Archive for December, 2007

Simplicity and Godly Sincerity

December 31, 2007

The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:12 mentions two traits that I would urge you to consider today as you enter into worship. He wrote, “For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God.”

Simplicity and godly sincerity.

Simplicity doesn’t mean being a simpleton. It has to do with singleness. It’s the difference between 100% cotton and a poly blend. The all-cotton blouse has the trait of simplicity because it is singular in composition. And thus we too are to be not poly blends of many competing loyalties toward many competing lords. We are to be composed of simple love and devotion for the Lord Jesus Christ. He is to occupy the chief place in our minds and loyalties and affections.

And then I also exhort you to pursue godly sincerity in your worship today. When you are part of a formal worship liturgy each week, it is easy to fall into repetition with no heart. But godly sincerity is the heart behind the repetition. It is you doing what you do as unto Jesus Christ, in a living and real relationship with Him.

Finally, I offer you this caveat: Paul knew that these traits of simplicity and sincerity were by grace and not by human devising. They were gifts of the Spirit and not ways to manipulate something out of someone. In the entanglements of our hearts, we have to guard against seeing simplicity and sincerity as things we gin up to get God to accept us.

Simplicity and godly sincerity are the right environment for worship, but they are gifts of grace. They are not something you put on to get something out of God. You are here today at His bidding, as His new creations, called by His irresistible grace to come and worship Him and receive from Him. You can’t manipulate anything out of Him, and it is the height of fleshly wisdom to try to put on simplicity and sincerity in order to manipulate something out of someone else.

So I invite you all: come, in singleness and in holy authenticity that seeks Christ alone, come and worship God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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Words of the Year

December 30, 2007

End-of-the-year lists are a staple this time of the year. Top news events from 2007. Celebrity breakups. Poignant sports moments. The year in pictures, ad infinitum. But I found a better list. Dictionary.com features the top words of 2007 here. There is a word or phrase for each month of the year that was prominent or new. I particularly liked the prominence of the word “nappy” in April 2007 . . . like a stroll back to my youth (where I was around people who used the word “nappy” a lot. I do not now nor have I ever had a nappy head.)

Sacramental Living at Christmastide

December 28, 2007

This Christmas season has been a time for simple pleasures: quiet conversations over cake with family, a glass of wine, sitting on the front porch watching the children play, getting tape tangled in my fingers as I try to wrap a gift, the smell of evergreen as I walk into the house. It’s made me remember that good living is sacramental living.

Sacramental living is seeing life as the Sovereign God intends that we see it – with everything (literally everything!) shot through with His goodness and grace. It means that all of creation with its variety and beauty and complexity is a gift of grace to us. And it means that the universe and the earth and its bounty and its creatures, and food and home and sex and labor and domestic joys and struggles and sitting and standing and kneeling in worship – all of it is a signal of the presence of God to us. It is all God’s good created order meant to bless us with life and meant for us to take and transform into life in God. That is sacramental living. It is a basic disposition toward daily life that sees God’s bounty in everything He has made and receives it as a wonderful gift from Him and a signal of His favor and love for us as His redeemed children, His new creation, His new humanity in whom he delights. God made all things good, and He is redeeming all things for our sake. We can live with the joy of knowing this is true.

Modernism and postmodernism are telling a different story about the world. Modernism, which is the worldview of the Enlightenment, and postmodernism, which is the monster made in its image, are the controlling thought patterns of our Western world. Modernism can be described as the loss of the sacramental character of creation. With man’s reason enthroned over all, modernism sees the physical world as merely the effect of a prior cause in the material processes that began with the Big Bang and continues with celestial expansion and survival of the fittest and chemical chain reactions, of which you and I are a small but meaningless part. So we are just another part of the physical world; we are a bunch of colliding atoms living in the middle of a bunch of other colliding atoms, with nothing really special about those atoms. They are just the random collocation of physical processes fizzing and bubbling on a blue marble in an empty void. However we moderns see ourselves in relation to the physical world, we have to make it up for ourselves. We are just blobs of protoplasm on the evolutionary scale at the whim of big natural forces, so make life whatcha can.

C.S. Lewis described modernity as “the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law.” That “ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism” is the result of the secularism that arises from the godless world out of which Enlightened man kicked God with his almighty reason. If there is no Creator, then the universe is all there is, and the universe is a pretty bleak place. We are up against scientific processes a lot bigger than us, as we have to try to make the most of it and maximize what we have. That’s pragmatism: ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism, or what Pope John Paul II called “the culture of death.” In a world of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism, if a pregnancy keeps a woman from fulfilling her dreams, kill the baby. If the people demand cheaper products, rape the countryside to give it to them. If the world craves more and more power and more and more stuff, light the fires of industry to give the stuff to them as efficiently as possible with no regard for beauty or the good life. Whatever works best for making life as efficient and technologically advanced for man as possible is what we should do. In the modern world what matters is the free market economy creating material wealth; what matters is efficiency that makes way for consumerism and renders everything as cheap as possible; what matters is having it all. And the Christian church has been complicit in creating this world gone mad.

But Christians should be telling a different story, the story of Christ and the good life in Him. The good life of the Christian vision sees the whole world as having a sacramental character. Nature, food, fishing, lovemaking, wine, sunsets, shopping, art, laboring, cleaning, building, dirty bathtubs after bathing four dirty children, melted ice cream dribbling down the chin, a sweaty brow with the smell of freshly cut grass, the crisp smell and stiff spine of a new book – it all has the sacramental character of a gracious gift and a means for knowing the blessing of God and fellowship with God. Architecture, economy, government, performing art, agriculture, education, publishing – all of it is a gift from God for the beautifying of His world, for the transforming of the world into a place of communion with the Lord of life, in which everything is received as a gift from Him and everything is a means of offering worship to the Living God.

Genesis 1 tells us that God originally made all things very good and that God in His providence has never stopped caring for and lovingly tending His creation. You can read a psalm like Psalm 104 and hear how God provides for the animals and for humans alike. Now with the entry of sin into the world, the creation changed and became corruptible, but the creation is still good. God intends to redeem His creation. God will complete what He first set out to do – which was to make the whole world a place of fellowship and worship between God and His image bearer, man. The ultimate evidence of God’s intention to redeem His entire creation is the incarnation, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. The work of Christ is God’s great restoration project for all creation.

A biologist from Calvin College named Stephen Matheson, by virtue of his training, puts it vividly. He wrote,

The ascension [of Christ to heaven in a human body] carries the following startling implication, as articulated by theologian Gerrit Dawson: “The meaning of a continuing incarnation is revealed in all its splendour: in the person of the eternal Son, the Triune God has taken up humanity into his being for ever” (Jesus Ascended, P&R Publishing, 2004, 53). There is human flesh in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father.

Human flesh, with protein and carbohydrate, bone and muscle, DNA and mitochondria, is in heaven, already, waiting to greet other embodied beings who will be raised with him. . . . It does not imply that the whole shebang is good, for surely there was a transformation (glorification) of Jesus’ body, and there were some things that he didn’t take with him. But it does imply that flesh, biological stuff, cells and DNA and blood and guts, are things that do not merely and universally pass away. They can last, somehow, forever.

I’m living in the new creation and loving it this Christmastide. Hope you are too.

This Guy Must Support Ron Paul…

December 27, 2007

… turning everything upside down.

Christmas Joy

December 25, 2007

Luke 2:8-20

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

14 “Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

The heart of Christmas is mysterious joy. At every turn the wisdom of the world is turned upside down and confounded. Here is the treasure of God placed into an earthly vessel. Step back and wonder at the wisdom of God in this passage.

An Angel and the host of heaven, herald the arrival of Prince of Peace and the God of Goodwill. They rend the fabric separating heaven from earth so that the glory of the Lord shone all about the place. The attention of the Omniscient, Omnipotent Triune God was focused like a laser on – shepherds?

Like so much of the Advent of Christ this seems incongruous with what we think we know about God. For instance, He is an Infinite Spirit, filling space and time while existing outside that same space and time, yet the Holy Spirit overshadows a small girl in an insignificant village and God becomes local. The God of the universe is wrapped up in the womb of a virgin.

Here, the angel tells the shepherds that this news was to be for all the people – kings and prophets, rulers and teachers, judges and magisterium, but the lowest class of working man is granted this greatest of favors, they were told where to find the Savior of the World. The good tidings of great joy were placed in the earthiest of earthen vessels, keepers of sheep.

This is the message of Joy… There is a baby in Bethlehem, wrapped tight in swaddling cloths, lying in a food trough and all of that is a sign that unto you is given a Savior who is Christ, God’s anointed, the Lord of the Universe.

That is the sign of a visit from God? A poor family – living with animals – at a public inn? How can this be the same God? The hope of all the world, past, present and future, is mysteriously cooing and feeding at the breast of teenager. Who would look for the Savior of the world in a baby?

Ah, but there was treasure there. That earthen vessel of low reputation and common birth contained the Lord of all the universe. Look with the eyes of heaven. Look at that child with God’s eyes! Here is Jesus the Christ, Savior of man, the Son of God and of Mary Glory to God in the highest!

That Christmas conundrum continues today. Who would look for the Savior in me and you? All of our inconstancies and frailties; our flesh marked with sin, frame a poor dwelling for the Savior who is Christ the Lord.

1 Cor 1:26-31

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”

Born to you this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Glory to God in Highest and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men!

al sends

Look What I Did

December 24, 2007

Well, so far this Christmas season I have done the following: decorated a Christmas tree, gone Christmas caroling, bought (and drank) Starbucks Christmas frappuccino, sang in a Christmas choir, read Advent readings, bought Christmas gifts, wrapped Christmas gifts, opened Christmas gifts, hung a Christmas wreath and scads of little twinkling lights on the outside of my house, drank eggnog, ate pecan pie, bought a turkey and dressing for Christmas dinner, watched claymation “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” gone home for Christmas (a bit early), read a Christmas sermon by Gregory of Nazianzus, gone on a Christmas lights spotting tour of the city, said “Merry Christmas” about four thousand times, delivered an Advent homily, answered my daughter’s question “How much longer till Christmas?” a few dozen times, and gone to a couple of Christmas parties. No, I have not yet watched “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but I will soon.

I warmed up to Christmas a bit late, in spite of all this activity. But now that the Big Day is almost here, I finally feel it.

Merry Christmas, everyone in the blogosphere.  The Nativity of our Lord is come: rejoice!

I Didn’t Even Know He Was A Federal Vision Adherent.

December 22, 2007

tony-blair.jpg

Tony Blair Converts To Roman Catholicism

 al sends

Thanks Dr. George Grant

December 21, 2007

Dr. Grant’s Blog is listed on the right-hand side of this backwater (located under Best-O-Blogs).  His posts almost always bring a smile and an opportunity to ponder.

Earlier this month he pointed us HERE.  The author, Ambrose Bierce, was a veteran of several battles in the War Between the States:  Shiloh, Picketts’s Mill, Chickamunga, and Franklin.  In the linked story Bierce tells us of the Battle of Franklin and one sentence jumped out at me:

But fools are God’s peculiar care, and one of his protective methods is the stupidity of other fools.

My stupidity, especially in my youth, must set high marks in the “protection of other fools” department.  May God continue to use fools to His own advantage.

 al sends

Can We Talk?

December 20, 2007

In some bizarre web related convergence of providence and a love for reading I received (purchased) three copies of N. D. Wilson’s latest book 100 Cupboards.  Not just any copies mind you, three book-plated copies.  There were only 200 produced says N.D.’s father and I have three of them.

 100cupboards.jpg

Why should you care?  Well, I have plans for two of them…  I would like to know what to do with the third (#189 to be exact).  Should I hoard (thanks Valerie) it ’till N.D.’s genius is discovered by the masses then sell it on EBay?  Would you recommend donating it to a charity?  Give it to a deserving family?  You know, one like yours?  Give me guidance and provide me with wisdom… I seek her like a jewel. 

al sends, awaiting your comments in the meta

Hitting the links 12-20-2007

December 20, 2007

I do a bunch of (too much?)  cultural stuff on this here backwater of the blog-o-sphere.  Why stop now…

Here are two items that are related in how disturbing they are:

First, Mary Garber on Townhall.com points us to a website I will not link to… it is simply too ungodly.  The site is a government funded sex education podcast geared to teens and tweens:

But a series of videos for teens promoted through a teen pregnancy prevention program, G-CAPP (Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention), mocks the idea of abstinence.  The web page’s resources link (deleted by al)  encourages “youth” to “check out the Midwest Teen Sex Show—video podcasts about teen sexuality” that are intended to “provide sex information in a clear and entertaining way.”  The segment on “Abstinence” shows an actress playing the part of a girl beaten to the point of brain damage and slurring, “But I respect my body.” 

I did go online and check it out to see if what she said was true.  The  porno-like intro to the podcast is jarring when you consider the audience.  What will the next generation of children look like?  I’m skeered.  Read Mary’s article here.

Our second candidate for really disturbing link of the day comes with the UNICEF Photo of the Year for 2007…

unicefepa_450x300.jpg

From the story in the UK Metro

It shows Mohammed, 40, with his new 11-year-old wife, Ghulam. Taken by US photographer Stephanie Sinclair, it was named Unicef Photo of the Year yesterday.

I only hope the 11 year old had the opportunity to view the “entertaining” sex-ed video before here wedding night. 

The other thing I do a lot of is point you to Romans chapter 1.  Go read that again for a little perspective. 

al sends