From heaven above to earth I come

Around 1535, the great Reformer Martin Luther wrote a hymn for his five-year-old son, Hans. It was apparently sung during the an­nu­al Christ­mas Eve fes­ti­val at the Lu­ther home. A man (dressed as an an­gel) would descend from a staircase and sing the open­ing verses. Then the child­ren and other guests would greet the heavenly messenger beginning with the verse, “Now let us all, with gladsome cheer.” May these beautiful words draw us to Jesus this Christmas.

From Heaven above to earth I come,
To bear good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing.

To you, this night, is born a Child
Of Mary, chosen mother mild;
This tender Child of lowly birth,
Shall be the joy of all your earth.

’Tis Christ our God, who far on high
Had heard your sad and bitter cry;
Himself will your Salvation be,
Himself from sin will make you free.

He brings those blessings long ago
Prepared by God for all below;
That in His heavenly kingdom blest
You may with us forever rest.

These are the tokens ye shall mark,
The swaddling clothes and manger dark;
There shall ye find the young Child laid,
By Whom the heavens and earth were made.

Now let us all, with gladsome cheer,
Follow the shepherds, and draw near
To see this wondrous Gift of God,
Who hath His own dear Son bestowed.

Give heed, my heart, lift up thine eyes!
What is it in yon manger lies?
Who is this Child, so young and fair?
The blessed Christ Child lieth there!

Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through Whom e’en wicked men are blest!
Thou com’st to share our misery,
What can we render, Lord, to Thee!

Ah, Lord, who hast created all,
How hast Thou made Thee weak and small,
To lie upon the coarse dry grass,
The food of humble ox and ass.

Were earth a thousand times as fair,
Beset with gold and jewels rare,
She yet were far too poor to be
A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee.

For velvets soft and silken stuff
Thou hast but hay and straw so rough,
Whereon Thou King, so rich and great,
As ’twere Thy heaven, art throned in state.

Thus hath it pleased Thee to make plain
The truth to us, poor fools and vain,
That this world’s honor, wealth and might
Are naught and worthless in Thy sight.

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Here in my poor heart’s inmost shrine,
That I may evermore be Thine.

My heart for very joy doth leap,
My lips no more can silence keep,
I too must sing, with joyful tongue,
That sweetest ancient cradle song.

Glory to God in highest Heaven,
Who unto man His Son hath given,
While angels sing, with pious mirth,
A glad New Year to all the earth.

Sharing files in .pdf

This past week, I submitted an advertisement to the local newspaper for our upcoming Christmas services. I created the ad in Microsoft Publisher, but when it came time to email it, the Ad/Sales Department said they need to receive all ads in .pdf format. How do you create a .pdf document?

If you work with .pdf regularly and need lots of editing features, you may want to purchase Adobe Acrobat. But, in my case, I don’t need all those bells and whistles – just a simple program that creates .pdf documents. And Pdf995 does just that. The basic version can be downloaded for free and enables you to create your own .pdf files.

.Pdf files are very useful because they create high quality documents from any application and can be read on any computer with a PDF viewer (e.g. Adobe Reader). Here are a couple examples of how you might use Pdf995:

  • Sharing a document with people who don’t own the original program. For example, not everyone owns Microsoft Excel, or Microsoft Publisher, but by making your document into a .pdf file, it creates a “snapshot” of your document that others can easily view. Our Christmas newsletter this year was made in Microsoft Publisher, and then converted it into .pdf before emailing it to everyone.
  • Sharing a document with people who don’t have the same fonts installed on their computer. This is handy for desktop publishing, creating a class syllabus, or uploading an article to the internet.

So, how does Pdf995 work? After you download and install the driver and converter, just open whatever document you want to convert into a .pdf file. Then, click the “print” command, and select Pdf995 as your printer. The program will take a few seconds to process the request, then, voila! Your own .pdf file!

Fridays are often dedicated to practical church ministry issues. If you have a question or suggested topic for the future, please email me.

God became flesh

When Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, He did not surrender or compromise His Deity in any way. Instead, God the Son added something wonderful and entirely unexpected to His nature: He became a Man. The God-Man. This doctrine is called the “incarnation,” and a verse in the Christmas carol “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” expresses it well:

Christ, by highest heav’n adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold Him come, offspring of the virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the God-head see; hail th’ incarnate Deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel. Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King.”

One of the key verses in the Bible that explains the incarnation is John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In that lowly stable of Bethlehem, on the night of Jesus’ birth, three changes occurred that would forever change the world:

Immortal became Mortal. John says “And the Word became flesh.” Just as we use words to communicate our thoughts to others, so God used His “Word” to reveal His mind to humanity. This “Word,” of course, refers to Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:1, 17). D. A. Carson writes, “God’s ‘word’ in the Old Testament is His powerful self-expression in creation, revelation and salvation, and the personification of that ‘Word’ makes it suitable for John to apply it as a title to God’s ultimate self-disclosure, the person of his own Son.” Apart from Jesus Christ – the Word – it would be impossible for us to know God! But at the incarnation, the immortal Word of God took on mortal flesh. Though God could not die, Jesus could die. And this provided the means for His substitutionary death. Without the manger, there would have been no cross.

Heavenly became Earthly. After becoming flesh, this incarnate Word “dwelt among us.” The Son of God did not stop for a brief visit, but settled down to be with us. John pictures the Lord “pitching a tent,” dwelling in the midst of His people much like the tabernacle in ancient Israel. Jesus didn’t consider His glorious Deity and heavenly throne something to flaunt or cling on to, but humbled Himself to be like you and me (Phil. 2:6-7). As a human, He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15), thus succeeding where Adam had once failed (Rom. 5:18-19).

Invisible became Visible. In the second half of verse 14, the Apostle John gives an eyewitness testimony. He says with absolute certainty, “we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In other words, when John and the other disciples saw the glory of Jesus Christ, it was just the kind of glory you would expect to see radiating from God’s one-and-only Son. Of course, the baby Jesus had no visible halo as many Christmas cards depict. Isaiah said “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Is. 53:2). However, there were certain times when Jesus pulled back the cloak of His humanity and let us gaze into His Divine glory. As John wrote these words, he undoubtedly thought back to that night on the Mount of Transfiguration when “the appearance of [Jesus’] face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming…but when [Peter, James, and John] were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him” (Lk. 9:28, 32). Finally, in Jesus Christ, the glory of the invisible God was put on display for all the world to see. And we are to radiate that glory today in the church (Eph. 3:21).

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift, and for His marvelous incarnation!

Let your light shine

Matthew 5:14-16 says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

When Natalie taught Kindergarten a few years ago, she taught her children the classic song, “This little light of mine.” Some of the other stanzas begin, “Hide it under a bushel? No!” and “Don’t let Satan (puff) it out.” But my wife and her co-teacher thought up a new stanza for this song: “Shine your light at Christmastime, I’m gonna let it shine.” I like that.

So, how are you letting your light shine this Christmas? Christmas is one of the best opportunities you will have all year to shine for Christ. Here are a few ideas:

  • Invite a friend to church next Sunday. The North American Mission Board reported that 61% of Americans plan on attending a religious service this holiday. Maybe your friend is just waiting to be asked to come with you.
  • Invite an unsaved friend to your house for dinner on Christmas
  • Have an open house and invite some neighbors
  • Include a Christmas tract in your Christmas cards, or smile and hand one out to the clerk while Christmas shopping. (It’s probably a little late to order for this year, but it’s something to keep in mind for the future.)

Any other suggestions out there? Just add a comment below. And be sure to shine your light at Christmastime!


The purpose of this blog

Last week, Tim Challies offered some sage advice to all those newly-aspiring bloggers like myself in a post called “All about blogging.” In it, he said,

So before you begin your blog, ask why you should want to blog. Ask what you can contribute to the blogosphere. And once you begin the blog, ask why you want other people to read it. Question your motives and do not take for granted that other people will or should read your site.

Since I just recently started this blog, I really owe it to you to share what I’m trying to accomplish here. I think you’re entitled to know my answers to Tim’s questions. As the old saying goes, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” Likewise, if this blog aims at nothing or no one, it will only succeed at failing.

I started this blog because the Lord has given me a burden for leadership development, and I believe blogging is a great tool to advance this in the 21st century. I think many young men and many church leaders out there are hungry for discipleship; they’re desperate for advice, for encouragement, and for accountability. They need help on both biblical and practical issues. But they don’t always know where to turn or how to get help. I know this partly from experience.

I was very blessed at The Master’s Seminary – through both my classes and my discipleship labs – to watch and ask and listen to my professors. But what if that dialogue could continue even after men leave the seminary fold? Or what if those who never had the privilege of attending seminary could listen in on a conversation, and grapple with issues that are affecting other churches as well? I hope this blog will be a “virtual discipleship lab,” if you will, where that kind of conversation takes place.

On a typical week, I hope to contribute three different posts:

  1. Monday: This is normally my day off from church ministry, so I have resolved not to take up matters of ministry on my blog either. On Mondays, I will usually feature a quote, a family update, a prayer request, a fun video, or a devotional thought.
  2. Wednesday: On Wednesday, I will usually deal with some biblical or theological topic. I may share some gleanings from a recent sermon I preached, an excursus from my studies, or musings on a topic I’m personally wrestling through. I realize that when everything is said and done, the best thing I can contribute to the blogosphere is not my own opinion, but a better understanding of Scripture.
  3. Friday: On Friday, I will provide cultural analysis or discuss some matter of practical theology. I will share different ministry ideas, suggestions, resources, interviews, and perhaps try answering a question posed by a reader. I hope to make it practical and provocative.

The ultimate goal of The Desert Chronicle (later renamed Life Under the Sun) is to glorify God by exploring matters of life, doctrine, culture, and leadership from a biblical perspective in a tone that is both personal and pastoral. In other words, I imagine coming alongside each of you in this blog and saying, “Hey, let’s see what God has to say about life and leadership.”

Logos Christmas Special


Logos Bible Software is one of the best computer Bible programs on the planet – perhaps THE best. I use it every day.

Right now, Logos is offering a 25% Christmas discount on all their base products. If you’re considering buying Bible Software, now is the time. If you’re strapped for cash (aren’t we all?), I’d recommend starting with the Bible Study Library. You can upgrade to a larger set down the road, but this is an outstanding base package (170 books) for a killer deal at only $195. I really think every person – not just a pastor or seminary student – can benefit greatly from this package.

The coupon code is Christmas2007, but the discount should be automatically applied when you click ‘add to cart’ on any package. You can see a full product comparison here.

For those who already own some Logos books, you can upgrade from one package to another at a 15% discount. Happy shopping!

Three virtues

Over Thanksgiving break, I finally saw the latest Pixar film, Ratatouille. It traces the life of a cute little rat name Remy who has a knack for cooking. Remy develops his culinary skills in a rural French home, but finally hits it big when he arrives at the famed restaurant Gasteau’s. As the film reaches a climax, the staff at Gasteau’s are challenged to please the highly critical palate of the food critic Anton Ego. And of course, they succeed. What does it take to please him? A savory dish of every child’s favorite meal – Ratatouille.

I’m sure that pleasing a food critic is quite an achievement. But what would it take to please the Apostle Paul? Although he didn’t give out compliments indiscriminately, apparently he was quite pleased with the church at Thessalonica.

In 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4, Paul says,

We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you;

These people weren’t perfect by any means. But they were showing remarkable progress for a church only one year old. Three virtues in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 stand out about this church that should distinguish each of our lives as well.

  • “your work of faith” – We must place all of our faith, or trust, for eternal salvation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And this faith should drive us to engage in the everyday ministries of a Christian. “Work” is a common word for business, activity, ministry, and task. So, whether it’s visiting a widow, or hosting a lunch, or leading a Bible study, our faith should drive us to regularly work and exercise our gifts.
  • “and labor of love” – The word “labor” looks more at the effort and even pain sometimes required to fulfill an activity. It notices the sweat on the brow, strain on the muscles, groans from exhaustion, and wrinkles of concern. Sometimes ministry is hard work. But what motivates us to press on when times are tough is love – a love for God, and a love for others that actually puts their interests above our own.
  • “and steadfastness of hope” – “Steadfastness” or “endurance” means to remain under pressure and keep bearing the weight, like a jack under the frame of a car. Only hope gives us endurance during life’s most difficult trials. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t need to fear evil, for God is with us. We have absolute confidence in the second coming of Jesus Christ, our glorious resurrection, and the final judgment of all evil. That should cause us to endure!

Oh, that more of us would exemplify these precious virtues in our lives.

A lifelong battle

In 1 Peter 1:14-16, the apostle Peter says,

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’

As many of us know, the word “holy” means to be “set apart.” Sometimes we use the word “sanctified.” There should be something radically different about a Christian’s speech, attitude, and behavior that distinguishes him from the world and his life before Christ. But how does this happen? Although new believers are declared holy in Christ at the moment of salvation (positional sanctification), the process of becoming holy (progressive sanctification) is an ongoing process.

The pursuit of holiness is a daily battle. We can’t forsake sin and become righteous simply by “letting go and letting God.” We must put on all our spiritual armor and engage the enemy in the strength of the Lord. Jim Berg illustrates this wonderfully in his book Changed into His Image:

Sanctification is not a divine ‘zap’ that automatically makes the believer irreversibly holy. It is a lifelong battle that requires the saint to lay hold by faith of the victory that Christ has accomplished on the cross and actively enjoy that victory by living as though it is really true. The Christian’s daily battle with sin is much like ancient Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land. Over and again God told the people to possess the land because He had driven out the Canaanites from before them. Although God had won the victory, the Israelites had to cross the Jordan and fight the Canaanites in deadly battle. The Canaanites did not roll over and play dead or pack their bags and leave voluntarily just because Israel entered the land; they fought for their land. The Canaanites were naturally stronger than the Israelites, and the Israelites stood little chance against them in their own strength. But, believing God had given them victory, they entered and fought in the light of that certain victory. Similarly, Christ has already achieved our victory over sin. But sin does not disappear from us just because we are saved. It does not give up its territory without a fight. If we attempt to fight by ourselves, defeat is certain because sin is much stronger than we. But if we enter the conflict claiming Christ’s victory and our part in it, sin and Satan must flee from us.

Our struggle against sin is indeed a vicious battle. May God give us the strength and determination to achieve the victory He made possible through His Son.

Update on Dylan

Some of you have been asking how Dylan is doing since his open-heart surgery five weeks ago. We’re so pleased and thankful to report he has made an excellent recovery. He’s playing and wrestling and exploring, and seems to have all the energy and enthusiasm you would expect in a toddler. In fact, if it wasn’t for the scar on his chest, you wouldn’t even know he’d been in the hospital. Things are finally returning to normal, and this past weekend, Dylan was able to be back in the the nursery at church. Praise the Lord!

Theology from a 2-year old

Last night during family devotions, we read the story of God commanding Abraham to climb Mt. Moriah and sacrifice his son Isaac as a test of faith. When we got to that dramatic moment when Abraham stretched out Isaac on the altar for sacrifice, Dylan informed us that Isaac was getting a “diaper change.” We got a good laugh out of that one, and figured it was just as well for Dylan to understand this picture as a “diaper change” for now!

The Blog of Stephen Jones