mentors, and disciple-makers, we will damage our future by sending out a generation of believers who are unprepared for life and ministry.
Don’t underestimate your ability, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to make a disciple of Jesus. Go forth, find the fragile, open hearts that God has placed under your influence and invest yourself wholly. You may not see the immediate fruit, but take my word for it, some young pastor, evangelist, missionary, father, or mother will think of you later with a grateful heart.
2 Timothy 1:5 – …when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.
“In Christ is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3)
What you observe of something on the surface doesn’t always give the complete picture of its actual substance. To many who look at Jesus, He appears to be nothing more than a good, moral teacher who left humanity with some principles for life that are worth pondering. It’s only when you dig deeper into Christ that you discover Jesus is unimaginably and unfathomably more. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is an ancient hymn that masterfully unpacks the hidden treasures of Christ by unveiling its own hidden treasures. Originally written by 8th-century monks, the hymn was used during Advent to set the expectation of Christ’s coming leading up to Christmas. It’s a beautiful song, but the true hidden gem lies within the structure of the poem. Seven days before Christmas Eve monasteries would sing the “O Antiphons” in anticipation of Christmas Eve. These were songs declaring different attributes of Jesus. In “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” these antiphons are gathered into one song and speak of the various titles of Jesus. Each verse of the hymn calls for Jesus to “come” and addresses a unique part of His identity and mission.
Jesus is Emmanuel (Isaiah 8:8) – Being “God with us,” Christ reveals to us the heart of God the Father.
Jesus is the Rod of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1) – Springing from a dead stump, He will free His people from Satan’s tyranny by death and resurrection, making them free forever.
Jesus is the Dayspring (Luke 1:78) – As the Light of the World, Jesus will shine God’s righteousness and banish darkness forever.
Jesus is the Key of David (Isaiah 22:22) – He alone holds the keys to life and death. He opens doors no man can shut and has unlocked the gate for us into heaven.
Jesus is the Desire of Nations (Haggai 2:7) – One day He will rule and reign over every nation, tribe, and tongue with His benevolent and mighty hand.
The song becomes an even more intriguing treasure when you discover that the antiphons create an acrostic, and when you reverse the acrostic, it becomes that Latin phrase “Ero Cras,” meaning “I will be present tomorrow.” It appears that even the early monks were hoping and praying for the quick return of Jesus! They also recognized that Jesus was ever present for every need. May this also be true of us in every area of life. For every longing and need we have, we must begin with the simple prayer, “O come, O come, Jesus!” We will discover that Jesus isn’t merely the answer to our salvation; He is the answer to everything else as well.
Go into any store, restaurant, or other consumer establishments shortly after Thanksgiving ends, and you’re sure to hear familiar tunes over the bustling crowds that only show up once every year. In between “Jingle Bells” and “Silver Bells,” there’s a good chance you’ll hear no bells at all; there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself thoughtlessly humming along to the humble story penned in “Silent Night.” I say thoughtlessly not because you’re a thoughtless person, but because familiarity with something can often cause us to overlook its significance. How many hundreds of thousands of people sing “Silent Night” every year as part of their Christmas traditions, but ultimately skim over the jaw-dropping theological truths found hidden beneath the surface of those 19th-century lyrics?
There was once a young boy who was singing this well-loved Christmas carol in church when he, with a perplexed look on his face, turned and asked his mother, “Mom, who is Herald?” Likewise, many of us have probably sung this tagline hundreds of times without thinking much about what the words mean. If we translated the title into modern day vernacular, it would read something like, “Listen! The angels are singing a heavenly message!”
It would be difficult for any of us to conceive of what life and ministry would have been like during the height of the American Civil War. Who would have imagined that the Civil War would have been a backdrop for one of the most beautiful and beloved Christmas carols of our time? Phillips Brooks, the author of the “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” was an Episcopal priest, a powerful preacher and committed American patriot in the mid-late 19th century. He was a vocal advocate of the abolitionist cause and believed the gospel should infiltrate and saturate the practical world, bringing forth equity and justice for all.
“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” is a hymn that centers around expectation. What comes to mind when you think of the word “expectation?” Perhaps the fantastic time you’re planning to have on your long-anticipated summer vacation to Hawaii. Maybe you think of how fulfilling and easy your new marriage is going to be. Perhaps it speaks to the incredible (or horrible) time you’re going to have with your friends, family, or maybe even enemies this Christmas! Expectations are nothing more than measured hopes. Our expectations define what we believe will be the outcome of any given situation or circumstance. Our expectations can frequently lead us to disappointment because we seldom factor in that we live in a sinful world where good things can come apart at the seams within the blink of an eye.
PREFACE: I recently had the blessing of writing six devotional pieces that briefly share the history, content, and meaning of some of our favorite Christmas carols. Between now and Christmas I will be releasing two per week. I trust that these short writings will enrich the weeks leading up to Christmas as you take moments to place Christ at the center of your Christmas. It’s my hope, that through reading these devotions, you will come to see these familiar Christmas carols in a fresh, new light.
Joy to the World: The King has come. The King is coming.
Our state is hurting. From north to south, its deep wounds are gushing blood of fire and bullets. It desperately needs the healing touch of God; it needs a new heart. From where can such a healing touch come? Through whom will Jesus bring His restoring gospel? There is only one entity on earth that can be the delivery vehicle for such a thing–The Church of Jesus Christ.
I believe the more we as Christians become committed to fulfilling our mandate and mission to preach the gospel and make disciples, the less we will have to turn to the government to curb the evil actions brought forth from the human heart. Change people’s hearts, and you will need less gun control. Change people’s hearts, and abortion clinics will shut down due to lack of business. Change people’s hearts, and their identity in Christ will speak louder than their raging sexual confusion. Change people’s hearts, and our schools will become safer places for our children’s hearts and minds. Change people’s hearts, and the ”least of these” will be compassionately served. Sometimes I wonder if we as Christians in America hide behind political curtains because if we were exposed and naked, having to stand on our own, we would have to face how weak, apathetic, selfish, and powerless we’ve become. It’s easier to blame a political party than it is to pick up the torch of Christ and offer oneself as a living sacrifice to carry that torch courageously into the darkness.
Church, please don’t misunderstand me; as long as there is wickedness in the world, we will need government; and until Christ returns, there will always be wickedness in the world. Government is an institution that has been established by God to punish evil and praise good (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2). As citizens of heaven and temporary citizens of this nation, we should do all we can to ensure that the government we elect is an ethical, moral, and upright one. As best we can in this broken system, we should vote our biblical worldview, run for political offices, and be active, godly citizens. In the process of doing these things, we must be careful not to redirect our trust from God to government or forfeit our true spiritual identity and call! It is the church, not the government that is called to be, ”The pillar and ground of the truth.” Let’s arise, take up our crosses, and live radical faith-filled lives. We, as Christ’s ambassadors, have a divinely granted opportunity here and now to change our communities one life at a time.