if His cross is the only victory I experience in this life
it is more than enough
to satisfy my deepest longings
now and for all eternity
none of my losses and defeats
no matter how painful or shameful to me
can withstand the boundless oceans of mercy
from His triumph over the deadliest enemies of my soul
and from my inclusion in His victory
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. – Isaiah 9:6-7
Christmas is not always a happy time.
- For some, it is a reminder that they feel terribly disconnected and alone.
- Many first responders, medical staff, “essential personnel,” and military service men and women will miss some or all of the holiday gatherings with their families, who will miss them deeply.
- When someone dear has died, this day will be reminder of the absence. Grief can resurface, barricading the heart from joy.
- And there are other losses, crises, and hurts that can kill the traditional spirit of celebration… an unhappy marriage or divorce, a family tension or conflict, unemployment, illness, and countless other forms of human pain and suffering.
Isaiah was a sensitive man who was weary of living in such a world of hurt and loss.
Isaiah lost king Uzziah after a prosperous 58-year reign. Admired for his efforts at religious reform and his personal devotion, Uzziah had impacted a nation—and a young man named Isaiah. Uzziah’s passing cast a long shadow over the future of the nation. Isaiah’s hero and spiritual leader was dead.
Isaiah began to seek God more than ever during dark and disturbing times. The world seemed as if it was reeling out of control. Then God gave Isaiah a powerful vision of His glory and power (Isaiah 6). Later, in Isaiah 9, God revealed details concerning a future Messiah who would restore order to a chaotic and corrupt world. Convinced of the rule of God in his life and in the world around him, Isaiah was transformed by the Christmas Revolution!
Let me say it again: Isaiah was gripped by a vision of the kingdom of God ushered in by the birth of a child – it would color the rest of his life and work.
You may feel life is reeling out of control and the world is a dark and painful place. And it is. You are not wrong about that. Isaiah saw it too and longed for change… real hope that Someone was going to come and reshape, reform, renew, and recreate all of life! Peering through time to observe what God was doing behind the scenes in human history, Isaiah saw the child… and he penned a poetic song describing the Son of God upon whose shoulders all authority will rest: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!
That child was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, but He is near you at this moment. He lives and He is not hiding in some far away corner of the universe. He is no Santa Claus, but He does see you always. He knows you.
The world you are living in can be filled with hope and light by opening the door to your heart. What do I mean by that? “Opening the door” includes…
- placing your trust in Him for salvation from sin and death (John 3:16-17),
- yielding to Him the reins of your life… He wants to change you from the inside out (Matthew 11:28-30, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Romans 8:29),
- letting Him come into your needs (Matthew 6:25-34),
- letting Him speak and obeying what He says (Matthew 4:4, 2 Timothy 3:16-17),
- taking responsibility for your sins, then seeking and accepting His forgiveness — His death on the cross was God’s way of wiping away your sins… Jesus died in your place (1 Peter 2:24, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, Ephesians 1:17, 1 John 1:9), and
- falling down before Him in worship (like the wise men). Rising from the dead, Jesus became Lord over everything that would be Lord over you (Philippians 2:9-11).
The King is here. He patiently waits for you to get that. It’s the bottom line of the Christmas Revolution.
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Editor’s Note: If you would like to obtain a single PDF file containing all 25 blogs in the “Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution” series, click here to download. May God richly bless your efforts to explore the revolutionary truth underlying the Christmas celebrations around the world.
Romans 8:15-16 “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”
How can I know for certain that I am a Christian? God wants you to know your salvation as a fact. More than that, He wants to write that truth on your heart.
When our oldest daughter was four she disobeyed and was scolded. Afterwards I could see that she was not feeling very good about herself. In fact, she was devastated. For a moment I could see a lifetime of self-doubt trying to climb its way into her soul.
I took her by both shoulders, looked her in the eyes and said, “You know what? If I could pick any four-year old little girl in the whole, wide world to be mine, do you know who I would pick?”
I could see the question loom large in her eyes as she wondered. Who would Daddy choose?
“You!” I said with a smile and a hug. The clouds lifted from her face and her soul. That exchange became a game we played for years — she needed it.
So do you. The Bible says that when we trusted Jesus’ death on the cross to save us from our sins, we were saved. Period. The Bible tells me so. But that’s not all. There’s more…
John tells us in his first letter that we can look at our daily life. Can you see a change? People who have been born again change over time. You may look at your life and see objective evidence that your life is different. But that’s not all. There’s more…
The Holy Spirit lives within. He wants to convey to your heart an experiential knowledge of your sonship. As He moves you to cry “Father”, He wants to open your spiritual ears to voice of God. Listen to a father’s heart: “You are my child. And of all the people in the world I could bring into my family, I choose you!”
Read Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Children shouldn’t have been throwing the ball in the church’s fellowship hall downstairs, but they were… and the inevitable happened: striking the wall by accident, the boys left a small, indented “crater.” One of the older men came in the next morning with his tools, calling out to me as he went downstairs “I’ll have it fixed in no time.” Several hours later he emerged covered in white dust. “You’ll have to call a professional,” he said as he exited the building, “I’ve done all I can do.”
I went downstairs to survey the repair attempt, only to find a hole that was four feet across! Rather than admit he was powerless to remedy the situation, my brother’s best efforts only made the hole larger and harder to repair.
Many people are searching for answers to their deepest questions and heartfelt longings. In this passage, Jesus gives instruction on how to find just such a spiritual “home.”
Jesus begins by exposing five attitudes that will keep you from finding your spiritual home. Like my well-intentioned church member, you might discover that your very best efforts to get answers about God have only served to carry you further away from Him.
1. “It’s all about me.” (vs. 16-17) Jesus compares some of the people in His day to children playing in a large open marketplace. One group of children chides another for not playing the game they want, the way they want it played, at the time they want it played. This attitude may be cute in children, but it is spiritual suicide to a real seeker of God.
2. “I know what an authentic religion should look like.” (vs. 18-19) The generation rejecting Jesus also rejected John the Baptist. Preaching a message of repentance, John was rejected for being too austere. Preaching the good news of redemption and forgiveness, Jesus was rejected as having too much fun, eating and drinking with sinners. Jesus wasn’t religious enough!
3. “I know what I am talking about.” (vs. 25a-26) Later Jesus praises God for revealing truth, not to the ones who thought themselves to be wise and learned, but to the “infants” in the crowd. People who think they already have the answers have stopped asking questions. This is deadly to a genuine pursuit of God.
4. “I do not need anything from you.” (vs. 25b) God chooses to reveal Himself to the “infants”—the ones who are most dependent on another for life and survival. The difference lies not in the intellect, but in the consciousness of need. The more conscious you are that you need a Savior, the more ready you are to recognize Him when He comes.
5. “I already know what God must be like.” (vs. 27) Jesus states in the clearest terms that He alone knows what God is really like. You must be willing to lay down your assumptions about God in order to learn the real truth from Jesus.
The call to your spiritual home is an invitation to:
Enter into an Intimate Encounter with Jesus Christ. (vs. 28)
Jesus says, “Come to Me.” He does not call us to a religious tradition or set of man-made practices, but to Himself. The qualified respondents will be those who are tired of keeping rules without a real relationship with a living God. Jesus also issues His invitation to those who have been loaded down by the religion-mongers of the world. His promise is real and simple. Literally, He says: I will rest you.
Embrace the Mission of Jesus Christ and Your Personal Assignment. (vs. 29-30)
Jesus says, “Take up My Yoke.” Like two oxen teamed together to plow a field, Jesus invites you into His work. For the seeking ones, He gives direction to God. For the hurting ones, He offers relief from God. His mission worked out through your life will be a unique one. In verse 30 He explains that His yoke is “easy” and the burden is “light”: literally, He means that it is “form-fitted” for you alone.
Experience His Guidance Through Every Step of the Journey. (vs. 29)
Jesus says, “Learn from Me.” The mission of Jesus and the person of Jesus are inseparable. You cannot serve Him without His help and power. He will guide us to not only do His will, but to become like Him in every area of our lives: self-controlled in action and humble in attitude.
If you will respond to this very personal invitation from Jesus, He promises you will find rest for your soul (vs.29): a true spiritual home.
Read Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Walking in the hot summer sun, we were enjoying a wilderness hike near a saltwater marsh in south Louisiana. Suddenly my son Jonathan was crying out, “It moved! It moved!” I looked up and he was dancing in circles about 15 yards ahead of us. Running to his aid, I arrived to see a small snake gliding away into the grass beside the trail. Jonathan didn’t think it was real when he found it sunning itself on the path in front of him. Nudging it with his shoe, Jonathan was startled to learn that real snakes bear a striking resemblance to fake ones!
Throughout the centuries churches have struggled with counterfeit Christianity. Despite every effort to assure that all church members have an authentic, growing relationship with Jesus Christ, leaders are often devastated when they see little or no evidence of conversion among some of the souls populating in their pews.
In Matthew 13 Jesus anticipates many of the questions plaguing the church today, including the question concerning counterfeit Christianity. He compares the reign of God on earth to a man who plants a wheat field, only to learn later that his enemy planted weeds while he was sleeping. The dilemma created by the co-existence of wheat and weeds in the same field sets the stage for Jesus’ explanation of how to handle counterfeit Christianity.
Where do counterfeit Christians come from? (vs. 24-25, 39)
Mincing no words, Jesus fingers the devil out of the line-up of possible culprits as the source of this problem in the church (vs. 39). Calling the fakes “sons of the evil one” (vs. 38), Jesus exposes a demonic plan to frustrate the reign and purpose of God in the church.
Without the notice of the church leaders (vs. 25), the devil plants men and women in the church who will be useful and responsive to him. They share the same appearance as the “wheat.” They share the same “soil” as the “wheat.” These false believers are living in close proximity to real Christians.
Outsiders are quick to criticize the church and question the veracity of the Gospel because some of the historic leaders of the church have been scoundrels. Yet, far from undermining the reliability of our faith, this problem confirms the accuracy of the Bible: Jesus said it would happen!
How can counterfeit Christians be identified? (vs. 26)
Counterfeit Christians can teach, preach, profess faith, do miracles, and perform good works (Matthew 7:15, 21-22). In the parable, no one noticed the problem until the wheat began to reproduce, forming heads prior to the harvest (vs. 26). The key difference between wheat and weeds is not in what they do, but in what they are. Wheat reproduces wheat. They are different by nature.
What can we do about the problem of counterfeit Christianity? (vs. 28-30)
Nothing. I should always examine myself, but my ability to judge the heart of others in the church is very limited and subject to error. How can I tell the difference between a counterfeit Christian and a carnal, immature Christian? (1 Corinthians 3:1) The truth is I can’t. Nor should I try. The Lord clearly instructs us to leave the suspected counterfeits alone: He promises to deal with them in the final judgment at the end of time (vs. 41-42).
Notice the calm demeanor of the Master (vs. 30). He is not surprised or disturbed by the problem. He is coming again and in His presence all counterfeits will be exposed and removed from the kingdom of God.
What about the responsibility to exercise church discipline in the church? Church discipline is designed to be applied to unrepentant, sinful behavior and false teachers. Church discipline can never deal effectively with false professions.
So I cannot test the faith commitments of people around me in the church. But I do need to examine my heart with care. Remember that in this parable, the counterfeit is exposed by nature, not action. The ultimate test of authenticity is this: is the character and life of Christ being reproduced in me and through me? Am I coming to know Him more intimately and is that relationship causing me to reproduce my life in the lives of other Christians?
Read 1 John 5:9-13
As a group of young, neighborhood friends, we were playing a fierce game of tag, running through backyards and between houses. I was being hotly pursued, when I sped around the corner of a house and saw him: a huge, tethered dog staring at me from a back patio! He barked and lunged at me. I stumbled backward and landed hard on my pride. As the beast approached, I did not feel safe—until he reached the end of his chain and stopped abruptly.
In that moment, I wanted immediate answers to some basic questions! Was I at a safe distance? Would the chain hold the beast back? How could I get out of this predicament?
Have you ever questioned whether you were really saved? I may believe the facts of the Gospel and I may believe in God’s ability to forgive my sins—but how can I know it all applies to me personally?
Based on John’s teaching, there are three diagnostic questions you can use to determine whether you are “safe in Jesus” and be certain of your salvation.
Does the Holy Spirit live inside you as a messenger of God’s truth and love? (vs. 9-10)
John explains that God is a witness to the identity and work of His Son. He did not want to leave you in the dark! In the gospels, God the Father verbally identified Jesus as His Son on two different occasions (Matthew 3:16-17 and Matthew 17:5). God the Father clearly tells you who Jesus is: the Son sent to die for you, setting you free from sin’s power and penalty.
How does He communicate His witness to your heart? John says, “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself…” (1 John 5:10). When someone hears the good news and responds—turning from sin and trusting in Christ’s work on the cross—the Holy Spirit has played a significant role. He not only convicts, but at the moment of decision, He comes inside the new believer.
In Romans 8:9, the apostle Paul writes: “…if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” The presence of the Holy Spirit in you—the witness of the Father—is the greatest assurance that you are safe in Jesus.
In Romans 8:16, Paul adds, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” The Father wants you to know that you are His child, so He interacts with you and communicates to you through the most intimate means possible: His Spirit living inside your body (Colossians 1:27).
Are you experiencing a growing, personal relationship with Jesus Christ? (vs. 11-12)
Visiting a friend at a large corporate headquarters, I had to wait in a comfortable lobby behind locked doors while he made his way downstairs to meet me. Once he arrived, I was free to enter and move around the building, so long as I was with my friend. If I had my friend with me, I had access. No friend, no access.
John writes, “He who has the Son has life.” Eternal life is not a promise, but it resides in a Person. Other religions may offer a different path to heaven, but God does not offer a path to eternal life—He offers a Person who says, “Follow Me!”
If you are growing in an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ through His Spirit and His Word, you can know that you are safe in Jesus.
Is your faith resulting in a changed life? (vs. 13)
The Holy Spirit is at work inside us, confirming God’s Word. Jesus lives in relationship with us, engaging us to follow Him. With these powerful influences at work within us, our lives should change.
John says, “These things I have written to you… that you may know you have eternal life.” What things? Throughout John’s letter, he explains that inner transformation results in outer reformation of our attitudes and behaviors. Over time, I should see real change in my life such as:
· A readiness to obey God (1 John 2:3);
· A sincere love for other Christians (1 John 3:14); and
· A concrete, practical response to those in need (1 John 3:18).
Over and over again, John indicates that if I am not changing outwardly, I am not being honest with myself or with others about my true spiritual condition (e.g. 1 John 1:6; 2:4, 9-11; 4:20).
Staring into the eyes of that angry dog years ago, I was able to conclude that he was chained up securely and couldn’t reach me. I got up and brushed myself off. Then with great relief and confidence, I walked away from the snarling beast—absolutely safe.
In the same way, you need to reach a conclusion regarding your personal experience of salvation. Ask the right questions. Be honest with yourself as you examine your own heart. Sin and hell would devour you if they could—but in Jesus, you can find a safe place—forever!
Romans 7:24-25 “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Can you think of something that you were never any good at — -but wanted to be? You tried your best. You took lessons. You read books. You practiced. But it was no use — you were never going to be any good at it.
Baseball was that way for me in the second grade. Just no good. The coach did everyone a favor by leaving me on the bench most games. I got a “hit” once when the ball bounced off of my knee on a line drive to second base. I still remember the cheers from the stands as they carried me off the field — I had never heard cheers before!
In Romans 7 Paul is expressing his frustration over sin. He wants to eradicate it completely, but as he grows, he continues to discover sin in his life like a multi-layered garbage dump.
Dear Christian, sin will be resident within you until death opens the door to heaven. You will hate things you say and things you do. You will wonder how a holy God could still love a person like you. You have not finished sinning. And there’s more to come. Much more.
Can you feel Paul’s anguish? “O wretched man that I am!” More importantly, can you exercise Paul’s faith that ultimate deliverance will come through Jesus Christ?
The truth is none of us are going to completely master the ins and outs of a holy life. We need to know that our failures cannot keep us from the love of God.
Someday you and I will be carried off the ballfield of life by his angels — kind of like that second grader who was no good at baseball. And there will be cheers from the welcoming saints in heaven’s stands. But the loudest cheering will come from the throne!