Archive for December 2010
16 December 2010 by Frank Turk[originally posted at TeamPyro.blogspot.com]
the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."If you don't celebrate Christmas, just go on doing whatever it is you do this time of year and come back after the New Year starts. The rest of us have some serious theological self-improvement to consider.
But here we are at the moment that the world was made for -- the moment when Christ the Lord would be born -- and angels appear to tell some shepherds that this is happening. And when they appear, they don't say, "This is pretty cool, huh? This is the sign for you, cowboys: a host of angels singing God's praises -- because you saw this sign, you can know that God is in it."
See: the angels were not the sign, were they? They were just the messengers. Seriously: they were just the guys with the telegram for the field hands who smelled like sheep. The sign, they said, was the baby in a feeding trough -- a baby in a manger. It wasn't a sign that ministers like a flame of fire had something to say: it was that there was a baby born in the city of David in a lowly place.
You see: at many times and in many ways, God spoke to the fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.
The angels, in speaking to the farm boys in the field on the night Christ was born, pointed them to a sign that it was true that unto them was born a Savior who was Christ, the Lord. And the sign was not a double-rainbow in 3D made of fire and lollipops; it wasn't that their seed money was returned 1000-fold; it wasn't that somehow someone was speaking in the tongues of angels (since plainly: angels were speaking in the tongues of men).
The sign was that there was a baby laid in a manger, wrapped in "swaddling clothes".
I want to linger there a second, because the Greek word there rendered by Luke is "σπαργανόω", which comes from the word "σπαράσσω". It's rightly translated "swaddling clothes", but it means to wrap up in rags -- to wrap up in torn fabric as in to "swaddle" a baby.
You never looked that word up in a dictionary, I am sure, so here's what the dictionary says about it:
So the sign the Angels point to is this baby placed in a feeding trough wrapped up in rags -- rags which might be for babies, or for the wounded. Maybe for the dead.
So that's the sign at Christmas -- the sign at the birth of Christ: there's a baby born not in a temple or a castle or some lofty estate, but born so low as to be born with the poorest of the poor, in a stable among animals. And his garments are not fine cloth or soft linens: they're rags that are only good enough for a baby's back-end business or to wrap the sick and dying in.
So what to think of this? Here are three things to think about as you get on with your Christmas:
1. In that sign, it is clear that God is with us.
Look: that's the ultimate promise YHVH makes to Israel -- when the savior is born, he will be "Emmanuel - God with us." And the Angels point out that the sign to the Shepherds is that this child is born of no account at all -- above no one in the world. This wouldn't be so true if Jesus had been born in Solomon's courts -- because as the Prince of the nation, he would be above so many and unreachable by them.
But here is the child in the manger -- who the writer of Hebrews says is our high priest who is like us in every way, and still did not sin. He's not just "for us" in some divine way: he is like us and is with us is a way which someone who is pandered to could never be.
2. In that sign, it is clear that God loves us.
I was talking to my son about this because I was thinking he didn't get it, and I asked him: "Dude, when Papa and Grandma come over to stay, what do you do?"
"I let them sleep in my room," he said.
"And why is that?" I asked.
"Well, they need someplace to stay, and that's the best place for them to stay," he sort of shrugged.
"So it's just because it seems to make sense?" I asked.
"Well, no," he squirmed, "I give it up because I love them and I'm glad to be with them."
"Aha," I ahead. "So you give up your place in our home so that they can be with us. That's awesome. Now think about this: Jesus didn't just give up his bedroom to be with us. Jesus gave up heaven to be with us -- and he was willing to give up everything he deserved in Heaven to come and be born in a stable so that he could be with us."
You know: Jesus gave up Heaven for a stable so that, as he said to Peter and the boys, he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. For us.
That's actually how we know what love is: the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
3. In that sign, God clears up everything He has been saying for the past 2 or 3 millennia.
As I said last week, and the writer of Hebrews has said to you a jillion times, In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son -- the one who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
You know: God said a lot of things in the Old Testament. I know you know that because you probably haven't read them all because it's so much. It's more than War and Peace. It's more than The Stand. And you'd think after saying all that God would be like, "Geez -- what more can I say than to you I have said?" But no: God instead makes everything He said come true in the birth of a child in a barn because there was no room at the Inn.
All the ideas of blessing: rolled up in swaddling clothes.
All the ideas about being chosen by God: laying in a manger.
All those judgments and warnings: now in the hands of a mother who admitted she didn't understand these things, but submitted to them and considered them in her heart.
All the promises: in poverty, to the least of these, with the least of these.
All the power: not considering equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, but rather, made nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.
Here in the manger is the very clarification of all God meant -- because he is here in this world as it is created.
You might have more than that which you considered -- and good on you. This only scratches the surface. You could probably consider the sign of the baby in the manger every day this year and come up with something new to rejoice over, but we only have 10 days until Christmas. All I'm saying is that the Angels didn't think that their appearance was as spectacular as that sign. Maybe we should consider it more deeply this season.
09 December 2010 by Frank Turk
I think the answer is obvious: God is a serious matter. God is not like the subject matter of a sitcom, and he’s not the punch-line of a joke. There is something serious and sobering about the creator of all things which is a necessary premise of the Calvinist mindset because this question of God’s glory is tied up with the question of our joy.
So on the one hand, we can and ought to be serious and sober about the fact that there is a God and He is seeking to save sinners because He is also the judge of men, and the one who, in the end, sends the unrepentant to hell. There is something sobering about that as we think about him and our unworthiness before Him to receive the gift of salvation.
But I think we miss something, us Calvinists. We “get it” that the book of Malachi ends with a stern warning to Israel and that God’s warning is that all who do not turn to Him will be mown down and burned up like the stubble from the harvest. But we miss that God then shows us that the remedy for this warning is a baby born to a simple man and woman who, all told, are very humble and uncomplicated people.
I mean: the catechism does say that one of the reasons we can see the “enjoy Him forever” is that in Luke the Angels give us good reason to enjoy God. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that God Himself uses the borth of a baby to show us what kind of thing He is doing for us – because the birth of a baby is both a sobering and also a reason to rejoice when it’s just one of our own being born. Imagine (or better yet: remember) when the baby being born is that savior of all men, especially those who believe.
That’s the kind of sober, serious and joyful theology we ought to have. Us Calvinists ought to see it that way because that’s what our theology says about our savior and about our relationship to him. I think if we did this one thing, it would be the first, best step in improving our dialog with other non-reformed people would be to show them that we really enjoy God because of what he has done, rather than sort of begrudge him our affections.
08 December 2010 by Frank Turk
-- John Calvin, the Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 9, part 1
Labels: Calvin as Gadfly
07 December 2010 by Frank Turk
en•joy –verb (used with object)
1. to experience with joy; take pleasure in [He enjoys Chinese food]
2. to have and use with satisfaction; have the benefit of [He enjoys an excellent income from his trust funds]
3. to find or experience pleasure for (oneself) [She seems to enjoy herself at everything she does]
4. to undergo (an improvement) [Automobile manufacturers have enjoyed a six-percent rise in sales over the past month]
1350–1400; ME enjoyen to make joyful < OF enjoier to give joy to.
You know? Enjoy! This is a statement of theological instruction from the people who were, first and foremost, Calvinists. Somehow it seemed important to them that when we see that God is Great, and God is Good (and therefore ought to be glorified) He also must be enjoyed.
I think it’s funny that when you point this out to Calvinists today, you get either the stern look of dismissal or the sorry look one gives to the immature or the ill-informed. “Of course it says ‘enjoyed’, but what it means,” it is said, “is ‘appreciated’. You’re satisfied that God is God and you are not, and that God has saved a wretch like me. Don’t over-react to the word ‘enjoyed’ there because it leads to excesses – it will lead you into emotionalism or other kinds of enthusiasms. Now run along before you hurt yourself.”
Well, that’s interesting and edifying, I am sure, but it is flatly wrong. The word’s root is “to make joyful”, and the catechism is not a translation of the Greek or Hebrew: it was written in English for English-speakers.
Moreover, it makes no bones about giving us proof texts which indicate that there is reason to rejoice in God – not merely and meagerly consider that he is enough. I mean: Phil 4:4 is one of their proof texts, and it says to “Rejoice” in the Lord.
So why are Calvinists such a dour lot? Why is it that somehow, with our theology and our catechetical moxie plainly starting with joy as a primary virtue, do we have all appearances of being ready for the grave most of the time, and not willing to love in person but only love discipline but not really love the victory of Christ among his people?
If judgment begins in the House of God, we should begin there with ourselves and consider it: why is seeking to “enjoy” God seen as an unworthy pursuit?
Labels: Catechism Buzz
06 December 2010 by Frank Turk
Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.
My first thought here is a question before the question: Why would the guys who wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith start a catechism off with a statement about man which does not immediately jump to Total Depravity and man’s inability to do anything pleasing to God? Did they have a bad day? Maybe this is an anti-reformation emendation stuck into the text which we can’t correct until we finally have the autographs?
Maybe the answer is much simpler – especially given the proof texts the divines gave the answer to this question. They list a bunch of Psalms about glorifying God – which, who would deny those? – but then they add this bit from Isaiah:
”Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength, and my song, and he has become my salvation.”And then they quote the Angels to the Shepherds in Luke 2:
Fear Not! For behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”And they are right, of course: it’s good news, right? I mean, that’s a White Horse Inn idiom there so you Reformed people ought to be people who are full of good news – ready to fully enjoy God forever, starting right now.
As I’m typing this, I’m listening to the new tracks from Indelible Grace and sort of getting lost in the last track – On Jordon’s Stormy Banks. I am bound! I am bound! I am bound for the promised land! It’s a hymn we won’t sing in heaven because what we were bound to – where we were heading – will be here.
Personally, I think it’s a little strange that we Reformed people can get more excited about a new book than we do about the fact that we have a savior who saves, and by him, we are bound for the promised land. Our Chief End ought to be that we Glorify this savior, and fully enjoy him forever by enjoying who he is and what he has done right now when it will call those who will believe into that joy.
Labels: Catechism Buzz
03 December 2010 by Frank Turk
So let’s think about how Paul could recognize the church at Corinth. He looked for and saw that they had the Gospel (because he gave it to them), and they had baptism (because they were baptizing), and they had the Lord’s Supper (even if it was broken). These are the signs that there’s a church there, and how we ought to look for it. Seriously: even though some had doubts about the resurrection, they didn’t all have doubts. Some people being wrong doesn’t make the whole flock into a goat herd. They had faults in administering the Supper, and they didn’t exercise church discipline, and their good manners in general were on the decline. Some of them marched around like they deserves a parade or some kind of celebration because they were in charge – and because of it, their ministry caused cliques to form and opposing parties to stand up.But here’s the thing: as much as they retrained the fundamental doctrine that God was adored among themand Christ was their only savior, the only one they could call upon to be saved, the ministry and family association with the household of God was not lost or wrecked. It was in this way that they were still a Church. In exactly the same way, wherever God is worshipped and not somehow covered up by the stuff we make up or use to dress Him up, and as long as that key matter of Doctrine is not missing, we must without hesitation conclude – as Paul did – that there’s a church in there.
-- John Calvin, Commenary on Corinthians, Chapter 1, Section 2, paraphrased from ccel.org
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