Happy Christmas Eve!

•December 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Happy Christmas Eve Everyone!

I’ve collected some articles together for today related to Christmas that you may enjoy.

Christian-Birth-of-ChristThe first article is from Joe Carter on 9 Things You Should Know About Christmas. It has some good info on the origin of Christmas but be warned it may “ruin” some of your perspective on the traditional nativity scene.

His first of nine is: “ No one knows what day or month Jesus was born (though some scholars speculate that it was in September). The earliest evidence for the observance of December 25 as the birthday of Christ appears in the Philocalian Calendar, composed at Rome in 336.”

Read the whole thing here.

If you are looking for more information about the origin of Christmas check this article out.

The second article is from Bethany Jenkins titled  The Shocking Implications of the Incarnation regarding the importance and powerful purpose of Jesus’ birth.

She writes, “If we do not understand the weight of the miracle of Christ’s incarnation, it is because we do not understand the weight of the holiness of God. The incarnation is shocking. It is outrageous to think that an infinite and holy God would voluntarily become finite to live with unholy sinners. In fact, the incarnation is so appalling that it separates Christianity from Islam and Judaism. The Jerusalem Talmud says, “If man claims to be God, he is a liar” (Ta’anit 2:1), while the Qur’an says, “Allah begets not and was not begotten” (Sura al-Ikhlas 112). Jews and Muslims understand how ludicrous it is to think that a holy God would humiliate himself by becoming human.”

Read the whole thing here.

incarnation-of-the-wordThe last article is a meditation on the powerful effects of Christmas songs and in particular Hark the Herald Angel Sings”

He writes, “It’s that time of year where deep theological songs about Jesus are allowed full access. If we pause and listen we just might allow the music at the mall to take us deep into our Jesus.”

Read the whole thing here.

Hope these articles are a blessing to you.

Merry Christmas!

 

Stay At Home Parents and Christian Vocation

•December 23, 2013 • Leave a Comment

6a00d83452439069e20120a5c34f78970cBeing a stay at home parent is a praise worthy vocation. It is often neglected or even looked down upon by our society because it doesn’t “produce” anything.

This could not be farther from the truth.

Parents are the single most powerful influence in their children’s lives (even if they don’t realize it). They are responsible for raising up children who know how to love God and love others. Stay at home parents have the unique and blessed gift of being able to spend more time with their children for this end.

As a tribute to these amazing individuals I wanted to post a letter written by Trevin Wax at the Gospel Coalition that was originally addressed to stay at home Moms but I believe could be modified for any parent who stays at home to take care and raise their children.

“Dear Stay-at-Home Mom,

You are a gift of God to your husband and your kids.

But you don’t always feel that way, do you?

There’s a low-level feeling of guilt that creeps into your heart from time to time. Sometimes it bubbles over into tears, usually on lonely, difficult days.

You scan blogs and read books about being a good mom. You find some helpful tidbits here and there, often from women who are grandmothers now. Women you can learn from but who seem to have forgotten the struggle. They seem to have it all together.”

Read the rest of the letter here.

Duck Dynasty: How Should Christians Respond?

•December 21, 2013 • 1 Comment

o-DUCK-DYNASTY-facebookIf you have the internet or watch T.V. you’ve probably heard about the Duck Dynasty “controversy”. For those who haven’t here’s the skinny.

The Patriarch of the Robertson’s family (the stars of Duck Dynasty) made comments  in a GQ Magazine interview that reflected his upbringing in the South (these were the ones more related to the race questions) and others from his Christian perspective on the nature of sexual ethics and in particular homosexual behavior that have started a media firestorm.

Predictably A & E suspended Phil from the show on the basis of those comments in response to pressure from the social elite who control and shape much of modern media.  For a while now I’ve felt like this type of thing was bound to happen given the nature of the Robertson’s clan and the “waters they swam” in a media culture that is so antagonistic to traditional Christian belief.

I’m not really going to go into what Phil said. You can read the article for yourself and see the various responses Christians have given (see below).

The real issue I’m interested in is how Christians are responding to it.

Joe Carter has some good thoughts here. He also apologizes for failing to address the “race” portion of the interview here. At the same time David Matthis over at Desiring God says that by Christians “crying fowl” about our civil liberties in this instance we are playing right into the hands of the people who control these things by giving them more exposure and reinforcing the power of it:

“Dear Christian, this is not something worth getting exercised about. As much as it may seem like “reality television,” it doesn’t take much of an eye to see how much this show is scripted and how much this is not the reality worth fighting for.

This is not our time to cry fowl about Christian civil liberties. The network never owed us this show, never owed us how many times they haven’t censored the name of Jesus from Phil’s end-of-episode prayers, and never deserved that we get this upset and in the meantime litter the Internet with their name and boost their profile. Think the numbers were impressive on the Christmas episode? Now, you watch and see.”[1]

Similarly Stephen Miller over at the Gospel Coalition discussing the Christian responses writes, “I can almost hear Jesus saying, “No one will come to saving faith by reading your angry Facebook rant. This isn’t the way my kingdom will advance. It’s not us against them.

CHRISTIANS IN WESTERN MEDIA

In general the media has unfairly targeted conservative Christians for their adherence to the Bible and traditional authority structures (most notably affirming the biblical position regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality). I think part of this targeting has been Christians own fault in our lack of seriously engaging the culture on multiple levels. Rather than going out and seeking the lost in truth, love and compassion (like Jesus commanded) we have often been guilty of getting comfortable in our churches and social cliques and become hypocritical to person and message of Jesus. At the same time Scripture makes it clear that there is going to be a “natural” resistance toward those who actually follow Jesus, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:20)[2]

But even in light of this Scriptural reality Jesus never played the victim card.

Jesus showed us who God  is (Col. 1:15-20) in spite of unfairness, mockery, beatings, torture and ultimately death, “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing…” (Luke 23:34).

At the same time Paul seems to utilize secular law when he was before the Roman Tribune, 22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.” (Acts 22:22-29)

So what are we to make of all that has happened to Phil Robertson and Duck Dynasty in the last couple days?

I think there are four basic guidelines every responsible Christian should apply before they make a decision either way:

prayer1)  Pray first

When this story first erupted was your first response prayer? I know mine wasn’t but it should have been. The early Church’s response to Peter and John’s imprisonment was prayer (Acts 12:5). We need to be a prayerful people because apart from Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:5). It will also help us discern the appropriate application of our civil liberties and the most God magnifying way to pursue them.

2)  Know it’s always going to be an uphill battle

As we mentioned earlier in this post the media and the culture is inherently against any group that claims objective truth and more so against conservative Christians who believe in the Bible. Some of this is self-inflected but it’s also just affirming what Jesus said in John 15:20.

That being said we shouldn’t be surprised or shocked by it and play the victim card (because Jesus didn’t). We also shouldn’t be afraid or scared off from the truth because we have can have confidence in what Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

3)  Think clearly before emotionally responding, especially online

We all know that once something is on the internet it’s there forever. Take some time to think and pray before you “like” or “comment” for or against something. You never know who will read that post or that comment in the future. It may also follow you “off line” when people who you might otherwise have the opportunity to talk about something like the Duck Dynasty “controversy”  won’t even mention it because they “know where you stand” already.

4)  Use these “controversies” as an opportunity to talk about why you are a Christian

I think a personal one-on-one conversation is the best way to express to people our personal views on things important to us. These are where we can “raise” the question about the fairness of such views; i.e “How is it that Miley Cyrus is praised for her behavior and Phil Robertson is ridiculed”? It gives us the opportunity to show how upside down the world is and how absolutely necessary Jesus is to our lives.

Magnify Jesus instead of controversy.


[2] I’m not going to go into the discussion about what “persecution” means (i.e. we aren’t dying or being imprisoned in the West we are just being mocked, unfairly treated, etc). The point I’m trying to make is that as a consequence of affirming what the Bible said negative effects will take place (i.e. “persecution”).

Days When I Feel Like an Atheist

•December 20, 2013 • 2 Comments

I have this strange occurrence every 6 to 9 months it seems. Sometimes I feel discouraged or depressed. Other times I am seriously troubled by an intellectual or emotional argument that I can’t produce a satisfactory response to. I haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly what brings these “moods” on but when they do but it’s an explosion of internal emotions.

Anxiety Fear. Sadness. Anger. They come in seemingly paradoxical waves.

Needless to say I’m not enjoyable to be around. I’m grumpy, withdrawn, short tempered, selfish and arrogantly dismissive to others. The affects of this “condition” are intensely strong for a day or two and then dissipate after about five days or so.

AtheismBigBangIn those times I really begin to question myself and my “inner atheist” comes out.

“Am I insane? Do I really believe that a person came back to life 2000 years ago? What in the world around you points to this supernatural reality?”

“How can you believe Christianity is true given the massive splintering within the Church”?

“Who even qualifies to define what it means to be Christian or interpret the Bible to arrive that definition?”

“Look at all the evil in the world how can God be truly good and allow these things to happen?”

“Look at some of the things contained in the Bible can you really attribute them to God and think that He is good?”

In the midst of these internal thoughts, doubts and struggles I know there are answers. I know there are smarter people than I who have wrestled with these things and provided helpful responses. But its not so much intellectual doubt as an emotional struggle. I can’t “make” myself feel differently (I’ve tried) it’s just my state of being at a given time.

Some people may be there right now. Really struggling, doubting and wondering things about God.

Here are the five ways that I work through days when I feel this way and I hope they are helpful to people. Some of these I have adopted from Michael Patton’s post on doubt contained here.

5768035531_cebf6c3c0b1)  Remember that Christianity has been around for 2000 years and you’re not the first person to deal with these things

This is true in the apologetic sense (in terms of dealing with the intellectual substance of an argument) and in dealing with the emotional difficulty that comes with living in a fallen world. It helps me to not feel alone and overwhelmed with whatever I’m struggling with.

2) Talk with someone whom you respect, trust and know has a heart for God

My wife has been such a gift to me in this area. Her clear thinking, wise counsel and patience has been invaluable to me in working out my “atheist days”. I know this can be difficult in some church settings but work to find people who will listen, can empathize (no give “quick answers” to difficult questions), and who will point you back to Jesus in truth and love. They do exist and are worth the search.

3) Don’t leave those internal thoughts to fester

Jonathan Edwards once said, “the heart cannot accept what the mind rejects.” I am convinced of this reality. Yes there is mystery within Christianity (the Trinity for example) but those kinds of mysteries are rational given the kind of Being God is. However, if everything in the Christian religion is “mysterious” in the sense it cannot be comprehended (and thus not needed to be explored) then it has little to no value to human beings. When we allow those internal thoughts, struggles and doubts to fester we give them an opportunity to spread into other areas of our lives like a cancer. We need to deal with them honestly and this usually means seeking help.

4) Take your heart to God even if you aren’t convinced He will hear/is there at that time

The thoughts that frequent my mind during my “atheist days” are “God doesn’t care”, “How do you know God even exists to hear your prayer?” But God has said He will give us what we need when we ask Him (Matt. 7:7-11). Additionally the Psalms and the book of Lamentations are filled with people crying out to God from the depths of their being because they realize He is their only hope in the midst of despair and difficulty.

Doubt should not be the reason for turning from God but an opportunity to run to Him. He is not surprised or disturbed by it (He knows you better than you know yourself). He is allowing you to experience it so that you can experience a deeper sense of His grace and love in knowing more and more your desperate need for and dependence upon Him.

armor-of-god-classic-720x5405)  Realize you are in the midst of spiritual warfare

Originally my list had only “4 things”. However after writing this blog post and reflecting on it much of my symptoms appeared to be the kind of the things the Enemy would whisper in my ears. I’m not saying this necessarily happens each time but that it’s a possibility given the kind of deceiver and liar he is. That being said we need to be aware that we are in a battle and use the weapons that God has given us (Eph. 6:11-17)

How about you? What do you do or how do you respond when you experience doubts or have struggles with God?

 

 

 

Naturalistic Narrative

•December 19, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Probably one of my favorite posts on The Gospel Coalition to date.

Joe Carter writes a “creation narrative” for young atheistic materialists.

Here’s the first portion:

“In the beginning was Nothing and Nothing created Everything. When Nothing decided to create Everything, she filled a tiny dot with Time, Chance and Everything and had it expand. The expansion spread Everything into Everywhere carrying Time and Chance to keep it company. The three stretched out together leaving bits of themselves wherever they went. One of those places was Earth.”

Read the whole thing here

New Hymns

•December 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment

hymnI grew up on the hymns.

That’s probably why I enjoy them so much and feel a deep sense of God when the entire congregation is signing them in unison. Keith and Kristyn Getty over at the Gospel Coalition have done some wonderful work in developing some “new and theologically rich hymns for the church”.

I’ve posted a video of them and if you go here you can get their free sheet of music for the song “Across the Lands” for any of you musicians out there.

The Conception of Jesus: Matthew 1:18-25

•December 17, 2013 • Leave a Comment

st-joseph-with-the-baby-jesus

Jesus’ earthly father Joseph is one of least remembered characters in the entire Bible. Yet his action is crucial in the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people. As we shall see if it were not for his obedience to God the line of the Messiah would not have been solidified.

Here’s the text:

18 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. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

HISTORICAL INFORMATION

The term “betrothed” here can be understood as a kind of binding engagement agreed upon by two families. About a year after being betrothed the women would leave her parents and go to be with her husband where there would be a public marriage ceremony and consummation.[1] In the context of this passage it appears Mary and Joseph were still in the “engagement stage” of the process because at the realization of Mary’s pregnancy Joseph moves to divorce her. Michael Wilkins explains the situation Joseph found himself in as a pious Jew, “Divorce for adultery was not optional but mandatory among many groups in ancient Judaism, because adultery produced a state of impurity that, as a matter of legal fact, dissolved the marriage.”[2] It wasn’t something Joseph necessarily “wanted” to do (as evidenced by the Greek usage of thelo [purpose] and boulomai [desire])[3] but was bound to because of his desire to live righteously under God’s law.

JESUS’ CONCEPTION

Now the apparent “mystery” of the verb change in Matthew 1:16 will be explained (see lasts weeks article here). The reason why there wasn’t anything “active” (verb) in Joseph’s fathering of Jesus was because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

But we have a problem.

If Joseph doesn’t affirm paternity over Jesus then Jesus will not be recognized as an descendant of David and the genealogies just explained inverses 1-17 will be meaningless.  Thus the angel of the Lord appears and explains to Joseph what took place and gives instructions to Joseph regarding his naming and his purpose. His obedience validates Jesus’ genealogies because “by naming Mary’s son, Joseph will be accepting legal paternity.”[4]

But after this passage we don’t ever see anyone referring to Jesus as Immanuel. This is probably because “Matthew surely intends his readers to understand that “Emmanuel” was his name in the sense that all that was involved in that name found its fulfillment in him. The quotation and the translation of the Hebrew name underline the fact that in Jesus none less than God came right where we are.”[5] Because He is Immanuel and the Messiah he will shatter many of the Jews Messianic expectations by becoming a Savior from sins (1:21).[6]

mary and holy spirit 2Why the immaculate conception?

Michael Wilkin’s provides four helpful reasons:

1)    “…the virgin birth points to the divine nature of Jesus

2)   The virgin birth speaks of a one person in whom is united full deity and full humanity

3)   The virgin birth signals Jesus’ true humanity without inherited sin

4)   The virgin birth of Jesus denotes the beginning stage of redemption of humanity that had been created in the image of God but had been distorted by the effects of sin”[7]

DIFFICULTIES

There are two main difficulties associated with these passages that rest in Matthews usage of Isaiah 7:14 as fulfillment of prophecy in 1:23. The first deals with whether the translation of “virgin” as oppose to “young maiden” is correct from the Hebrew.[8] David Turner provides a helpful response to this issue when he writes, “Be that as it may, there is no doubt that, for Matthew, Mary was a virgin, a sexually inexperienced young woman.”[9] Put another way, while it’s possible that the word may be translated in both ways, even if it’s translated as “young woman” it’s not a leap to assume that Matthew’s intent in using the word was to refer to a virgin given the context of the passage.

The other issue has to do with Matthew’s usage of that prophecy (Isa. 7:14) because it seems to have previous fulfilled in the Old Testament.[10] Three basic interpretative methods have developed to explain this: the historical (it was fulfilled in the Old Testament but Matthew is using a kind of typology in referencing it to Christ), New Testament fulfillment (there wasn’t any real fulfillment of this prophecy in the Old Testament only as its described here in the New Testament), and the multiple fulfillment (partial fulfillment in the Old Testament and climactic fulfillment in the New Testament).[11]

For me the multiple fulfillment path is the most satisfactory in terms of explaining why Matthew would have used this prophecy the way he did without doing some crazy hermeneutical gymnastics.

WHO CARES?

What’s the pay out for all of this information? I think there are two huge applications from these passages.

1) Have confidence in what Jesus says, who He is, and what He did

These passages show that Jesus is God incarnate, the promised Messiah and the only being capable of saving humanity from its sins. Therefore we can trust what His Words say and we can be sure that His way of living life is always the best way.

Lighthouse

2)  Follow Joseph’s example of obedience to God even when things aren’t working how you’d hoped and dreamed

Put yourself in Joseph’s position before He realized what God was doing with his life. He must have felt frustrated, betrayed and humiliated. He was going to have to explain why he had to divorce Mary to his parents and friends. On top of this I’m sure he loved Mary had affections for her which were probably crushed when he realized he wasn’t the father. But God had other plans that He didn’t know about.

Whatever situation you find yourself in trust God and stay obedient He won’t forget you or forsake you (Heb 13:5).

For more thoughts on Joseph see Dustin Neelev’s post here.


[1] R.T France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew, pg 50

[2] Michael Wilkins, NIV Application Commentary: Matthew pg 75

[3] Ibid

[4] David Tuner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew, pg 67

[5] Leon Morris, Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Matthew, pg 31

[6] R.T. France, pg 54

[7] Wilkins, pg 85-86

[8] R.T France, pg 55

[9] David Tunrer, pg 69

[10] R.T France, pg 56

[11] See Michael Wilkins pg 79-80 & David Turner pg 69-70