Even An Atheist Can Articulate the Gospel
The mid 1800s were approaching and a church organ in the south of France had recently been restored. The parish priest asked a friend to compose a poem to celebrate the event. That friend was a professed atheist named Placidde Cappeau. His poem was entitled “Midnight, Christians”. It was soon set to music by Adolphe Adam and would later be translated into what we now know as “O Holy Night”.
It’s been my number one favorite for many years now, although recent arrangements of “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Go, Tell It On The Mountain” by the acapella group Pentatonix now threaten its reign. Cappeau’s original text clearly marks Christmas as a celebration that God sent Christ to the world to eradicate the stain of sin. Wiki it and you may be astounded that an atheist could comprehend the facts of the gospel. Or, you may just be saddened that he, like many, would understand the facts, yet not respond as even he commands his listener:
“Fall on your knees,
O hear the angel voices.”
How Will You Surrender?
One day, we will all see the Christ, the risen Lord and returning King. The Bible teaches us that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father. It doesn’t say “every believer will bow”. It says “every knee”. In other words: whether we hear the gospel message and believe on it unto salvation or reject it as Cappeau did, we will acknowledge Christ as king.
From that point, we will either know Him as Savior King or Supreme Judge. The question is, will you surrender to the truth of the former while there is still time or surrender to the latter after time runs out?
As we approach the “New Year”, I want to encourage us all to remember – Christ is returning. Some say as early as this week. Others say years or generations off. Regardless, the gospel call is this: fall on your knees in surrender to the Lord as redeemer, savior, brother-slave, and coming King today. Celebrate His incarnation, life, death, and resurrection not only at midnight on a day that’s not even His real birthday, but everyday.
What Is Surrender?
I’ve long believed the Bible to be a collection of inspired and inerrant (in their original manuscripts) books that all ask the same question from the perspective of God: “Will you trust me?” That’s what this kind of surrender is all about: full time dependence on and trust in Christ. Not just uttering niceties one day or a few weeks out of the year…
We all have a tendency to be event oriented rather than process oriented. Salvation is both an event and a process – depending on how you understand “sanctification”. We err when we spend so disproportionately our money, time, and effort on one event when the eternal Lord is Lord of our process. Christmas shouldn’t be relegated to just one day or even a season – ransom from sin and death should be an everyday joy. I pray that now that “Christmas” is past (or approaching in another couple of months, depending on what sources you believe) that we (myself included) may begin to celebrate our Savior more fully regardless of the day of year.
Merry Christmas today, tomorrow, and everyday.
On our knees before the Savior,
My bad – here’s my favorite arrangement. North Point Community Church’s ten year old recording has held my #1 spot for a decade now. Thanks, to everyone who made it possible and Jeff Scott for the “money note” at the end.
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Gal. 4:4-6)
Pregnancy and adoption – these are not emotionally neutral topics in our culture. Most of the time, it’s not attached to the word “unplanned”. But, even planned pregnancy is a game changer for the family involved. There’s preparation, baby gear, decisions to be made, sleepless nights, doctor visits, ultrasounds, and then, the baby actually arrives!
Adoption – this never falls in the “unplanned” category, does it? But, it’s a big deal to all parties involved. Someone “loses”, others “gain”. The stories are typically tearjerkers, but the life of the donor mom, the child, and the adoptive family is never the same. Having met my own biological sister for the first time when I was 30 years old, I know what it’s like to “lose” a family member to adoption, to have family secrets, shame, wonder, and a life changing reunion.
Your Past and Future
God says that because of Adam, we’re stuck under the law. Law says “do this/don’t do that” and you’re on good terms with God. But, these laws were impossible to keep. The written code said “don’t commit adultery”, but Christ would explain that even thinking lustfully breaks that law. How could anyone keep up? Worse, how could a good God expect anyone and everyone to jump over a bar that high?
In Genesis, Adam discovered permanent separation from God was possible with merely one sin against a God who is both holy and eternal. To fix that problem, he’d need an eternal sacrifice – an eternity of second chances. Ever feel like him? If he (consequently we) were ever to be acquitted, he’d need a perfect, eternal, blood sacrifice – because without the shedding of blood, there’s no forgiveness of sins. (See Heb. 9:22)
A baby changes everything.
Leaving Paradise… For What?
Can you imagine you’re on some island beach sipping a fruity drink and you get a call from me that says “I need you to come to Alaska so I can bash your thumbs to smithereens with a hammer. Can you help me out?” Would you hope on the next plane? Me, either. Yet, Jesus left more than a tropical shore and came to earth to be brutally beaten and murdered on a cross. Why? Because, His birth, death, and resurrection make our “adoption to sonship” possible.
I’m from New England. There are two kinds of music I can’t stand: “Country and Western”. But, as a father of four, with a sister who was given up for adoption before I was even born, and as a man adopted into the family of God by the shed blood covenant of Christ, Faith Hill got me on this one. So, here’s my number 2 favorite Christmas song: “A Baby Changes Everything”.
May the Christ child, his life, death, and resurrection change everything for you. For good.
What’d You Expect?
I promised a post about my top 4 Christmas songs. We should be on #3 right now… What gives? I’m getting there. You were expecting one thing and you got another.
So, how’s that going for you?
How we react to unmet expectations tells everything about our theology.
“To man belong the plans of the heart,
but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue. (Prov. 16:1)”
The gap between what we expect and what we get is either counted blessing (when we get what or more than we wanted) or bother (when we don’t). Our response to this gap exposes what we believe about God and what He, the world, or life owes us. Shift gears with me for some background.
A Mark, Two Joes, and Questions for Mary
Mark Lowry was 20 years old when a car accident left him with 11 broken bones. I don’t think he was expecting that when he got in the car. You? Six years later, in his mid 20s, he wrote the lyrics to my number 3 favorite Christmas song.
In Genesis, God called Joseph to become Prime Minister of Egypt, but not without decades of trial, testing, and waaaaaiting… In the Gospels, He called another “Joe” to marry the only pregnant virgin in history. Mary was visited by an angel who told her she’d become pregnant outside wedlock, but remain a virgin… and the angel didn’t even have the decency to walk her home and explain the “miracle” to her dad. REALLY?!
Months of physical therapy to recover from an accident…
Years in prison over a false accusation waiting for God knows what…
Years raising a family in Egypt waiting for Herod to die…
The eyes of everyone on her knowing she was pregnant outside of marriage waiting for prophecy fulfilled…
They all experienced the gap.
What do you do in the gap between the miraculous and the mundane?
Hitting the Mark?
Mark Lowry was asked to write a song. He started with a list of questions he’d like to ask Mary, the mother of Jesus. We all tend to judge the gap. I don’t know if Mark did after his car wreck. I don’t know what Joseph was thinking in prison. Scripture doesn’t tell us what Joseph was thinking in Egypt. Mary broke out in an song of amazing faith. Holidays tend to magnify the impact of unmet expectations… that either make us bite our tongues or unleash on people who ultimately might not deserve it. What if we could take a lesson from Mark?
He asked a ton of questions that put the downside of the situation out of the spotlight (for the most part). What if we could do the same? What if this Christmas we could all suspend judgment of the gap – I didn’t get what I wanted, they didn’t act the way I wanted, they didn’t say what I’ve hoped they’d say, they still haven’t trusted in Jesus… etc… What if we could, as Mary did, trust in the God who is sovereign over the gap and simply say – “May it be as you have said”?
Take a look at the questions Mark Lowry penned when he wrote “Mary Did You Know?” and do your own homework… “Aarron, did you know, that that thing you wanted to happen this year at Christmas is really just a blip on the map and will serve to bring someone you love to Christ in a way you never imagined or hoped?” Can you trust that God’s ways are higher than our ways and His plans always work out better than our fallen, imperfect expectations? Will you trust Him in the gap, the uncomfortable gap, the pregnant lady riding a donkey forty miles over the mountains gap, the cousin-in-law-twice-removed who always makes awkward and insulting remarks at your dinner table gap?
Can you forgive? Can you articulate your expectations of what you’d like in the future rather than dwelling on the gap of what “should have” happened this time? Can you trust that even though you don’t see a miracle in the middle of the mundane that God is still at work?
Enjoy one of my favorite renditions of “Mary Did You Know”? And, make a list… and check it… twice…
My “Final Four” – #4 The Little Drummer Boy
Nothing you can’t find in a quick Wikipedia search, but noteworthy enough for holiday chit-chat around the egg nog bowl. Written in 1941, first recorded in 1955 by who? The Trapp Family Singers. Yep, that quaint little family who brought you “Doe, a Deer, a Female Deer”, made Julie Andrews a household name, and currently has Carrie Underwood looking… out of place. Based on a Czech tune and originally published as “Carol of the Drum”.
Though Jesus isn’t the main character, I’m still okay with playing and singing it because Christmas is the season when Holy God became incarnate: the earthly merger of the magnificent with the mundane. The story juxtaposes wise men from far off with the Wisest of all, who would now come nearer than any earthly man would have ever known. Great men, great gifts, cow dung, and a precious and Holy King in an animal’s feed trough – magnificent, meet mundane. Perfect, meet profane. Yet, God ordained it all.
Enter, Scandalous Child
The religious people of Jesus’ time had become so emphatic about the law, they were drifting from true relationship with the Law Giver. They’d begun to call worthless many of the things that God truly valued. Women and children in this time were “to be seen and not heard”.
Yet, the scandalous Christ would later scold (in three different gospel accounts… OUCH!) His own disciples: “Let the little children come to me!” Mt. 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16 So, what an insulting scandal that a little boy, bearing no tangible gift would be given audience with the King of Kings? Isn’t it already scandal enough that His birth to a virgin mother was proclaimed first to lowly shepherds (not exactly the top of the socio-economic ladder of the day) and his birthplace a barn?
Hallelujah, yes! Bring on the scandal.
And, so the scandal of the gospel is proclaimed in this song – that a little child, in the face of the wise who offered great, majestic gifts, would bring but a humble song, yet would garner the smile (favor) of the child born to live, suffer insult, and die to erase the scandalous sin of the rich, the poor, the wise, the foolish and all in between! Wow. Majesty amidst the mundane.
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:20-21)
Here’s My Favorite Version – What’s Yours?
I’ve been through a few favorites on this song – first time I heard Candi Shelton (then, Candi Pearson, on North Point Community Church’s first Christmas CD) do her acoustic version, my jaw dropped. “Who does that to that song?!” If you look around the iTunes store, Grooveshark, or even Pandora, you might get yourself a listen.
When I heard these next two versions, I thought the exact same thing. “Who’d have thunk THAT?!” The following videos are my #2 and #1 favorite versions of this song for obvious reasons. Alicia Keys at Rockafeller Center in ’09 and my new favorite – Pentatonix.
Drop us a comment below with your favorite version, will ya? Merry Christmas, and may Christ be at the center for you this season and all year long.