17 December 2014

An Arclight of Hope

by The Late 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.

16 December 2014

Short Christmas sermon: How not to find Jesus

by Dan Phillips

For our annual Christmas program, I was to bring a brief message. The program lasted well over an hour before my time came, and it was wonderful — piano, banjo, saxophone, flute, guitars; songs, recitals; little tiny kids and adults. Really great.

I'd puzzled and pondered on what to bring. Such events bring believers and unbelievers. We have many such events at which I'm asked to speak; and I know unbelieving friends and relatives are there. So I invariably preach the Gospel as pointedly, plainly and powerfully as I know how. And, to date, there has not been one conversion or even further contact from these events. This is a matter of intense, ongoing prayer for me, and I do all I can to urge my dear ones here at our church to do the same.

That said, I had no interest in offering a soothing, tranquilizing, boilerplate intonation of familiar imagery. So I took a different approach on a familiar passage. I focused on Matthew 2, but announced my topic is "How NOT to Find Jesus."

I'll do for you what I never do. These are my preaching notes:

1.      Every Sunday I stand in the pulpit and tell people how to find Jesus, how to know God, how to walk with Him
a.       Those who come, want to know these things
b.      Those who do not want to know these things do not come
2.      So I thought for a change, I’d preach a short sermon on how not to find Jesus
a.       King Herod will be our example
b.      I’ll draw out three main points, briefly 

I.          When You Hear of Jesus, Don’t Look for Him Yourself
A.       Wise Men Told Herod
1.        He was troubled – making him both smarter and dumber than some
a.         He saw Jesus as a threat, and he was right
b.         But not the way he meant
c.         Still, he did not welcome God’s Messiah
2.        He did not join the Magi himself, but turned to the Experts – a dodge
B.        Bible Experts Told Herod
1.        They found in Scripture where Jesus would have been born
2.        This would have been just six miles
a.         Yet Herod did not go
b.         And the religious experts did not go!
TRANSITION:  this method will work every time: don’t look, and you won’t find

II.       When Your Non-Searching Results in Non-Finding…
A.       First: Blame Others
1.        Herod was angry at the wise men…
2.        angry, at them, for not being caught by his lie, and helping him destroy the Christ Child!
B.        Second: Believe Absurdity Instead
1.        So Herod believes this is God’s Messiah, and a threat to him…
2.        …but he thinks he can kill him?
C.       Third: Lash Out
1.        What did the babies do? Nothing
2.        Yet little god Herod is desperate in preserving his little god universe…
3.        …and a few innocent babies aren’t going to stop him
TRANSITION:  Keeping the issue everything-but-me also always works; but…

III.    Most Importantly: Never Intend to Find Him in the First Place
A.       Herod Never Meant to Find Christ for Himself
1.        By “find” I mean know, worship, love and embrace Him
2.        Herod just wanted Christ gone so he could carry on as before
B.        Remember: Christ Was There To Be Found
1.        As for Herod and the Experts…
2.        …so for you and me
C.       What If Herod Had Repented?
Psalm 2:10–12 — Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. 
1.        As for the kings of the earth…
2.        …so for Herod…
3.        …and so for you and me

I expanded a good deal, gave some additional historical anecdotes about Herod... buy hey, did you expect everything?

Now I've given you a gift for Christmas, or so was my intent. Would you give me one? Pray for the church I serve and for me, for these things:
  • That unbelievers present for this message find themselves unable to put it out of their mind, their thoughts turned to Christ afresh by the Holy Spirit
  • For the power of the preached Word in our church
  • For God to use His Gospel as His power for salvation, converting and redeeming the lost in our ministry
Dan Phillips's signature

14 December 2014

Jesus in the midst

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 Gospel of the Kingdom, page 154, Pilgrim Publications.
"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

There is no excuse for giving up prayer-meetings while there are two praying people in the place; for two can prevail with God. 

The presence of Jesus is the fixed centre of the assembly, the warrant for its coming together, and the power with which it acts. The church, however small, is gathered in his name. Jesus is there first: I am in the midst of them. 

We are gathered together by the holy impulses of Christian brotherhood, and our meeting is in the name of Jesus, and therefore there he is; near, not only to the leader, or to the minister, but in the midst, and therefore near to each worshipper.

We meet to do him honour, to hear his Word, to stir each other up to obey his will; and he is there to aid us. However small the number, we make a quorum; and what is done according to the laws of Christ is done with his authority.

Hence it is that there is great power in united prayer from such persons: it is Jesus pleading in his saints. This should prevent Christian men from giving or taking offence; for if Jesus be in our midst, our peace must not be broken by strife.

12 December 2014

Some here, some there — December 12, 2014

by Dan Phillips

If you're one of those misguided souls who only drops by on Fridays, be sure to see the extra-edition SHST posted last Tuesday. I think many missed it.

So, let's see... what day is it today? Oh yeah.

On with it:
whether she's struggled similarly to put her finger on just what she believes about rape, murder, Arianism, Roman Catholicism, lying, theft and other sins. Like when she mentions a "celibate homosexual Christian" friend — does she have child-molestor-Christian friends, atheist-Christian friends, murdering-Christian friends, Sabellian-Christian friends?

Dan Phillips's signature

11 December 2014

"From You Shall Come Forth..."

by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Phil back in December 2010. Phil offered his thoughts on Micah 5:2, noting that it is both a messianic prophecy and a Christmas text.

As usual, the comments are closed.
One of the most famous and important Old Testament messianic prophecies is also a Christmas text. It foretold that Christ would be born in Bethlehem: "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days" (Micah 5:2).

That promise loomed large in the minds of expectant first-century Jewish leaders—so much so that many of them were prepared to reject Him because they did not know His birthplace and assumed, naturally, that he had been born in the region of his parents' home: "Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee" (John 7:52).

But I think the most amazing thing about Micah's prophecy is the way the deity of Christ is expressed in the verse's final phrase. Israel's Messiah would be One "whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days."

The clear implication of that expression is that the birth of Christ in Bethlehem was not the beginning of Christ as God's Son and our Sovereign. He is eternal. He "came forth" from Bethlehem, but He did not come from there in the first place. His "goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting"—to use the familiar phrasing from the King James Version.

Notice also that the words of this prophecy are spoken directly by God the Father. Some clear threads of Trinitarian doctrine are woven into the fabric of the text. God the Father is speaking, and in speaking about the One who would come forth out of Bethlehem, He says this: "from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel."

Don't miss the importance of those two words "for Me." God the father is sending this eternal Person to be born and to rule and to redeem His people, and to make righteousness reign over all the earth.

The language is of course reminiscent of John 3:16John 10:36Galatians 4:4, 1 John 4:9-10, and 1 John 4:14.

That is the gospel, and it's embedded in our text by implication. Christ—God the Son—came to this earth at the behest of God the Father, on a mission of mercy and redemption. He calls us to repent of our sins and believe in Him—and He does all the work of redemption Himself. It's not up to us to atone for our own sin—we simply lay hold of His grace by faith.

10 December 2014

Working Clothes

by the Late Frank Turk

Some of you will recognize that last weeks' post was a re-write of a post which was about the same from 2009.  You might recognize this one that way as well, but it's worth your time to revisit this with me.  I’m thinking about work today because I have plenty of it to do. In one sense, I am feeling blessed by my own abundance of tasks and the fact that they aren’t going to change the locks on my door while I’m out for Christmas holidays because I know for certain some of my own friends are not so lucky. Some of you are getting notice that you have Fridays off indefinitely, but they’re going to cut your pay accordingly. Some of you wish you were only getting Fridays off, because let’s face it: CareerBuilder.com is not awash in great-paying, long-term career moves right now.

So today as I put on my working clothes – sport jacket, decent shirt, pressed jeans since it’s the week before vacation, shoes, socks, appropriate undergarments – I was thinking about the kind of work there is to do right now. And layered on top of that is the News. You know: it’s Christmas, and you’d think human nature could take two weeks off to give us a break, but it never does, and it comes to us as The News. And I don’t know about you, but when I see The News, I think of my own kids, and because I know them and love them I pray to God that there is not an end like that the one in The News in store for them.

Because let’s face it: there could be. The News keeps coming out every day, every single day, because these things keep happening to other people's children and spouses and friends. These things man-handle the blogosphere. When the world puts on its working clothes, that is the kind of thing that comes of it. That is the kind of world we live in. Usually I have some kind of pithy zinger to throw in to really make you not forget what I’m talking about here, but I got nothin’: you know how The News makes you feel every day, and if you don't you’re dead inside.

And for that reason, we get stories/video like this one:

 I will grant you that there are a variety of items in that video which my wife isn’t going to list in my honey-do list, and things I wouldn’t spend the time listing because they are so implausible, but overall that’s what people think of church – as a place where we live out what we believe. While the world has its own work to do, and its own working clothes, decent people think they have a different job, and a different set of working clothes to get into and get after.

But here’s the thing: it seems rather obvious to me that the way this video frames it up, there’s no solution in that activity to the problems we find in The News. If what’s in that video is what the church (of all places, of all groups of people) is all about, it’s a no-contest, one-round knock-out punch, and the world is going to win every time.

So I’m thinking about a different set of working clothes this morning – especially as I try to get myself ready for Christmas amid the busy-ness of life which I am right now blessed with. I’m think of the one who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The working clothes of that guy is where the hope of the world comes from – not from our paltry efforts (however genuinely-good and genuinely-loving they are) to make the world a better place. We don’t believe in our good works: we believe in a Lord and Christ, a Sovereign and a Savior who overcomes a world filled with The News -- the Bad News -- and the sinful hearts which cause it.

And that’s what we celebrate at Christmas: the working clothes that look like a baby in a feeding trough; the long-suffering and loving-kindness of a God who is with us.

We celebrate that there is not just News, but there is Good News, Good tidings of Great Joy for all people.

09 December 2014

Some here, some there — December 9, 2014

by Dan Phillips

Christmas has come early!

Actually, I was looking forward to reading Frank's post... then I realized that it was "my" day. And so, since I was thinking all yesterday that I already had enough for an SHST, here is one early. Not sure whether I'll do another Friday, or something else. Suspense!

Have fun, it's quite the mini-assortment.
  • I've long said that secularists have no problem with Christians being Christians, just so long as we don't do it out-loud or in publicRick Plasterer (seriously) argues that that principle will fall heavily and possibly terminally on Christian institutions, given the current tidal wave of totalitarian, institutionalized immorality (including compulsory approval) that is sweeping what once would have been called Christendom.
  • The very people who now sneer at the fact that "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?" was ever asked, are having no problem with the same question posed of public persons, with the substitution of "Christian religion" for the last two words.
  • Reminding one of the immortal words of Cdr. Buck Murdock.
  • One last reflection on that article. Plasterer says this almost in passing: "God’s standard given in Scripture is obedience to Him regardless of pain." How many professed Christians don't even think it important to obey God regardless of inconvenience or effort, let alone pain?
  • Okay, this next item is not at all like the usual. I can only offer three reasons for including it... and they're stretches. First: it has footage from the Charlie Brown Christmas, including the reading from Luke, so: ChristmasSecond: it features one of the very best guitar solos ever recorded by one of the very best guitarists ever to play, so: common graceThird: it's awesome and I love it. So: my blog (in part)! Thanks to reader Keith Lamborn for alerting me to it. Enjoy, or move along to the next item.
  • I loved that the creator timed the clips so well to the song, but what really won me over was the dances during the guitar solo. Awesome.
  • And BTW, the song is about writing a song. In case someone's going to go all Johnny Todd on me.
  • In case you didn't see it — well, (A) shame on you; and (B) go to my blog and see this lovely version of The Wexford Carol, with Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss.
  • You know what's even weirder (to me) than having Rick Warren in effect say "pish-posh" to the Reformation? Having Reformation 21 publish an article lavishing praise on that wonderfully "generous" evangelical Richard Mouw! In case you don't remember, Mouw was President pf Fuller Theological Seminary for 20 years, which all by itself would be enough to raise my eyebrow. But what's more, Mouw is the man who threw Christian missionaries to Mormons under the bus, and who the Mormons love because he has proclaimed Mormonism not to be a cult.
  • Do you think Harold Lindsell is looking smug in heaven? Are other saints having to tell him to stop saying "QED!"?
  • So is Reformation 21 prepping an article praising the generosity of Rick Warren? Unknown.
  • But the president of Covenant College agrees. So there's that.
  • Well, now to something more directly seasonal, and as a reward for Frank — if he's read further than the post title — this:

Fun, eh? Now, what will I do Friday...?

Dan Phillips's signature