Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Immanuel means "God with us" but what does that mean? In our biblically illiterate minds we tend to assume that the presence of God is always a pleasant experience. But this is not so.

When the promise "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" was first given, it was a message of judgment. It was a warning that Judah needed to set its house in order. Read the passage (Isaiah 14) for yourself. King Ahaz is being warned that, since he has refused to trust in God, a child will be born who will be named "God-with-us." But this child will not be evidence of blessing on Ahaz and his kingdom. No, this child will symbolize God’s judgment on Ahaz and his kingdom. The land will become desolate. The few who remain in the land will have plenty of curds and honey to eat, but only because the majority will have suffered God’s wrath for their lack of faith.

Why do we forget that at this time of year? Why do people talk so lightheartedly about God-with-us? Do you really think that the presence of God would be an entirely pleasant experience?

Yes, Jesus came to seek and save (Luke 19:10). He also came for judgment (John 9:39). His presence in our lives means salvation, but only if his presence is accepted with humility, repentance, and faith.

We ought to remember the incarnation with joy and with awe. There is more to remembering the incarnation than singing carols and picturing the manger scene. There is the matter of repentance, turning our hearts (Luke 1:17). He is called Immanuel because he is God with us. He is with us to judge, to purify, and thereby to save. He is not with us to condone our sin, but to save us from it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Worthwhile Way

There are two ways of describing Christianity to the non-Christian.

The Madison Avenue approach tries to sell Christianity as an easier, more pleasant lifestyle. "Come to Christ and have your problems solved," it says. Sometimes this is watered down a bit more and becomes, "Come to our church; you will like us."

The other approach might be called the Via Dolorosa approach. This approach reminds people that Jesus died on a cross, called upon his followers to carry a cross, and made it plain that the way he marked out was difficult (Mt 7:14).

A.W. Tozer commented, "The regenerate man often has a more difficult time of it than the unregenerate, for he is not one man but two. He feels within him a power that tends toward holiness and God, while at the same time he is still a child of Adam’s flesh and a son of the red clay. This moral dualism is to him a source of distress and struggle wholly unknown to the once-born man."

The Madison Avenue approach is not the truth, but it does contain a grain of truth. The Via Dolorosa approach is the truth, but not the whole truth.

The true way has its difficulties, but it leads to the "peace that passes understanding" (Phil 4:7). There is internal conflict whenever the demands of God are introduced into the sinful heart of man. But this conflict is the only path that leads to a lasting resolution of our problems.

Christ is the answer. He can heal us. He is the great physician. His prescriptions will always be effective, but that is not to say that they will always be pleasant.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Home Trained Is Best

Homegrown vegetables and homemade bread taste better. Home trained children do better.

The world says, "Get your children into preschool as soon as possible. Keep them in school as long as possible. Let the experts raise the children. Keep the children segregated in groups with only their age-mates. Minimize their interaction with the older generation."

The facts do not support the world’s view. Research indicates that early schooling is not effective in the long run. A child that learns to read at four appears to be brighter than a child that learns to read at nine; but by sixteen the difference has disappeared or even shifted in the opposite direction. Studies of the long-term effectiveness of early childhood schooling indicate a negative effect - that while children isolated from their parents at a young age may do better in first grade than those who stayed with their parents, in the long-run (at the high school and college level) they tend to do worse.

Maybe that is why God placed the responsibility for training children in the things that really matter not on government institutions but on parents, and why he stated that instruction should be from the older generation, not from peers or near peers. (Genesis 18:19; Ex 12:26-27; 13:8; Deut. 6:6-9; Psalm 78:4; 145:4; Proverbs chapters 1-5;13:1; Isaiah 38:19; Ephes. 6:4)

The government will continue to offer schools, and I suppose that most people will use them. But the children who do best will continue to be the children who are getting training at home. The church will continue to offer Sunday school classes and youth activities. But the children who do well will continue to be those who get consistent training at home. Schools and church activities can sometimes be a helpful supplement to home training, but the primary responsibility rests with parents. Parents are to be the primary educators in a child’s life. Teachers (both weekday and Sunday) are supplemental. Let us not reverse the relationship.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Count The Cost

Jesus could have used a course in salesmanship. He had a great product, but he did not know how to close a sale. Instead of urging his customers to look at the benefits of what he offered, he instructed them to consider the cost. He put it this way once, "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish" (Luke 14:27-30).

In his book Basic Christianity, John Stott has made the same point in different terms. He wrote, "If, then, you suffer from moral anemia, take my advice and steer clear of Christianity. If you want a life of easygoing self-indulgence, then do not, whatever you do, become a Christian."

Stott went on to say, and I agree with him here as well, "But if you want a life of self-discovery, deeply satisfying to the nature God has given you; if you want a life of adventure in which you have the privilege of serving him and other people; if you want a life in which to express something of the overwhelming gratitude you are beginning to feel for him who died for you, then I urge you to yield your life, without reservation and without delay, to your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."

Yield your life to him, for "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39).