Monthly Archives: December 2011

A Personal and Gospel Meditation on Christmas Day

There was a day we piled up presents under the treeA festive Babel towerTumbling down into the confusion Of interests with expiration datesAnd the speaking of different logos and brands:“I am of Apple.”“I am of Sony.”“I am of Chicken Dance Elmo.”

There was a day we spoke more languages stillMine of sin and hers of painTill it all came tumbling down.I laid with my children in their room at night,Michael Card singing sweet gospel lullabies on the stereoAnd struggled to believe that“I AM” was also “I am for you.”

What God had joined togetherI had torn apart.

This morning in the tumbled detritusOf wrappings and ribbonsI watched my three beauties play Chinese checkersAnd snow falling gently outsideThe big picture window,And I thought,“I am of Jesus.”

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The Fullness of Deity Dwells Babely

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.”– Luke 1:35

Really, the Advent season runs from Genesis 3 onward, and Christmas Day is when the miracle prophesied in Luke 1:35 is fulfilled. For those of us who believe personhood can be derived from Psalm 139:13-15 and Job 31:15, we believe the Incarnation did not begin at Jesus’ birth but at his conception. And if this is so, when Colossians 2:9 says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” we know that the fullness of deity dwelled in fertilized ovum.

Will the Empire State Building occupy a doghouse? Will a killer whale fit inside an ant?

And here we are told that omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, utter eternalness and holiness dwelled in a tiny person. This makes Santa coming down a chimney seem a logistical cakewalk.

“The head of all rule and authority” (Col. 2:10) had one of those jelly-necked wobbly baby heads. The government rested on his baby-fatted shoulders (Is. 9:6).

This miracle of addition is important. We must hold it tightly or lose the bigness of the Incarnation. God came as unborn child so that Christ would experience all of humanity. And he experienced all of humanity so that we might receive all of him for all of us.

If God came as a vulnerable, needful, weak baby, we have no need to fear for …

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C.S. Lewis’s "The Nativity"

The Nativityby C.S. Lewis

Among the oxen (like an ox I’m slow)I see a glory in the stable growWhich, with the ox’s dullness might at lengthGive me an ox’s strength.

Among the asses (stubborn I as they)I see my Saviour where I looked for hay;So may my beastlike folly learn at leastThe patience of a beast.

Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed),I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;Oh that my baa-ing nature would win thenceSome woolly innocence!

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We Need More Worship Wars, Not Fewer

Self-denying humility ought to show up in the way we worship together. Thankfully, we don’t hear as much these days about worship wars in Christian churches as we did just a few years ago, but they are still there. For years I thought this phenomenon was the bane of the “make it up as you go along” whirl of low-church evangelical Protestantism, and mostly it is. But even with a set traditional liturgy, Roman Catholics and other groups often experience the same kinds of tensions.

Maybe you’re like me, reared to have the worship music tastes of a seventy-five-year-old woman. That’s because, I think, a seventy-five-year-old woman was picking out the hymns and gospel songs in the church where I grew up. I tear up when I sing “Just As I Am” or “To God Be the Glory.” And I’m left cold by what some people call the “majestic old hymns.” They sound like what watercress-sandwich-eating Episcopalians from Connecticut would listen to (not that there’s anything wrong with that). And so many of the contemporary songs sound as if they were written by commercial jingle writers, trying desperately to find words to rhyme with “Jesus” (“Sees us?” “Never leave us?” “Diseases?”). I’m not saying aesthetics don’t matter in worship. Worship is, after all, commanded to be offered with “reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28). I am saying our varying critiques of musical forms are often just simple narcissism disguised as concern about theological and liturgical downgrade.

We need more worship wars, not fewer. …

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What Are New Englanders Like?

In 1997 Vision New England and the Ockenga Institute at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary conducted a research project to identify composite traits of New England culture. As they noted in Church Network News’ published report, each of these traits can be true of other parts of the nation (and world), so the real key for missional ministry in New England is exegeting why’s and how’s. And as anyone in or familiar with New England can tell you, there is not really one New England “culture” but really different cultures, plural. Nevertheless, there are traits generally true about all New England, and together, these 8 traits give a good outline.

1. New Englanders Tend to Resist Change

2. New Englanders Tend to Value Tradition

3. New Englanders Tend to be Roman Catholic– I would add that this largely means that when New Englanders note a religious affiliation of any kind, Roman Catholicism dominates. In my neck of the woods, the irreligious vastly outnumber the religious of any kind, but for those who specify a religion on surveys, Roman Catholicism is most noted. I’d also add that, in my neck of the woods at least, more self-identified Protestants are active with church attendance than self-identified Catholics. So this trait can be misleading if misread.

4. New Englanders Tend to Have a Secular Mindset

5. New Englanders Tend to be Self-Reliant

6. New Englanders Tend to be Reserved– This is the biggest difference I have experienced between Vermont and the South.

7. New Englanders Tend to Favor Insiders

8. New Englanders Tend …

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The Preemptive Strike Against Worry

Rose: “Don’t be worried, Mr. Allnut.Allnut: “Oh, I ain’t worried, miss. I gave myself up for dead back when we started.”

(from The African Queen, a film by John Huston)

The Christian has been crucified with Christ, and therefore is reckoned dead to the world, so when the world offers its problems, the Christian finds worry superfluous: he has given himself up for dead back when he started.

. . . do not be anxious about anything . . .– Philippians 4:6

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.– Galatians 6:14

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Redeemed to Perpetuate the Name

Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.”– Ruth 4:9-10

Boaz is that rare man who does things because God lives (Ruth 3:13). So behind and within all of his provision and care for Ruth is the desire to glorify God. We see this even in his expressed motivation upon winning Naomi’s land and Ruth’s hand from the redeemer with first dibs. He says he has purchased them to perpetuate the names of dead relatives. Clearly Boaz is a “worthy man” (Ruth 2:1) and not just in the sense of financial means.

Were it not for Boaz’s larger-than-self vision, we would not have the story of Ruth. Her faithfulness, her commitment, her optimism, her submission are to her praise and God’s, but Boaz’s faithfulness — his full-of-faith-ness — in redeeming her puts her on the map. Against the dark backdrop of the book of Judges’ lawless grotesqueries, in which every man did what was right in his own eyes, Boaz shines with the predawn radiance of God’s glory in …

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5 Ways Wives Can Encourage Their Husbands

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.– Proverbs 31:10-12

1. Praise Him VerballyPrivate nagging and public nitpicking are common temptations for wives of husbands who are sinners, by which I mean wives, but a wife ought to know that this is Chinese water torture on his heart. Most men carry around in their souls the question “Do I have what it takes?” The gospel answers this question, “No, but Jesus does, and what’s his is yours.” This is the only acceptable way to answer in the “negative.” When you nitpick and nag, you give mouthpiece to the accuser who wants your husband to know not only does he not have what it takes, he is worthless because of it. So find ways to constructively criticize and help him repent, but more than that, tell him what you like about him, how you find him attractive or admirable, how you respect him or are impressed by him. Outdo him in showing honor (Rom. 12:10).2. Submit to His LeadershipThis is not a call to be a doormat, but in my pastoral experience I encounter many a wife who says she wants her husband to lead her but then makes it clear in some way that this will only occur when she agrees with his decision. There are …

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I Won’t Pre-Label Revival

“It happens over and over again that the gospel ‘comes alive’ in a way that the evangelist had never dreamed of, and has effects which he never anticipated. The gospel is addressed to the human person as a human person in all the uncountable varieties of predicaments in which human beings find themselves.

The gospel has a sovereignty of its own and is never an instrument in the hands of the evangelist. Or, to put it more truly, the Holy Spirit, by whose secret working alone the gospel ‘comes alive,’ is not under the evangelist’s control. The wind blows freely.”

– Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

I really wish people would stop scheduling revivals. It never works. God doesn’t synchronize watches with us.

I won’t pre-label an event “revival” or an “experience of the Spirit” or anything like that, because a) I am not prescient enough to where the Spirit will blow next, and b) if I were to label something “revival,” I would be both tempted to stir things up myself to suit the name and second guessing whether anyone’s reaction was a result of the Spirit’s spontaneous move or a response to the expectation to react.

I want to raise the sail for revival in desperate prayer, godly sorrow, and dogged proclamation of the joys in Christ, but I don’t have enough bluster to move the boat myself.

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5 Ways Husbands Can Sanctify Their Wives

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.– Ephesians 5:25-27

1. Put Her FirstSacrifice is in view here, as is the understanding of “sanctify” in the sense of “setting apart for special use,” as in consecration. Husbands honor their wives not among others, but before and above others.

2. “Gospel” HerYes, I know it’s not a verb, but you get my meaning here. The passage says Jesus sanctifies the church by “washing” her with the water of the word. The understanding of “sanctify” as “cleanse” is in view here, and a husband who wants to sanctify his wife will share with her the word of God, speak to her the word of God, remind her who she is in Christ, forgive her sins, give her the opportunity to forgive his in word-driven repentance, and in general make sure she is gently, lovingly covered in the Scriptures.3. Protect HerHusbands will present their wives in some way to the Lord when that roll is called up yonder as an evidence of their own faithfulness to him. Do we want to be proven true children of God, full of faith in Jesus and his gospel? Then we will show the fruit of faithful husbanding, which …

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