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In the last three weeks we have been talking about the making the daily reading of God’s Word the core part of our lives – the foundation of our relationship with God. We’ve said that God’s Word, the Bible, is our umbilical cord to Jesus.
We started with looking at the Parable of the Four Soils and which was a story Jesus told about how receptive our hearts are to hearing the voice of God. God is speaking all over the place, and makes His voice available, but the condition of our heart can make it so that we completely miss hearing Him.
Next we talked about the problem that our hearts are so messed up that not even we know what’s going on inside them most of the time. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). And the solution to that problem was to cultivate desperation for the presence and the power of God that comes through knowing Jesus as our personal Savior and reading His word.
Last week we talked about how the Holy Spirit uses our daily Bible reading, not only to connect us to Jesus, but to give us a road-map of what is going on inside our hearts. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)The living and active word of God is the living and active Jesus! The voice we read in the bible is the very voice of God speaking to us every day.
Today we are going to start to get practical. I’ve already covered the problems that come with not reading our Bibles, and hopefully I’ve made a case for why we need to be in proactive in our daily bible reading and spiritual discipleship process. That, without coming to Jesus for our daily spiritual bread, we will spiritually starve. And so today I’m going to begin to share with you a practical guide to Spiritual Journaling using Scripture.
Let’s talk about some traps first. These are some of the thoughts that cripple us before we ever get started and I want to address them first.
Trap 1: There is a “Right Way”
The first trap is believing that there is a “right way” to do this. I’ve known people (and I’ve struggled with this myself) who don’t do daily devotions, never journal, and rarely read their Bibles because they never really feel like they’re doing it “right”.
Maybe you’ve felt this? You feel God saying that you and He need to spend more time together. You get inspired to go deeper with God. So what do you do? You look for a way to do that. But how does one “go deeper with God”?
You think, “Maybe I should get a book that teaches me how to do this?” – but you get stuck on which book. There are like a million books on how to connect to God. So you put it off until you can get some advice on which book to pick. Someone says, “just read the bible!” And you think, Ok”, I’ll do that.”
But now you need to find a good time. Do you do it early in the morning? Nah, you’ll never stay awake? Before bed? No, tried that and always ended up putting it off. During lunch? That worked for a couple days, but it was hard to stay consistent.
You think, “Well, maybe I’ll just fit it in when I go to the bathroom and have nothing better to do – and I’ll call my time in the shower my prayer time!” But that makes you feel guilty and never really fills your spiritual tanks. So you get frustrated.
Ever been there? I have. It’s easy to give up when you feel like you’re always failing in what you are doing, that it never gets any better, and that you’re always letting God down.
Avoiding Trap 1 – A: Remember Relationship
So let me share with you a couple of ways to avoid this trap of having to do it the “right way”.
First, remember that this is a personal relationship, not a meeting. A lot of people treat their relationship with God the way they would treat their boss. Check in once or twice a day to make sure that everything’s ok, but then get back to working by themselves. That’s not a relationship. I like what Rick Warren says in the Purpose Driven Life:
“Because God is with you all the time, no place is any closer to God than the place where you are right now.”
That’s why we are encouraged in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Jesus wouldn’t ask you to do this if it was impossible — or if He was unwilling to help you.
What I’m going to share with you over the next while is a method for how to start your day with God, but that doesn’t mean when you walk away from your Bible that Jesus leaves you alone.
Let me quote one more thing from Rick Warren that I appreciated.
“The key to friendship with God, he said, is not changing what you do, but changing your attitude toward what you do. What you normally do for yourself, you begin doing for God, whether it is eating, bathing, working, relaxing, or taking out the trash.… This is God’s ideal. In Eden, worship was not an event to attend, but a perpetual attitude; Adam and Eve were in constant communion with God. Since God is with you all the time, no place is any closer to God than the place where you are right now.”
So even if you can’t finish the whole thing, or if it’s happening at odd times during the day, or you miss a day, or you don’t know where to start, or you’re not feeling it. Just start with something and continue in the presence of God that day.
Ask God for forgiveness – again – that you didn’t plan properly, that your flesh is weak, and then make time to do it later that day. Remember the story of Jesus who was on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter when a woman who had been suffering for 12 years snuck up behind him and touched his cloak and was healed. Did He just keep going? No, he stopped, looked down and sought her out to bless her. (Mark 5:21-34)
In the same way, Jesus is always available to us. He’s not too busy, and doesn’t mind if we mess up our schedule and then sneak some time with him later that day. It shows that our heart desires Him, and that’s a blessing and an act of worship.
I strongly believe that as you develop the habit of starting your devos – even if you don’t always finish them – that your priorities will shift, your hunger and desperation will grow, your desire to be with Him will grow, and you’ll find more and more time and desire to finish your Daily Devotions.
Don’t get stuck believing that if you can’t do it 100% right, then you won’t do it at all. I believe that’s a demonic trick when you hear the words, “Isn’t God worth more of your time? Doesn’t he want you to do this right? He doesn’t want you to rush through it. You should put it off until you can really do it right… maybe this evening… maybe tomorrow when you’re fresh. Maybe you should get a new journal… a different version of the bible… you shouldn’t do it on your phone because it’s not right… it doesn’t count if you’re at work…” That’s not God’s voice. His voice beckons you to come to Him, not to avoid Him until you can measure up. That’s not the gospel at all! That’s either your own perfectionism or the voice of Satan giving you an excuse to avoid the voice of God, habitual prayer and bible reading.
Avoiding Trap 1 – B: Learn, but Don’t Copy
The second way to avoid this trap is to avoid copying people exactly. That’s the problem with a lot of people’s devotional time, journaling technique, or Bible reading plan. It’s not their own.
This week, Anita wanted to take the kids on a bike-ride. Her bike and mine are almost exactly identical except mine is about 2 inches taller. She grabbed my bike because it had the trail-a-bike connector and thought she could ride it. It wasn’t too long before she realized that those two inches make the bike very uncomfortable for her and she had to switch over to her bike.
In the same way, someone else’s devotional method can be helpful to get you started – you can learn to ride on their bike – but that bike won’t fit you when you really want to get going. You’re going to need something custom made for you, your relationship with God, your schedule, your family structure, your proclivities and your needs.
I realize how ironic it is, to start by promising to teach you a method, and then say that you shouldn’t follow someone’s method. I think it’s important for us to learn from other people and adapt what they’ve done to our own use.
Learning from others has a lot of advantages. They can challenge you to do things you haven’t tried before (like reading the bible in a year or memorizing pieces of scripture). It can also solve problems that you don’t have a solution for (like learning a system for how to highlight things and take notes in your bible or a prayer format that helps you remember to include different aspects of talking to God (A.C.T.S. – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication)). It can give you a boost of encouragement when you need it and guide you to experience things you hadn’t before.
You do want to learn from them, but you don’t need to copy exactly what they do. Eventually, you need to personalize it.
How Do You Devo?
So, for fun, I asked some people to send me pictures and descriptions of what they do during their daily devotional time. My hope is that you will be inspired to see that there is no “right way” to pray and read your bible, but that God can meet us in different ways. (Some of these have been edited for length.)
This is Denis’ method. He does his daily devotions using the Promise Keeper’s mobile app which gives access to daily scriptures, a devotional, articles and podcasts. He says, “It allows me to do my study no matter where I am.”
This is Andrew’s method. He says, “I need a ‘spot’ for it to happen. For me now, it’s [a] comfy chair in the corner of my office. No music or other distractions.” He says he starts by “clearing” his head then having a quick look at a couple verses on his iPad from the YouVersion and The Essential Jesus apps. He then does a bit of a bible study from his study bible, pray through the passages, pray about other things and “sometimes jot down a few key ‘learnings’ into a journal.” He says he’s “…been trying to live by the creed ‘no Bible, no breakfast’.”
Sue sent a picture of her own chair and says this about her method, “I’m reading Living Truth’s daily devotional called My Daily Journey with Christ. It gives me a great start to my day and I’m also doing the ‘read the bible in a year’ prompts from the same devotional. [Her husband and her] pray together before this and then we go off do our own thing separately.”
Charles says, “My devotional life takes place in two parts, namely, a personal time after the dog is walked and a joint time later in the day with my spouse. The two are quite different. The morning time is always in the same quiet place and at the same time each day. This avoids drifting away to other pursuits. I make detailed notes from the scripture passage for later use and review. Some of these notes actually seem fairly inspired on later reading. The evening session with spouse is also at the same time and place (though different from the morning one), but consists of a daily reading from the Bible and notes from a Scripture Press booklet…. Both sessions end with prayer.”
Jay says, “I tend to catch a sermon while I’m in the truck [on the way to and from work] and I read a book of the bible while on the john in the morning. Right now I’m in 1 Kings. I started in 1 Samuel and just kept going. I just finished Malachi in the truck and [my wife] and I are slowly doing James in the evenings. To be honest my prayer life is pathetic.”
Doris describes her daily time with God this way: “I start my day with coffee time with [my husband], than after about an hour I go to my room where there is an old sofa facing a window. I usually sit down comfortably and within arm’s reach is my Bible, concordance, journals, hymn books, and some other books. Most times, I start with prayer….. Sometimes, a thought would come into my mind, and I would think about it, (e.g. worship, idolatry) and then a verse will come and it expands my thinking on that topic…. Sometimes a song comes, sometimes a prayer, and I journal these in my book…. Since January, I am using the Bible League diary as my devo. [I] read the daily verse and follow the readings…. My Bible reading since March has been here and there and not following through a [reading plan]. I am finding that following through the book, no matter how long it takes, is more beneficial for me than jumping here and there….”
Each of these people is working out their faith in different ways, seeking God, struggling in some ways and growing in others. My hope is that we will all be encouraged to keep seeking God, learning from people, but also building that personal relationship with Jesus in a uniquely personal way.
Trap 2: Shortcutting it.
Now, let’s talk about the other side of the coin: the trap of shortcutting your time with God. I get that we are a busy culture, and I don’t want to preach a sermon on the sin of busyness, but we have to realize that Satan, the world and our flesh always wants us to take the easy road that leads to spiritual death.
There seems to be a lot of Christian authors trying to deal with society’s ever-filling schedule and ever-shrinking attention span by putting out books that can cut our devotional time down to only a few minutes. They take 365 key verses, put them in a cool font, write a couple sentences about it, and then a question to think about. There’s a plethora of daily verses, posters, and inspirational quotes that people are using as their sole source of devotional time with God.
I’m not going to slam these authors, because I think a lot of them are writing with the hopes of helping people get closer to Jesus, and they may have their place somewhere. I’m assuming that the thinking is that if they can make it easy, and people will see how wonderful even one minute with Jesus is, then they will grow into wanting more. However, that might be a little too much wishful thinking. I don’t think that the path of least resistance is the way to build any kind of spiritual muscle.
That’s something like feeding people candy and treats in hope that one day they will want to experience a fully prepared steak dinner. Or giving people couch exercises to do during commercial breaks while they watch TV and eat chips in hope that it will inspire them to turn off the TV and join a gym.
The problem is that the little bits don’t seem to inspire people, but instead they inoculate them. They think that they’ve done something. They’ve put in their time. They can tell themselves that they think about the verse all day – but they don’t. They can walk around feeling like did something holy, and that now God will get off their back. They can tell everyone that they do their devos, and even share them on social media so everyone can see that they did it.
But they’re not really growing. They’re not really being challenged to dig deeper. They’re not reading the verses in context. They aren’t being fed the full counsel of scripture. They are getting Tim-bits (doughnut holes)… tasty little bits that neither fill nor satisfy… and which eventually cause spiritual health problems.
Avoiding Trap 2: Make a Plan
So the solution to “shortcutting it” is to set a time, place and make a plan.
God is all about humble planning. What is humble planning? It means being diligent about organizing resources and preparing for the future, always realizing that God is the one who gives resources and who knows what is supposed to happen. Proverbs says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” (16:9) And it also says that a wicked man “dies for lack of discipline.” (5:23) It says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (3:5-6) but it also says, “…keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck.” (3:21-22)
Make a plan, be diligent and wise in your planning, but realize that it is God who sets the path at your feet. His plans are bigger than your plans. That’s one of the big reasons that you need to be listening to His voice in the first place – to find out what God wants you to be doing!
God’s Plan / My Plan
A lot of Christians struggle with this idea of making a plan. Should we? Isn’t that presumptuous? I was really struck by 1 Chronicles 28 where David is making plans for the Temple. It’s an amazing back and forth between David’s plans and God’s plans.
Verse 2-3 says,
“Then King David rose to his feet and said: “Hear me, my brothers and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building. But God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood.’”
David made a plan to do something great, but God had other ideas, showed up in a special way and told him. David was listening and heard God’s voice. But keep reading.
Look at verse 9. It says “And you, Solomon my son…” Whose son? David’s.Then look at verse 10, “Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you….” David chose his wives, even in sin with Bathsheba, and God chose the heir to the throne and the builder of the Temple.
Look at verse 11, “Then David gave Solomon his son the plan…” Who drew up the plans and gave them to the people who would build it? David. He drew up detailed plans on how it would look.
Now look at verse 19,
“All this he made clear to me in writing from the hand of the LORD, all the work to be done according to the plan.”
David plans and acts, God guides and directs. David listens to God and does his best planning. When he goes too far, God stops him. When there’s a decision to be made, David listens. That’s what we’re doing. Making plan, listening to God all the time for His “Yes” or “No”. Desiring to do something great in our heart, and build up our Spirit, and choosing a way to do it… but always remembering that it is the Spirit of God who inspires and makes the work of our hands great. The building of our Soul is a partnership between us and God. We make ourselves available, give him all our resources, work out our faith with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), and God directs the course of our life.
I think this works exactly the same in our devotional planning. So, as I said before, use someone else’s plan at first, or adapt a few for your own use. Get a bible reading plan, a journal, a pen, a study bible and then set a time / place that you will meet with God each day. You can even write it down.
“Every day, after I get up, I will grab a coffee, sit down with my bible at the table, and spend 10 minutes reading and 5 minutes praying.”(It doesn’t have to be exactly that. I can be whatever time works for you. I do recommend it’s the beginning of the day though. If we are to “put on the whole armour of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18) every day, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to put it on at the end of the day…)
Start with a plan, and then realize that God might change it up, that it might be wrong at first, and that things may have to be flexible for a while until you really sense what God wants to do with you. Make a plan and then adapt it. It took me years to hit a system that worked for me. Don’t be a Pharisee that locks down your man-made rules and makes them as important as God’s rules, but do have a plan. Don’t shortcut your time with God either. It’s not about how little you can do, but how to grow in Him so that His presence and voice inhabits your whole life.
So that’s a couple of the traps that we can fall in before we ever get started. Next week we’re going to look at the tools to use and get into the nitty-gritty of Spiritual Journaling using Scripture as your guide.
Last week we talked about the first purpose of Christmas, which was to Celebrate the Love that God has for us and how he proved it by giving up so much for us. Big cost, big love. I said there that one of the challenges for us this Christmas season was to live be purposeful about what we do, and to not let all of the extras push the true meaning of Christmas out of our minds. And I believe the way we do that is to purposefully concentrate and bring the Gospel of Jesus to the front of our minds. If we fill up with Him and His story, we leave less room for the other things to crowd it out.
This week we move a little deeper into our reason for celebration by talking about the second purpose of Christmas – Salvation. I really enjoyed our reading in “The Purpose of Christmas” this week because Rick Warren hit the nail on the head. His presentation of the Gospel was spot-on!
Again, it’s based on the words of the Angels to the Shepherds during the Christmas story of Luke 2. This time he pulls out verse 11 which says
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
We Need a Saviour
I really appreciated how Warren presented the Gospel, and his model is a good one for us to follow. Not only when we are talking to others about our faith, but when we are talking to ourselves – when we are reminding ourselves about the true meaning of Christmas; the true meaning of life.
He began by reminding us our desperate desire for a Saviour. When we look around at what we are doing in our lives, we begin to realize that much of what we do – in our own energies – is driven by fear. We want to be free, saved, helped, to have hope.
We have worries about the uncertainty of the future, so we prepare our homes, save our money, buy insurance just in case, get RRSP’s for later. But even they fail us when disaster strikes, the economy collapses, and our health fails us. Then our worries drive us to seek control, put ourselves above others, to hoard and to neglect to share.
We have fear of abandonment, so we sell ourselves short to make friends we shouldn’t have. We buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t really like. We take up bad habits so that we can distract ourselves from our loneliness. Then our fear drives us to push people away so they can’t hurt us, or to give ourselves away so they will stay with us.
In our hearts we deeply long to break this cycle of fear – but we know that we cannot do it ourselves. How do we know? We’ve tried. We’ve built up piles of money and stuff and accomplishments and trophies and still feel hollow. We’ve surrounded ourselves with entertainment, friends, food and drink, and when it quiets down we still feel sad, guilty and broken. We give, and share, and bless, and volunteer, and help, and no matter what we do the needs only grow and the problems are too overwhelming to solve, so we feel like a failure, despondent, disappointed in ourselves and others, and want to give up.
We’ve looked inside and we know that there is something wrong. So we try diets, and self-help books, we get more education, build ourselves up with degrees, skills, careers and awards. Maybe if I go to a good school, maybe if I get a good job, maybe if I get married to the right person, maybe once I have kids, maybe once I get a house, maybe once I get a bigger house, maybe once I retire, maybe once I write that book, join that group, climb that mountain, make that art – maybe then I will feel good about myself, confident in myself, crush this habit that I keep going to, feel like I’m a good person. But it never comes. It never works. God never allows those worldly, human, limited things to be enough. They will never fill the God-shaped-hole He built into us.
Religion Doesn’t Save
Why? Because the problem isn’t physical, or emotional – it’s spiritual. We are trying to use physical things, like pleasure and possessions to solve a spiritual problem. We are trying to use emotional things, like relationships and accomplishments, to solve a spiritual problem.
That’s why there are so many religions – because everyone in the world is trying to solve their spiritual brokenness. The problem is that, for most of them, it’s not working. Why? Because they are trying to fix themselves.
As far as I’m concerned, the most important chapter of the little book we are studying is the one entitled “Jesus Came to Save You By His Grace”. The reason that these other religions don’t fulfill is because they always, always, leave room for doubt. Let me read what Rick Warren said,
“In practically every area of life—school, sports, work—we are judged by our performance.… So, when it comes to spiritual matters, many assume God relates to us with the same performance-based ethic. You may feel that you have to earn God’s approval, deserve God’s love, and work your way to heaven by doing good or trying to be perfect.” (Pg 67)
He then quotes John 6:28-29 to explain that isn’t how God works.
“Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”
Let me quote a little more of what Rick Warren says,
“Religion is man’s attempt to please God. Grace is God reaching down to man. Every religion boils down to one word: ‘do!’ Do our list of things, and you will earn God’s love…. So God came to earth as Jesus essentially to say: ‘You guys have it all wrong! Of course doing good things matters, but it doesn’t make me love you any more or any less. My love for you is unlimited, unconditional, unchanging, and undeserved. So let me teach you a new concept called grace. You can’t purchase it, work for it, or be good enough to merit it. It’s a gift that will cost me a lot, but it is free to you.’
While religions are based on the word ‘do,’ salvation is based on the word ‘done.’ When Jesus died for you on the cross, he exclaimed, ‘It is finished!’… So, what is finished? The payment for your salvation! The phrase ‘it is finished’ is actually a single word in Hebrew that Jesus cried out. It was stamped on bills that had been paid off and on prison sentences that had been completed. It meant ‘paid in full!’” (Pg. 68-71)
That’s the solution to our spiritual problem – the Grace of God shown to us through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. He did everything. The question is, are we willing to accept the gift of salvation given by grace?
We Can’t Save Ourselves
For many, accepting grace is hard. We want to earn our salvation. We understand the religions that ask us to “do!” because we can then chart and how much we’ve done, and how much we need to do. Then we can boast (Eph 2:9) that we are the ones who saved ourselves, got ourselves to heaven, earned our rewards, and who didn’t need God. We so desperately want to put our confidence in ourselves and earn our way to heaven.
But, as I’ve been saying all along, it doesn’t work, does it? We cannot save ourselves. How do you know when you’ve done enough? If you ask any other religion of the world if they have assurance that they are saved and will achieve whatever the next level is – whether it’s heaven, or nirvana, or whatever – they just don’t know.
I once heard a great teaching on this (by Mark Driscoll). Religion will lead us one of two places – pride or despair. We will either feel proud that we have accomplished so much in our religion that we will feel above others, perhaps even above God since we become the judge of our own goodness and worthiness, or we will feel constant despair because we never know if we’ve done enough, gone far enough, served enough, given enough away, sacrificed enough, to earn God’s love. We just don’t know.
The Apostle Paul talks about this throughout his letters, but there is a section of Philippians 3 that really makes the point. He says in verses 2-3,
“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…”
Basically, he’s saying, “Watch out for these evil teachers who are trying to teach you that religion is the way of salvation and tell you to put confidence in your actions.” Then he does something remarkable in verse 4. He says,
“…though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:”
Paul is about to remind his readers about his own personal testimony. There was never a person so religious, so devout, so deserving of heaven than him. He says he was,
“…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
“If you think you have an impressive religious resume, you’ve got nothing on me”, says Paul. “I have followed every law since the moment I was born, am part of the chosen people, have a pure and uncompromised blood line. I was taught by some of the greatest teachers of all time and surpassed them, fought more passionately than anyone against Christians – helping to kill and imprison many because of my zeal. And there is not one person in all of Jerusalem, from the High Priest down that can bring any accusation against me.”
If there is one man who could have had confidence in his flesh, to earn salvation, it was Paul. But he says in the next verses (7-9), “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”
He tore up his resume and degrees, burned his trophies, and threw his self-confidence into the garbage. It was all worthless. All of his “righteousness” was just “rubbish”. He knew that when He would stand before Jesus on the day he would have to give account for his life, he wouldn’t measure up to the law. He had still broken it in his heart. He was still guilty before God. His righteousness didn’t come from his obedience, because every time he read the Bible, every time he read the 10 Commandments, every time he read the Torah, all he felt was guilt and fear. He still didn’t measure up. He knew it.
And so he traded all of his human accomplishments, for something better, “…faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
Have you Given Up?
Rick Warren asks the very important question, “Have you given up trying to save yourself?” Have you released control of your eternal destiny, and your everyday life, and given it over to Jesus?
I said last week that Jesus taught that the way up is down. He also teaches us that the way to win is to give up. The way to win is to give up. That’s where spiritual healing comes from. That’s the message of Christmas. That’s what we are celebrating. Not that Jesus came to add to our burden, to give us more rules, to lay another burden around our neck, but to save us.
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
Good news, of great joy, for all people – a Saviour, a Christ (which means “Messiah”, “Anointed One”, “Chosen One”, “the divinely appointed one”). He wasn’t just another messenger like the prophets of old. He wasn’t just a priest that could bring you close, but not too close, to God. He wasn’t just a king that ruled a human kingdom. He is the Saviour, the Christ, the Lord.
You cannot possibly expect to have the power, ability, authority, resources, intelligence, or supremacy, that Jesus has! Why would you try to save yourself, when you know it isn’t working, and that Jesus Christ stands ready to give you the free gift of His grace?
Saved from So Much
In Luke 4:16-21 it says that after Jesus came back from his time of temptation in the desert, at the very beginning of his ministry, he went into his home church. It says,
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”
All these fears we have, and all the things we do to try to quell them, are destroyed by faith in Jesus as our Saviour. We need good news – He is the ultimate good news. We are poor in spirit, needful of many things – He proclaims to us that He will save us. We are captive by sin, death, addiction, depression – He proclaims liberty and freedom to all who would believe. We are blind, wandering around in the dark, confused about how why we are here, what we must do, and how we are to live – and Jesus gives us light to see. We are oppressed by spiritual forces, by human enemies, by our own habits, weaknesses, dark thoughts and the weight of this world – and Jesus proclaims that we are the ones on whom His favour rests.
This is why, every Christmas, we read the Prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 9, written hundreds of years before He was born. To help us remember and realize what we have been saved from, and who our Saviour is. The one who came, who died, who rose, who saves, who will come again. Let me read from the Living Translation:
“The people who walk in darkness shall see a great Light—a Light that will shine on all those who live in the land of the shadow of death. For Israel will again be great, filled with joy like that of reapers when the harvesttime has come, and like that of men dividing up the plunder they have won. For God will break the chains that bind his people and the whip that scourges them, just as he did when he destroyed the vast host of the Midianites by Gideon’s little band. In that glorious day of peace there will no longer be the issuing of battle gear; no more the bloodstained uniforms of war; all such will be burned.
For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder. These will be his royal titles: ‘Wonderful,’ ‘Counselor,’ ‘The Mighty God,’ ‘The Everlasting Father,’ ‘The Prince of Peace.’ His ever-expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule with perfect fairness and justice from the throne of his father David. He will bring true justice and peace to all the nations of the world. This is going to happen because the Lord of heaven’s armies has dedicated himself to do it!”
So celebrate this Saviour during this Christmas time. Fill your minds and hearts and homes with the story of Jesus Christ coming at Christmas to save us from so much. We have already experienced so much grace, and we are going to see so much more.
Turn your heart from all the other things in your life that you have set up to save you. Turn your mind away from all the ways that you are trying to save yourself. And turn yourself to Jesus, the only one who can save.
Before you start, I encourage you to read the Christmas Story from Luke 2:1-20.
A Special Time of Year
Last week I invited you last week to take one of these books, called “The Purpose of Christmas” by Rick Warren. The reason that I did this was so that we could spend time together, here at church and at home during the week, thinking about the reason that we celebrate the season of Advent and Christmas.
The whole premise of this little book is to ask the question: Why do we spend so much time, money, energy and effort on this one day of the year? Why is this the big one? What makes Christmas so special?
That being said, over the past 40 years or so, Christmas has been losing some of its specialness. It’s still the biggest holiday, but it is now being challenged by Halloween as the biggest day of the year. Where even 50 years ago people would have felt an obligation to come into a church for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – if only out of tradition – now less and less people bother. At one point the “Story of Christmas” was about baby Jesus in the manger, the shepherds and the angels, and now there are many, many more Christmas stories – Santa Clause is obviously the big one, but there’s also The Night Before Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, The Little Match Girl, A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker, It’s A Wonderful Life – and they are given equal, if not more, significance in people’s lives than the story of Jesus. (This DVD is titled “The Original Christmas Classics” — I’m pretty sure Jesus pre-dates Frosty as the “Original” Christmas story.) Many families would much rather sit down and read The Grinch who Stole Christmas than the Nativity Story.
And so, this year, I wanted us to ask ourselves the question, “What is the purpose of Christmas?” We are Christians, this is a church, and we know the Christmas Story. We talk about Jesus all year long, so what makes Christmas so special? Or perhaps, the better question I want us to be able to answer is this: “How can we make sure we have a purposeful Christmas and make it special?”
The Meaning of Christmas
Doing that – having a purposeful, meaningful, special Christmas – is sometimes harder than we think. And I believe the reason that it’s hard is because there are so many different ideas about the “True Meaning of Christmas”.
Rick Warren’s first chapter is entitled “A Time for Celebration”. His point is that one of the main purposes for Christmas is that it is an annual time that we have set aside to concentrate on celebrating — something. For hundreds of years people knew what we were celebrating, that the “true meaning of Christmas” was the incarnation of Jesus. But that’s just not the case anymore.
It’s not that people aren’t thinking about it. We’ve heard and read the phrase a million times in every movie, TV show and newspaper article at this time of year. Everyone is looking for the “true meaning of Christmas.” What is the “true meaning of Christmas”? But it’s almost as though they believe the there is no answer. Like so many other things now, there’s no “right answer” to the question because everyone gets to answer it for themselves. Truth is relative, meaning is relative. It’s like looking at an impressionist painting intended to allow each person can ascribe whatever meaning they want.
For some, the “True meaning of Christmas” is getting presents… not the noblest of causes, but at least their honest. For some it’s simply time off work and an excuse to spend money. For others, it’s all about getting together with family. Some believe the “true meaning of Christmas” is found in the rituals and traditions: baking cookies, turkey dinner, skating on the canal, decorating the tree, and remembering Christmases as a kid.
It’s easy to get caught up in that because they are all really good things! Christians are supposed to say that the “True meaning of Christmas” is the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. If we are asked on the street corner, or in a mall whether we say “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas”, we will unabashedly – almost militantly – say, “Merry Christmas” because Christmas is all about Christ.
But in our hearts, in our homes, in our private times, and in our celebrations, it is so easy to get caught up in all the other things that come with Christmas – and push Jesus off to the side. I know I’m guilty of it.
And so, during this short Advent season, my hope and prayer is that each of us will be able to be purposeful about this Christmas season – that we will imbue it with special meaning – not in the secular sense, but in the sacred sense. That we would enjoy all of the rest of the good things in the season, but not allow them to dominate our thoughts – that we would keep Jesus at the centre of all that we are doing.
How to have a Purposeful Christmas
How can we do that? I believe, first and foremost, it comes through an understanding of what Christmas is really about. It comes from allowing the story of the incarnation of Jesus Christ to fill up our hearts so that there is much less room for other things to take it over. I believe that if we can remind ourselves consistently about the love Jesus showed for us, the grace given to us, the story of what Jesus did for us, that our Christmas will have more meaning.
What I’ve appreciated about this little book we are going through is how Rick Warren simplifies the message of Christmas for us so that we can not only understand it, but appreciate it. The whole of the book revolves around in on what the angels say to the shepherds, and the first chapter pulls out that first phrase: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
The big idea is that with all that comes with this season, we must remember the very core message of what we are celebrating: That “God loves you”, that “God is with you”, and that “God is for you”. If we are able to purposefully keep those things in mind: that celebrating Christmas reminds us that God loves us — that celebrating Christmas reminds us that God is with us — that celebrating Christmas reminds us that God is on our side — then we will be able to celebrate a Christmas full of meaning.
Little cost, little love. Big cost, big love.
John 3:16 says,
“For God so loved the world that he gave us his one and only son…”
The reason that we celebrate Christmas, and the coming of Jesus Christ, is because it is a demonstration of His love for us.
One of the ways you can tell how much you love someone, or are loved by someone, is what they are willing to give up for you. One might call this Sacrificial Love. It’s not always a fair equation, but I think it’s at least one of the ways we can tell. People who love you will show it by giving up their time for you, their energy, their reputations, their comfort, and even their money, because they value you more than whatever it is they are giving up.
If you want to show someone you love them, or wonder how much you really do care about them, just ask yourself how much you would be willing to give up. These could be good things: A mother sacrificing her career for her children. A soldier sacrificing his life for his country. A father sacrificing his health for his family. Or they could be not so good thing. A mother sacrificing time with her children so she can go out and party. A businessperson sacrificing their family so they can stay at work more. A gambler sacrificing his money so he can play the game. That’s a form of sacrificial love too.
Are you willing to put aside yourself and your wants for the sake of the other person, or do they always come after you? This is something that happens around Christmas all the time. We are constantly caught weighing out how much we really care about someone. Do I get them a gift, or a card, a phone call or a letter, a hug or a handshake? How long do I shop for this person’s gift? Are they someone I shop for at the dollar store, or someone I spend hours worrying about as I search online or walk malls looking for the perfect gift? And how much do I spend? (I know this is cruel, but it’s true) Is this a $5 relationship, or a $300 relationship?
And it’s not just about money – it’s also about our time, effort, & energy? Do I take time off of work to attend this person’s Christmas party? Are they close enough for us to spend Christmas dinner with, or are they more of an “I’ll see you after New Year’s” type friend? Do I travel through a snowstorm to make sure I’m at their house, or if the weather’s too bad do I stay home? What am I willing to give up for this person? What a person is willing to give up, whether it be time, money, energy, effort or anything else… I believe… is at least one indicator of how much love that relationship has.
Little cost, little love. Big cost, big love.
For the last part of our time here this morning I want to talk about what coming into the world cost Jesus, and I want to do it using three important theological words which describe those costs.
The first word is “Incarnation”. One continuing heresy that the church has taught against is something called Docetism which is the belief that God would never stoop to becoming a human. But the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus “incarnated” Himself. That word literally means “in flesh”. Jesus is and always has been God. When He came to earth, Jesus took the fullness of His deity, and not putting anything aside, added humanity to His deity, becoming the God-Man.
In many Christmas carols we use the word Immanuel, which means “God with us”. Jesus came to be God with us. John begins his gospel this way describing the incarnation:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”
And then says in verse 14:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
It was by Jesus by coming and dying in the flesh, as a human, one of us, that humanity was able to be saved. He had to be one of us.
The next word is tied to the incarnation. The next word is “Condescension”. God condescended, came down, stooped, to our level. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says it like this,
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
When we kneel down to a small child to get eye to eye, and use simple language to explain something so they can understand, we are condescending to them. That’s Jesus Christ did for us. He had the full glory and power and majesty of God, but chose to bring Himself down to our level and spoke in a way we could understand.
Which brings us to the third word, which is what I really want to park on because it makes the point so well. I said before that love can be measured by what a person is willing to give up for another. The third word is “Humiliation”. We don’t use this word very often, and when we do, it’s often given in a negative sense, but when Jesus came at Christmas, He humiliated himself.
To humiliate someone is to literally make them humble, or lower them in dignity. Most of us have been humiliated at some point in many different ways. This happens to me a lot when I try to play sports or board games with people. I walk in thinking highly of myself, confident in my abilities… and generally walk out humbled and lowered in dignity.
But Jesus’ humiliation was different. He wasn’t humbled by anyone. He humiliated himself. He chose to bring himself down in dignity. He chose how He would enter the world, what the circumstances would look like, who His parents would be, what His life would look like, and how it would end. It was His choice to be humiliated.
Philippians 2:5-7 capture this perfectly,
“Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
Humility was a mega-theme in the life of Jesus. From the very moment He was born to his death on the cross, the life of Jesus was marked with humility. We have to remember where Jesus came from, and where He is now, to at least begin to appreciate the humiliation of His condescension and incarnation.
Remember, Jesus is God. Always has been and always will be. He’s no less than God. He is worshipped by angels, proclaimed in the highest, equal with the Father, all powerful, all knowing, all present, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, God.
And yet, he humbled Himself… humiliated Himself… condescended Himself to our level. There has never been any descent like that of Christ’s.
Just consider the choices that Jesus made when He decided to come into the world. He, the King of All, made Himself a subject of Herod – a cruel, despotic, corrupt ruler who would try to kill him as soon as he found out about Jesus.
Consider the circumstances of his birth. The Creator of the Universe, who spoke everything into being, decided to make himself a helpless baby. He deserved to have a royal welcome, the best medical care, silk sheets, a golden crib, a thousand nurses, on a hill, in the Holy City of Jerusalem. But no, Jesus gave all that up.
The place of His birth was no accident. He didn’t accidentally end up in a feeding trough – He placed Himself there. That’s where He wanted to be born. Why? To show us the depth of his love, and set for us the highest example.
As I said, greater cost equals greater love. He gave it all up for us. He didn’t keep one scrap of His glory. There are not many people one that can claim to have had a more obscure, dirty, humiliating birth as the Son of God. He gave it all up. If one of the ways we can know how much a person loves us is by how much they are willing to give up, then Jesus must love us very, very much. The whole story of Jesus’ birth sets us up for the paradox that is His life. Jesus consistently taught us that the way up is down.
“Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5).
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11).
“Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4)
He didn’t give himself an attractive body that everyone would immediately love and trust. Instead, Isaiah 53:2 says,
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
What would we have done in his place? Set up some advantages, right? Made it a little easier. He didn’t. He humiliated Himself over and over out of love for us.
We would have chosen an easier life with more resources, good friends and a decent house. Isaiah 53:3 says,
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Throughout his life he was mocked because of how he was born. When people heard that he was from Nazareth they made fun of him. Some scholars even say that the Pharisees even mocked him for being conceived out of wedlock (John 8:19,41).
During His life He could have used His amazing teaching abilities, influence and power to get anything He wanted. He could have been the best salesman, politician, lawyer or celebrity ever known. Instead when someone asked him where he lived he answered them,
“Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”” (Matthew 8:20).
Celebrate the Love of Jesus
Why would Jesus do this? Why humiliate Himself? First, to teach us how to live… but also to prove His love for us. Much cost equals much love.
So my encouragement to you this week is to remember and celebrate that God loves you – He proved it in his Humiliation, God is with you – He came in his Incarnation and remains alive today, and God is for you – He provides for us Salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ.
“The Purpose Driven Life: Expanded Edition”
by Rick Warren
Have you ever wondered why you are here, why God created you the way He did, in the place you are at, among the people that surround you? Have you ever felt like you were made for something, but couldn’t put a handle on what, why, or how? Have you ever struggled with depression, doubt and self-worth? We all have and Pastor Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life” has helped millions of people find answers to those questions with Christ-focused precision, wisdom, sensitivity, and Biblical conviction.
“The Purpose Driven Life” is the best selling non-fiction hardback of all time. It has sold 32 million copies, been translated into 50 languages and people from 162 different countries have studied it. It was number one on all four major US booksellers lists in 2002 (and then made history by doing it again in March 2005 after hostage Ashley Smith persuaded a captor to release her by reading portions of it) and won the 2003 and 2004 ECPA Christian Book of the Year. (Stats taken from the news release by A. Larry Ross Communications which accompanied the copy of the book I received)
As soon as I saw this book come up on the list of options for me to review I jumped at it. Partially because I wanted to see the updated version, but mostly because it is a perfect excuse to once again recommend and sing the praises of a book that has touched my life so deeply.
I have appreciated Rick Warren’s ministry for a long time, ever since I was first introduced to him through this book 10 years ago. Though we have never met, he has blessed me personally, developed me spiritually, and equipped my ministry many times over. So yes, I’m a fan, and I couldn’t wait to get this book. It is the only book in my library of which I have extra copies to give away. I’ve read it cover to cover multiple times, taught it in small groups, and continuously pull it off the shelf to read portions of again. I can’t think of another book, outside of the Bible, that God has used to shape me more.
Why Another Version?
When it came up in the review list my first thought was “It’s been 10 years already? Wow, I’m old.” My next thought was, “I wonder why they are releasing this again? Hasn’t everyone read it by now? Isn’t it still in every book store in the world?” My questions were answered by Pastor Rick on page 15 of the book where he says,
“Recently a 22-year-old named Mark connected with me through social media and asked ‘How do I know what my purpose in life is?’ As we chatted, I learned that his parents had read this book, but he had not read it, since he was only 12 years old when it was published. Every new generation must rediscover God’s purposes for themselves.”
“Aha!”, I thought, “That makes so much sense!” I remember how much this book impacted me when I was 24, and I’m glad that I have a new version of this book to pass along.
The first impression I had of the new “The Purpose Driven Life: Expanded Edition” was how beautifully crafted, designed, printed and organized it is. It is a very beautiful book, just to look at. It is not only gorgeous, but savvy — this is how books should be written in the 21st century. Each day has a special QR code (specially designed pictures which a smart-phone can use to access a website) which link to short introductory videos, audio sermons (a full hour sermon for every day!), special notes and an online support community. Check this link to Day 1 out.
Originally this book had 40 days, but this new version has 42. Pastor Rick has added two days [the Envy Trap (“I must be like you to be happy”) and the People-Pleaser Trap (“I must be liked by you to be happy”)] which are meant to combat what he calls “two giant problems or traps that keep most people from living the life God planned for them to live.” (quoted from the day 41 video introduction). These two chapters alone are worth the price of the book.
This is still a great book, and the new additions make it even better.
The one word I would use to describe this book is — “potent“. Each day is full of wisdom, biblical insight, pastoral love, practical help and critical information that will help you move closer to Jesus and bring more joy into your life. There are literally paragraphs within this book that will change your life. There are phrases within this book that you will carry with you forever. If you let it, God can use this book to help you live out His purpose for you.
If you haven’t read this book, get it and read it. If you’ve already read it, it’s time to read it again.