Enter your e-mail address to receive my newsletter and series update notices. For more info and a sample newsletter, click here.

Note: If you get an error message when you try to subscribe, let me know. I will not use your e-mail for any other purpose. You can unsubscribe at any time using the button below.
        Subscribe         Unsubscribe


The High Calling

Laity Lodge

Featured Book

Website for
Linda Roberts

St. Mark
Presbyterian Church,
Boerne, TX

Resources for Leaders



Visitors so far:

Guest Bloggers

Irvine Presbyterian Church

N.T. Wright; Considering N.T. Wright; N.T. Wright at Laity Lodge; Simply Christian

Living Christmasly

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2009-2010 by Mark D. Roberts

Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at Thank you.

Introduction to A Series of Reflections on Living Christmasly

For most of us, Christmas is over. It’s still okay to play Christmas music and leave the tree up, at least for a few more days. But the main event has passed, with Christmas worship, perhaps a nativity pageant or a visit from Santa, then opening presents and a luscious meal with family and friends.

But if you’re one of those who recognize Christmas as a twelve-day festival, then it has just begun. This is day two of Christmastide, the season of celebrating the birth of Christ. Most folks are familiar with the twelve days of Christmas from the popular carol. But many don’t realize that the song didn’t make up the twelve-day idea. It simply reflects the way some Christians have celebrated Christmas for centuries.

This year, I want to celebrate the whole season of Christmas in the Daily Reflections. This means I’m planning to put on hold our examination of the Gospel of Mark for a few days in order to do something special. During the season of Christmastide, I’d like to think with you about what it means to live in light of Christmas. How can we live “Christmasly”?

I will base this series of reflections on biblical texts, of course. Some are commonly associated with Christmas. Others are rarely if ever associated with Christmas, even though they express profoundly some of the theological and practical implications that flow from the central truth of Christmas, which is the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, Jesus the Son of God, fully God and fully human.

Living Christmasly, Part 1

Part 1 of series: Living Christmasly
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

READ John 1:1-14

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

John 1:14

The prologue of John’s Gospel tells the story of Christmas, but not in the usual manner. We don’t have angels and shepherds here, or wise men and a star. We don’t even have a babe born in a stable and laid in a manger. Rather, John reveals the theological essence of Christmas.

And what is this essence? It begins with the Word of God, the living Logos, who was with God in creation. This eternal, divine Word “became human” (v. 14). That’s a valid rendering of the original Greek, which states literally that the Word (logos) became flesh (sarx). The Word of God didn’t just look like a human being. He didn’t just appear among us. Rather, he became one of us, flesh and all.

Here is the wonder of the Incarnation, the in-flesh-ment of the divine Word. For centuries, theologians have sought to explain this mystery, but their efforts only take us so far. We’ll never fully comprehend how an infinite God could take on finite flesh, how an all-powerful God could become a weak, vulnerable baby.

Yet this truth is absolutely central to Christian theology and Christian living. We must beware the tendency to deny the full humanity of Jesus, even as we also affirm his full deity. In fact, one of the oldest heresies claimed that Jesus was divine but not really human (see 2 John 7, for example). Though most of us wouldn’t agree with this theology, we may have never taken time to reflect upon the implications of the Incarnation for our faith and life as Christians. In the next few days, I want to explore some of these implications with you.

Today, however, we focus on the fact of the Incarnation, something we an affirm without ever plumbing its depths. In Jesus, God became human. In Jesus, the all-powerful Word became weak and vulnerable. In Jesus, God reached out to us in a costly, humble, and fully incarnational way. Merry Christmas, indeed!

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What does the Incarnation of the Word of God mean to you? How are you going to celebrate the Incarnation today?

PRAYER: All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, because you are the Almighty Word of God!

All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, because you are the Word made flesh. You are Emmanuel, God with us!

All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, because you, the all-powerful Word of creation, became weak and vulnerable.

All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, because you became human in order to be with us, so that you might reveal the Father to us, and so that you might save us.

All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, Word of God Incarnate, Savior of the world . . . and my Savior too! Amen.

Living Christmasly, Part 2

Part 2 of series: Living Christmasly
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

READ John 1:15-18

No one has ever seen God. But the one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

John 1:18

How do we know God? How can we know God, not just theologically, but relationally? Let’s keep these questions in mind as we turn to John 1:15-18.

After celebrating the Incarnation of the Word of God who became human and revealed his divine glory, (1:14), John underscores the Jewish context of these events. The Word Incarnate was the one about whom John the Baptizer testified (1:15). The law was given through Moses, “but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.” Thus the Word Incarnate fulfills Jewish hopes for the Messiah and completes God’s revelation that began with the Mosaic covenant.

This brings us to verse 18, which is one of the most astounding verses in all of Scripture. It is also a tricky verse to translate and interpret. Yet its basic meaning is clear . . . and stunning. “No one has ever seen God” underscores God’s distance and difference from human beings. Unlike the pagan gods who showed up on earth periodically, the one true God has never been directly seen with human eyes. Thus, we cannot know God truly through our own powers of observation and discernment. We need God to reveal himself to us in a way we can understand.

This is exactly what happened in the Incarnation: “[T]he one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.” The Word of God is also the Son of God. He has seen God and is thus able to reveal God to us. But, more strikingly, the Son is God (see John 1:1). Therefore he reveals God to us, not only in words and deeds, but also in his very person.

When gaze upon Jesus, we peer into the face of God. Through Jesus we can know God, truly, intimately, personally. Yes, our knowledge of God is not complete (1 Corinthians 13:12). But insofar as we know God through the Word Incarnate, our knowledge is genuine and trustworthy. Thus, we live Christmasly when our relationship with God is shaped by his self-revelation in Jesus. We allow Jesus to show us who God is and what it means to walk in fellowship with him each day.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How has Jesus shaped your understanding of God? How has God’s self-revelation in Jesus impacted your relationship with God?

PRAYER: Gracious God, apart from your help, we would never know you. Oh, we’d know something about you from observing your creation and our hearts would yearn for you, but we’d never know you truly unless you chose to make yourself known to us.

So today we thank you for revealing yourself to us. You have made yourself known through the Law and the Prophets, through calling Abraham and forming a covenant through Moses. But most wonderfully, you have revealed yourself to us by becoming one of us. In Jesus, the Word Incarnate, you have made yourself known to us. Thus you invite us to have a truthful, intimate, vital relationship with you.

All praise be to you, Gracious God, for revealing yourself to us in the Word Incarnate. Amen.

Living Christmasly, Part 3

Part 3 of series: Living Christmasly
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

READ Hebrews 2:10-18


Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.

Hebrews 2:14

How can we escape from the power of sin and death? How can we experience forgiveness? How can we live each day in unbroken relationship with God? Answers to these questions can be found in Hebrews 2:10-18.

This passage focuses on the Incarnation and the difference it makes in our lives. The Son of God “became flesh and blood” in order to identify with human beings (2:14). Why? “For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. . . . Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people” (2:14, 17). The Incarnation alone does not take away our sin, but it is a necessary prerequisite for salvation that centers in the cross. Because Jesus was fully human, he was able to die in our place, thus opening up for us the way to eternal life.

Many of us, even though we have put our faith in Jesus as our Savior, still live as if we can and must atone for our own sins. With our lips we confess that salvation is in Christ alone. But in our hearts and our actions we try to prove to God that we are worthy of his forgiveness. This spiritual dead end keeps us from enjoying the new life we have in Christ, a life set free from the power of sin, guilt, and shame.

Living Christmasly means seeing the connection between Christmas and Good Friday, between the birth of the Son of God and his saving death on the cross. Living Christmasly means allowing Jesus to take away our sins by putting our trust in him as our Savior. Living Christmasly means thankfully receiving the forgiveness of God each day, using our freedom in Christ to serve God freely and joyfully in our daily lives.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How does it matter to you that Jesus was fully human as well as fully God? Do you live in the gracious forgiveness of God each day?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, Son of God, how I thank you today for your Incarnation, for becoming flesh and blood for the sake of humanity. Thank you for being able to bear my sin upon the cross, thus breaking the reign of sin and death over me. Thank you for being my merciful and faithful High Priest.

Help me, dear Lord, to live in the reality of your Incarnation and the salvation it made possible. Help me to live Christmasly today.

All praise and glory be to you, Lord Jesus, fully God and fully human. Amen.

Living Christmasly, Part 4

Part 4 of series: Living Christmasly
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

READ Hebrews 2:10-18

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

Hebrews 2:18

Does God understand us? How does God regard us when we struggle? When we’re discouraged? When we’re tempted? Hebrews 2:10-18 offers an encouraging answer to these questions.

As we saw in yesterday’s Reflection, the main point of Hebrews 2:10-18 is that the Incarnation makes salvation possible. Because Jesus was fully human, he was able to break the power of sin and death over human beings through his death on the cross.

The last verse of this passage offers yet another piece of good news: “Since [Jesus] himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested” (2:18). The Greek verb periazein is translated here as “to test.” It can also mean “to tempt,” and this translation is used in some versions (KJV, NIV). In fact, Jesus experienced both temptation (most notably in his encounter with Satan in the wilderness) and testing (most pointedly in his passion). Thus he knows what it’s like to be tempted to sin and he knows how it feels to be tested by suffering. (Photo: "The Temptation of Christ," by one of my favorite painters, Jim Janknegt. See his website.)

This means that Jesus understands when we are tempted or tested. He knows the magnetic pull of sin, even though he was always able to resist it (Heb. 4:15). And he knows how it feels to endure pain, rejection, and injustice. Thus, Jesus is able to help us when we’re struggling, not by standing apart from us and shouting orders from a safe distance, but by standing alongside us and offering his empathy as well as his wisdom.

Living Christmasly means being comforted and encouraged by the empathy of Jesus. When we live in light of the Incarnation, we will allow Jesus to help us as life’s difficulties and temptations threaten to defeat us.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: When you are tempted, or when you are going through hard times, do you ever think that Jesus understands how you feel? What difference would it make in your life if you were to take seriously Hebrews 2:18?

PRAYER: O Lord Jesus, how I thank you today for experiencing human life. To be sure, you knew many of its joys. But you also knew its sorrows and struggles. Thus you know today how it feels when I am tempted to sin. You know how it feels to be discouraged and exhausted. Thank you for understanding my challenges and suffering.

Help me, dear Lord, when I am tempted. Give me strength to live a holy life that honors you.

Help me, dear Lord, when I am tested, when life is painful, when I wonder if you’re there for me. Give me the strength to hang onto you in all things.

All praise be to you, Jesus Christ, Word of God Incarnate, because you know what it’s like to be human. All praise be to you because you are able to help me when I need it most. Amen.

Living Christmasly, Part 5

Part 5 of series: Living Christmasly
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series


So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

If we’re sinful people, are we free to come into the presence of a sinless, perfect God? And if we’re permitted to approach God, how should we come before him? Hebrews 4:14-16 helps to answer these questions.

In the last two Reflections, we examined the second chapter of Hebrews. There, the Incarnation laid the foundation for our salvation and offer of Jesus’ empathy. Because he suffered and was tested, he understands our struggles and is able to help us.

Hebrews 4:14-16 reiterates the good news of Hebrews 2. Because Jesus is a human being, he is able to be “a great High Priest who has entered heaven” (4:14). As our High Priest, he has offered a uniquely effective sacrifice for our sins. But Jesus, as High Priest, also relates to our human frailties: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (4:15). Thus we have in Jesus one who has opened up a way to God for us and who knows what it's like to be human.

This makes all the difference in the world in our relationship with God. In light of the High Priesthood of Jesus, Hebrews 4:16 proclaims, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Because of who Jesus is and what he has done, we know that God has forgiven our sins and that he understands our struggles. Therefore we do not have to wallow in guilt when we approach God. We do not come before him begging for a hearing and fearful of his rejection. Rather, we come “boldly,” telling God everything on our minds and hearts. (The Greek word translated here as “boldly” means “with full freedom to say everything.”) When we come before God in prayer, we know in advance that we will receive God’s mercy and grace . . . not because we deserve it, but because of what Christ, our High Priest, has done for us.

Living Christmasly means freely and frequently coming before God’s throne in prayer and worship. It means approaching the King of kings with boldness because of what Jesus, the Word Incarnate, was able to accomplish as our Great High Priest. It means having confidence that God understands our weaknesses and is eager to lavish his mercy and grace upon us.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: When you come before God in prayer, do you come boldly? Why or why not? What keeps you from feeling free before God? What helps you to pray with abandon?

PRAYER: What an amazing privilege to approach your throne, O God! And even more amazing still is the invitation to come before you boldly. Thank you for making yourself available to us. Thank you for the High Priestly work of Jesus. Thank you that he understands our weaknesses.

O Lord, how I thank you for all the times and ways you have poured out your mercy and grace upon me. You have been there when I needed your help, again and again.

May I continue to approach you with boldness, O God, not because there is anything special about me, but because there is everything special about Jesus, the Word Incarnate, my Great High Priest, my Savior. In his name I pray, Amen.

Living Christmasly, Part 6

Part 6 of series: Living Christmasly
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series


And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.

Do our bodies really matter? Or are they just insignificant shells for our spirits? Does God care about what we do with our bodies? Romans 12:1-2 answers these questions by showing us how we might use our bodies to live Christmasly

Romans 12 examines some practical implications of the gospel, which Paul meticulously considers in the first eleven chapters of Romans. These implications are a response to “all that [God] has done for you” (literally, to the “mercies” of God). The first step of the response is this: “[T]o give your bodies to God. . . . Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (12:1). Notice the emphasis here on our bodies. We serve the Lord, not just in our hearts, not just in our thinking, not just in our feelings, but also and essentially in what we do with our bodies. Our bodies and what we do with them matter to God. (Photo: Two leaders from Irvine Presbyterian Church offering their bodies to God in service as they build a home in Mexico.)

One way to talk about this is to say that our faith in Christ is to be lived incarnationally, that is, in the flesh of our bodies. The Incarnation of the Word of God is not only essential for our salvation. It also underscores the value of the body as a vehicle for God’s activity in the world. The fact that the Word became flesh provides a theological foundation for the call in Romans 12:1 to give our bodies to God as “a living and holy sacrifice.” We worship God with our bodies, not only in the context of the gathering of the church for offering praise to God, but also in our daily lives.

Living Christmasly means recognizing that our bodies are instruments through which we honor God. It means taking seriously what we do each day because God takes it seriously as well.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How might the connection between the Incarnation and your body impact they way you live? How might you use your body as a way of worshiping God today?

PRAYER: Gracious Lord, thank you for creating us as embodied creatures. Thank you for allowing us to serve you with our bodies. Thank you for reminding us of just how much our bodies matter through the Incarnation of the Word.

Help me, Lord, to use my body for your service. May I learn to worship you in each moment of each day as I present my whole self before you as a living and holy sacrifice. Amen.

Living Christmasly, Part 7

Part 7 of series: Living Christmasly
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

READ 1 Corinthians 6:9-20

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Do our bodies matter to God? If God cares about our bodies, how does this impact our behavior as sexual beings? These questions find startling answers in 1 Corinthians 6:9-20.

This passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was written in response to certain behaviors and attitudes that were present among the Christians in Corinth. As new believers, the Corinthians naturally brought along into their Christian life the assumptions and practices of their culture. This culture valued the spirit, the inner being of thought and feeling, but tended to ignore or even denigrate the worth of the body. Thus, the Corinthian Christians engaged in sexual immorality without worrying that it might be inconsistent with their faith. After all, sex was simply a function of the body, and bodies weren’t all that important, or so they thought. The spirit was what really mattered.

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul did far more than rebuke the Corinthians for their immoral practices. He wanted them to understand why sexual activity matters to God. This has everything to do with the value of our bodies. “They were made for the Lord,” Paul writes, “and the Lord cares about our bodies” (6:13). Our physical members, and not just our spirits, are actually in some way parts of Christ himself (6:15). Even more amazing than this, “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (6:19). The very Spirit of God dwells in your body, thus giving it extraordinary value as a sort of human temple. On top of this, God has “bought you with a high price,” the death of his Son (6:20). For all of these reasons, your body is important to God. Therefore, Paul concludes, “you must honor God with your body” (6:20). For the Corinthians who were engaging in sexual immorality, this meant they should stop using their bodies for illicit pleasure and start using them for God’s glory.

Most Christians know that God has high standards for sexuality, standards that are increasing inconsistent with those of our culture. Most of us, at one time or another, also struggle to be faithful in living up to these standards. Our laudable efforts to remain sexually pure often focus exclusively on the wrongness of sexual immorality, on what we should not do. Though we should take seriously God’s standards for sexual expression, rather than focusing so much on what to avoid, we would be better off to imitate Paul’s example by highlighting the inestimable value of our bodies. The more we see our own bodies as temples of the Spirit, the more we realize that our bodies are for God and his purposes, the more we will be empowered to honor God with our bodies, both in what we do and in what we don’t do with them. We will find the motivation and strength to glorify God even in our sexuality. Moreover, knowing that our bodies are precious to God can also bring healing and hope for those who have been physically or sexually mistreated.

Living Christmasly means realizing that our bodies are for the Lord. Even as God’s glory was revealed through the Incarnation of the Word at Christmas, so our bodies are to be instruments of God’s glory each day.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How do you think about your body? When you read 1 Corinthians 6:9-20, how does this impact your thinking? How might you glorify God in your body today?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, when we think about our sexuality, we can easily focus on the negative, on what we’re not supposed to do, on how our culture draws us away from sexual holiness. To be sure, we live in a day when sexual sin is rampant, and many of us are touched by this reality.

Thank you, Lord, for the positive message of 1 Corinthians 6:9-20. Thank you for the reminder that our bodies were made for you and that you care for them. Thank you for dwelling in our bodies through the Spirit. Thank you for purchasing all that we are, including our bodies, with the sacrifice of the Son. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to honor you with our bodies, in what we do and in what we choose not to do for your sake.

Help me, Lord, to honor you with my body. Teach me what it means to treat my body as your temple. In all that I do, may I glorify you. And, by your Spirit’s help, may I refrain from all that dishonors your.

To you be all the glory, dear Lord, even and especially in my body! Amen.

Living Christmasly, Part 8

Part 8 of series: Living Christmasly
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series


All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

How is Christ present in the world today? How can you and I represent him in our daily lives? Our text from 1 Corinthians 12 answers these questions by use of an incarnational analogy.

First-century Corinthian culture prized spiritual experience and personal accomplishment. Thus it encouraged both preoccupation with one’s religious prowess and prideful boasting. This cultural tide inundated the Christian community in Corinth, leading some to boast so much of their spiritual achievements that they denigrated the worth of their less-accomplished brothers and sisters in Christ. These folk, in turn, began to doubt their value to the community because their experiences of the Spirit were less dramatic than those of their boastful siblings.

The apostle Paul, who had planted the Corinthian church, realized that his young flock needed more than an exhortation to value each other. They needed to see themselves in a whole new light as the community of God. In order to foster this fresh vision, Paul used the analogy of the human body in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Just as the physical body has diverse parts, and just as all parts are essential for the body to function well, so it is with the Christian community. “All of you together are Christ’s body,” Paul wrote, “and each of you is a part of it” (12:27). Therefore every member matters to the body, and every member has the responsibility of caring for every other member. Nobody is inconsequential. Nobody is dispensable. Everybody matters if the church, as the body of Christ, is to be healthy, strong, and growing.

The original body of Christ was the actual physical body of Jesus, in whom the Word of God was present. This body is no longer present on the earth. But the church of Jesus Christ is his body in a somewhat different, but still essential, way. As we gather in fellowship and worship, and as we scatter into the world, we represent Jesus. We will only do this effectively when we act as a body in which all parts are valuable and active in ministry.

The church of Jesus Christ needs the message of 1 Corinthians 12-14 just as much today as the Corinthians needed it in the first century A.D. We tend to overvalue the contributions of a few members of the church, usually the pastors and other visible leaders, and devalue the contributions of ordinary folk. How often have you heard or even said, “I’m just a lay person,” as if lay people mattered less than clergy. The church in our day needs to hear once again the good news that we are the body of Christ, and therefore every member has inestimable value. (Photo: The congregation of Irvine Presbyterian Church on my last day as their pastor. During my sixteen years there, we grew as a community in which all members were ministers.)

Living Christmasly means living in this world incarnationally as the body of Christ. It means actively participating in the church and joining with this community to bear witness, in word and deed, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On this New Year’s Day, I can think of no better resolution than for us to renew our commitment to live fully as a member of Christ’s body, the church.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Do you live as an active, connected part of the body of Christ? What helps you to know that you have a crucial role in the Christian community? Are there specific ways God is calling you to strengthen your relationship with the body of Christ?

PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for making us part of your body in this world. You have joined us to the church so that we might receive care, grow in our discipleship, and contribute to the growth of others. Though church life is sometimes not easy, thank you for all the ways you minister to us through our fellow Christians.

O Lord, help your church to take seriously the value of each member to the whole body. Even as we honor those who are set apart as ordained ministers, may we remember that we are all your ministers, and that all of us have a role to play in your church.

Strengthen us individually and corporately, so that we might serve you, not only in our fellowship together, but also as we go out into the world. May we be your body for others, even as you once communicated your grace through the literal body of Jesus. Amen.

Living Christmasly, Part 9

Part 9 of series: Living Christmasly
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series


Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
     he took the humble position of a slave
     and was born as a human being.

How should the Incarnation of Jesus impact our behavior in the Christian community? What does the fact that the divine Son became human tell us about how we should live? We find answers to these questions in what might be one of the very oldest Christians hymns, in Philippians 2:1-11.

For the most part, the Philippian church was a healthy one, a strong partner in Paul’s ministry. But some of their leaders were not getting along well (4:2-3). No doubt it was easy for others to get caught up in divisive and hurtful arguments. So in the first verses of Philippians 2, Paul calls his flock to get along with each other, loving one another and working together in the Gospel (2:2). He urges not to be “selfish,” but rather to be “humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (2:3). In sum, the Philippians “must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (2:5, literally, they are to have the thinking of Christ).

And how are we to know the attitude of Christ? Paul answers this question by including what most biblical scholars believe to be an early Christian hymn. Some think Paul wrote it.  Others believe he borrowed a piece of early Christian worship. Either way, this hymn focuses on the self-giving sacrifice and humility of Christ. “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appears in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (2:6-8). Christ was humbled twice: first, in becoming human, and then in crucifixion. Notice that this hymn begins by underscoring the humility of the Incarnation. For one who was fully God to become human was, indeed, a demonstration of stunning humility.

Thus, the Incarnation becomes a model for us. Even as Christ chose the way of humility, so should we. Even as he opted for the path of self-sacrifice, so should we in our relationships in the church. When we begin to think too much of ourselves, when we value our opinions so much that we don’t care what others think, we need to remember and model our lives upon the Incarnation. (Photo: A painting by Dirck van Baburen, "Christ Washing the Apostles' Feet," c. 1616.)

Living Christmasly means letting the Incarnation of Christ teach us how to live together as the people of God. It means choosing the way of humility and servanthood, knowing that our imitation of Christ honors him even as it strengthens the church, which is the body of Christ.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: When do you find it hard to follow the counsel of Philippians 2:1-5? Do you ever reflect on the Incarnation as a model and motivation for your behavior? In which relationships could you begin today to imitate the Incarnation of Christ?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, how we honor you today for your willingness to become human. You chose to give up your divine privileges for a season, becoming a human being. Your humility, dear Lord, paved the way for our salvation. All praise be to you!

And it also teaches us how to live today. It’s not easy to imitate you, Lord. We would much rather be people of importance. None of us naturally aspires to servanthood. Yet this is our calling and privilege in imitation of you.

May your Incarnation continue to be a model for me. As I reflect on your self-giving humility, may I choose to be like you. Help me, Lord, by your Spirit, to count others as better than myself, to serve them even and especially when I am their leader. May I be more and more like Jesus each and every day. Amen.

Living Christmasly, Part 10

Part 10 of series: Living Christmasly
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series


But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.

Can we know God intimately, personally? How is this possible? How can we have a personal relationship with God? According to Galatians 4:1-7, the answers to these questions have everything to do with Christmas.

Galatians 4 begins with bad news. Apart from Christ, we are “slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world” (4:3). We are in bondage to the cultural and spiritual powers that surround us, including cynicism, narcissism, materialism, and fear, just to name a few. The good news is that God did not leave us in such a sorry state: “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children” (4:4-5). The core event of Christmas, the birth of God’s Son, was God’s way of redeeming us from the powers of this world, including the Old Testament law. Yet, not only are we set free by the work of God’s Son, but also we are adopted as God’s own children. (Photo: "Christ Blessing the Children" by Nicolaes Maes, 1652-3)

God’s gift of his unique Son means that you and I can be children of God. Because of Jesus, we can be adopted into God’s own family. Moreover, when we put our trust in Jesus as our Savior, the Spirit of God comes to dwell in our hearts, “prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father’ ” (4:6). We learn to call God “Father” even as Jesus did. That’s how special we are to God!

Living Christmasly means celebrating the birth of God’s Son. This celebration includes the extraordinary truth that we can be adopted as God’s sons and daughters through the Son. Thus we can know God intimately as our Heavenly Father.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What does it mean to you to relate to God as your Father? How have you experienced freedom from the powers of this world as a child of God?

PRAYER: Merciful Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to set us free from the powers of this world. Help us to live in that freedom each day, so that we might offer ourselves to you in whole-life worship.

Thank you also, Father, for sending your Son so that you might adopt us as your sons and daughters. It is an extraordinary privilege to be able to address you as “Abba, Father.”

Help me to grow in genuine intimacy with you, Father, so that I might know you more truly and live for you more completely.

All praise be to you, O God, Father, Son, and Spirit! Amen.

Living Christmasly, Part 11

Part 11 of series: Living Christmasly
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series


You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.

How can we live rich, full lives? How can we flourish at work and at home, at church and in the community? 2 Corinthians 8 answers these questions by drawing out implications of the Incarnation of Christ.

Second Corinthians 8 is a first-century fund-raising letter (or, a fund-raising chapter in a long letter, at any rate). The Apostle Paul wrote this chapter to encourage the Corinthian Christians to contribute to his collection for the financially strapped Christians in Jerusalem. In fact, the Corinthians had begun to support this charitable work (8:6, 10). Now it was time for them to finish what they had begun.

Paul began to motivate the Corinthians by pointing to the extraordinary example of the Macedonian Christians (perhaps the Philippians or the Thessalonians). Even though they were facing difficult times and struggling with financial hardships, the Macedonians gave joyfully and generously (8:1-2). As an additional motivation, Paul appealed to the Corinthians’ sense of honor, especially with respect to their desire for excellence (8:7-8).

But then Paul played his theological trump card, pointing to the example of Christ himself: “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich” (8:9). The grace of Christ is revealed in his Incarnation. He once “was rich” in that he enjoyed all the perks of deity (see Phil. 2:6-7). Yet Christ “became poor” by becoming a human being. It’s not just that he was born into a family that didn’t have much money. Christ’s “poverty” in this text is his very humanity. When you go from being fully God to being fully human and fully God, that’s quite a sacrifice, a move from essential richness to essential poverty.

Yet notice why Christ chose to make this sacrifice. He did it, Paul writes to the Corinthians, “for your sakes” (di’ humas, 8:9). In particular, he became poor so that the Corinthians might become rich. This richness was all-inclusive. It surely referred to the benefits of salvation and the gifts of the Spirit. But, in context, it also referred to the financial blessings God had poured out upon the Corinthians. And it suggested that their richness was not just having money, but sharing it generously with others. 

Second Corinthians 8 reminds us of how Christ, through his Incarnation, has blessed us beyond measure. This passage also urges us to be generous in sharing with others what we have so graciously received.

Living Christmasly means joyfully and faithfully receiving God’s gift of Christ. It means marveling at the sacrificial grace of Christ and living in this grace each day. When we do, we will become people of generosity, freely sharing with others what God has so richly given us in Christ.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How does the metaphor of Christ’s becoming poor in the Incarnation speak to you? Are you enjoying Christ’s grace in your life by giving it away to others? Is there a specific act of generous giving that God is calling you to today?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, how we thank you for your willingness to give up so much to become human. Thank you for your choice to become poor so that we might be rich in you.

You know, Lord, how easy it is for us to receive your blessings but then hold onto them. Help us to be people who imitate your act of generous giving. As we have received financial blessings from you, may we share them freely with others. As we have been gifted by your Spirit, may we serve people in your church and in the world. As we have received the outpouring of your love, may we love our neighbors and even our enemies.

Help me this very day, Lord, to be rich in you by giving away your blessings to others. Amen.

Living Christmasly, Part 12

Part 12 of series: Living Christmasly
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series


This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Do the things we do in this life really matter? How are we to live in light of God’s plans for the future? Second Corinthians 5 addresses questions like these, focusing on the nature of our new life in Christ.

At first glance, 2 Corinthians 5 doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas. It doesn’t mention the birth of Christ, but focuses instead on his death and the new life it has brought for us. This new life reaffirms the essential value of God’s creation, including our bodies. In fact, when we stand before Christ in the day of judgment, “we will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body” (5:10). Paul is not saying that our salvation hinges on our own works, of course. But there will be a time when the things we have done in this world, things that have been an expression of our physical body, will be evaluated. Clearly, God cares about what we do with our bodies.

When we put our trust in Christ as our Savior, everything begins to change. Our translation of 2 Corinthians 5:17 reads, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” If we were to translate this verse very literally, we might come up with something like this: “Therefore, if someone is in Christ . . . new creation! The old things have passed away. Look! They have become new.” Notice that the newness experienced by the Christian is not just individual or internal. The one who enters into relationship with God through Christ begins to participate in the new creation, even though continuing to live in the old creation.

How do we experience the new creation in this life, even as we hope for the fullness of the new creation that is yet to come? We live in the new creation when we gather with God's people for worship. Or when we forgive someone who has wronged us. Or when we serve people in the power of the Spirit. Or when we live sacrificially, giving away ourselves and our stuff for others. Or when we bring the values of God’s kingdom into every facet of our lives. Or when we remain steadfast in the midst of suffering. Or when we continue to hope in God even when he seems very far away. Or when our sisters and brothers in Christ love us with a soul-embracing kind of love. Or when wealthy churches give generously to churches that don’t have much. Or when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, heal the sick, and hug the lonely in the name of Jesus. Or . . . . (Photo: "St. Nicholas Throwing the Gold Bars to Three Poor Girls," by Guido di Palmerino, 1300-1301. St. Nicholas, the nominal origin of Santa Claus, was a Christian who was famous for his generosity. One time he gave gold to three poor girls so they might have enough dowry to get married. Nicholas purposefully hid his identity so he would get no credit for the gift.)

Though 2 Corinthians 5 doesn’t mention the Incarnation specifically, it does express several implications of this central truth of Christmas. The fact that God came to us in a human body emphasizes the value of our bodies, a point drawn out by Paul in this chapter. The fact that God chose to become part of his creation underscores its inestimable value. It reminds us that God’s vision for the future is not the destruction of creation, but its renewal. The new creation fixes, completes, and perfects this creation.

Living Christmasly means taking seriously what we do with our bodies, even as God takes our actions seriously. It means using our bodies for God’s service in every aspect of life. Living Christmasly highlights the value of this creation, even as we anticipate the full new creation that is still to come. When we let the Incarnation guide our lives, then we will also live incarnationally as in-the-flesh instances of God’s truth and love. Our lives will communicate the good news of Christ in word and deed, so that others might come to experience the new life found in Christ, the Word of God Incarnate.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How are you using your body as an instrument of God’s love in this world? How are you experiencing the new creation in your life today? How might you be an incarnational witness in your daily life to the good news of Jesus Christ?

PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for the bodies you have given us, and for caring about what we do with our bodies. May we use our physical strength to serve you, whether we’re using our brains to think, our fingers to type, our backs to lift, or our arms to embrace.

Thank you for the blessing of the new creation, and for the fact that you have made us new in Christ. Help us, Lord, to live into this newness. May we see more and more evidence of the new creation in the way we treat people, in our compassion, in our hope, in our service to others.

Help me, dear Lord, to be an ambassador of your good news as I live my life each day. May I bring some of the new creation into every relationship, every task, every thought, every prayer.

All praise be to you, O God, because you are making all things new . . . even me!

All praise be to you, O God, because you have chosen me to be part of your renewal effort.

I pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.


This series was originally written for the Daily Reflections that I write for The High Calling of Our Daily Work (, a wonderful website about work and God. You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the workplace.