Christmas is Potent

This is a season of adoration for Jesus. We remember that though his parents were poor, shepherds heard and wise men traveled from the east. We sing and celebrate and give. We call out for peace on earth. People are nicer to each other during the holidays. It’s the season you can give something to your postman and he won’t wonder if you are a terrorist.

These are wonderful parts of the season, but they’re not the only ones. We remember that Jesus was born a king, a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and his birth brought rivalry and bloodshed. When the wise men kept Herod from finding Jesus, Herod had every male child under two years old in Bethlehem murdered. Rachel wept for her children and refused to be comforted, because they were no more.

Jesus was born a child and yet a king, and as a king he immediately had enemies, the kind that kill for power. Christmas, and celebrating it, is inescapably political. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal—they’re not bullets and ballots—but spiritual and mighty for pulling down strongholds. This includes our prayers, our songs, our joy and celebrations. It includes the preaching of the Gospel.

Jesus came to bear our sins, and to bring justice for the meek. Isaiah 11:4-5: “With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.”

Remember that Christmas is potent, and your job is to keep it that way. So be kind, be generous and merciful, and be bold with the gospel. The King of kings, salvation brings. Let loving hearts enthrone him.

Wisdom from Proverbs

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. 

–Proverbs 18:1

People who isolate themselves often do so because of some rejection or offense, or perceived rejection or offense, they have experienced. Think of those estranged from family members, from friends, or from the church. Feeling hurt and sad makes us want to go it alone, to forsake the cost of connection because connection to anyone or anything risks the potential of pain and loss. You can’t even buy a goldfish without the possibility it will die unexpectedly.

When we are hurt and turn inwards to isolation, it feels safe and protected. What can hurt us when we’re alone? Who can question our wisdom when there are no contradicting opinions? It seems wise and conservative. But Solomon points out it’s nothing of the kind. It’s actually a bold rebellion against sound judgment. When you make decisions with no one’s input but your own, chances are your selfish desires are driving. No man is an island, and the one who thinks he is will be more convinced of his own wisdom even as he sets himself against the very thing.

As he says elsewhere, in a multitude of counsellors there is safety.

On the Mars Hill Meltdown

Mars Hill Church announced on Friday that it will dissolve and the 13 remaining campuses will either become particular churches or close. This is great news because, as the announcement states, ministry will be local–local decisions, local missions.

Where else would ministry take place? Can you worship globally? Well, you can bless someone on the other side of the world through your local worship, but only if that worship actually occurs where you are. Howdy, neighbor. But when the local church is controlled by central headquarters, and that authority is concentrated among three guys, your local impact is hamstrung.

There is nothing wrong with a mega church, but where you have a mega church, you better have mega elders. Paul appointed elders in every church, and he told Titus to do the same (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). This really ought to be the bottleneck of church growth. It’s not hard to get a lot of people in the building–dude, did you hear the band? But it takes time to develop elders–disciples who make disciples. God can grow men up quickly, but that timetable isn’t attached to the logistics of the next campus.

An elder “watch[es] over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17). He’s not so much a bookkeeper, board-member, or vision-setter, though all those things are good in their place. He’s a shepherd who knows the sheep by name. How do we know this? Because an account will be given, and souls are counted for by ones. When Jesus asks you to tell him about Johnny, you better know who Johnny is.

A friend of mine who understands church leadership met with Driscoll when the church was first blowing up, I think when it was around 800 people. At that time there were three elders. It became apparent that my friend’s idea of what an elder does, and what Driscoll thought one does were worlds apart. He was really encouraged by the growth, whereas he should have been terrified.

There is currently a pig-pile building on top of Driscoll and all sorts of rotten fruit flying his direction. I don’t want any part of that and am grateful for his years of ministry and am disappointed at the loss of such an incredible preacher in Seattle. Anyone who doesn’t feel that loss should revisit Philippians 1:15-18 until they do: “Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

It would be a good time for Mark to become presbyterian and submit to godly leaders, but the same call goes out to all Christians. “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). The most important thing about your church isn’t the programs or buildings or whether all your chums are there. The question is do they have qualified leadership, and can I know those leaders in order to imitate their faith and way of life?

Many who had bad experiences in the church struggle to connect again. It’s easy to be critical of the church. It’s easy to replace it with your friends, your small group, your bonfire and busy weekend, with individual daily devotions or whatever thing keeps you on spiritual life-support. But Jesus gave us Word and Sacrament in the local church that gathers on the Lord’s Day to worship Him and serve one another. May every former Mars Hill campus surge with life and the lost sheep of house of the new Israel be found.

Deeper than Tears

“Any alleged Christianity which fails to express itself in gaiety, at some point, is clearly spurious. The Christian is gay, not because he is blind to injustice and suffering, but because he is convinced that these, in the light of the divine sovereignty, are never ultimate. He is convinced that the unshakable purpose in the divine rule in all things, whether of heaven or earth (Eph. 1:10). Though he can be sad, and often is perplexed, he is never really worried. The well-known humor of the Christian is not a way of denying the tears, but rather a way of affirming something which is deeper than tears.”

-Elton Trueblood

Familiarity Missing the Joke

“One reason for our failure to laugh [at the humor of Jesus] is our extreme familiarity with the received text. The words seem to us like old coins, in which the edges have been worn smooth and the engravings have become almost indistinguishable. . . . The main effort must be an effort on the part of the contemporary student to confront Christ as actually portrayed rather than as we have imagine Him to be. Only then will we feel the sharpness of His wit.”

-Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ, pp. 18-19

Pauline Sculpture

“They tell us that Calvinism plies men with hammer an with chisel. It does;  and the result is monumental marble. Other systems leave men soft and dirty; Calvinism makes them of white marble, to endure forever.”

-Henry Ward Beecher

First Culture

The first and foremost culture in anyone’s life is that of the home. Pascal said “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” This makes it sound like we’re supposed to be able to stare contentedly at the white wall of our basement.

Perhaps he is right in the sense that we should be able to sit alone and think about what we’ve learned rather than needing the boob tube to keep us occupied, but we ought to be far more interested in making home a place of wisdom, laughter and life.

Many parents regret the fact that their teenage (or soon to be teenage) kids are never at home. But rarely do they regret the type of place the home has become–one that the kids don’t want to be in. Home is the place where kids are taught and shaped, and the father as the head of the home has the responsibility to make that culture what it ought to be.

Reactionary parents will tend to ban all kinds of stuff from the home. If their kids’ friends are all reading 50 Shades of Garbage, they’ll be sure that it never gets mentioned at the dinner table, and thereby cement everyone’s ignorance. The only place the kids will learn to think about it is in the gossip of their peers at school.

Parents who instead build a culture at home will be glad to talk about it, understand why people are attracted to it, and come to wise and settled conclusions. This will require the attention and investment of parents who will need to learn about things their kids are encountering. If they’re lazy and simply dismiss whatever is out there, the kids will eventually explore it anyway and either lack the ability to discern good and evil, beauty and schlock, or will imitate the parents in proud dismissal, not of the world or even in it–above the whole thing.

Building a culture at home means parents are presenting something, playing offense and not just defense. Yes, turn the TV and lame music off. But then read good stories, watch good movies, listen to good and fun music. A vibrant life at home flows from the gospel like water running downhill. When sin is repented of and confessed, people live, and are glad to live together. This is why Paul can say “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil 4:8).

 

Your Prayers Smell Good

In Revelation 5:8, the four living creatures have “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Geerhardus Vos comments, “That the altar of incense has its place nearest to the curtain before the ‘holy of holies’ signifies he religious specificness of prayer as coming nearest to the heart of God. The offering was of a perpetual character. The notion of the grateful smell of the burning incense in the nostrils of Jehovah is somewhat removed from our own taste of religious imagery, but should not on that account be overlooked.”

Prayer is one of the guiltiest neglects of the Christian’s life. One friend told me he hears nothing on the other end, as if God might be expected to speak on the other end of a phone call. Of course God “answers” prayer through Providence, which is to say He acts, using our prayers to shape the story of the world.

The best and easiest motivation for prayer is God’s pleasure in it. We know what’s it’s like to enter a room filled with good food. That’s what our prayers are like in the ‘nostrils’ of God. He wants us to pray.

 

Not Jesus’ Tat

Revelation 19:16, speaking of Jesus, says “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”

Recently some have asserted that we are looking at Jesus’ tattoo. See there, right next to that robe, the Lord’s ink? Well, no. Jesus is on his white horse, his eyes like a flame of fire, ready to do battle, and under his robe are, well, his trousers–not his bare legs and a long stretch of thigh it would take to write “King of kings and Lord of lords”.

There may be better arguments for the lawfulness of tattoos (like a great removal service in the heavens that leaves no scars), but Jesus is not hitching up his robe to give John that revelation.