Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas, Just Live It!

Do we not fortify the world against the doctrine we profess, by the fruits of it they see in ourselves, and our own ways? Do they not say of us, ”These are our new lights and those who profess to believe; proud, selfish, worldly, unrighteous; negligent of the ordinances themselves profess to magnify; useless in their places and generations;—falling into the very same path which they condemn in others”? Perhaps they may deal falsely and maliciously in these things; but is it not high time for us to examine ourselves, lest, abounding in preaching and talking, we have forgot to walk humbly with God;—and so, not glorifying the gospel, have hindered the free course of its work and efficacy? ~John Owen

Thursday, December 22, 2011

from Steve Wilkins

Well, having already riled up a number of esteemed brethren, let us see if we can keep up the momentum! So, today, class, we shall make our target those (well-meaning) Christians who think that Christmas gift-giving distracts us from the True Meaning of Christmas ™.

You hear it every year, don’t you? We’re warned against the “commercialization” of Christmas and exhorted to reject it so that we can get back to the true Reason for the Season ™. We spend too much money. Shopping for others brings stress and anxiety and hustle and bustle and worry and drives you crazy! Why can’t we just love one another and forget the gifts and just spend time around the fireplace thinking warm thoughts of love and gentleness, sipping hot chocolate, and enjoying some simple, home-made gifts (which are far more meaningful than anything you could possibly buy from one of those greedy merchants at the mall or online)?

That’s the spirit I’m talking about. You’ve heard it, right? Ok.

First, though, let’s acknowledge that there are real sins connected with our celebrations that we need to be mindful of and avoid:
– Do many people spend more than they can afford on gifts and sin by going into unnecessary debt? You betcha.
– Do we have a problem with materialism in our culture? Indeed we do.
– Do we often think that money and things can bring happiness and contentment? Yep.
– Do we fall into the trap of focusing more upon the hassle and the expense of gift-giving than we do upon the privilege of giving? Absolutely.
– Should we spend more time together with loved ones and work on building our relationships and loving one another? Of course.
– Should we remember that there are many people in need of basic necessities and have compassion on them instead of always focusing upon ourselves? Absolutely, we must never forget the needs of those around us — mercy and justice demand it.

But acknowledging all that, the message we often hear gives this impression: “Giving unnecessary and expensive gifts to friends and family is a waste of money. It encourages selfishness, covetousness, materialism and indifference to others and is a great dishonor to God.”

The implication is that one of the solutions to covetousness, selfishness, and materialism is to quit giving gifts and cut back on the size of our celebration — otherwise it’s impossible to avoid these sins.

But is this true? Let me pose another question: If you’re tithing and being generous with the wealth God has given you (remembering those in need), is it wrong to spend your money on gifts and celebration? Is it wrong to give something that is not absolutely necessary for sustaining life? Like a toy rocket ship or truck or a video game, or another pair of shoes, or a new shirt or a hilarious tie? Is it wrong to spend money on special treats and an unusually large dinner? Some of our friends would say, “Yes. Yes it is, absolutely!”

The problem here, however, is that God says, “No. No, it isn’t wrong, absolutely not!” If you’re tithing, being generous, showing compassion to those in need, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with feasting, gift-giving, celebrating, and spending money for these “unnecessary” things.

Indeed, God commanded Israel to do this very thing, right? (Deut. 14:22-27 “You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. 23 And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. 24 But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses.”).

It’s not clear exactly how this was to work, but scholars think that at least four out of every seven years, God expected Israel to do this. And notice: The rule for determining what you obtained with your money was not what you needed but what you desired. And you were not to be concerned about the amount. You were to purchase as much as your tithe allowed. Which, for some, would have amounted to quite a bit of stuff.

It’s impossible to know the average income of the average Israelite, so let’s just put it in terms that we can understand. What if you were to spend a tithe of your income for a celebration? What would my friends think if they heard I spent $3000-4000 for Christmas? Would they be dismayed? Would you? It sounds like gross extravagance, like something that can only lead to evil, right?

But notice why the Lord wanted Israel to do this (v. 23 “that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.”). This extravagant celebration was to teach them to fear Yahweh. That’s the same phrase used to explain why they should read the law publicly every seven years (Deut. 31:10-13).

God puts celebration and feasting on the same level as hearing His Word. Why? In part because the celebration itself was made possible by God’s goodness and generosity. They had something to celebrate with only because God had been generous to them in giving them strength and skill and blessing their labors. And every year when they ate and drank and enjoyed the abundance of good things that they probably couldn’t afford during the rest of the year –- they were reminded of God’s extravagant grace and mercy to them. And the experience of His goodness and generosity would in turn make them generous people. They would fear Him and grow in conformity to Him.

God wasn’t afraid that they would become covetous and materialistic. The covetous man doesn’t have any desire to spend his money for others. The materialist has no regard for the joy he might bring to others with his wealth. This grand celebration was to teach them to see the ugliness of covetousness and materialism and to attack these evils.

And, you know what? A joyful, generous celebration of Christmas (and other feast days) will do the same for us.

Do you see how this works? Our giving is to reflect God’s generosity to us. The man who is always concerned that he’s going to spend a penny more than is absolutely necessary or that he’s going to give more than he needs to give, is not showing the spirit of the Savior. He’s not loving like Jesus loves at all. Rather, we show forth the glory of God by being generous to others and sometimes by being extravagantly generous — just like He is toward us.

God gives us many, many things that are not absolutely necessary for life. He supplies all our needs but then gives us far above all that we can ask or think. And He never worries about spending too much on us. Does His abundance make you spoiled, arrogant, and demanding? Or does it rather humble you and make you ashamed of your selfishness and self-centeredness and pettiness and stinginess?

You see? God doesn’t attack consumerism and materialism by being stingy with His gifts or restricting the number of them because He’s afraid that you will become a selfish pig. Rather, He lavishes His gifts upon you so that you will learn to be like Him.

Christmas is a time when we have the privilege of imitating the gloriously generous, loving God who has given us the most precious of gifts and all other things with Him.

So rejoice, be glad, eat, drink, and be truly merry — for the Lord is good. He has given us His Son . . . and the turkey and the pecan pie and that funny sweater Aunt Suzie thought was “darling” — give thanks and enjoy it all so that you can become like the Lord of love, joy, and gladness.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

From George Grant

Schaeffer and Worldview

On this day in 1979, Francis Schaeffer gave an historic speech which would form the basis of his landmark book A Christian Manifesto. He asserted that "the basic problem with Christians in this country" over the last two generations or more has been that "they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.” The result has been a kind of hesitant hit-or-miss approach to the dire dilemmas of our day: “They have very gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion. But they have not seen this as a totality--each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much larger problem.”

He said that part of the reason for this was: “They failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in worldview--that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think a view the world and life as a whole.”

When the subject of worldview comes up, we generally think of philosophy. We think of intellectual niggling. We think of the brief and blinding oblivion of ivory tower speculation, of thickly obscure tomes, and of inscrutable logical complexities.

In fact, a worldview is as practical as potatoes. It is less metaphysical than understanding marginal market buying at the stock exchange or legislative initiatives in congress. It is less esoteric than typing a book into a laptop computer or sending a fax across the continent. It is instead as down to earth as tilling the soil for a bed of zinnias.

The word itself is a poor English attempt at translating the German weltanshauung. It literally means a life perspective or a way of seeing. It is simply the way we look at the world.

You have a worldview. I have a worldview. Everyone does. It is our perspective. It is our frame of reference. It is the means by which we interpret the situations and circumstances around us. It is what enables us to integrate all the different aspects of our faith, and life, and experience.

Alvin Toffler, in his book Future Shock said: “Every person carries in his head a mental model of the world, a subjective representation of external reality.”

This mental model is, he says, like a giant filing cabinet. It contains a slot for every item of information coming to us. It organizes our knowledge and gives us a grid from which to think. Our mind is not as Pelagius, Locke, Voltaire, or Rousseau would have had us suppose—a tabla rasa, a blank and impartial slate. None of us are completely open-minded or genuinely objective. “When we think,” said economic philosopher E.F. Schumacher, “we can only do so because our mind is already filled with all sorts of ideas with which to think.” These more or less fixed notions make up our mental model of the world, our frame of reference, our presuppositions--in other words, our worldview.

Thus, a worldview is simply a way of viewing the world. Nothing could be simpler. But by raising the issue when he did and how he did, Francis Schaeffer altogether altered the terms of the theological debate in America and ushered in a new wave of reform.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why there is so much emphasis on "romance" & "intimacy"

Relationships and Intimacy in the Modern World

When talking about the relationships that characterize the Christian life, I wonder whether both our language and concepts of relationship have been weakened in a manner that makes it hard to appreciate what these things mean any longer. God’s revelation of his presence in and through a community that shares a deep and strong common life is not the same thing as that presence experienced in the ersatz ‘community’, where feelings of mutual belonging are often substituted for the fact. Similarly, the gravitational pull towards forms of religious expression focused upon intimacy, sentimentality, and romantic attachment may be a result of the fact that our relational palette has been considerably reduced by the character of modern life, as all close relationships start to become subsumed under the generic category of ‘intimacy’, and we no longer can relate to the forms of worship and piety that were meaningful in societies with a richer and finely differentiated relational matrix.

How We Forgot What Sonship Means

As our understanding of the relationship of sonship has been transformed as society has changed, and we read modern notions of sonship back into the scriptures, one of the effects is to infantilize our understanding of our relationship with God. Being sons of God becomes associated with passive emotional attachment detached from active discipleship. This infantilization encourages the loss of the place of the mind and the marginalization of the virtues of the mature person (courage, strength, self-discipline, self-sacrifice, etc.) within our understanding of the Christian life. Sonship becomes an almost entirely internalized concept of felt intimacy, rather than an outward looking concept of representation and commission. It becomes a private bond, rather than a bond that is lived out in a manner that is essentially visible to the whole of society. It can also become a narcissistic connection, rather than one that celebrates the broader familial bonds within which it includes us. It can become detached from the context of entering into inheritance.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Christian XPmas

by Pastor Jeff Meyers.

All the links are here:

12 Daze of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas

by George Grant

Every day, from December 25 to January 6, has traditionally been a part of the Yuletide celebration. Dedicated to mercy and compassion--in light of the incarnation of Heaven’s own mercy and compassion--each of those twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany was to be noted by selfless giving and tender charity. In many cultures, gift giving is not concentrated on a single day, but rather, as in the famous folk song, spread out through the entire season.

In that delightful old folk song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, each of the gifts represent some aspect of the blessing of Christ’s appearing. They portray the abundant life, the riches of the Christian inheritance, and the ultimate promise of heaven. They also depict the essential covenantal nature of life lived in Christian community and accountability--but perhaps not as specifically as you may have been led to believe. Though theories vary on the origin of the song (it first appears sometime during the advent of Protestantism in Tudor England) it is likely an urban legend that it was intended to be a secret catechism song during those difficult times of persecution.

That rather fanciful interpretation of the song has attached very specific and very dubious meanings to the symbols: the partridge in a pear tree, for instance, is taken to be Christ, Himself. It is supposed that in the song, He is symbolically presented as a mother partridge feigning injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings--an expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so." The two turtledoves are taken to represent the Old and New Testaments. The three French Hens supposedly symbolize faith, hope, and love. The four calling birds are said to portray either the four Gospels or the four evangelists. The five golden rings are supposed to be the first five books of the Old Testament the "Pentateuch." The six geese a-laying are said to be the six days of creation while the seven swans a-swimming are taken to be the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The eight maids a-milking are supposed to be the eight beatitudes while the nine ladies dancing supposedly represent the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit. The ten lords a-leaping are naturally taken to mean the Ten Commandments. The eleven pipers piping are supposed to be the eleven faithful apostles and the twelve drummers drumming are either the tribes of Israel, the elders of Revelation, or the points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed.

Most of these well-intended interpretations are likely just wishful thinking. For one thing, all of the first seven gifts actually refer to birds of varying types. The fourth day's gift, for instance, is four "colly birds," not four "calling birds" (the word "colly" literally means "black as coal," and thus "colly birds" would be blackbirds). The "five golden rings" on the fifth day refers not to five pieces of jewelry, but to five ring-necked birds (such as pheasants).

But, even though symbolic maximalism likely goes too far, it is equally excessive to assume that the song is "strictly secular," as one debunking web site dubbed it. Indeed, secularism in sixteenth century England was about as credible then as an Elvis sighting is today. The answer to overly-anxious allegorical apocryphalism is not the equal and opposite error of overly-anxious rational reductionism. Symbols don't have to mean everything in order to mean something--nor do they have to mean nothing.

Very likely, this delightful folk song was just intended to generally and joyously portray throughout the Yuletide season the abundant Christian life, the riches of the Church's covenantal inheritance, and the Gospel's ultimate promise of heaven. Sing, therefore, with new gusto and zeal. For, "every good and perfect gift comes from above." Even partridges, pear trees, and leaping lords!