CTT | Considering the Nativity Scene

We decorated our front yard this weekend, complete with 2 displays, some ninja-bread men fighting and a nativity scene that only has Mary, Joseph, and a baby Jesus in Mary’s arms. We visited an Evangelical church on Sunday morning that was working through a video series in their adult Sunday school class. As I wrestled to fall asleep last night, several questions were tumbling around in my mind… one of which was, “Why do we tell/portray the story of Christ’s birth the way we do?” We will be talking about the setting of the nativity, but we won’t be covering the time/season of year in this post.

Relevant Texts

The birth of Jesus is specifically addressed in only two of the four Gospels. Let’s look at what Matthew recorded in his account.

Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV) | The Birth of Jesus Christ

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Matthew 2:1-15 (ESV) | The Visit of the Wise Men

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

The Flight to Egypt

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Okay, so we have the Matthew text, and I included some extra narrative cover the time spent in Bethlehem. If you’ll remember from our Gospel Wednesday series working through the Gospel According to Matthew, this account was written for a primarily Jewish audience. Matthew focused primarily on the fulfillment of prophecy in his record of Christ’s birth. The visitation of the magi is a reflection of this, particularly in what took place between them and Herod. If we were trying to condense the Matthew account into a nativity scene, we’d have Joseph, Mary, an infant (but not necessarily newborn) Jesus in a house, with a star overhead and the magi visiting.

Luke sought to maintain a detailed record of events that took place. Let’s go to his account of Christ’s Birth.

Luke 2:1-7 (ESV) | The Birth of Jesus Christ

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Okay, so most of what we see in our modern-day nativity scenes and reenactments come from the Gospel According to Luke. There are a few things to address in this first portion. Firstly, why is it that we always see Joseph leading a donkey with Mary riding fully pregnant and ready to give birth at any minute? Why do we see Joseph knocking on the door of an inn (ala Holiday Inn Express) hoping to get a room? Why is it whenever we refer to the nativity scene as “the manger” we include some rickety, airy, shack in the definition? Well, these and many other images are read into the text… and what gets imported isn’t necessarily 21st century, but a lot of it is what we think might have been based on what we imagine “the dark ages” would have been like… because that’s as far back as many of us tend to imagine. That’s sloppy. In fact the eisegesis ends up overlooking details found in the text.

  • Joseph wasn’t taking Mary on a honeymoon to some exotic location to hide the questionable pregnancy. Joseph was going to his own town to register himself and Mary. Why Bethlehem? As far as Joseph was concerned, because that’s the home of his extended family, the house of David. God chose Mary and Joseph at this time for this place because He decreed it would be so. Bethlehem is some 70 miles away from Nazareth. It is unlikely they made that trip alone, especially given the reason for the trip… a census. There is no reason to think that Joseph and Mary (each of the house of David) independently moved to Nazareth, found each other, then had to return on their own to Bethlehem. That’s a modern (Western individualism) paradigm. Sure, they may have been somewhat detached from their group, but they would not have been all alone. It is unreasonable to assume they would have been checking into some inn as strangers for an undetermined length of time of the census, especially since they were poor (we’ll see below). People tend to make it a one-night thing by suggesting that Mary had the baby as they entered into Bethlehem, found no vacancy at the Holiday Inn Express, and took shelter in a barn… because, that’s how farming and livestock was done in the first century, right? The Holiday Inn Express needed a place to park all of the livestock people traveled with, right? No, and no.
  • The registry for a census wasn’t the quick and simple thing we think of it today. Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem for a while. Notice Luke’s wording, “while they were there”… so we really… really need to dispense with the image of Mary going into labor the moment Joseph gets turned away from the Holiday Inn Express.
  • Let’s look at the word being translated “inn” in verse 7.  κατάλυμα (kä-tä’-lü-mä) is translated inn, here… which is a correct translation for its day, but we modern-folk have professionalized the concept of an Inn (hence my constant reference to Holiday Inn Express). The inn in this time period is the guest room. The word is used by Luke later in his gospel account, and by Mark in the parallel account. Let’s look at those cases:
    • Luke 22:7-13 (ESV) | The Passover with the Disciples
      Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

    • Mark 14:12-16 (ESV) | The Passover with the Disciples
      12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13 And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him,14 and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’15 And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” 16 And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

  • Sometimes we refer to the manger as the entire shack/barn, and sometimes we point to a crib-like structure made just for a newborn baby. The manger was a trough for dry feed for livestock. In some homes where a donkey or goats were vital for livelihood, the common area of the house would have a section where the animals were brought in at night for security and warmth. Such a setup would have included a manger for dry feed. Each morning the animals would be let out and the area cleaned. Remember, the inn is the upper room away from the area where the animals would have slept. If the family home where Mary and Joseph stayed was crowded, there’s no reason to insist the livestock would have been inside with everyone for the birth, especially since Jesus was laid in the manger, the place where the animals would have been looking for food. Let’s see where Luke used the word for manger (φάτνη) in a context besides the birth of Christ.
    • Luke 13:10-17 (ESV) | A Woman with a Disabling Spirit
      10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.

  • Okay, so for a final thought on this is that not all of the house may have been under a roof. Some archaeological dig sites of first century homes suggest that the house may have had an uncovered courtyard area in the common area, still protected by the front door. Then one would go into the upper room (inn) for sleeping or make use of the common area below for work/chores. This is particularly relevant for what happens next in our Luke text.

Luke 2:8-21 (ESV) | The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

I have no doubt that these shepherds were there that same night. Who were the “all who heard it” mentioned? My first answer would be to point at all of the people occupying the Inn. How many people depends entirely upon which house in which they were staying. There was an audience. Luke interviewed eye witnesses. Now, I highlighted the circumcision and the naming of Jesus here for two reasons, first because I’ve heard many teach the next portion as if Joseph and Mary would have taken Jesus into the Temple for the circumcision. There’s no reason to make that assumption, and there’s a very good reason why that couldn’t be the case. Secondly, I wanted to line up this text with the Matthew text. Matthew skipped over the details of the night of Christ’s birth and went straight to the naming (which happens on the day of circumcision). I believe this next portion to take place before the visit of the magi.

Luke 2:22-38 (ESV) | Jesus Presented at the Temple

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

After giving birth to Jesus, Mary was ceremonially unclean for 40 days. The circumcision and naming took place on the 8th day, and once the required time of purification of Mary was complete, the family went to the Temple to offer the sacrifice required for redeeming the first-born. Joseph and Mary are poor and the Law of Moses made provision for a less expensive sacrifice for those too poor to offer the lamb… that’s the significance of the 2 pigeons being offered. I believe the visit of the Magi to have happened sometime close to this trip to the Temple, for if the magi had come much later, Herod would have been alerted to the rumors before the Magi came, and if they had come too early, Herod’s search would have found them before the time of purification was complete. In this as in all other things, God is Sovereign and His timing is perfect.

Luke 2:39-40 (ESV) | The Return to Nazareth

39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

Looking back to our Matthew text, they left from Bethlehem to Egypt… and once Herod was dead, they returned to Nazareth of Galilee. Nazareth is north of Bethlehem, so they might have passed through, but I’m thinking they probably avoided the area. It makes sense that Luke would skip over this portion, as this flight into Egypt was secretive, inspired of the LORD, and Matthew had already covered it. So Luke picks up the narrative from here on out following Jesus out of Galilee.


We need to return to the text of the Scriptures when we seek to share the story of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. So many times I hear a preacher lament how “we’ve all heard this story many times before” and urge his listeners to “approach the birth of Jesus with awe and wonder and thanksgiving”… only to then summarize most of the details in keeping with our modern interpretations rather than pay close attention to the passages. It is very frustrating, doubly so when churches keep playing movies that further reinforce bad eisegesis of the events that took place. Please stop with the Holiday Inn Express narrative, that wasn’t what happened. No, Mary and Joseph were not refugees in Bethlehem the night of Christ’s birth, they were most likely with family. The refugee argument fits the flight into Egypt, but that was God’s intervention and fulfillment of prophecy. The magi visited a house, the shepherds probably also visited a house, though this house may have had a small, uncovered, courtyard for the shepherds to assemble on that first night. Is it a sin to simply continue with the commercialized depiction of the Nativity Scene? I can’t say for you, pray about it. I will say that whenever it comes to teaching about the events of that night, keep with the text. Teach what the Scripture says first.

Jude 24-25 (ESV) | Doxology

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

In Christ Jesus,

DiM | “Real” by Nichole Nordeman

disapproveToday we are doing a Christmas Edition of “Discernment in Music” (DiM), here at Faithful Stewardship (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)). I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I’d be addressing CCM radio stations’ treatment of the Gospel during this Christmas season, but I got distracted by this song so we’ll push that discussing back a bit.

December 3, 2015. Today we’ll be taking a look at a contemporary Christmas song by Nichole Nordeman called “Real”. This song is beautifully sung… and poetically written. It stands apart from most of the holiday sugar-pop that plays in shopping malls and diners… this song attempts to look beyond the commercialism and the hype to the “real meaning of Christmas”. How does it fare? I find myself in a quandary, on the one hand we need a lot more serious Christmas songs; on the other hand, we need Christmas songs that proclaim the Truth, not some fanciful re-envisioned version of history shaped to tug on our heart-strings.

The story of Jesus’ Birth is real. There were witnesses. We have the history recorded in Scripture. You don’t have to imagine the facts, you just have to read and believe them. There are cases where our imagination can help us understand the facts, but our imagination doesn’t get to rewrite them. If you are caught up in the false spirit of Christmas, and this song helped wake you up, Praise the Lord… but don’t stop there… read the real account, recorded in Luke 1-2 & Matthew 1-2.

Nichole Nordeman VEVO Video

“A Walk One Winter Night” by Al Andrews

I shared the second video because it was credited as the inspiration for Nichole Nordeman’s song “Real”. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to my readers, that I object to the premise of this song. I find it odd, even frustrating, that a song purporting to correct the listener’s misconceptions of Mary, or the night of Jesus’ birth would be inspired by a work of fiction, itself also containing some misconceptions of the manger, the “inn”, and those who were present on that night. Do we really need to turn to works of fiction to realize the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Is that where we are as a Church today? For the vast majority of Western Evangelicalism… the answer is “yes”. Pulpits are replaced by performance stages, and Pastors no longer preach the Word of God, they preach their own ideas, their own fantasies, their own fiction… and people flock to them, because their fiction is so “relevant” to them, so “real”. We’ve traded what is REAL for what we want to hear. 

Lyrics (via MetroLyrics)


Frozen statues in the cold
Washed in moonlight, blue and gold
Mary’s babe in plastic hay
Quiet wonder on her face
Mary you look so serene
Far too pretty, much too clean
We might think we know you well
But what stories would you tell?
Of all the dirt and dust and shame
Everybody burning labour pain

And as I turn to walk away
I hear you say
I am real
Don’t turn me into memory or myth
Let me be real
And I’ll show you what it means to love like this
To be real

Shepherds bending to the ground
Bethlehem is safe and sound
Joseph you look brave and true
Do we know what it was like to be you
How many sleepless nights awake
Found you desperate and afraid

And as I turn to walk away
I hear you say
I am real
Don’t turn me into memory or myth
Let me be real
And I’ll show you what it means to love like this
To love like you don’t even care about the hurry and the hustle
Like you are unaware December comes with so much trouble
‘Cause you believe a baby came, not in paintings or in plays
But every minute, every hour, every day
To be real, real

You are real, real

Show us what it means to love like this
To be real
To be real

More than a memory
More than a story

Read more: Nichole Nordeman – Real Lyrics | MetroLyrics


Both the book and the song it inspired engage in mystical fiction. Statues don’t talk and Mary and Joseph are not speaking to anyone today, much less for direct revelation. Evangelicalism is awash in mysticism today, so I feel it necessary to point this fact out explicitly.

Once we get past the feel-good revelation of, “hey, this isn’t just a holiday with lawn decorations, this is about a real story that took place”… the songs lyrics have some troubling elements. Why is Mary begging to be real to the observer? Mary is begging to be real to the observer in exchange for her demonstrating to the observer what it means to love like this. So, Mary wants to be real so that she can demonstrate her love. Mary is pointing to Mary? No. Mary would be pointing to Jesus. We don’t need Mary as an intermediary to Jesus. Mary isn’t the point of the story, Jesus is.

There are some details in the song that are good and even interesting to ponder, like what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph to have been visited by the shepherds, and their story of seeing the angelic host. I’m sure Mary and Joseph had many a sleepless night, as with any first-time parents in the first century.


The key to not letting the Gospel fade into memory or myth, is to have it preached from the Word of God on a regular basis. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ, not by having your heartstrings plucked by some work of fiction. Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season. Jesus took on the form of man for one reason, to live a life we couldn’t live and pay a price we couldn’t pay so that we can have a forgiveness we don’t deserve.  That’s the Grace of God found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (ESV)

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

In Christ Jesus,

DiM | “Day One” by Matthew West

Today is “Discernment in Music” (DiM) day here at Faithful Stewardship (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)).

March 3, 2015. Today we’ll be taking a look at “Day One” by Mattehw West which currently sits at #12 at 20theCountdownMagazine.

The song definitely in the “positive” and “uplifting” category. But is this song a Christian song? Does it elevate Christ? Does it preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins? Nope. It is a motivational pep talk.

In fact, there is a popular quote from the 60s (source).

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

Charles Dederich (1914-1997) Founder of Synanon, the 1960s drug rehabilitation organization that morphed into a cult
Most sources credit Charles Dederich with coining this well-known self-help mantra in the 1960s, around the time he founded Synanon. Clearly, it’s use by Dederich and Synanon as a slogan for recovering drug addicts helped popularize the saying. However, Dederich may or may not have created it. It’s one of those sayings that just seem to have been floating around in the 1960s. Many websites and books say it was coined by the legendary Hippie activist/theater group called The Diggers. It was also used by Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman in his 1968 book Revolution for the Hell of It (1968), as the title of a song in the obscure 1968 musical Love Match,and on on everything from head shop posters and greeting cards. I suspect that’s why some sources simply (and perhaps rightly) credit it to “Anonymous.” 

I’m sure you’ve heard the slogan, just didn’t know where it had originated.

VEVO Lyric Video

Lyrics (via K-Love)

Day One

Well, I wish I had a short term memory
Wish the only thing my eyes could see
Was the future burning bright right in front of me
But I can’t stop looking back

Yeah, I wish I was a perfect picture of
Somebody who’s never not good enough
I try to measure up but I mess it up
And I wish I wasn’t like that

I wish I wasn’t wishing anymore
Wish I could remember that nobody’s keeping score
I’m tired of throwing pennies in a well
I gotta do something
Here goes nothin’

It’s day one of the rest of my life
It’s day one of the best of my life
I’m marching on to the beat of a brand new drum
Yeah, here I come
The future has begun
Day one

Well, every single day Your grace reminds me
That my best days are not behind me
Wherever my yesterday may find me
Well, I don’t have to stay there

See my hourglass is upside down
My someday soon is here and now
The clock is tickin’
And I’m so sick and tired of missing out

It’s day one
And here comes the sun

Every morning, every morning
Every morning, mercy’s new
Every morning, every morning
Every morning, I will fix my eyes on You
Every morning, every morning
Every morning, mercy’s new
Every morning, every morning
Sun’s coming up, the beginning has begun

Starting over, I’m starting over
Starting over, I’m starting over, starting now
I’m starting over
Starting over, I’m starting over
Starting over
Starting over, starting now
I’m starting over

Publishing: © 2015 Matthew West Publishing Designee (ASCAP) / Meaux Jeaux Music / Songs From The Indigo Room (SESAC) (Admin. at CapitolCMGPublishing.com)
Writer(s): Matthew West and Pete Kipley


Grace and Mercy are mentioned. Let’s look at how they are mentioned.

 “…every single day Your grace reminds me that my best days are not behind me…”

Is the message of Grace really about how our best days are not behind us? In what sense? What is the message of Grace?

Ephesians 1:1-14 (ESV) | Greeting & Spiritual Blessings in Christ
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

The Grace of God is that in Christ we have been redeemed so that when we die we will be granted an inheritance of heaven, to the praise of His glory. That is what the Grace of God should remind us of. Why is that important, because the days we walk here on earth will be filled with trials and tribulation. We have no guarantee of an easy life in the temporal sense.

James 1:2-4 (ESV) | Testing of Your Faith
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

By faith, we are to consider it a joy to meet trials of various kinds so that we might be made perfect and complete in what matters. The world will hate us and mistreat us because it first hated Jesus Christ. The sermon on the mount (Matthew 5) isn’t just an academic exercise. Our victory in Christ is secured in the Kingdom of Heaven. The temporal is doomed for destruction, cursed by sin. Our very flesh is cursed by sin and we will die in God’s timing. God’s grace is sufficient and our inheritance by the Blood of Christ is assured.

Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV) | Lay Up Treasures in Heaven
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Is this “Day One of the rest of my life” pointing to our Spiritual assurances of Heaven or an empty promise of temporal ‘best days’ and ‘bright future’ ahead?  A passage that is often lifted out of its context to bolster a “forget the past because your future is bright” message is

Philippians 3:12-14 (ESV) | Straining Toward the Goal
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

But now let’s keep reading

15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

The upward call isn’t “a promotion; a new career; a new ministry; financial freedom, etc.”  Paul is literally referring to the upward call to Heaven, whether it be by death or on the Day of Christ’s Return. What lies ahead in the temporal might very well be worse than what is behind. It was in Paul’s case, and for the other Apostles, if we are looking at the temporal. Paul gave up a life of wealth, comfort, esteem, and social status for the Cross of Jesus Christ. His eternal reward far outweighs any suffering he had to endure in Jesus’ Name, and that he did according to the Grace of God.

Is this the Truth of God’s Grace that the song proclaims? I’ll leave that for you to decide. At least after reading this, you are equipped to focus on the Grace of God to strengthen you in the hard times that lie ahead.

Mercy. What does it mean to have God’s mercy new every day? I believe it is a reference to a verse in Lamentations 3. If you only read verses 22-24, it’s easy to shout, “Amen!”. However, if you read these verse in context, it might come less exuberantly. In the interest of time, let’s look at its local context.

Lamentations 3:16-33 (ESV)
16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”
19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
the yoke in his youth.
28 Let him sit alone in silence
when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
there may yet be hope;
30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
and let him be filled with insults.
31 For the Lord will not
    cast off forever,
32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33 for he does not afflict from his heart
    or grieve the children of men.

God is good. His mercies are endless. His Grace does abound. That doesn’t mean we get to proclaim and declare that our days ahead (in this life) are going to be brighter than those behind. That isn’t a promise given to us in God’s Word. As long as we remain focused on treasures in Heaven, and on the Truth of God’s Word, we will find ourselves on solid ground. We sin… every day we sin. God’s mercy and forgiveness is available to us at the foot of the Cross every day. Repent, and be forgiven in Jesus’ Name.


The song is vague enough that someone could argue that what is being proclaimed in the song is the Spiritual truth, not the temporal lie of the “prosperity gospel” (which is no Gospel at all). Others might insist that there’s nothing wrong with “being positive” and this song accomplishes that. I won’t argue against “positivity”, but the world does pretty well at self-esteem and pep rallies. We, the Church, have something far better than self-help psychology has to offer. We have the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s place our hope, our faith, in Him, not our ability to “start over”. It’s not about making new and fresh promises to ourselves or to God to “live better”… it’s about repenting, being forgiven in Jesus’ Name, and walking in the Grace of God and being filled with the Spirit who teaches us and molds us into the fullness of Christ. He will also rebuke, correct, and admonish us… to repent anew, until the Great day when we’ll finally be rid of this sinful flesh.

Romans 15:13 (ESV) 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

To God be the glory, Amen.
In Christ Jesus,

DiM | “Beyond Me” by TobyMac

Today is “Discernment in Music” (DiM) day here at Faithful Stewardship (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)).

February 24, 2015. Today we’ll be taking a look at “Beyond Me” by TobyMac which currently sits at #11 at 20theCountdownMagazine.

We’ll continue using this top 20 song list until I find a better list.  Your feedback in this would be greatly appreciated.

TobyMac has been in the business for a long time. He’s quite the innovator when it comes to the Christian music scene. He’s been very successful with the youth of late. What we see in this song is prosperity/overcomer theology in quasi-humble language. In fact, it seems to play on the same sort of self-indulgent theme found in Hillsong’s Oceans (Where Feet May Fail). The song has no value, it’s just empty self-esteem talk disguised as a prayer of humility.

VEVO Lyric Video

Lyrics (via K-Love)

Beyond Me by TobyMac

Call it a reason to retreat
I got some dreams that are bigger than me
I might be outmatched, outsized, the underdog in the fight of my life
Is it so crazy to believe

That You gave me the stars put them out of my reach
Called me to waters a little too deep
Oh, I’ve never been so aware of my need
You keep on making me see
It’s way beyond me
It’s way beyond me
Yeah, it’s out of my league
It’s way beyond me
It’s way beyond me
It’s way beyond …

Anything that I got the strength to do
In over my head keeps me countin’ on You
I’m leaving the sweet spot, sure shot
Tradin’ it all for the plans You got
Is it so crazy to believe

You take me to the place where I know I need You
Straight to the depths that I can’t handle on my own
And the Lord I know, I know I need You
So take me to Your great …
Take me to Your great unknown

Publishing: © 2014 Achtober Songs (BMI) / Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Publishing / D Soul Music (ASCAP) (Admin. at CapitolCMGPublishing.com)
Writer(s): Toby McKeehan and David Arthur Garcia

Positive Elements

The one redeeming quality in this song is that it acknowledges somewhat the hard truth that God will take us to the place where we know we need Him. However, the song puts it in the wrong place. The song seems to presuppose that wherever we are now, as Christians, is a place of safety and comfort, but God is going to take us to a place where we’ll need Him. Nope. Where we are, right now, in our sin and transgressions, is where we need Him. How did Jesus teach His disciples to pray?

Luke 11:1-4 (ESV) | The Lord’s Prayer
11 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

We also find in James a strong warning to the Church regarding worldliness:

James 4:1-10 (ESV) | Warning Against Worldliness
4 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

We do need God in every day and in every way imaginable. So how does He take us to a place where we acknowledge this need? By His Word, particularly the Law.

Galatians 3:15-22 (ESV) | The Law and the Promise
15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

So, then, the Law convicts us of our sin and our wholesale dependence upon God’s mercy and Grace. Once the Holy Spirit grants us faith, by the hearing of the Word of God, we are brought to repentance at the foot of the cross and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Unless your physical body dies in that moment, your fallen flesh will continue living and desiring sin waging war against the Spirit. Such is the temporal existence for those who have been redeemed by faith in Jesus Christ. We won’t graduate from this until the Resurrection. We must daily seek His forgiveness in humble repentance. We need Him, for apart from Him we can do nothing.


As usual, we see no reference to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No repentance, no forgiveness, just empty promises. This isn’t an attack on TobyMac for having an empty song as much as it is on the Evangelical community that eats this stuff up propelling it to the Top 20. We’ve become theologically diabetic, and it’s killing the Church, particularly our youth.

The song starts in a bad place. Rather than address the substance of the singer’s dreams and aspirations, it just assumes that these dreams were God-given. It then springboards from that presupposition to justifying “dreaming big” as a clear sign that God wants him to know he needs God. Is that supported in Scripture? No. We aren’t promised individual greatness or individual “potential”… we are promised a Savior, Jesus Christ.

The message of the Gospel is indeed that righteousness is “way beyond me”. That’s why He gave us His Son, the Lamb of God. The message of this song is skewed to suggest that God’s plan for our lives (our dreams) are way beyond me but He’s gonna make it happen. Well, what if greatness isn’t in God’s plan for our lives? The post-modern answer would be to simply redefine “greatness”. That’s ridiculous. The problem isn’t in the definition of “greatness” it is in the perspective of the song and the theology that is driving it.


The song is just a self-esteem, dream big, purpose driven, seeker hook. I used to follow the TobyMac Facebook page, but had to stop because of the routine sharing of false memes like this one. TobyMac is running a very successful musical enterprise; however, this song has questionable theological underpinnings. The seeker-sensitive prosperity or purpose-driven versions of the Gospel are false Gospels. Toby has been involved in a lot of good work over the years, and I do not question his sincerity in ministry. I pray he isn’t swept away in the seeker-mergent sludge being passed off as Christianity these days.

Romans 15:13 (ESV) 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

To God be the glory, Amen.
In Christ Jesus,

DiM | “Made New” by Lincoln Brewster

Today is “Discernment in Music” (DiM) day here at Faithful Stewardship (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)).

February 17, 2015. Today we’ll be taking a look at “Made New” by Lincoln Brewster which currently sits at #10 at 20theCountdownMagazine.

We’ll continue using this top 20 song list until I find a better list. Another option would be to devote 2 days a week to DiM and simply pull from different lists, maybe an East Coast/West Coast, or pulling from Billboard one day and a Christian site the other. Your feedback in this would be greatly appreciated.

This song is pitched as a Praise and Worship song by Integrity Worship Music. This song is being played on the airwaves. There is no outside context to frame the meaning of the song when it is being played on the air. This is why we look at the lyrics and we review the popular songs to see if they say what we think (hope) they say, and compare that with what the Bible says.

Music Videos

Lyrics (via K-Love)

Made New by Lincoln Brewster

You’re calling me over
You’re pulling me close
With love You surround me
You give me hope

You’re taking me deeper
You’re making me whole
With grace You redeem me
You restore my soul

Now I’m made new
Because of You

You hold my head up
You remind me who I am
You hold my head up
I’m alive in You again
I’m made new

You’re making me stronger
You’re healing my heart
With Your hands You hold me
And You set me apart

You are my salvation
I will not fear
You’re the strength of my life
I won’t fear

Publishing: © 2014 Integrity Worship Music/ASCAP & Integrity’s Praise! Music/BMI & Echo/BMI (all adm by Integrity Music via CapitolCMGPublishing.com) & Colby Wedgeworth Music/ASCAP
Writer(s): Josiah Meeker, Colby Wedgeworth & Lincoln Brewster

Positive Elements

If we are going with the assumption that the “You” in this song is Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, then we have some general themes we can acknowledge in this song. Beginning with the title “Made New”.

2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (ESV)

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation by faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We hold onto this truth by faith, though we continue to walk in a fallen flesh. The curse of the Law was born by Christ (Him who knew no sin) on the cross, so that in Christ we might be forgiven and set free from the curse of the law. This is wonderful news… news we need to lay hold of every day. Our flesh still desires to sin, and will do so until the day when we are at last freed from this mortal body of sin and are resurrected in Christ and made perfect. By faith we hold onto the promise of salvation that is being kept in heave for us.

1 Peter 1:3-12 (ESV) | Born Again to a Living Hope

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

So, this is some of what the New Testament teaches about being “Made New” (born again) in Christ Jesus.

There are a couple other good themes in the song that bear some expansion (if indeed we are seeking to Worship the God of the Bible). The song says the Lord is our Salvation and the one who lifts our head up. A good place to look for a way to bring these phrases into the Light of Scripture is to look in Palms 3.

Psalm 3 (ESV) | Save Me, O My God

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

O Lord, how many are my foes!
    Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
    there is no salvation for him in God. Selah

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;
    I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O Lord!
    Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
    you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the Lord;
    your blessing be on your people! Selah

If we keep these passages in mind, we can at least keep our heads in the right place should the song find its way into your Church service.


The song isn’t a reflection on the Gospel of Jesus Christ or on repentance. While the song alludes to what God has done, it does so with a focus on ourselves. The anthemic praise/worship tunes are tough for me because they have a confused audience. Anthems are usually aimed at the congregants to stir them up… so when the personal pronouns are supposed to be pointed to God but the messaging is to tell the audience about God it creates confusion. Some anthems get it right, like We Believe by the Newsboys.  This song, doesn’t get it right. What is God actually being praised for? What is the audience (congregants) being taught concerning God? It ends up sounding like a serenade where the singer is telling the object of his/her affection what makes them special… but in the “I love the way you make me feel” realm.



For someone who is grounded in sound doctrine, this song is just empty. Singing Psalm 3 would be better. The self-focused, feel-good vagueness is a hallmark of the seeker-sensitive approach to worship. There is no clear acknowledgement of doctrine and it doesn’t really honor God for who He is or what He has done. This song is used to whip youth services into an “I’m loved for who I am” frenzy and emotional high but ultimately lacks substance. It doesn’t say anything patently false, but every statement is vague and lacks authority. I don’t recommend including this song in Sunday Worship… there are just too many other meaningful songs that can and should be song instead of this one. This song is to Sunday worship what Krispy Kreme is to a healthy breakfast.

To God be the glory, Amen.
In Christ Jesus,