Biblical Putdowns & Trump Cards

While most online Christian interactions don’t end up at: “well, Hitler believed that too!” (Reductio ad Hitlerum) many times they are just as close with Christians using acceptable “putdowns” from Scripture. What are these? They are usually sayings of Jesus ripped from their context. For example:

“Well, I would discuss this further but I don’t want to throw my pearls before swine”


“Jesus said there would be wolves in sheeps clothing and you are looking rather wolfy.”|

These are acceptable, verbal uses of the Sword of the Spirit in many Christian circles but the real question is…are they? Let’s take a look:

(1) Pearls Before Swine

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:6 ESV)

Pigs and dogs were scavengers during Jesus’s day and would have been considered unclean to Jews (I’d argue cats should be in here as well). They were outsider animals that Jesus used as analogy for those who are antagonistic or outside of the faith. The pearl is the gospel. Jesus makes clear that a Christian should be slow to judge (7:1-5) any person who is not in Christ but there are sometimes when a Christian should back away and not invest emotional/spiritual energy with someone. Notice that this saying is not applied to other Christian believers.

(2) Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15-16 ESV)

Jesus calls for Christians to not judge hastily but to also be discerning when it comes to prophets who come in the believers midst. Key word there is prophets.  Or those who claim to be a prophet. Also notice that it talks about fruit inspection of the person in question and that it matches up to the words they speak. It does not say that a person should be judged on the miraculous. Someone may have great wonders following their lives but that does not equal Christian maturity.

(3) Whitewashed Tombs 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28 ESV)

Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and Scribes for being hypocritical. Jesus is making a judgment on them (see, judging is okay) as he points out the disconnect between their outward actions and their inward state. He does not say that outward righteousness is bad but that outward righteousness is empty without the inward. Again, he is speaking to Pharisees and Scribes. Not believers. A believer who is filled with the Spirit cannot be inwardly dead because he is born again.

 (4) Deliver to Satan

“you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:5 ESV)

Satan’s realm in Scripture is another name for the earth (Luke 4:5-6; Ephesians 2:2). This man was to be cast out of the church not for punishment sake but to eventually be restored to the church. This man was consciously committing sexual sin that was outwardly expressed in the church since they all knew about it. Even though those involved were consenting adults there was no toleration for their sin if they did not repent. Loving the sinner meant allowing him to live the life he had chosen outside of the church.

(5) Holy Spirit Teaches Me

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26 ESV)

The Bible makes clear that the Holy Spirit aides believers in their spiritual walk (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:16,18) but this is not at the expense of knowledge/wisdom. This specific verse is quoted many times at the expense of human knowledge when in context it is talking specifically to the disciples about the writings of the Scriptures. Something that no longer happens today. I usually like to retort when someone says this passage with Revelation which says not to add or subtract one letter from the Scripture because when someone uses this passage in a discussion that is what they are doing.

How about you? What other some other Christian putdowns and trump cards you’ve experienced?

Musings of a Pentecostal Muggle-Born

I recently had a John the Baptist moment in a continuing discussion with other ministers in my denomination. The specific Scripture that I am referring to is this:

“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” (Matthew 3:9 ESV)

A couple of months ago there was a group of people who formed in response to a journal article in the Assemblies of God’s (AG) ministers magazine Enrichment. They did not agree with a specific article and have been talking about it since. I originally thought this was a joke because, in my mind, to be AG meant to be conservative. At least theologically anyway. As I started to engage this group through random chats, video streams, blogs, facebook posts, and one unfortunate recent situation which spurred this blog, one theme kept coming up again and again. They were third and fourth generation pentecostal ministers while I was not. Their families were there at the beginning (not the actual day of Pentecost…I hope anyway?) and because of that family lineage they were better equipped to hold the line on certain theological points.

Now as a  a lover of history myself I understood their passion. But, to state that those ministers who came from a family of ministers needed to save the AG from folks who did not have that history (like me) seemed rather…drastic? Did they really need to save the church from us Muggle-Borns?

If you are not familiar with the term Muggle-Born it is a term I am taking from Harry Potter (forgive me but it was too good to pass up). A Muggle is someone who does not have magic. To be Muggle-Born meant to be someone who was born with magic but to two parents who were not magical. In Harry Potter, Muggle-Borns are discriminated against and looked down upon.

We find the same thing happened in Jesus’ day. In fact it warranted a response from both John the Baptist in the above passage and Jesus Himself. And the same thing happens today.  It is a hard thing to be swept into to something as large as the Christian faith. There is a cloud of witnesses that goes before you that you must acknowledge and carry the torch from. Undoubtedly sometimes people in my generation take the torch by force and are disrespectful of the past thinking it is all negative. This does happen! I acknowledge that completely. However, other times those who have the torch never give it up, criticize those who come along with them as destroying the church or bringing in foreign ideas that are not foreign at all. Then to utter things that all people not born into ministers homes need to be watched extra carefully does not help either. Hence the term “Pentecostal Muggle-Borns.”

I am reminded of a post my good friend William Molenaar wrote awhile back and I’ll close with his words:

I encourage all of us to consider the weaknesses and cons of using a “conservative vs. liberal” framework in our relationships with each other in the Assemblies of God. Self-identified “liberals” and “conservatives” are usually loud, divisive, and do not help in furthering the kingdom and mission of God in a constructive manner. They are too interested in themselves and preserving their own agendas. In order to directly engage “liberals” or “conservatives” is to necessarily play into their divisive game, and only gives them more motivation for polemics!

Ode to Joy! (A Farewell to the David Crowder*Band)

In 2002 I was working at a Christian bookstore in Massachusetts. One night my boss came out and handed me a CD entitled “Can You Hear Us” and told me to listen because I would like it. After work that night as I drove home I put in the album and the first song, I Need Words (more on this song later) came on and I was intrigued. This guy, David Crowder, voice was interesting, the lyrics were actually really profound and the electronics mixed with regular instruments was not something I was used to hearing in a “worship” album. I devoured that album from this new group calling themselves the David Crowder*Band (DC*B). And so did a lot of people.

DC*B music has been the soundtrack of my spiritual life since I was a senior in High School in 2002. I listened to them in Bible school from 2002-2006. I listened to them in Seminary from 2006-2009. I listened to them as their last album came out today (January 10, 2012). Whenever I’ve become frustrated with much of the modern worship scene for its weak theology or overly romantic lyrics I could always turn back to DC*B. It was always fresh. It was always real. It was never overly sappy and I never felt like Jesus was my boyfriend. He was the God of Wrath. He was the God of Love.

I could not help reminisce through the many different spiritual seasons I went through and how DC*B music played through all of them. I’d like to share some of them with you now and if you want, I’d love to hear yours!

I Need Words– The first song I ever heard from DC*B and easily one of my favorites. It is a short song (2:02) about how when we worship God we need larger words. How can we describe how great he is? One day I was talking with a pastor I was working for about this song for over two hours! Afterwords Pastor Jeff looked at me and said, “you do realize we just spent all that time talking about a song saying we need words, right?” We both laughed! Sadly, Jeff passed away in a tragic accident and every time I hear that song, I remember him.

Make a Joyful Noise/I Will Not Be Silent— “Do you want a revolution? Woot Woot?” In the 90’s Kirk Franklin was my hero. When Crowder did this well-known Kirkism in a concert one day everyone loved it. Spiritual fight songs are awesome and this is a great one, Kirkism and all!

You are my Joy— My senior year of Bible college God was reshaping me through a couple of incredibly difficult situations. I had a falling out with my mentor over going to Seminary. A tough breakup the summer before. A tough school situation which saw teachers assaulting my character. It was all around a rough time. September of 2005 DC*B released “A Collision” and it was epic. The entire album. Then I heard You are my Joy. When all around you fails, have joy. When you are mistreated, have joy. God is your Joy. He is your Joy. He is your JOY! So simple yet, at that moment, incredibly important and stopped me from quitting my senior year. If I had a “lifesong” it would be this one.

I could go on and on and I have not even considered this new album and its hour and a half of music into the equation! But I want to hear from you. What is your favorite DC*B song or moment? How have they helped you?

Book Review: “Real Marriage” by Mark & Grace Driscoll

I went into Pastor Mark’s new book Real Marriage with a lot of hesitation. I had read some blog posts that were, unfavorable. In fact, I had not read such vitriol in a blogs comments section since Pastor Rob Bell’s book on hell. There are a lot of opinions out there but one thing I found lacking in the reviews was an actual review of the book itself? It seemed like (at least to me anyway) these people were reacting to preconceived notions they had and no matter what Mark actually wrote they would still have reacted the same way.

I am endeavoring in this review to actually review the book. I will also state up front that I am going to be talking about some pretty heavy stuff. This blog will be PG-13 so please take that into consideration if you are at work reading or have filters on your computer for sexual content.


I read this book on my brand new, touch-screen Kindle. Since first making the switch over to an e-reader I have constantly been frustrated with the lack of thought that goes into publishers producing e-books. Overall this book had none of the normal copy errors I have found in other e-books and the reading experience was smooth and painless. I did have one strange moment where the heading for a section jumped into the middle of the preceding paragraph but I think there was an error on my kindle and it was not the book itself.

I found the book to progress logically and the division of the book into three parts made sense. Part 1 is entitled Marriage and opens with a brief description of the Driscoll’s own story along with a pretty standard description of their view of complementarian marital relationships. Part 2 deals with Sex in a Christian marriage and is easily the most explicit take on the subject I have ever read. Part 3 is entitled The Last Day and was good although I had a hard time reading it.

In this review I will focus on parts 1 and 2 as I found part 3 rather tedious. Before I begin though I’d like to mention one problem I had while reading the book. It was hard to know who was writing what. There is never a clear distinction at the beginning of chapters and when you finally get to a personal pronoun there is an awkward (Mark) or (Grace) inserted into the flow of the paragraph. I do not know why this bothered me so much but it did.

Part 1

Right out of the gate the Driscoll’s hit you with their own struggles in marriage in a deeply personal and, honestly, depressing look into their own marriage. This is not a Disney movie. Perhaps the most shocking part of this section was when the Driscoll’s revealed that Grace had cheated on Mark when they had first started dating. Mark explains that he would have never married Grace if he had known this and struggled with the fact that she actively hid this in pre-marital counseling and even after marriage. I will save judgment (unlike many others who have blasted them both) but I found this a powerful and overwhelming start to their book. It kept you reading but it was hard to.

The chapter entitled Friends with Benefits I enjoyed immensely and I think many others have as well. The Driscoll’s go into great detail on friendship within marriage and how much of what is missing in today’s discussion on marriage is the need to be friends with your spouse. They give an acronym (good Calvinists that they are) which is a helpful way to remember that a marital friendship should be Fruitful, Reciprocal, Intimate, Enjoyable, Needed, Devoted, Sanctifying (FRIENDS). I loved this.

The next two chapters deal with the Driscoll’s view of complementary relationships within marriage. The first chapter, Men and Marriage I found to be quite a wake up call and Mark goes into a bit of detail on what he calls “Peter Pan Syndrome” in men. This is typical Mark Driscoll and it is one of the many reasons I like him. However, this chapter was almost verbatim from a sermon I heard Mark preach (listen here) and I was hoping he would go into more detail rather than rehashing a 2-year-old sermon. Overall, I enjoyed the chapter and did not find much to disagree with.

The second chapter, entitled The Respectful Wife, I think will inevitably be discussed amongst Christians in much detail as it goes into the controversial subject of gender roles in marriage. Grace Driscoll states: “A husband and wife are equals on the same mission with different roles and responsibilities. We are both reliant on God’s grace, and both called to obedience and responsibility.” (p.82) She then describes what she believes a wife’s “submission” to her husband should look like.

1. A husband is not ultimate authority in the relationship. God is.
2. A husband is not, by his God-given authority, automatically more valuable, gifted, competent, or intelligent than his wife.
3.The Bible never command women to submit to men in general.

For the most part I found the chapter to be theologically sound (her take on the Esther story was a little off). Grace rightly appeals to the similarity between marriage and the Christian Trinity. The Trinity is functionally submissive through what is called “ontological equality.” In other words, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different persons but are equal and one while practicing submission (Son to the Father, Spirit to the Son) just as a husband and wife are equal and one while practicing submission (Husband to Christ, Wife to Husband). Some disagree with this model but I tend to find this same analogy in Scripture and had no issues with it.

Part 2
In part 2 of the book the Driscoll’s go into explicit detail of what sexual relationships should look like within Christian marriage. They start off the section warning fundamentalists to read the book sitting down. They also state that sexual relationships are within the confines of a heterosexual marriage and any type of sexual relationship outside of this is sinful in God’s sight. Basically, offending both Right-leaning and Left-leaning views of sexual relationships.

As a single person I found the chapters Disgrace and Grace and The Porn Path to be incredibly helpful. But, as is always the case, the more controversial sections will probably get talked about more than these two and I find that is a real shame. The Porn Path is an excellent chapter on the difficult subject of how men/women react to porn. Sadly, I can say I could relate to the struggle and found it helpful to read. I wish I had read it years ago.

Mark is very forthright in laying out how destructive porn is to not only marriage but to single men/women who view it. The most powerful part of this section was talking about how porn has changed the way men view women. Especially when looking at their neurology. This is something I love about Driscoll in his writings is that he brings in other sources from psychologists to scientists to back up his point. He does an excellent job in this chapter and I highly recommend getting the book just for these two chapters alone.

The chapter everyone will be talking about however is entitled Can we_____? and I will say again this is the most explicit part of the book. Pastor Mark looks at certain sexual acts and asks if they are okay within the confines of Christian marriage. Before he goes into these he outlines what he calls six purposes of sex that help answer the question of can we?

(1) Pleasure
(2) Children
(3) Oneness
(4) Knowledge
(5) Protection
(6) Comfort

From here Driscoll looks at each subject matter and asks three questions:

(1) Is it lawful?
(2) Is it helpful?
(3) Is it enslaving?

Before continuing I wish to mention that I read one review that says a pastor should not be involved in answering these questions. As a minister I have faced each of these questions in personal counseling sessions as well as in one-on-one discussions. I have also been asked publicly to answer questions about masturbation, oral sex, and “how far is to far” in a dating relationship. I believe a pastor should be able to comment on these things and should comment on these things.

My resolve was only strengthened last year when I took part in a pastoral panel answering new believer questions. I was given the question about masturbation and after giving my answer another pastor on the panel rebutted what I said by appealing to the Sermon on the Mount. Masturbation was wrong because Jesus said to cut off ones hand if it caused one to sin. I sat there aghast because I was a guest on the panel and could not rebut the pastor but this type of silly answer is the very reason why good teaching on this issue is a must.

That said, Pastor Mark answers the three above questions (lawful, helpful, enslaving) on the following sexual acts or related subjects to it:

Masturbation, Oral Sex, Anal Sex, Menstrual Sex, Role-Playing, Sex Toys, Birth Control, Cosmetic Surgery, Cybersex, Sexual Medication, and Marital Sexual Assault.

I cannot go into detail on each of these but I found the Driscoll’s answers to be well thought out, not disrespectful, and attempting to fill in a gap that many Christian teachers/pastors have been afraid to address. There have been some who have rejected the use of “lawful” but I think Mark answers this by appealing to 1 Corinthians 6:12 which says, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.”


In closing I found the book to be a quick read although there were points that I struggled to get through (part 3 specifically). If you do read it I would recommend having time to think through each chapter because it does get heavy and I found myself needing time to digest what I had just read. I will say that I vehemently disagree with Pastor Mark’s view of women in ministry and that issue does come up a couple of times in the book. I mentioned some of the confusion I had with who was writing but that was a minor issue in the long run. I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars. I disagree with Pastor Mark and Grace on a lot but I can appreciate the fact they are at least attempting to address a difficult subject!

When it’s Empty Under the Mistletoe

“Ho, Ho the Mistletoe
Hung where you can see.
Somebody waits for you,
kiss her just for me.”

Christmas can be a nightmare. Tons of non-religious Christmas song involve love and happiness of the romantic persuasion. Even the simple ones.  Winter Wonderland tells us that we can build a snowman who has magical powers to perform a wedding.  Baby, It’s Cold Outside (why is this a Christmas song again?) talks about an argument between a couple about staying in during a snow storm and not wanting to be perceived as having sexual relations by family and neighbors. I think you get the point. Christmas can make you want to set fire to that snowman named Parson Brown and eat his carrot nose right after punching Andy Williams in the face for telling you, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Speaking of Andy Williams (wow that last sentence was pretty violent, sorry), he states in the aforementioned song that there will be much “Mistletoeing” and “hearts glowing when loved ones are near.” Well, what if there is no mistletoeing? What if being around loved ones does not make your heart glow? What if you combine these two? Loved ones asking why there is no mistletoeing in your life. Most of the time the only hearts that are glowing are the ones left over from the radioactive fallout.

It is no understatement to say that Christmas time is a very difficult time for single people. Especially in their late 20’s and early 30’s. When around family it can make you realize that by now you should have had your own family. Even if parents don’t say anything the feeling can still be there. And, if parents, friends and extended family do bring up the issue, how do you survive? How do you avoid a Blue Christmas?

Face It Head On

The worse thing you can do is ignore, duck or avoid the question. Brace yourself. It is going to come up. Don’t get offended. Don’t get defensive. As soon as you do this they are going to remember and pester you more. Say something. Be honest. Have a really good response. Some of the favorites I’ve heard are:

(A) It’s your fault. Those Disney movies you made me watch so you could have your peace and quiet set the bar to high. I know too many Gastons.
(B) I’m an empowered women.
(C) Would you rather I have married that other girl/guy I brought home last Christmas?

They do actually care

This may seem hard to believe but whenever your parents, family and friends rib (pun intended) you for being single it is because they care. They want you to experience happiness and all of that mushy-gushy stuff Justin Bieber sings about on his new christmas album. A lot of times when you take up the defensive you miss this. You feel attacked. Maybe you are but maybe you are being attacked…with love?

Why are they really asking?

Hidden behind some of these questions is the fact that the person asking it thinks you should not be single. They might just think positively of you. Think about it, if they are bold enough to say to your face that you should be married then they obviously would be bold enough to tell you that you are nowhere near close enough to marriageable material. It may be a back-sided compliment but it is one, most of the time.

Actually tell them why you are single

When people ask you about being single it stems from them not knowing what’s going on in your life. They lack the details. Many times we think the reason they are asking is because they are saying we are imperfect or missing something. In my experience that is not always the case. They might not know your story. Why not tell them? Why not tell them how difficult it is? Why not tell them about the stalkers? If you reply with your story it usually only takes a couple of minutes till they zone out and you are in the clear.

Why are you single?

If you are bothered by the fact that family pesters you then you are you actually okay with being single? That’s what makes this question annoying, a lot of times you are asking yourself it. What have you come up with? Why? Are you putting people off? Are you emotionally available? Are you active socially? Investing in lives? Are you being friendly? Are you being kind? Are you being selfless? Self-introspection is a really good thing and if you’ve done that then your confidence will come across when you are asked by family and friends. A lot of times those who love us can pick up on our laziness or unavailability. Be honest. Be friendly. Take the questions and resist the Blue Christmas because it could be worse. You could be singing that God-forsaken Last Christmas song.

Some Thoughts on Tim Tebow

I am a Patriots fan but even I can admit that I’m rooting for the Denver Broncos. It’s hard not to. What Tim Tebow has done for the team is nothing short of extraordinary. He might not play defense but he’s sparked something in them that woke them all up. He also might not play offense that well but you try being compared to John Elway your first pro-football game and see how you fare.

Amongst my Christian friends there seems to be a mixed reaction, if Facebook/Twitter are any indication anyway. Some feel like he is to over-the-top with his faith. He makes the faith look silly, stereotypical and are just waiting for the ship to crash into another, what they think is inevitable, Christian hero failure. Others feel like God is using Tebow and that this is a great opportunity. The media is even worse. They don’t know what to do with him. He’s a right-wing hack according to some lady on MSNBC. He’s just an honest, down-to-earth faithful believer according to a CNN blog.

There’s just something about Tebow!

I am somewhere in-between on this but I will say I’m probably on the bandwagon (so I guess I’m not really in-between but whatever).  However, Rick Warren captured my feelings exactly with the following tweet:

“Of ALL the attitudes on display at NFL games,the last people should by bothered by is a guy kneeling to thank God.”


Advent Sermon on Joy

Sermon Text
Preached on 12/11/2011
Rev. Matthew Bell
Evangel Temple-20Twenty College Ministry

Good morning! How y’all doing today? For those of you who don’t know me my name is Matt and I’m excited to be up here today talking to you about a subject I care deeply about. Joy. If you know me you know that I love talking about joy. A couple of months ago at MidWeek live I taught on it. The name of my own personal blog is Joy Addict.

I am not the only one who has latched onto this subject and made it a life cry. C.S. Lewis says it was his pursuit of Joy (or joy’s pursuit of him) that led him to Christ. John Piper has made the pursuit of joy one of the main thrusts of his own ministry that he smartly entitled Desiring God. And let’s not forget that this time of year we see it everywhere around us. Joy is at Starbucks on your coffee cups. Joy is at Macy’s for 9.99. Old Navy even promises that joy can come by listening to those creepy mannequin commercials with a puffy sweater that makes you look like the StayPuff marshmallow man.

Christmas is synonymous with joy. And that is what we are going to look at today. If you have your Bibles open them up to Luke 2. We are going to be looking at a familiar passage that undoubtedly you know but I want to start here because it is good to remember the foundation of joy before we begin to discuss it.

A couple of months ago after I had finished teaching on Joy I was talking with a friend about the subject. He is not a Christian but is open to God and likes Jesus but is not ready to commit. I was explaining to him how C.S. Lewis described joy. It goes something like this:

“it is an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”

He really liked that definition and stated he wished more Christians would act like that. I found that statement really profound. He wished he knew people who were more joyful? Are not Christians supposed to be that?

After this conversation I went back to my journal and wrote the following story.

“This is a tale of Three People.

The first person in our tale is Overbearing Olivia. Olivia is religious. She is nice and she means well but she is rather pompous. She lives a strict life that avoids any situation where she might encounter sin. She thinks all entertainment distracts from the Great Commission. If you are vulnerable and tell her about a struggle you are having her reply is usually the same. Have more faith or stop doubting God. For her, right living is a set of rules. Rules she has to make sure everyone knows because they can’t live right if they don’t. Are you sick? What demon did you let into your life today? Are you poor? Did you forget to tithe? Everything stems from a negative cause and effect. Olivia claims that the joy of the Lord is her strength but when you look at her life you don’t see joy at all. She seems miserable!

The next person in our tale is Worldy William. When I first met him William he had just finished a modeling gig and I swear that timed seemed to slow down to Bay-Watch Speed at our introduction. He’s smooth and friendly but you can’t help feeling like he thinks you should be honored to be talking with him. He does not give time to charity because giving his money to them is enough. He loves women so much that he states he wants to share his love with as many as he can. For him the only wrong is what hurts others and he mostly means if it physically hurts them. Not emotionally, spiritually or any other “ly” you can think of. William is pragmatic and the only scripture he lives by is the song “All You Need is Love.” Although his definition of love is self.

Finally, the third person in our story is Dirt Poor Jesus. So poor in fact that while he was walking on a Sabbath he came to the edge of a field and he and his disciples were picking grain. An acceptable practice for those who could not afford their own. The religious folk saw this and cried foul. “It is the Sabbath” they said and claimed that Dirt Poor Jesus had broken the law. Jesus replied, “In the Old Testament, David entered the house of the Lord and ate the consecrated bread because he was hungry.” He then explained how man was NOT made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man. In one swell swoop he destroyed both the Overbearing and the Worldly. Jesus reminds us that the Overbearing lose sight of living while trying to keep rules and the Worldly lose sight of rules while claiming to live. Jesus’ way is better. Jesus’ way is Joy abundantly.”

It is here that I want us to begin to look at our passage today. The declaration of the birth of Christ. The birth that will brings Good News of Great Joy to all of mankind.

Our passage opens up with the location of the Shepherds who were watching their flock by night. They were in the same region of Bethlehem where Christ was born so they were there for the census and probably lived there themselves. To be a shepherd meant they were very poor. The Bible states in vs. 8 they were living outside with the sheep by night. It could have been possible they did not have a place to live at all. We don’t know how many shepherds were there those nights or what they looked like but the image I get of in my head is a group of men who looked like a cross between Dwarves and Hobbits from Lord of the Rings. Burly, short guys who burp and drink and probably were pretty crude. I was looking at my manger seen and the one shepherd in it looks like an Abercrombie and Fitch model. This was clearly not what they looked like.

Luke tells us that while they were watching their sheep that an angel of the Lord appeared and the glory of the Lord shone around them. This is common language for prophetic speech in Scripture and this type of event had not happened since the Old Testament save for the appearances of Angels to Mary and Elizabeth. The Bible states these guys were filled with fear.

The angel of the Lord tells them not to fear and then a whole host or multitude of angels appears. They were filled with fear with just one angel then 1,000’s of angels suddenly appeared. It is a wonder that these guys even remember what happened and did not pass out. I wonder what there sheep were doing?

I am always fascinated with why this happened. Why shepherds? Why pull out all the stops for them? God put on this divine light show for people who clearly would have been fine with just one angel? Why?

It wasn’t till later in Scripture that I started to see what God was doing. In Luke 15:7 Jesus says that the angels in heaven rejoice when the Gospel is proclaimed to unbelievers and that person repents. This Divine special effects event, while we may not see it, happens again and again for the last 2,000 years. The Shepherds were seeing into heaven. The joy of heaven was being shown on the Earth.

This is why the angel said “I bring you good news of great joy.” The proclamation of the birth of Christ is the good news that brings great joy. Notice though that the Angel says in verse 10 that this “good news” is for all the people. And that right there is why God chose the shepherds. God loves to shows His grace in proclamation to the poor, probably homeless and the outcast from society. God declared Christ birth to people who were ceremonially unclean and would not have been able to worship in the temple. Yet, they were able to go visit the God of the universe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Do you see what Luke is doing? This event is not like any event that has ever happened before.

I’d also like to point out that verse 20 states the shepherds returned to being shepherds. They returned to being poor, homeless and outcasts but now they were glorifying God and praising him. They were filled with great joy for finding God.

The saddest thing that has happened to Christianity in the past 100 years is the tying of joy to happiness in the material sense. Joy has been trivialized to mean things like

(1) Victory
(2) Freedom from Pain
(3) Freedom from despair
(4) Relationship health
(5) and the most despicable of all: riches and material wealth.

We see that the shepherds had none of this. Joy is not found in any of it. You see by tying Joy to these things if you don’t get them you fail at joy? That’s impossible! Joy originates not from some type of internal feeling of goodness or good things that happen to us but from an outward reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ that awakens in us the greatest desire a man can know. Desiring God. Joy is not a thing but a person. Any theology, worldview or religion that makes joy a thing makes an idol.

Thankfully, the Bible fleshes out what this joy looks like for us today. Now that we have looked at what joy is and what it is not I’d like to look at two different descriptions of joy. The first by Jesus Himself and finally how the Apostle Paul uses the term.

We talked earlier about how Jesus destroyed two opposing world-views and offered a third in the story of Overbearing Olivia and Worldy William. It is in the book of John we see this worldview fleshed out. In John 15:11. Jesus states:

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

The “things” Jesus is referring to is abiding in Him. Persevering in Christ. Jesus states that abiding in Him means abiding in his love for God and His love for the commands of God. Notice here that Jesus is stating matter of factly that His joy will be in you. It’s not something you have to make happen. It just is. In fact, here Jesus states your joy may be full because it is in Him. Again, the object of joy is a person and not an object.

Next, in John 16:24 Jesus states,

“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

Jesus states that by asking in His name you will receive. Receive what exactly? This is one of the most abused passages of Scripture and misunderstanding this passage is the reason why people say you can live your Best Life Now. Once again joy is tide into material.

The reason He states you can ask in his name does not make the word Jesus some type of magical spell. Just simply add Jesus with a British accent to any request and you’ll get the car of your dreams, the girl next door or that dream promotion. That’s not what he is talking about. He is stating that you are going to suffer. The whole passage is about suffering. Jesus compares joy to childbirth. After a whole lot of pain the moment a mom holds a child all the pain doesn’t matter. She has great joy. Jesus is saying that this is what is available to you. Joy from suffering. This is perhaps the greatest paradox in all of Scripture and one that Paul picks up on again and again.

In Paul we see a comparison between Christian living and worldly living that looks something like this: in tune with reality One of my favorite speakers is Ravi Zacharias and he points out a very interesting thing about the Apostle Paul’s writing in the epistles. He states:

“Life is intended to be the thrill of wonder and the irresistible urge to share it with others. However, can life be in tune with reality and also be enchanting without being escapist?”

Ravi answers, “Yes!” And Paul would seem to agree.

In the Apostle Paul’s writings we see a comparison between Christian living and worldly living that looks something like this:

Child –> Growth –> Pain –> Less Wonder and Destruction/Death

Death to self –> New Birth –> Growth –> More Wonder and Life

The tendency I see in Christians today is to deny the reality of joy because the reality of pain seems stronger. This is the paradox Paul addresses again and again. That Joy can come from Suffering.

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” Colossians 1:24


“…but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way…through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” 2 Corinthians 6:8-10


“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:22-24

I see in Paul three things that speak to how joy is experienced by a Christian who has come to know Christ.

(1) Joy is experienced in the community of believers
(2) Joy comes despite suffering.
(3) Joy is a Fruit of the Spirit.

One of my biggest fears in this sermon was that I would be guilty of moralizing or be guilty of diminishing God and exalting our own feelings. One of the most amazing things about God is that the experience of Joy is different among each believer. There is a level of subjectivity to Joy and it scared me that I would be perceived as saying, “you must act like this” or “you must have these emotions” when you face different things in life.

I don’t want to do that.

What I will say is that there is an objectivity to joy and it is in relationship to the person of Jesus Christ. Joy is a Fruit of the Spirit because it is the abiding presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit that believers live this supernatural joy. Joy is the result of walking in the Spirit. You don’t put Joy first and walk in the Spirit second.

Some of you today need to remember that. You need to have that angel choir hover over you again and pronounce the good news of Great Joy. You need to be like the Psalmist who prayed: “Restore unto me the joy of my salvation.”

Others of you might not have even experienced anything like I’m saying is available to you. You might not know Jesus. I’d love to talk to you. I’d love to introduce you to Christ. I’d love to try and hear the angels sing over you with you.

Finally, there is a group of you who are being bombarded by the world. You are suffering. Rejoicing is not easy. Christmas time makes it worse. I’d love to pray for you too! Paul states that one of the benefits of community is that we feed off each other’s joy. Let me be the conduit for God’s joy in your life. Some of you need to do that. Be that for your Christian brothers and sisters.