Saturday, December 24, 2005

Coming Home for Christmas

John tells us in the opening chapter to his gospel that "Jesus came to his own, and his own people did not receive him." Rejection! What a sad thought. Imagine coming home for Christmas and being rejected by your own family, your own countrymen. But John goes on to declare that "But to as many as receive him to them he gave the right to become sons of God." He also states that the eternal Son of God became flesh and blood, just like you and me, and he dwelt among us. The literal meaning of this is that He tabernacled, or pitched His tent among us. He took on flesh and blood, and came to live among us for a time. He came in poverty, humility, vulnerability, and he came with a purpose. In fact, the Godhead had planned this all out before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9). Paul tells us that [He] made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:7 -11) Christmas is all about coming home, all about family. As a Christian don't feel guilty for buying presents, or singing a few secular carols along with the solid, Biblical ones. Gather your family around you and lavish your love and gifts and food on them, just as your Father in heaven lavishes upon you the greatest gift of all, His only begotten Son. Think about all of the settings, the stories and parables in the Bible that contain elements of marriage and the family. Look at the story of the prodigal, where the father receives back his wayward son. Think about Joseph receiving his brothers back into fellowship in Egypt, about Joseph going ahead and making Mary and the little one to come a part of his family. Jesus was born into a family. Jesus gave Lazarus back to his two sisters, and the little girl back to her father, Jairus. The relationship between a husband and a wife is described as just like the relationship between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:25-32). The Church is called the bride of Christ in Revelation 19:7; 21:2; and 21:9. In Luke 5:34, Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom. Make big over family this Christmas to show how God Himself makes a big deal over us and brings us into His family, through Christ Jesus our Lord, and Savior. Just another homeless family Looking for a strangers charity Joseph and Mary weren't necessarily homeless. They were poor, displaced, in a desperate condition with Mary's impending birth, to be sure, but not homeless. When you see a nativity scene, don't automatically think "homeless." Don't turn the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem into a social gospel. Sure, there are great social ills in this world, and Christians should put hands and feet to their faith and be concerned about homelessness, and poverty, and famine; but that is not our great message of hope to the world. The big problem with all of mankind is that we need to come home to God, because we are alienated from Him, hostile to Him, condemned by Him. When you see a depictions of the nativity, think about God providing the means to bring you home, a way for you and me to be reconciled to God, in fact, a way for anyone who will believe on His Son. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God Ephesians 2:19. God sent His son into the world to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Galatians 4:5. This time of year we should remember those who cannot be home for Christmas. Many missionaries are in foriegn lands, spreading this very gospel I have been talking about. They are sacrificing friends and family, home and hearth, for the sake of Christ. Remember to pray for them, that their Lord and ours would be their father and mother, brother and sister. Pray that God would bless their ministry and shine the light of the gospel in many dark places. Last of all, remember our men and women in the armed forces, stationed in foriegn lands, far from home. Pray they will come home safely soon. Pray that the gospel will spread by them where missionaries aren't allowed to go. One of the grains of sand in Galatians 4:4 was that Pax Romana, and the Appian Way, and all of those Roman soldiers who heard and believed the gospel, and then gossiped the gospel from one end of the Roman Empire to the other. Pray that God will do it again, just like that.

Photo Acknowledgements: These photos were taken a couple of weeks ago at our second annual "Yuletide Tulsa", which this year consisted of a four-performance dinner-theater style outreach held at Trinity Baptist Church, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

  • Joseph and Mary: Ron and Anna make a perfect Joseph and Mary. They are the only people I know who look just as young now as they did when I first met them 30 years ago. Don't let their looks deceive you, they are about my age.
  • Missionary: Marie, with her husband John, is planning to return to the mission field in Israel sometime in 2006. They served first in Africa, and now in their "retirement" years just keep going back on these one- and two-year assignments. There are many opportunities like these to serve.
  • Soldier: Isaac just returned from Afghanistan a couple of months ago, and is now out of the Marines. He currently works in a machine shop and plans to start college soon. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mose, who is still in Iraq, away from his wife and little daughter.
  • Choir: Trinity's own Celebration Singers. They are the best. This is not all of them. The full choir is about twice as large.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Emmanuel's Land (The Sands of Time are Sinking)

Better than planting taters and onions, indeed! Notice how Heaven is described, not by what we will do, or think, or say, or feel , or touch, or taste. Heaven is all about Who we will see, "without a veil", and who we will be with. A note of clarification: I have two hymnals that include this hymn, one omits the second verse listed below, the other omits the fifth verse. The midi file that I have attached only enough music for four stanzas. I am sorry for the inconvenience. Words: Anne R. Cousin, 1857 Anne R. Cousin was the wife of William Cousin, pastor of the Free Church of Melrose, Scotland. She contributed many poems and hymns to various periodicals of the day. This hymn is based upon the writings of Samuel Rutherford, 1600-1661 Tune: Rutherford by Edward F. Rimbault, 1867
The sands of time are sinking, The dawn of heaven breaks, The summer morn I've sighed for, The fair sweet morn awakes; Dark, dark, hath been the midnight, But dayspring is at hand, And glory, glory dwelleth In Emmanuel's land. The King there in his beauty Without a veil is seen; It were a well-spent journey Though seven deaths lay between: The Lamb with his fair army Doth on Mount Zion stand, And glory, glory dwelleth In Emmanuel's land. O Christ, he is the fountain, The deep sweet well of love! The streams on earth I've tasted More deep I'll drink above: There to an ocean fullness His mercy doth expand, And glory, glory dwelleth In Emmanuel's land. The bride eyes not her garment, But her dear bridegroom's face; I will not gaze at glory, But on my King of grace; Not at the crown he gifteth, But on his pierced hand: The Lamb is all the glory Of Emmanuel's land. O I am my Beloved’s And my Beloved is mine! He brings a poor vile sinner Into His house of wine I stand upon His merit - I know no other stand, Not e’en where glory dwelleth In Emmanuel’s land.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Winter Solstice

After the first cold weather, I mean even the faintest hint of cold weather, this is the day I eagerly wait for. I know there is much more sloppy, cold, blustery, yuck-laden days ahead, but just knowing that the days are getting longer is a comfort to me. It won't be long after the hustle and bustle of the "holiday season" and bowl games that I'll be planting taters and onions. Yes sir, after today, as cold as winter may be, the daylight gets just a little bit longer each day. It makes a good analogy for sanctification. Once God saves us out of the coldness and darkness of our selfish little lives, the shortest day has come and gone. Every day that follows may not be perfect, some may be down right terrible. But God is at work in us, both to will and to work His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), and we can be confident that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6). Have you ever noticed how Paul skips over "sanctified" in Romans 8:30; he jumps from "justified" straight to "glorified". With Paul anctification is just a given, and it only has one end result. There is no turning back. We are headed to high summer in Emmanuel's land, and there is no turning back. And what about this Emmanuel's land? I'll bet it will be better than planting taters and onions. That reminds me of an old Tanglewood hymn we use to sing. More about that later.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Slips, Trips, and Falls

Well, it's that time again. Over the past week or so I have scraped up quirky quotes from all over the web-log world. I have widened my scope a bit, reading about half again more web logs than in previous weeks. I don't know how I do it. Sometimes I amaze myself. I love posting little snippets like this. You see, I can take bits and pieces out of context with reckless abandon, and it's okay. If you are curious enough to find out the context, there is the link to the whole post, right beside the quote. I guess my enjoyment of this kind of thing comes from all of those years when our middle child would take every figure of speech used in her presence, and literalize it. It would irritate me then, because she would always bring it up at the most trying and serious times. Now with her own little magpie, I just can't wait for her to gain a grasp of the language. Mary, this is for you.
  • Sadly, many preachers like to work in a vacuum Pastor Steve Weaver My, oh my. I would suffocate in a vacuum. This brief post is an apt exhortation to us all, pastor and layman alike, to read the works of the "saints" of generations past. A good little post. I find very little from this young man (and his brother too) that I do not agree with.
  • As far as it goes, it is good that we have an accurate view of ourselves and our own unworthiness. But at the same time, when God gives us this understanding by His grace, we must not cling to that understanding obstinately when He then tells us how much He rejoices in us, delights over us, wants to be with us, and how He has removed every impediment to fellowship. Doug Wilson on the Lord's table. Does anybody else get the impression that Doug Wilson and John Piper are reading from the same page? Looking back, I realize that last week I missed a few days posts of Pastor Wilson. I must go back and catch up. You catch up too.
  • The Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey is looking for a new bishop to lead them out of spiritual (and physical) decline. Here is a part of their search statement: We encourage nominations of persons of both genders, all racial and ethnic backgrounds, and of all sexual orientations. From Albert Mohler's web log Hmmm, I wonder why they could possibly be in decline.
  • Balaam was a true prophet, but he was not a true man. Pastor Wilson at Blog and Mablog True enough.
  • Family trumps worship in their foolish, faddish, fabricated, fallacious, fatiferous, façade of fanciful, factious, and falchion brand of faith. Sledgehammer at Camponthis No Failing marks here. I give this one an A+, and the post that follows, about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is very good too.
  • . . .it's not what you say, it's what you mean. Matt Gumm at Still Reforming. Uh . . . let's see now, is it just the thought that counts, or should we mean it when we say it? Well, you should read the post to get the thrust of the argument. Good post.
  • I may be struck dead for touching the ark of the covenant here . . . The paleoevangelical No "may" or might to it; just ask Uzzah. Sometimes church budgets can be just as dangerous, though.
  • It is only in more recent days that I came to see that I truly felt my worrying was somehow effectual. challies on Worry. Are you in the middle of something presently that keeps you up nights? Read this.
  • To describe yourself as a post-Protestant in a world still full of millions of regular old Protestants and regular old Roman Catholics is an attempt to wrap your personal thought preferences in the cloak of history -- moreover in the cloak of history that hasn't happened yet. Pastor Doug Wilson tearing up Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy.
  • because cows cannot run very fast, it does not take much to pull the tail of the establishment Doug Wilson, from A Serrated Edge. Pastor Wilson must never have been around livestock. I was never able to pull a cows tail without first penning the beast up. Even then you run the risk of a swift and painful kick. Blog and Mablog runs a little bit of this book just about every day. I have thought about getting the book, but if I wait long enough, I will have read it all there for free.
  • I also told him that if he ever touches my daughter I have no problem at all with going back to prison. Challies reviewing the book 5 Paths to the Love of Your Life by Lauren F. Winner Hey, I have two daughters. I know that feeling.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Mostly-forgotten Hymn of the Season

Words: Paul Gerhardt, 1653 Translated: Catherine Winkworth, 1858 Tune: Warum Solit' Ich Mich Denn Grämen by Johann G. Ebeling, 1666 All my heart this night rejoices As I hear Far and near Sweetest angel voices. "Christ is born," their choirs are singing Till the air Everywhere Now with joy is ringing. Forth today the Conqueror goeth, Who the foe, Sin and woe, Death and hell, o'erthroweth. God is man, man to deliver; His dear Son Now is one With our blood forever. Shall we still dread God's displeasure, Who, to save, Freely gave His most cherished treasure? To redeem us, he hath given His own Son From the throne Of his might in heaven. He becomes the Lamb that taketh Sin away And for aye Full atonement maketh. For our life his own he tenders; And our race, By his grace, Meet for glory renders. Hark! a voice from yonder manger, Soft and sweet, Doth entreat: "Flee from woe and danger, Brethren, from all ills that grieve you You are freed; All you need I will surely give you." Come, then, banish all your sadness, One and all, Great and small; Come with songs of gladness. Love him who with love is glowing; Hail the star, Near and far Light and joy bestowing. Dearest Lord, thee will I cherish. Though my breath Fail in death, Yet I shall not perish, But with thee abide for ever There on high, In that joy Which can vanish never.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Sharing Christ

What better gift could you possibly give this Christmas than the Gospel; that's what the messages from these two podcasts are all about. On Wednesday, Dr. John Piper began a short series around presenting the gospel using the most familiar single verse in the Bible, John 3:16. The first message is entitled The Danger: Perishing, part 1. The gospel presentation centers around what Dr. Piper calls the four D's: Danger, Design, Duty, and Destination, all found within the one verse. Dr. Piper is in top form, as usual. Pastor Rod Harris explains that Christmas means nothing apart from the gospel in The Unexpected Gift. This sermon from Genesis 3:15 presents the proto-evangel, or first gospel. Without an adequate understanding of the depths of sin and misery that Adam's posterity is in, no one can adequately appreciate the coming of Messiah. This message was preached at Trinity Baptist Church, in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Sunday morning last, December 11. This Christmas, let's give gifts that have everlasting value; tell somebody about the Christ child, and why He came.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Incarnation

God, reduced to a span. Incomprehensibly made man.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Did I Really Say That?

(Or: I didn't say that if I can get the post pulled down before you make a hard copy.)

  • Movements that contradict themselves in flagrant ways cannot, with regard to the long run, rely on nobody noticing. Douglas Wilson on Ten Reasons For Not Taking Postmodernism Seriously
  • I was shocked when the pastor told me, without any remorse, that "if you are really looking to grow as a Christian this isn't the church for you." Challies on Evangelism - The Chief End of Man?
  • At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s nothing wrong with people acting their age. Maturity comes with…maturity. Steve at Triablogue Notice, Steve didn't say it comes with age. It doesn't have to, you know.
  • Being a blogger is like living in a fish bowl. More than that, you can’t see your audience, but your audience can see you. So there’s no predicting the reaction you’re going to get. The feedback comes after the fact, at which point it’s too late to take back your words. Steve at Triablogue A scarry thought, no?
  • A few years ago our family was visiting a church on the first Sunday of December. The pastor stood up and announced, "Tonight, we will have the hanging of the greens." I leaned over to my wife and whispered, "I don't know what the Greens did but it must have been really serious if the punishment is hanging!" Tom at Founder I had a hard time stopping at this brief quote, the whole post was that good. Tom was being uncharacteristicly Wilsonian. Now if we could just get Wilson to be baptistic in return.
  • O.K. Now you can start with the ugly comments. Jeremy at Doxoblogy on limited atonement.
  • For those who eschew definitions and logocentrism, but who still want to know what emergent is. Douglas Wilson. I never cease to be amazed. Even single-sentence posts from this guy sparkle and spurt like an Independence-day celebration.
  • woof, watch out for trucks! You figure out what this means. Hint: This quite is from the very bottom in the comments section, so you need to read the whole post to get the gist. More later on this personal episode in my life. This deserves its own post.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Deciduous Holly

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2,4 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. 1 Peter 1:6,7 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 Late November and early December temperatures have been unusually low this year, with overnight lows in the low teens. I know that isn't much for those of you in the north, but it is a big deal if you live in Oklahoma. It is not unusual to get a few nickle and dime lows before winter is over, but the teens usually stay away until after the new year. I usually work nights, and although not continually out in the elements, I do have to spend some extended time out of doors. It gets to be a real drag when you have become comfortably warm up in the cab of your tractor, and then have to plung, all at once, out into the dark and cold. It is about this time every year that I look for signs of the coming spring. I know, winter won't officially begin for another three weeks, but that is just the way I am. I start work early on Fridays, making a short trip to Muskogee and back to Tulsa before my regular run starts. This time of year the sun is still up when I head out, but not for long. This last Friday I noticed that the sun was shining, low and red, across the expressway in front of me from right to left, and it was lighting up the berries of the Deciduous Holly scattered randomly on the edge of the woods to the northeast. I love Deciduous Holly, Ilex decidua, one of the few North-American native hollies. It doesn't hold its leaves through the winter, hence the name deciduous. The old timers call it "Possum Haw", though it is not even closely related to the hawthorns, and I have never seen a possum even near one. When all the leaves drop, millions of pea-sized orange-to-red berries are revealed. The swatches of near-crimson dotted along the easements are not gaudy, but distinct and prominent in an otherwise leafless, fruitless, colorless landscape. The berries are coveted by the song birds later in the dead of winter when all of the grass seeds are beaten down and spent. A flock of Cedar Waxwings is a rare and thrilling sight when they descend to feed upon a tall old clump of Deciduous Holly. Deciduous Holly is a lot like the severe mercies of God. It is not until the winter of adversity comes into your life to strip you bare, that the fruit that God has formed in you is exposed to view, and even usefull to others. Only when your soul has been brought to the brink of dispair, or when you loose that loved one, or when your health leaves you, do you realize what God has been doing in you and through you. It is after the low times that you are most able to meet the needs of the despairing and lost around you. Only then can you reap the benefits of knowing an all-sustaining God. Only then can you say "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Talkative of Pratting-row

The episode before us, which focuses on the character of of one Talkative, is different from any other episode previously encountered so far in this story. We find here, not an account of the trials or conflicts of our main character, Christian. There is no battle to be fought, no obstacle to be overcome. More than anything, this new character, Talkative, is the personification of a lesson to be learned. There are actually two lessons found herein: 1) a personal warning to be true, to be genuine; not to be two-faced; and 2) an exhortation to be discerning, and consequently to be faithful to our fellow man. Christian has just come out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, where at the end of that place, he makes the acquaintance of Faithful. After only a short time, they make fast friends. They have so much in common, so many like experiences that firmly bond the two in no time at all. Now enters a third "pilgrim", one Talkative. Throughout this scene there are three men walking, side by side, for as the narrator explains the path at that point is wide enough to do so. Get a mental picture of these three men, with the one in the middle walking close and talking, first to one on the one side, and then to the other on the other, then back to the first, and then back again to the second. It is also interesting to note, looking back over the episode, how Faithful alone engages Talkative. Christian is close at hand, but he hangs back, as it were, to let Faithful get the "full benefit" of the encounter, and Faithful gets an earful, to be sure. I have omitted any passages from this section to save space, but you can read the whole passage at one of the "Bunyan" links on the sidebar to the right. To summarize that encounter, Faithful discovers that Talkative is more than willing to talk about any and all things concerning the Christian faith. Faithful is impressed, and after a time, walks back near to Christian for a brief discussion. At this point, Christian gives him the skinny.
Christian: This man is for any company, and for any talk; as he talks now with you, so will he talk when he is on the ale bench; and the more drink he hath in his crown, the more of these things he hath in his mouth; religion hath, no place in his heart, or house, or conversation; all he hath lieth in his tongue, and his religion is to make a noise therewith. He talks of prayer, of repentance, of faith, and of the new birth; but he knows but only to talk of them. I have been in his family, and have observed him both at home and abroad; and I know that what I say of him is the truth. His house is as empty of religion as the white of an egg is of savour. There is there neither prayer nor sign of repentance for sin; yea, the brute in his kind serves God far better than he. He is the very stain, reproach, and shame of religion to all that know him; Men that have any dealings with him, say 'tis better to deal with a Turk than with him: for fairer dealing they shall have at their hands. This TALKATIVE, if it be possible, will go beyond them--defraud, beguile, and overreach them. I am of opinion, that he has by his wicked life caused many to stumble and fall; and will be, if God prevent not, the ruin of many more.
At this point, Faithful returns to Talkative's side. After considerable discourse to discern Talkative's true nature and, speaks the truth in love, and is faithful indeed:
Faithful: I have heard of you, that you are a man whose religion lies in talk; and that your conversation gives this your mouth-profession the lie. They say you are a spot among Christians; and that religion fares the worse for your ungodly conversation; that some already have stumbled at your wicked ways, and that more are in danger of being destroyed thereby. Your religion, and an ale house, and covetousness, and uncleanness, and swearing, and lying, and vain company keeping, etc., will stand together. The proverb is true of you which is said of a whore, to wit, that "she is a shame to all women": so you are a shame to all professors. Talkative: Since you are ready to take up reports, and to judge so rashly as you do, I cannot but conclude you are some peevish or melancholy man, not fit to be discoursed with: and so adieu! Christian: Then came up CHRISTIAN, and said to his brother, "I told you how it would happen: your words and his lusts could not agree; he had rather leave your company than reform his life. But he is gone--as I said: let him go; the loss is no man's but his own. He has saved us the trouble of going from him; for he continuing--as I suppose he will do--as he is, he would have been but a blot in our company; besides, the Apostle says, "From such withdraw thyself." Faithful: But I am glad we had this little discourse with him; it may happen that he will think of it again: however, I have dealt plainly with him, and so am clear of his blood if he perish.
And so the scene ends. In addition to our duties listed above, to examine ourselves regularly to see if we be in Christ, and to be faithful to our fellow man, to be sure he has not believed a false gospel; there are other applications as well. We certainly have a duty to be careful in our own idle conversations. We all will one day give an account for every idle word spoken. In this age of instant communication we also have the warning to be on the lookout for, and as for ourselves, not to be Bloggative of Blogging-row. One of the most quoted passages in the Bible is "Judge not. . .", the world loves it even more that John 3:16. The Christian needs to be reminded of his duty to be discerning. Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. John 7:24.