I wish that John Frederick Coots’ memorable Santa Claus is Coming to Town had never been written. In case you haven’t threatened your children with the premises of the song this Christmas season, I will regurgitate its lyrics to facilitate your memory:
You better watch out You better not cry Better not pout I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town He’s making a list And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who’s naughty and nice Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good So be good for goodness sake!
O! You better watch out! You better not cry Better not pout I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town Santa Claus is coming to town
Realizing that I always made Santa’s “list,” despite the fact that I was rarely “nice” and comfortably “naughty,” I concluded at an early age that Santa is a pushover and his “list” nonsense. By the way, it’s safe to assume that John Frederick Coots had many kids, but I choose not to digress.
How often have we as parents echoed these lyrics as way of motivating our kids to behave sensibly? Sing the song if you desire, and use it to correct your children’s behavior if you so choose. I, however, have chosen to use this Christmas season as an opportunity to teach my kids that Christmas is about Christ, and unlike Santa, Jesus has come to town to make the “naughty” holy and the “holy” humbled.
Like children during the Christmas season, many live life trying to acquire enough checks to make the “list,” hoping that God will accept them by what they do. Unfortunately, those who build a ladder of good works to heaven will find themselves standing in hell. Good works have always been the result of salvation, not the cause of it.
Apart from the New Birth spoken by Jesus in John 3 we are hopeless, but because of it we are holy and acceptable to God. My hope and prayer is that those who don’t believe in the life and ministry of Christ will, and those who do will be given a greater knowledge of the greatness of Christ’s salvation this Christmas season.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regenerationand renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirsaccording to the hope of eternal life.
My heart is burdened for the salvation of my children. As I read Scripture, I am convinced of God’s absolute control over the affairs of this life. This control includes the salvation of my children, for it is He who opens and hardens hearts:
Exodus 4:21 And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.
Joshua 11:20 For it was the LORD’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the LORD commanded Moses.
Acts 16:13-15 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
Romans 9:18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
Does this mean that I give up? Do I despair in my own inability to save my children? The Scripture doesn’t permit me to sit idle; neither does it allow me to hide my light under a basket (Matthew 5:16). As an ambassador of Christ and a steward of His gospel, I must proclaim the good news for in it resides the power of God to open hearts and save sinners (Romans 1:16). I bow my knees in prayer and plead with the God of the universe to open the hearts of the unsaved so that they can understand the gospel. I must not shrink back in shame; rather, I must boldly proclaim God’s solution to man’s most serious problem. Satan hates the gospel and seeks to destroy those who proclaim it. Don’t give him opportunity. Resist the Devil, draw the sword of God’s word (Ephesians 6:17), march triumphantly through the gates of Hell, and proclaim the good news of Christ to those who are held captive to do Satan’s will. For when you do, Satan will flee and you will observe God’s power to save sinners and destroy the works of the devil.
Last year for Christmas my wife bought me a Georgia Tech coffee mug. As expected, it has become my favorite cup. Nate, my 2 year old son, has a favorite cup as well. His cup is a “sippy cup” decorated with various characters from the movie Cars. It is made specifically for kids who would rather spill juice than drink it. I do not expect Nate to drink from my cup; neither does he expect ‘Dad’ to drink from his. I have my cup; Nate has his. Two different cups….two different people.
Let’s suppose that I made Nate drink out of my cup. Better yet, let’s imagine that I bought a Georgia Tech cup for each member of my family and demanded that they only drink from it. Would you label me as “Crazy”, “A Fanatic”, “A Nut”?
I agree. Demanding everyone to drink out of the same container is ludicrous. Which is more important? The container, or the contents which the container holds?
When speaking of “new life,” Jesus often used the metaphor of “water.” While conversing with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, Jesus contrasted physical water from spritual water: “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John4:13-14).
Too many churches will only pour the living water into something they like or would pick up. Churches are dying on the vine because they won’t trust the gospel to fit and fill containers with handles they don’t like. Only in Jesus Christ did the container and content become one.
Although Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), the containers used to share Him are always changing. Our task is to pour the living water into anything anyone will pick up. This is the point of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.
If the church is going to reach the growing “unchurched” community, then we must be like the Apostle Paul and be willing to present the “Gospel” of Jesus Christ in different ways. By the way, which is more important? The container? Or the contents which the container holds?
Occasionally on a Sunday afternoon my children will approach me in great excitement with the words, “Dad lets go on a nature walk!” tumbling off their tongue. Like a bear awaken from slumber, I slowly rise from the sofa, yawn, place my shoes on my feet, and stumble out the door. The brisk wind blankets my face, and the sunlight blurs the image of Nate and Abby skipping to the pasture gate.
On this particular walk, I am overwhelmed with the vastness and beauty of God’s creation. The sky is clear as crystal and the sun’s brilliance illuminates the earth below. My children are unaware that the ground which their feet are trotting is moving at a speed 67,000 miles per hour in relation to the sun. The sun, which seems a stones throw away, is a stunning 93 million miles from home; a distance so great that it would take 176 years to travel moving at a speed of 60 miles per hour. This immenseness propelled David to write in Psalm 8, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
Our walk leads to the outskirts of the family farm where a creek serves as a boundary. Nate’s walking turns to sprinting when he hears the gurgle of the water and sees the refraction of the sun’s light. Along the way Nate has collected a few stones which he intends to display at the rock throwing contest against his big sister. The excess water from the winter rains provides a sufficient amount of water for a few stones. For a brief period of time I observe my children giggle and laugh as they toss their rocks into the water hoping their rock causes the greatest disturbance.
Apparently, Nate isn’t satisfied with the performance of his rocks, so at the approval of his big sister and the amazement of his dad, he jumps into the chilly waters. In sheer panic, I sprint to the creek’s edge and grab Nate and pull him from the water. I stripped him of his clothes, wrapped him in my coat, and we began our journey back home.
This experience with my children has made me think about the rocks I toss to God. How often do we toss our rocks to God, walk away and assume that He’s pleased with our service? We write our tithe checks, listen to Christian music, read the Scriptures, and faithfully attend services while our hearts are often far from Him. I find it interesting that Jesus’ anger was most often directed to the “religious” people of His day: “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Luke 11:42). When we read the Scriptures we discover that God isn’t interested in our rocks. He is interested in our hearts. Only when God has our hearts will He be satisfied with our stones.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
Last night 13 people were saved at Oak Grove’s Vacation Bible School in Cumming, GA. It was a great night to say the least. For me, it was a blessing to enter into the labor of others and see God bring life to the seeds that have been planted and watered by the faithful men and women at Oak Grove. During moments such as these, it is important for the body of Christ to remember that the power of God is in the seed and not the sower. In 1 Corinthian 4:6-8 the Apostle Paul differentiates between the role of man and the role of God by writing, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” The planting of the seed is dependent upon the sower and the resurrection of a seed is dependent upon God. This is an important principle to remember.
Now is the time for each of the 13 that were saved to “work out” the salvation that God has worked in. The Scriptures instruct us to grow in our Christian faith, and if we are going to grow in the Christian faith we must learn to grow together: Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:15-16).
It is the “working out” of salvation that Paul mentions that authenticates the genuineness of the salvation that people claim to possess. The evidence of a changed life isn’t discovered in a one time decision for Christ, but rather in multiple decisions for Christ. It is the fruit of a tree that determines the tree’s type. It is the working out of salvation that determines its genuineness. Now is the time for each of us to work out corporately what God has worked in individually. Praise be to GOD!
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:30)
That’s not my Jesus! That Jesus was slandered, spit upon, beaten, and crucified. That Jesus died and I no longer belong to him!
When that Jesus was crucified, I was crucified: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).When that Jesus died, I died: Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him (Romans 6:8).
When that Jesus was buried, I was buried: We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
I no longer belong to that Jesus because I have been joined to another: Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be joined to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God (Romans 7:4).
Minister or Volunteer?
“Here’s your tag,” were the words I heard upon my arrival at a Christian food bank. The tag had big bold letters emboldened across the front that spelled, “MINISTER.” I liked my tag, but much to my surprise only a few Christians present were wearing them. The majority were fashioning different tags labeled, “VOLUNTEER.” Although this characterization of God’s people may not seem unusual in today’s church, it would have been drastically foreign to the church of the 1st century:
As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:10-11).
Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).
The word, “minister” in the New Testament is the Greek word diakonos, which can be defined as “one who executes the commands of another.” Diakonos is used 29 times in the Greek New Testament. It is translated 26 times as either “minister” or “servant” and three times as “deacon.”
According to Scripture, a minister is a servant who exercises his or her gift to serve others for the glory of God. All Christians have been gifted for ministry and all Christians who use their gifts to serve others are “ministers.” Contrasting a “VOLUNTEER” from a “MINISTER” is simple: A “VOLUNTEER” donates his time, whereas a “MINISTER” exercises his gift. Anyone can serve as a “VOLUNTEER,” but only a child of God can serve as a “MINISTER.”
Before a Christian can fully understand the significance of his calling and the impact of his service, he must answer 3 Big Questions. The answers to the first two questions are objective and based on Truth (i.e. the Scriptures), whereas the last one is subjective and based on circumstances. The 3 questions and their answers are as follow:
Q: What is a Christian’s purpose?
A: A Christian’s purpose is to glorify God:
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1Corinthians 10:31).
Q: How does a Christian glorify God?
A: One way which a Christian glorifies God is through the exercise of his or her gift(s) in the service of others:
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:8-11)
Since we’ve determined that our purpose in life is to glorify God through the exercise of our gifts, we now turn to the question which will help determine the particular context (i.e. church) of a believer’s ministry.
Q: Where can a Christian most effectively glorify God through the exercise of his or her gift?
A: A Christian can most effectively glorify God through the exercise of his or her gift within a local body of believers (i.e. body of Christ) who are united in mind & judgment:
“But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:24-27).
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
Even a superficial reading of the Scripture reveals that God is more concerned with who we are and what we do than where we go. Therefore, before you determine the context of your service, ensure that you are united in “mind and judgment” with the prospective church. And when you join, remind yourself that God’s purpose for your life is to glorify HIM, and we accomplish this by exercising your gift in the service of others.
Kill Sin or Sin will Kill You
“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell” (Jesus, Matthew 5:29-30)
“Either be killing sin or sin will be killing you” are the words penned by the great puritan writer of the 17th century, John Owen. Sin is destructive. Left untreated its contamination will consume and eventually destroy its victim. Dealing with sin is simple, as indicated by Jesus in Matthew 5:29-30. First, sin must be identified: “If your right eye causes you to sin.” Second, it must be destroyed: “pluck it out and cast it from you.” Jesus is not advocating the mortification of the body but rather the mortification of sin. If a man were to pluck out his eyes he could still lust in his mind, just as a man could steal with his left hand in the absence of his right.
Jesus’ teaching is simple; identify and destroy. Although we may fail to destroy sin, sin will not fail in destroying us: “it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”