Tag Archives: religion

A Good Story? – Ravi Zacharias

 

In publishing his godless Bible for those with no faith, A. C. Grayling may have expected a mixed reception. The ‘religious Bible’ (as he calls the Christian original) often sparks controversy, so one might have assumed that his would prompt a powerful reaction.(1)

But although there have been eyebrows raised, support given, and criticism leveled, I can’t help feeling that there is something a little flat about it all. Perhaps it is because we are in the midst of celebrating the 400-year anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible with its majestic impact on the English language, that one struggles to muster any strong reaction to this book. One of the repeated observations made about Grayling’s moral guide for atheists is that it just doesn’t seem to be as good or interesting as the original.

Jeannette Winterson, author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, had this to say:

I do not believe in a sky god but the religious impulse in us is more than primitive superstition. We are meaning-seeking creatures and materialism plus good works and good behaviour does not seem to be enough to provide meaning. We shall have to go on asking questions but I would rather that philosophers like Grayling asked them without the formula of answers. As for the Bible, it remains a remarkable book and I am going to go on reading it.

Perhaps it has something to do with what seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding on Grayling’s part: the Bible is not merely a book containing moral guidance, as he seems to think it is. While Christians would say that it does contain the moral law of God and shows us how to live our lives, the actual text of the Bible is much more besides.

It is the history of a people and a grand narrative of redemption for all people. At its heart, it is the story of a relationship, and not a collection of platitudes. As the New Testament opens with God coming in human form, we encounter Jesus walking the earth, not simply to restate a moral code, but to offer us peace with God through himself. It’s about a personal God to encounter, not a set of propositions to understand or laws to follow. This is drama with a capital D.

The Bible also contains narrative history, at its most fascinating with well-preserved accounts recording personal perspectives on historical events. Whether it be a prophet like Jeremiah, writing in the 7th century BC, or the gospel writer Mark in the 1st century AD, this is compelling writing whatever our religious convictions. Who could not notice the honesty and detail of Mark’s turn of phrase when he recounts that “Jesus was in the stern sleeping on a cushion, the disciples woke him and said to him ‘Teacher don’t you care if we drown?’” (Mark 4:38). As history alone the Bible is compelling.

In as much as Grayling’s ‘Good Book’ cobbles together some of the finest moral teaching from our history, it will surely be useful to some. But from an atheist perspective is this really a legitimate task? Without God what is morality other than personal perspective or social contract? Do we need Grayling’s personal perspective any more than our own? And is he really in a position to tell us what a socially agreed set of morals should be? Great atheists of the past, like Bertrand Russell, rejected religious moral values arguing against overarching morality—do they really want Grayling to reconstruct one? “I don’t think there is a line in the whole thing that hasn’t been modified or touched by me,” he says. While his own confidence in his wisdom is clearly abundant, will others feel the same way? Readers might also note that from the 21st century, his is the only voice to make the cut and be included in the work.

In calling his worthy tome The Good Book, Grayling, perhaps unwittingly, references the story about a rich young ruler found in the Gospel of Mark. The man approaches Jesus and addresses him as “Good teacher.” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” Jesus preempts centuries of philosophical debate about the nature of morality and locates goodness as an absolute in the being of God. We are challenged to question: “Without God, what is goodness?” As the debate over his book continues it will be intriguing to find out how Grayling knows his godless Bible to be a benchmark of “goodness.”

In the meantime, no doubt the Bible will continue to top best-seller lists, and engage audiences spanning all ages, backgrounds, and cultures. I for one will keep reading it.

Amy Orr-Ewing is UK director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Oxford, England.

(1) Originally printed in Pulse Magazine, Issue 8, Summer 2011, 10-11.

The Heir of All Things – John MacArthur

 

“In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2).

When Christ first came to earth He became poor for our sakes, that we, through His poverty, might be made rich (2 Cor. 8:9). He had nothing for Himself–He had “nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). Even His clothes were taken from Him when He died, and He was buried in a tomb that belonged to someone else.

It is beyond our understanding to imagine that the Galilean carpenter who was crucified like a common criminal, naked and bleeding on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem, is the King of kings and Lord of lords. But He is!

As the Son of God, Jesus is the heir of all that God possesses. The apostle Paul explains that all things not only were created by Christ but also for Him (Col. 1:16). Everything that exists will find its true meaning only when it comes under the final control of Christ.

The psalms predicted that Christ would one day be the heir to all that God possesses. The Father, speaking to the Son, says, “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession'” (Ps. 2:8). God also declared, “I also shall make Him My first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27; cf. Col. 1:15). “First-born” refers to legal rights–especially those of inheritance and authority.

When Christ comes to earth again, He will completely and eternally inherit all things (Rev. 11:15). And because we have trusted in Him, we are to be “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16-17). When we enter into His eternal kingdom, we will jointly possess all that He possesses. We will not be joint Christs or joint Lords, but will be joint heirs. His marvelous inheritance will be ours as well.

Suggestions for Prayer:    Thank God for making you a joint heir with Christ. Thank your Lord for allowing that to happen through His death on the cross.

 

For Further Study:   Read Revelation 5:1-14 and 11:15-18, noting how the inhabitants of heaven respond to Christ

Let’s Worship – Greg Laurie

 

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”   —Matthew 2:2

The very word “Christmas” has been emptied of its meaning, drug through the gutter, and given back to us, minus its power. Some prefer to use the more politically correct terminology at this time of year, like “Happy Holidays,” “Merry Xmas,” or even “Happy Winter Solstice.” But I actually think those things are not as bad as the person who says, “Merry Christmas” with no idea whatsoever of what Christmas really means.

I think we should cancel the version of Christmas that is filled with hype and endless activity leading to exhaustion, the version that gives little to any thought of Christ. We should cancel Christmas and instead celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. I still believe in Christmas, but not in the holiday as our culture celebrates it. I believe in the real message of Christmas, which is the birth of our Lord.

Maybe you are bracing yourself for a tough Christmas. Maybe you think Christmas won’t be as good this year as it was before. But what if this Christmas were better than any Christmas you have ever experienced, because you have been freed from the pressure of having to get stuff? That could be a really good Christmas. It could actually be the most wonderful Christmas of your life.

The primary message of Christmas is this: God is with us. Isaiah 7:14 tells us, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Immanuel means, “God is with us.”

So the message of the season is not, “Let it snow” or even, “Let us shop.” The real message of Christmas is, “Let us worship.” That is what the wise men came to do. And that is what we should be doing as well.

Like a Thief in the Night – Ravi Zacharias

 

The alarm of discovering your house has been broken into is one I imagine stays with you long after the thief has gone home. Though most are not eyewitnesses to the looming figure that wrongfully entered, victims of such crimes often report seeing shadows in every corner and silhouettes peering through their windows. Signs that someone had been there are enough to call them to alertness.

Whether you have experienced the shock of burglary and its lasting effects or not, the portrayal of Christ as one who will come like a thief in the night is a startling image.  The description is one that seems uncouth amongst the reassuring images that will soon be upon us—a young mother and father beside a quiet baby in a manger, a star that guides wise men in the obscurity of night. How could one who came as a child of hope return like a looming, unwanted figure? Yet this is the counsel from Jesus himself:  “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:42-44).

The cry of Advent, the sounds of which are just starting to stir, is the cry of wakeful vigilance. One of the key figures in celebrating the season, John the Baptist brings the probing message that continues to cry in urgency: “Are you ready?” Are you ready to respond to the infant that came to dwell in the midst of night and suffering? Are you ready to hear his invasive message? Are you ready to recognize God among you, the hunter, the thief, the King? During the season of Advent, we are called to keep alert, to read again the disruptive signs that someone has been here moving about the places in which we dwell. And we are called to stay awake to the startling possibility of his nearness in this place even now. “I say to all: ‘Stay awake,’” says Christ in Mark 13:37.

The owner of a house who has been disturbed once by a thief lives with the wakefulness that this thief will come again, however persuasively she is urged to see otherwise. She remembers the signs of a presence other than her own—prints left behind, a door left open, the memory of a life turned upside down—and she vows to keep watch, knowing the thief will be back. In the same way, but with a thanksgiving that knows every ordinary moment to be expectant, we are called to be ready.

The child who was born in Bethlehem came quietly in the night, unbeknownst to many who dwelled near him. Yet he left prints behind in Jerusalem, and signs upon lives ever since. Like a thief, he shattered myths that proposed we were autonomous and invaded hearts we thought were shielded. Yet Jesus came not to steal and destroy, but to dwell in all that overwhelms us, to live in a world groaning in death, fear, and suffering. He became human as we are that he might show us what it means to be truly human. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”(1) Though the signs that Christ has been here are enough to call us to alertness, the season that reminds us to stay awake is now upon us. Like a whimper in the night, his presence in the ordinary may go unnoticed. He is gently near and knocking. Let us therefore keep watch!

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Isaiah 53:5.

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

 

Morning “Ask, and it shall be given you.” / Matthew 7:7

We know of a place in England still existing, where a dole of bread is served

to every passerby who chooses to ask for it. Whoever the traveller may be, he

has but to knock at the door of St. Cross Hospital, and there is the dole of

bread for him. Jesus Christ so loveth sinners that he has built a St. Cross

Hospital, so that whenever a sinner is hungry, he has but to knock and have

his wants supplied. Nay, he has done better; he has attached to this Hospital

of the Cross a bath; and whenever a soul is black and filthy, it has but to go

there and be washed. The fountain is always full, always efficacious. No

sinner ever went into it and found that it could not wash away his stains.

Sins which were scarlet and crimson have all disappeared, and the sinner has

been whiter than snow. As if this were not enough, there is attached to this

Hospital of the Cross a wardrobe, and a sinner making application simply as a

sinner, may be clothed from head to foot; and if he wishes to be a soldier, he

may not merely have a garment for ordinary wear, but armour which shall cover

him from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. If he asks for a

sword, he shall have that given to him, and a shield too. Nothing that is good

for him shall be denied him. He shall have spending-money so long as he lives,

and he shall have an eternal heritage of glorious treasure when he enters into

the joy of his Lord.

If all these things are to be had by merely knocking at mercy’s door, O my

soul, knock hard this morning, and ask large things of thy generous Lord.

Leave not the throne of grace till all thy wants have been spread before the

Lord, and until by faith thou hast a comfortable prospect that they shall be

all supplied. No bashfulness need retard when Jesus invites. No unbelief

should hinder when Jesus promises. No cold-heartedness should restrain when

such blessings are to be obtained.

 

Evening “And the Lord shewed me four carpenters.” / Zechariah 1:20

In the vision described in this chapter, the prophet saw four terrible horns.

They were pushing this way and that way, dashing down the strongest and the

mightiest; and the prophet asked, “What are these?” The answer was, “These are

the horns which have scattered Israel.” He saw before him a representation of

those powers which had oppressed the church of God. There were four horns; for

the church is attacked from all quarters. Well might the prophet have felt

dismayed; but on a sudden there appeared before him four carpenters. He asked,

“What shall these do?” These are the men whom God hath found to break those

horns in pieces. God will always find men for his work, and he will find them

at the right time. The prophet did not see the carpenters first, when there

was nothing to do, but first the “horns,” and then the “carpenters.” Moreover,

the Lord finds enough men. He did not find three carpenters, but four; there

were four horns, and there must be four workmen. God finds the right men; not

four men with pens to write; not four architects to draw plans; but four

carpenters to do rough work. Rest assured, you who tremble for the ark of God,

that when the “horns” grow troublesome, the “carpenters” will be found. You

need not fret concerning the weakness of the church of God at any moment;

there may be growing up in obscurity the valiant reformer who will shake the

nations: Chrysostoms may come forth from our Ragged Schools, and Augustines

from the thickest darkness of London’s poverty. The Lord knows where to find

his servants. He hath in ambush a multitude of mighty men, and at his word

they shall start up to the battle; “for the battle is the Lord’s,” and he

shall get to himself the victory. Let us abide faithful to Christ, and he, in

the right time, will raise up for us a defence, whether it be in the day of

our personal need, or in the season of peril to his Church.

God’s Final Revelation – John MacArthur

 

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).

A Samaritan woman declared, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us” (John 4:25). The expectation of that day, even among the Samaritans, was that Messiah would unfold the full and final revelation of God. The Holy Spirit, through the writer of Hebrews, affirms that to be true: “God . . . in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).

The Old Testament had given divine revelation in bits and pieces. Every piece was true, yet incomplete. But When Jesus came, the whole picture became clear, and though rejected by His own people, He was, in fact, the fulfillment of the messianic hope they had cherished for so many centuries.

The Old Testament age of promise ended when Jesus arrived. He is God’s final word: “As many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20).

God fully expressed Himself in His Son. That’s why John said, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:14, 18). Paul added that in Christ “all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).

The practical implications of that truth are staggering. Since Christ is the fullness of divine revelation, you need nothing more. In Him you have been made complete (Col. 2:10), and have been granted everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). His Word is sufficient, needing no additions or amendments.

Suggestion for Prayer: Ask God to teach you how to rely more fully on your resources in Christ.

For Further Study:  Read John 1:1-18 as a reminder of the fullness of God’s revelation in His Son.

God Would Have Us Use Money – Charles Stanley

Charles Stanley

1 Timothy 6:6-11

The world attaches far more significance to money than God ever intended it to have. Instead of simply being a means of exchange for goods and services, it has become an object of greed, a source of power and prestige, and a means of achieving status, happiness, and security. With so many false hopes pinned to wealth, we must be careful not to fall for the lies. God’s Word warns us of the dangers of giving money too much importance in our lives and advises us how to use it according to His purposes.

For personal needs: God wants the able-bodied to earn money to meet their own personal and family needs (2 Thess. 3:10). Christians should live within their means so they won’t be a burden to others.

For God’s work: Since everything we have comes from the Lord, He commanded us to give the first part of our income to Him as an act of obedience and gratitude (Prov. 3:9). Our contributions allow the gospel to be proclaimed both locally and internationally, changing the eternal destiny of countless people.

For helping others: When someone experiences a financial crisis and is truly in need, the Lord commands us to help by sharing what we have (Prov. 19:17). He never overlooks generosity and promises to repay us.

The important thing isn’t how much money we have but whether we’re using it as God commands. Acquiring more is never the way to achieve happiness and security. Yet as we obey the Lord’s instructions about finances, we’ll find the joy and contentment our hearts truly desire.

The Manner of Waiting – Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Z

Waiting is never easy. In our day of high speed internet, instant messaging, and fast food, waiting for anything longer than ten minutes can seem like an eternity. I remember the days as a child, when the seemingly endless fall season turned the corner towards Christmas day, how difficult it was for me and my siblings to wait to open our presents. We had such a hard time waiting that we would often coax our parents into allowing us to open some, or all of our presents on Christmas Eve. We couldn’t wait any longer, and our parents couldn’t abide another day of our whining and begging!

For Christians, the season of Advent begins a season of waiting. It marks the beginning of the liturgical church year and asks for expectant waiting of those who anticipate the coming of Christ, the King. Each new Advent season stirs expectations as Christians wait. How will the coming Lord be experienced this Advent season? Yet, perhaps more importantly, the season asks those who wait to reflect on the manner of waiting. Waiting, by its very nature, is demanding and difficult for even the most patient person. Like children who clamor to open their presents because they cannot wait any longer, we often wait impatiently, or can fall into despair as the season of waiting seems to have no end in sight.

Waiting for God is difficult; the Hebrew Scriptures tells of a whole history of Israel in waiting; waiting in the wilderness to enter the Promised Land, waiting for a king, waiting in exile for return to the land of Israel, and waiting for God to deliver them from all their oppressors. The psalmists elaborate this cry and give voice to all who cry out waiting: “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?”

Imagine, then, how their hearts stirred with expectation when a glimmer of promise arose. The prophet Isaiah cried out: “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together” (Isaiah 40:3-5). Yet, generations came and went and the years ebbed and flowed with no sign of the promised one. Israel went into exile, and the voice of the prophets became silent. Would there be a way in the wilderness, and a smooth path cut through the desert? Or would God leave the people as exiles in the wastelands?

For over two-thousand years since that time, generations have seen Advent seasons come and go, each year igniting hope and expectation as Christians anticipate Christ’s return. Unfortunately, as can happen, human beings are apt to lose hope and heart in waiting. We grow tired and weary, and we like doubters and skeptics of old ask, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). The trial in the exile of waiting involves clinging to hope and not growing weary or faint, to hold on rather than to give up. For those who would wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.

The Advent season calls all who would watch and wait to expect the Lord’s return ultimately, but also to look for the ways in which his presence comes to strengthen and uphold all who traverse every season of Advent waiting.

Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

CharlesSpurgeon

Morning  “I have much people in this city.” / Acts 18:10

This should be a great encouragement to try to do good, since God has among

the vilest of the vile, the most reprobate, the most debauched and drunken, an

elect people who must be saved. When you take the Word to them, you do so

because God has ordained you to be the messenger of life to their souls, and

they must receive it, for so the decree of predestination runs. They are as

much redeemed by blood as the saints before the eternal throne. They are

Christ’s property, and yet perhaps they are lovers of the ale-house, and

haters of holiness; but if Jesus Christ purchased them he will have them. God

is not unfaithful to forget the price which his Son has paid. He will not

suffer his substitution to be in any case an ineffectual, dead thing. Tens of

thousands of redeemed ones are not regenerated yet, but regenerated they must

be; and this is our comfort when we go forth to them with the quickening Word

of God.

Nay, more, these ungodly ones are prayed for by Christ before the throne.

“Neither pray I for these alone,” saith the great Intercessor, “but for them

also which shall believe on me through their word.” Poor, ignorant souls, they

know nothing about prayer for themselves, but Jesus prays for them. Their

names are on his breastplate, and ere long they must bow their stubborn knee,

breathing the penitential sigh before the throne of grace. “The time of figs

is not yet.” The predestinated moment has not struck; but, when it comes, they

shall obey, for God will have his own; they must, for the Spirit is not to be

withstood when he cometh forth with fulness of power–they must become the

willing servants of the living God. “My people shall be willing in the day of

my power.” “He shall justify many.” “He shall see of the travail of his soul.”

“I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil

with the strong.”

 

Evening  “Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit,

the redemption of our body.” / Romans 8:23

This groaning is universal among the saints: to a greater or less extent we

all feel it. It is not the groan of murmuring or complaint: it is rather the

note of desire than of distress. Having received an earnest, we desire the

whole of our portion; we are sighing that our entire manhood, in its trinity

of spirit, soul, and body, may be set free from the last vestige of the fall;

we long to put off corruption, weakness, and dishonour, and to wrap ourselves

in incorruption, in immortality, in glory, in the spiritual body which the

Lord Jesus will bestow upon his people. We long for the manifestation of our

adoption as the children of God. “We groan,” but it is “within ourselves.” It

is not the hypocrite’s groan, by which he would make men believe that he is a

saint because he is wretched. Our sighs are sacred things, too hallowed for us

to tell abroad. We keep our longings to our Lord alone. Then the apostle says

we are “waiting,” by which we learn that we are not to be petulant, like Jonah

or Elijah, when they said, “Let me die”; nor are we to whimper and sigh for

the end of life because we are tired of work, nor wish to escape from our

present sufferings till the will of the Lord is done. We are to groan for

glorification, but we are to wait patiently for it, knowing that what the Lord

appoints is best. Waiting implies being ready. We are to stand at the door

expecting the Beloved to open it and take us away to himself. This “groaning”

is a test. You may judge of a man by what he groans after. Some men groan

after wealth–they worship Mammon; some groan continually under the troubles

of life–they are merely impatient; but the man who sighs after God, who is

uneasy till he is made like Christ, that is the blessed man. May God help us

to groan for the coming of the Lord, and the resurrection which he will bring

to us.

Progressive Revelation – John MacArthur

John MacArthur

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).

When Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets [the Old Testament]; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17), He was affirming that Scripture progressed from promise to fulfillment, from partial to complete. We call that progressive revelation.

For example, the Old Testament anticipated Christ’s coming; the New Testament records His coming. The Old Testament writers didn’t understand everything they wrote because it didn’t always apply to their day. That’s why Peter said, “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit” (1 Pet. 1:10-12).

Progressive revelation doesn’t at all imply that the Old Testament is inaccurate. The distinction isn’t in the rightness or wrongness of the revelation, but in its completeness. Just as a child progresses from letters to words to sentences, so God’s revelation progressed from types, ceremonies, and prophecies to final completion in Jesus Christ and the New Testament.

Thought incomplete by New Testament standards, the Old Testament is nonetheless fully inspired by God. That’s affirmed often in the New Testament. Peter tells us that no human writer of the Old Testament wrote of his own will, but only as he was directed by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). Paul added that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, [and] for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, emphasis added).

The Old Testament isn’t all of God’s truth, but all of it is true. And as you progress from the Old to the New, you see God’s character and redemptive plan unfolding in greater detail.

Suggestion for Prayer: Praise God for the fullness of revelation you enjoy in Scripture.

For Further Study:  Memorize 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

Simply Wrapped – Greg Laurie

greglaurie

And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. —Luke 2:12

Some people will go to great lengths to wrap a Christmas gift. They will create beautiful, ornate packages. I have no wrapping ability whatsoever. My wrapped packages look horrible. For men, wrapping paper is merely an obstacle to keep us from what we really want. We don’t care about wrapping paper. We just want to know what’s inside the package.

God’s gift did not come to us in elaborate wrapping; it came in simple wrapping. Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a very humble environment. Think how difficult the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was for Mary and Joseph. Then when they arrived, they had to stay in a little stable or cave where the animals were kept. The manger was just a feeding trough for the animals. And I think that place was very cold that night. I think it smelled like any other stable. It was a very unsanitary environment in which to bring a child into the world.

I don’t say that to detract from the beauty of Christmas. Rather, I say it to add to the beauty of what God did for us. The Creator of the universe, the Almighty God who spoke creation into existence, came and humbled himself to become a little baby, born in a stable in Bethlehem.

He was not laid in the manger in satin sheets, but in rags. He was not laid in a bed of gold, befitting a king, but in a feeding trough for animals. There He was—the greatest gift of all—in simple wrapping. Jesus took His place in a manger so that we might have a home in heaven.

Unashamed to Share the Gospel – Charles Stanley

Charles Stanley

2 Timothy 1:6-12

The apostle Paul understood the awesome responsibility of being entrusted with the gospel. Since he considered this calling a stewardship for which he would one day give an account to the Lord, he was willing to suffer for Christ’s sake in order to complete the task. As believers, we have this same obligation to share the gospel with whomever God places in our lives. However, we must ask ourselves if we have a similar level of commitment.

Paul felt compelled to tell people about Christ. In fact, he said, “Woe is me if I do not” (1 Cor. 9:16). No matter how anyone treated him, he wasn’t ashamed of the message of Christ. The prophet Jeremiah had a similar experience (Jer. 20:7-9). Even though he became a laughingstock and was persecuted for delivering the Lord’s message of coming judgment, he discovered that not speaking created a worse feeling inside—like fire in his bones (v. 9).

We may not want to warn people about God’s judgment for fear of driving them away from Him. But in reality, the lost are already far from the Lord and need to hear about His offer of forgiveness. Paul was willing to die to get the message out, yet too often we’re not even willing to face a little discomfort in order to share our faith.

We are surrounded by people who are desperately hungry for something, and they don’t even know what. Yet we have the answer to their need—and the responsibility to share it. Never be ashamed of the best news ever offered to mankind. It can change someone’s eternal destiny.

Christmas Triumphant – Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Z

Triumph, this time of year, seems to come in many shades of success. Try as we may to keep a perspective of cheer or charity or readiness for the coming of Christ, many of us feel most ready for Christmas when we have met every shipping deadline, reciprocated every Christmas card, and averted every scheduling conflict. Victories that we might otherwise find slight seem to become great feats during the holidays—finding a parking spot, getting the last box of Christmas lights in stock, beating the mailman to the mailbox. Other battles continue to brew over the accepting or rejecting of manger scenes, messiahs, and “Merry Christmases” in the face of less specific holiday tales and greetings. Though we may oscillate between who or what we are fighting against—the clock, the perfect hostess, the family stressors, the agendas of others—we seem to work toward Christmas one small feat at a time.

But as I sang the lyrics to a song during the lighting of the first Advent candle, I was silenced by the image of a victory we need do nothing but join.

Joyful, all ye nations rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

With th’angelic host proclaim,

“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

The triumph we are invited to join as we celebrate Christmas is far bigger than our best Christmases and more real than our worst. There are generations of believers offering the same cries of victory shouted on the very first Christmas night: Christ was born! God came near. God is with us! The birth of Jesus was orchestrated at the hands of God long before the inn would be full or the shepherds would be in their fields by night, long before my traditions would seem etched in stone, or my culture would remove the Nativity from the public arena.

While there are perhaps some victories to rightfully seek this season, many others can likely be forsaken; for the triumph of a God who came near to bridge a separation forged long ago in the garden is a victory already won.  The triumph Christians ask the world to join as we celebrate Christ’s birth is a triumph known from the beginning, foreseen by the prophets, heralded by John the Baptist, and cherished by witnesses whose voices still cry out the incredible news of the Christmas story:

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying:

‘Glory to God in the highest, 
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”

ill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

Penetrating the Box – John MacArthur

John MacArthur

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).

Since the beginning of time, man has deceived himself by thinking he can discover God through various religions. But in reality, man lives in a box enclosed within the walls of time and space. God is outside the box, and man senses He’s there but can’t get to Him. Each new religion is but another futile attempt to penetrate the walls of the box and catch a glimpse of God.

Man’s only hope is for God to enter the box, which Hebrews 1:1-2 declares He did: first by letter (the Old Testament), then in person (in Jesus Christ). Regarding God’s Word David said, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Jeremiah added, “The Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth'” (Jer. 1:9). Of Christ, the apostle John said, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:14, 18).

The irony of people thinking they can discover God on their own is that apart from the Holy Spirit’s leading, no one really wants to find Him. They merely want to add a cosmic good luck charm to their lives or satiate their guilty consciences. Paul said, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God” (Rom. 3:10-11, emphasis added).

God could have left us in our sin and ignorance, but He penetrated the box and revealed everything we need to know for redemption and fellowship with Him. What a privilege we have to study His Word and live by its principles! Be diligent to do so each day.

Suggestion for Prayer: Praise God for granting you the ability to appreciate His Word.

For Further Study: Read 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, noting how natural (unregenerate) people respond to divine revelation.

Are You Prepared? – Greg Laurie

greglaurie

And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.—1 John 2:28

When the first Christmas came, when Jesus was born, most people missed it. Of course, there were no telltale signs like reindeer on front lawns. No Christmas songs had been written. There were no colorful, twinkling lights or sales at the downtown market. Children did not find it hard to sleep that night, because it was a night like any other night.

But the first Christmas was not without its signs, which dated back a few centuries. The Hebrew prophets had predicted the Messiah was coming, and they were very specific in pointing out that he would be born of a virgin in the little village of Bethlehem: ” ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting’ ” (Micah 5:2).

On the first Christmas, it was pretty much business as usual. Things had been bleak for the Jewish people for some time. There had been an icy silence from heaven. Four hundred years had passed, and there had not been a single prophet to speak for God. There had been no miracles performed. They were under the tyranny of Rome. Things were very dark. It was time for the Messiah.

Yet when He finally arrived, so many missed it: The innkeeper. The people of Bethlehem. The scholars. Herod. All of Rome. Only a handful of people got it and were ready.

Jesus Christ is coming back to this earth again. The question is, have we done more to prepare for the celebration of a past event than we have for a future one? We may all be ready for Christmas, but are we ready for the return of Christ?

Secure Saving Faith – Charles Stanley

Charles Stanley

Those who believe salvation can be lost often ask an insightful question about the relationship between salvation and faith. The question goes something like this: If our salvation is gained through believing in Christ, doesn’t it make sense that salvation can be lost if we quit believing?

To answer this question, we must see what saves us. Paul tells us that we are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8–9). The instrument of salvation is grace. God came up with a plan and carried it out through Christ. We didn’t take part in it; we didn’t deserve any part of it. It was grace from start to finish. We are saved by grace through faith. “Through faith” is important, but often misunderstood. “Through” is translated from the Greek word dia, which carries the idea of “means” or “agency.” Faith was the agent whereby God was able to apply His grace to the life of the sinner.

Faith is simply the way we say yes to God’s free gift of eternal life. Faith and salvation are not one and the same any more than a gift and the hand that receives it are the same. Salvation stands independently of faith. Consequently, God does not require a constant attitude of faith in order to be saved—only an act of faith in Christ.

You and I are not saved because we have enduring faith. Faith is not a power we tap into or a button we push to prod God into action. Rather, faith is confidence that God will do what He has promised. We are saved because we’ve expressed trust that the Lord Jesus has really saved us.

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

CharlesSpurgeon

Morning  “Thou art all fair, my love.” / Song of Solomon 4:7

The Lord’s admiration of his Church is very wonderful, and his description of

her beauty is very glowing. She is not merely fair, but “all fair.” He views

her in himself, washed in his sin-atoning blood and clothed in his meritorious

righteousness, and he considers her to be full of comeliness and beauty. No

wonder that such is the case, since it is but his own perfect excellency that

he admires; for the holiness, glory, and perfection of his Church are his own

glorious garments on the back of his own well-beloved spouse. She is not

simply pure, or well-proportioned; she is positively lovely and fair! She has

actual merit! Her deformities of sin are removed; but more, she has through

her Lord obtained a meritorious righteousness by which an actual beauty is

conferred upon her. Believers have a positive righteousness given to them when

they become “accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6). Nor is the Church barely

lovely, she is superlatively so. Her Lord styles her “Thou fairest among

women.” She has a real worth and excellence which cannot be rivalled by all

the nobility and royalty of the world. If Jesus could exchange his elect bride

for all the queens and empresses of earth, or even for the angels in heaven,

he would not, for he puts her first and foremost–“fairest among women.” Like

the moon she far outshines the stars. Nor is this an opinion which he is

ashamed of, for he invites all men to hear it. He sets a “behold” before it, a

special note of exclamation, inviting and arresting attention. “Behold, thou

art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair” (Song of Sol. 4:1). His opinion he

publishes abroad even now, and one day from the throne of his glory he will

avow the truth of it before the assembled universe. “Come, ye blessed of my

Father” (Matt. 25:34), will be his solemn affirmation of the loveliness of his

elect.

 

Evening  “Behold, all is vanity.” / Ecclesiastes 1:14

Nothing can satisfy the entire man but the Lord’s love and the Lord’s own

self. Saints have tried to anchor in other roadsteads, but they have been

driven out of such fatal refuges. Solomon, the wisest of men, was permitted to

make experiments for us all, and to do for us what we must not dare to do for

ourselves. Here is his testimony in his own words: “So I was great, and

increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom

remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I

withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour:

and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that

my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and,

behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under

the sun.” “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” What! the whole of it vanity? O

favoured monarch, is there nothing in all thy wealth? Nothing in that wide

dominion reaching from the river even to the sea? Nothing in Palmyra’s

glorious palaces? Nothing in the house of the forest of Lebanon? In all thy

music and dancing, and wine and luxury, is there nothing? “Nothing,” he says,

“but weariness of spirit.” This was his verdict when he had trodden the whole

round of pleasure. To embrace our Lord Jesus, to dwell in his love, and be

fully assured of union with him–this is all in all. Dear reader, you need not

try other forms of life in order to see whether they are better than the

Christian’s: if you roam the world around, you will see no sights like a sight

of the Saviour’s face; if you could have all the comforts of life, if you lost

your Saviour, you would be wretched; but if you win Christ, then should you

rot in a dungeon, you would find it a paradise; should you live in obscurity,

or die with famine, you will yet be satisfied with favour and full of the

goodness of the Lord.

Jesus: Our Great HighPriest – John MacArthur

John MacArthur

The point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Heb. 8:1).

Access to God was always a problem for the Jewish people. Exodus 33:20 declares that no man can see God and live. Once each year, on the great Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the Jewish high priest entered into the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence dwelt in a unique sense, to approach God on behalf of the people.

God’s covenant with Israel was the basis for their communion with Him. And the sacrificial system that accompanied the Old Covenant gave the people an outward act to represent their inner repentance. But their sacrifices were incessant because their sin was incessant. They needed a perfect priest and sacrifice to provide access to God permanently. That’s exactly what Jesus was and did.

Hebrews 10 says that Jesus offered His body as a sacrifice for mankind’s sins once for all, then sat down at the right hand of the Father (vv. 10, 12). That was a revolutionary concept to Jewish thinking. A priest on duty could never sit down because his work was never done. But Jesus introduced a new and wonderful element into the sacrificial system: one sacrifice, offered once, sufficient for all time. That was the basis of the New Covenant.

Our Lord’s priesthood is permanent and perpetual: “Because He abides forever, [He] holds His priesthood permanently. Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:24-25). That’s the central message of the book of Hebrews.

It wasn’t easy for the Jewish people to accept the need for a new covenant. Most rejected Christ outright. Similarly, many people today reject His priesthood, supposing they can gain access to God on their own terms. But they’re tragically mistaken. Jesus Himself said, “No one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).

Suggestion for Prayer:   Praise God for receiving you into His presence through His Son, Jesus Christ.

For Further Study:   Read Hebrews 10:19-25, noting how God wants you to respond to Christ’s priesthood.

The Reason for Our Boldness – Charles Stanley

Charles Stanley

Romans 1:14-15

Even though most Christians are very familiar with the gospel, many are reluctant to share their faith because they just don’t feel capable of explaining it to someone else. When we lack confidence in our knowledge of salvation through Jesus Christ, fear of negative reactions or possible questions can keep us from opening our mouths. What if we don’t have the answers or end up looking like a fool? It’s just too intimidating.

But remember, God has given us the most important message in the world. Since we are confronted by so many unscriptural philosophies and religious deceptions, we need to understand the gospel and be able to present it with confidence and boldness. We can’t let fear or ignorance keep us from giving a lost world the only message that can change a person’s eternal destiny.

The apostle Paul welcomed every opportunity to tell people about Christ, because he focused on the gospel’s life-changing power rather than the negative reactions he might encounter. Oftentimes, the reason we are ashamed to talk about our faith is that we’re concerned about ourselves. But if we begin to look at the hurting people around us, express genuine interest in them, and ask God to open a door for us to share our faith, He will answer that prayer.

We tend to be motivated by temporal activities that eventually fade away. But people are forever, and they need to know the Savior. Look for opportunities to reach out: notice their expressions; ask how they’re doing. When their need stirs your heart, you’ll be eager to offer them the gospel.

2000 post for this site!

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

CharlesSpurgeon

Morning  “Thou hast made summer and winter.” / Psalm 74:17

My soul begin this wintry month with thy God. The cold snows and the piercing

winds all remind thee that he keeps his covenant with day and night, and tend

to assure thee that he will also keep that glorious covenant which he has made

with thee in the person of Christ Jesus. He who is true to his Word in the

revolutions of the seasons of this poor sin-polluted world, will not prove

unfaithful in his dealings with his own well-beloved Son.

Winter in the soul is by no means a comfortable season, and if it be upon thee

just now it will be very painful to thee: but there is this comfort, namely,

that the Lord makes it. He sends the sharp blasts of adversity to nip the buds

of expectation: he scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes over the once verdant

meadows of our joy: he casteth forth his ice like morsels freezing the streams

of our delight. He does it all, he is the great Winter King, and rules in the

realms of frost, and therefore thou canst not murmur. Losses, crosses,

heaviness, sickness, poverty, and a thousand other ills, are of the Lord’s

sending, and come to us with wise design. Frosts kill noxious insects, and put

a bound to raging diseases; they break up the clods, and sweeten the soil. O

that such good results would always follow our winters of affliction!

How we prize the fire just now! how pleasant is its cheerful glow! Let us in

the same manner prize our Lord, who is the constant source of warmth and

comfort in every time of trouble. Let us draw nigh to him, and in him find joy

and peace in believing. Let us wrap ourselves in the warm garments of his

promises, and go forth to labours which befit the season, for it were ill to

be as the sluggard who will not plough by reason of the cold; for he shall beg

in summer and have nothing.

 

Evening  “O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful

works to the children of men.” / Psalm 107:8

If we complained less, and praised more, we should be happier, and God would

be more glorified. Let us daily praise God for common mercies–common as we

frequently call them, and yet so priceless, that when deprived of them we are

ready to perish. Let us bless God for the eyes with which we behold the sun,

for the health and strength to walk abroad, for the bread we eat, for the

raiment we wear. Let us praise him that we are not cast out among the

hopeless, or confined amongst the guilty; let us thank him for liberty, for

friends, for family associations and comforts; let us praise him, in fact, for

everything which we receive from his bounteous hand, for we deserve little,

and yet are most plenteously endowed. But, beloved, the sweetest and the

loudest note in our songs of praise should be of redeeming love. God’s

redeeming acts towards his chosen are forever the favourite themes of their

praise. If we know what redemption means, let us not withhold our sonnets of

thanksgiving. We have been redeemed from the power of our corruptions,

uplifted from the depth of sin in which we were naturally plunged. We have

been led to the cross of Christ–our shackles of guilt have been broken off;

we are no longer slaves, but children of the living God, and can antedate the

period when we shall be presented before the throne without spot or wrinkle or

any such thing. Even now by faith we wave the palm-branch and wrap ourselves

about with the fair linen which is to be our everlasting array, and shall we

not unceasingly give thanks to the Lord our Redeemer? Child of God, canst thou

be silent? Awake, awake, ye inheritors of glory, and lead your captivity

captive, as ye cry with David, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is

within me, bless his holy name.” Let the new month begin with new songs.