Wednesday, December 23, 2020

the true meaning of Christmas

About 700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah who would come to save sinners (Isaiah 52 & 53). The Christmas mission he spoke of was that of a Perfect Savior, sent to dwell among sinners, with one purpose - to suffer in their place in order to save them.  It would be fulfilled, through God's son, Jesus Christ, who was "wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds we are healed."

The message of Christmas is not, “Behave and you’ll get a gift.” In fact, God and Santa could not have more opposite messages. (It’s no surprise at all that the world comes up with this stuff.)  “He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice…"

The true message of Christmas couldn’t be more opposite than that of an imaginary jolly fella delivering gifts to “good boys and girls.” While yes, the true message of Christmas centers on the delivery of a gift, the recipients of that gift are precisely the bad and naughty – and that’s all of us!  

And the purpose of the gift is so that we can avoid the terrible punishment we deserve.  Christmas is an announcement to the naughty and rebellious human race that says “The Good Gift – the only truly good person – has been delivered, and his mission is to suffer and die so that you can be made clean, and not get what you deserve.”  Christmas is about God's goodness, not ours.  His goodness despite our badness.  Christmas is about the cross.

The gift is exoneration. It’s freedom from death row and eternal punishment, complete with an invitation to true and eternal JOY.  It’s a message to all of us sheep who have gone astray, who have turned everyone to his own way.  This gift, this Perfect One, God in flesh and blood, will carry our iniquities on his back, and pay our penalty. Therefore, as Paul says, salvation is by God’s grace alone, because it has been accomplished by Christ alone!

Do we understand the magnitude of Christmas? Then let's not trivialize it with make-believe stories and empty "magic of the season".  If we are clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ, we don’t have to ever worry that God’s wrath will be put on us! He was stricken by God for you, making it impossible for your sins to stand against you. If you don’t get that, then you still don’t understand what Jesus suffered for you - and you still don't understand Christmas.  This was the mission for which we celebrate the baby in a manger.  Receive the true gift of Christmas, and you will never be separated from God's love.

Remember Isaiah’s words: “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” On the cross, he had our sins, our crimes, charged to him. He was judged for murder, adultery, sexual immorality, jealousy, lying, idolatry, impurity, gossip... every sin we ever committed in word, thought or action... and accepted the verdict “guilty as charged”.  He was then sentenced to the death penalty by means of torture and crucifixion.

He had our sins charged to him so that we might have his righteousness charged to us. He even became a guilty in His Father’s sight, so that we might be made acceptable and perfect in his sight. Yes, he was even abandoned by the favor and presence of his Father as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

That is the Christmas gift of Jesus.  The star, the Magi, the baby in a manger, God incarnate, born of a virgin on a silent night in Bethlehem... was the beginning of His mission, sent by the Father, to pay the penalty of your sin by suffering in your place.  Receive that Gift, and receive true joy, true peace, true hope, and eternal salvation! 

That we would settle for an infinitely lesser celebration - that isn't even true - is tragic.

 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

thankful

DECEMBER 22, 2020

thankful for the rare and sweet opportunity to all be together in the same place! the rolfe's head back to guatemala in a week, and we head back to west africa in early january. not sure when the next time will be, but we're cherishing the moments God gives us!  love my family!!!

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thankful for this precious baby boy. james matthew rolfe made us grandparents on september 24, 2020.
 BEST. FEELING. EVER.

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thankful for the announcement of grand-baby #2!  
and for madi and todd for letting me do the "reveal"!
WE'RE SO EXCITED!


Praise the Lord! Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 106:1


Friday, December 11, 2020

allan being shaped by God's word

we are nearing the 10-year mark from when we opened bvsa-guatemala! with a season of changes/transition upon us, God made it possible for us to spend a couple months there before we return to west africa.  we left guatemala having experienced several things that deeply encouraged my heart.

  • mynor's return back from sabbatical. God has been faithful to bless his family with spiritual and physical refreshment.  there is much to that story... but the presence of joy he brought back to the academy was truly something to celebrate. i'll never forget the day he returned... the sweet welcome-back party... the hugs... the precious words exchanged.
  • the rolfe's adjustment to the mission field, and the decision they have made to dig-in and stay for the long haul. this was unexpected and exciting news!  God has been doing a great work in them as they have submitted to his will for their family.  with 2 years of marriage, almost 1 year in the field, and a new baby in the family, they have heard God say "this is home."  praise Jesus.
  • the strong spiritual leadership coming from the wilson's.  despite being new to the mission field, and still learning the language, ryan has been leading a bible study with the staff that has been super fruitful.  it was so evident that the team is being led well. praise the Lord!

finally, what i saw in allan
he has been working in the academy ever since he graduated as a Rhino. now married to glendy, with daughter stacy, and another child on the way, they have become really solid leaders. ryan had been teaching through the book of 2nd timothy with the staff and had asked me to lead the staff devotional one day.  we were in chapter 3, verses 10-17, where paul charges timothy to stay strong and continue forward, not forgetting all that paul had taught and demonstrated to him through his own life.

that day came and went... and throughout our time in guatemala i was repeatedly impressed with the growth i was seeing from allan and glendy.  not only within the academy and with the Rhinos, but in other areas as well.  for example, they are obeying God's leading to start a sunday gathering, open to "evangelicals" as well as "catholics" - with the purpose being to study the bible together and break down the divisive religious walls that exist in the village. so great!

the day we were leaving guatemala, allan approached me and said "i need to tell you something. our study through 2nd timothy has spoken to me as deeply as i have ever been spoken to through the bible.  God showed me that i am timothy and you are paul.  you taught me the truth and showed me how to live. now you are moving on and it's time for me to step up, get off the milk, and be a true man of God. like paul told timothy, its time to continue forward with all that i have been taught.  thank you for being my paul."

i was speechless.  we hugged, and that was that.  i had a lump in my throat the entire way to the airport!  i could not be more excited to see what happens with this young man and his family.


Thursday, December 3, 2020

tired of celebrity pastors

the ministry of desiring god (desiringgod.org) has a platform called "ask pastor john" where john piper answers people's questions about theology, biblical interpretation, and life in general.  i submitted a question over a year ago, regarding a topic that had been digging at me for years.  it still is, actually.  

here's my question.  it's the only question i've ever sent in (and i never got a response).

Pastor John:

I have been living and working in the foreign mission field for many years. Most of our work is in areas of extreme poverty.

When I return stateside, I am always struck by the extravagant wealth of american "christians" and especially the swanky lifestyle of american pastors. Back in the old days, there seemed to be a much larger gap between the blatant prosperity gospel and the mainstream church. Today however, I can't help but notice that gap closing, as I see more "mainstream church pastors" living comfortable, suburban, country-club, if not flat-out lavish lifestyles.

I hate the prosperity gospel, whether blatant or subtle. I often find it sneaking into my own life and have to repent of it and eliminate it. It upsets my spirit so much that, nowadays, if I am encouraged by a bible teacher or christian author that I'm unfamiliar with, before I take their teaching at face value, I will look online to get a feel for their theology AND lifestyle. If I see they recently bought a million dollar mansion or wear $500 sneakers, for example, I dismiss their teaching and will completely avoid their influence.

I feel like I can defend my actions biblically, but I would love your opinion on this. I am so turned-off by pastors, authors, worship leaders, etc, whose own lives demonstrate the pursuit of material extravagance, luxuries, latest fashion, and so on. I mean, is there anything more dangerous for christians than for their "leaders/examples" to be mixing the gospel with a love and passion for the world? (1 Timothy 6:6-9)  I just feel like the whole hip-celebrity-pastor thing has gotten out of control.

Am I being judgmental or am I properly testing in order to discern what's good?

that was my question about an honest internal wrestling. i don't want to unfairly judge, but i can't deny the disgust in my spirit when i constantly come across these characters. 

the reason i am sharing this now is because i recently read something that john cooper, the lead singer for the band "skillet", posted on his blog.  i thought is was phenomenal and worth sharing.  i hope he doesn't mind, i'm just doing a copy/paste...

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Make Pastors Uncool Again, By John Cooper

Pastors shouldn’t be rock stars. Yeah I said it. A rock star promotes himself, builds his brand, and entertains people. It’s his job. A pastor is supposed to lay his life down for his sheep. He serves, he protects, and he equips the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). So why does it seem like many of our celebrity pastors are obsessively self-promoting, building their own brands, and protecting themselves by never preaching or teaching anything that would put them in Twitter prison? Yes, it’s sad and devastating to watch our leaders fall into sin, but when the foundation is built so poorly it shouldn’t be all that surprising. 

Many Christians have been saying this for years and its past time that I join them: I’m tired of celebrity pastors. Pastors aren’t supposed to be cool. They’re not supposed to be fashion trend setters. We are ALL called to decrease, that Christ would increase both in our hearts and in our lives (John 3:30). HIS fame should be known, not OURS. Celebrity Pastors, get out of the way! You’re hogging the spotlight by making yourself the story. Instead, you should be taking some hits on the front lines by stating clearly what God commands. Celebrity pastors seldom do this. Instead, most of what we hear is rhetorical gobbledygook, veiled mysticism, and repackaged new-age movement self-help promotional material disguised as the work of the Spirit. 

My pastor helped change my life in college. “Really, who?” Exactly. He remains faceless, nameless, and will never get the adoration of the world because his desire was for Jesus to have all of the glory. He taught me how to read and understand the Bible. He took my midnight phone calls, he instigated the necessary but uncomfortable conversations, he taught me the importance of sexual purity, and he even taught me how to paint a house and balance a checkbook. It almost sounds more like being a father, doesn’t it? Working, serving, teaching your kids and never expecting a “thank you” or a hand clap is what pastoring is all about. 

Pastors, I am thankful for you. Many are serving faithfully and you will be rewarded by God. But for the pastors who are receiving their reward on earth, I have a request for you: please stop looking for adoration from the world. We don’t need you to look “awesome”, we need you to be fearless and preach the gospel according to the unchanging, authoritative Word of God. Stop finding clever ways to evade questions. You know the ones—God’s commands about sexual morality, Gods authority structure in the Church and at home, God’s righteousness that demands punishment of sin. Answer them. And answer them clearly for heaven’s sake. Please stop trying to find new ways to explain the perceived inconvenient truths of God’s Word. You ought to love what He loves and hate what he hates. This used to be a prerequisite for church leadership. Today, its deemed radical and even bigoted. 

Play time is over. The battle is raging, and the field is full of wimps and boys who have never picked up a sword because it just “feels mean.” We need generals and leaders who don’t care about their brand, their look, their “likes”,  or making allegiances with the world. In short, it’s time to make pastors uncool again.

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wow!  couldn't agree more with john.  thankful he shared his thoughts on this topic...  

and i'll let you all know if i ever hear back on my "ask pastor john" question :)