Archive for December 2011

...and a Happy New Year

30 December 2011 by Tom Chantry

A couple of years ago a friend said to me that he felt bad for our kids because the world is just getting so much worse.

Yeah, I get it. Economic opportunity is disappearing, liberty is in crisis, and war has ceased to be an occasional interruption and has become our nation’s status quo. Society’s morals have collapsed in ways we only recently thought impossible, and in this the church is complicit. For that matter, the church can’t even seem to agree any more on what the gospel is, and this includes some evangelical heroes.

But are these circumstances unparalleled in history? We just celebrated Christmas, a holiday which should be a reminder of a time when people “walked in darkness.” The religious leaders - at least, the influential ones with the big building at the center of town - were functional atheists who denied the most fundamental realities of Scripture. Popular religion had been overrun with rank legalism which denied the very character of God. The faithful remnant had never been weaker. They were subjects of a brutal regime and burdened with crushing taxation. Local authority was vested in the hands of a monster who thought nothing of slaughtering children in order to achieve his political ends.

And then one day, while a couple of the 99% were sitting on a hillside at night, an angel showed up and said to them - just imagine! - “Fear not!” Of course not! What was there to be afraid of?

And what a reason he gave! “Fear not, because there’s an infant lying in a filthy stall in an insignificant village that Caesar never even heard of, but he’s your Savior: Christ the Lord.” And that, in a nutshell, is Christmas: if God is with us in the Person of His Son, then fear not.

So, what about the holiday we are about to celebrate? As the New Year rings in, the Savior is no longer wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, but instead is wrapped in glory and seated at the right hand of the Father. He is no longer an infant, but is once more clothed in omnipotence. He is not walking among us, but has sent the Spirit of Truth that we might not be orphans.

It remains a rather obvious fact that many still walk in darkness. The collapsing economy, hopeless political strife, unending war, global poverty, abominable morals, and a church so full of elephants we can scarcely see the room any more - all this and much more is very, very true. But if the Angel were to appear to us just as the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, I have a pretty good idea what he’d say.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be for all the people. For on your behalf there sits this day in the Heaven of Heavens a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign unto you: you shall receive His Spirit, and one day you shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

Never a Bad Christmas

27 December 2011 by Tom Chantry

Christmas this year in the Chantry family was, shall we say, memorable. My middle son was sick early on Thursday morning, just as we were set to go to my sister’s house. He seemed well when he got up, and we decided he did not have the stomach flu. Off we headed down the road for an overnight stay - not a wise decision.

By Saturday (after our return) I was sick, as was my nephew. By Saturday night my wife, my other two sons, and my three nieces had all succumbed. My mother and brother-in-law were coming down with it on Christmas morning, and on Christmas night it made a return appearance with the middle son.

So I spent Christmas Eve, while Karen and the kids celebrated at my parent’s house, cycling between my bed and the bathroom, lost in a fever-induced haze of misery. That night I was awake from one until three-thirty going back and forth between two sick children, Karen by this point being too ill herself to help. I started doing laundry at about two. On Christmas morning, only my middle son and I were healthy enough to attend church. Being far too weak to preach, I listened as my father pinch-hit for me.

As I write it is Monday, and as a precaution we are missing the Christmas celebration at my in-law’s house. All fevers are gone, and everyone is eating, but we remain weakened. Neither my wife nor I can recall a sickness so violent in many years.

But, perhaps because it was Christmas, I didn’t ever begin to feel too sorry for myself. I tried to overcome the loneliness of Saturday by listening to as much sacred Christmas music as I could, and my thoughts ran along these headings - the sermon which the stomach flu preached to me:
“First, the curse is found at least as far as Milwaukee. This wretched stomach flu is just a part of what has happened to this sin-cursed world, and, as one of the chief propagators of that sin, you, Tom, have no reasonable complaint. Sinners like you deserve the vomiting and the incontinence, the feverish shakes and delusions, the reduction to childishness which comes of being seriously ill. Truth be told, you deserve more than twenty-four hours of illness, and if the stomach flu went on interminably it would be only the merest fraction of a just reward for your sin. But of course, God doesn’t give you what you deserve. Since you know Christ, sickness isn’t even a warning of worse to come. That is only because…

“…the Lord is come. Sickness involves a reduction of the whole person. It can be humbling in the extreme. Mind and body revert to infancy at the touch of a tiny virus. Now, contemplate the incarnation of Christ while you are in the grip of this humbling illness. No sickness could possibly have touched Him, but He voluntarily entered into our sin-weakened condition, and no doubt He did so knowing that He would eventually get the stomach flu. Every small and great consequence of the curse, every sorrow and pain which we experience, Jesus took on willingly. That is what the Baby in the manger means. That amazing scene is testimony to the fact that God’s Son said, “Yes, I will take on this indignity, and a thousand more until I am beaten and stripped and nailed to a cross to die a public death.” And He did this because of…

“…the wonders of His love. Yes, Tom, child of God, He underwent all this because He loved you. He loved you before you were born - before even He was born. He loved you before the foundation of the world, because the Father loved you, and Christ, whose love for the Father is perfect, could not do other than to love you. His love for you was so immense, so giving, so absolute, that He entered not only this world but humanity itself, with all its sorrow and misery, in order to rescue you from it. Well might you wonder! And moreover, His love was effectual, accomplishing its intended end, so that you might sing…

“…no more let sins and sorrows grow. Yes, you’re a sinner, and yes, you’re suffering, but He came to put an end to that. The arrival of the Christ-Child at Bethlehem was the beginning of the end for Satan and all of his works. Your sin has been defeated, and its consequences are running out. This sickness is like a bad snow-storm in April; it’s no fun, but neither is it a harbinger of everlasting winter. Having come to you here, Christ prepares to take you to Him there. Wonder, yes, but also rejoice. And of course…

“…let every heart prepare Him room. Perhaps the world never so fully demonstrates its self-centered ignorance as at Christmas. The obsession with gifts and parties is obvious, but even the pseudo-religious talk of “Christmas Spirit” is generally pretty selfish. “We should all treat each other better, because we are so good and so worth it,” they sing. But little is said of Him, and what is said is as often as not inaccurate and misleading. The Child in the manger didn’t come with a dream that everyone should be nice one day a year. He came to rule, and rule He will. But what about you, Tom? Are your thoughts really superior? Do you not have your own ideal of a “good Christmas?” The family will be together, the children will enjoy their gifts, health and good spirits will reign - certainly Christmas is one day you can expect this! So was this Christmas ruined? Jesus still came. He still “makes His blessings flow.” He still demonstrates “the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.” Is there room in your heart for Him, or do you need a picture-book American Family Christmas first?”
That was the message my stomach flu preached to me, and it was a good one. The conclusion was obvious: If you know the Christ-child in the manger, if you know the Redeemer He came to be, then there can never be such a thing as a bad Christmas.


The Christmas Story (Luke 2:1-20)

26 December 2011 by David Regier

6-Part Harmony

24 December 2011 by FX Turk

This ia a "best of" which I composed years ago for the Christmas day service at our church -- a harmony of the texts which directly speak to the birth of Christ. I think it's useful to get a more-robust picture of what we're talking about at Christmas, which is not just a historical event but the purpose of all of history: God's working out His plan to save sinners.

It still needs some work; there's more that could be said from Scripture. But this is what we are going to celebrate -- those of us who are Christians.

Good tidings of great joy to you as you prepare to make straight the way of the Lord.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,
    "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"? Or again, "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son"?
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
    "Let all God's angels worship him."
Of the angels he says,
    "He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire."
But of the Son he says,
    "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions."
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.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to her. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But Mary was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"

And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. … For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
    "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.

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.

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 fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a 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." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
    "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
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." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when [the child] was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

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."

(they said this because the prophet Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, and he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse and said,
    I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;")
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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 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.

So This is Christmas

23 December 2011 by FX Turk

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.

You know: God spent millennia teaching Israel about himself and His plan for all things, and it's worth debating whether they got any of it or not. And during those millennia, God used all kinds of amazing stuff to spell it out for them -- like parting the sea for dry land for them to walk on, and free bread in the morning every morning until they were ready to enter the Promised Land, and fire burning up the priests to Baal. God's not one to spare the special effects when He has a purpose for them.

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:

swad·dle   [swod-l]
verb, -dled, -dling, noun
–verb (used with object) bind (an infant, esp. a newborn infant) with long, narrow strips of cloth to prevent free movement; wrap tightly with clothes. wrap (anything) round with bandages.

3.a long, narrow strip of cloth used for swaddling or bandaging.

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, "Dadgum! -- 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 2 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.

Ce n'est que fumee

22 December 2011 by FX Turk

The angel opens by saying that he announces great joy; and next assigns the ground or matter of joy, that a Savior is born. These words show us, first, that, until men have peace with God, and are reconciled to him through the grace of Christ, all the joy that they experience is deceitful, only like smoke -- “Ce n'est que fumee.” Ungodly men frequently indulge in frantic and intoxicating mirth; but if there be none to make peace between them and God, the hidden stings of conscience must produce fearful torment. Besides, to whatever extent they may flatter themselves in luxurious indulgence, their own lusts are so many tormentors.

The commencement of solid joy is to perceive the fatherly love of God toward us, which alone gives tranquillity to our minds. And this “joy,” in which, Paul tells us, “the kingdom of God” consists, is “in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17.) By calling it great joy, he shows us, not only that we ought, above all things, to rejoice in the salvation brought us by Christ, but that this blessing is so great and boundless, as fully to compensate for all the pains, distresses, and anxieties of the present life. Let us learn to be so delighted with Christ alone, that the perception of his grace may overcome, and at length remove from us, all the distresses of the flesh.

-- John Calvin, Commentary on Luke 2:10

Who Is This So Weak and Helpless

21 December 2011 by David Regier

Who is this so weak and helpless, Child of lowly Hebrew maid,
Rudely in a stable sheltered, coldly in a manger laid?
’Tis the Lord of all creation, who this wondrous path hath trod;
He is God from everlasting, and to everlasting God.

Who is this, a Man of sorrows, walking sadly life’s hard way,
Homeless, weary, sighing, weeping, over sin and Satan’s sway?
’Tis our God, our glorious Savior, who above the starry sky
Now for us a place prepareth, where no tear can dim the eye.

Who is this? Behold Him shedding drops of blood upon the ground!
Who is this, despised, rejected, mocked, insulted, beaten, bound?
’Tis our God, who gifts and graces on His church now poureth down;
Who shall smite in righteous judgment all His foes beneath His throne.

Who is this that hangeth dying while the rude world scoffs and scorns,
Numbered with the malefactors, torn with nails, and crowned with thorns?
’Tis the God Who ever liveth, ’mid the shining ones on high,
In the glorious golden city, reigning everlastingly.

Words by William W. How 1867
Music: Eifionydd by John A. Lloyd, Sr.
Arrangement by David P. Regier

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Blockheads like Us

20 December 2011 by Tom Chantry

Face it, if you were going to choose a character from the Old Testament to encourage suffering Christians with a reminder that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials,” you wouldn’t pick Lot, would you? Lot?! Righteous Lot?!?!? The guy who spurned the Promised Land in order to move his tents down toward Sodom?

That is of course exactly who we need to hear about: inconsistent, weak-hearted, ethically compromised Lot. We like to pretend that our churches are saintly outposts in a world of sin, but all too often we are neck-deep in the its moral filth. We too easily abandon the green pastures of God’s word and set up shop in downtown Sodom. We don’t really belong - no more than did Lot - and so, like him, we are “tormenting [our] righteous souls” among the wicked. Yet there we sit in the gate of Sodom, giving tacit consent to its rejection of God.

But He knows how to rescue people like us. He sent His angels right into the heart of Sodom, much though Lot would be horrified to see them there. They were threatened with death and what is worse than death, but they persevered and gave Lot the needed warning. When he responded with less than full enthusiasm, they dragged him out of the city to safety. That’s Peter’s point, really. The Lord has experience with blockheads like us!

When the fullness of time had come, the Lord, purposing to rescue Peter and his readers (including you, and me) out of the Sodom of this world in which we are less than citizens but more, sadly, then thorough non-participants, He sent not His angels, but His Son. Perhaps our horror at this thought ought to equal that of Lot when he saw the angels approach the city gate. Christ approached our world, He entered it, and not only was He threatened, He was actually tortured and killed. And He did this to rescue us out of our trials - especially those we create for ourselves through our sin.

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Do Not Be Blind

19 December 2011 by Daniel

"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. - Jude 24-25 [ESV]

I love this benediction. Who has come into the world? God has come into the world. So what? So He is able to keep His children from stumbling and to present them blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy.

In the wake of such a truth, it isn't merely fitting, but all righteousness demands that a believer so blessed ought to ascribe glory, majesty, dominion and authority to the One who not only offered such hope to men, but gave His own life to see that His promises are kept in full.

Let your meditation rest on what God sent Christ into the world to do for you. Don't stop there. Meditate on what Christ is doing right now for you, and then marvel over the fact that He has not left His love for you as some riddle, or invisible thing for you to find, but has laid it out open and evident in what He has done, and is presently doing, for you. Do not be blind, but see these things, and you will be blessed when you find yourself looking upon them.

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5 Thoughts on Christmas

18 December 2011 by FX Turk

This is a recycled post by me from 2007.  It bears repeating.

[1] It is frankly bizarre to associate what happens these days on December 25th (and the 4-ish weeks prior to 12/25) in the English-speaking world with Roman Catholicism in the theological, ecclesiological, or worshipological senses. That is: there's nobody I know who's celebrating Christmas because the day itself turns out to be more holy – except, of course, some Catholics. The rest of us are considering that Christ, in order to die for our sins in accordance with Scripture, had to be born. Which leads me to ...

[2] ... the obvious objection that taking a day and setting it apart to reconsider the birth of Christ is making something holy which God does not – it's a sort of Regulative principle objection. But here's the problem: if one doesn’t read the whole Bible every day and think about the whole thing every day, one is doing by default what one is criticizing others for doing with intention.

You know: you can't mull over the whole of biblical and systematic theology in any kind of thorough or even careful way in the 14 hours you're awake one day and then repeat the process again tomorrow and (for example) hold down a job or take a bath. So breaking the particulars of Biblical and systematic theology up over time – for example, into 52 weeks like the Heidelberg Catechism, or into a "church year", or into a daily reading plan – makes practical sense.

Because you have a human brain with human constraints, you're going to cause each day to be different in some way because you really don’t have a choice. The question turns out to be whether or not you're going to have an intentional way of, as the Bible says, being transformed by the renewal of your mind, or if you're just going to sort of stumble through it.

[3] And then the question comes up, "well, are you saying I must celebrate Christmas? Isn’t that legalism and violating my Christian liberty?" I think the fair comparison – the clear-sighted comparison – is to evangelism, because ultimately that's what I am talking about here (which we will get to in a minute).
You know: when you're standing in the waiting line at the Olive Garden with your family or whatever, I have no qualms saying that you should talk to someone there and try to get the Gospel in as much as it is possible. You should. My guess – and you can argue about the statistics behind this guess if you're that kind of person – is that someone in that waiting line is a lost person who has a sin problem that ends up being a hell problem, and is someone the Gospel is given to be declared to. If you believe in hell and in the only savior of men, you should find a way to talk about the Gospel.

Should. Expresses obligation, propriety, or expediency. Disciples of Christ have an obligation to express the Gospel. Even at the Olive Garden, which may or may not have some historical association with the Roman Catholic church particularly by being an Italian restaurant [sic].

Now, if that's true – and I'd love to see the person who's willing to say that Christians do not have this kind of obligation – how much more obvious is this same obligation on a day which, in the English-speaking world, bears the name of Christ and the whole world is frankly stopped because of it. Last year I published a harmony of the Gospels here at the blog – what if we intentionally gathered as families with both the saved and the sinners and read something like that rather than treating the day as if it's just another day, just like every other day, even though Wall Street and the banks are closed and everyone is frankly looking for something to do?

Opportunities like that don’t just fall out of the sky, especially in a post-Christian culture.

[4] And to connect the dots here between [2] and [3], one might say, "well, cent, I actually do read the Heidelberg Catechism to my kids and we follow the three forms of unity, so my obligation to bringing up my children in the way they should go – evangelizing them, if you will – is taken care of, so your beat-down on me for not observing this day is uncalled for."

Yeah, no. And pay attention, because this is where you imaginary objectors really get my goat.

Paul said this:
    "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
and again:
    For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
I agree with you that one perfectly "lawful" means of doing your Christian life is the consideration (as in our example) of the Heidelberg Catechism. Where I part company with the imaginary objector is that you are straining out gnats and swallowing camels, and you have a really big problem if Rob Bell understands something which you do not.

I want you to imagine something: imagine that the whole English-speaking world stops for one day – and by "stops" I mean that there's not even any sports on the TV worth mentioning. Everybody stops working for one day. And for the most part, everyone has this yearning to be with family – even the most weird feel like this day bears some kind of meaning in that it would be good to be with family just this one day.

And on that day, the disciples of Christ get up in the morning, read Heidelberg Catechism Week 51 (ironically, "about the Lord's Day", speaking of holding one day above another), and wander off to work to show those idolatrous Catholics we don't bend a knee to the Pope, carn-sarn it.

Let me suggest to you that this is not only an avoidance of a right-minded "should" for a sort of smug and intellectually-selfish "ought", but it is completely tone-deaf to the real spirit of Christ who became flesh and took up residence among us, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, who has made God known.

Christmas is the opportunity to make God known, people – particularly, to make Christ known. You have the liberty to do that in an obscure or untranslatable way, and you have the liberty to do that in a public and sort of lavish and joyous way – one which reflects your personal response to this God who poured Himself out, took on the form of a servant, allowed himself to be laid in a feeding trough, and came to die for people who deserved themselves to be put to death.

You can play baseball when the sun is shining, or you can play your PSP in your basement and wonder why you don’t know any real people. What you can't do is pretend that your liberty is more valuable than spending your liberty on your responsibilities.

[5] And that leads to my last point (because this is page 3 in WORD), which is to make it clear that what's at stake here is the declaration of the Gospel of God to the lost by all means possible. That's the real "culture war". You have to consider what it means to have a public faith at some point in your travels through sanctification.

Some people want to tell you that the only meaningful way to have a public faith is by church-community and church-worship. That is: somehow the only way, or perhaps the most efficacious way, of demonstrating a public faith is in liturgy in community. And we have to grant something here: depending on what you mean by "liturgy" and "efficacious", and depending on how important you rate the Lord's table and baptism, they have a point.

But if our worship stops at the last pew in the chapel, so to speak, we're just fans. We're not playing the game: we're just watching it.

You are called to do more than watch the game, reader. You are called to run the race, and fight the good fight, and be someone who's not just shadow-boxing in vain. You are called to be a spectacle for the sake of the Gospel, and that doesn’t happened behind closed doors.

Merry Christmas.

Advent: Day 16

12 December 2011 by FX Turk

(2 Pet 1:1-11) Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.  For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.  For in this way there will be richly provided for you san entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Advent Day 13: Psalms

09 December 2011 by FX Turk

Psalm 35 (ESV)

 1Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me!
2Take hold of shield and buckler
   and rise for my help!
3Draw the spear and javelin
   against my pursuers!
Say to my soul,
   "I am your salvation!"
 4 Let them be put to shame and dishonor
   who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
   who devise evil against me!
5Let them be like chaff before the wind,
   with the angel of the LORD driving them away!
6Let their way be dark and slippery,
   with the angel of the LORD pursuing them!

 7For without cause they hid their net for me;
   without cause they dug a pit for my life.
8Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it!And let the net that he hid ensnare him;
   let him fall into it—to his destruction!

 9Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD,
    exulting in his salvation.
10All my bones shall say,
   "O LORD, who is like you,
delivering the poor
   from him who is too strong for him,
   the poor and needy from him who robs him?"

 11 Malicious witnesses rise up;
   they ask me of things that I do not know.
12 They repay me evil for good;
   my soul is bereft.
13But I, when they were sick—
   I wore sackcloth;
   I afflicted myself with fasting;
I prayed with head bowed on my chest.
 14I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother;
as one who laments his mother,
   I bowed down in mourning.

 15But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered;
   they gathered together against me;
wretches whom I did not know
   tore at me without ceasing;
16like profane mockers at a feast,
   they gnash at me with their teeth.

 17How long, O Lord, will you look on?
   Rescue me from their destruction,
    my precious life from the lions!
18I will thank you in the great congregation;
   in the mighty throng I will praise you.

 19 Let not those rejoice over me
   who are wrongfully my foes,
and let not those wink the eye
   who hate me without cause.
20For they do not speak peace,
   but against those who are quiet in the land
   they devise words of deceit.
21They open wide their mouths against me;
   they say, "Aha, Aha!
   Our eyes have seen it!"

 22 You have seen, O LORD; be not silent!
   O Lord, be not far from me!
23Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication,
   for my cause, my God and my Lord!
24 Vindicate me, O LORD, my God,
   according to your righteousness,
   and let them not rejoice over me!
25Let them not say in their hearts,
    "Aha, our heart’s desire!"
Let them not say, "We have swallowed him up."

 26Let them be put to shame and disappointed altogether
   who rejoice at my calamity!
Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor
   who magnify themselves against me!

 27Let those who delight in my righteousness
   shout for joy and be glad
    and say evermore,
"Great is the LORD,
   who delights in the welfare of his servant!"
28Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness
   and of your praise all the day long.


Advent Day 12 Psalm 37

08 December 2011 by Matt Gumm

In the opening chapter of Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis talks about the two people quarreling, making the point that there is an external standard of justice or fairness that people innately recognize and appeal to. As kids, we knew it was wrong to take "cuts" in the line at the drinking fountain. As adults, when we are out driving, it's still wrong to take cuts, and when someone else doesn't seem to know that, we can go out of our way to make sure they are aware.

All of us, in some form or fashion, are yearning for justice. Often, this can be self-serving, like when one of my children complains that another one won't let him or her "have a turn". At other times, this desire may have a wider and more outward-directed focus, such as injustice in the world. And we can be tempted to despair, because whether personal or widespread, our appeals for justice can often appear to go unanswered.

For believers, a text like Psalm 37 vividly reminds us that God is aware. It's His testimony to us that He knows the works of the wicked and the righteous, and distinguishes between the two.

This isn't just happy head knowledge. We need to recognize that our own petty attempts to obtain justice from others are not merely pathetic, but they are unnecessary. We can rest in the comfort that the scales will be balanced in God's timing, and according to His plan.

For Yahweh loves justice;
He will not forsake his saints.

Advent day 12: Psalms

Psalm 37 (ESV)

18The LORD knows the days of the blameless,
   and their heritage will remain forever;
19they are not put to shame in evil times;
   in the days of famine they have abundance.

 20But the wicked will perish;
   the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures;
   they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.

 21The wicked borrows but does not pay back,
   but the righteous is generous and gives;
22for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land,
   but those cursed by him shall be cut off.

 23The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
   when he delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
   for the LORD upholds his hand.

 25I have been young, and now am old,
   yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
   or his children begging for bread.
26He is ever lending generously,
   and his children become a blessing.

 27 Turn away from evil and do good;
   so shall you dwell forever.
28For the LORD loves justice;
   he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
   but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29The righteous shall inherit the land
   and dwell upon it forever.

 30The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
   and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
   his steps do not slip.

 32The wicked watches for the righteous
   and seeks to put him to death.
33The LORD will not abandon him to his power
   or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

 34 Wait for the LORD and keep his way,
   and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
   you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

 35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
   spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
   though I sought him, he could not be found.

 37Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
   for there is a future for the man of peace.
38But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
   the future of the wicked shall be cut off.

 39 The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD;
   he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40The LORD helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
   because they take refuge in him.


Advent Day 11: Isaiah

07 December 2011 by FX Turk

Isaiah 6:1-13

 1In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called to another and said:

    "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"
 4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"

 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for."

 8And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." 9And he said, "Go, and say to this people:

    "'Keep on hearing, but do not understand;keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' 10 Make the heart of this people dull,
   and their ears heavy,
   and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
   and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
   and turn and be healed."
11Then I said, "How long, O Lord?"And he said:"Until cities lie waste
   without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
   and the land is a desolate waste,
12and the LORD removes people far away,
   and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 And though a tenth remain in it,
   it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
   whose stump remains
   when it is felled."
The holy seed is its stump.


Advent Meditation - Day 11

06 December 2011 by David Regier

So YHWH tells his messenger to tell his people that they will not get the message. Listen as they might, look as they will, they will keep on going in their sin, their rejection of the Lord.

Dull them! Blind them! he tells Isaiah. Why? Lest they turn and be healed. How long? Until everything is dead.

This is the condition God prepares for his people to receive a Savior.