For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Yuletide Tragedy

Yesterday a truck driven by a Islamic terrorist plowed through a Christmas market in Berlin. Today I walked through one of the Strasbourg markets and it was less crowded than normal. People were subdued and I noted that they were looking at their surroundings as much as they were looking at the items being sold. You could tell that people wondered if it could happen here. And the answer to that question, unfortunately, is yes. Governments can only do so much to make us safe, and the most difficult threat is that of someone who is willing to commit suicide to carry it out. You cannot jail everyone who "might" commit a crime and still have a free society.

As I looked at a beautiful creche in the market, I remembered that the first few years of the Saviour's life were not pretty. The family of Jesus ran for their lives to Egypt. Herod killed the children in
Listen to John Piper read an excellent story about
the consequences of being the innkeeper in Bethlehem.
(With transcript)
Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the one born king of the Jews. Eventually, Rome would succeed in killing Jesus. And they killed almost all of his disciples. But it was all part of a grand plan. A plan that existed before the beginning of Creation: the salvation story.

The all-glorious God created a world filled with people who would rebel against him. To keep their wickedness at bay he caused them to be divided into nations and separated them by confusing their language. Then, at just the right moment, he sent his Son into the world. It's what we celebrate at Christmas. Eventually the death of his Son would pay the penalty for the sin of the world. And the message would go forth that sinful rebellious people could repent, believe the gospel, and be forgiven of their sins and be reunited with God. Redeemed people would carry the message to every nation of the world. And when there are believers from every tribe, nations, and language, the end will come. Jesus will return with glory. That's the divine unstoppable plan.

Satan, not understanding the plan, oversaw the death of Jesus and unwittingly destroyed his own kingdom. Now he devises schemes to try to stop the gospel from going forth. He invents great religions and philosophies as an alternative to keep people blinded from the truth of the gospel. He persecutes the redeemed or fattens them with worldly goods. He does his best to make sure that it is not easy to be a devoted follower of Jesus.

Today we live between the first and second comings of Jesus. And we are called to the task of being witnesses of the gospel message and seeing that it reaches the nations of the world. We live in an age when there are many countries where sharing the gospel is illegal. But believers are sharing it there anyway. They are persecuted and reviled for it. But sometimes the seed they sow bears fruit for eternal life. God's plan is unfolding before our eyes.

But something else is happening: God is bringing the nations of the world to us. We have the opportunity to share the gospel message with those who could not legally hear it in their own country. Some are fleeing war, but most have come to Europe seeking a better standard of living. Most are peace-loving people who, while their religion is different, want to have a good job, raise their families, and hope that tomorrow is better than today. What an opportunity God has given us!

But now, because of ongoing terrorist attacks, these immigrants find themselves living in a land where they feel unwanted. Just read the comments to news articles and put yourself in the place of a Syrian refugee whose home was destroyed or in the place of a Tunisian who is trying to create a better life for his family here. You would feel increasingly like an unwanted outcast.

As I looked at the creche there in the Strasbourg Christmas market, I noticed the shepherds gathered kneeling around the manger in adoration of the Saviour-King. It reminded me of something important.

Photo by Patrick Sweeney
Jesus was born in a tiny village. It wasn't a place to be proud of being from. It was "no-wheres-ville", but God honoured it. Near the bottom of the social order were shepherds. They smelled of sheep and their work didn't provide much income. The shepherds of Bethlehem were the "Nobodies of No-wheres-ville". Yet it was to these social outcasts that God sent an entire choir of angels so that they would be the first to hear the good news of a Saviour being born. Shepherds in Bethlehem. Who would have thought that they would be some of the first to worship Jesus?

Could it be that the people we think are least likely to hear the gospel are actually the ones who are most ready? We dream of great leaders coming to faith. God's priorities are with the shepherds and the outcasts. Could it be that the acts of terror which frighten us offend the immigrants as well? Could it be that they are now more open to the love of Christ than they have been in centuries? Could it be that is why God has orchestrated their being here?

So take time this Christmas to pray for the people of nations of the world all around us who do not know the Jesus. Pray that Christians would love them and share the gospel with them. Take time to get to know them yourself. Pray that God would open the door to tell them about Jesus. Pray that God would open their eyes, just as he opened the eyes of those shepherds long ago.

May the result of this great movement of people be evangelism. May each act of terrorism increase the receptivity to the gospel and multiply the boldness of Christians in sharing it. May hundreds of thousands come to faith in Christ. May their testimony be "I came here looking for a better life and received more than I could ever dream of: I found the Saviour."

Wouldn't that be the merriest Christmas of all?

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