The Good News of the Virgin Birth

The gospels of Matthew (1:18-25) and Luke (1:26-38) make no apology for mentioning that Jesus was born of a virgin (to be sure John emphasizes it as well in John 3:16,”only begotten son” and Mark goes out of his way stylistically to leave it open). Indeed Luke, whose primary source for his birth narrative was most likely Mary herself (Luke 2:19), records Mary asking the angel Gabriel about how this birth announcement will come to pass, since she is a virgin (Luke 1:34).

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Yet many who read these accounts, struggle to grasp how this could be. Modern science has enlightened our thinking and we know that virgins don’t get pregnantahem, well actually modern science has proven it is possible for a virgin TO get pregnant. In fact Mary’s claim to a virgin birth would be more readily believed today than in her own time. Modern sex ed warns young girls, that while very rare, it is possible to get pregnant without loosing your virginity, all it takes is a little highly motivated sperm in the right place at the right time (indeed whole industries have been established around procreation outside of sexual intercourse…. sperm banks, IVF, etc.)

You see, “I’m a virgin, I’m pregnant… and Joseph is the dad” would be palatable given our modern understanding of biology and how things CAN occur. Mary would be the poster child for sex-ed. It’s the claim that GOD is the father that confounds everyone.

This claim is so amazing that many are quick to dismiss it as a legend. After all history is full of “virgin birth’s” associated with the gods right?

Maybe that is good enough for the bar stool or the comment section of a blog somewhere, but let’s adjust our language to be a bit more honest. History is full of “mythical birth legends.” In other words there are several great men throughout history (or mythical men of legend) who have been assigned some sort of deity after their death by claiming that their birth was “special” in some way. It was said of Cesar and it was said of Buddha, to name a few. But in each of those scenarios it could hardly be said that their mother was a “virgin” after conception. They would NOT be considered “virgin births.” So Christianity really does have a unique claim here. 

It is very difficult to really believe in those other miraculous births because it is obvious that they are myths.  Many were written hundreds of years after the birth they are supposed to be recording. Or they were living in a society that almost always ascribed godhood to its king or emperor.

Since most ancient religious history is like this, I see how it would be easy to think the books of the bible and Christianity are the same way, but look into it again. Specifically, Luke wrote his account based on eye witness testimony to verify the information that was going around about Jesus (Luke 1:1-4). He interviewed first person resources like Mary (Luke 2:19). You see the New Testament has an extraordinary track record for being written very close to the events that it describes.

We also have to take into account the witness of early church fathers who were just one generation removed from the events of the New Testament, who hold to the virgin birth as right doctrine. These are second hand sources that are closer to the time of the birth than many other sources for many other miraculous births. Many of the Early Church Fathers also had an established “chain of custody” so to speak, of which apostle/ brother of Jesus, etc. shared this information.

It’s not like the virgin birth of Jesus just popped up out of the blue either.  There is plenty of groundwork for it in the Old Testament.  Indeed the very first book of the Old Testament God speaks right after the Fall (Genesis 3:15) and we see a picture of where the “seed” of a woman (this was generally thought of as the man’s contribution) will crush the head of the serpent (representing Satan). Jeremiah 31:22 also indicated to many Rabbi’s that the messiah’s birth would be miraculous in nature. The gospel of Matthew also points out Isaiah 7:14 that explicitly uses a Hebrew  word for “virgin” (a term that has always been translated virgin by biblical scholars until more recently by liberal scholars).

The virgin birth of Jesus is just not easily dismissed for those who are willing to look into it. As compelling as the evidence is though it’s just the beginning. There is a lot more to the story and it is worth investigating.

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Coveting vs Contentment

I taught my daughter the Ten Commandments… She can say them all from memory. Then came the task of defining some of the words for her (she is only six at the time of the original posting of this article). She needed a definition that she could understand for the word “covet.” We did our best and came up with “not being content with what you have, so you try and satisfy your heart with thoughts of possessions that don’t belong to you… This causes you to look for happiness in things instead of God,” for coveting.

It has been interesting to see her process and try to grasp the term coveting. She uses the word coveting, but we try and highlight the positive aspect of being content. The real struggle, as with everything in parenting, is that we are imperfect parents.

Teaching my daughter about coveting has taught me more about my own heart. It seems impractical to chide my child about being content with what she has (and she has a lot), if I am buying up every new gadget out there (I’ve resisted the I-pad ever since it came out). Not that buying stuff is wrong… Coveting has nothing to do with what you buy and has everything to do with your heart. You really don’t have to buy stuff to covet. You can be poor as poor can be and in your heart think that if you just had enough money, stuff, etc. you would be satisfied. If you believe that, then your heart is turning away from God. It’s irrelevant whether or not you make the actual purchase if you look to a product, possession, job, etc. to provide you with happiness. True and lasting happiness comes with a real relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Remembering his sacrifice and his joy has helped me understand and be more content with what I have and ultimately who I am in Him. Like the Apostle Paul, I have learned to be content (though this is a battle I often fight every day and have to relearn often).

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV)

This is my prayer for my kids. I know that if they grow up content in whatever situation they find themselves that they will be well rounded happy adults who are more likely to be submitted to the will of God. I wouldn’t want the desire for a bigger house keep them from the mission field (should God call). I wouldn’t want the pursuit of comfort keep them from living for the Eternal.

It’s easy to get distracted, to feel entitled, or to just plain place your hope in an object or status. It’s not that I don’t want my kids to have stuff. All good parents love giving their kids gifts. I just don’t want them looking past the gift to the next big thing and forget the one who gave them all the gifts.

To be honest it’s too easy to look past the Lord’s provision sometimes. If we are not careful we will think our situation in life is less than is should be because we don’t have an appliance, gadget, etc. Yet these things are not eternal; they do not satisfy. We were made for greater things and when we find ourselves content in little or much we are in a place to be used by God who meets all of our needs in Jesus.

For Unto Us a Child is Born!

It is Christmas! As a Christian this is a special holiday for me and my family as we celebrate the moment when God stepped into humanity.  Today is a special day to remember the message of the gospels… God is not far off and He can be known. Jesus stepped out of Heaven and into humanity to reveal God, remove our sin, reconcile us to our Creator, and ultimately prepare an eternal home where we will abide with God forever (never to be separated again). Below is a picture of a painting by Botticelli and 3 of the Gospel accounts that talk about the history and meaning of the birth of Christ. Merry Christmas!

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them (Luke 2:1-20, ESV).

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel (Matthew 2:1-21, ESV).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:1-18).

There are several more passages throughout the scripture that talk about the theological aspects of God becoming a man, but these are the ones traditionally read and remembered at Christmas time. I am open about my faith and willing to carry on a friendly dialogue with friends and honest skeptics.  What are your thoughts on Christmas?

Halloween and the Great Commission: Why My Kids Dress Up for Candy, but Don’t Pretend in Santa

Just so you know, I don’t think holidays are evil.  But some Christians do have a hard time navigating the holidays.  They are troubled by Jack-o-lanterns, Santa Claus,  and the Easter bunny.  I guess we could add a few more holidays to the list, but we will keep it down to the big 3 just for the sake of time.

Why its a big deal: No doubt somewhere somebody once told you that all the “Christian” holiday’s  like Christmas and Easter are really just “pagan holidays.”  Christmas wasn’t really on December the 25th and that the Easter bunny is all about fertility, being twitter-pated, new life and stuff.  I know, I know, its disappointing to have your whole Christian holiday stuff upset by some great big “pagan conspiracy.”  Why did they have to go pick the “Christian” holidays, why couldn’t they have hijacked some other holiday like Grandparents Day? No, the pagans had to come and take our Christmas and Easter. Or did they?…

How it might of actually started I think it’s the Pagans that should be upset that we are talking so much about Jesus around their holidays.  I guess that’s how it really started.  Some pagan got up to say, “through these winter months we look with joy to the new life of spring,”  and a Christian in the room stood up and said, “let me tell you about how God loves us and when the world was dark and cold, God came in the flesh and dwelt among us.”  And later in the spring when they were sitting around talking about how new life springs out of dead things a Christian got up and said, “They killed Jesus, but he rose from the dead three days later!” All of the sudden these pagan holidays centered around pagan ideas were hijacked by Christians telling their wonderful stories about the incarnation and the resurrection of Jesus.  Yes, my friends, it is the pagans who have had their holidays hijacked… not the Christians.  Truth be told, I don’t know why we have a Christmas tree (nor do I care), but I do know why we have a manger.

The Real Danger: The real danger with “Christian” holidays is that we only think about the incarnation (birth of Jesus) and resurrection on holidays.  SEC football is a bigger threat to my kids than Santa Claus because I’m an Auburn fan.  The real danger is that I might look more excited about football for 4 months out of the year than I am about what Christ has done in my life.  The question isn’t, “do I make Christmas about Jesus or Santa?” The real question is, “do I make all of my life about Jesus?”  The real evil would be to tell my kids Santa isn’t real, tell the truth about Jesus, but forget about Jesus the other 11 months out of the year.

A Way Forward: I say we hijack all the holidays for the sake of the gospel… starting with Halloween.  I know it’s scary; kids all dressed up like witches and demons and stuff.  But think about it, when was the last time you were invited and expected to knock on every door in your neighborhood? (and rewarded with candy I might add!) It’s how we met most of our neighbors beyond just a few doors down.

You see there aren’t any front porches in my neighborhood, or side walks, or parks, most people park the car in the garage,  all of our backyards have 6 foot privacy fences, and most of our houses have TVs and computers so we never have to see each other.  But once a year, Halloween changes that and kids come to our house and we take our kids through the neighborhood. Halloween has become an avenue for relationships which is the avenue for the gospel.

I know, I know, your scared that the secret origins of Halloween now have a dark hold over my kids… Can I just say, “It’s not so.”  We serve a risen Savior who beat death, and destroys demons.  We dabbled more in the spirit world when we obeyed God, packed our bags and moved our family to Pensacola (trust me, my daughter had more nightmares and we wrestled through more demonic stuff in our obedience than we ever have with her dressed as a Strawberry).  It’s time that we worry more about the mission than the top-secret pagan origins of a holiday.

Where to draw the line:  I think the line on holidays looks different for each family.  We draw the line at deception or dishonesty to our kids.  We teach our kids that Santa  and the Easter bunny are not real.  We also teach that Satan and his demons are real.  Most importantly we teach that Jesus Christ has conquered death and is stronger than any demon will ever be.  One of our core values is the ability to discern truth from error.   We still teach a healthy amount of pretend and play.  Because we aim for this balance of truth and pretend we are a little weird.  The things we draw the line on are probably different than you family and that’s okay (you can be weird too!)

Christmas vs. Consumerism

Is it me or is there something seriously wrong when a company makes over 50% of its profits in the 3rd quarter?  Are we really that consumer driven as a society?  Is that what Christmas really means to America?  Spend your cash or take out credit and “help” the economy? 

Is that really what we have made it? Are we really that worried that aunt sally won’t like us if we don’t buy her a toaster?  Our kids won’t have anything to brag about if we don’t buy them the latest video game accessories for Christmas?

I know families who go into debt every year to “buy Christmas” and spend the entirety of the next year paying it off.  Others are a little better at planning and so they set up a Christmas club account.  Threaten not to buy presents this year and in some families you will be disowned (or at least it will feel like it). Because Christmas is all about the gifts, right? I mean it wouldn’t be Christmas without the gifts, would it?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against gifts.  I’m against Idols.  If Christmas isn’t “Christmas” without the gifts, then you are worshiping the wrong person come December 25th.  It might be your aunt sally who will threaten to disown you and collapsin a pile of tears if you don’t get her anything.  It might be the imaginary judgments made by your kids friends and parents when they hear that you didn’t get little johnny or Suzie everything on their little Christmas list.  It might be the reporter who shares that sales were still down this year.  It might be the little voice inside your head that tells you that people won’t like you if you don’t give them gifts.

You might say, “I give gifts to honor Jesus.” That’s right, we do celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Jesus who stepped out of heaven, came to earth and was born practically homeless and in the care of teenagers. Jesus who humbled Himself and gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  We owed a debt we couldn’t pay and He payed a debt He didn’t owe.  Jesus. 

If we would truly honor Him, then lets give as He gave.  Give to those who cannot repay you.  And don’t just give them the left-overs, give them the lion share.  Fill the shoebox for your kid and give the rest away to those who have no way of paying you back.  I think the folks at Adventconspiracy.org are on to something.  Check out the video below.

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:46-48

Got Any Great Ideas for Christmas? (Enter for a chance to win a free book)

I’m looking for ways to make a difference in the world, both where I live and in places that I have never been.  Today, I’m fasting with our students and giving money to a project to build a well for an orphanage on the other side of the world.  Later this month we’ll be participating in a Thanksgiving event where we will donate money to help out people that come to our church with legitimate needs.  Around Christmas time, I’m always looking for ways to take the consumerism out of Christmas and teach my children to give our time, effort, and money to those who have no way of repaying us.  However, I’m not creative and I need your help with some ideas.

So here is my idea… Help me create a list of ways to reach out to our neighbors, bless our friends, and encourage others this Thanksgiving – Christmas season.  How does your family take the focus off getting gifts and put it back on giving to others?  What ideas have you heard of?

Share them in the comment section here and as a way of saying thanks (to at least one of you)  in two weeks (Friday, November 19, 2010) I’ll pick a winner from the comments at random.  The winner will get a free copy of Max Lucado’s book “Out Live Your Life.” (*provided I can mail you the book to an address in the continental US or Canada). If you have more than one idea, that’s totally cool and will increase your chances of winning the copy of Max’s book.  I look forward to hearing your ideas.