The following is the introduction to the book “Saving Christmas: How God Kept His Promise Through the Generations,” written by Pastor Mike and Travis McSherley. You can purchase the book in the RBC Bookstore, or order it online and have it shipped to you using the link below. We hope it will be a blessing to all of you.
This book tells the story of the war on Christmas.
We know what you might be thinking: Hasn’t enough already been written about how everybody says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” these days?
It’s true that we tend to use the phrase “war on Christmas” to refer to our cultural reluctance to attribute any spiritual significance to December 25. Though that may be an unfortunate trend, it is not what this book is about. And it is certainly not what the Bible is about. The real war on Christmas has much greater stakes—universal stakes, eternal stakes. It is a war that takes place on the grandest of scales between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. And it is a war that has already been fought—and won—by God Almighty Himself.
And where can you find the story of Christmas in the Bible?
To answer that question, your mind might go to Matthew 1 or Luke 2. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Maybe you would point to the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Or Isaiah 9:6, which says that “to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”
No doubt about it—those are wonderful and precious passages of Scripture on which to reflect when we think about the coming of the Lord. But what about Genesis 3? Joshua 2? Micah 5? The books of Ruth or Esther?
What if we told you that the entire Old Testament is telling the story of Christmas? That Christmas shows up on nearly every page? That each of the narratives is a link in a chain that reaches from Eden to Bethlehem? That the focus of Old Testament history was a war fought because somebody had to save Christmas?
This book provides an overview of that war, from beginning to glorious end, and the good, bad, and ugly people whom God used along the way. Over the span of thousands of years, God employed the most unlikely individuals and the most improbable circumstances to ensure that a baby would be born to a virgin in Bethlehem one holy night. He called murderers, liars, harlots, kings, queens, peasants, Jews, and Gentiles into His service—all sinners, you might notice. He made use of dreams, famines, plagues, and even governments. He used faithful people and faithless people. Because somebody had to save Christmas.
That’s what we celebrate during this season—not just the birth of the Messiah, our Savior, “God with us,” but also ultimate victory in the greatest war ever fought and the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem His people from the shackles of sin, death, and hell.
If you are a follower of Christ, we hope that this book will inspire you to worship the one and only King as you see how His sovereign hand has worked in every detail of every story to provide the way for salvation and eternal life. If you don’t yet believe in Jesus, our prayer is that your spirit will be stirred as you learn about the incredible and dramatic events that led to Jesus’ birth.
And may all of us be amazed by God’s power and love as we consider the price that was paid to save Christmas.
This is the third and final Q & A post from The Missing Peace teaching series. The first Q & A post is here. The second post is here. Thanks again to all who submitted questions for this series! We pray it has been helpful and encouraging as you walk with Jesus
– Jason VanDorsten & Jason Goetz
Can you elaborate on what Jesus meant when he said he did not come to bring peace, but a sword?
Jason VanDorsten – I figured that some us may be thinking back to week one, when Goetz touched on that fact that Jesus, the Prince of Peace said that he did not actually come to bring peace, but a sword. This is from Matthew 10:34-36: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”
I remember reading those verses for the first time as a very young Christian and thinking something along the lines of “…WHAAAAAT?!” I was so confused. How is it that the Prince of Peace brings a sword for war and divides people who should love each other?
I would say that the sword Jesus brings is not a physical one. In fact, when Peter draws a physical sword on behalf of Jesus in Matthew 26, Jesus rebukes him, telling him to put it away because “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Instead of a physical sword, the sword Jesus refers to here is a spiritual one, one that will divide and sever broken human relationships that are resistant to a reconciled relationship with the living God.
Jesus is making the point that although he brings real peace with God (and we as peacemakers offer real peace with God in Christ to others), it will bring relational division, conflict and even war. As we’ve said, we tend to think of peace in terms of absence – no pain, no conflict, no noise. Maybe we think of peace in terms of people shutting up – parents, a boss, a teacher, those guys on stage at church while Pastor Mike is gone (bless their hearts!) Out of our fallen natures and the residual “old self” that resides within even regenerated believers (see Romans 6-7), we all lean toward some form of personal “peace” that basically asserts, LET ME DO WHAT I WANT TO DO, LET ME BE FILLED WITH WHAT I WANT TO FILL MY LIFE WITH, LET ME ESTABLISH MY OWN KINGDOM WITH MY OWN RULES. Anything that gets in the way of the kingdom we are trying to set up for ourselves disturbs our version of peace, whatever that may look like for each of us.
I think Jesus is saying here in Matthew 10:34-36 that he didn’t come for that. He did not live and die and rise again for our tiny little definition of peace. He did not come to establish our kingdom, but His Father’s kingdom.
As we’ve said throughout the series, true peace – shalom – is not the kind of peace that man naturally wants or desires. Our human definitions of peace are too narrow, our goals fall too short. So when we come to the table with the gospel, declaring God’s terms of surrender found in repentance, God’s terms of believing the gospel of Christ, we find a violent opposition – sometimes from within, sometimes from without.
Why this opposition? Because I do not naturally want to surrender to the truth of the gospel as it involves acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord & King of all – including all of me. The gospel is a call to submit to Someone other than myself and the idols I set up as I build my own little kingdom. So there is a violent opposition between God’s terms of peace in Christ and the terms of peace we want. Therefore until repentance comes in man’s heart, by God’s grace, there will be no peace. And that gets back to the light/darkness topic addressed in the first Q & A session, under the question “Why would peacemakers be persecuted?”
Being a light in dark places will make enemies even of those even in your own household if they love the darkness.
How can we make peace with a fallen world – Is this even possible?
Jason Goetz – Unfortunately, it is not possible to make true shalom peace with individuals who have not accepted Jesus as their Lord. It is only possible to make shalom peace when both parties hold to the same standard – the Gospel. Without both parties acknowledging Jesus as Lord and desiring to honor Him, you’ll always have one side that is pursuing a counterfeit peace. This counterfeit peace may appear to be shalom, but it is always full of their own desires (Isaiah 64:6) – the desire to avoid conflict, the desire to be liked, the desire for others to “return the favor”, etc. Though we cannot make true shalom peace with those that don’t follow Jesus, we are called to bring, reflect, model true shalom peace to them (Jn 20:21, Mt 28:19) in the hopes that they will accept Christ.
JVD – In addition to Goetz’s answer above, I’d say for peace in terms of interpersonal relationships, refer back to the principles in the response to the question “How do I make peace with a non-Christian?” In regards to world peace, or general peace in the world system, check out the answer to the question “If shalom means the way things were meant to be and there is sin in the world, can we ever really have true shalom here on earth?”
If only Christians have true peace, can only Christians bring true peace?
JVD – It stands to reason that no one can bring to others that which the do not possess. So in that sense, only Christians can bring the true peace of Christ to others. While people can know about God through what is called general revelation (see Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19:1-4 for examples), general revelation does not communicate the explicit truth of salvation through Jesus Christ – the gospel. Faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved from the penalty of sin, and thus the only way to true peace. So how can people know the true peace from the gospel? Romans 10:14-15 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” God’s people – true, believing, regenerated Christians, saved by His Son, moving in the power of His Spirit, directed by His Word – are His chosen vessel for the good news of peace with God through Jesus (Matthew 28:19–20; Acts 1:8).
How can I know if my peace is really in Jesus or if it’s just circumstantial?
JG – This is a natural question and common to all Jesus followers. It exists as part of the ongoing tension we will face during this lifetime. Shalom peace is the direct result of accepting the truth of the Gospel – admitting that I am a sinful person, accepting that I cannot earn God’s forgiveness or favor, repenting of my wrongdoings, and trusting that God sent His Son Jesus to pay the penalty that I deserve. Put differently, we often wonder (to varying degrees) whether we have shalom peace with God. We need to rest in the fact that our decision to follow Jesus is eternal (John 10:28).
That being said, we don’t even consider this question during the moment-by-moment occasions when circumstances are perceived as neutral – things happen the way we expect them to happen (we are healthy, our car starts when we turn the key, we still have a job, etc.) In a truly introspective moment after something good happens to us, we may occasional ask ourself, “Does my peace come from Jesus or this really good thing?” But most of the time, we tend to ask ourselves this question regarding circumstances that we view as negative. We begin to doubt our faith and consider whether our perceived peace was only present because life was going well.
We are called to live our lives as a living sacrifice for Jesus (Romans 12:1). We are also commanded to rejoice and give thanks in all situations (1 Thes 5:16-18), regardless of the circumstances.
In a practical way, we can ask ourselves the question – “Would I still be joyful (have peace) if this doesn’t turn out the way I want?”
JVD – Diagnostic questions like Goetz’s above very helpful to me when considering this question. Personally, I think the answer to this ultimately lies deeply in the theme of idolatry. By idolatry, I don’t mean little wooden men that I set up and bow down to… but spiritual idolatry. I’ve heard idolatry defined as taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing. What or whom do I esteem, value, or worship more than God? What or whom do I tend to escape to when times are difficult? Is it Jesus? Or something (or someone) else? What thing or relationship, if taken out of my life, would leave me completely, hopelessly devastated? What do I fear? What do I seek? What do I feel is missing from my life? What one thing or relationship would make me truly happy if I had it (or didn’t have it)? What disappoints me or makes me angry? What do I expect and how do I respond when those expectations aren’t met?
While these questions are helpful in a preemptive way, I find more often than not that it is the unexpected and difficult circumstance itself that often reveals what I really believe about Jesus – and I always feel like I come up short. We will feel the hurt even more keenly when a painful situation shows us we have been trusting less in Jesus than we dare believe. But He is far more gracious, kind and faithful than we dare hope. He does not leave us, but walks with us during those seasons. Like a good Father would, our Lord is kind to take the idols from our hands and turn our faces back toward Him. For most of us, as Goetz indicated, we are probably already trusting more in our circumstances than in our Lord. I think that’s going to be unavoidable to a large degree. But when I have those realizations, I don’t want to sweep them under the rug or wallow in self-pity, but allow God to use those times to push me deeper into all we have in Christ.
What are some practical ways we can “make every effort” (Romans 14:19)? What does doing something with “all” of yourself look like?
JG – I would say that this comes down to a struggle with idolatry, much like JVD outlined in the response to the previous question. We are struggle with this to some degree. Ask yourself the question – Is there something in my life that I am more committed to than Jesus? This might be in life overall or during a given season. Whatever that thing is is holding you back from an all-out pursuit of God. Pursuing God with the same tenacity that we pursue that idol would model what we see in Mark 12:30-31 – “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
However, we are still sinful individuals and it isn’t going to go perfectly for us in this. We will turn away and desire something less, just like the nation of Israel. But the more we know God and recognize His unconditional love for us, the more we are drawn to Him and committed to serving Him.
JVD – One of the folks who sent a version of this question preempted it with this statement: “My observation in life is that we (myself included) seldom do things to the best of our ability; we tend to do things to the best of our willingness.” Not a bad observation. I think “making every effort” is not just muscling through, but has a lot to do with God changing my desires so that they align with His. What my heart desires, my will is going to pursue. Making every effort to toward peace, or loving God and others with all we have, is work – but work that we do as a result of our faith in Christ (James 2:20). On a practical level, if we are just going through religious motions, I think we’ve missed the mark. I need the Spirit of God and the Word of God leading, guiding, directing me to from within to accomplish what God is calling me to do as one who is to love with “all.” In a very real sense, in order for me to give my all or make every effort, Jesus “must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). He must direct my desires, and I must surrender my will to His.
Why is peace so elusive when it is one of Jesus’ promises? Saying it is a broken world is not sufficient to answer this question.
JG – I think even more important than the broken world is the broken man. Shalom is so elusive because we really don’t want it. At our core, we don’t want to be right with the one true God…..we want to be God (Gen 3). Peace (from a sanctification perspective) is always there for the Christ follower, but our sinful nature draws us away from experiencing it. Paul articulates this so well in Romans 7:15-20: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
JVD – Despite the protest that came with this question, I think that saying it is a broken world is in many ways a very sufficient answer. We may not like that answer, but you can dig down pretty deep there. That said, I’d have to agree with Goetz regarding broken man. Christian or not, most people can quote John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He have His only Son…” One of the amazing things about that verse is not just that God would give His Son to save something so BIG as the world, but also that He would save something so BAD as the world – a world in which no one meets the holy standards of God and not one seeks God (Romans 3:11). Broken people in a broken world make for elusive peace.
Does this mean failure on Christ’s part to deliver on His promise? Not at all. His promise is both for now and for eternity. If I am broken and Jesus is not, I have to consider that the elusiveness of peace in the present is not a failure on His part to deliver, but a failure on my part to perceive. You can refer to our answer to the question “If shalom means the way things were meant to be and there is sin in the world can we ever really have true shalom here on earth?” in this post. Though our salvation in Christ is secure in the eternal sense, our present realities are still lining up with our eternal status. I think this often plays into the question of elusive peace, as well as the pull toward circumstantial peace discussed (in this post, above) in response to the question “How can I know if my peace is really in Jesus, or if it’s just circumstantial?”
How do I stay at peace when there is no peace from something (abuse, chronic illness, ongoing conflict, divorce, etc.)?
JG – We sympathize with those of you that are in these types of situations. The reality is that difficult circumstances may never fully go away. It’s during difficult times like these when it is critically important to circle back to the point at which we got peace – the Gospel. With that in mind, we need to rely on the Gospel truths that we find in God’s Word:
- You are God’s child and nothing can change that (John 10:28)
- God is there to protect you (Proverbs 18:10)
- God is your strength (Ephesians 6:10)
I think the responses to the question of circumstantial peace (above, in this post) can also be helpful in thinking through this question.
JVD – Before I jump in to this question, we would be clear and quick to say that in cases of abuse please do not assume that making peace and pursuing peace means continually submitting yourself to the evils of abuse. In no way would we want to imply that remaining in an abusive situation is somehow the most spiritual or godly thing to do. If you are being abused in some way – including, but certainly not limited to psychological, spiritual, physical or sexual abuse – get out and seek help.
To the question, I think we would certainly reiterate the distinction between shalom and circumstantial/situational peace. And absolutely, we must circle back around the the Gospel, as Goetz points out. Does this mean that the Gospel specifically tell us what to do in every single circumstance or situation? No, not explicitly. But the Gospel does tell us all we need to know about who God is, who we are, how God sees us, how God sees others, and how things turn out in the end. While it does not make every situation and circumstance easy and well, the Gospel is the lens through which we must view and navigate the individual circumstances and situations we face. We have the tendency to judge God through the lens of our situation – i.e., This situation is _______(difficult, painful, disappointing, etc.), therefore God is________ (distant, angry, apathetic, etc.) We must go back again and again to the Gospel in order to do precisely the opposite – instead of passing judgement on God because of our situation, view our situation through the lens who God has shown Himself to be.
We have to understand that there will be circumstances and situations that will not change this side of eternity, so we will not experience that kind of peace we want in them. In reviewing our series with some of the staff, someone said, “Conflict is our address. It’s where we live.” Meaning – we will not be free from difficulty and pain until Jesus comes back. If you dealing with heavy, ongoing difficult circumstances, I would recommend some time before the Lord meditating on, working out and praying through Philippians 4:4-9 – a great promise from God that begins with rejoicing not in a situation, but rejoicing in God despite situations:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
If I’m reading this correctly, God will guard my heart with His peace – not because the situation gets better and not because I understand all the whys and hows and whens – but because I walk with Him in thankful prayer with a rejoicing spirit. May He give us the grace to do just that.
This is the second Q & A post from The Missing Peace series. The first Q & A post is here. Again, we’ve combined some of the similar questions and are posting our answers here in hopes that they are helpful and encouraging as you have peace, make peace and bring peace in Christ.
Many of the questions in this post were answered in a live session in the third week of the series. You can watch or listen here.
How do I make peace with a non-Christian?
Jason VanDorsten – As we talked about in week two, I think this has to back to the Gospel. I’m assuming that this question – for the most part – is from an evangelistic standpoint, not just interpersonal. Either way, the answer is still the Gospel – and I mean the Gospel not just as a presentation, but living the Gospel out before others.
Pastor Rick Warren makes the great point that our culture has generally accepted 2 specific lies – we operate under these false assumptions, and they play into how we live out the Gospel before others. The first lie is that if we disagree with someone else’s viewpoint or lifestyle, then we surely must hate and fear them. The second lie is that to love someone means we have to be totally on board with every little thing they say or do. Both of those are nonsense. We can be – we must be – deeply compassionate toward others without compromising the convictions and mandates of the Gospel that are at odds with others’ lifestyles.
But I think those cultural lies have lead us as Christians to be polarized in our interactions with people who are not like us. We tend toward peacebreaking (just smashing people with the truth at the expense of love) or we tend toward peacefaking (caring for people and loving them, but at the expense of truth.) We have to depend on God and His Spirit to lead us toward peace with right measures of grace and truth as we live the gospel out in our daily lives.
Prayer is an essential component – in living the Gospel out, we are to live in such a way that shows our peace lies in One greater than ourselves. We need God to empower us in that. And in the end, regardless of how well or how poorly you approach peace with a non-Christian, it is God who must ultimately capture the heart. So if we have ongoing relationships with non-Christians and we want them to see the light of Christ, we must pray for God to intercede and do that work. It may be through us or through some other means – but we should spend no small amount of time in prayer for that.
Beyond prayer? I would say obedience, love, and stewardship. Obedience – God has sent us out, so we are to move forward in obedience to Him in reaching others with His terms for peace, the gospel. Love – we know the greatest commandment is the love God with all we are, and the second is like it; to love others. Stewardship – we must be good stewards of the relationships and opportunities that God give us. I realize that’s really general, and in considering this question, I would love a “here’s 10 steps to relational peace” type of answer. I think there are guiding principles, but I’m not sure there’s a magic bullet that will work with the dynamics of every relationship – relationships are not formulaic. So I can’t really give a “follow these 10 steps” kind of answer. In the end, to have peace with a non-Christian, we are calling them to follow Jesus. “Follow Jesus” is a hard sell, because it’s not an invitation to an easy life – it’s a summons to give up your life. It’s a call to peace, but not the kind of peace people naturally want. So prayer, obedience, love and good stewardship are essential.
For good practical ways of doing that, I highly recommend a book called The Peacemaker by Ken Sande – extremely practical and helpful book.
Jason Goetz – I’d like to add a quick point here as well. In a very practical way, we need to be honest with ourselves over responsibility. We need to recognize what we are in control of and what we aren’t. In so many relationships, whether peacemaking or not, I see people taking responsibility for something outside of their control. “I can’t believe she said this, I can’t believe he did that,” etc. You can only control that which is in your control. I have this dialogue with my kids all the time because this isn’t natural and it needs to be taught.
How can I have peace between me and my unbelieving spouse?
JG – First, I’d like to acknowledge that this is a very difficult situation and we appreciate those of you hat shared so openly in your questions. We empathize with you and commit to praying for the situations that you find yourself within. If you are in the situation of being married to an unbelieving spouse, you entered this arena likely in one of two ways. The first scenario is one where you entered into marriage with an individual that didn’t acknowledge Jesus as Lord. The second scenario is one where you & your spouse got married as unbelievers, but the Lord graciously revealed Himself to you. Now you are in a position of accepting Jesus as your Savior, but your spouse isn’t there yet. Bridget and I entered marriage as unbelievers, but the Lord’s plan was to reveal Himself to us during the same season. This may not be the case for you.
To begin, I’d like to build off of what what has already been said. First, we need to recognize what is within our control and what is not. We cannot lead our spouse to Jesus or control if / when they recognize Christ’s gift to us on the Cross. We must recognize that our spouse’s salvation rests within God’s sovereign plan. However, as Jason said, we are called to prayer, obedience, love, stewardship within these situations. I love that God doesn’t leave us hanging on difficult matters like this, but He speaks to them directly. In this case, the Lord gives specific instructions to both women and men that find themselves in this scenario.
For wives with unsaved husbands, we read this in 1 Peter 3:1-2: Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
Wives are reminded to be subject to (or respectful of) their husbands. In this case, we’re told that “even some” of those husbands “do not obey the word” – that is, the Word of God, which gives us the instruction to accept Jesus as our Savior. In other words, these are men that haven’t accepted the truth of the Gospel. However, there is hope! These men may be “won without a word” – they may accept the good news of Jesus Christ without a Gospel tract or even a single word. How? Peter tells us that some of these men are won over to the truth of the Gospel “by the conduct of their wives.” When these husbands see the “respectful and pure conduct” of their wives, literally, an unsaved husband may witness the love of Jesus pouring out to him through his wife and be drawn to Jesus.
For husbands with unsaved wives, we have a similar instruction to that found in 1 Peter. But this instruction is for all husbands with Christ-following wives and those with wives that haven’t trusted in Christ. We find this instruction in Ephesians 5:25, which reads: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”
We, as husbands, are called to love our wives in the same way that Christ loved His church. How or in what way did Jesus love the church? Jesus loved His church enough to come to earth as a human, humbling Himself, to live a perfect life that we cannot live, to die a death that we cannot die, and to rise from the grave on our behalf. In short, Jesus modeled for us unconditional love and forgiveness. Are we going to be perfect in our marriages and in our homes? Absolutely not – I know for sure that I’m not. But to model the gospel within the home is huge. To tee up the fact that with wife that you, aren’t going to be perfect, to not hold her to the unattainable standard of perfection, and to confess sin when we commit it and seek forgiveness. This speaks volumes to our wives and is so drastically different from what they see around them. Not to LEAN ON your wife to accept the gospel, but to LEAD ON in your marriage and your home toward Jesus is critical. You show me a man that is loving his unbelieving wife in this way – unconditionally, like Christ loved His church, and I’ll show you a woman that wants to find out what makes that man tick.
JVD – I would also throw in briefly that I wouldn’t want anyone in this situation to feel the pressure of “try harder, do better.” That’s not what we’re saying – that you should just buckle down and be perfect, or your spouse is never going to come to Christ and it’s all your fault. While Goetz emphasized not “leaning on” your spouse to pressure them into a decision, you should – you must – lean into Christ. Let Him be at work in you. Let Him be at work in your spouse. Trust Him through the process, and don’t succumb to the pressure that this somehow all rests on you. Lean into Jesus and let Him do what only He can do – redeem and restore.
Is shalom something that you learn as you get to know God more or something that God gives as a gift if you ask for it?
JG – Yes! It’s not an either/or, but actually both. I’ll answer the second part first. If you remember – we said that there was complete shalom in the Garden between God and man (Adam & Eve). This shalom was broken when man turned away from God and sinned. The restoration of that initial relational shalom is offered by Jesus as a gift to restore the broken relationship between God and man. As I mentioned earlier, we need to choose to step over the line and pass from Darkness (no Jesus) to Light (Jesus). When we accept Christ, we restore that core, central relationship to shalom, to the way it was intended to be.
But the first part is much more challenging to explain – total shalom (outside of that central relationship) is ALSO something that you learn as you get to know God. When the initial relational shalom was broken between Adam & Eve and God, it caused a ripple effect that went out into the world – causing evil, war, sickness, tragedy, suffering, pain, injustice, guilt, lust, and even death. As our shalom with Christ goes out, it collides with the rough waters – the lack of shalom, the negativity of the world in which we live, etc. – that’s already there.
As we grow and mature in our relationship with Christ, shalom starts to spread, impacting these areas of collision. Not because of anything that we’re doing, but because of what Christ is doing in us. The best verse that I can think of that speaks to this is in Paul’s letter to the Romans. In the beginning of Chapter 12, Paul tells the young church filled with young believers (new peacemakers), “in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
When we offer our body as a living sacrifice, when we turn our lives over to Christ, He changes us from within and renews our mind – literally causing us to think differently. We progressively move from wanting God to change the way He acts to wanting God to change the way we think. These new believers Paul is addressing (and us) will be able to test and approve, to understand, God’s perfect will and the ways that He is moving. We begin to have peace in the job loss, the miscarriage, the illness, the passing of a loved one. We also begin to get relational peace in the progress (or the lack of progress) and the persecution we face when bring peace to a person that desperately needs Jesus.
If shalom means the way things were meant to be and there is sin in the world can we ever really have true shalom here on earth?
JVD – In terms of world peace, or worldwide peace – I’m going to say definitely no. Worldwide peace is a beautiful ideal, but it is not one that will be realized until the return of Christ. In Matthew 24, Jesus is teaching – and it’s this dark, apocalyptic teaching on the end of the age, or the end times – and He says that until the day of His coming, there will be “wars and rumors of wars” and that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” “famines and earthquakes” – believers will be put to death and hated for the sake of Jesus’ name. It’s dark, but that’s the way the world will be until Jesus returns for those who are His. No shalom in the created order, in the natural world. No shalom among nations. No shalom among people of opposing kingdoms.
So will there be overarching, lasting shalom on earth? Not until Jesus returns.
Can we experience true shalom until then? I think we certainly can catch glimpses of it. In John 14:27, Jesus says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Colossians 3:15 says that we are to let the peace of God rule in our hearts. Galatians 5 says that peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Scripture opens with peace in the garden, closes with peace when Christ comes back to rule, and everything inbetween seems to point to peace with God through Jesus Christ – so I have to say, that yes, we can experience pockets of shalom.
Do we have shalom with God? Yes – I believe that by faith, because the Scriptures tell me I do. The gospel assures me of a final, eternal shalom with God. I can live from that now. It is certainly a promise for later, but it is also a promise for now. Do we experience that shalom on this earth all the time? No. Not only do we live in a broken world – which is a major factor – we also live in a spiritual tension of being holy, yet being made holy.
I think of Hebrews 10:14 – For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Being sanctified, or sanctification, is the process of being made holy, of being perfected. This verse says that God has perfected (past tense) those who are being perfected (present tense). It is as if God says, “I have done what I am doing.” In this process we call sanctification, our present realities are still lining up with our eternal status.
Experientially, personally, I feel like I catch glimpses here and there – times of wholeness, fullness, rightness. This is a stupid analogy, but it’s like golf for me – I play maybe once a year, and I am horrible. But there’s almost always that ONE SHOT that makes me believe this is a viable game. It’s just enough of a glimpse of what it should be like to keep me coming back.
So while we are perfect in the eternal sense and being perfected in the intermediary, we are able to see dim glimpses of something greater that will not be fully, consistently experienced until Christ returns. We live in the tension of I Corinthians 13:12 – “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
Why does Paul start all his letters out with grace and peace to you? How are grace and peace related?
JVD – Paul often repeats that phrase, “grace & peace be with you.” He sometimes also uses the phrase “grace and mercy and peace be with you.” Briefly, I would say that peace is ultimately the result of grace and mercy. If grace and mercy are the foundation, peace is the house built upon them. A quick definition of mercy is not getting what we deserve (we deserve punishment, but God extends mercy and does not punish). In grace, we get what we do not deserve (God extending to us all the good things that we have no inherent right to).
As a result of God’s stance toward us in Jesus – mercy and grace – we have peace. I think when Paul says grace & peace (or grace, mercy & peace) be with you – he does this often in the epistles, those books of the BIble that were originally letters to local church congregations – it’s like a mini-sermon. It’s this tiny encapsulation of the gospel, reminding us that we are sustained by the faithfulness of God; it’s not by how good or bad we’re doing as we struggle through life – it’s the active grace and mercy of God that holds us, keeps us. Therefore, in light of His mercy and grace, we have peace because God made peace with us. We’re prone to forget, so Paul – like a good shepherd and a faithful apostle – is reminding us of the wonders of grace, mercy and peace we have in Christ.
Muslims fast for thirty days once a year during a period called Ramadan (or Ramazan). Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of the religion of Islam and one of their highest forms of worship. During these thirty days, Muslims around the world will fast from first light until sunset, not even drinking water. They will typically break fast to eat and drink in the evenings. In the Muslim culture, Ramadan marks a period of heightened religious sensitivity and is regarded by Muslims as an act of obedience and submission to God as well as a means of atoning for sin. They view their fasting during this time as a way to purify themselves and earn favor with God.
As followers of Christ, clearly we do not celebrate Ramadan as a holy month like so many Muslims do. However, the Islamic emphasis on earning favor with God though the fasting and abstinence during this season should call to mind at least two things for us:
1 – We should be humbled and grateful before God that we do not have to earn His favor. Jesus Christ atoned for our sins – no other atonement is sufficient or necessary (Romans 3:22-26). God has done that for us, a great gift of redemption that cannot be earned or achieved through our good works. It is God in His great love and mercy that makes us alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-9). Thus, we should be both immensely humbled and grateful. Mind you, our gratefulness shouldn’t be in the Pharisaical sense (“God, thank You that I am not like these other people…”) but with a sense of wonder that He should have mercy on sinners at all (Luke 18:9-18:14).
2 – We should be drawn in compassion toward those who do not know His gift of grace in Jesus. In the first chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul urges Christ-followers to comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from our Heavenly Father – the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (1 Cor. 1:3-5). Muslims have no concept of God as Father, and without Christ, cannot know Him as such or be reconciled to Him. So for the Christian, the Muslim celebration of Ramadan is a special opportunity to pray that they might come to know the great and eternal comfort in Christ.
Why should we pray for Muslims during Ramadan? Our compassion for the lost should draw us – at a minimum – to prayer for them. Prayer for Muslims during Ramadan is a means by which Christians can missionally identify with Muslims for a fixed period of time and call for God’s sovereign intervention in the lives of Muslims during a time of the year when they are particularly religious.
We would certainly be clear that praying for Muslims during the month of Ramadan does not mean that we conform ourselves to the Muslim practices. As believers in Jesus Christ we do not hold to Islamic ideas, theology and practice. However, we can – and should – place an emphasis on God’s love for Muslims. All believers should cultivate a spirit of humility, love, respect and service toward Muslims, and the month of Ramadan is an entirely appropriate season to redeem for the glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Though Muslims have been caricatured as “unreachable” with the Gospel, this simply is not true. About 20 years ago, the world had about 1.1 billion Muslims. Islam was a little-known religion in most Western nations, and efforts on the part of the Church to share their faith in Christ with Muslims were scarce. Today, efforts have increased ten-fold, and the technological advance of the past 20 years has transformed the way in which the Gospel is communicated to previously-unreached Muslim groups. For example, radio and satellite broadcasting throughout the Muslim world has resulted in millions of Muslims responding to the message of Christ. In the Arab world alone, one ministry, SAT 7, has a regular audience of 8.5 million. RBC supports a number of missionaries who are serving in Muslim communities around the world.
Many Christians are finding a new passion and commitment to see God’s kingdom come in Muslim nations, according to an article from Thirty Days Prayer Network.
In November 2012, 70,000 Christians from all denominations gathered in Cairo to pray for their nation. Others are finding increasing boldness as they lovingly reach out to their Muslim neighbours in new ways during these uncertain times.
Across the region there is an explosion of stories of Muslim people coming to faith in Christ and meeting together for support, encouragement and discipleship. Increasingly, however, these movements are finding themselves the targets of intimidation and persecution by their family, community or governments.
The challenges in reaching Muslims for Christ are great, but the power of the Gospel is greater. Our prayer is that Muslims will experience the love and grace of God the Father through the revelation of His Son, Jesus, to them as their Savior.
We encourage you to seek further information and gain a greater understanding reaching the Islamic world for Christ by viewing articles online at www.30-days.net. There, you can find daily prayer ideas though the month of Ramadan, as well as general articles and ministry ideas relating to Islam.
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Jason VanDorsten with Bill Hurley
In early October, a team of five from the RBC went to Brazil to partner with Mike Meyers, RBC Children’s Ministry Associate and founder of Open Arms, in an event called Voz e Vida. Voz e Vida, Juntos Pelas Crianças (Voice & Life, Together for the Children) is an annual benefit concert held in Assis, Sao Paulo, the base city for Open Arms in Brazil. This gospel music event seeks to cross over denominational lines and bring together Christians to reach every child with the gospel of Jesus Christ through the work of Open Arms. The event also has gospel proclamation component both within the concert itself as well as throughout the promotion phase leading up the concert during radio, television and newspaper interviews. From Mike & Patricia Meyers:
Whenever we engage in short term missions, the question arises about what kind of impact was made and whether or not it was worthwhile. Let me answer that question here. In the space of two weeks, we were able to share with the city of Assis, Brazil about the work that Open Arms has done and is doing among the children of this city and throughout the region in the name of Jesus, via radio (nearly a dozen interviews, four of them with the guys from the band), television (2 stations), newspapers (3 papers published 6 quarter page stories), the schools (2 grade schools, 1 technical school and one university) and all culminating in a concert before a very enthusiastic crowd.
This massive exposure was in large part due to the participation of five very humble servants of Christ from Reston Bible Church. Erik & Elisa Palmer, Jesse Trask, Brian St. Andre and Carter Keeton took Assis by storm and left here with a city full of new friends, and fans. Besides their busy promotion schedule during their week in Assis, they came prepared to work with our kids at their schools and in a Children’s Day party which was to be held on October 12th. The party got rained out but the team still was able to minister to 600+ children in two of the public schools we are partnered with.
The gospel was preached in word by our team and in deed by the RBC Five. Their example of joyful, sacrificial service, not to mention the music which was an immediate hit, has opened doors for the ministry more than we could have imagined. Since they left, our staff and I have been running non-stop responding to new donors, volunteers and business leaders who want to get involved in what God is doing among the children here.
On behalf of the staff, volunteers and children of Open Arms in Brazil, we have only thanks to give. Thanks to God for bringing this event together, thanks to Reston Bible Church for standing by this ministry and sending your very best to us, and thanks to the team for encouraging our staff here with their music, their laughs, and their example.
Mike & Patricia Meyers
Katie Gates shares how an experience in the Amazon opened her heart to sin and the fullness of the Gospel of Christ and how that is leading her to minister to the poor and oppressed.
I think one of the most discouraging things for the average Christian to face is trying to figure out which theological system is right or which theologian is right. We are often bewildered as to how such great scholars can come up with so many different interpretations.
This at times can be almost paralyzing as we watch these titans of the faith do battle over the meaning of words and doctrines while the rest of us stand on the sidelines waiting for the dust to settle, which it never does. Then we observe people who have little or no theological training who love the Lord supremely, obey Him consistently, draw deeply from His word, sacrifice joyfully, witness boldly, pray fervently and worship passionately. How can this be? I recently returned from a trip to the Amazon where I had the great privilege to meet with a tribe that had just been reached with the gospel. There we were, standing in the midst of the great Brazilian jungle witnessing what I like to call THE ORGANIC GOSPEL, with no doctrinal preservatives added.
These people had known the Lord for just four months. They had no bibles, no theological system they were following, no knowledge of doctrine, yet seemed to have a great grasp of the basic fundamentals of the Christian life. I was a bit skeptical until I heard some of their testimonies. This was a very small tribe, but their hope in the Lord dwarfed what I see in our western culture. One woman stepped forward and said she used to be angry and hard to get along with but now that she has been forgiven of her sins by Jesus, her anger no longer has a grip on her. Another stepped up and said, “I used to curse my children but now I bless them.” While yet another said she knew in her heart that something was not right when she heard that Jesus had come to set her free from her sin. She is now at peace, even though life is very hard.
So here are five things I learned from this tribe that I never knew about the gospel.
- The simple gospel taught them how to pray. Since God is a personal God then praying to Him seems only normal now that they are believers. They prayed for us before we left. It was beautiful and full of hope.
- The simple gospel taught them how to walk by faith. They were trusting God for their daily provisions, and if you could see the conditions these people live in, you would understand how faith was essential to their daily walk.
- The simple gospel taught them how to worship. They asked if we would teach them some songs so they could praise God in greater ways. We sang together under the shade of heavy vines draped over the limbs of giant trees drawing up water from a nearby swamp.
- The simple gospel taught them how to witness. They had a desire to reach other tribes with this message.
- The simple gospel taught them to seek forgiveness from one another. This was the clincher for me. One woman said, “Since Jesus forgave us we have decided as a tribe that if we ever offend one another in word or deed, we will go to that person and ask forgiveness.” I taught on this for years. Most of us in the west tell those we have offended, “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize,” but few will look the offended party in the eye and say, “Will you forgive me for what I have done?” That is what these people practice.
Some of you might be saying to yourself, “I have always known that the gospel alone could do this.” Let me challenge you on that thought. Why is it that the western church has to have endless books on how to worship, how to witness, how to pray, how to walk by faith, or how to forgive? Why do we have countless seminars on these subjects? But let’s ask an even harder question. Are we living these out with all of our theological knowledge? Perhaps this is getting a little uncomfortable. As I looked at these people I couldn’t help but think, “This is not a tribe, but a church – and a pretty mature one at that.” Do you know of a church in the U.S. that practices these disciplines? These people had no pastor, no creeds, no statement of faith, no theological system, no eschatological date for our Lord’s return, no worship center, and no prayer room. All they had was the ORGANIC GOSPEL.
Now before you write me off as one of those pastors that says, “Let’s get rid of doctrine and just love Jesus,” hear me out. I love good doctrine and have taught it for many years. After all, I pastor a Bible church. The purpose of good doctrine is to protect the gospel from cults, new age philosophies, and health & wealth theology (which, in fact, is no theology). Doctrine is highlighted when the gospel is attacked. Great theologians rise up as they should. Creeds and confessions are written. Books on systematic theology spring up. All this can be good, but it can also bury the ORGANIC GOSPEL. When theology is worshiped in place of the One it directs us to, then we are in serious trouble. The résumé of a person is not the person. It simply describes the person, albeit in a very limited way. No matter how much doctrine we compile, God will never be adequately explained by any group of people or any system of theology. So let’s remove our pride and learn from the tribe.
You can watch or listen to Pastor Mike’s account of this trip to the Amazon here.
A new year is symbolic in many ways. It is commonly a time when we look back and reflect on the past year, while also looking ahead in anticipation at the year to come. We make resolutions and set goals; it is a time to refocus, renew, recalibrate. The new year is often bittersweet mixture of shame and thankfulness, regret and hope. Our reflections and anticipations during this time will often set the tone for the months ahead.
There’s something about “newness” that attracts us – whether in regard to a new year, a new job, a new car, a new gadget, a new relationship, etc. With a new thing, there’s always some level of fresh hope (and probably an undercurrent of “THIS will be the thing that really satisfies me!”) But it always goes the same way, doesn’t it? The “new” wears off – the new thing eventually just becomes the thing, and so we move on to the next new thing.
As I have been thinking through that process in my own life, I have been reminded of the centrality of the Gospel. Most of us are likely familiar with these words from Luke 2:10-11: And the angel said to them, “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.
Those verses provide a two-line summary of the Gospel:
1.) The Gospel is good news for the joy of all people.
2.) The Lord – the Creator God of the universe – is the Christ who comes to Earth to save.
While there is much more you can say about the Gospel than this, there is not less. The Gospel is beautiful in its simplicity, majestic in its depth, and completely unique in its purpose. There is no greater truth than the Gospel. God was kind to remind me of the centrality of the Gospel in the form of a question that has tugged at the corners of my heart and mind for the last couple of weeks – Has the “newness” of the Gospel worn off for you?
I find it common within most churches to think of the Gospel as only for non-believers, or to consider the Gospel “kindergarten Christianity.” I often fight in my own heart and mind to keep from considering the Gospel as remedial, something to move past so I can get on to something more interesting. Early in my own process of coming to know Jesus as Savior, I saw the Gospel as something new and beautiful and exiting – but there are plenty of times now when I catch myself treating it as though it were something primarily for other people.
Paul writes in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” This is a verse we tend to think of in terms of evangelism, and rightly so. We must not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus in terms of sharing it with those who do not know its great truths. However, this verse is just as applicable for Christ-followers. We must not be ashamed of the Gospel in our own daily lives.
What does it look like to be ashamed of the Gospel in such a manner? I can think of at least two ways:
- By treating it in thought and action as though it were no longer something we need. The Gospel is not something we come to terms with once, then move on to something greater, deeper, or more useful.
- By failing to consciously apply the Gospel to our lives every single day. We should daily preach to ourselves the Gospel with the goal of aligning our lives with Christ, to whom the Gospel takes us. The trajectory of our lives should be constant, joyful struggle to align our lives with His by working out the practical applications of the Gospel in every area of thought and action.
Reflecting on Gospel-centrality in a right way will always lead us to the person and work of Jesus. Christ is the whole point of the Gospel – without Him, there is no Gospel. Jesus is the good news that came to earth; God as a baby who grew into a man, lived a life we should have lived (but could not), died a death we should have died (but could not) to a penalty we should have paid (but could not). To those that believe that as good news, it is the power of God for salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. This is not a message that gets old.
Has the “newness” of the Gospel worn off for you? Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us that the mercies of God are new every day, and I can think of no clearer portrait of the mercies of God that the Gospel. May God grant us the grace to see our need for the Gospel every day and the strength to preach it to ourselves daily. May He keep us from the foolishness of thinking we can ever get past the Gospel. May our daily appropriation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ be a constant reminder that this is not a message that ever gets old.
Jon Foreman wrote a song based on Psalm 23 called The House of God, Forever. Great song. His lyrics echo the final verse of the Psalm – “I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” It also reminds me of Psalm 84, which begins like this – “How lovely is your dwelling place, LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD … Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.”
Whether you get really excited about Christmas, really depressed, or somewhere in the middle, I think our reaction is tied in some way to this idea of being in the house of God, being in the presence of the Divine. Our reaction to Christmas is somehow linked to our innate longing to experience relationship with the God we were created to worship.
Maybe you’re a person who gets really excited about Christmas – you love the aspect of family gatherings, of giving gifts, of special traditions. My guess is the reason we love these things so much is that in a broken world, these are glimpses that point you toward something that is hardwired into the human heart – a longing to be in the house of God, where all is right.
Maybe you’re on the other end of the spectrum – Christmas for whatever reason drains you, makes you depressed, highlights a very personal sense of loneliness. it’s the flip side of the same coin – it points you to the fact that things are not as they should be; there is an unfulfilled longing to be in the house of God, where all is right.
Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, let me say this: we are made for something more than what we experience here on Earth. In every heart is a yearning to be in the house of God – to be united in relationship with our Creator. But in every heart is a tension, a disconnect, some level of frustration because we all know that things are not quite as they should be. There is something about Christmas that highlights this in some way for each of us.
The familiar icon of a manger scene reminds us that many people celebrate Christmas as a birthday – the birth of Jesus Christ. Birthdays are special days not because of the day itself, but what that day represents. Your birthday, for example, is not just about a number on a calendar. A birthday represents more than just a day, a moment; it celebrates more than just an event, an occurrence. Birthdays are special because they represent an individual life; a birthday means something because it celebrates a person.
This is true for each of us, and infinitely and gloriously true of Jesus. December 25 is a date that holds no lasting value apart from the Person that it celebrates – Jesus. As we experience the longing to be in the house of God and deal with the tension/disconnect that things are not as they ought to be – it is Christ who is the key to fulfilling that basic longing. It is Jesus and Jesus alone who bridges that gap between us and God.
So Christmas is not at its core a celebration of a day or a season or a tradition. It is a celebration of a Person: the Person of Jesus Christ, who alone opens the doors to the house of God for us. You and I simply do not have the ability to overcome the gap between our own brokenness and the God we were meant to worship. There could never be enough we could ever become or do or say or give or feel that would make things right between us and a perfect God. This is why Jesus came, and why we celebrate Him above all else. There is no one like Him. He opens the doors to the house of God for us.
Christmas is a time that we celebrate something that is true all year long – that God came to earth, born as a humble baby, grew into a man, lived a life we could never live, died a death we could never die to pay a penalty we could never pay. Those who would believe that and trust Him by faith will be able to live and love and worship in the house of God forever, where all is right.
Christmas is not just about a day, an event, a singular occurrence. It is about a Person – Jesus Christ. Lord. Savior. Friend. He is both imminent and exalted – Emmanuel – God With Us. This Christmas and in all the days beyond, may we celebrate more than a day, a season, a tradition. May we celebrate the Person of Jesus Christ. There is no one like Him.
The remarkable story of Joseph and his forgiveness is the foreshadowing of Christ and His forgiveness. It reveals to us the very nature of forgiving the deepest offenses. This type of forgiveness is supernatural and requires the greatest application of gospel truth. The test of a person’s character is their ability to forgive. Here are five questions designed to stimulate our thinking on the subject of forgiving.
1. Do you believe you could forgive the way Joseph forgave his brothers? Keep in mind the depth of pain his brothers inflicted on him: the pit of injustice where he was left to die, Potipher’s house where he was falsely accused, the prison where he was forgotten.
2. Are you having trouble letting go of hurts far less severe than Joseph’s? Why such an account of this man’s story if not to encourage us in our own journey of being misunderstood?
3. Do you believe God’s grace is sufficient? The apostle Paul says that it is when he addresses this issue in 2 Corinthians 12 with these words, which are from Christ himself: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
4. Are you rejecting His grace? We are reminded by the writer of Hebrews not to reject God’s grace lest a root of bitterness springs up and defiles many.
5. Are you a conduit of the very grace that saved you? Can you get over getting even with the father who never said “I love you”? What about the coach that played favorites or the boss that gave the promotion to the wrong person?
The problem with getting even is that it hurts us more than the one we wish to get back at. It shows that we do not believe that vengeance belongs to God and God alone. Getting even is not good for our health. It has been said that bitterness is drinking poison in hopes that someone else will die. Getting even shows that we don’t see the bigger picture as Joseph did when he uttered his famous words “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
Let’s get over getting even and let God right every wrong.
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9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
~ Romans 12:9-13
In Romans 9:13, God instructs us through the words of the apostle Paul to practice hospitality. It is worth noting that Scripture is not tossing out a suggestion here. “Consider practicing hospitality when it is convenient or if you feel you might be particularly gifted in that area.” No. Practice hospitality. Paul’s word choice here is specific. He is not saying “practice” in the sense of “try this out to see if you’re any good at it” but rather “do this over and over and over so often that you get good at it.” Therefore, we are commanded to eagerly pursue, seek, and run after hospitality. Furthermore, Paul indicates from verse nine that the pursuit of hospitality is a fruit of sincere love.
In 1 Peter 4:8-9, Peter, like Paul frames hospitality in the context of a loving command:
8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
It would stand to reason that the call to pursue hospitality is not merely a call to practice a certain set of actions (thought it is not less than this), but a call to be a certain type of person. You know this type of person immediately when you encounter them. They love sincerely and deeply; they are hospitable with no strings attached. They are the type of person who is willing to undergo personal sacrifice for the glory of God and for the good of His people. In God’s call to practice and pursue hospitality, this is the type of person He is asking us to be.
Hospitality by its nature is inconvenient, and the practice of hospitality requires some level of personal sacrifice. There have been many times when my family and I have been the recipients of others’ hospitality. I remember a specific time earlier this year when some friends invited us to their house for brunch. It was evident that an amount of foresight and preparation had gone into our being there. Their house was clean, a meal had been prepared, and their demeanor and interactions with us were warm and engaging. They broke from their normal routines, bought extra food and invested extra time and effort to invite us into their home, though we had no inherent right to be there. The command to pursue hospitality is a command to be that type of person, willing to sacrifice, not grumbling at the inconvenience or resentful at whatever personal cost has to be made to pursue someone through hospitality.
It is not difficult to see how hospitality is intrinsic to the gospel of Jesus Christ. A great price has been paid by a gracious Host to invite many in to a place we have no inherent right to be. We are here by loving and gracious invitation. If we understand the gospel, hospitality is simply a natural overflow of Jesus’ grace in our life to others’. Only through Him can we be the type of person God calls to be.
During our relocation process, I have been using and thinking about the phrase “our new church home” to refer to our new facility here in Dulles, VA. “Home” has certain implications for most; for me, home is an intersection of duty and delight. There is duty in that my home requires constant maintenance and upkeep, and there is delight in extending the benefits of my home with others – family, friends or otherwise. Particularly in this age of visual learners, the practice of hospitality is a poignant and tangible reminder of God’s gracious hospitality though Christ. Hospitality should be a hallmark of our homes and our church. God grants us the grace to pursue this virtue through Christ, and to steward this well, we must find that sweet spot where duty and delight intersect – obeying the command to practice hospitality, but delighting in it because it glorifies Him as our greatest treasure.
Pray that God would mature and bless our families and our church as we seek to reflect the glory of the gospel of Christ through the practice and pursuit of hospitality.
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Let me also offer a practical & specific next step for you: consider joining our Host Team here at RBC. The Host Team is comprised of volunteers who serve during weekend services in various capacities. This team is an incredibly important part of church life at RBC and is the first point of contact for many guests and our own congregation. We currently desire to raise up over 100 men and women to serve as ushers and parking lot attendants during our Sunday services. You can find more information here: www.restonbible.org/resources/volunteer
I love hearing stories of how God is at work in His church. Such stories remind me that it is normative for Jesus to be active in the lives and hearts of His people, and they remind me of the greater context in which we “do” church.
If you’ve been around RBC much at all, you already know that each year for the past six years we have hosted a stage production called Conversations the week before Easter. Through hospitality, music, real life stories, and dramatic vignettes, we seek to communicate the power of the Gospel of Jesus in a loving, practical and relevant way. There are many stories that can be shared about how Christ has used Conversations as a means to reach hearts for His glory, and I wanted to take time to share one with you in the form of an email that one of our staff received after this year’s production:
Thanks so much for your emails and for the personal card and gift in the mail. I really appreciate you reaching out, and have been meaning to write back to you for a while because I wanted to share an encouraging story with you. I hope that you will share this with others who may also be encouraged.
I have been looking for a new church recently, and Ali has recently joined me in my search over the last month or so. Ali has a mixed-faith background and described herself to me as a “seeker” when I broached the subject when we first became friends (just a few months ago). We came to visit RBC on Palm Sunday, and heard about Conversations. God has most certainly been pursuing Ali through various circumstances that have come together in just the right timing.
Although I consider myself a strong Christian, the last two years have been the toughest of my life. My faith and my motivation for evangelism has waned lower than ever. However, despite my recent brokenness and struggles, God used RBC and me to draw Ali to himself. When we attended Conversations that Tuesday night, we were both incredibly impressed and moved to tears. Afterward, I invited Ali in to chat, and I had the privilege of leading her in a prayer to give her life to Christ, just before Easter. I wanted to share this with you because I know that those involved in Conversations will be greatly encouraged to know that they were a key role in Ali’s decision. Conversations also greatly encouraged and softened my somewhat hardened heart – praise God!
Ali and I are signed up for the Starting Point class that begins this coming Sunday, and she is eagerly reading her bible daily, always excited to pray and worship and attend church. I not only praise God for bringing Ali into an eternal relationship with Him, but also the incredible encouragement she is to me!
Thanks again for the warm welcome to RBC.
For His Glory,
While church productions and programs come and go, the work of Jesus remains steadfast and strong and will endure for eternity. What a humbling thought that He would use so small a thing as a stage production to do a great and lasting work in the hearts of those who saw and heard what Jesus has done in the lives of others. Be encouraged – God is at work in His church.
Have a story to tell from your experience at Conversations this year? I’d love to hear about it.
“Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15)
In International Connection, the English as a Second Language program at RBC, it is only occasionally that we have the blessing of walking a student through the doors of salvation (for a variety of reasons – various faith backgrounds, cultures, linguistic challenges, etc.) This past year, however, one of our teachers had that very privilege with a woman brand-new to our program in September 2009. B., though entry-level in her understanding of the English language, nevertheless managed to grasp the truth of the gospel very early on with the help of her teacher and other believers to whom she was introduced.
B. had other issues to surmount in her life. She lives in a women’s shelter due to a domestic abuse situation. However, she was extremely motivated to make this country her home and to get to the point in her language ability to make a living for herself and her family. She attended our program twice a week faithfully as well as that of another church-based English program. She was promoted to our Beginner-level class from Pre-Beginner quickly. She began to attend church every week and got into a Shepherd group. In time, she had a devoted “family” of believers whom she could count on for love and support.
A friend of B.’s told her about her plan to go on the Brazil mission trip and asked B. to pray for her, including asking the Lord for financial provision. The needs in Brazil are familiar to B. because, sadly, there are women and children who live on dumps in her home country too. In addition to praying, B. wanted to contribute $100. The only problem is that B. does not have a job because she does not have her green card yet. She is limited to only working an occasional personal job, like babysitting. Another friend of B.’s knew she was a certified beautician in her home country. That friend asked B. if she would come to her house and cut, color and style the hair of yet another friend. B. accepted and was delighted to earn the $100 she needed for her gift!
She emphatically and joyfully gave that income to the person signed up for the mission to Brazil this summer! A whole host of people who know her were touched by this generous and sincere gift – and the blessing will be extended to another group of people far more destitute than B., thousands of miles away in Brazil.
We are in awe of the lessons God has shown us in this situation – that financial support can come from completely unexpected places and that He can use even brand-new, cross-cultural believers in the faith to inspire the rest of us.
IF I BELIEVED IN THE GOLDEN RULE, THEN I would see others as more important than I see myself. “…But in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Phil. 2:3)
This is such a hard truth to accept. Rationalization can readily get the upper hand in this one. Why should I treat others with such sacrificial love when they don’t treat me that way? It’s the old “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine” deal. But that philosophy simply doesn’t play out very well on the stage of life. This is why the world is in the condition that it is in. It is why families are dysfunctional. It is why there is friction in business and in the church. I don’t know how many times in sharing my faith that the person I am talking to tells me they will go to heaven because they live by the Golden Rule. Has anyone ever lived by the Golden Rule? I mean, really? How many times have you passed by someone who is obviously stranded on the highway and were too busy to help? You didn’t even want to look them in the eye for fear of feeling more guilty than you already felt.
IF I believed in the Golden Rule, THEN I would actually do what I would want done for me in the same situation. For instance, if I were driving along the highway minding my own business and saw someone who looked just like me, I would slow down and take a second look. Suppose it turned out to be me? Would I pull over for me? You bet your booties I would. I would most definitely pull over for me because I really like me. In fact, “like” is not a good enough word for how much I think of me. I am crazy about me. I am my number one fan. Mike is numero uno and deserves to be rescued because he is the greatest. At least, Mike thinks so.
If I lived by the Golden Rule I would not get through the day. I would not make it to work because I would be stopping along the way to help out people the way I would want them to help me. I could not make enough hospital visits or bake enough food to meet every need of the poor. So let’s all agree that none of us lives by the Golden Rule. So why does the Lord tell us to conduct our lives this way? Have you ever noticed that the Lord never says “to the best of your ability, pray when you get a chance,” but rather “pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17)? Have you ever noticed He doesn’t say “meditate if there is time in your schedule,” but rather “meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2)? The Lord doesn’t say “try your best,” but rather “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:8) or “be holy as I am holy” (I Pet. 1:16). God’s standard could never be anything but perfection, thus the Golden Rule.
This is the heart of the Gospel. Christ lived out what I couldn’t. He didn’t have to meditate day and night because he is the living word. He is the answer to prayer. He is the embodiment of the Golden Rule. So to be in Christ is to have carried out all of these impossible demands. II Corinthians 5:21 tells us that we have become the righteousness of God in Christ. The righteousness that we could not achieve he achieved for us. Do we now decide never to pray or live by the Golden Rule? To quote the apostle Paul, “may it never be.”
Instead of the impossible standard of the Golden Rule, this is now our motivation – the power of the Gospel. “….and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20b).