Category Archives: Incarnation

Loose Your Religion – Make Room for Relationship

It’s hard for us to realize this today, but when Christianity first arose in the world it was not called a religion. It was the non-religion. Imagine the neighbors of early Christians asking them about their faith. “Where’s your temple?” We don’t have one. “Where are your priests?” We don’t have priests. “Where are the sacrifices made to please your gods?” We don’t do that kind of thing. Jesus himself was the temple to end all temples, the priest to end all priests, and the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. First century Christians were even called atheists. They were the non-religion.

Religion in general is man’s strategic manual for how to reach God. But Christianity is not a religion in this sense. Christianity holds that man, no matter how hard he tries, cannot reach God. Man cannot ascend to God’s level. Therefore there is only one remedy: God must come down to man’s level (that’s what Christmas is all about). Scandalous though it may seem, God must become man and assume the burden of man’s sins (D’Souza, Christianity, 290). Christianity teaches that this was the great sacrifice of Christ – from heaven to amniotic fluid. In religion, man must take the active role. In Christ, God does it all. And religious people generally find this offensive, because it takes away the “tax-payer status” with God. In other words, if I am good and do good things, I have rights to make demands of God.

Tim Keller, a New York City pastor, tells about a conversation he had with a woman. She said that she had gone to a church growing up and she had always heard that God accepts us only if we are sufficiently good and ethical. She had never heard the message of sheer grace through the work of Christ. She commented though on how scary that was for her. She said “If I was saved by my good works –then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace – at God’s infinite cost – then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.” Says Keller: “She could see immediately that the wonderful-beyond-belief teaching of salvation by sheer grace had two edges to it. On the one hand it cut away slavish fear. God loves us freely, despite our flaws and failures. Yet she also knew that if Jesus really had done this for her – she was not her own. She was bought with a price (Keller, Prodigal…).”

God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior. Christianity proclaims that all the things that religion promised but couldn’t deliver have been delivered once and for all by Jesus.

The world has many religions, but there’s no Gospel in them. In all the world religions, man is endeavoring to reach up and somehow find God. Only in Christianity is God reaching down to man. Christianity holds that man, no matter how hard he/she tries, cannot reach God. Therefore, there is only one remedy; God must become man and assume the burden of man’s sins. And that’s what He did at Christmas. Loose your religion. Make room for relationship.

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Always Winter But Never Christmas for An Atheist

Without Jesus it would have been always winter, but never Christmas on this planet (to borrow a line from Lewis). This is especially true for an atheist. If there is no God, then there most certainly is no “Son of God” – no Jesus, no birth in Bethlehem, no 33 years of authenticating our humanity, no cross, no resurrection, no larger story to live for. For the athiest, it’s winter but never a true Christmas.

I’ve got a book entitled What if Jesus had never been Born? by D. James Kennedy. He walks the reader through every area of human endeavor and field of study or inquiry and shows how Christianity has positively impacted those areas.

Kennedy uses as a springboard for his book the 1946 film classic It’s a Wonderful Life wherein the character played by Jimmy Stewart gets a chance to see what life would be like had he never been born. George Bailey (played superbly by James Stewart) grows up in the small town of Bedford Falls, dreaming dreams of adventure and travel, but circumstances conspire to keep him enslaved to his home turf. Frustrated by his life, and haunted by an impending scandal, George prepares to commit suicide on Christmas Eve. A heavenly messenger arrives to show him a vision: what the world would have been like if George had never been born.

Kennedy borrows this and transitions it to this question: What would planet earth have been like without Jesus and true Christianity? Hospitals and universities were first built by Christians. Christians championed the cause of literacy and education for the masses.

Did you know that many of our Ivy League schools and public universities were started by Christians who wanted to train pastors and teach the queen of the sciences – theology? Christians championed capitalism and free enterprise. They abolished slavery. They elevated the status of women. They took in the unwanted children. They clothed the poor and fed the hungry. They discovered new continents. They provided ethics and morality that holds civilizations together. They developed the arts and advanced music. They’ve explored and advanced science and philosophy and every realm of inquiry. They helped author constitutions and books on law. They have proclaimed the gospel. Why? Because Jesus came.

How many institutions of education have the atheists started? (Most atheist and/or naturalistic scholars have simply hijacked institutions for their own purposes) What atheists joined Wilberforce to abolish slavery? How many homes for the orphans have the atheists began? How many hospitals have the atheist built?

Someone once said “Well, the atheists don’t typically organize like the Christian Theists do?” Well, why do the theists organize themselves to do these great and noble things for all mankind (even Christian hospitals will nurse an atheist back to health!) Why do they do it? It’s simple really. Christmas. Jesus came to our planet in the humble manger, denied himself a privileged place, and radically served mankind, and that is our reason. It’s always Christmas for the theist.

But for the atheist… it’s always winter, but never truly Christmas.

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The “Unblinking Cosmic Stare” Smiled At Christmas

To use the words of Dallas Willard, to many people, God is like “an unblinking cosmic stare.” We pray and nothing happens. We suffer and God is silent – a cosmic, unblinking stare.

Well, Christmas changes all of that. Christmas shows to us that even though we can’t reach God, God has reached us. God is not just staring at us in bewilderment. And He reached us in the form of a baby.

One author (Philip Yancey) questions: “If Jesus came to reveal God to us, then what do I learn about God from that first Christmas?” He goes on to answer that question with a small list of one word associations.

Humble. The Maker of all things became a tiny cell barely visible to the naked eye and was finally born in a stable and laid in a feed trough.

Approachable. God didn’t want to frighten us so he set aside all that would scare us so that we would feel free to touch, to see, to converse with, to experience God. God can be enjoyed, not endured.

Underdog. An unwed mother, homeless, looking for shelter while traveling to meet heavy taxation demands by the government. There’s a place for the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the forgotten, the unemployed and the unemployable at Christmas.

Courageous. To come down here where He would meet a haughty, cruel world that would kill him and even deny that He existed years later, took courage. He did it without wavering, though in human flesh.

This “cosmic unblinking stare” has courageously entered human flesh so you and I can embrace him without fear, knowing that we have a place in his story – we are accepted by Him through Jesus. It was such a surprise! We didn’t expect to get such a “Yes” face from God. But thats what we got at Christmas. The Cosmic Unblinking Stare became a smile. True love… true love.

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