Celebrating the birth of Christ. We should stop just there and think about that a moment. In our everyday hustle and bustle we tend to just meet the ‘holidays’ head on and not pay much attention to what specifically we might be celebrating. The birth of Christ is so central to what we believe and hope for as Christians. It is one incident in a chain of events that, without it, the whole chain breaks apart. Each section is unable to provide what only the whole can provide. Our Faith depends on this: a chosen people, the small town of Nazareth, a young Jewish girl, one single winter’s night, a small stable and a bright shining star! That’s why this ministry spends all its time dedicated to keeping our thoughts and attention on the child born at that single moment. This ministry is not about denominations, we’re not about ‘we are right and you’re wrong and you need to get right.’ No, we are about the birth, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus and keeping our mind on Him daily.
Here we are, seventeen years into this thing called WBVN. Next month, on January 8th, we will begin the eighteen. The initial purpose of this ministry was to come and serve this community of believers. Becoming a believer brought us great personal blessings, but just as rewarding, it offers all of us a chance to be a blessing as well. That in a nutshell is the desire of WBVN.
I guess we could have chosen a lot of things to come and serve. There are tons of religions in the world. Many of them have a more ‘lawful’ ethic or higher demand for morality than Christianity. Some have hundreds and hundreds of laws, observances and traditions. But in our Faith, believing in Christ is not an ethical or moral decision. It is simply a faith question. In our Faith, there is a morality; it contains an ethic, but the central theme is not our ‘perfect’ behavior. It is His perfect behavior. The question we all must ask is whether we believe His life was ‘perfect enough’ to cover what we do. It is not morality that we adhere to; it’s a Faith in Him that we hold fast to.
The real test of religion, as Christ has taught, is does it make wings to lift people up or is it wings (as many religious groups are) that are dead weight that drag people down? Very simply, does our Faith carry us or do we have the burden of carrying it? Jesus did not come to convict believers but rather to convict the world of sin, of righteousness and judgment. God’s Law reveals our sin, but in our Gospel, Mercy and Grace reveal Him. The Grace of God is powerful because it reveals how to live rather than revealing our how we ‘miss it’ some of the time. Jesus said His yoke was easy and light. It is the yoke of a finished work. The very thing that empowers us is the thing that so many in the modern church are afraid of: Grace. We will at the first sign of trouble, at our first chance, depend on our works to get God to do something for us. It becomes a ‘if You will do this I will promise to do that’ transaction. We have a tendency to look at ‘our walk’ and see that it is not what it should be all the time, perhaps most the time. Our mistaken response is to set ourselves at work, mending it as best we can, improving it if possible, only to find ourselves back where we began: inadequate at best. That process frustrates us and should frustrate us. That frustration should cause us to search out the Grace of God. Anything but that Grace is a strange doctrine according to Paul’s Spirit-inspired scripture. Performance and works are strangers to grace and mercy.
Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians while in prison. However, each is a celebration of joy. Why was he joyous? I think Paul answers that in Philippians: he had been found by God, come to know Him, experienced the power of His resurrection, suffered His sufferings (sufferings for his faith, more akin to persecutions because of his Faith, rather than having had a bad cold), died with Him, been raised with Him and was looking to Christ’s return.
Paul had come to know that, if there is any gain in this life it is to gain Christ. Christ was the central focus of Paul’s life. He should be the central figure of our Faith. It is Christ we must grasp. It is a simple formula: keep Christ the center of our Faith, not you or your neighbor as the center of your Faith. We will be tempted away from that simplicity. We can be turned and look at what others are doing as evidence of God or No God. We can be enticed to try and solve our problems by making this Faith one of morality, turning our Faith into perfecting the flesh at the expense of the Spirit. To discover Paul’s truth is to be empowered to live out the Christian life in practice. In the book of Ephesians, Paul speaks of being perfect, but he had no illusions about the flesh and it’s imperfection. Rather, to be perfect was to come to the place of maturity in ‘Christ learning.’ There is nowhere else to go from that truth. That is not to say that if we read Paul’s teachings alone, and only those teachings, we need no other instruction. It is to say that as we read and study all the other scripture we will come to the conclusion that Christ is ‘all in all.’ He is the full deal, the finished work — we are not and never will be!