30 December 2012

Untrodden Ways

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 18, sermon number 1,057, "Untrodden Ways."
"God has resources you have never dreamed of, and difficulties shall only put you into a position to see new displays of Jehovah's power and grace."

Remember, whether your way in Providence be new or old, it is not a way of your own appointing. A higher power than yours has led you to your present standing place. The people of Israel could have said, “We removed from this place to that, and from that to the next, but we never went without being led on by the fiery cloudy pillar; and here we are just at the brink of Jordan, but we did not come here in a wilful spirit, but we were guided here; Jehovah himself went before us.” Feeling this they felt secure, and we may unite with them. Surely the Lord cannot make mistakes; eternal wisdom cannot err. Your path, my dear brother, and the path of all the saints, has ever been directed by the unerring skill of the great Father, and therefore it must be right. Providence cannot have placed us in a wrong position; it must be right for us to be just where we are; ay, though the armed men were binding us to cast us into Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, heated seven times hotter than before, we are in the right place if God has brought us there. He has never erred yet, either in guiding a star in its orbit, or in directing the chaff from the winnower’s hand, and he cannot err in steering the course of one of his people. “Say ye unto the righteous it shall be well with him;” for “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.” “My times are in thy hand.” Desperate, therefore, though your position may appear to the eye of fear, yet faith knows that God has put you in the best possible position for you to be in at this moment. If it were better, taking everything into account, for you to be in heaven to-day than where you are, you should be there. God will do the best possible thing for his people. If it were better for them that there should be no devil and no death, there should be neither devil nor death, but to heaven should they be caught up at once. Infinite, unspeakable, boundless love arranges all our pathway, and infinite wisdom joins in the decree.

Note, again, your present pathway is new to you, but it is not new to your God. Everything that happens to-day, or will happen to-morrow, is new to us, because we can only live in the present moment; and even though we endeavour to project ourselves a little forward, yet it is generally in a wrong fashion, so that we do not see the truth of coming events, seeing not, but only imagining that we see. But all things are present to the eye of God. To-morrow—there is no such thing with Jehovah! Yesterday—there is no such thing! Past, present, future—these are human words! “NOW” is God’s word, and it comprehends all. He who should look upon a country from a star, taking a bird’s-eye view, would have all parts equally before him while he who traverses it with slow step leaves a portion of the territory behind him, and another part is yet before him. So is it with man. Creeping like an insect from leaf to leaf he leaves something behind, and has something yet before; but God looking down upon all things at once, serenely fills his own eternal “Now,” and sees our ages pass. The peculiar
troubles of to-day, which are exercising you, dear child of God, your heavenly Father was cognisant of ten thousand years ago; and nothing about them comes upon him by surprise. The Lord has no emergencies; he is never at the end of his resources. O beloved, it makes my heart smile while I mention such a notion; it is a childish folly, indeed, to think that the infinite God who filleth all, and sustains all, can ever meet with anything that to him shall be hard. Rest, then, O fellow pilgrim, in this confidence, that the new road to you is an old road to God.

Moreover, there is one view of this thought which ought to be very encouraging to the sorrowful, namely, that he who is at your Father’s side, the Man of love, the Crucified, has, in his practical sympathy with you, actually trodden this pathway of yours. That God has seen it is consoling, but that Christ has trodden it is richest comfort.

"In every pang that rends the heart
The Man of Sorrows bears his part."

You may see all along the way the blood-stained footsteps of him who gave his feet to the nails. Right down to Jordan's brink, and through the flood, and up the hither shore, there are the marks of the goings of him who loved the sons of men and bore their sorrows in his own person for their sakes. Courage, my brethren; where Jesus has been we may go. He leads us through no darker rooms than he went through before, and his having gone through them has sown them with light. We thought them novel places of trial, but they are no longer so since our covenant head has traversed them.

27 December 2012

Book review — Devotions on the Greek New Testament, by Duvall and Verbrugge

by Dan Phillips

Devotions on the Greek New Testament
edited by J. Scott Duvall & Verlyn D. Verbrugge
(Zondervan, 2012)

I was happy to receive this review copy from Zondervan. I've been reading the Greek New Testament daily for 39 years, and there simply isn't much in the way of devotional literature specifically geared to it. I used Bitzer's work (he was a banker, in case you haven't heard), but that was about it.

Zondervan's new Devotions on the Greek New Testament is the work of many authors, ranging from names I know to be notable scholars (Craig Blomberg, Darrell L. Bock, Ben Witherington III, William Mounce), to names I know (Scott McKnight), to a long list of names I don't know at all, including a surprising number of female writers. This latter phenom prompted a recent forum in these-here parts.

The purpose of the book is to address the "need to know why you are studying Greek, particularly in relation to the ultimate purpose of strengthening your walk with the Lord," to "help motivate you to endure in your Greek studies" (11).

Each of the 52 entries takes a verse or portion of the Greek New Testament and comments on it. The articles come in canonical order, from Matthew to Revelation, omitting only 2 and 3 John. Unfortunately, the author's name is withheld until the end of each article; I'd have preferred to have it straight up front.

The first devotion is on Matthew 1:19, which I appreciated as I'd had a good time wrestling with it before preaching that verse some years ago. At the time, I was dissatisfied with the common translation and with many of the usual explanations, which seemed hurried to me. My own solution was to take καὶ in the sense of καίτοι, "and yet," a concessive sense. I take both participles in the same sense, yielding "being righteous, and yet not willing." That is, Joseph was in a real bind: he had a strong impression of Mary as a godly girl, yet here she was, pregnant, and he was not the father. Joseph knew the Law and its righteous requirements, and yet he mercifully did not wish to expose Mary to shame and punishment.

The writer of this article, Roy Ciampa, felt the same issues I did in the text, but his solution is different, focused on the senses of the participles. Ciampa takes both as causal, yielding something like "because he was righteous, and because he was not willing" to make a display of Mary. Ciampa takes the sense of righteous differently than I do, arguing that Jesus and the rest of the Gospel require a "transformed understanding of righteousness" involving more mercy and compassion.

I find that a less satisfying (and somewhat less coherent) solution, but am glad for Ciampa's reflections.

An article by Edward W. Klink III (41-42), on the uses of γίνομαι (ginomai) in John 1:1-18, is very insightful. Klink highlights ten instances of the root and notes their place in how the Prologue frames the entire Gospel. It is first used of God's creative power in Jesus' work of creation (v. 3), and ends with v. 17's revelation of how the Gospel is the creative power of God, bringing grace and truth to reality in Christ. It is a helpful piece.

I could wish Klink had phrased one sentence a touch more carefully: "...Jesus has now become the pinnacle of creation, the center of human history and all created things." One might misread the author as classing Christ among "all created things," as do Jehovah's Witnesses. However, Klink had affirmed that Jesus created all things (41), and had just previously said that v. 14 means that "the Creator is now with his creation" (42). So I think the problem is only in his word-choice.

Darrell Bock highlights the three kinds of conditional clauses in Greek on pp. 52-53. He illustrates a second-class condition from Lk. 7:39, where the Pharisee is framing his thought in a way that assumes Jesus must not be a prophet. Bock focuses on Galamiel's words in Acts 5:38-39, as showcasing the other two kinds of conditional clauses. Gamaliel uses first a second-class conditional in v. 38 ("if this is of men — and I'm not saying it is, nor that it isn't"). Then he employs a first-class conditional in v. 39, framing Christianity as being of God. Nifty, eh?

However, Bock says
Gamaliel would have spoken Aramaic or Hebrew, neither of which makes such fine distinctions as Greek makes in conditional clauses. In other words, Gamaliel likely presents the two options as equal. Luke, however, makes clear in his presentation that the second situation is more likely the case... Score another one for Luke. (53)
Well, yes, score one for Luke...as a propagandist. But as an accurate historian? Bock ignores the fact that he has just represented Luke as misrepresenting Gamaliel! The truth is, we do not know for certain that Gamaliel did not speak in Greek (a language in which his pupil, Saul of Tarsus, was quite adept); and even if not, there are ways of presenting this thought in any language which Luke could have accurately rephrased into Greek. Annoying.

Another contributor is Ben Witherington III, who writes on the idiom "to kick against the goads" in Acts 26:14 (56-57). His discussion of how to move the idiom into our day is witty; my one gripe is that he channels Warren Wiersbe (or William Barclay) when he says "An ancient Greek proverb depicts a horse saying to a donkey, 'Let him not keep kicking against the goads'" (57). Really? How "ancient"? Found where? Documentation? I wasn't able to find it easily with a scan of a half-dozen lexical resources. This is the sort of thing that bothers us obsessives, and seems out of place in a book written by scholars.

On Romans 1:17's expression ἐκ πίστεως, Roy E. Ciampa observes that, though both preposition and noun are in common use, no occurrence of the phrase ἐκ πίστεως occurs in any Greek literature before Hab. 2:4 LXX (58). But then in the NT, it turns up 21X. Ciampa argues that these are echoes or allusions to Hab. 2:4 which the English reader would surely miss due to varying English translations, but the Greek reader should note (58-60). This is in the best tradition of a Greek devotional.

The first disappointment is an article by Gary M. Burge on Romans 5:1 (61-63). The problem isn't that there is anything wrong with what Burge says; the problem is that what he says isn't really about the Greek text.  When I saw the text, I thought he was going to comment on πρὸς τὸν θεὸν (pros ton theon), and how "with God" means "in relationship to God" or something like "face to face with God." It wasn't. What Burge wrote about was the textual issue of reading ἔχομεν (echomen, "we have") over against ἔχωμεν (echōmen, "let us have"). Which is an issue of textual criticism, not of reading Greek per se. 

Blomberg has a creative but somewhat obnoxious article on Romans 8:28. It is creative in that it approaches the verse anecdotally, positing a grieving mother trying to make sense of the verse from KJV (boo) to NAS (boo) to NIV (yayyy...or so we're to conclude). It's theologically obnoxious in that Blomberg rejects the KJV's rendering as "just not a helpful translation." Further, he doesn't challenge the alleged impression that "all things work together for good" is somehow pantheistic, which a robustly Biblical vision of the sovereignty of God would have answered (hel-lo? Psalm 119:91?). One wonders whether he's read Hendriksen, who develops this along soundly Biblical lines.

Any Forbidden Planet fan's ears will prick up to note that one of the contributors is a KrellKeith Krell. He has a good, tight note on 1 Corinthians 3:17a (67-69), in which he argues that τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ ("the sanctuary of God") is the local church, τοῦτον ("this one") is a believer engaging in the misconduct of the first few chapters (jealousy, worldly wisdom), and φθερεῖ ("will destroy") is some fearsome temporal judgment.

Paul Jackson has a note on 1 Cor. 6:11 (70-71), making a good point about the emphatic repetition of alla ("but") in the verse, and the work of God in salvation. However, Jackson  mphasizes the imperfect tense of ἦτε ("you were"), saying it contrasts with the aorist verbs and, since "the imperfect tense represents ongoing action in past time, then Paul is focusing on how a converted church member's lifestyle used to be" (70). This surprised me; surely Jackson knows that there is no aorist form of eimi ("I am") in the NT, so that the imperfect serves for any past time-frame. It won't bear a linear stress, by itself.

Still in 1 Cor., Michelle Lee-Barnewall contributes a chapter on πρὸς τὸ συμφέρον in 12:7 (72-74), in which she observes that τὸ συμφέρον simply means "good," but the context makes it clear that the common good is Paul's concern. Linda Belleview has a note on vv. 15-16 on pp. 75-76. Belleview notes Paul had assessed Jesus "according to the flesh," and thus assessed Him wrongly. "Jesus died a criminal's death, but the criminal in this case was everyone except Jesus." She also argues for "creature" rather than "creation" in understanding v. 17's use of κτίσις.

An insightful article on Ephesians 2 is contributed by Constantine R. Campbell (83-84), who brings out Paul's use of mirroring in the chapter. Campbell notes that the chapter divides into two halves of similar structure: 2:1-10 and vv. 11-22. The first focuses on salvation by grace, the second on the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in Christ. Each half has a similar problem/solution/consequence structure. What's more, each half features three key terms containing the prefixed preposition συν- ("with"): συνεζωοποίησεν (v. 5), συνήγειρεν (v. 6), and συνεκάθισεν (v. 6); then συμπολῖται (v. 19), συναρμολογουμένη (v. 21), and συνοικοδομεῖσθε (v. 22).

The tone of J. R. Dodson's "One-Upmanship" chapter on Phil. 3:7-8 (94-95), is more strictly devotional, stressing the supreme value of Christ. The piece is brief and very well-written, both humorous and profound in engaging nuances of the Greek text (such as Paul's shift from ταῦτα ἥγημαι ("I have counted these things) to ἡγοῦμαι πάντα ("I continue to count all things") in v. 8.

Gary Manning Jr. has a solid, concise development on how appositional phrases such as ὁ Χριστὸς ... ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν ("Christ...our life") and seven uses of σὺν (standalone and in compounds) in Colossians develop the truth and meaning of our relationship with Christ (102-103). Kenneth Berding has an article identifying and explaining the meaning and purpose of the puns in Philemon (119-121).

George Guthrie contributes a condensed, well-written bit on Heb. 1:1-2a (123-125). It is another good example of a devotional that does what the book at best promises: brings meanings and significations that are visible in Greek but not in translations. Guthrie diagrams that portion, notes the opening alliteration (Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι), notes that vv. 1-4 are a long single sentence and that most English versions don't express in translation the relationship between  λαλήσας ("having spoken") and ἐλάλησεν ("spoke"), which Guthrie says is communicating the circumstances of God's speaking to us in Christ. Thus the OT is preparatory for the NT, and is where God started a conversation with us.

Alan S. Bandy's contribution on Jas. 1:5-8 is helpful and once again in the best tradition of a Greek emphasis. Bandy he points out wordplay between διακρινόμενος ("doubting") and δίψυχος ("double-souled"; vv. 6, 8), and argues that ἁπλῶς ("generously") means singly, unreservedly. My only gripe would be that he cites scholars by name, but without documentation. Nothing wrong with footnotes!

Max J. Lee writes on Rev. 2:20 (143-144), and argues that ὅτι ἀφεῖς τὴν γυναῖκα Ἰεζάβελ should be translated "that you are forgiving the woman Jezebel," not "tolerating." Lee points to the main meaning of the verb, and the contextual stress (three times in vv. 21-22) on the refusal to repent. With no repentance, there should be no forgiveness; and when the church forgives the unrepentant, it fails in part of its mission. You'd think he'd be a commenter here at Pyro!

The final article on Rev. 5:7, by David L. Mathews (145-147), ends the volume yet again in the best tradition of such a book. Mathews notes something reflected in no English or Spanish version I can find: the perfect εἴληφεν ("he has taken"). Mathews makes the case for not simply handling as an aoristic perfect, and brings it to highlight how Jesus is the central Actor and worthy of our worship.

We've only seen tastes of the articles. I do commend it to all of you who read the New Testament in Greek. I made a number of entries in my BibleWorks notesDevotions on the Greek New Testament is on the whole encouraging, edifying, thought-provoking, and rewarding. Plus, it will urge you to read closely and attentively — which is always for the good!

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26 December 2012

Pyro brain-trust: On conferences in 2013

by Dan Phillips

Not the Point: so far, I'm working on the 2013 calendar, and am open for conference invitations for 2013, if anyone's interested: filops, then @, then yahoo.com.

Yes the Point: I'm also working on scheduling and budget for 2013. This is your opportunity to try to "sell" me (and, through me, other readers) on why I should go to your conference.

So: why should I, or anyone, go to your conference? Give info, dates, speakers, details, links.

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25 December 2012

...and that is what Christmas is all about

by Dan Phillips


And then:

The last two Sundays at CBC were given to framing the Christmas history against the larger backdrop of the saga of redemption.

First, we started literally at Genesis 1:1, in Christmas in Genesis.

Then in Christmas in Isaiah, we traced the thread of the Seed, from Genesis 3:15 to Isaiah 53.  (This includes a robust presentation of some of my reasons for insisting that Isaiah 7:14 looks to the birth of Jesus Christ, and no other.)

Merry Christmas!

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23 December 2012

Heaven's Herald

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the book Christ's Incarnation, Pilgrim Publications, pages 27-28.
"Tell me that God is born, that God Himself has espoused our nature, and taken it into union with Himself, then the bells of my heart ring merry peals, for now may I come to God since God has come to me."

God has sent an Ambassador who inspires no fear. Not with helmet and coat of mail, not with sword or spear, does Heaven’s Herald approach us; but the white flag is held in the hand of a Child, in the hand of One chosen out of the people, in the hand of One who died, in the hand of One who, though He reign in glory, wears the nailprints still.

O man, God comes to you in the form of one like yourself! Do not be afraid to draw near to the gentle Jesus. Do not imagine that you need to be prepared for an audience with Him, or that you must have the intercession of a saint, or the intervention of priest or minister. Anyone could have come to the Babe in Bethlehem. The horned oxen, methinks, ate of the hay on which He slept, and feared not. It is the terror of the Godhead which, oftentimes, keeps the sinner away from reconciliation; but see how the Godhead is graciously concealed in that little Babe, who needed to be wrapped in swaddling-bands like any other new-born child. Who feareth to approach Him? Yet is the Godhead there.

The shepherds were not to find this Babe wrapped in tyrian purple, nor swathed in choicest fabrics fetched from afar.

“No crown bedecks His forehead fair,
No pearl, nor gem, nor silk is there.”

Nor would they discover Him in the marble halls of princes, nor guarded by praetorian legionaries, nor attended by vassal sovereigns; but they would find Him the babe of a peasant woman,of princely lineage, it is true, but of a family whose stock was dry and forgotten in Israel. The Holy Child was reputed to be the son of a carpenter. If you looked on the humble father and mother, and at the poor bed they had made up, where aforetime oxen had come to feed, you would say, “This is condescension indeed.”

O ye poor, be glad, for Jesus is born in poverty, and cradled in a manger! O ye sons of toil, rejoice, for the Saviour is born of a lowly virgin, and a carpenter is His foster-father! O ye people, oftentimes despised and downtrodden, the Prince of the democracy is born, One chosen out of the people is exalted to the throne! O ye who call yourselves the aristocracy, behold the Prince of the kings of the earth, whose lineage is Divine, and yet there is no room for Him in the inn! Behold, O men, the Son of God, who is bone of your bone, and flesh of your flesh; who, in His after life, was intimate with all your griefs, hungered as ye hunger, was weary as ye are weary, and wore humble garments like your own; yea, suffered worse poverty than you do, for He was without a place whereon to lay His head! Let the heavens and the earth be glad, since God hath so fully, so truly come down to man.

21 December 2012

6-Part Harmony

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,
    "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"? Or again, "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son"?
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
    "Let all God's angels worship him."
Of the angels he says,
    "He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire."
But of the Son he says,
    "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions."
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to her. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But Mary was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"

And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. … For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
    "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.

A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
    "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when [the child] was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."

(they said this because the prophet Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, and he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse and said,
    I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;")
After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

20 December 2012

When We Had Gone Astray

by Frank Turk

So here's the point: Christmas is not a celebration of everyday life.  The purpose of Christmas is not to celebrate your middle-class life and ethics, or even to enjoy simple human good will, or to inspire it.  It's not even to give thanks for a decent year past -- however good and godly it might seem to try that.  The point of Christmas, if I may say it this way, is that God is fully aware that the world and the lives of those living here are all headed for a sad and sober end if nothing changes.

Because let's face it: things don't really change.  You might make a case for all manner of improvements in law or economics or standards of living, but our core complaint this week is that innocent people die all the time for no reason.  That never changes -- it's the status quo of the world.

That is: until Christmas.

Look: a few years ago I made a point of telling everyone that God's view of Christmas is a strange and amazing balance between his threat to bring justice to disobedient people and his promise to save them from their utter disregard for him.  Another time I made it a point to tell you that the miracle at Christmas is not that a legion of fantastic beings sang out to God's praise in a field -- it was that a baby was born and laid in a manger, fulfilling the promises of God with God Himself.  That was a pretty good one.

This year, let me say this: in this world where your home may seem empty because of a gigantic loss, and where the death of innocents seems to be an insurmountable sign of how the times have turned, God has already taken it upon himself to change the status quo.  The point here -- the actual reason that there is a Christmas, actually a moment when the world affected by the church of God stops and stares, expecting to see something completely amazing -- is that Jesus, who is God, didn't try to remain equal with God. Instead he gave up everything, and was born in a manger to became a slave, when he became like one of us. Jesus was humble the way only God can be humble, surrendering the Glory which Isaiah saw in the throne room of God to become a miracle wrapped in rags. He obeyed God -- and his obedience didn't stop at being born in a barn.  His obedience took him lower still, to a death on a cross when he deserved worship and honor and power, so that the death of innocents would, in an eternal and permanent way, be defeated forever.

Jesus is not just some ephemeral housekeeper who can tidy us up right now -- or at least until we toss ourselves back into the filth. He's not someone who merely helps us avoid the worst right now, as if God has nothing better to do than to stop us from doing exactly what we want to do.  His story is not just a story about truth: he's the one guy who understands our weaknesses because he has suffered through them all, refusing to sin, and then he died for them all so that they can all not only be defeated, but forgiven.

And here we are -- worried that the something was ruined because the sins of our society are more obvious this week than they are most other weeks. I think something was ruined when the angels sang, "Glory to God in the Highest! And on Earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests," -- and what was ruined was the status quo.  Since then it has been our problem to catch up with that -- to live as if that really happened, so we can make much of this Jesus, and enjoy him forever.

This is the true meaning of Christmas, dear reader, and tossing out another example of human moral destitution which tears down our illusions about how safe and civilized we are doesn't harm even one thin angel hair of tinsel in that kind of Christmas: it causes the brilliance of Christmas to shine like an arclight of hope which leads us to our one and only savior.

This Christmas, I beg you: look for him, find him, and throw yourself on him, because in that stable, and at his cross, and ultimately at his empty tomb and his seat at the right hand of God, is your only hope in this world where death is the common end.  Let nothing you dismay: for Jesus Christ our savior was born upon this day to save us all from death and sin's power when we had gone astray.  Those are the tidings of comfort and joy.

I wish you good tidings of great joy this Christmas, and true prosperity and eternal life in the New Year.

19 December 2012

The Natural State

by Frank Turk

Yes, I am aware that I stole Dan's slot yesterday, and I am now using my normal slot this week -- the bad news for you is that I will also steal Dan's slot tomorrow and then post a final time on Friday.  You are stuck with me this week like gum on the bottom of your sneaker.

Yesterday, I said you can't ruin Christmas with the death of innocents, and most of you opened up the book of Matthew to start second guessing where I am going with this.  Well, close your Bibles, OK?  Not because they are useless or that we won't get there: close them so you are not distracted by your own Bible-Drill cleverness from what is happening in the world this week.

As I page through the stories about the tragedy at Sandy Hook, this one stands out to me as the current conventional wisdom (even if it got the shooters name wrong).  In it, we find this observation by one of the locals:
At St. John’s Episcopal Church, 54-year-old Donna Denner, an art teacher at an elementary school in nearby Danbury whose classroom was locked down after the shooting, said she feels the same way she did after 9/11 but isn’t sure the rest of the country does. 
“I don’t know if the rest of the country is struggling to understand it the same way we are here,” she said. “Life goes on, but you’re not the same. Is the rest of the country — are they going about their regular activities? Is it just another news story to them?”
Now, let's not run this woman over for her grief at the loss, the violence, and the invasiveness of what happened near her.  She lives in close proximity to a lunatic shooting spree.  What has happened to her and to everyone within driving distance of the Dunkin Donuts in Newtown is a moral and civil transgression of what we think is the natural and safe state of our own homes and lives.  It is to our credit, in a Romans 2 way, that we believe we actually live in a peaceful society.

See: what has actually happened here is not that the unthinkable has occured.  It is that the unthinkable has happened to us.  On the exact same day this tragedy took place, for example, exactly half-way around the world in China 22 children were knifed to death by a lunatic (a repeat of a fatal attack on 23 children in 2010; thanks to alert readers for the correction).  But even in saying that, let's be honest: statistically (Thx, CDC), last week, 662 people died in car accidents.  610 were accidentally poisoned -- that is, they probably drank or ate something they thought was harmless and it turned out that it would kill them, and about 10% of those were children.  476 people fell to their deaths.  If it was an average week in Chicago, 6 people were shot to death.  The President isn't delivering eulogies there.

You know: deaths by medical error outnumber firearm fatalities by a factor of 17:1; deaths by medical error outnumber auto fatalities by a factor of 5:1.  You think you're safe in the hospital, but I would suggest that you're in one of the most dangerous places in the world for two reasons: both you and the care providers are, in all real respect for their years of hard work and real intention to be doing no harm, overconfident.

My point is not to minimize the death of these children, or make you fear the hospital: it is to open your eyes to the fact that the natural state of the world is not safe and secure.  The natural state of the world -- the way it really is all around us every day and we simply overlook it -- is that it is a deadly and dangerous place.  

See: the natural state of things is that people die all the time due to no direct fault of their own.  Families are left fatherless or motherless -- or both.  The oldest child, or only child, is safe on the rainy night driving home from work and is killed the next night when she went to the convenience store for milk and a drunk ignored the red light.  The fellow in the locker next to you at work doesn't realize the safety on the overhead crane is broken, and you have to explain it to the OSHA investigator because you pulled him out from under it, too late.

But here's the thing: this does not spoil Christmas.  It in no way denigrates Christmas, or makes Christmas a joke.  This fact makes Christmas necessary.

We'll consider why tomorrow.

18 December 2012

A Whiff of Sense

by Frank Turk

I've gotten a few e-mails this past weekend asking about or anticipating my blog post in the week before Christmas about the act of insane violence in Sandy Hook.  Let me say that on Friday, I was dead-set against writing anything about this event for a couple of reasons.  One is that everybody has written about this already, right? Everyone has laid their idiosyncratic viewpoint on the thing and come up with everything from banning guns to handing out free guns to some truism with the word "Gospel" in it.  And of all the things I hope to be as a blogger, being one voice like the others has never been my objective.

Another reason, frankly, was that I am actually tired of blogging.  I have been having a modest conversation with Dan about my ennui, and while he makes a decent point about the things we have accomplished in the last 7-8 years ("we" including Phil and Officer Pecadillo), this isn't 2006 anymore and I'm not in my mid-30's anymore.  So one thing weighing on me is that I have more important things to do, like ministry.

The greatest reason, for better or worse, that I did not want to blog about this, if I can invite you to be invasively-curious, is that I was off on Friday for the first time in months.  I was spending the day at home with my exquisite family, and I wanted nothing to do with anything other than them.  My daughter and I built an amazing gingerbread house out of graham crackers.  We bought Christmas presents which will blow minds.  I ignored work and the world long enough for my wife to enjoy my company AND I also got to watch about 3 hours worth of new Avengers episodes on Netfix with the Boy.

But the news of the shooting kept intruding.  At one point I was walking into my house, and it occurred to me that it was possible that there was a father walking into his house in Connecticut, which he spends his waking hours paying for, where he spends his nights loving the people in it, and now (for him) there would be one of those people gone forever.  There are presents under his ridiculously-merry-and-bright tree for that person who is now gone.  There's a room in this house where that missing person still has his or her stuff, and that person isn't coming back to play with the Legos or the American Girl dolls or the Thomas table or the Ponies, or to need a bed time story prolonged by a glass of water or a few crackers.  As I walked into my house, I could feel the oppressive emptiness that this other fellow in Connecticut was getting sucked into by the lack of one person.  And all he did wrong in this instance, on that day, was what he does right and has been doing right for the last 2200 days or so.  And this, at Christmas, when we think the world will be full of tidings of comfort and joy.  For my part, I wanted nothing to do with insulting or offending that guy, and the other parents like him, because they were the victims who had their human love and human joy murdered.

Let me say this: I doubt a few verses of Silent Night or Oh Come All Ye Faithful will be enough to console that fellow.  He now has to live with Christmas in the real world where a fatherless boy murders his mother, and then other people's children, on a Thursday.

This past week, by way of comparison, RC Sproul Jr. has been celebrating the first anniversary of his wife's death.  "Celebrating" is the right word, however incongruous it is, if you watch him -- because he is in the process of translating his sorrow in loss, through the immeasurable gain his wife Denise has received in leaving this life and coming into the immediate presence of God, into seeing the face of Christ.  You know: I have been rather hard on R.C. Jr. over the last few months as he and I have had very different ideas about political activism and the American citizen's role in creating political justice in this nation.  He's almost exactly my age, and we are two guys who, except for a few details, have enough in common to get on each other's nerves.  But there are empty places in the Sproul home which I cannot imagine and refuse to consider myself because, if I am honest, I am not sure I would present the faith and hope RC does as he faces them.  He looks into death and sees Jesus, and is glad to the measure that he is also at a loss -- for his loss is not swallowed up in death, but in victory over death, and sin, and sickness, and so on.

I realize that this doesn't make a whiff of sense to most people -- other Christians especially.  You know: melancholy memes go around when stuff like this happens.  Christmas is Ruined for someone.  Christmas is Ruined when I lose my job at Christmas.  Christmas is Ruined when I am evicted at Christmas.  Christmas is Ruined when I suffer violent crime at Christmas, or I am diagnosed with terminal death at Christmas, or a beloved member of my very home and heart who sleeps in one of the beds I have provided and whom I feed and cloth not merely out of duty but ought of love and fatherly concern is murdered when he was trying to learn the alphabet.  Christmas is ruined, and for someone like RC to spout his fantastic praises and felicitations speaks more to hypothetical-me about his lack of seriousness about what has just happened rather than to his faith.  He's another Calvinist quack negating real loss and sorrow and claiming they are nothing.

Well, let me suggest something before you go and toss the tree into the fireplace and put the gifts into the compactor at work out of a desperate attempt to crush the small symbols of joy with your rightfully-large burden of sin-sickness and loss-weariness.

It's possible that maybe you could ruin Christmas by making it into a holiday of introspection.  You could make it a time when we reflect on ourselves and who we have become in the last year -- or as you get older, who you have become since you were young and full of expectation that next year's return would be greater than this year's baubles.  That kind of introspection will, as Dickens taught us with Scrooge, make us old and bitter.  That kind of "holiday" will destroy us over time as we become, over time, the people who do what seems right in our own eyes.

It's possible to ruin Christmas, I suppose, by making it into a mere tradition of family reunion.  Many have already done that, and let's face it: it's a bad deal for the people related to us because you have met us, right?  Nevermind that we feel the same toward them -- getting together in those circumstances won't make it any better.  We'd be better off saving the money we'd shell out for such a thing for our retirements as it would turn into real money after 50 or 60 years if we are fortunate enough to get than many white Christmases.

But here's the thing: I'm willing to say, in the shadow of the insanity at Sandy Hook, that you cannot ruin Christmas with the murder of innocents.  You can only make the need for Christmas more obvious.

More tomorrow.

16 December 2012

Time Married To Eternity

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the book Christ's Incarnation, Pilgrim Publications, pages 114-115.
"Just as the woman, by her venturous spirit, stepped first into transgression,—lest she should be despised and trampled on, God in His wisdom devised that the woman, and the woman alone, should be the author of the body of the God-man who should redeem mankind."

Jesus Christ’s birth was a humble one. The Lord of glory was not born in a palace, but in a stable. Princes, Christ owes you nothing; He is not your debtor. He was not wrapped in purple, ye had not prepared a golden cradle for Him to be rocked in. And ye mighty cities, which then were great and famous, your marble halls were not blessed with His little footsteps! He came out of a village, poor and despised, even Bethlehem; when there, He was not born in the governor’s house or in the mansion of the chief man, but in a manger. Tradition tells us that His manger was cut in the solid rock; there was He laid, and the oxen likely enough came to feed from the self-same manger, the hay and the fodder of which formed His only bed. Oh! wondrous condescension, that our blessed Jesus should be girded with humility, and stoop so low!

But let us take courage from this fact. If Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a rock, why should He not come and live in our rocky hearts? If He was born in a stable, why should not the stable of our souls be made into a habitation for Him? If He was born in poverty, may not the poor in spirit expect that He will be their Friend? If He thus endured degradation at the first, will He count it any dishonour to come to the very poorest and humblest of His creatures, and tabernacle in the souls of His children? Oh, no! we can gather a lesson of comfort from His humble parentage, and we can rejoice that not a queen, or an empress, but that a humble woman became the mother of the Lord of glory.

Our Lord was so poor that His mother, when she had to redeem Him, could not bring a lamb, which was the sacrifice for all who could afford it, but she presented the poorer offering, a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons, and so she came as a poor woman, and He was presented to the Lord as a poor woman’s Child. Herein lies rich comfort for lowly hearts. When I think of the Prince of glory and the Lord of angels stooping so low as this, that a poor woman bears Him in her arms, and calls Him her Babe, surely there must be salvation for the lowest, the poorest, and the most sunken. When the all-glorious Lord, in order to be incarnate, is born of a poor woman, and publicly acknowledged as a poor woman’s Child, we feel sure that He will receive the poorest and most despised when they seek His face. Yes, Jesus, the Son of the carpenter, means salvation to carpenters and all others of lowly rank.

13 December 2012

Notes from God

by Dan Phillips

When I was a child, I had a pretty prodigious case of asthma. During the days when doctors made house calls, my parents would have to call the doctor occasionally to come and give blue-lipped gasping young me a shot of adrenalin to open up my lungs, so I could breathe again.

So later on in school I had a note from Mom, excusing me from physical activities such as track and the like. Running meant wheezing, and that wasn't good. So that note from Mom meant I didn't have to do what all the other kids had to do. Them, yes. Me, no.

That was a real note, a literal note, for a real reason. I didn't write it; my mother did. Behind her was the doctor. It had oomph. It was legit.

Throughout the 400 or so years of my Christian life, I have been astonished over and over at how many Christians imagine they have "a note from God." Unlike my mother's note, it isn't visible, it isn't readable by others, and it won't stand inspection. The oomph it has is supplied by their own imagination, and a complex series of accompanying diversions and rationalizations.

This phantom note excuses them from having to do what every other Christian in every other age and every other location on the globe (other than their little 2X2 spot) has been morally obliged to do.

Them, perhaps. Me, no. I have this note.

Such notes, and usually for such transparently flimsy reasons!

Here is a representative, non-exhaustive list:
  • Scripture says that God calls me to involve myself in a local church, but I'm excused because no church leaders measure up to Biblical standards.
  • Scripture says that God calls me to involve myself in a local church, but I'm excused because I haven't found a church that _____ (insert non-essential requirement of perfect adherence to personal demands).
  • Scripture says that God calls me to involve myself in a local church, but I'm excused because ______ (insert sad story of bad past experience).
  • Scripture calls me to love my wife as Christ loved the church, to nourish and cherish her, to assign her honor and live with her in an understanding way, but I am excused because she _____ (insert non-divorce-warranting litany of complaints here).
  • Scripture calls me to subordinate myself to my husband in all respects as the church subordinates itself to Christ, to help him and respect him from my very heart, to win him by godly and respectful behavior and not a barrage of verbal abuse, but I am excused because he _____ (insert non-divorce-warranting litany of complaints here).
  • Scripture calls me never ever even to think of abuse, threats, or divorce as marital aids or ways to resolve marital conflict,* but I am excused because _____ (that isn't my calling / I wouldn't be lauded as being nuanced and helpful and thoughtful / the Club will rescind my membership).
  • Scripture calls me to honor my father and mother and make them glad I'm their child and not ashamed, but I am excused because they _____ (insert irrelevant personal issue here).
  • Scripture calls me to devote myself to giving and serving in a local church that puts the preaching and doing of Christ's Word central, rather than shopping churches as if they were my personal Walmarts, stressing my convenience and my comfort-level and my desire to be served and coddled rather than called to serve and love, but I am excused because ______ (rationalization; or "my wife ___").
  • Scripture calls me to study and learn and grow in my understanding of the word of God, but I am excused because it's hard / I can't concentrate / I'm just not a student (which = "I'm just not a Christian").
  • Scripture calls me as a pastor to put the Gospel and the preaching of the whole counsel of God, including both the positive ministry of exhortation and the negative ministry of rebuking error, and to do it heartily, boldly, and without compromise wherever I go, but I am excused because _____ (that isn't my calling / I wouldn't be lauded as being nuanced and helpful and thoughtful / the Club will rescind my membership).
  • Scripture calls me as a pastor to warn the folks in my congregation against serious sin and error regardless of how they will respond to me, but I am excused because _____ (it'd split the church / I'd lose too many members / that isn't my ministry).
  • Scripture calls me to own and repent of the sin isolated and nailed by one or more of the previous bullet-points, no matter what anyone else does or does not do, but ____ (insert rationalization that will not stand up to the Judgment Seat of Christ here).
To make any personal use of the list, we must understand an axiom of human nature. It is the characteristic of each note-holder is that he will insist that his note is legitimate. He really does have a note from God, excusing him. He is the exception. Anyone not convinced by his rationalization "just doesn't understand," or worse.

But such note-holders need to remember: every unrepentant sinner is convinced that his sin is different. (See #15 here.) No exceptions. It's axiomatic.

Every one of us sinners insists that what we're doing is right — until we repent of it. So the person who refuses to get involved in a local church, refuses to treat his/her spouse as Christ commands, commits rape or murder or theft, refuses to love/respect his/her spouse, indulges homosexual desires, gossips, gripes, mopes as if he had no grounds for hope — they're all the same; and they're all the same in that each imagines he's different.

Repentance changes all that. Repentance puts God's finger on me, stops me dead, isolates me from everything, changes the issue to God and His Word and me, shatters all pretenses, and requires death and resurrection.

See, we tend to forget that the Gospel is radical and transformative. We tend to forget: when Jesus calls us to Himself, He calls us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him. To deny myself is radical and transformative. It is to unseat myself as lord. To take up my cross is radical and transformative. It is to die to that life of rationalizations and excuses designed to cushion the pursuit of my own wants, needs and desires. To follow Jesus is radical and transformative. It calls on me to take my internal Canaan, city by city, and subject all of it to the Lordship of Jesus.

And we'll never make headway in any of that until we learn to shred every last one of our imagined "notes from God." 

* Note that this is carefully worded. I am not speaking of those areas where God does expressly permit divorce as an option — and, even then, not a requirement.

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12 December 2012

One Day a Year

by Frank Turk

Since you mention it, this is a reprinted post from my neglected and un-sanitized blog from a few years ago, and I thought it was worth sharing since most of you have never prolly read it before.  Here are 5 loosely-associated thoughts about the Christmas season:

[1] It is frankly bizarre to associate what happens these days on December 25th (and the 4-ish weeks prior to 12/25) in the English-speaking world with Roman Catholicism in the theological, ecclesiological, or worshipological senses. That is: there's nobody I know who's celebrating Christmas because the day itself turns out to be more holy – except, of course, some Catholics. The rest of us are considering that Christ, in order to die for our sins in accordance with Scripture, had to be born. Which leads me to ...

[2] ... the obvious objection that taking a day and setting it apart to reconsider the birth of Christ is making something holy which God does not – it's a sort of Regulative principle objection. But here's the problem: if one doesn’t read the whole Bible every day and think about the whole thing every day, one is doing by default what one is criticizing others for doing with intention.

You know: you can't mull over the whole of biblical and systematic theology in any kind of thorough or even careful way in the 14 hours you're awake one day and then repeat the process again tomorrow and (for example) hold down a job or take a bath. So breaking the particulars of Biblical and systematic theology up over time – for example, into 52 weeks like the Heidelberg Catechism, or into a "church year", or into a daily reading plan – makes practical sense.

Because you have a human brain with human constraints, you're going to cause each day to be different in some way because you really don’t have a choice. The question turns out to be whether or not you're going to have an intentional way of, as the Bible says, being transformed by the renewal of your mind, or if you're just going to sort of stumble through it.

[3] And then the question comes up, "well, are you saying I must celebrate Christmas? Isn’t that legalism and violating my Christian liberty?" I think the fair comparison – the clear-sighted comparison – is to evangelism, because ultimately that's what I am talking about here (which we will get to in a minute).

You know: when you're standing in the waiting line at the Olive Garden with your family or whatever, I have no qualms saying that you should talk to someone there and try to get the Gospel in as much as it is possible. You should. My guess – and you can argue about the statistics behind this guess if you're that kind of person – is that someone in that waiting line is a lost person who has a sin problem that ends up being a hell problem, and is someone the Gospel is given to be declared to. If you believe in hell and in the only savior of men, you should find a way to talk about the Gospel.

Should. Expresses obligation, propriety, or expediency. Disciples of Christ have an obligation to express the Gospel. Even at the Olive Garden, which may or may not have some historical association with the Roman Catholic church particularly by being an Italian restaurant [sic].

Now, if that's true – and I'd love to see the person who's willing to say that Christians do not have this kind of obligation – how much more obvious is this same obligation on a day which, in the English-speaking world, bears the name of Christ and the whole world is frankly stopped because of it. Last year I published a harmony of the Gospels here at the blog – what if we intentionally gathered as families with both the saved and the sinners and read something like that rather than treating the day as if it's just another day, just like every other day, even though Wall Street and the banks are closed and everyone is frankly looking for something to do?

Opportunities like that don’t just fall out of the sky, especially in a post-Christian culture.

[4] And to connect the dots here between [2] and [3], one might say, "well, cent, I actually do read the Heidelberg Catechism to my kids and we follow the three forms of unity, so my obligation to bringing up my children in the way they should go – evangelizing them, if you will – is taken care of, so your beat-down on me for not observing this day is uncalled for."

Yeah, no. And pay attention, because this is where you imaginary objectors really get my goat.

Paul said this:
    "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
and again:
    For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
I agree with you that one perfectly "lawful" means of doing your Christian life is the consideration (as in our example) of the Heidelberg Catechism. Where I part company with the imaginary objector is that you are straining out gnats and swallowing camels, and you have a really big problem if Rob Bell understands something which you do not.

I want you to imagine something: imagine that the whole English-speaking world stops for one day – and by "stops" I mean that there's not even any sports on the TV worth mentioning. Everybody stops working for one day. And for the most part, everyone has this yearning to be with family – even the most weird feel like this day bears some kind of meaning in that it would be good to be with family just this one day.

And on that day, the disciples of Christ get up in the morning, read Heidelberg Catechism Week 51 (ironically, "about the Lord's Day", speaking of holding one day above another), and wander off to work to show those idolatrous Catholics we don't bend a knee to the Pope, carn-sarn it.

Let me suggest to you that this is not only an avoidance of a right-minded "should" for a sort of smug and intellectually-selfish "ought", but it is completely tone-deaf to the real spirit of Christ who became flesh and took up residence among us, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, who has made God known.Christmas is the opportunity to make God known, people – particularly, to make Christ known. You have the liberty to do that in an obscure or untranslatable way, and you have the liberty to do that in a public and sort of lavish and joyous way – one which reflects your personal response to this God who poured Himself out, took on the form of a servant, allowed himself to be laid in a feeding trough, and came to die for people who deserved themselves to be put to death.

You can play baseball when the sun is shining, or you can play your PSP in your basement and wonder why you don’t know any real people. What you can't do is pretend that your liberty is more valuable than spending your liberty on your responsibilities.

[5] And that leads to my last point (because this is page 3 in WORD), which is to make it clear that what's at stake here is the declaration of the Gospel of God to the lost by all means possible. That's the real "culture war". You have to consider what it means to have a public faith at some point in your travels through sanctification.

Some people want to tell you that the only meaningful way to have a public faith is by church-community and church-worship. That is: somehow the only way, or perhaps the most efficacious way, of demonstrating a public faith is in liturgy in community. And we have to grant something here: depending on what you mean by "liturgy" and "efficacious", and depending on how important you rate the Lord's table and baptism, they have a point.

But if our worship stops at the last pew in the chapel, so to speak, we're just fans. We're not playing the game: we're just watching it.

You are called to do more than watch the game, reader. You are called to run the race, and fight the good fight, and be someone who's not just shadow-boxing in vain. You are called to be a spectacle for the sake of the Gospel, and that doesn’t happened behind closed doors.

11 December 2012

Franklin Graham's people play the "call" card: a cautionary tale

by Dan Phillips

In The Pastoral Call, and How There Isn't One, we accomplished two things:
  1. We drove a Bibley stake through the heart of a cherished and unsupportable tradition.
  2. We warned against its inherently disastrous dangers.
And now, as if ordered from a catalog, Franklin Graham and Co. come along to illustrate precisely what I'm talking about.

I'm not happy about it. For starters, long ago I wanted to be supportive of the universally-beloved icon Billy Graham... but then I read this, and watched videos like this, and heard him preaching to inmates in a prison that God had given them "the most precious gift of all" which, it turned out, was not Jesus Christ, but "free will," and the ability to "decide to become a better person" — and it became pretty tough to do.

But Franklin Graham has made statements and taken stands over the years that gave me hope that this apple fell a healthy distance from the tree.

Until this.

We read in this story that Franklin Graham was "shocked" (shocked!) to find that the organization's web site had a page labeling Mormonism as a "cult." They took the page down, and it's down for good. Why?

Graham explained, “[W]e’re calling people names. If I want to win people to Christ, how can I call them names?” Then BG media rep A. Larry Ross followed up with “Mr. Graham’s calling [N.B.] is not to pass judgment, but to proclaim the Biblical truth that Jesus is the only way to heaven, allowing every individual and group to fall along that plumb line.”

Other BG reps said “We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign,” and “If [Billy Graham] would do something that would alienate an audience, he wouldn’t be able to reach them.”

Well, so much could be said about that, couldn't it? I'm going to pick only one aspect, which I just developed at some length in connection with expounding and applying Titus 1:9. Larry Ross tells us, "Mr. Graham's calling is not to pass judgment."

Let's say I'd like to dispute that. (Readers: "I'd like to dispute that." Yes, thanks, you're all very helpful.)

This is pretty important, right? Ross is claiming that Graham has a note from God, against all Scripture, excusing him from calling damning heresy "damning heresy." It is a "call" that actually cancels Scripture. Or it surely seems to.

So yes, I dispute that.

But this "calling" must be a very powerful and persuasive thing, mustn't it, to compel a man in such a public and influential position to take such a stand? It must be compelling, thunderous, huge.

So, I'd like to see it. Is that too much to ask? So where can I go to examine Franklin Graham's "calling"? Perhaps Graham misread it. If so, I'd like to help. Or if God has cancelled out what He previously said (such as in, oh, Eph. 5:11b, Titus 1:9 [et passim], and Jude 3), I really need to know it. All pastors really need to know it.

Or did God just issue an exemption for Franklin Graham? Again, if Christians are expected to support him (even to the tune of $00.01) as an evangelist, we need to know when, where and how God issued this "calling" that cancelled His holy, inerrant, unchanging and abiding word. After all, how can an "evangelist" call people to repent if he can't explain what they need to repent of and why they need to do it. Otherwise, one is reminded of the joke.
QUESTION: What do you get when you cross a Jehovah's Witness and a Unitarian?
ANSWER: Someone who goes knocking door to door for no apparent reason.
But I would bet that Ross' adept playing of the "C" card (Calling!) didn't raise a dozen eyebrows among readers. Which is a tragedy, a tragedy to be billed to Charismatics and sloppy mystical non's alike.

But that's the desired effect, of course. "Oh, that's his calling? Okay, all right, I guess we're done here."

Underneath this lies perhaps a more fundamental question is: what is Franklin Graham? Is he a pastor? Of what church? Is he an evangelist? Under the authority of what church? If this latter, do the elders of his church know enough Bible to call him aside, rebuke and correct him, call him to (wait for it) repentance?

Because I don't know any other authoritative call of God, and any other binding template for all Christian leadership, than that which we find in the Word of God. This is a calling that is out-there, that is open to examination and analysis, and that is morally binding.

An example of this is Titus 1:9, which I translate thus: "holding fast to the faithful word according to the teaching, in order that he might be able both to exhort by healthy doctrine, and to reprove those who contradict." See there a twofold exercise of the leader's powerful ability in Scripture: "both to exhort by healthy doctrine, and to reprove those who contradict." Not either/or; but both/and. It's God-given, it's non-negotiable, and it's out there for all to see.

So while we might like to prance forth, preaching (select parts of) Jesus, love, joy, puppies and wonderfulness, and just forget about sin, error, shipwreck, apostasy and damning deception, we just do not have that option.

It isn't our calling.

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09 December 2012

The Joy Of Harvest

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the book We Endeavour, Pilgrim Publications, pages 67-68.
"It is a very joyful thing to attend a wedding; but it is always a speculation as to how it will turn out; but when you come to see a soul yield itself to Christ, there is no speculation about that; you have a blessed certainty." 

What say we of those who never sow? Well, they will never reap; they will never have the joy of harvest. Am I addressing any professing Christians who never sow, never speak a word for Christ, never call at a house, and try to introduce the Saviour’s name, never seek to bring children to the Saviour, take no part in the Sunday-school, or other service for Christ? Do I address some lazy man here, spiritually alive only for himself? Oh, poor soul, I would not like to be you, because I doubt whether you can be spiritually alive at all! Surely, he who lives for himself is dead while he lives; and you will never know the joy of bringing souls to Christ; and when you get to heaven, if you ever do get there, you will never be able to say, “Here am I, Father, and the children Thou has given me.” Thou wilt have to abide eternally alone, having brought no fruit unto God in the form of converts from sin. Shake yourselves up, brothers and sisters, from sinful sloth. “Oh!” says one, “I am not my brother’s keeper.” No, I will tell you your name; it is Cain. You are your brother’s murderer; for every professing Christian, who is not his brother’s keeper, is his brother’s killer; and be you sure that it is so; for you may kill by neglect quite as surely as you may kill by the bow or by the dagger.

What say we to those who have never reaped? Well, that depends. Perhaps you have only just begun to sow. Do not expect to reap before God’s time. “In due season ye shall reap if ye faint not.” There is a set season for reaping. But, if you have been a very long time sowing, and you have never reaped, may I ask the question, Where do you buy your seed? If I were to sow my garden year by year, and nothing ever came up, I should change my seedsman. Perhaps you have bad seed, and have not sown the gospel pure and undiluted. You have not brought it out in all its fulness. Go to the Word of God, and get “seed for the sower” of a kind that will feed your own soul, for it is “bread for the eater”; when you sow that kind of seed, it will come up.

06 December 2012

Reflections on the Word in Paul's writings

by Dan Phillips

As I preach through Titus, I've taken occasion now and again to share insights gained after the event ("the event" being the sermon). Today, we'll get ahead on the curve.

I'm about to preach on Titus 1:9, Lord willing, which goes something like this: "holding fast to the faithful word according to the teaching, in order that he might be able both to urge to action by healthy instruction, and to reprove those who contradict it." It's the last in the catalog of requirements for an elder/overseer/steward. Some list it as the seventh positive requirement, but I pare it off from the focus on the leader's family-life (v. 6) and his character (vv. 7-8).

At any rate, the particular focus from v. 9 for this post is the expression "the faithful word according to the teaching." I was using BibleWorks 9 (duh!) to search for occurrences of logos ("word"). I singled out a rafter of instances. This is just one of those cases where I won't be able to preach but a fragment of what I'm seeing, unless I take fifteen sermons on that one verse — which, God love 'em, my dear folks would support, but just because I can doesn't mean I should!

So I'll take this opportunity to share a data-dump with you in fairly raw form. You fellow hardcore GreekGeeks will love it just fine as-is; everyone else can mouse-over the references. So, without further eloquence:

The term logos occurs 1569 times in Gk. Bible, 330x in NT, 84x in Paul generally, 20x in Pastoral Epistles specifically. Here are some notable (in this connection) uses in Paul:

It's half the twofold division Paul makes of his ministry:
Romans 15:18  οὐ γὰρ τολμήσω τι λαλεῖν ὧν οὐ κατειργάσατο Χριστὸς δι᾽ ἐμοῦ εἰς ὑπακοὴν ἐθνῶν, λόγῳ καὶ ἔργῳ,
Paul's preaching is summarized as Ὁ λόγος ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ ("the word of the cross"):
1 Corinthians 1:18  Ὁ λόγος γὰρ ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῖς μὲν ἀπολλυμένοις μωρία ἐστίν, τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν.
The λόγος is powerful:
1 Corinthians 2:4  καὶ ὁ λόγος μου καὶ τὸ κήρυγμά μου οὐκ ἐν πειθοῖ[ς] σοφίας [λόγοις] ἀλλ᾽ ἐν ἀποδείξει πνεύματος καὶ δυνάμεως,
The Gospel is summarized as a λόγος :
1 Corinthians 15:2  δι᾽ οὗ καὶ σῴζεσθε, τίνι λόγῳ εὐηγγελισάμην ὑμῖν εἰ κατέχετε, ἐκτὸς εἰ μὴ εἰκῇ ἐπιστεύσατε.
Paul didn't adulterate or hucksterize the word:
2 Corinthians 2:17  οὐ γάρ ἐσμεν ὡς οἱ πολλοὶ καπηλεύοντες τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ, ἀλλ᾽ ὡς ἐξ εἰλικρινείας, ἀλλ᾽ ὡς ἐκ θεοῦ κατέναντι θεοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ λαλοῦμεν.
2 Corinthians 4:2  ἀλλὰ ἀπειπάμεθα τὰ κρυπτὰ τῆς αἰσχύνης, μὴ περιπατοῦντες ἐν πανουργίᾳ μηδὲ δολοῦντες τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τῇ φανερώσει τῆς ἀληθείας συνιστάνοντες ἑαυτοὺς πρὸς πᾶσαν συνείδησιν ἀνθρώπων ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ.
Paul's preaching was a word of reconciliation to God:
2 Corinthians 5:19  ὡς ὅτι θεὸς ἦν ἐν Χριστῷ κόσμον καταλλάσσων ἑαυτῷ, μὴ λογιζόμενος αὐτοῖς τὰ παραπτώματα αὐτῶν καὶ θέμενος ἐν ἡμῖν τὸν λόγον τῆς καταλλαγῆς.
...and of truth:
2 Corinthians 6:7  ἐν λόγῳ ἀληθείας, ἐν δυνάμει θεοῦ· διὰ τῶν ὅπλων τῆς δικαιοσύνης τῶν δεξιῶν καὶ ἀριστερῶν, 
Ephesians 1:13  Ἐν ᾧ καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀκούσαντες τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας, τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς σωτηρίας ὑμῶν, ἐν ᾧ καὶ πιστεύσαντες ἐσφραγίσθητε τῷ πνεύματι τῆς ἐπαγγελίας τῷ ἁγίῳ,
...and of life:
Philippians 2:16  λόγον ζωῆς ἐπέχοντες, εἰς καύχημα ἐμοὶ εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ, ὅτι οὐκ εἰς κενὸν ἔδραμον οὐδὲ εἰς κενὸν ἐκοπίασα.
...and of the truth of the Gospel (or this could be epexegetical, "the word of truth, the Gospel"):
Colossians 1:5  διὰ τὴν ἐλπίδα τὴν ἀποκειμένην ὑμῖν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, ἣν προηκούσατε ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τῆς ἀληθείας τοῦ εὐαγγελίου
...and of Christ:
Colossians 3:16  Ὁ λόγος τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐνοικείτω ἐν ὑμῖν πλουσίως, ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ διδάσκοντες καὶ νουθετοῦντες ἑαυτούς, ψαλμοῖς ὕμνοις ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς ἐν [τῇ] χάριτι ᾄδοντες ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν τῷ θεῷ·
...and of the Lord:
1 Thessalonians 1:8  ἀφ᾽ ὑμῶν γὰρ ἐξήχηται ὁ λόγος τοῦ κυρίου οὐ μόνον ἐν τῇ Μακεδονίᾳ καὶ [ἐν τῇ] Ἀχαΐᾳ, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν ἡ πρὸς τὸν θεὸν ἐξελήλυθεν, ὥστε μὴ χρείαν ἔχειν ἡμᾶς λαλεῖν τι. 
2 Thessalonians 3:1  Τὸ λοιπὸν προσεύχεσθε, ἀδελφοί, περὶ ἡμῶν, ἵνα ὁ λόγος τοῦ κυρίου τρέχῃ καὶ δοξάζηται καθὼς καὶ πρὸς ὑμᾶς,
...and of God:
2 Timothy 2:9  ἐν ᾧ κακοπαθῶ μέχρι δεσμῶν ὡς κακοῦργος, ἀλλὰ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ οὐ δέδεται·
It is welcomed by the elect as a powerful word:
1 Thessalonians 1:5-6  ὅτι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν οὐκ ἐγενήθη εἰς ὑμᾶς ἐν λόγῳ μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν δυνάμει καὶ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ [ἐν] πληροφορίᾳ πολλῇ, καθὼς οἴδατε οἷοι ἐγενήθημεν [ἐν] ὑμῖν δι᾽ ὑμᾶς. 6 Καὶ ὑμεῖς μιμηταὶ ἡμῶν ἐγενήθητε καὶ τοῦ κυρίου, δεξάμενοι τὸν λόγον ἐν θλίψει πολλῇ μετὰ χαρᾶς πνεύματος ἁγίου,
...indeed, as the Word of God:
1 Thessalonians 2:13  Καὶ διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἡμεῖς εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ θεῷ ἀδιαλείπτως, ὅτι παραλαβόντες λόγον ἀκοῆς παρ᾽ ἡμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐδέξασθε οὐ λόγον ἀνθρώπων ἀλλὰ καθώς ἐστιν ἀληθῶς λόγον θεοῦ, ὃς καὶ ἐνεργεῖται ἐν ὑμῖν τοῖς πιστεύουσιν.
Submission to the apostolic word is a test for fellowship:
2 Thessalonians 3:14  Εἰ δέ τις οὐχ ὑπακούει τῷ λόγῳ ἡμῶν διὰ τῆς ἐπιστολῆς, τοῦτον σημειοῦσθε μὴ συναναμίγνυσθαι αὐτῷ, ἵνα ἐντραπῇ·
The apostolic word should be welcomed and embraced without reservation or qualification:
1 Timothy 1:15  πιστὸς ὁ λόγος καὶ πάσης ἀποδοχῆς ἄξιος, ὅτι Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς ἦλθεν εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἁμαρτωλοὺς σῶσαι, ὧν πρῶτός εἰμι ἐγώ. 
1 Timothy 4:9  πιστὸς ὁ λόγος καὶ πάσης ἀποδοχῆς ἄξιος·
To be good servants, pastors must themselves be nourished in the words of faith and of good apostolic doctrine:
1 Timothy 4:6  Ταῦτα ὑποτιθέμενος τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς καλὸς ἔσῃ διάκονος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, ἐντρεφόμενος τοῖς λόγοις τῆς πίστεως καὶ τῆς καλῆς διδασκαλίας ᾗ παρηκολούθηκας·
The activity God most values in an elder is hard work in the word and teaching:
1 Timothy 5:17  Οἱ καλῶς προεστῶτες πρεσβύτεροι διπλῆς τιμῆς ἀξιούσθωσαν, μάλιστα οἱ κοπιῶντες ἐν λόγῳ καὶ διδασκαλίᾳ.
The elder is to herald that word above all, insistently and persistently, no matter what the societal prevailing winds or climate or pressures:
2 Timothy 4:2  κήρυξον τὸν λόγον, ἐπίστηθι εὐκαίρως ἀκαίρως, ἔλεγξον, ἐπιτίμησον, παρακάλεσον, ἐν πάσῃ μακροθυμίᾳ καὶ διδαχῇ.
Anyone who teaches other than the apostolic word is an inflated, deluded, obsessive ignoramus:
1 Timothy 6:3-5  εἴ τις ἑτεροδιδασκαλεῖ καὶ μὴ προσέρχεται ὑγιαίνουσιν λόγοις τοῖς τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ τῇ κατ᾽ εὐσέβειαν διδασκαλίᾳ, 4  τετύφωται, μηδὲν ἐπιστάμενος, ἀλλὰ νοσῶν περὶ ζητήσεις καὶ λογομαχίας, ἐξ ὧν γίνεται φθόνος ἔρις βλασφημίαι, ὑπόνοιαι πονηραί, 5  διαπαρατριβαὶ διεφθαρμένων ἀνθρώπων τὸν νοῦν καὶ ἀπεστερημένων τῆς ἀληθείας, νομιζόντων πορισμὸν εἶναι τὴν εὐσέβειαν.
There is a template for reliable apostolic words:
2 Timothy 1:13  Ὑποτύπωσιν ἔχε ὑγιαινόντων λόγων ὧν παρ᾽ ἐμοῦ ἤκουσας ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ τῇ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ·
All effort must be expended to handle it correctly, which means laziness results in handling it crookedly:
2 Timothy 2:15  σπούδασον σεαυτὸν δόκιμον παραστῆσαι τῷ θεῷ, ἐργάτην ἀνεπαίσχυντον, ὀρθοτομοῦντα τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας.
The apostolic word reveals the eternal counsels of the unlying God:
Titus 1:3  ἐφανέρωσεν δὲ καιροῖς ἰδίοις τὸν λόγον αὐτοῦ ἐν κηρύγματι, ὃ ἐπιστεύθην ἐγὼ κατ᾽ ἐπιταγὴν τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν θεοῦ,
The elder must hold it fast, regardless the pressures to the contrary:
Titus 1:9  ἀντεχόμενον τοῦ κατὰ τὴν διδαχὴν πιστοῦ λόγου, ἵνα δυνατὸς ᾖ καὶ παρακαλεῖν ἐν τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ τῇ ὑγιαινούσῃ καὶ τοὺς ἀντιλέγοντας ἐλέγχειν.
Unholy living brings slander to the word:
Titus 2:5  σώφρονας ἁγνὰς οἰκουργοὺς ἀγαθάς, ὑποτασσομένας τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν, ἵνα μὴ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ βλασφημῆται.
The man who possesses that word must insist on the word being respected by believers:
Titus 3:8  Πιστὸς ὁ λόγος· καὶ περὶ τούτων βούλομαί σε διαβεβαιοῦσθαι, ἵνα φροντίζωσιν καλῶν ἔργων προΐστασθαι οἱ πεπιστευκότες θεῷ· ταῦτά ἐστιν καλὰ καὶ ὠφέλιμα τοῖς ἀνθρώποις.

Do you see the cumulative impact of this, and how counter-cultural — indeed, how counter-evangelical cultural — it is? Does it leave you (as it does me) all the more impressed with what a catastrophe it is to dash off in pursuit of the approval of the age, what a betrayal it is, what rank unbelief it is, not only to think we have something other than the Word of God to hold forth, but (God grant us repentance!) something better?

Pastor-bros, preach the word. Sheep-bros, support churches that preach the word, and individuals who proclaim it in any venue. They're rowing against the tide. They need all the support they can get, and it's worth it.

I think doing that would revolutionize Christians globally, the church scene, the publishing and music business... and, for that matter, the blogosphere.

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