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Podcast Of This Message
Good news everyone, it’s Christmas time! The time of year for presents, lights, music, decorations, fests, stress, shopping, fellowship and presents. Each year many people either loath or get excited for the magical Christmas season. A time of year full of white-haired fat guys, floating deer, The List Of Jericho… I mean Santa’s list, elves deported from Middle Earth, snow that covers all, egg flavored milk (or Bailey’s flavored depending on the day), department store Hunger Games, omnipresent glitter, Red Ryder Air Rifles, the conquest of pumpkin spice by the forces of peppermint, and finally Red Green, no wait a minute I mean the colors red and green.
Each year for a few short weeks (I’m talking to you shopping malls that put out their decorations in October!) the world around us changes from the dull and ordinary to a world full of cheer, colorful lights, and a little extra sparkle in the hearts of people. It’s the time when people happily skip through the malls looking for the latest unexplainably hot toy of the season, like Tickle Me (only after proof of consent) Elmo, Turbo Man, Johnny Switchblade, or even Paw Patrol Ultimate Rescue Hey Look A Squirrel Action Play Set.
For some this is a season of magic, others a blatant form of consumer driven religious sacrilege, and some see this time a year as just a slightly more chaotic and crowded version of normal life. No matter which category you find yourself in I hope that deep down you understand that there is something far more powerful and important that this season represents. I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the birth of Santa Clause, or the commencement of Festivus, it is the celebration of the day when God came to town and changed the world as we knew it.
It’s More Than Just A Season
I’m sorry to say that Jesus was probably not born on December 25, I’m afraid Christmas is cancelled sorry again everyone. I kid but what this time of year and the day the early church chose has to do with setting aside one day a year to commemorate the day of our Savior’s birth (won’t get into the debate of them superseding an existing pagan festival here today). I’m not saying we need to change the day we celebrate on but rather I’m pointing out the importance for us to recognize the event which are we celebrate.
Personally, I lean towards Jesus being born in September or October, possible during the Feast of Tabernacles. I believe this because it lines up with what we know from the scriptures, and it explains the reason all of the inns were full and why the shepherds were outside in their pastures at the time. The Feast itself (Leviticus 23:23-24, Deuteronomy 16:13-16, Nehemiah 8:13-18, Zechariah 14:16-19) represents when all of Israel was supposed to come to Jerusalem and live outside its gates for several days in tents (temporary shelters) made out of animal skins until the Day of Atonement when the nations sins were whipped away.
Jesus came into the world wearing the skin (and its legalities) of human kind to be the once and for-all sacrifice which permanently wipes and erases all of our sins away. This also follows the pattern of the three major Jewish Feasts lining up with the life and calling of Jesus. Jesus was born on Tabernacles, killed on Passover along with the sacrificial lamb, and Pentecost which is the feast celebrating the first fruits of the field was when the church was born and filled with the Spirit.
The Christmas Gift of God’s Presence
At this moment I want to focus on the birth of Jesus, which is the most important and mind boggling miracle in all of the Bible. In Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-20 we are presented with the circumstances of Jesus’s entry into the world. Here we see angels announcing the coming of God Himself into the world not in power and chariots of fire but through a baby entering the world.
You see what we need to focus on this time of year is not the gifts under our tree but we are to focus on the appearance of God’s presence in this Earth. That is His great Christmas gift to us and not only that it is also our God given solution to deal with the roots of all the problems faced by the world. Jesus didn’t come to bring a heavenly band-aid to cover our surface problems but rather He came to expose and repair the broken foundations of our nature and heart so we can experience an eternal solution for sin, death, rebellion, pride, fear, hatred and injustice.
We are to celebrate this season in commemoration of the day God entered our world. I’m not just talking about God’s presence like when He filled Solomon’s Temple but how His nature and heart entered into the world of mankind. On that day God entered the world through His creation and cried among us. Later He ate among us and as He grew he crawled among us, and then He finally walked among us so we could one day be picked up by Him who ruled from high above us.
Think about it, God didn’t force us to build a great tower to reach Him, He came down to us in a body just like ours so He could relate to us, redeem us, die for us, suffer for us, and be resurrected so He could reign over us as one of us and not an outsider or a distant God. God Himself closed the gap between the fallen and stained created and the Holy Creator. An action taken out of love, goodness and justice in order that our relationship with God would be restored, like embers that had grown cold that suddenly had fuel thrown on them.
Christmas is the time when we celebrate God coming down to us, we celebrate God’s goodness, grace and mercy for providing a way for us to reconnect with Him. He could have sent judgment, or fire or calamity to force our allegiance but that is not His nature. He came in love, power, mercy, holiness and justice to lead us back to Him. Christmas gives us an opportunity to show our gratitude and gratefulness for that mercy. The day the light of the world came and lived among us shining ever so brightly. This is not just good news it is “the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere!” (Luke 2:10 TPT).
This gift is not for a select few but it is available for anyone and anywhere to receive, there is no naughty and nice list which determines who gets to receive this gift. In reality everyone is on the naughty list and it is the great gift of God which moves us to the “nice” list.
The Great Gift of Salvation
This Christmas gift didn’t comprise of just God’s presence among us, that was only the introduction, the greatest gift came in the form of Jesus’s purpose to bring salvation and redemption of sin to us. This was the plan, this was always the plan going all the way back to Eden the plan was for God to come down so He could stomp on the serpent and undo the damage done that day.
We see this call through the name given to the Son of God through the angel, in Matthew 1:21 and Luke 1:31-33 both Mary and Joseph receive the divine call to call this promised child Jesus. I must remind everyone that this is the English form of the name and the angels spoke a different one. We see that Luke records the name given being the Greek name Iesous, while Matthew records Joseph receiving the name Yeshua (or Y’hoshua).
Matthew 1:21 “She will give birth to a son and you are to name him ‘Savior,’ for he is destined to give his life to save his people from their sins.” TPT
Luke 1:31-33 31 You will become pregnant with a baby boy, and you are to name him Jesus. 32 He will be supreme and will be known as the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will enthrone him as King on his ancestor David’s throne. 33 He will reign as King of Israel forever, and his reign will have no limit.” TPT
I cover this topic of what Jesus’s original Hebrew name really means in The Secret Name of Jesus Christ, but to make a long story short the name given to Jesus literally means “savior,” or the LORD delivers/is salvation/is my savior. A name to ancient Jews was seen as a window into a person’s life, and especially so when God or an angel provided the name. From the beginning we see that the name we know as Jesus isn’t just a title but the name has a deep and glorious meaning. When we say Jesus is coming in our minds we think “a man named Jesus is coming this way.” While to those in the first century it wasn’t “Jesus is coming” but YHWH our savior and deliverer is coming.” We associate names with letters, but those ancient Hebrews associated names with meanings.
From the beginning then we see that Jesus’s purpose was set, He was Immanuel “God among us” and He was Yeshua “YHWH is salvation,” God’s presence and God’s salvation are fully seen through Jesus. On what we know today as Christmas that salvation and presence came into our world, that revelation alone justifies all of the celebrations we can come up with for this time of year.
What This Season Means To Us Today
Christmas time can be a contentious time even among Christians who disagree about what should and what should not be associated with this season. Some want Santa excommunicated, others want to ban tree decorating, others want all of the spotlight shone on a blond haired blue eyed baby in a store bought crib and others just want to make it to January without going bankrupt.
We need to come to the conclusion that our culture and everything we do to commemorate and celebrate this season only represents the decorations on the tree, while Jesus along with His purpose, nature and entry into this world is the actual tree which everything hangs upon.
I’m not against decorating a tree or giving presents but we have to understand the dividing line between the meaning of Christmas and how we as a culture choose to celebrate that truth. Christians in different cultures have various ways to celebrate Christmas but that does not make them more or less Christian. I have a tree and there’s nothing wrong with that (if I bow down to it that’s a different story) and I also exchange gifts. However, I see those matters as being part of a larger celebration, a fragment of something much larger. When your Christmas season only consists of decorations, presents and food then you are missing out on the larger picture.
Christmas is a time when we remember the miracle that happened and how it forever changed our world. So some will decorate a tree with lights and trinkets, others will put up lights outside of their house, others will have no decorations or cultural expressions at all. Some celebrate the event on December 24 at midnight, or even early January, with the rest celebrating on December 25.
How we celebrate at times is less important than what we are celebrating. I think at times that all of the pomp and circumstance which happens this time of year is a good thing, because it separates this season from all of the others. It is a time of year when for a few weeks everything changes, the music, the lighting, the activities and if done right it is a good thing.
We don’t want the celebration of Jesus’s entry into the world to go unnoticed like the August Civic Holiday in Canada or Presidents Day in the United States. The fact that so much changes this time of year points towards the centrality of Jesus in our world. Even though many people do not worship them they feel the effect of His grand entry into the world for a few weeks every year.
For us as Christians we then have to learn how to balance the event of Christ’s birth with the activities we engage in during this time of year. Because what does this season actually mean, is it about a serial home intruder leaving stolen toys from China under our tree’s, or is it about the greatest gift of all coming into our lives? Again, I’m not saying to abandon gift giving but we must understand that not matter what we give or receive it will never top what God gave us 2,000 years ago. These gifts we give and receive should remind us that no matter what is beneath that wrapping paper it will never compare to what we have already received.
The purpose of Christmas is to remind ourselves of the day everything changed, the day which marked God coming down not to judge us but to give us an opportunity to repent, receive forgiveness and become part of His family once again. Now then when you turn on a light remember the one who is the light of the world, when you open a gift remember the one who gave you the greatest gift, when you meet with family remember the family you have been adopted into and when you burst a button gorging on food remember the one who broke His body like bread to bring you salvation, redemption and life.
Luke 2:10-11 “10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” NKJV
To go deeper in your journey with Christ check out my new book Understanding Who You Are: A Survey of 21st Century Christian beliefs which is now on sale. Available in paperback (Canada or USA) and eBook! Get your copy today and discover not just your purpose but how you can build the Kingdom of God here on the Earth
The Greatest Christmas Gift Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Life Beyond Church 04: Playing With Shadows
Have the failures or troubles of life broken your relationship with God? Tune in to this weeks podcast to learn how to find your hope once again.
Podcast Of This Message
A core part of our relationship with Christ is rooted and grounded in our faith in the goodness of God. By that I mean we have a trust, love and respect for God which is built upon our knowledge that He is a good and loving God who is trying to restore a creation which has gone haywire. In the beginning we read repeatedly how God saw what He created as being good (Genesis 1:31). If God were not good and loving why would He have created a good and pleasant world in the first place?
Unfortunately, that good world which God created was infected by the consequences of Adam and Eve’s actions. The world became corrupted, the nature of men and women was sent into chaos, but God did not change. God’s nature was not affected by the fall of man, His heart was not corrupted and the God who created a good universe didn’t suddenly become evil and vindictive. No, rather the good and loving God had been separated from His children because of sin. God’s goodness remained but that same goodness is misinterpreted as anger in the Old Testament because of the sin, brokenness and rebellion of the people. God wanted to be good and loving to them, so He poured our blessings upon them (Psalm 33:5) and eventually sent Christ.
We fail to understand that God’s anger or judgement is often a response to His rejected or abused goodness. This also applies to those who benefitted from covenant with God but failed to honor it. Be honest with yourself are you really that different from God in this manner, how do you respond when you try to love, bless, or help someone who just takes advantage of you, rejects your gifts or acts as if they are entitled to those things?
Why Is God Good?
This is the big question that many people struggle with, actually the biggest question people struggle with is “is God good?” We look at the chaos and problems of this world and assume that God is like an absentee father that doesn’t care how His kids are doing. This couldn’t be further from the truth God’s identity is rooted in Him being able to be the ultimate expression of good, to create good things and to show that goodness to those He has created (Exodus 34:6-7, Deuteronomy 6:25, Psalm 52:1, 100:5, Philippians 2:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:11).
God’s default setting is not “vengeance on my enemies” but it is “I desire to bless those who lovingly follow me and listen to me faithfully.” I don’t think God wants His creation to be bombarded with pain, suffering, disease, sin, death, poverty, brokenness, disappointment or fear. I believe that we through our own actions (and/or in agreement with the enemy) bring those things upon ourselves, then we go about and blame God for them.
Just look at the life of Jesus, what did He do throughout His ministry? He taught the people and undid the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus loved the people, healed the people, taught the people and provided atonement for their sins. God is not bi-polar, He doesn’t have an angry side known as the Father and a loving side known as the Son. Both are the same, both have the same nature, both have the same capacity for love, goodness and holiness. You can’t say Jesus is one way and God the Father is another, when you see one you see the other (John 14:9). Do you think God was upset when Jesus healed the crippled, or the blind man, do you think God regretted Jesus’s actions? No of course not because through Jesus we get an idea of how God wants to interact with humanity without the barrier of sin in place. That is what we see through Jesus, the Creator walking with the created, a glimpse of what God originally planned for us.
God is good, Jesus is good and the Holy Spirit is good, they are the Good Shepherd spoken of in John 10 and Psalms 23. Yet we ascribe all kinds of evils to God and see Him as the source of the world’s problems. I’m sure the people of Jeremiah’s day felt the same way, I’m sure they saw themselves as holy and pure but fell so far short of their covenant obligations that God had to intervene. Do you think God enjoyed sending Babylon into the Southern Kingdom? Do you think He relished the opportunity to kill the majority of His people (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11)? Of course not, but was it God’s fault or the people’s fault that tragedy fell upon them?
We need to begin to have faith that God is good and has blessed and favorable plans for not just us but the world in general. Just consider these scriptures for example:
Psalm 86:5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.
Nahum 1:7 “The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.
Mark 10:18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.
The Goodness of God In Action
Going through all of this I don’t even think I can come up with an adequate definition for the word good which matches up with who God is. Everything we can come up with is far inferior than what God is capable of and when we begin to realize and accept that then we can begin to understand that God is Good.
The words used in the Bible for “good” are Towb (H2896) in Hebrew and Talos (G2570) in Greek. To get a better understanding of these words just look at how they are translated into English: good, better, well, goodness, best, merry, fair, prosperity, precious, fine, wealth, beautiful, favor, honest and glad.
Doesn’t this describe the promises of God given throughout the scriptures in both the New and Old Covenants? How often do we expect God to bring these types of things into our own lives? Or are we more concerned with bringing those things into our lives through our own work and merit?
How can we deny God being good to those of us who lovingly and honestly serve Him in friendship, holiness, humility, love and obedience? Just think about it, God answers prayer, provides atonement, speaks to us, does miracles, leads people to him, judges the nations, judges the church (Revelation 2-3), loves us, guides us, gave us the Holy Spirit, allows us to move in the power and authority of Jesus and genuinely cares for us despite our outward and inward circumstances.
Look at it this way, the land which the people of Israel were promised and lead into, was it a good land or a barren one (Deuteronomy 8:7-10)? It was described as flowing with milk and honey, it was a good land which would bless and sustain the people, but only as long as they followed the covenant. God didn’t bring them into the promised land to curse and condemn them, if that is what God intended then He could of just left them in the wilderness or in Egypt. God wanted something better for them, and for us today under the New Covenant we to have also been promised the goodness of God. Not just in the natural but also spiritually and with the greatest gift and expression of God’s goodness the cross, which brought forgiveness, atonement, justification, sanctification and adoption.
What all of this has in common is that for us to receive God’s goodness we have to be in a constant and life long process of cooperation and relationship with Him.
Job 36:11 If they obey and serve Him, They shall spend their days in prosperity, And their years in pleasures.
Psalm 107:8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
The Price of Receiving God’s Goodness
What we have seen so far is that the outpouring of God’s goodness in our own lives comes with a cost. We are to live according to God’s standards, desires, nature, love, holiness and justice. The more blessing and goodness God pours out into our lives the more will be expected of us to live a Christlike life. This is nothing new and we see a similar expectation placed upon the servants in the parables of the Talents and the Minas. They were each given a gift and at the end a reckoning was brought about to see what they did with those gifts. The faithful were blessed with more while the lazy and unproductive were reprimanded.
We see this type of story play out over and over and over and over throughout the history of Israel. God would bless, protect, restore or empower the nation/people then the people would take those blessings for granted and return to living in the ways of the Canaanites. It seems to me that we want the blessings of God but without expectation for our lives to change. We want God’s best as long as God doesn’t make us do anything. We want to live like the world yet at the same time witness the miracles found in the book of Acts. We want to do mighty deeds like Elijah or Paul but we have the heart of Balaam, the devotion of King Ahab and the character of King Saul.
Do you not think that God is watching your lives after He blesses you? We can’t assume that God is some sort of celestial courier that brings us a present then turns His back and leaves us alone until another order comes in? It is this type of thinking that brought cycles of judgment upon Israel. The judgments didn’t come because God wasn’t good, they came because the people rejected, scorned, hated, and were ungrateful of what God had done for them. He tried to love them but they continually broke His heart. God tried to lead them back to their covenant, a covenant they relied on for blessings but also casually ignored when it wouldn’t let them do what they wanted.
We want the blessings of Deuteronomy 28:1-14 but also want to be exempt from the curses of Deuteronomy 28:15-68. We want sprinkles and rainbows to continually be over our heads but we also want to cherry pick which of Jesus’s teachings we actually have to believe and follow. You can’t have the goodness of God active in your life if you are unprepared to live the life God called us to live by.
Even back in the days of Joshua the people of Israel tried to get away with this. They took just enough of the land to get comfortable in and they settled for a fraction of what God had promised to bless them with. Do you know what God’s reaction was, He left them as they were, they abandoned the quest to receive the promise so God left them right in the middle of enemy territory (Joshua 23:13-16) and revoked His promise of totally taking the land.
Then over the next decades the people who had enjoyed the blessings of God became indistinguishable from the Canaanites around them, the covenant became a meaningless (with the exception of the people wanting its benefits), they participated in the terrible sins of their neighbors and it wasn’t until disaster came that they turned back to God. The people saw the clear blue skies and took advantage of their relationship with God, they ignored the winds, they ignored the voice and it took a mighty storm for the people to turn back to God. But then after the storm they got comfortable and went through the cycle all over again.
The Paradox of God’s Goodness
I think we see God move through the storm because we become so lost that it is the only way we can recognize Him. It’s hard to repent when things are going well, blessings are flowing, God’s favor is upon us but there are issues deep inside that God is trying to correct (and its not always sin issues). But we ignore those issues because everything is great, we stop praying because we have nothing left to pray for, we forget how Christ lived because it doesn’t seem to matter what I do because good days are hear and are never leaving. This is the goodness of God in action, yes, but it is also God’s judgment in action, the storm is never the judgment it is the result of unfavorable judgement.
God’s judgment doesn’t happen when we find ourselves in trials because those trials are often (but not always) expressions of God’s grace because He tried to get our attention during the good days and we ignored Him. The greatest tests and judgments always come on the sunniest and clearest days, because those are the days where we don’t fear the oncoming storms. Those are the days where our hearts grow dull, our ears become deaf, our eyes become consumed by what is in front of us and our relationship with God takes a back seat to the great things we have brought about with our hands.
The goodness of God is a great thing, it is good to call to God for blessings (Psalm 84:1) but we must remember that we are always supposed to seek God’s face before we reach out for His hands. Then when God does pour out His goodness on us we have to be extra vigilant to continue living the life He has commanded us to follow. We have to be pressing in even harder in prayer, we must be continually looking deep within ourselves to ensure there is no rot or rust present. Yes, God can forgive us, yes God can renew us and how much greater will that be if it happens on the clear and sunny day (Psalm 125:4) instead of the day the storms came crashing upon us.
I fear that many drift away and/or reject God in the good seasons and don’t realize it until the storms come. Often the storms come to break off the dead and dying branches from the tree, yet at the same time the heavy winds only strengthen the healthy roots.
In John 15:6 Jesus is showing us how God protects those who are a part of His family, people have the choice to join with Him or to remain on their own. Those who choose and remain with God receive life and blessing while those outside are pushed out (Jeremiah 21:10, 24:3-6, 29:32). This happens so the healthy vines are not corrupted or poisoned, which could spread to the other healthy vines (Romans 11:22). It is a hard thing to speak of but there are times when God expresses His goodness through protecting His honest, faithful and loving servants from those that follow in name only (or bear the mark of covenant/circumcision but have no change in their hearts). Hear this though do not go about as God’s judge and condemn your brothers and sisters your obligation is towards seeking out the corners of your own heart (Luke 6:42).
I fear that often we don’t see God as being good either in our own lives or in general, so many slump back into darkness and spiritual slumber and remain motionless and unproductive. God is a good and loving Creator which still watches over but it pains me to see so many people reject this idea (I’m speaking of those inside the church). We are called to be conduits of God’s goodness, love, holiness and message to the entire world and if we can’t settle the debate on whether God is good why would the world want to hear anything we have to say about it?
3 John 1:11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. (see also Amos 5:14-15, Micah 6:8)
In my time of prayer and journaling last month I was asking God about His goodness and He spoke of how we often miss out on recognizing His goodness because of our own ungratefulness (Deuteronomy 26:11). I asked point blank “God why don’t I naturally see you as being good?” His responses over a couple of days were:
“ungratefulness, life is about more than going from point A to point B, true progression happens when you value every step of the way even if your compass is telling you otherwise, to go forward sometimes you must go right (sideways) for awhile to get to the next path which will take you to your intended destination. Look around you, don’t get caught up in the leaves which all look alike but focus on the trees themselves notice their differences, their grain, their shape, study each one as you travel and you will learn more than you thought possible. Often my goodness is hidden in the details, in how one tree has deep groves in its bark while others have smooth thin bark. My goodness is found when you lean in and take a good look at the differences of the trees… You need to have faith in My goodness, just as the tree does not worry about the rain because of the stream so to must you ground yourself in the knowledge of my goodness towards you… Honor me by giving me time, honor me by taking my words seriously and honor me by concentrating on what I say long after I have said it, then you will understand my goodness… Rest and partake of my goodness, haven’t you figured that out yet, look at everything I am showing you, my goodness is your strength. You must embrace it, look at me as good and don’t see me as being far off or distant or ambivalent towards my creation.”
The next step for us to receive and witness the goodness of God in our lives is for us to first repent and cry out “God I accept your goodness and I repent for misjudging you and condemning our relationship. I repent for losing sight of our relationship and being ungrateful in the good seasons when I forgot what you have already done for me. I pray that you restore my heart and forge me into someone that resembles Christ on this Earth. I ask you to pour out your goodness, love, holiness and heart to me right now. I repent of ungratefulness, I repent of laziness and I repent for not taking our relationship seriously.”
Now after praying that prayer believe and hold on tightly to the revelation of God’s good nature and expect Him to be a living part of your life. And never forget these words:
Psalm 34:8-10 “8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! 9 Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. 10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger; But those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.
To go deeper in your journey with Christ check out my new book Understanding Who You Are: A Survey of 21st Century Christian beliefs which is now on sale. Available in paperback (Canada or USA) and eBook! Get your copy today and discover not just your purpose but learn how you can build the Kingdom of God here on the Earth.
How To Experience The Goodness of God Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.