Monday, December 29, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Labor of Love"

Another Christmas song from "Behold the Lamb."

Here are the lyrics:

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David's town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love.

HT: Justin Taylor

"The Great Reversal"

A good meditation for Christmas Eve from Tullian Tchividjian.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"The Advent of Humility" by Tim Keller

Tim Keller's shares a meditation on the place of humility in the Christian life.

Here's an excerpt:

"Christian humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less, as C. S. Lewis so memorably said. It is to be no longer always noticing yourself and how you are doing and how you are being treated. It is 'blessed self-forgetfulness.'"

You can read the whole thing here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

"A Teasing Taste of What They Miss"

I was watching/listening to the the PBS presentation of a Christmas choral concert from Luther College tonight when I heard a song I'd never heard before. Unfortunately I didn't catch the name of the song (or the composer or lyricist), but it include these compelling lines (addressed, I believe, to the angels):

Give earth a teasing taste of what they miss...
Sing of endless bliss; sing of endless bliss...
Sing 'God is love'....

That's beautiful, Biblical truth.

The Pattern of the Gospel

“Think it out! The only way for Jesus to get us out of our spiritual poverty and into spiritual riches was to get out of his spiritual riches into spiritual poverty. This should now be the pattern of your life. Give your resources away and enter into need so that those in need will be resourced.”

- Timothy Keller, The Gospel and the Poor
posted at "Of First Importance"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"O Come, O Come Emmanuel"

Gabe Scott, Kyle Reeder, Andrew Osenga, and Marcus Myers play an instrumental version of "O Come, O Come Emannuel" from "Behold the Lamb of God" at the Ryman Auditorium.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Characteristics of the Gospel

From D.A. Carson's keynote address delivered at The Gospel Coalition's first conference in May 2007. Carson clarifies the gospel from 1 Cor 15:1–19 with eight summarizing words...

  1. Christological: The gospel centers on the person and work (the life, death, and resurrection) of Jesus Christ.
  2. theological: The gospel tells us that sin is first and foremost an offense against God and that salvation is first to last the action of God, not our own.
  3. biblical: The gospel is essentially the message of the whole Bible.
  4. apostolic: The gospel is passed on to us by Jesus' disciples as authoritative eyewitnesses.
  5. historical: The gospel is not philosophy or advice on how to find God, but rather news of what God has done in history to find and save us.
  6. personal: The gospel must be personally believed and appropriated.
  7. universal: The gospel is for every tongue, tribe, people, and individual.
  8. eschatological: The gospel includes the good news of the final transformation, not just the blessings we enjoy in this age.

Friday, December 19, 2008

"The Gospel and the Poor" by Pastor Tim Keller

Tim Keller is senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, NY and an adjunct professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

He introduces his essay this way:

"The original question I was asked to address was "How does our commitment to the primacy of the gospel tie into our obligation to do good to all, especially those of the household of faith, to serve as salt and light in the world, to do good to the city?" I will divide this question into two parts: (1) If we are committed to the primacy of the gospel, does the gospel itself serve as the basis and motivation for ministry to the poor? (2) If so, how then does that ministry relate to the proclamation of the gospel?"

You can read the whole thing here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"The Devil's Latest Marketing Guise"

An essay from Mark Galli, of "Christianity Today." Here's an excerpt:

"Why would a church—a place that is supposed to be characterized by genuineness and humility—ask a group of "savvy professionals" to help it? Isn't there something in the New Testament about the gospel subverting the wisdom of the wise? Is it possible for "savvy professionals" to understand what a church is really about?

"Is worship that is practiced 'secretly,' with the goal of 'assessing' the 'experience on a very objective and non-emotional level' really worship of God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth? Can one truly enter into a worshipping community objectively, secretly, and without emotion? Worship is not about judging the 'worship experience,' but about putting oneself humbly before God to be judged and forgiven by him. "

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

John Newton On How Faith Faces Trials

Concerning a believer, Newton writes, "...his faith upholds him under all trials, by assuring him, that every painful dispensation is under the direction of his Lord; that chastisements are a token of his love; that the season, measure, and continuance of his sufferings, are appointed by Infinite Wisdom, and designed to work for his everlasting good; and that grace and strength shall be afforded him, according to his need.

"Thus, his heart being fixed, trusting in the Lord, to whom he has committed all his concerns; and knowing that his best interests are safe; he is not greatly afraid of evil tidings, but enjoys a stable peace in the midst of a changing world. For, though he cannot tell what a day may bring forth, he believes that he who has invited and enabled him to cast all his cares upon him, will allow nothing to befall him but what shall be made subservient to his chief desire—the glory of God in the sanctification and final salvation of his soul.

"And if, through the weakness of his flesh, he is liable to be startled by the first impression of a sharp and sudden trial, he quickly flees to his strong refuge, remembers it is the Lord's doing, resigns himself to his will, and patiently expects a happy outcome."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Letters of John Newton available online

I came across a website that includes, among other things, the letters of John Newton (the pastor who wrote the lyrics for "Amazing Grace"). Newton's letters are filled with Biblical wisdom applied with pastoral care and precision to real-life situations.

Here is just a brief excerpt from one of the letters:

"It is not only plain, from the general tenor of Scripture, that a covetous, a proud, or a censorious spirit, is no more consistent with the spirit of the Gospel, than drunkenness or whoredom; but there are many express texts directly pointed against the evils which too often are found among professors.

"Thus the Apostle James assures us, 'That if any man seems to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, his religion is vain;' and the Apostle John, 'That if any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him;' and he seems to apply this character to any man, whatever his profession or pretenses may be, 'who having this world's goods, and seeing his brother have need, shuts up his compassion from him.'

"Surely these texts more than intimate, that that faith which justifies the soul, does likewise receive grace from Jesus, whereby the heart is purified, and the life regulated as befits the Gospel of Christ."

"The Measure of Our Growth or Decay in Grace"

“If I have observed anything by experience, it is this: a man may take the measure of his growth and decay in grace according to his thoughts and meditations upon the person of Christ, and the glory of Christ’s Kingdom, and of His love.”

- John Owen, quoted in A Puritan Golden Treasury complied by I. D. E. Thomas (Carlisle, Pa.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 184.
posted at "Of First Importance"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"We are not mushrooms, but oaks..."

“Remember, the growth of a believer is not like a mushroom—but like an oak, which increases slowly indeed—but surely.

"Many suns, showers, and frosts, pass upon it before it comes to perfection. And in winter, when it seems to be dead—it is gathering strength at the root.

"Be humble, watchful, and diligent in the means, and endeavor to look through all, and fix your eye upon Jesus—and all shall be well."

—John Newton, Letters of John Newton (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth: 2007)
Grace Gems)
posted at "Of First Importance"

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Why Theology Matters to Christian Musicians"

Bob Kauflin, director of worship development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, is one of the most helpful thinkers and communicators when it comes to seeing the relationship between theology, worship and music. Here's an excerpt from his recent post, "Why Theology Matters to Christian Musicians":

Three reasons why theology should matter to Christian musicians.

1. You’re already a theologian. Every Christian, musical or otherwise, is already a theologian. The question is, are you a good theologian or a bad one? We’re good theologians if what we say and think about God lines up with what Scripture says and affirms. We’re bad theologians if our view of God is vague, or if we think God doesn’t really mind sin, or is we see Jesus as a good example and not a Savior, or if we our god is too small to overcome evil or too big to care about us.

2. God reveals himself primarily through words, not music. Because we’ve encountered God profoundly during times of musical worship, we can wrongly start assuming that words restrict the Spirit, while music enables us to experience God in fresh and powerful ways. If God had wanted us to know him primarily through music, the Bible would be a soundtrack, not a book. Music affects and helps us in many ways, but it doesn’t replace truth about God. By itself, music can never help us understand the meaning of God’s self-existence, the nature of the Incarnation, or Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Simply put, truth outlasts tunes.

3. Being good theologians makes us better musicians.
Theology teaches us what music is meant to do.
Theology teaches us that worship is more than music.
Theology teaches us that Jesus is better than music.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" -- a hymn for Christmas

"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence"

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage [reverent devotion] to demand.

King of kings,
yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Words: Li­tur­gy of St. James, 4th Cen­tu­ry trans­lat­ed from Greek to Eng­lish by
Gerard Moultrie, 1864.
Music: Pi­car­dy, French car­ol mel­o­dy; har­mo­ny from The Eng­lish Hymn­al, 1906, num­ber 318

The Lordship of Christ at Christmas-time

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." -- Luke 2:11

Christmas is a time when Jesus will be called “Lord” again and again in songs that are sung in Christmas programs and productions. But Jesus himself said that it is pointless to keep calling him “Lord” while not doing what is pleasing to him (Lk.6:46; cp. Matt. 7:21-23).

And how do we know what is pleasing to the Lord? How do we know what he wills, including what his will is for the church at Christmas time, when it comes to the church’s worship and witness? We know the will of God through the Word that he inspired.

The Lord Jesus is clear when it comes to what his will is for the church’s mission and task in the world. We are to faithfully and accurately urgently proclaim the true Gospel message, and teach people, from the Bible, who God is, and what he requires of us.

The Church has been entrusted with the Gospel message, and commissioned with the task of proclaiming it to everyone on every occasion (2 Tim.4:1ff.).

And the Church is to be very concerned about guarding the Gospel, and getting the message right when it comes to what we proclaim to the world – and that includes what we proclaim and communicate through song. It is no better to sing a heresy than to preach one. It’s just as bad to teach a false idea about God in a song as it is in a sermon. But today many Christian musicians seem to expect quite a bit of leeway when it comes to whether or not what they say about God in song is actually true, which is to say, Scriptural.

But such an expectation is illegitimate. One of the ways that “the word of Christ” (the message from Him and about Him) is to dwell in us richly (Col.3:16) is in the church’s songs and singing. Christian music should be all about communicating the word of God, the true message about Jesus Christ.

Naturally, the Devil is totally opposed to this. We make a huge mistake if we think the Devil is going to be obvious and simple-minded in his efforts to corrupt the church and to throw it off course from its God-given mission and purposes. For in fact the Bible makes it clear that the Devil and his demons are Scripture-quoting impersonators of true angels and true prophets and faithful ministers. (Matt. 4:6; Matt. 7:15; 2 Cor. 11:3-5, 14-15).

So expect the Devil to work through people who claim to be representing and working for Jesus – he will work through those who quote the Bible, and who sound very pious and religious.
God’s people, beginning with their pastors, are supposed to be discerning about all this. And they’ve been given the Bible, God’s infallible Word, to enable them for this discernment. But we live in a time when personal preference and emotionalism and a craving to be entertained even at church trumps a careful attention to the Word of God in Scripture (2 Tim.4:1-5).

Among other things, this has led to a growing worldliness in the Church. The faithful church used to be worried about becoming worldly, but now very many in the church feel like they’re just too sophisticated to worry about that.

So again and again, especially it seems in the church’s music, we seek to have it both ways – trying to blend what is worldly and secular and sentimental and trivial, with what is godly and Spiritual and Scriptural and profound.

And so, for example, at Christmas time, you find singers singing songs that having nothing to do with Christ with what appears to be the same (manufactured?) emotion that they display when they are singing songs about the Lord in a worship service. Christian crooners sound the same, look the same, emote the same, whether they’re singing about the rugged cross, or about being home for Christmas. (Even more ironically, such emotionally agile performers are given credit for being more into their worshiping than others who may not be as good at switching their feelings on an off on musical cue.)

It appears that the Church is going to have to learn to step up again, and make the choice: Spirit or flesh, loving the world or loving the Lord.

And trying to decide by what’s right by what’s popular is a tragic, naïve mistake. Again, the standard for what ought to be done in the Lord’s name is the Word that the Lord gave to the church, not what most people (including even professedly Christian people) like and enjoy (2 Tim. 4:1-5).

Is it a good sign that the church is in good health when professing Christians find it entertaining and amusing when the sacred gospel themes and Biblical realities are trivialized through sentimentality and by being blended together in a program with the things of the world? Those who won’t go along are in the laughter are usually judged to be too severe, but maybe those doing the laughing need to be reminded that, given the urgency of the issues of the kingdom and the lostness of men, it’s possible to get the timing all wrong when it comes to laughing it up (cp. Luke 6:21,25).

Of course, the truth is, Jesus really is Lord, in ways more awesome and profound than the church today realizes. When the psalmist calls on us to ‘ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name’ he is summoning us to worship Him in a way that matches the majesty of who He is.

And so God is still seeking worshipers who will worship Him in the ways that are truly pleasing in His sight, led by the Spirit, guided by the Word (in Spirit and in truth – Jn.4:23-24). And one day we will all give an account for how we have worshiped, and led others to worship Him.

A True "Christmas Musical"

Philip Yancey provides a beautiful, comprehensive summary of Handel's classic oratorio, "Messiah."


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"King Jesus the Disguised"

Mark Galli, of "Christianity Today," shares a thoughtful reflection on what it means to call Jesus "King."

Here's an excerpt:

"...At other times, we think of King Jesus as British royalty, something akin to Queen Elizabeth the Figurehead. Americans remain fascinated with the English royal scene, especially the pomp and circumstance that goes with it. I still recall our country's enthusiasm for the wedding of Prince Charles and soon-to-be Princess Diana. It was a magnificent ceremony in one of the world's most magnificent cathedrals, St. Paul's. Some 750 million watched on TV, and millions of those were Americans glued to their sets in the wee hours of the morning. The apparel and music and liturgy were rich with color and texture and brilliance. We ate it up. We're so fascinated with British royalty, we even think the changing of the guards is pretty cool.

"But if Queen Elizabeth were to issue a directive, ordering us to pay taxes to help with the upkeep of Windsor Castle, we'd politely, or not so politely, decline: 'Are you kidding? Who do you think you are? We learned long ago—in 1776 to be exact—how to manage our lives without you.'

"This, of course, is a continuing temptation for those of us who love the 'pomp and circumstance' of worshipping King Jesus—both high-church Anglicans who relish fine robes, classical music, and exquisite liturgy and low-church Pentecostals mesmerized by praise choruses and miraculous gifts. But on Monday morning, when the very King we've worshiped taps us on the shoulder and says, 'How about forgiving that co-worker? Or giving up that nasty habit? Or volunteering at the food closet?' we're tempted to respond, 'Are you kidding? Who do you think you are? I learned long ago how to manage my life without your continual interference.' It's hard to honor and obey Jesus if we think of him as Queen Elizabeth the Figurehead...."

This Day and "That Day"

Another quote from Francis Chan's "Crazy Love":

"[People who are obessed with Jesus] are more concerned with obeying God than doing what is expected or fulfilling the status quo. A person who is obesessed with Jesus will do things that don't always make sense in terms of success or wealth on this earth. As Martin Luther put it, 'There are two days on my calendar: this day and that day [the day of judgment].'

(Luke 14:25-35; Matt.7:13-23; 8:18-22; Rev.3:1-6)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bible Memorization in 2009

From Justin Taylor:

Here's a handy printout with a good collection of suggested Bible passages to memorize--one a week for 2009.

Here's one of the more convicting things I've heard about the topic:

You may doubt that you can do this, especially if you are older. But ask yourself this question, If I offered you $1,000 for every verse you memorized in the next week, how many do you think you could memorize? Yet God says of his word in Psalm 19:10-11, "They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward." The real value of the word is far greater than $1,000 a verse. The question is, Do you believe this? Believing this will be the crucial motivation you need.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Telling God the Truth

Here’s a compelling excerpt from Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love”:

“If you merely pretend that you enjoy God or love Him, He knows. You can’t fool Him; don’t even try.

“Instead, tell Him how you feel. Tell Him that He isn’t the most important thing in this life to you, and that you’re sorry for that.

“Tell Him that you’ve been lukewarm, that you’ve chosen ______________ over Him time and again. Tell Him that you want Him to change you, that you long to genuinely enjoy Him.

“Tell Him how you want to experience true satisfaction and pleasure and joy in your relationship with Him. Tell Him that you want to love Him more than anything on earth. Thell Him you want to treasure the kingdom of heaven so much that you’d willingly sell everything in order to get it. Tell Him what you like about Him, what you appreciate, and what brings you joy.”

--Francis Chan, "Crazy for God" (David C. Cook)

More on the "True Meaning of Christmas"

Even among evangelical Christians there seems to be confusion about the true meaning of Christmas, as if our message during this season was little more than something like, "Don't be materialistic...but be nice to one another."

But that is not the Gospel (it sounds more like salvation by works). And the story and message of what was happening when Christ came is far profounder and richer. As Sinclair Ferguson writes,

"He was not conceived in the womb of Mary for those who had done their best, but for those who know that their best is "like filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6)--far from good enough--and that in their flesh dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). He was not sent to be the source of our good experiences, but to suffer the pangs of hell in order to be our Saviour."

-- Sinclair Ferguson, "In Christ Alone," p. 17.

This is an excerpt from the chapter "Santa Christ?" The first two chapters of "In Christ Alone" are available online here. (HT: Scott Clark; Martin Downes)

Quenching the Light of the Gospel

"It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel. It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity."

-- Frederic D. Huntington, Forum magazine, 1890. (cited by Francis Chan in the chapter "Profile of the Lukewarm" in "Crazy Love.")

Interview of Michael Wittmer

Justin Taylor interviews Michael Wittmer, author of Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Calvin: Respect for Scripture Shown in How We Handle It

"Such veneration we ought indeed to entertain for the Word of God, that we ought not to pervert it in the least degree by varying expositions; for its majesty is diminished, I know not how much, especially when not expounded with great discretion and with great sobriety.

"And if it be deemed a great wickedness to contaminate any thing that is dedicated to God, he surely cannot be endured, who, with impure or even unprepared hands, will handle that very thing, which of all things is the most sacred on earth.

"It is therefore an audacity, closely allied to a sacrilege, rashly to turn Scripture in any way we please, and to indulge our fancies as in sport; which has been done by many in former times."

-- John Calvin
Epistle Dedicatory to Romans

"Staying Encouraged in Ministry"

Tullian Tchividjian highlights a key excerpt from Darryl Dash's recent interview of Tim Keller. (See my previous post.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Excerpt from "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan

A friend pointed me to this good book from Francis Chan, "Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God" (David C. Cook) --

"The core problem isn't the fact that we're lukewarm, halfhearted, or stagnant Christians. The crux of it all is why we are this way, and it is because we have an inaccurate view of God. We see Him as a benevolent Being who is satisfied when people manage to fit Him into their lives in some small way. We forget that God never had an identity crisis. He knows that He's great and deserves to be the center of our lives. Jesus came humbly as a servant, but He never begs us to give Him some small part of ourselves. He commands everything from His followers."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Scripture Readings on “The True Meaning of Christmas”

Sadly, even in Bible-believing churches there seems to be an increasing confusion about ‘the true meaning of Christmas’ – so I thought it worthwhile to let the Scriptures speak for themselves:

Matthew 1:
18This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us."

Charles Spurgeon on Theological Decline

“It is a great grief to me that hitherto many of our most honoured friends in the Baptist Union have, with strong determination, closed their eyes to serious divergencies from truth. I doubt not that their motive has been in a measure laudable, for they desired to preserve peace, and hoped that errors, which they were forced to see, would be removed as their friends advanced in years and knowledge.

“But at last even these will, I trust, discover that the new views are not the old truth in a better dress, but deadly errors with which we can have no fellowship….”

– cited by Iain Murray in “The Forgotten Spurgeon” (Banner of Truth) p. 152.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"The Charity of Clarity" by Michael Wittmer

Mike Wittmer, author of the new and important book, "Don't Stop Believing" (Zondervan) has an excellent post on his blog about the charity of clarity (when it comes to one's theological commitments). Here's an excerpt:

"Conservatives increasingly are asking key Christian leaders to clearly say what they believe: must you believe something to be saved? Is hell for real and forever? Is the Bible a revelation from God? Does Scripture teach that homosexual practice is sin?

"Many leaders duck these questions, often answering with another question, saying that these are the wrong questions to ask, or questioning the motive of the person who asked it.

"Here is my question: which person in this scenario does not love his neighbor? Many assume it is the one raising the question, for she appears to be the aggressor, putting the leader on the spot. I propose it is the obfuscating leader, for muddying the waters on purpose demonstrates disrespect for the listener. Teachers who love their students, pastors who love their people, and authors who love their readers take care to nourish their faith with truth. Those who conceal their actual beliefs (or bury them in the endnotes) likely care more about their own careers than the followers who depend on them for guidance.

"It is not unloving to ask these leaders to clearly spell out what they believe. Considering the stakes involved, it would be unloving—both to them and to their followers—not to."

OT Sermons for the Christmas Season

Justin Taylor provides a few examples from Ralph Davis.

The Real Truth of the True Christmas Story

"The Scriptures systematically strip away the veneer that covers the real truth of the Christmas story. Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil (Matt. 1:21; 1 John 3:8b).

-- Sinclair Ferguson

"Santa Christ"

Sinclair Fergsuon on the "Santa Claus Christianity" that threatens to infiltrate evangelical churches (and beyond), especially during the Christmas season:

"It is always easier to lament and critique the new paganism of secularism’s blatant idolatry than to see how easily the church—and we ourselves—twist or dilute the message of the incarnation in order to suit our own tastes. But, sadly, we have various ways of turning the Savior into a kind of Santa Claus.

"For one thing, in our worship at Christmas we may varnish the staggering truth of the incarnation with what is visually, audibly, and aesthetically pleasing. We confuse emotional pleasure—or worse, sentiment—with true adoration.

"For another thing, we may denigrate our Lord with a Santa Claus Christology. How sadly common it is for the church to manufacture a Jesus who is a mirror reflection of Santa Claus. He becomes Santa Christ.

"Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been 'good enough.' So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners...."

Read the whole thing, where Ferguson explains why the true Christ of Christmas "is a disturbing event of the deepest proportions."

HT: Justin Taylor

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Most Mis-represented Theologian?

To my mind, John Calvin is one of the most mis-represented and most misunderstood (usually by those who've never actually read him) theologians in church history. Here's a quote from an early chapter in his "Institutes" that gives a true sense of the thoroughly Biblical and pastoral quality of his writings (and preaching):

"For this sense of the divine perfections is the proper master to teach us piety, out of which religion springs. By piety I mean that union of reverence and love to God which the knowledge of his benefits inspires. For, until men feel that they owe everything to God, that they are cherished by his paternal care, and that he is the author of all their blessings, so that nought is to be looked for away from him, they will never submit to him in voluntary obedience; nay, unless they place their entire happiness in him, they will never yield up their whole selves to him in truth and sincerity."

("Institutes of the Christian Religion, ch.2")

"Is It Legitimate to Question God?"

A balanced reflection from Al Mohler.

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Glory to God in the highest...." (Right?)

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” (Lk. 2:14)

“Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God…” (1 Cor.10:31)

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” (Ps.115:1)

“We do not preach [present, promote] ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…” (2 Cor.4:5)

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

These Scriptural (or Scripture-based) statements are the essence, shape and structure of all true and God-pleasing Christianity (all Christian worship, proclamation, witness, work, ministry, mission, etc.)

And the order, the priority, is crucial: first comes the glory of God, from which flows salvation’s peace and joy for those who belong to him by faith. However, if you omit the glory of God, or even seek to reverse the order, then it all comes to nothing. Lose the priority of, and the focus on, glorifying God, and you have lost any possibility of bringing His salvation, peace and joy to men.

The glory of God is his attributes on display – to glorify him means to focus on Him (His attributes, works and ways) and then to respond in the doxology (praise) and devotion (practice of godliness) that accords with this manifested glory.

God must reveal himself and his glory if they are to be known and encountered by us. He does so in creation, and (perfectly) in His personal Word (His Son) and His inscripturated, inerrant Word (which comes by His Spirit).

To glorify God means to magnify Him, to make much of Him – always sticking to His own revelatory Word in Scripture since that is how He has chosen to now make Himself known.

Is the evangelical church truly committed to this absolutely fundamental principle – a commitment that consistently shows itself in the actual programmatic choices that are made for ministry, worship, witness and mission?

Will we make much of Christ – His glorious person and saving work – in what we do as church this Christmas? Will our events and programs and services focus on Him, tell His Story, proclaim Him and the Good News about His saving work through His incarnation, proclamation, His atoning death and victorious resurrection?

If we are not focusing on God, proclaiming Him, making much of Him to others, we are not glorifying Him. And if we are not glorifying Him – whatever else we may be doing, attaching His name to our activity – we are sinning.

World AIDS Day

For a multi-media tour of what it is like to have AIDS as a child in Africa, click here. (from WorldVision)

HT: Justin Taylor