Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Fullness of the Time

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

This to me sums up the perfection and purpose of the incarnation of Christ, which we celebrate this season. The birth of Christ was not a randomly timed event, not a chance happening, not a divine Plan B. Far from any of those, it was according to the fore-ordained plan of God the Father. The timing of the the birth of the Messiah was just right, it was planned and executed by God "when the fullness of the time came." For thousands of years, God had been preparing His people, the world, the entire universe for the time when He would enter that creation in Person. At just the right time, the time He Himself had chosen before the foundation of the world.

And we see here the purpose of the incarnation as well. It's right after the "so that" in the passage. To redeem the people of His own choosing, who were condemned by ("under") His perfect Law. And to what end? So that those people might be adopted into His eternal family as children. To receive the rights and privileges of sonship to the Most High God. Incredible grace.

As we celebrate Christmas, remember the perfection of timing of the first advent of Christ. Remember the perfection of purpose of His coming. And remember the privileged relationship those of us who have trusted in His Gospel enjoy.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Monopoly Afternoon

While sequestered indoors this afternoon due to the cold and wind outside, we decided to play a game of Monopoly. I really don't like games like this, that tend to go on and on and on and... Well, anyway, I and my three children decided to play. And as we played, it was interesting to me to see how the game brings out the best - and worst - in everyone who plays it.

Of course, the objective of the game is to amass the most money and property, while at the same time oppressing your opponents. And inevitably, someone will gain more wealth and property than the others, although usually in our games more out of sheer circumstances rather than due to skill or strategy. And today, that fat cat player was daughter Hannah. Our 12 year old material girl. And what effect did having those stacks of cash have on her demeanor? What was her response when one of us lesser beings landed on her property with the hotels? Sheer, unadulterated greed. She reminded us continually of how rich she was, and reveled in our misery, like when one of us had to mortgage properties to pay her off. Now, my little princess is not like this all the time. But like I said, Monopoly tends to magnify and reveal people's attitudes towards money and power. It was a good reminder that I need to be modeling for her godly and Biblical attitudes towards material things, and be teaching her in the ways of grace and stewardship and servanthood.

So what about the other two kids? Well, it did the same for them. Middle son Matt, the creative but somewhat scatter-brained 15 year old, exhibited his usual challenges with just keeping track of his money and properties. But he did OK. And the oldest Mike, being more mature and wiser, even showed grace to his opponents on a few occasions. And I guess I was somewhere in between.

Like I said, Monopoly tends to expose our attitudes towards wealth and power. So what have your experiences been playing this game?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Yearly Seasonal Tribune

A little behind the curve this year, but just sent out the email version of our yearly family Christmas greeting & newsletter. For the few of you who read this blog on a semi-regular basis and that aren't on our email list, you can view the aforementioned letter here. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Breaking News: Church Following Biblical Mandate

I just came across this news item about a woman in Florida who is upset because her church is disciplining her due to her unrepentant sexual relationship with a man outside of marriage. Now, let me say at the outset that it's very hard to tell if this particular church in this specific situation is pursuing the Matthew 18 process of believer's discipline correctly from this story. The narrative of events in the article is only given from the woman's point of view, with little if any response from the pastor or elders of the church. However, there's nothing in the letter from the church leaders included in the article that would indicate that they haven't got the process right and are following the Biblical mandate correctly. She's been dealt with individually, by a larger group, and now the matter is going to be "told to the church." Having been involved in more than one of these situations as an elder I can testify that they are never easy, mechanical or entered into lightly. And they are always a last resort. I have to assume that the church in question is engaging this process in this spirit.

But all this aside, the thing that really amazes me is that this is a news story at all. Here we have what looks to be a local church that is Word-focused and Christ-centered, and is doing what true local churches must do from time to time. Of course, we can't expect the culture at large or the media to understand this, to them this is just another instance of Christian intolerance and hatred, rather than the act of love that the Bible calls discipline of this kind. And of course, the culture around us has no category called "sin", thus making the need to confront and address sin in the body of believers that much more irrelevant. But that alone doesn't make this newsworthy, does it? No, I think what makes this stand out and show up on Fox News is that this is such a rare occurrence. It's an anomaly, an enigma, an anachronism is these days of seeker-sensitive and socially-responsible churches. If all the Bible-believing churches in the country were exercising discipline like this where and when needed (hopefully not often), this wouldn't be news at all. But alas, that's not the case.

So here we have a church ostensibly carrying out the Biblical mandate on it's leadership to keep the body holy and follow the Christ-commanded process for doing so. And it's national news! That alone seems to be a sad indictment of the state of the American evangelical church. But then, it's also just a symptom of the findings in a recent report commented on today by Al Mohler. Most of the people who are in American evangelical churches and profess Christ have no understanding of the Gospel of Christ by which they claim to be saved.

Which raises another question. If so many professing Christians in our churches don't really believe the essentials of the Gospel - are they really Christians? And are our churches really churches? Questions to consider another day...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Silent Evangelism"?

In writing yesterday's post about keeping Christ in Christmas, I came across this web site run by a chapter of the Knights of Columbus (a Roman Catholic paramilitary organization :-O) promoting the sale of the magnets I've seen so many of locally the past few weeks. Apparently this KC chapter sells these magnets in bulk to be used in local church fund raising efforts. And here's what their website says about the program:
Now, I'm not going to comment on the propriety of this kind of fund raising approach, or even on the contradiction in terms that "evangelization" (is that even a real word?) and "Roman Catholic" are. There are so many ways that this whole thing is just...wrong. But what I am going to comment on is the notion of there being such a category as "silent evangelism."

Is there such a thing in the Biblical model of evangelism? Do we see any evidence in the Scriptures of the silent communication of the evangel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Is that even possible? Methinks not. The Gospel is always seen in the Biblical narrative as something to be communicated with words, as a propositional truth to be proclaimed and witnessed to.

Of course, it's really popular these days in evangelical circles to talk about "witnessing with our lives." A form of silent evangelism, so to speak. Of course, we are called by Christ as His people to live holy lives, to conduct ourselves in a manner that honors and glorifies Him. A life marked by sin and unholiness makes our claims of knowing Christ ring hollow to a skeptical world. But has a life lived in silent godliness capable of communicating the truth of the Gospel of Christ? It can certainly be a testimony to the reality of salvation, of the changed life true faith brings. But apart from a clear testimony of the reason behind that changed life, namely the new birth that comes through God's grace, there's no possibility of salvation. No one will ever be saved from their sin apart from an understanding of the essential truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And these truths must be communicated, testified to, proclaimed.

In fact, the whole idea of "witnessing with our life" seems to miss the entire point of the Gospel. Because the Gospel is not a life-improvement strategy, or a self-help program, or a means to live a more moral life. But if all we ever "witness" with is our lives, that's the message we give. That's what people will be drawn to. A life well lived by faith in the Son of God may be something God uses in His pursuit of sinners. But it is only the truth of the Gospel, communicated in words and not in silence, that will save anyone.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Happy Holidays Musings

With the advent of the Advent season, we once again are faced with the controversies due to referring to the Christmas season as the “holidays”. Retailers, media, you name it – the use of the term “Christmas” seems to be in full retreat. And of course, we evangelical Christians get our stockings all in a knot over this politically correct rejection of the true name and meaning of the holiday, because the name of Christ contained in it is intentionally avoided by the politicHuh? I didn't know He left!ally correct speech police. We seem to see them everywhere, from government leaders who won’t allow manger scenes displayed on public property, to overly sensitive public school administrators expunging any Christmas references from children's programs, to threats of boycotts against retailers who opt for generic holiday terminology in place of Christmas. And then there’s the perennial “Keep Christ in Christmas” campaign that seems to be even more prevalent this year, as I see many cars with these magnetic signs attached. More pop-Christian kitsch.

Now, I am not a fan of politically correct speech rules that are so often applied to remove any reference to anything Christian from the public square or the marketplace. In fact, this so-called “tolerance” movement results in the least-tolerant, most exclusionary exchange of ideas in public discourse in the US and the West as a whole that has ever been seen. We do in fact live in a country that enjoys religious freedom of expression, and we as Christians should exercise that right in every way that is appropriate, that the name of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ be made known.

But why is it that we get so cranked up about the name of Christ being ignored at Christmas? I mean, we don’t make any real issue of the unbelieving and anti-Christian world around us ignoring Him, in fact blaspheming Him and His followers the rest of the year. What is it about Christmas that brings out the defender of the faith, or at least the name of Jesus, in so many Christians? Could it be that we feel like Christmas is the one of “our” celebrations that the unbelieving world has always nominally participated in, and now that they are turning into something it’s not we’re upset? I don’t know, but it’s interesting to me.

But let’s think a bit deeper about what we mean when we exhort the world to “keep Christ in Christmas.” Is it more than just retaining the use of the name Christmas rather than “the holidays”? Is it keeping a focus on the birth of Christ as the “reason for the season”, rather than the mass commercial event that it’s become? My point is that even if the largely un-Christian world starts using the term “Christmas” for the holiday, even if those who celebrate Christmas do so with an increased recognition that it is a celebration of Jesus’ birth, how does that really honor Him? How does a sentimental celebration of the birth of Jesus, apart from an understanding of the Person of Christ and the work of Christ, accomplish anything of eternal value? How does that advance His agenda, the Gospel of Christ? How can unbelieving, spiritually dead people giving nominal assent to the name of Jesus and the event that supposedly is celebrated at Christmas be pleasing to God? The plain truth is, they can’t. And if our expectation as evangelical Christians is that this superficial recognition of the name of Jesus somehow glorifies God, or is in any way a testimony or witness to the Gospel, then we are deluding ourselves.

The bottom line is this: the reason we want to “keep Christ in Christmas” in this way is to make ourselves feel more comfortable with the pagan world we live in, more accepted and liked by the decidedly anti-Christian culture that surrounds us. We want to be accommodated, to have a place at the table, to be seen as OK by the world. All of these are desires that are natural, but that are also decidedly un-Biblical. We’ve lost sight of the clear teaching of Scripture that the name of Christ (and His people) will be mocked, degraded, despised.

We need to stop expecting, in fact demanding, that a culture and a world opposed to the real, true Jesus Christ give Him some kind of assent one day out of the year. We need to refocus ourselves on the Christ of Christmas, who is the Christ of the Cross. And we need to be fulfilling His command and commission to us to proclaim His Gospel to any and all as He gives opportunity all year long, for His glory. This is how we keep Christ, not just in Christmas, but in truth.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What Not to Give

If this cartoon needs explanation, read this.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Try Jesus for 60 Days..."

Purpose Driven...Rick Warren was on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes the other night, talking about his new book "The Purpose Driven Christmas" or something like that. In the words he was able to get in he surprisingly did come close to communicating at least part of the Gospel. But then, he goes and makes a statement like this one in his exchange with Alan Colmes:

COLMES: All right. Let me ask you: you talk about, OK, so you think everybody needs a savior.


COLMES: Well, what about those people who don't — you know, I happen to be Jewish. Not everybody — and Jesus, by the way, I have a lot in common with. Same religion.

WARREN: Absolutely.

COLMES: So not everybody necessarily goes that route.

WARREN: The thing is, Alan, I believe Jesus Christ came for everybody. I don't think he came for Christians. The Bible says take this good news to the whole world. I don't care whether you're Baptist, Buddhist, Mormon, Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, or no religion at all. Jesus Christ still loves you. You still matter to God.

COLMES: True, and I think that's a wonderful message. But if you don't accept Jesus, if you're not something who goes that route religiously...


COLMES: ... can you find your way to heaven? Can you still be — go to the same place when it's all said and done?

WARREN: I'm not the authority on that, but I believe Jesus is. And everybody's betting their life on something. Jesus said, "I am the way." I'm betting that he's not a liar. I'm betting that he told the truth.

COLMES: What about — what does it say for all those people who do not accept Christ as their personal savior?

WARREN: I'm saying that this is the perfect time to open their life, to give it a chance. I'd say give him a 60-day trial.


COLMES: Like the Book of the Month Club.

WARREN: Give him a trial. See if he'll change your life. I dare you to try trusting Jesus for 60 days. Or your money guaranteed back.

OK, so first he says he's "not the authority" on who receives the gift of eternal life and who doesn't, but points to Jesus as the authority. OK, I'll accept that, although as a pastor - or even as a Christian - he speaks for the One who is the authority. It's not above his pay grade, so to speak. But when he presents faith in Jesus Christ as something to be "tried", he passes the bounds of Gospel clarity by a mile and enters the realm of therapeutic deism. "Try trusting Jesus for 60 days"? That's a completely wrong picture of what Biblical faith even means, on so many points. Conditional trust? I'll have faith if Jesus holds up His end of the deal? Not even close to truth. Biblical faith in the person and work of Christ is life-consuming, all-or-nothing, complete and unequivocal trust in who He is, what He accomplished, what He promises and how He commands to live. Nothing less. In fact, the Gospel writings are full of references to people who followed Christ for a while to see what He could do for them, like healing sicknesses and giving them food. But when He confronted them with the hard truths of real repentance, they followed Him no more.

But look at what he says is the test of reality, the motivation someone should have for "trying Jesus." It's to "change your life." Now, God is certainly in the life-changing business. Or more Biblically speaking, the life-granting business. The Gospel of Christ is the message He uses to resurrect spiritually dead sinners to life everlasting, and to reform lives spent in sin and rebellion into lives of righteousness that glorify Him. But the benefits of trying out Jesus given here are all about self-improvement, self-actualization, self-fulfillment. Have you noticed how the phrase "change my life" is used as an advertising testimony these days for everything from weight loss plans to self-help books to laxatives? So by using this as the test of the reality of Christ, what Warren is doing is what so many others do today - market the Gospel as another self-improvement option to be tried out. And hey, if you don't like the results you get in a couple months, you're free to go try some other option like liposuction or Scientology or Oprah. Whatever works for you, that's what counts. After all, the individual is the arbiter of truth, right? Unfortunately, in our postmodern world, that's the perception.

When the Gospel of Christ is peddled as a cure for whatever ails you to be tried out, rather than as the absolute truth of eternity that we each must face, there are three losers. First, the person being marketed to loses because they have been denied the life-giving truth of the Gospel. Second, the marketer loses since they are knowingly or unknowingly communicating a false Gospel. And most importantly, God loses as He is denied the glory He so richly deserves in the faithful proclamation of the Gospel of His sovereign grace in Christ.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Economic Perspective

With all the conventional wisdom these days being that "the economy" (whatever that means) is in the tank, in a recession, melting down, in a crisis, in a downturn, or any one of a hundred other gloomy or apocalyptic terms, it's hard to get a proper perspective. The consistent drumbeat of the media is having the desired effect, convincing most of us that we are in an economic Armageddon of historic proportions, that of course requires government action of historic audacity. And of course, the effect all this has on most of us is that things must be really bad - even though maybe our own economic well-being is pretty much the same as it was last year or the year before (401k and other investments notwithstanding).

So to help keep some proper perspective on this whole situation, here are some tidbits and numbers borrowed from a current article by George Will.

  • Sales the day after Thanksgiving were 3 percent higher than last year. Over the weekend, 172 million people, shopping in stores and online, spent an average of $372.57, a 7.2 percent increase over a year ago, when 147 million shoppers spent $347.55 per person. (Note that is more people shopping, and each spending more dollars.)
  • This is a reflection on personal consumption, which normally is 70 percent of economic activity.
  • This seems to be evidence of underestimated strength of an economy in which more than 93 percent of those who want to work are employed, and more than 93 percent of mortgages are being paid on time.
  • This may be related to the decline of the price of a gallon of regular gasoline from $4.10 in July to $1.81 today. Over a year, every 1 cent decline in the price of gas is a $1.5 billion saving to consumers.

One of the interesting things to me about how people are responding to the economic news is the fact that the personal savings rate - which has been declining for decades to an all-time low - has now begun to rebound. People are spending, to be sure, but they're also being wiser about how and how much they spend, and are saving more. This is undoubtedly a good thing, as it increases the financial stability of individual households. Seems that a lot of people may be reassessing their financial priorities a bit.