Friday, December 23, 2011


--  This is an article written at Christmas 2010.  I hope you enjoy it, and that it stirs some thought.  -- B.D. -- 

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  —  Luke 2:10–12 (NAS)

The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father's will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross.  – J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 63

So many people are so very conflicted in mind and heart about this Christmas thing.  In our spiritual fellowship, we have a long history of struggling with Christmas.  We don't celebrate it.  Well, we do, but we don't want anybody to know about it.  Well, that's not altogether true either.  Some of us wouldn't be caught dead with a Christmas tree, and you just try to decorate one of our church buildings with tinsel or garlands.  Occasionally, we'll give in to some poinsettias, but we're not going to have any Christmas programs.  Don't come to our houses, though.  We're too busy going into debt buying presents for our kids.  Who, us, conflicted?  Not a chance.  Well, maybe a small chance.

We know all the odd facts that others seem to ignore.  For example, we know December 25th is probably not the correct date for Jesus' birth.  That right there is enough for us to cancel the party.  We know that nobody knows how many wise men there were, or if they showed up the night Jesus was born or as much as two years later - when he was in a house, not a stable!  Besides, we're theologically smart enough to know that we celebrate Jesus' death, not his birth.

OK, enough.  J.I. Packer observed something we just can't manage to admit.  Watch this:  ". . . at the Father's will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross."  Packer understands that you can't get to the cross unless you first go through a stable, complete with shepherds, and wise men somewhere along the way.

Fear of "Christmas" puzzles me.  Nobody has to think anything about a date that isn't true.  You don't have to make some sacramental practice, or required worship out of the holiday.  But surely it is both logical and true to scripture to celebrate the birth of Jesus as the revelation of God.  Jesus was born to a young woman named Mary, a virgin who had never known her husband.  Angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds, and wise men followed a star until it revealed the King they sought.  That's the truth about the birth of the Son of God.  It's how God came in the flesh and dwelt among us.  We really need to welcome a time of the year when people the world over, celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Here's my best reason for thinking this:  No birth, nothing else.  If there had been no birth of the child, Jesus, there would have been no itinerant Rabbi, no miracles, nobody to believe in as the one who takes away the sins of the world, no hope for redemption and restoration to fellowship with God, no salvation, no resurrection of the dead, no hope for eternal life.  You need to be very glad Jesus was born.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

"And Your Point Is. . . ?"

33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!”  —  John 11:33–36 (NASB95)

     [This] is often called the shortest complete story in English, supposedly written by Ernest Hemingway. It is only six words long:   "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
     That simplest of narratives contain elements of death, loss, brokenness, and a longing for peace. Its power, in fact, reflects a longing that is rooted in the truthful themes of the Christian faith.  –  Gene C. Fant, Jr., God As Author (B & H Academic, 2010), p. 177

Instruction in both writing and speaking usually includes the advice, “Keep it short.”

The most difficult job in writing is editing.  I write.  Then I try to reduce what I wrote.  I’m almost always amazed at the number of words I throw away.  What I wrote still says, and means, the same thing.

The main reason for making things shorter is for the sake of the reader.  Readers don’t have much of an attention span.  You either get their attention or you don’t.  You’ve got only a few words to catch them up in what you want to say.  Otherwise, they’ll move on.

Preaching is much the same.  People keep asking, “How long should a sermon last.”  You’ll hear a lot of sage advice.  “Thirty minutes!”  “No, fifteen!”  I actually sat in a 50 minute class for preachers where a college professor insisted that sermons last no longer than twenty minutes.  I asked him why it took him 50 minutes to tell us that.  He didn’t like my question.

A wise older preacher once gave the best answer to the question about sermon length.  He said, “Fellas, as long as you’ve got something to say, preach.  When you get through, sit down.”  I have found that is wise advice.  I just wish I could follow it.  But it’s generally true that people will listen to a sermon as long as the preacher has something to say.  But they sure wish he would sit down after the third time he says it.

“Short and sweet,” is what people yearn for.  But short won’t always do the job, and I think that’s something that should be said.  We preachers ought never take up the time of others just because we can talk a long time.  But it’s also true that sometimes, a short message won’t communicate all that needs to be said.  Take the gospels as an example.  Mark is short.  I love Mark.  I’ve taught it several times over the years.  One of the things I tell people is that it’s a short book.  It moves fast.  It doesn’t get bogged down in details.  So if “short” is really all we need, then the only gospel would have been Mark.  I guess the Holy Spirit decided that we needed something other than short, so he gave us Matthew and Luke, then threw in John because it was different, but not so short.  Speaking of Luke, put together the gospel he wrote and Acts, and consider that it was written to a particular person, and you’ll have to admit that Theophilus got a very long couple of letters.  How about Paul?  I think Paul would have flunked the college English course I took as a freshman at Ole Miss.  He would have been way to wordy for the lady who taught my class.

I’ve already cut words from this article.  I just cut four out of the sentence starting this paragraph.  I’m trying to be short and say what I want to say.  “Which is. . . ?”  I can hear  you thinking.

Preaching and teaching is a two-way street.  The one laying out the information should try to do it as briefly as possible.  The truth is, that’s not always going to do the job.  Sometimes, you need details, and additional information.  When that happens, you must not get anxious.  Take the time to learn.

“Jesus wept.”  Short sentence.  Can you answer the question, “Why?”  That might not be so short.