Gifts, Grace, and Christmas Morning

I love watching my daughters on Christmas morning. As the youngest members of the family, Leah and Sydney are usually tasked with the job of pulling the presents out from under the tree and distributing them to the rest of the family. It’s an important responsibility. And one year it offered an amazingly simple lesson in the beauty of grace.

This short post is a re-post of one of my favorite Christmas reflections. Enjoy.

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I remember the first Christmas the girls did this together. They were busy grabbing presents and sorting them into different piles. After a few minutes, I realized what was happening. The girls were shoving the presents for the adults off to the side and pulling their own presents into two large piles right in front of the tree.

“Of course,” I thought, “they’re just trying to find presents for themselves. Greedy little urchins. Must take after their mother.”

I quickly realized how wrong I was.

They weren’t building their own little stash. They were trying to find the presents they had made for each other. One after another, they held out their little treasures, watching with delight as their sister received these gifts of grace.

In my brokenness, I had assumed that they must be greedily hoarding presents for themselves. Instead, they taught me about grace. There is nothing like a small child, eyes bright with excitement, wanting only to give. In that exchange, there was no merit, no earning, no shame—only the joy of giving…only grace.

Apparently they take after their mother after all.

I can easily imagine God being like that—eyes bright with excitement, unmoved by words like “ought” or “deserve,” interested only in reaching into his pile of presents under the tree, eager to share the things that he made specially for us.

Christmas morning.

A son, a sacrifice, a savior. A gift joyfully given. The good news of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).

My 10 Favorite Posts of 2013

thumbs up (250x250)Every year there are a few posts that stand out just because I enjoyed them. Either I had a great time writing it, or I thought the content was particularly valuable. Two of these also made the Top 10 Posts of 2013 list, but the rest are just my personal favorites for the year. So here they are in no particular order. Enjoy!


My Top 10 Posts for 2013

2013 (250x372)The last year was an interesting one for us with the move to Wheaton College, where we are now enjoying our first midwest winter. (Technically, it’s not winter yet, which is probably why we’re still enjoying it.) And we’ve also had some good fun on the blog. To recap, here are the ten most viewed posts from the last year. Enjoy!

  1. 3 Mistakes We Make When Talking about the Sovereignty of God

  2. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in John MacArthur’s Opening Address

  3. I’m Just Not Wired That Way

  4. When You Just Can’t Pray

  5. When Is My Child Old Enough to Get Baptized?

  6. How Movies Teach Our Kids about Gender

  7. Saturday morning fun…Why Are Things Cute?

  8. Saturday Morning Fun…A Year of Parenting

  9. I’m Not Wired That Way Either: The Extrovert’s Excuse

  10. If You Can’t Explain Something Simply, Maybe It’s Not Simple

Flotsam and jetsam (12/23)

grumpy reindeer

Good Reads

  • Christmas Is for Worship: It’s time to worry a lot less about getting Christ back into Christmas (he can’t be blasted out of Christmas, no matter how hard anyone tries). What needs to get back into Christmas is worship(HuffPo)
  • Angels We Ignore on High: My ambivalence about angels was not due to reason; it was a failure of my imagination. (Hermeneutics)
  • Ideas from a Manger:  Pause for a moment, in the last leg of your holiday shopping, to glance at one of the manger scenes you pass along the way. Cast your eyes across the shepherds and animals, the infant and the kings. Then try to see the scene this way: not just as a pious set-piece, but as a complete world picture — intimate, miniature and comprehensive.(NYT)
  • Fourteen Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Pastor: The list is meant to be both humorous and serious. And I bet almost every pastor has heard all of these in the course of a ministry. Enjoy. But do not repeat (at least to your pastor). (Thom Rainer)

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A Prayer for Sunday (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

lloyd-jones_martyn The famous welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd Jones was an influential British pastor through most of the twentieth century. One of the leading evangelical voices of his day, Jones was famous for his expository sermons and his resistance to liberal aspects of the British church. Although Jones ministered mostly in England, Jones’ influence has been felt through the English-speaking world.

Martyn Lloyd Jones died on March 1, 1981. In honor of his amazing life and ministry, this Sunday’s prayer comes from him.

“Oh Lord our God we thank thee more than ever that thou has been pleased to give us thy Holy Word. We realise what frail, fallible creatures we are, and how prone we are to go off on tangents and to trust to our own understanding only. We thank thee that thou has given us thy Spirit and thou has given us thy Word.

Oh God we cry out to thee, as a company of thy people, to have mercy upon us. God of our fathers, let it be known that thou art still God in Israel. Let it be known in this arrogant 20th Century, that thou art the same God who has acted and operated throughout the running centuries.

Honour thine own Word, oh Lord. Honour thine own dear Son. Exalt his precious name, and bring many to a knowledge of him as their only Saviour and their Lord.

Lord have pity upon us. In the midst of wrath remember mercy. Revive thy work, oh Lord, thy mighty arm made bare. Speak with a voice that wakes the dead, and make the people hear.”

Saturday Morning Fun…The Most Hyped Celebrity Events of 2013

The Most Significant Events of 2013…Google Style

Every year Google puts out a video highlighting the most “significant” (i.e. most searched for) events of the year. Here is this year’s video, looking back on a year filled with Batkid, the Pope, Nelson Mandela, and more. Enjoy.

Flotsam and jetsam (12/20)

beard facts

Good Reads

  • My Top 10 Theology Stories of 2013: The only thing I know about your reaction to this list of top 10 theology stories is that you won’t agree. Maybe partially, but not entirely. And that’s okay. None of us sees the full picture from God’s perspective. In five years we may not be talking about any of these events and trends….Actually, you’ve probably already forgotten a number of entries on this year’s list! (The Gospel Coalition)
  • Art as Therapy: It comes naturally to most of us to think of music as therapeutic. Almost all of us are, without training, DJs of our own souls, deft at selecting pieces of music that will enhance or alter our current moods for the better. We know to go for something sonorous or vulnerable to dignify a downward spirit or to regain hope with a fast, generous rhythm. Yet few of us would think of turning to the visual arts for this kind of help. (Alain de Botton)

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The Impossibility of a “Christian” Literature

books (283x170)The power of good literature comes from its ability to reveal us to ourselves in both our glory and our depravity. At its best, literature explores humanity, not just the humanity that we wish we could achieve, though there’s a place for that as well, but the humanity that is, both beautiful and ugly. That is why we read literature, and why it both captivates and disturbs our imaginations.

John Henry Newman captures much of the power of literature in the quote below. And he also explains why he thinks this means that it’s not possible to have an exclusively “Christian” literature. For him, that would inevitably involve emphasizing too strongly the ideal, and, as a result, it would no longer study humanity as it is, but only humanity as we believe it will one day be. So it’s not that he doesn’t think Christians can write literature–they can and should–but that we shouldn’t try to produce specifically Christian literature.

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What an A+ Means at Harvard College

grading (300x288)People have lamented grade inflation for a while now. And Harvard College has come under particular scrutiny as many professors have complained about lax grading standards there. In light of that controversy, journalist Nathaniel Stein produced a fabulously satirical set of grading standards to be used at Harvard. You’ll have to read the entire post to get the complete standard, but here is how he describes the criteria to be used in awarding an A+.

The A+ grade is used only in very rare instances for the recognition of truly exceptional achievement.

For example: A term paper receiving the A+ is virtually indistinguishable from the work of a professional, both in its choice of paper stock and its font. The student’s command of the topic is expert, or at the very least intermediate, or beginner. Nearly every single word in the paper is spelled correctly; those that are not can be reasoned out phonetically within minutes. Content from Wikipedia is integrated with precision. The paper contains few, if any, death threats.

A few things can disqualify an otherwise worthy paper from this exceptional honor: 1) Plagiarism, unless committed with extraordinary reluctance. 2) The paper has been doused in blood or another liquid, unless dousing was requested by the instructor. 3) The paper was submitted late (with reasonable leeway — but certainly by no more than one or two years).

An overall course grade of A+ is reserved for those students who have not only demonstrated outstanding achievement in coursework but have also asked very nicely.

Finally, the A+ grade is awarded to all collages, dioramas and other art projects.

I’m strongly inclined to agree that if a paper includes more than just a few death threats, 2 or 3 at the most, it definitely should not receive an A+. And if the death threats aren’t at least somewhat creative, I may bump it all the way down to an A-.