Loving the Gift or the Giver?

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The last post was a hearty encouragement to really go for it at Christmas. Bake some goodies. Wrap some gifts. Celebrate.

Now, that sort of post quite naturally opens up a bigger question that Christians have wrestled with for hundreds of years; namely, “What is the role of material blessings in my walk with God?”

The real danger we face today is to love the gift instead of the Giver. We reject God (atheism) but enjoy all that he daily provides us with, snatching his gifts greedily without thanksgiving or praise. Many Christians fall into this trap. The “prosperity gospel” falls into this trap.

But there is a more subtle danger among Christians. It’s the danger of asceticism. Asceticism is denying the body and its normal, natural appetites. Rightly rejecting this atheistic attitude they seek to enjoy the Giver instead, or in spite of, his gifts. They pursue a sort of ethereal, spiritual, monkish existence where gifts are renounced as a way of showing how valuable the Giver is. They struggle with guilt and have a hard time receiving anything.

At this point I would encourage you to watch a short interchange between my two favourite breathing theologian/churchmen – John Piper and Doug Wilson. Jump ahead to the 52 minute mark:

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/a-conversation-with-doug-wilson-and-john-piper

So the answer to this apparent dilemma is that we need to embrace the tension of loving the Giver and the gift. Or perhaps you could say loving the Giver in and through the gift. On the one side we ought to reject asceticism and then enjoy the material blessings of God – music, sex, beer, bacon, family, among others. But on the other side we must constantly cultivate gratitude and worship towards God’s goodness such that we love the Giver even if – or better, when – the gifts are taken.

Three take-away points:

  • Embrace the life of self-denial. The Christian life is one of self-discipline adn self-denial. As Jesus said in Mark 8:34: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” ESV)
  • Maximize your gratitude instead of minimizing the material: “…everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:5 ESV)
  • Incorporate punctuated anchor points of prayer and praise to the Giver throughout your day, every day, and especially at Christmas where gifts abound: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17 ESV)
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Christmas points to Easter…and Easter to Christmas

Which holiday is more important? Christmas or Easter?

I remember having a conversation with my dad many years ago where we discussed the relative value of Christmas and Easter as holidays. During Christmas Christians celebrate the birth of Christ and God’s intrusion into human history to dwell with people; on Easter (and Good Friday) we celebrate his death and resurrection and what he accomplished for us through his death and resurrection; namely, the appeasment of God’s wrath, the transfer of Christ’s righteousness, and the consequent reconciliation to God for those who repent and believe.

Dad and I concluded that Easter should be the bigger celebration. Easter was when God dealt with our problem of sin by the crucifixion and resurrection of his Son. Jesus died the death we deserve to pay the penalty for our sin, and then he rose from the dead to secure our new-creational, resurrection life. I think most Christians would agree with our conclusion – at this time of year many Christians rightly explain that the real marvel of Christmas is that Jesus came as a baby to grow up and die for our sins.

However, I am beginning to think that Easter actually points back to Christmas.

At Christmas we celebrate the fact that “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). When Jesus entered history as a baby boy, God dwelt with people in a visible, unique, incarnational way. That is the glory of Christmas!

But the dwelling of God with people is also the aim of Easter. The goal of the Gospel (which is the good news, the salvation news, of Easter) is that we get God and we get to glorify God in getting God. As the book of Revelation draws to a close (as the Bible draws to a close), the Apostle John writes: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3 ESV). God began to dwell with people at Christmas. And through Easter he definitively accomplished, once for all, his dwelling with people as we live with him, presently through union and communion with Christ, and then eternally as we behold him face to face (Rev 22:4).

So both holidays are glorious. Both holidays point to the awesome reality that we get God.

Therefore,the obvious application is that this Christmas we ought to make time to dwell with God. Seek him out while he may be found. Worship him. Commune with him in Scripture and prayer. Come and adore him!

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Why Christmas is such a Big Deal

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Why is Christmas such a big deal?

There is a Presbyterian Pastor in Idaho named Douglas Wilson who wrote a book about Christmas called “God Rest Ye Merry” and the book’s subtitle is striking: “Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything.” Really? Is Christmas really the foundation for everything?

Yes it is. At Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation – when God, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Creator and Sustainer of the universe was born with little hands, little fingers, and a little heart. Little Lord Jesus was born – no crying he made? I doubt it. He was a real, human baby – that’s the point. God put on flesh and dwelt among us.

In John’s Gospel it says that “the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14 ESV). A more literal translation of that is “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.” What? “Pitched his tent”? Yes Jesus came down and built a tent, a dwelling place, among us; in fact, he built a tabernacle, a tent. There was a time in the Old Testament where you went to the tabernacle to encounter God. And that is why Jesus “pitched a tent” as it were when he came to earth. When we come to Jesus we encounter God, which is why John goes on to say, “…and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). That is the wonder and glory of Christmas – when we encounter Jesus we come face to face with the living God, the same holy God who dwelt in the tent in the wilderness.

And that is the foundation for everything. Since Jesus came down we have a new and living way to come face to face with God. By Jesus, and through repentance and faith, we get to enjoy God, worship God, commune with God, and dwell with God in whose “presence there is fullness of joy” and at whose “right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

Merry Christmas!