"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Sunday, December 31, 2006

End of the Year, Semi-Political Quasi-Rant

At this time every year, TV's, radios, and the internet are filled with lists, reviews, and retrospectives for the year that is ending. On one such program that was reviewing news from Country music (give me a break - I live in a small town in a farming state), there was one piece that rubbed an old sore spot with me - celebrities and politics.

Who Bought that Soap Box, Anyway?

This particular sore spot deals with the Dixie Chicks. Now, if somehow you have not heard of the Dixie Chicks, feel free to google them, but here's the story. Three women formed what turned into one of Country Music's powerhouse acts. At least for a while. About two years ago, tDC decided to go public with their feelings about President Bush.

Let me pause here for a moment. I believe that everyone has a right in this country to speak freely about the government and the people who make up the government. Free speech is a cornerstone of our republic. Therefore, I will defend the right of any individual to say what they want about our leaders. But just because I have the right to do something, doesn't always mean it is the right thing to do.

There are a couple of things with this particular situation that just are not right in my book. First, tDC chose to make these statements in jolly old England, not here. All the family may know that Uncle Harry's a screwball, and we may discuss it between ourselves, but we don't discuss it with strangers. My impression of what tDC were doing with this statement was less about politics and more about opportunism. They sensed that they could win support there by bashing a US President that was not popular there. But even if that were not the case, save your criticisms for the people who actually get to make the decisions (U.S. citizens). Its just the right thing to do.

Second, and worse, is the celebrity aspect. See, tDC have a platform to speak not because they articulated a political viewpoint and were supported for that viewpoint. They are popular because a group of people, with diverse backgrounds and political persuasions, like(d) their music. But then tDC (and many other celebrities today) used that popularity to make political statements.

Ever Heard of "New Coke"

Of course, a fair amount of the Country Music audience tends to be more conservative and therefore took offense to tDC's statements. From a marketing standpoint, this was like "New Coke". Your core customers aren't going to like it, and your "new" fans prefer something else anyway. The backlash against tDC was quick and massive.

Think for just a second. The question is, if I'm just an average fan who listens to tDC on the radio and buys their CDs, how do I make myself heard? How do I let the world know that tDC does not speak for me, even if I did help buy the soap box? It's called a boycott.

Fans boycotted shows, smashed CDs, and demanded that radio stations stop playing tDC. Fans did the only things fans could do to show that they did not endorse the political statement tDC were making. The seemingly inevitable cry of "censorship" started to be heard.

It is not censorship. If President Bush had outlawed the playing of tDC music, that would be censorship. When fans call for a boycott of buying tDC music, or boycotting radio stations that play tDC music, it is not censorship. What is interesting, of course, is that no one ever calls the anti-fur lobby picketing a Ted Nugent concert censorship. But that's what many called picketing of tDC shows. But I digress. (Let me go on the record here as saying threats of physical harm or death - which tDC apparently received - were totally and completely out of line. Again, I think their statements lacked wisdom and prudence, but we all have the right to make complete idiots of ourselves if that's what we want - I do it all the time.)

This Year

After taking a break for a year or so, tDC released a new album this year. The first single and video was "Not Ready to Make Nice" which, you can probably guess without ever having listened to it, spoke to their unwillingness to "back down" (their words). But with whom were they "not ready to make nice?" It seems clear this could only be addressed to their former fans who had parties smashing their CD's and calling for boycotts of radio stations that played their music. The single was wildly hailed by the MSM, and they have been nominated for several Grammy's.

Which brings me a long way around to what caused this post. I saw the video shortly after it was released and after that allowed tDC to drop off the radar. Given the changing sentiments in this country about President Bush and the war in Iraq, I figured tDC were again riding a wave of opportunity. The MSM, at least, seemed sure that CD and tour would be a success.

Apparently not. The show I saw mentioned that many concert dates in the south had to be canceled for lack of ticket sales. One of tDC stated (and this is what really got me) that they just wanted everyone to forget the past and let them play music.

Hello? Is there anybody in there? You're not ready to make nice, remember? The irony here is if they had come out with something like "Wide Open Spaces" or "Goodbye Earl" many (though not all, I know) Country fans probably would have warmly received them. But they choose a confrontational approach and apparently were surprised when the fan base reacted negatively. You cannot have it both ways. It was tDC, not the fans, who first made the past and issue for this tour.


A wise man once wrote: "A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger." (Proverbs 15:1 NASB'95) How many times in my own life have I had the harsh word, then wondered why I got an angry response? I'm not really all that different than tDC. I'm sure that there are blind spots in my own life that cause me to overlook what is obvious to others. Be friend - if you see such a thing in 2007 (or in reflecting on 2006), let me know. Just be sure to be gentle.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

More Favorite Hymns - It Is Well with My Soul

It Is Well with My Soul seems to be one of the best loved of the old hymns, perhaps because we can relate to the grief out of which it was born. Many people know the story of Spafford losing his children when a boat sank. This song was written during his journey to be with his wife (who had been on the same ship as the children).

While many CCM artists have recorded this hymn, my favorite is by Audio Adrenaline (a duet with Jennifer Knapp) on the Underdog CD.

As is common with older hymns, there are two stanzas here I have not typically heard sung. It is interesting (and sad) that we don't include many of these verses in our hymnals anymore, and when we do sing the hymn, we don't even sing all the stanzas that are included. This, I think, we do to our poverty.
It Is Well with My Soul

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Tho' Satan should buffet, tho' trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I'm not much for pictures on the site, much less video, but if you've not seen the following (HT: Justin Taylor), you really should watch it. Then in February go see the movie.

Also, if you don't know anything about William Wilberforce here would be a good place to start.

William Wilberforce stands in stark contrast to the blindness of many otherwise godly American Christians, particularly in the south, but by no means limited to the south, who refused to see modern slavery for the evil that it was. Piper in the link above quotes Wilberforce as saying of the slave trade: "If it please God to honor me so far, may I be the instrument of stopping such a course of wickedness and cruelty as never before disgraced a Christian country."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

QT: Calvin on Liberty and Offense

Quotation Tuesday - John Calvin on Christian liberty and offense to a weaker brother - from Book 3, Chapter 19, Section 11 (Beveridge translation):
I will here make some observations on offenses, what distinctions are to be made between them, what kind are to be avoided and what disregarded. This will afterwards enable us to determine what scope there is for our liberty among men. We are pleased with the common division into offense given and offense taken, since it has the plain sanction of Scripture, and not improperly expresses what is meant. If from unseasonable levity or wantonness, or rashness, you do any thing out of order or not in its own place, by which the weak or unskillful are offended, it may be said that offense has been given by you, since the ground of offense is owing to your fault. And in general, offense is said to be given in any matter where the person from whom it has proceeded is in fault. Offense is said to be taken when a thing otherwise done, not wickedly or unseasonably, is made an occasion of offense from malevolence or some sinister feeling. For here offense was not given, but sinister interpreters ceaselessly take offense. By the former kind, the weak only, by the latter, the ill-tempered and Pharisaical are offended. Wherefore, we shall call the one the offense of the weak, the other the offense of Pharisees, and we will so temper the use of our liberty as to make it yield to the ignorance of weak brethren, but not to the austerity of Pharisees. What is due to infirmity is fully shown by Paul in many passages. "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye." Again, "Let us not judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall, in his brother's way;" and many others to the same effect in the same place, to which, instead of quoting them here, we refer the reader. The sum is, "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification." elsewhere he says, "Take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling-block to them that are weak." Again "Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake." Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other." Finally, "Give none offense, either to the Jews nor to the Gentiles nor to the Church of God." Also in another passage, "Brethren, ye have been called into liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another." Thus, indeed, it is: our liberty was not given us against our weak neighbors, whom charity enjoins us to serve in all things, but rather that, having peace with God in our minds, we should live peaceably among men. What value is to be set upon the offense of the Pharisees we learn from the words of our Lord, in which he says, "Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind," (Matth. 15: 14) The disciples had intimated that the Pharisees were offended at his words. He answers that they are to be let alone that their offense is not to be regarded.

Monday, December 25, 2006

What Is Christmas About (Conclusion)

In John 12:41, after quoting two passages from Isaiah, John writes, "Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him." The first of the quotes from Isaiah is from Isaiah 53:1. This is one verse out of passage that referred to the "Suffering Servant". The entire passage is Isaiah 52:13-53:12:
13Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
14As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.

1 Who has believed what they heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Isaiah is the prophet who proclaims that the virgin will conceive and bear a son. Isaiah is the prophet who tells us that the Messiah shall be the mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. But not without suffering.

Every Christmas, gifts are exchanged. Sweaters for necklaces. Toys for cheap perfume and cologne. Unwanted items for cash (after an incredibly long wait in line). But Christmas is about what Martin Luther called the Great Exchange. Jesus takes my sin, and gives me His righteousness. Think about that for a second. Jesus bearing our sin that we might bear His righteousness. A crass application is that we shouldn't complain if we come out on the short end of a gift exchange this Christmas. The scales are already infinitely weighed against us.

But it is so much more than how we view the little gifts we exchange. God the Son took on human flesh, and died, that we might have life. Christmas is about the Great Exchange.

May you not only get what you want this Christmas, but what God knows that you need. Merry Christmas.

PS - Regarding Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (to be fair, I've not actually read the book, so perhaps Hollywood's A Christmas Carol would be more accurate): Why did I say this was the anti-Christmas story? Because from everything I can tell, it is a morality play. An older, more serious version of My Name Is Earl, if you will. A series of circumstances leads a "bad man" to be a "good man" by his own effort. While Christians should be moral, the message of Christmas is that we do not become "good men" by our own effort. Our goodness is based on the Great Exchange - sharing Christ's righteousness. Scrooge's change is great, from a human standpoint, but if all he did was change his outlook on life, he still goes to hell. If that makes me a Scrooge in your eyes, so be it. But don't think your New Year's resolutions are going to save you. Trust in Christ.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Favorite Carols - What Child Is This?

There is a different version of this carol than the one below, where the end of the first stanza becomes a chorus. Doing that, however, loses some wonderful words at the end of the second and third stanzas. So I'm presenting the older version here as found on Cyberhymnal.
What Child Is This?

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

PS - When I was a young heathen, my favorite Christmas songs were Silver Bells and Do You Hear What I Hear? What is missing from these songs is the substance of the carols that I now prefer to hear/sing. I'm not saying that they are bad, but they represent more of the culture we have built around Christmas than what the church intended to remember on Christmas day. Notice the references in What Child Is This? both to Jesus' kingship and to His cross. Those are the reasons Christmas is so important.

Enjoy the cultural celebration of Christmas, just don't forget why the Baby is so significant that we are still celebrating His birth over 2000 years later. Have a blessed Christmas.

What Is Christmas About (III)

When I was young(er), Christmas was all about the presents. I would shake the boxes and do all kinds of other things to try to figure out what I had gotten for Christmas. Heavy and odd shaped boxes were best, because it meant it wasn't clothes.

I still remember one Christmas when I wanted a new bicycle - a five speed. But there was nothing under the tree that remotely resembled a bicycle. By the time we opened presents, I resigned myself to not getting a bicycle. My birthday's in the spring, so a bicycle made more sense as a birthday gift. Sure, I was disappointed, but after opening presents I got busy playing.

It was around this time that Dad requested I go get a blanket out of the back of the station wagon (yep, Dad drove the 60's and 70's equivalent of a minivan pretty much the entire time I was growing up). I didn't want to go outside. There was some snow on the ground and I had new toys with which to play. But he insisted, so out I went. I'm not sure exactly when I realized that the blanket was covering my new bicycle, but I still remember the smile on Dad's face as a reflection of my joy. We were sharing a moment. That bicycle and the other presents are gone, but the shared memories and the shared connections with family still remain.

Christmas is about sharing

That's why at a relatively young age, I stopped having to be the first one to open my gifts, and started being the one who passed them out. Strange as it sounds to our society (Acts 20:35), "It is more blessed to give than to receive." When we exchange gifts, we are sharing something of ourselves with each other. And that's a good thing, because sharing is at the heart of what Christmas is about.

Whether we have the date right or not, Christmas celebrates Christ's birth. It is a commemoration of the Son of God sharing our nature. He is Immanuel, God with us, as I noted earlier. John (1:14) says "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." The anonymous author of Hebrews tells us (Hebrews 2:14-18) that:
14Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
We share in flesh and blood, so He became flesh and blood. He was made to be like us. Even though from eternity He had been with the Father, and equal to the Father, Jesus humbled Himself and shared in human flesh. Paul, in Philippians 2:5-11, says this about Jesus sharing our nature:
5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
God the Son continues to share our nature. He did not give up His human nature in the resurrection. He continues to have a human, albeit glorified, body. Christmas is about the divine sharing in humanity.

But Christmas is also about humanity sharing in Christ. Those who believe in Jesus share an inheritance with Him, that is true. But we do so because we share in His righteousness. Between His birth and His death, Jesus kept the Law perfectly. Unlike Adam, who failed to obey God, Jesus, the last Adam, obeyed God to the uttermost. Therefore, those who are in Christ have a righteousness (an alien and imputed righteousness) that makes us acceptable to God.

In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul says that "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Some might want to say that we "become" the righteousness of God, meaning that God changes us so that we do righteous deeds and are faithful. While everyone who comes to Christ is a new creation, that is not what Paul means here. That he intends us to understand this righteousness to be a shared righteousness with Christ can be seen in the first Corinthian epistle (1 Corinthians 1:30) where he writes, "He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption." Here Paul is clearly saying that Jesus is our righteousness and we are righteous because we share in His work. Let me emphasize this point: the Father looks on us and declares us righteous because we share in Christ.

Therefore, since Christmas is about God giving, God loving, and God sharing, I have just a few words of conclusion that I hope to post early Christmas morning.

Have a very blessed Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

What Is Christmas About? (II)

In the last post, I showed that Christmas is about giving - the Father giving the Son and the Son giving His life. All to reconcile scoundrels like me. I then posed the question why. Why would God do this? There are different ways we could answer that question (e.g. to display His glory) but in the context of this discussion, I would answer the question with the second thing with which Christmas is associated.

Christmas is about love

We give gifts to family and friends, or, to 'loved ones'. In other words, at its best, our giving at Christmas is an expression of love. Christmas is about love - that is, not just a noun connotating an emotion or feeling. There is a sense in which this is true, but more importantly Christmas is about loving - that is, acting for the benefit of another. For us as sinful fallen men, the former may more often be true of our actions. We give because of a warm affection for another person (or worse yet, out of obligation). But the first Christmas was about an act of love.

I direct you again to John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Why did the Father give the Son? Not because He saw anything in us worth saving. The reason for the sacrifice is in the heart of God, an expression of the love He has for us.

If that sounds harsh, hear the Apostle Paul's words on the subject (Romans 5:8): "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God's love is manifested not to righteous people. Not even to "nice" people, but to naughty people. To sinners. Paul goes on to say in Romans 5:10 that it was while we were enemies of God that we were reconciled to Him. We associate Christmas with being with people we like, and who like us. But Jesus came to a world that rejected Him (John 1:11 - "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.")

As a side note, some of you may know what that is like. You may be rejected by your own family. If so, take comfort that Jesus knows rejection as well. You need not walk through that valley alone, for He walked it before you did and knows your pain.

Do you see the depth of the Father's love. He did not send the Son to those who would welcome Him with open arms. In fact, after the birth of Jesus, Herod was so intent on seeing Him dead he killed every male child under two years old that was in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18). The Father's love was so great that He sent the Son to those who were His enemies.

And the Son came willingly. Just as the Father loves us, so also Jesus loves us. His love is a love that sacrifices for others. Not just some little sacrifice, but the sacrifice of His life. Jesus said (John 15:13), "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends." Jesus loved us to the point of dying in our place. He gave up His life that we might have life. He bore the Father's wrath for our sin that we might stand blameless in the Father's presence. That little baby in the manger came with the express purpose of hanging on a cross in my place.

But not just the the Father and the Son love us. The third person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit, loves us as well. Look again at Paul's words, this time in Romans 5:5, where the apostle writes, "and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." We see again giving, but now, after Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, we are given the Spirit.

See what this passage says about what the Spirit does. The Spirit is the instrument by which we experience the love of God. Jesus paid our the penalty of our sin that we might experience God's love. Yet it is the Spirit who is the active person of the Trinity in bestowing that love upon us. That is to say that it is the Spirit who in love transforms us from sinners to saints. Then He confirms His love by never leaving us, even though at times the Bible says we "quench" His work and even "grieve" Him. Still He comforts us and intercedes for us.

I said there were three terms that we associate with Christmas. I have discussed giving and loving. Next I want to discuss a term that may be less common than it once was, but has a very significant role in our understanding of Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

What Is Christmas About? (I)

Let's face it, while people in the west may still have some inkling of why Christmas is important to the church, by and large that has been lost in Santa Claus, reindeer, snowmen, and shopping (especially shopping). So they see a nativity scene and recognize that Christmas has something to do with the birth of Jesus (maybe). But why is that birth so significant? After all, He would live thirty years before He would start His earthly ministry.

To help answer that question (Why is this birth so significant?) I want to look at three common terms that are associated with Christmas. That they are associated with Christmas is great. But today, we have lost why they are associated with Christmas and have other ideas about why they are important. These ideas are all linked to the Christmas tradition of exchanging presents. By the time I'm done (Christmas morning, if the Lord wills) you will hopefully understand why Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is the anti-Christmas story.

Christmas is about giving

Children learn this early, though for many Christmas is actually about receiving. Sometime after Thanksgiving, a tree is brought into the house and decorated. Sometime after that, neatly (or not so neatly) wrapped packages begin to show up under the tree. Christmas presents. Gifts bought (or brought, if you use the Santa myth) for those who have been nice (and apparently the naughty too since people get gifts). But why did the idea of giving come to be associated with Christmas?

Because the Father gave the Son. The most famous verse of the Bible (John 3:16) says "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." The greatest gift ever given was the Father's gift to sinful man - His only begotten Son. Wrapped not in brightly colored paper, but in swaddling clothes. Not placed on display under a tree, but in a manger. Not a gift that we asked for, but the only gift that could meet our deepest need, the need for a savior.

This fact so amazed the Apostle John that he not only recorded it in his gospel, but also in his first epistle (1 John 4:9) where he wrote, "In this 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." Sent is another way of saying gave. We need to tell the world that the baby in a manger is significant because that was not just any baby, it was the incarnate Son of God given by the Father to save His people. The angel tells Joseph (Matthew 1:21) that "(Mary) will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

How would He save His people from their sins? By giving His life for them. Jesus told His disciples (Mark 10:45), "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." That little baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, had a purpose. Jesus came not primarily to show us how we should live, though He did that. He came not primarily to condemn the religious hypocrisy of that day, though He did that too. Jesus came with specific intent of dying, and not an easy death either.

The writers of the New Testament are very clear on this point. The cross was not a surprise to the Father or to Jesus. They did not fall back to plan B when the Jews would not receive Jesus as their Messiah. The cross was plan A and there was not plan B. Peter told the crowd at Pentecost (Acts 2:23) that "this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." Paul says at least three times that Jesus "gave Himself" for us (Galatians 1:4 - who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father; 1 Timothy 2:6 - who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time;
Titus 2:14 - who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.)

Christmas truly is about giving. It is about the Father giving the Son and the Son giving His life. All that we might be reconciled to God. But why would God do this? That has to be a cliff-hanger.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Few Quick Items

This isn't exactly a best of the blogs post, but there's some interesting stuff here.

Chris over at Not So Famous got this started by linking to this article about the top ten junk science stories of 2006. Great link.

Jonathan Moorhead has some excellent thoughts about why your blog (and mine) may be worthless.

Frank Lockwood has an update on Robert Tilton. I lived in Dallas during Tilton's peak, and have some interesting articles from the Dallas Morning News I might need to dig up if RT starts to become popular again. (HT: Thabiti Anyabwile)

Looking for an exciting computer game for Christmas? Check out Left Behind: Eternal Forces. Just don't get your theology for a computer game (or fictional books, for that matter). (HT: Shane Rosenthal)

Finally, police work is not always as exciting as it appears on TV.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Favorit Carols - O Little Town of Bethlehem

One of my favorite Christmas passages is Micah 5:2:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.

I like this carol (O Little Town of Bethlehem) in large part because it recalls this verse, the prophecy that this little town would be the birthplace of the Messiah.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in the dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wond’ring love.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today!
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel!

Logos Hymnal. 1995 (1st edition.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Random Thoughts

The following is pretty much worthless, but I've really been behind on blogging so I thought I'd put something up two days in a row just to prove that I could. My next stunt will be to put up two things that have at least some value . . .

I've had a little time this week to peruse some old haunts, otherwise known as the blogs on the right. Certain things became evident quickly. One, major bloggers are either much more dedicated to this than I, or they have more free time, or they are better managers of their time. Probably some combination of the first and the last.

Second, there's all kinds of interesting posts out there, but I'm sitting here beside a stack of books I'd like to read. How does one make a priority call. Blogs are nice in that, even the wordy ones, you can easily complete the post and, usually, the comments in a single sitting. But are blogs to serious writing what pop music is to classical music (that's a tenuous analogy for me because I really don't know much about classical music, except that it tends to be long)? Seriously though, do blogs allow us to do sound bite theology?

Third, two of the Pyro guys, among others, are talking about Blogger Beta. Now, I like my blog. Sure it is simple and plain. I don't have the graphics of the Pyro's, nor Centuri0n's stats, and don't get me started about Challies, but this is home. When I want to make a point, any break from the basic black and white makes the point stand out. But I know technology. The change is inevitable, like the tide.

Finally, we sure like certain topics, don't we? Months after Desiring God national conference M.D.'s name still shows up in posts, most frequently those who have a bone to pick. Maybe it's a legitimate bone; I just don't have the desire to read anymore about it. At this point, I don't see a blog post having a great amount of influence on anyone's opinion of Mark.

I'm probably just being grumpy.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Of Crosses and Incantations


Last week, while flying into Chihuahua City, prominently on display (at least for those seated on the same side of the plane as I) was a cross. Not an actual cross, but a lighted outline on the side of one of the many hills in the area. This cross could also be seen from certain parts of town at night.

Given that we are talking a largely Roman Catholic country, with a heaping helping of superstition added for good measure, I wondered what the intent of this cross was. Was it there merely as a reminder of the sacrifice of Christ? If so, then I don't know that I would have much problem with the display. But I wondered if perhaps it was more of a talisman. Something to help ward off evil spirits. Was this cross placed here more as a magical object, like something people wore around their necks in the old vampire movies?


I didn't have long to think about this before we started banking to line up the landing. It was at that point that I began my ritual prayer. I'm not one of those people who are terrified of flying (like Earl on last week's episode), but I do tend to be a little anxious, particularly during take-offs and landings. A fair part of this concern is not having any control in the situation. In a plane, you are truly along for the ride. So, in the past, I developed a habit of praying during take-off and as we descend for landing.

Now, if you do the same, God bless you (particularly if you are on a flight with me). But I had been thinking about how superstitious a cross on the side of a hill was, and I realized that my prayers had become little more than an incantation to invoke God's favor. I was not in the least seeking to glorify God and have communion with Him. I was trying to bind Him into making sure we didn't crash.

Now, I'm not saying you should not pray for a safe flight. Nor do I want you (or me) to stop giving thanks when God brings us safely to our destination. But I realized I needed to be willing to say to God that I turned the entire trip over to Him. That regardless of the result, that I wanted my life to glorify Him. I want my relationship with God to be more than the relationship I could have with a genie in a bottle, and I don't just mean I want more than three wishes. I want the wishes (aka - supplications) to be a minor part of my prayer life, whether I'm on a plane or on the ground.

See, the reason I could identify superstition in placing a cross on a hill is because it's in me. I have my own talismans and incantations. I may not display them as prominently, but they are in my life. But I long for more than a rote religious experience with God.

I'm not talking about some deep spiritual encounter here (though that would be great, I don't see a Biblical warrant for expecting such until my plane does crash, if you know what I mean). I am talking about knowing Him by the Spirit through His word and having real communion with Him in prayer.

So it's not that I stopped praying during take-offs and landings, but I tried to alter the nature of the prayer. I still prayed for a safe, uneventful flight. And I gave thanks when we taxied to the gate. But I tried to examine my motives, and I tried to leave my anxieties in God's capable hands. I tried to acknowledge that since He is in control, I don't have to be.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Favorite Carols - O Come All Ye Faithful

I've been sick and traveling, so this blog has been neglected for most of the last couple of a weeks. I'm still fighting the flu, but hopefully will be back to posting more regularly in the next week.

There seems to be an "O" theme here that I really did not think about when beginning this series on carols. I'm not sure if it is significant or not. The following version of O Come All Ye Faithful includes verses I'm not used to singing, but which I wish we would.
O Come All Ye Faithful

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,
Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father, begotten, not created;

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest;

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

See how the shepherds, summoned to His cradle,
Leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze;
We too will thither bend our joyful footsteps;

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Lo! star led chieftains, Magi, Christ adoring,
Offer Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
We to the Christ Child bring our hearts’ oblations.

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,
We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Favorite Carols - O Holy Night

If you look up O Holy Night on Cyberhymnal, you will find a different, though perhaps more familiar version of this carol. However, my preference is for this version of the carol, which puts greater emphasis on Jesus and the wonder of the incarnation.

O Holy Night

O holy night! the stars are brightly shining—
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and darkness pining—
Till He appeared, gift of infinite worth!
Behold the Babe in yonder manger lowly—
’Tis God’s own Son come down in human form:
Fall on your knees before the Lord most holy!
O night divine—O night when Christ was born!
O night divine—O night, O night divine!

With humble hearts we bow in adoration
Before this Child, gift of God’s matchless love,
Sent from on high to purchase our salvation—
That we might dwell with Him ever above.
What grace untold—to leave the bliss of glory
And die for sinners guilty and forlorn:
Fall on your knees! repeat the wondrous story!
O night divine—O night when Christ was born!
O night divine—O night, O night divine!

O day of joy, when in eternal splendor
He shall return in His glory to reign,
When ev’ry tongue due praise to Him shall render,
His pow’r and might to all nations proclaim!
A thrill of hope our longing hearts rejoices,
For soon shall dawn that glad eternal morn:
Fall on your knees! with joy lift up your voices!
O night divine—O night when Christ was born!
O night divine—O night, O night divine!

Logos Hymnal. 1995 (1st edition.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.