Let me say from the beginning, the problem is me, not you. I have a heart that is two times too small. I’m a Scrooge, a Grinch you might say. Every year around Christmas time, I find myself becoming more cynical. A permanent scowl begins to harden on my face. My nostrils tend to flare more frequently. Why? Christmas carols. I don’t like them. And they’re everywhere!
Now, I realize that I am in the serious minority here. When I tell people that I don’t like the song “Mary Did You Know?”, they look at me as if I’ve just said I like to eat kittens. But, before you write me off as a total Christmas-hating Scrooge, hear me out.
As I read through the Bible, it seems that the story of Jesus’ birth has a soundtrack running behind it. It is an epic soundtrack, a thundering soundtrack, a soundtrack of war. Of battle. Of great, intense conflict. When Jesus was born, the demonic powers shuddered with fear. They knew that the king had come, and that their doom was imminent. They did all they could to stop the king. They incited Herod to slaughter baby boys. But they could not stop God’s redemption plan.
Jesus’ birth is the story of light breaking into darkness, of hope bursting into gloom. It is the story of sadness being undone, and the demonic rulers being overrun. It is the story of the King of Kings becoming a lowly, grasping, nursing, crying baby. It is the story of hidden glory.
The Christmas story is the story of a great warrior coming to rescue a helpless people. It’s a story of grit, and blood, and a rugged cross that awaited the newborn babe. The soft flesh of the babe would soon be punctured by nails. The smooth skin of the child would soon be ripped apart by a whip. When I hear Christmas carols, I don’t hear the grit or the struggle or the rescue. I don’t hear the initial cracks and pops of Satan’s skull underneath Jesus’ foot. I hear the story of a little drummer boy, and a silent night that is calm and bright. I hear about a white Christmas, and the Christmas shoes.
Now, is it wrong to like Christmas carols? Of course not! Jen loves them, including (to my chagrin), Amy Grant’s Christmas album. Plus, Christmas carols often cause us to brim over with memories of Christmas past, which is good.
But as we listen to their sweet melodies, let’s not forget about the glorious battle our Savior fought and won. Let’s remember the grit and the glory of what our Savior has accomplished. Let’s remember that the stable hung under the shadow of the cross.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some beef log to eat.
It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big tech nerd. I love my iPhone, my iPad Air, and my Macbook Pro. I love the fact that all three of my devices seamlessly integrate, to the point where I can even take a phone call on my Macbook. I love using Twitter and Facebook to connect with people (although I’m starting to despise the “personality” tests that are beginning to dominate FB—no you would not be Luke Skywalker if you were a Star Wars character). I try to stay up on all the latest gadgets and apps and video game systems. I’d like to get a smart watch. I love the little tracking chip I had installed in my neck (just kidding). Needless to say, I spend quite a bit of time in front of a screen.
And while I’m certainly not opposed to spending time in front of a screen, I’m beginning to wonder if I my screen time is causing me to not hear God’s voice. You see, God is speaking to me all the time. He speaks to me a thousand times a day. The question is: Am I listening?
Now before you scream, “Heretic!” and burn me at the stake, let me explain. God is speaking to me all the time, but not audibly, not in the “still small voice” kind of way (“Wear the red socks, Stephen!”), and not by causing the clouds to form a cross, or something weird like that.
God is speaking to me all the time through creation.
Psalm 19:1–2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”
Every day, the brilliant, blinding, healing, heating sun cries out, “I was created, and my Creator is glorious!” The stars sing a three billion part harmony, of which the main refrain is, “We were made by a creative, brilliant, overwhelming God!”
Matthew 6:26 says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
My house is surrounded by trees, and those trees are full of birds. Every time a bird eats a nut or insect or worm, it is declaring, “Someone is taking care of me, and that same Someone will take care of you! If God takes care of me, don’t you think he’ll take care of you?”
Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
The trees that surround my house are currently changing colors and dropping leaves. As a leaf falls to the ground, its dying cry is, “I perish quickly, but the Word of God lasts forever! Trust it!”
God has filled the world with reminders of his glory, splendor, love, affection, and fatherly care. God really does want to speak to us through the sunshine and the Milky Way and the sparrows and the flowers. Creation is constantly belting out the glory of God, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Technology is a tremendous blessing. But I’m beginning to wonder if all my texting and Tweeting and Instagramming might be crowding out the song of creation. I’m wondering if the constant beeps and chimes and space sounds (my text message alert) are drowning out the glory of what is happening all around me. Maybe I would worry less if I spent less time on my phone and more time pondering the birds. Maybe I would have more joy if I spent less time “liking” things on Facebook and more time basking in the sunshine. Maybe I would treasure God’s Word more if I spent more time kicking around in the leaves.
Sorry, gotta run. My text messages keep piling up.
Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.
Don’t get me wrong, I really do like Christmas. I like getting together with my family to open presents and sit around the tree and watch reruns of Seinfeld and The Andy Griffith Show. I’m happy when it snows on Christmas. I like seeing tastefully decorated houses. Heck, I even like some Christmas music (don’t get me started on “Mary Did You Know?”).
But Christmas often brings out the gloomy side of me as well. I’m reminded of one of my favorite families who, because of cancer, no longer has a dad around the house. I’m reminded of some of my favorite people who, after many years of patiently waiting, are still single. I’m reminded of my sister, who has been dealing with migraine headaches for years without much relief. I’m reminded of my own ongoing battles with intense physical anxiety.
After the tree is down and the wrapping paper put away and the music silenced and the egg nog polished off, all the problems still remain. I think one of the reasons we cling so tightly to Christmas is that it helps us forget about our problems for awhile. For a few, brief days, everything seems as it should be. We long for a white Christmas because the snow covers up all the mud and muck.
My propensity toward Christmas gloom is one of the reasons I am so grateful for Jesus. Not in a “Jesus is the reason for the season,” kind of way, but in a, “Jesus is a holy warrior,” kind of way.
This morning I was reading in Matthew 8-9. In these chapters Jesus cleanses a leper, heals a centurion’s servant, heals Peter’s mother-in-law, calms a storm, drives demons out of two raving madmen, heals a paralytic, raises a girl from the dead, heals two blind men, and heals a man who is unable to speak. In the comments section of The Gospel Transformation Bible it says:
Wherever Jesus goes he brings the reign of God, and where God reigns, the invisible powers of the universe in rebellion against him are banished and left powerless to do anyone ultimate harm…. Since believers are united with Christ, they share Christ’s victory over evil.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the true meaning of Christmas. Wherever Jesus goes he brings the reign of God! Christmas is ultimately about the kingdom of God coming to this sad, broken, sin-marred world. Christmas is ultimately about a baby who would grow into a mighty warrior–a warrior who would crush Satan, undo sadness, defeat death, and ensure that it would be always Christmas and never winter.
Listen closely. For just a moment, tune out the Christmas music and television commercials. Do you hear that slow creaking and cracking noise? It’s the sound of Satan’s skull being slowly crushed underneath the foot of our conquering Savior. Now we suffer. Now we experience cancer and migraines and anxiety and singleness and sadness and loneliness and poverty. Now we are afflicted by sin and Satan and our flesh. But not always.
Ultimately, Christmas should give the most hope to those who hate Christmas. Things won’t always be this way. As it says in 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Those are such sweet words. Christmas is a celebration of war! Jesus himself has declared open season on Satan. He came to destroy all the works of the evil one. He came to wipe away tears and heal broken bodies and lift up despondent hearts and drive out fear and destroy loneliness.
If you’re feeling gloomy, take heart. Jesus is for those who hate Christmas.
I believe that reading books written by other, wiser Christians is one of the most effective ways to grow as a Christian. But with millions of books available and thousands more being written every year, how can you know which ones to read? In order to help you, I compiled a list of books I think that every Christian should read. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means, and there are many others that should be on the list, but this should get you started.
Heaven by Randy Alcorn – Given the fact that we will spend eternity in heaven, we should know at least something of what it will be like. Randy Alcorn answers many common questions about heaven and paints a biblical picture of what eternity will be like.
Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions by Arthur Bennett – These Puritan prayers will fuel your personal prayer life with their rich view of God.
The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges – What is the connection between God’s grace and our personal pursuit of holiness? Jerry Bidges answers that question.
Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges – All of us will go through trials of some sort, and this book will equip you to trust God in even the most difficult circumstances.
Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs – If you find yourself struggling with contentment in your job, marriage, or any other situation, this book is for you.
Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold Dallimore – Charles Spurgeon was a giant of the Christian faith, and this biography will stir you to love God, pursue God, and trust in God like Spurgeon.
The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made by Mark Dever – The Old Testament can be a very confusing place. In this book, Mark Dever provides a short, yet very helpful overview of every book in the Old Testament, making this a key tool for your personal Bible study.
The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept by Mark Dever – This is another helpful Bible study tool in which Mark Dever provides a short overview of every book in the New Testament.
The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever – Who should evangelize? What should we say when we evangelize? Mark Dever answers these questions and more in this short book.
Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. by Kevin DeYoung – How can you know God’s will for your life? Find out by reading this book.
What Is the Gospel? (9Marks) by Greg Gilbert – We absolutely cannot afford to get the gospel wrong, and this book will help you have clarity on the various facets of the gospel.
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy – The Bible is more than just a series of books, it’s the story of what God is doing in history. Get an overview of that story in this book.
Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem – This is the most helpful theological reference I own. If you have questions about demons, the Bible, church government, the Holy Spirit, or just about anything else, you can find the answer here.
God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation by Andreas Kostenberger – The institutions of marriage and family are under attack in our culture. This book will help you have a biblical understanding of many different issues, such as divorce, homosexuality, birth control, and the role of men and women.
Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney – There are few things more important to God than humility. If you want to grow in humility, read this book.
Knowing God by J.I. Packer – If you want to know what God is like, this is your book. J.I. Packer examines the various attributes of God, such as his holiness, his love, his justice, and his eternity.
Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper – There are few books that have my understanding of what it means to love God than this one. Loving God is more than just duty, it is delight.
What’s the Difference?: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible by John Piper – Men and women are given specific roles by God. In this very short book, John Piper explains those roles from a biblical perspective.
Finally Alive by John Piper – The phrase “born again” has been blurred and even distorted in our culture. In this book John Piper explains the real meaning of what it means to be born again.
Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace by Gary and Betsy Ricucci – Every married couple should read this book multiple times. In it you will find biblical principles and practices for establishing a healthy, romantic, God-honoring marriage.
The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul – This is not a safe book. If you read it you will find yourself trembling before the holiness of God.
Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul – Have you ever struggled with the doctrine of election? In this book, R.C. Sproul dispels common myths about election and shows how it is actually a very glorious doctrine.
The Cross of Christ by John Stott – The cross is the centerpiece of Christianity, and as you read this book you will find yourself amazed at what God has done through the cross and incredibly grateful for the cross.
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp – As parents it’s easy to simply want our children to behave. However, if we’re going to honor God we must also get to the heart of obedience.
A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love by Milton Vincent – This little book is a wonderful devotional tool, providing short meditations on the gospel in both prose and poetry. It’s a book that can be read many times.
When People Are Big and God Is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man (Resources for Changing Lives) by Ed Welch – Every Christian struggles with the fear of man, and many times it is a massive struggle. This book is a helpful tool for overcoming the sin of the fear of man.
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney – A rich Christian life doesn’t come without discipline, and in this book Donald Whitney examines many different disciplines for the Christian life, such as Bible reading, prayer, journaling, fasting, and solitude.
The Reason for God by Tim Keller – In an age of doubt and skepticism, Tim Keller offers wise, winsome answers to those who are asking questions. Great to give out to unbelievers.
The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim and Kathy Keller – This is the BEST book on marriage I have ever read. Tim and Kathy Keller are brilliant on this subject, and I recommend that every married and single read this book.
Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God by Tim Keller – This is one of those rare books that is not only incredibly edifying to the believer, but also an excellent book to give out to unbelievers. Keller has a way of mixing pop culture, philosophers, and the Word of God to create a compelling picture of Jesus Christ.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis – I could recommend a lot of different books by C.S. Lewis, but this one is probably my favorite. Written as a conversation between a senior demon and a younger demon, it provides fascinating insights into the ways of Satan.
What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage by Paul Tripp – Generally speaking, I don’t love Paul Tripp’s books, but this one is a dandy. It helpfully explores the reality that marriage is both glorious and difficult. It also explores how the gospel touches on all aspects of marriage.
One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World by Tullian Tchividjian – There are times when I need to to be blasted with a fire hose of the gospel. This book is one of the most encouraging books I’ve read in terms of the limitless love of God.
A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller – Probably the best book I’ve read on prayer. Encouraging, grace-filled, faith-filled, and not condemning! I pretty much stink at prayer. This book always gets me fired up for prayer.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones – The best children’s Bible out there. Hands down. Get it. Now. Today.
Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace by Heath Lambert – I’ve actually never read this book, but I have heard so many great things about it that I had to include it. Lust is such a massive struggle for so many people that I felt like I needed to include it.
The Complete Collection of E. M. Bounds on Prayer by E.M. Bounds – Every time I read E.M. Bounds, my faith for meeting God in prayer is exponentially increased. If you struggle with prayer (and everyone does), this is the book for you.
Christian Classics: Six books by Charles Spurgeon in a single collection by Charles Spurgeon – You can’t go wrong with Charles Spurgeon. Every book he writes points back to the cross. He bleeds the Bible. You just gotta read Spurgeon.
The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life by A.W. Tozer – This little book packs a serious punch. A.W. Tozer explores the different attributes of God and consistently invites the reader to bow down before the greatness of God. Read this book to grow in your awe of the living God.
The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence by Stephen Altrogge – Okay, I had to include at least one of my books, right? Plus, a lot of people seem to like this book.
Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.
Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA, where his main duties include leading worship, preaching, and working with youth. He also has written a number of worship songs that have been included on Sovereign Grace Music albums. Stephen is the author of the book Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wannabes, published by Crossway Books in September 2008, and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, published by Crossway Books in April 2011. When not shining his dad’s shoes, you can find Stephen drinking coffee or playing video games.
Find out more when you visit his blog, The Blazing Center.