Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blues Brothers - Soul Man

"I Pity The Fool" - Mr T's Response To the Health Care bill

David Powlison on New Year’s Resolutions

I was intrigued by Justin Taylor’s invitation to offer a comment about the cultural phenomenon we call “making your New Year’s resolutions.” First, a disclaimer. I’m 58 years old and I’ve never, ever made a New Year’s resolution. The notion somehow passed me by, and it’s simply a non-category in how I operate. So my only first-hand qualifications as a commentator are ignorance and naïveté. Might such an observer see things in a fresh light? Perhaps. In this arena I am surely the tribal Amazonian stepping into a socialite’s soirée on Manhattan’s upper East side. I’ll try to walk in with eyes wide-open. (I did field research via Google and a few friends.)
There are several negative possibilities in any culture-crossing encounter. The Amazonian might experience culture shock and confusion upon entering a world of decidedly foreign attitudes, actions, and meanings. “I just don’t get it.” Or he might get self-righteous about his own assumptions and practices, and only feel disdain at the oddities of others. “A pox on New Year’s resolutions as a holdover from pagan Roman practices.”
But there are also constructive possibilities in culture-crossing. I’ll mention three.
First, an Amazonian might see things that the Manhattanite has trouble seeing: the sociocultural ocean, as it were, in which the cultured socialite swims. To this outsider, the New Year’s resolutions business seems odd and striking in a number of ways.
  • Some resolutions are petty, but most resolutions make a profound statement. They express a sensed need for moral reformation. Gluttony, laziness, drunkenness, overspending and debt, loveless isolation from others, joyless workaholism, peaceless anxiety, restless entertainment, sexual self-indulgence, bitterness and estrangement from kith and kin, slovenly disorganization . . . these provide grist for resolutions to change. They raise matters that could be plucked straight off a list of the 7 deadly sins (and 7 lively virtues), of the 10 commandments about how to love, of the 9-fold fruit of the Spirit set against those “obvious” works of the flesh. I was struck by how significant the issues were. “Lose weight, quit drinking, smell the roses, and treat my family better” are not trivial matters – when properly framed.
  • That’s the rub: proper framing. Whether petty or profound, New Year’s resolutions as such merely express good intentions. They describe self-referential problems – “I find abc displeasing about myself.” They make no reckoning with the power of our passions, fears, habits . . . inner sinfulness, sin directly against God Himself . . . and with the power of outer evils (including enculturation) that allure and constrain us. They propose self-dependent solutions – “I resolve to do xyz to change myself.” Change depends on fickle will-power and on common-sense strategies for self-management (e.g., “set achievable goals that are personally meaningful, and take small steps”). So they fail in large measure. Or, even when they succeed, they create absolutely no reasons to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” They make no reckoning with either the chief end of man, or the madness in our hearts while we live, or the inexpressible gift of God to sinful, dying people. Self-referential resolutions function within a self-salvation project, however noble and desirable the proximate ends in view.
  • Furthermore, whether petty or profound, New Year’s resolutions express purely individualistic intentions. A self-improvement plan finds no corporate context for commitment, no reasons for joint effort and mutual accountability, and no participation in a common cause bigger than any and all of us. So it fails. Or even if it succeeds, ditto the previous paragraph. I might feel better about myself, but what is God thinking about the Better Me I have become? Am I becoming more integral to the Holy We that is His new creation?
Those are my Amazonian fly-on-the-wall observations. These “New Year’s resolutions” are about extremely significant things: moral failure, self-salvation, and individualism.
Second, hanging around the New York soirée helps this Amazonian see himself in a new light. Culture-crossing can throw light in both directions, helping us become properly self-critical. Why don’t I make resolutions? Maybe I should. Does my “non-category” register a relatively haphazard, goal-less way of coming at life? Is there a way to make resolutions that is truly constructive and life-rearranging? Or, maybe I do a functional equivalent to “resolutions,” but have never recognized the analogy? And isn’t there something important in that common-sense idea of clearly defining goals and identifying small steps in the direction you want to head? Those questions lead to my final point.
Third, culture-crossing can help us become constructively counter-cultural. We can subject both our own assumptions and those of others to criticism and reevaluation. Both Amazonians and Manhattanites can change by cross-pollination in light of the Redeemer of every tribe. We can each and all think about this resolutions business in a new way.
For starters, what is a resolution? What does it mean for me to resolve something? (We can dispense with the “New Year’s” part as merely arbitrary, not necessary.) This use of the word resolution means coming to a firm and determined decision to do something, to behave in a certain manner, to abide by certain principles. That sounds decidedly Christian. Considered from this angle, the Nicene Creed is one sort of resolution. And “I am Your servant . . . I promise to keep Your words” (Ps 119:124, 119:57 ) is another example of resolve. When you resolve_____, it means you formally express what you believe, will, or intend. It is a stand you take, a direction you choose. After thought and decision, you commit yourself to take steps along a trajectory which changes the destination of your life. Put that way, the entire Christian life might be conceived as a lifelong determination to make and walk out “New Creation Every-Day Resolutions.”
Let me give a specific example. In 1976, newly converted to Jesus Christ, I joined a church. I did so by making a resolution in front of an entire congregation of likeminded people. These were the words: “I now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that I will endeavor to live as becomes a follower of Christ.”
That resolution was not cooked up on some hung-over January 1st because I’d become dissatisfied with my life over the previous 12 months. It is a resolution expressing the mind of Christ, mapping out a new life through all my days and years. To live “as becomes a follower of Christ” takes very seriously many specific sub-resolutions. For example, it identifies those sins against what ought to be: gluttony, laziness, drunkenness, overspending, drivenness, anxiety, and the rest. It aims for the fruits of change: temperance, diligence, gratitude, stewardship, rest, trust, love, joy, peace. . . . And the resolve to “humble reliance” seeks to make very sure that this is no self-referential and self-dependent project for self-salvation.
The corporate context, too, was significant. This was not my resolution for 1976. It was and is our resolution together, always, because it captures God’s resolve and purposes. One of the ways, then, that we help each other is by getting down to specifics. We identify goals that walk out how we will live becomingly today, wrestling out the particular steps – here, now, for me, for us – that head in the direction where Christ is going.
In fact, this past Saturday my wife and I spent the better part of a long car ride making “resolutions.” We didn’t call them that (remember, I don’t do resolutions!), and the approach of the New Year never even came up. But, as I think about it, such fresh resolves of faith and love have been part of every good conversation we’ve ever had. On Saturday we discussed ways to pay closer attention to our choices in the “transition-connection points” at the start and close of each day and whenever one of us returns home. We prayed to God for each other. We decided and committed to specific expressions of love. Sitting here on Monday night, I can identify immediate, sweet fruit in at least a dozen choices made and attitudes expressed over the past 48 hours.
So are you making your New Year’s resolutions? On this New Year’s eve, I’ve decided to make one for the first time in my life, and I’m making it public.
I now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that I will endeavor to live as becomes a follower of Christ.
I can see very specific implications for my choices later this evening (when Nan and I go to a party with old friends) and early tomorrow morning (when we drive our daughter to the airport).
Then, by the grace of God, I’ll make this same resolution tomorrow on New Year’s Day, and, no doubt, there will be different implications, in different spheres of life. (My office really does need to be tidied up and reorganized. And University of Hawaii is playing in the Sugar Bowl. And several good friends are facing serious cancer. And. . . .) And then by the grace of God, I’ll make (and live out) the same resolution on January 2nd, and 3rd, . . . , and every day in this new year of Christ’s new creation, every day, for as long as it is
Justin Taylor

Inside the Womb: The Heart in Action

by La Shawn on December 9, 2009
I wanted to point readers to an organization called The Endowment for Human Development and the wonderful images of life inside the womb. In particular, the heartbeat of an “abortable” four-week-old unborn child.
Most abortions occur during the first trimester of pregnancy (0-12 weeks). That tiny “blob of tissue” on the left is quite spectacular, isn’t it?
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” – Psalm 139:13-16
La Shawn Barber

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Steffen & Jane - The Dixieland - (Guitar & Fiddle)

Steffen Schackinger (Guitar) & Jane Clark (Fiddle) CD - ElectriGuitartistry - available at,, and itunes Visit Steffen Schackinger at:

A good question

“If you cannot believe that God will forgive your sins for Christ’s sake, whom he sent into the world to be our high priest, how then, I ask you, will you believe that he will forgive your sins for the works of the law, which you never could perform, or for your own works, which, you must admit, cannot possibly counteract the judgment of God?
The doctrine of grace can by no means stand with the doctrine of the law.  The one must simply be refused and abolished, and the other confirmed or established.”
Martin Luther, commentary on Galatians 1:7.

Just Trust The Government?

Jesus the socialist

OPINION: The president offers a Christmas lesson that perfectly fits his social goals | Cal Thomas
Apparently not content with his congressional majority that wishes to force Americans on a long march to healthcare disaster, President Obama has invoked the name of Jesus to broadcast his gospel of spreading the wealth around.
Speaking Monday afternoon to a group of children from the Washington, D.C., Boys and Girls Club, the president delivered a mini sermon on “why we celebrate Christmas.” He asked the children if they knew. One piped up and said, “The birth of baby Jesus.”
One can imagine the reaction of the media and other elites had a Republican president asked such a question. That Republican would have been accused of violating church-state separation and discriminating against those who celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or nothing. Because the president’s Christmas lesson perfectly fit his social goals, there has been no outcry.
The president spoke of what Jesus “symbolizes for people all around the world,” which he said, “is the possibility of peace and people treating each other with respect.” And then, in the best tradition of a community organizer, the president said Jesus is about “doing something for other people.” Even the “three wise men” were invoked to support the president’s idea of wealth redistribution: “. . . [T]hese guys . . . have all this money, they’ve got all this wealth and power, and they took a long trip to a manger just to see a little baby.”
And what conclusion should be drawn from that journey? The president told the children, “. . . [I]t just shows you that because you’re powerful or you’re wealthy, that’s not what’s important. What’s important is . . . the kind of spirit you have.”
To the president, this means the spirit of government taking from the productive and giving to the nonproductive. To him, Jesus is a socialist, or perhaps an early Robin Hood. Any first-year seminarian (if the seminary is a good one) could destroy this flawed exegesis.
Jesus of Nazareth was not a symbol. Neither was He just a good teacher as some who do not fully accept His teachings about Himself like to claim. As Paul the Apostle put it, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1Timothy 1:15).
The call of Scripture is to do for other people, as we would like to have done unto us, but that call is personal, not corporate. That’s because only people can be compassionate. A government check too often brings dependence and a sense of entitlement. A personal touch builds relationships horizontally with others and vertically with God.
One upside to the current recession is that it has forced people to reconsider their priorities. To paraphrase one of the better-known lines from the film, It’s a Wonderful Life, the recession has given us a great gift: the ability to see what our lives would look like without stuff.
We still have stuff, too much in fact. Letting go of some of it has not caused people to die in the streets—despite the ludicrous claim by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that someone dies in America every 10 minutes because they lack health insurance.
Anyone young enough to have living grandparents or great-grandparents should take a few minutes this Christmas to ask them what life was like when they were growing up. How many presents did they receive? Unless they came from wealthy families, they didn’t get much by today’s standards and they were probably more satisfied than we who have more than we need.
That’s the thing about stuff: We know it doesn’t satisfy, but we gorge ourselves on it anyway hoping the marketers are right and somehow it will bring satisfaction.
What those “wise men” brought were symbols—gold, frankincense and myrrh. What they symbolized was the grandeur of the baby who would become a man and who, in the words of John the Baptist, would “take away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).
Ponder that this Christmas and every Christmas.

More than a game

The power of forgiveness triumphs in Eastwood’s Invictus | Sam ThielmanDirector Clint Eastwood picked three difficult topics for Invictus—racism, the life of Nelson Mandela, and rugby—and pulled them together into a unifying feel-good film about the power of forgiveness.
Morgan Freeman plays former South African president Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison and still found a way, when he attained the highest office in his country, to befriend the Afrikaners who kept him locked up. One of the best things about Invictus is its beginning comes at what would probably be the end of any other biopic about Mandela. He's succeeded F.W. de Klerk, and all of de Klerk's white employees are packing their bags. To anyone else, it would look like victory.
Not Mandela. In one of the best performances Freeman's ever given, he sits his white colleagues down and tells them that they can leave if they want to, but they will not be fired. Then he turns his attention to more important affairs of state, namely rugby. There's a strong movement to disband the Springboks, a team that, to many South Africans, still represents apartheid, and Mandela decides to keep the 'Boks in place. With help from the team captain, Francois Pienaar, he wants to reform sports, too.
There are sections in Invictus that lag considerably. When the movie nears its climax, though, Eastwood really shows his stuff. In most sports movies, the Big Game is about the Big Game, and so it's about how well the director can make actors look like athletes.
Here, the reaction shots from the crowd become just as important: We're looking for the 'Boks to beat the New Zealand All Blacks, sure, but we're also searching to see if the white cops listening to their car radio are going to push away the little black beggar kid or let him pretend to sift through the garbage so he can hear the game. Will the stodgy black secret service agent hug the stodgy white secret service agent?
The answer isn't much of a mystery, but the payoff feels good, and it makes for a great, mostly family-friendly film (there's some cursing, hence the PG-13 rating).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Eric Clapton - Love In Vain

Health Care is Sinking

10 Questions to Ask in the New Year

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.
  1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
  2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
  3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
  4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
  5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
  6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
  7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
  8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?
  9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
  10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?
Whitney writes:
The value of many of these questions is not in their profundity, but in the simple fact that they bring an issue or commitment into focus. For example, just by articulating which person you most want to encourage this year is more likely to help you remember to encourage that person than if you hadn’t considered the question.
Whitney also offers an additional 21 questions to help us “consider our ways.”
Read the whole article here.
Justin Taylor

Apart from the Holy Spirit

"He that will maintain that man's free will is able to do or work anything in spiritual cases, be they never so small, denies Christ." - Martin Luther
Martin Luther hits the nail on the head. Apart from the Holy Spirit, man, when left to himself, cannot rise above what he is by nature, and will use his so-called 'free will' to suppress the truth of Christ. Anyone who thinks they can believe the gospel apart from the Spirit, therefore, denies his need for Christ, not only for justification, but also for the grace needed to be willing to submit to the humbling terms of the gospel.

Doctrine is Practical

"The word doctrine simply means "teaching." And it's ludicrous to say that Christ is anti-teaching. The central imperative of His Great Commission is the command to teach (Matthew 28:18-20). Yet there's no shortage of church-growth experts, professional pollsters, and even seminary professors nowadays who are cautioning young pastors that doctrine is too divisive, too threatening, too heady and theoretical—and therefore simply impractical. Impractical? I agree that practical application is vital. I don't want to minimize its importance. But if there is a deficiency in preaching today, it is that there's too much relational, pseudo-psychological, and thinly life-related content, and not enough emphasis on sound doctrine. Moreover, the distinction between doctrinal and practical truth is completely artificial; doctrine is practical. In fact, nothing is more practical than sound doctrine, because there's ultimately no basis for godly behavior apart from the truth of God's Word. Practical insights, gimmicks, and illustrations mean little if they are divorced from divine principle. Before the preacher asks anyone to perform a certain duty, he must first deal with doctrine. He must develop his message around theological themes and draw out the principles of the texts. Then the truth can be applied. The New Testament church was founded on a solid base of doctrine. Without that, no practical application matters. True doctrine transforms behavior as it is woven into the fabric of everyday life. But it must be understood if it is to have its impact. The real challenge of the ministry is to dispense the truth clearly and accurately. Practical application comes easily by comparison." - Dr. John MacArthur
Reformation Theology

Monday, December 28, 2009

B.B. King& Friends - Why I Sing the Blues

What Really Happened In Copenhagen

Mercy not sacrifice

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’”  Matthew 9:13
The deepest heart of God, his desire, his delight, is mercy and not sacrifice, not judgment, not the “pound of flesh.”
Mercy and sacrifice can be related in three ways.  One, mercy-not-sacrifice.  Two, mercy-and-sacrifice.  Three, sacrifice-not-mercy.  We tend to think of God in that second category, so we never quite know what to expect of him.  And the mercy-and-sacrifice outlook can slip too easily into sacrifice-not-mercy.  But the gospel takes us all the way into mercy-not-sacrifice, mercy that is pure, unmixed, predictable.  It is so counterintuitive, we have to go and learn what it means, how it works, what it looks like, how it changes us.
May God give us more and more churches with a message of mercy-not-sacrifice from the preacher and a culture of mercy-not-sacrifice among the people.  It is the deepest heart of God.  It is what everyone needs.
Ray Ortlund

Resolutions and Regret

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, p. 35:
Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression?
The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past.
Realize that it has been covered and blotted out in Christ.
Never look back at your sins again.
Say: ‘It is finished, it is covered by the Blood of Christ’.
That is your first step.
Take that and finish with yourself and all this talk about goodness, and look to the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is only then that true happiness and joy are possible for you.
What you need is not to make resolutions to live a better life, to start fasting and sweating and praying.
No! You just begin to say:
I rest my faith on Him alone
Who died for my transgressions to atone.
(HT: David Mathis)
Here’s the “one thing” Paul wanted to do: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
Also remember this rule from Robert Murray M’Cheyne:
For one look at yourself,
take ten looks at Christ!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Blind Willie Johnson - Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed

Important Safety Tip

For Your Sake He Became Poor

2 Corinthians 8:9
From Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening:
The Lord Jesus Christ was eternally rich, glorious, and exalted; but “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor.” As the wealthy believer cannot be true in his fellowship with his poor brethren unless from his wealth he ministers to their needs, so (the same rule holding with the head as between the members) it is impossible that our Divine Lord could have had fellowship with us unless He had given to us from His own abounding wealth and had become poor so as to make us rich. If He had remained upon His throne in glory, and we had continued in the ruins of the Fall without receiving His salvation, fellowship would have been impossible on both sides. Our position by the Fall, apart from the covenant of grace, made it as impossible for fallen man to communicate with God as it is for Satan to be in communion with Christ. In order, therefore, that communion might be enjoyed, it was necessary for the rich relative to bestow his estate upon his poor relatives, for the righteous Savior to give to His sinning brethren from His own perfection, and for we, the poor and guilty, to receive of His fullness grace for grace, so that in giving and receiving, the One might descend from the heights, and the other ascend from the depths, and in this way be able to embrace each other in true and hearty fellowship. Poverty must be enriched by Him in whom are infinite treasures before it can begin to commune; and guilt must lose itself in imputed and imparted righteousness before the soul can walk in fellowship with purity. Jesus must clothe His people in His own blood or else they will be too defiled for the embrace of His fellowship.
Believer, herein is love. For your sake the Lord Jesus “became poor” that he might lift you up into communion with Himself.

Senator: Sold

Michael Gerson’s latest Washington Post column is on Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) who compromised his pro-life beliefs in order to pass the Senate’s health-care bill. He opens this way:
Sometimes there is a fine ethical line between legislative maneuvering and bribery. At other times, that line is crossed by a speeding, honking tractor-trailer, with outlines of shapely women on mud flaps bouncing as it rumbles past.
Such was the case in the final hours of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s successful attempt to get cloture on health-care reform. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the last Democratic holdout, was offered and accepted a permanent exemption from his state’s share of Medicaid expansion, amounting to $100 million over 10 years.
Gerson later writes:
In the end, Nelson not only surrendered his beliefs, he also betrayed the principle of the Hyde Amendment, which since 1976 has prevented the coverage of elective abortion in federally funded insurance. Nelson not only violated his pro-life convictions, he also may force millions of Americans to violate theirs as well.
I can respect those who are pro-life out of conviction and those who are pro-choice out of conviction. It is more difficult to respect politicians willing to use their deepest beliefs — and the deepest beliefs of others — as bargaining chips.
Read the whole thing.
Justin Taylor

Friday, December 25, 2009

Santa Claus Theology

“To reject all ideas of divine wrath and judgment, and to assume that God’s character, misrepresented (forsooth!) in many parts of the Bible, is really one of indulgent benevolence without any severity, is the rule rather than the exception among ordinary folk today.
It is true that some recent theologians, in reaction, have tried to reaffirm the truth of God’s holiness, but their efforts have seemed half-hearted and their words have fallen for the most part on deaf ears.  Modern Protestants are not going to give up their ‘enlightened’ adherence to the doctrine of a celestial Santa Claus merely because a Brunner or a Niebuhr suspsects this is not the whole story.  The certainty that  there is no more to be said of God (if God there be) than that he is infinitely forbearing and kind–that certainty is as hard to eradicate as bindweed.  And when once it has put down roots, Christianity, in the true sense of the word, simply dies off.  For the substance of Christianity is faith in the forgiveness of sins through the redeeming work of Christ on the cross.
But on the basis of Santa Claus theology, sins create no problem, and atonement becomes needless; God’s active favor extends no less to those who disregard his commands than to those who keep them.  The idea that God’s attitude to me is affected by whether or not do what He says has no place in the thought of the man on the street, and any attempt to show the need for fear in God’s presence, for trembling at His word, gets written off as impossibly old-fashioned–’Victorian,’ ‘Puritan,’ and ’sub-Christian.’
Yet the Santa Claus theology carries within itself the seeds of its own collapse, for it cannot cope with the fact of evil.  It is no accident that when belief in the “good God” of liberalism became widespread, about the turn of the twentieth century, the so-called problem of  evil (which was not regarded as a problem before) suddenly leaped into prominence as the number one concern of Christian apologetics.  This was inevitable, for it is not possible to see the good will of a heavenly Santa Claus in heartbreaking and destructive things like cruelty, or marital infidelity, or death on the road, or lung cancer.  The only way to save the liberal view of God is to dissociate him from these things and to deny that he has any direct relation to them or control over them; in other words, to deny his omnipotence and lordship over his world.  Liberal theologians took this course fifty years ago, and the man on the street takes it today.  Thus he is left with a kind God who means well but cannot always insulate his children from trouble and grief.  When trouble comes, therefore, there is nothing to do but grin and bear it.  In this way, by an ironic paradox, faith in a God who is all goodness and no severity tends to confirm men in an fatalistic and pessimistic attitude to life.”
–J.I Packer

O Holy Night - Christ Is the Lord!

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory Evermore proclaim.
His power and glory Evermore proclaim.
The carol ends on a note of proclamation, its fourth response to the gospel. As love was shown to us, we show love to others. As salvation makes all believers equal, our pride is dismantled. As Christ is exalted, we join in exalting Him through songs of joy. And as this good news was passed along to us, we are to proclaim it to others.
Jesus commissioned His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20) This commission did not end with the disciples, but was multiplied through generations of disciples who sought to bring the good news to the ends of the earth. For whatever reason, God allows us to be a part of proclaiming the gospel to the world. Logically it seems that He could exclusively use angels or visions, but the general pattern from the stories we hear of people coming to faith involving angels and visions also involve regular human beings who testify to the truth of the gospel.
In Romans Paul claims that we have faith because we have heard. “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”" (10:14-15)
Though this carol is focused on the coming of Christ into the world, it captures so much of the beauty of the gospel. The very Son of God came into the world as a light into darkness, and the thrill of hope His incarnation brings is to be proclaimed to all people. He is the divine king, and we join the wise men and shepherds in beholding His power and glory, and invite others to behold Him as well. He was born to be our friend, knowing the weakness and trials that were entailed in doing so. And now we find our worth and salvation from sin in His victorious name. It is this holy name we proclaim to the nations, Jesus our Christ, the risen Lord. May this day of celebration in the Christ be one of great joy for you.
“All praise to the name of the Savior who reigns
He’s taken our blame, embraced all our shame
He’s raised from the grave so His fame we proclaim
Salvation by grace through faith in His name” (Shai Linne)
A-Team Blog

Merry Christmas

A very Merry Christmas to all. My family attended a Christmas Eve Candle Light service last night, then we came home and ate too much food and opened presents, watched a movie, stayed up late talking. Most everyone is still sleeping. Its been awhile since the whole family has slept in this house. You realize that its not very big when people are sleeping everywhere. Once everyone gets up we will have a wonderful breakfast. The roads look dicey, we are having a lot of rain in Detroit, hopefully things will clear up latter so we can go see Sherlock Holmes. May God bless everyone and may you know the Savior Jesus Christ and the hope and joy he brings.
The Bluesman

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fretting about the future?

You are meddling with Christ’s business, and neglecting your own when you fret about your lot and circumstances. You have been trying “providing” work and forgetting that it is yours to obey. Be wise and attend to the obeying, and let Christ manage the providing. Come and survey your Father’s storehouse, and ask whether he will let you starve while he has laid up so great an abundance in his garner? Look at his heart of mercy; see if that can ever prove unkind! Look at his inscrutable wisdom; see if that will ever be at fault. Above all, look up to Jesus Christ your Intercessor, and ask yourself, while he pleads, can your Father deal ungraciously with you? If he remembers even sparrows, will he forget one of the least of his poor children? “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain thee. He will never suffer the righteous to be moved.”
Charles Spurgeon

New U2 Song - "Winter" - From The Movie Brothers Soundtrack

Bono on Christmas

This reflection on Christmas occurred after Bono had just returned home, to Dublin, from a long tour with U2. On Christmas Eve Bono went to the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where Jonathan Swift was dean. Apparently he was given a really poor seat, one obstructed by a pillar, making it even more difficult for him to keep his eyes open…but it was there that Christmas story struck him like never before. He writes:
“The idea that God, if there is a force of Logic and Love in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in shit and straw…a child… I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry … Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was sitting there, and it’s not that it hadn’t struck me before, but tears came streaming down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this.”
Isn’t it compelling? The logic and love of a personal God revealing himself, accounting for our person-ality, our propensity to love. And oh, the mercy of God, born in shit and straw, to rescue us from ourselves, our godless gift-giving, and our arrogant disregard for God and for others so that we might know and enjoy him and his new creation forever. And that he, the infinite God, would do it in Christ, in time, in space, in confounding condescension to pivot the course of the entire creation project from despair, destruction, and dereliction to a hopeful, whole, and happy future.
Will you ponder the poetry of Christmas this year, the genius of the incarnation? What obstructions are in your path to dwelling on the vulnerable, inexhaustible power and love of God in Christ? Renounce them and rivet your attention on the Christ.
Excerpt taken from Bono: in conversation (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), 124-5.

The apparent, the real

“Real importance is one thing, apparent importance another.  The events which move the world are not always those which men think most noteworthy.  The men who most deeply influence their fellows are not those of whom everybody is talking.  The currents of thought and feeling which will shape the future are not those which are welcomed by the organs and interpreters of current opinion.  When Christ appeared, the palace of the Caesar seemed to be more likely to govern the destinies of mankind than the manger of Bethlehem.  No, brethren, depend on it, the apparent is not always, or even generally, the real.”
H. P. Liddon, Christmastide at St. Paul’s (London, 1889), pages 101-102.
Ray Ortlund

This Is What Jesus Christ Upholds by the Word of His Power

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blind Willie Johnson Trouble Soon be Over

From 1927.He was blinded by his step mother when he was 7 out of spite. He grew up to be a preacher and musician. He was one of the greatest bottleneck guitarists as well as one of the most revered song writers. Over the decades, Johnson's music has reverberated through many performers.

Where Does the Story of Christmas Begin?

As the celebration of Christmas fast approaches, our attention quickly goes to the familiar words of the infancy narratives found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  This is a healthy reflex.  After all, the Gospel of Jesus Christ rests upon the historicity of the events that took place in Bethlehem as Christ was born. Our understanding of the identity of Jesus Christ is directly rooted in these narratives and our confidence is in the fact that Matthew and Luke give us historically credible and completely truthful accounts of the events surrounding the birth of Christ.
A closer look at the narratives in both Matthew and Luke reveals a richness that familiarity may hide from us. Matthew begins with the genealogy of Christ, demonstrating the sequence of generations as Israel anticipated the birth of David's Son -- the Messiah. Luke, intending to set forth "an orderly account" of the events concerning Jesus, begins with the anticipation of the birth of John the Baptist and then moves to tell of the virgin conception of Jesus.
A careful reading of Matthew and Luke reveals both the elegance of detail and the grand expanse of the story of Christ's birth. Matthew gives particular attention to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The virgin birth, the birth of Christ in Bethlehem of Judea, the Herodian massacre of the innocents, the flight to Egypt, and the role of John the Baptist as forerunner are all presented as the fulfillment of specific Old Testament prophecies.
Every word of the Old Testament points to Christ. He is not only the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning him, he is the perfect fulfillment of the law and the prophets -- the entirety of the Old Testament Scriptures. The Christmas story does not begin in Bethlehem, for Israel had been promised the Messiah. As Luke reveals, Simeon beheld the baby Jesus in the temple and understood this infant to be "the Lord's Christ" -- the Davidic Messiah.  Simeon understood this clearly -- the Christmas story did not begin in Bethlehem, or even in Jerusalem.
So, where does the Christmas story begin? In the Gospel of John we read: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." [John 1:1-3]
The prologue to John's Gospel points to creation and to Christ, the divine Logos, as the agent of creation. Yet, with language drawn directly from Genesis, John begins his gospel "in the beginning."
In other words, the Christmas story begins before the creation of the world. As we celebrate Christmas and contemplate the Christmas story, we must be very careful not to begin the story in Bethlehem, or even in Nazareth, where Mary was confronted by Gabriel with the message that she would be the mother of the Messiah.
We must not even begin with Moses and the prophets, and with the expectation of the coming Son of Man, the promised Suffering Servant, and the heralded Davidic Messiah. We must begin before the world was created and before humanity was formed, much less fallen.
Why is this so important? Put simply, if we get the Christmas story wrong, we get the Gospel wrong. Told carelessly, the Christmas story sounds like God's "Plan B." In other words, we can make the Christmas story sound like God turning to a new plan, rather than fulfilling all that he had promised.  We must be very careful to tell the Christmas story in such a way that we make the gospel clear.
Christmas is not God's second plan. Before he created the world, God determined to save sinners through the blood of his own Son. The grand narrative of the Bible points to this essential truth -- God determined to bring glory to himself through the salvation of a people redeemed and purchased by his own Son, the Christ. Bethlehem and Calvary were essential parts of God's plan from the beginning, before the cosmos was brought into being as the Son obeyed the will of the Father in creation.
The Christmas story does not begin in Bethlehem, but we appropriately look to Bethlehem as the scene of the most decisive event in human history -- the incarnation of the Son of God. Even as we turn our attention to Bethlehem, we must remember that the story of our salvation does not begin there. That story begins in the eternal purpose of God.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." That is where the Christmas story begins, and John takes us right to the essence of what happened in Bethlehem: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." [John 1:14]
Let's be sure to get the Christmas story right, start to finish.
Albert Mohler

What part of the Body of Christ are you? Francis Chan

If It Could It Would

O Holy Night – The Slave Is Our Brother

Chains shall He break For the slave is our brother;
And in His name All oppression shall cease.
I’ve heard from a couple of readers of this series that these are their favorite lines of the carol. This should be something that resonates with every heart. Most of us certainly feel oppressed and enslaved at various times in ours lives.
At the very least, we have been slaves to sin; for if we have committed any sin, we are a slave to it. (John 8:34) Paul wrestled with this truth in Romans 7, claiming “the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (v14-15) Due to the shackles of sin, Paul was unable to keep from sinning.
Paul also recognized how he could be free of the chains of sin. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v24-25) The slave is our brother because we too were once slaves to sin, and we are untied with the Christ in His suffering and resurrection.
This is the second response to the gospel from O Holy Night: the elimination of pride. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:16-17) If we are co-heirs with Christ, then we are all equal in Him. Hebrews 2:11 says that He is not ashamed to even call us brothers.
Here we see the equality of the gospel already, and not yet. Already are the chains of sin have been broken. Death has been conquered. Christ has experienced every temptation we might encounter and exemplified life in the Holy Spirit so that we can live beyond oppression in glory and righteousness. Not yet have we seen the complete cessation of oppression, however. One day, every knee will bow and tongue confess that Christ is Lord. On that day, all oppression shall cease and all slaves shall be freed. There will be, in every sense, peace on earth and good will toward men.
A-Team Blog

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

O Holy Night – His Law Is Love

Truly He taught us To love one another;
His law is love And His gospel is peace.
God the Father did not send the Son simply to die for our sins and then abandon us to continue to live in disobedience to Him. Nor does He now expect us to live perfectly, though we have a perfect example in His Son. We are called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling by the power of the Holy Spirit in such a way as to radiate the grace of His love throughout our lives.
I think the next four segments of O Holy Night give us four responses to the Evangel. Here we see the first; what Jesus referred to as the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus demonstrated His love for us by laying His life down for us, and we are called to do likewise for others. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 5:1-2) The law He has given us for the new covenant is love- love that reflects the peace the gospel brings between God and man.
This commandment was given another way in the Gospel According to John: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Jesus issued a standard by which all people can judge whether or not we follow Jesus; whether or not we are truly Christians. If we do not show love for one another, the world has a right to judge that we are not believers.
Jesus took this a step further in His high priestly prayer in John 17:20-21. He prayed that his disciples “may all be one, just as you Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Francis Schaeffer referred to this unity demonstrated through love as the “final apologetic.” How we live to some degree determines what believe about Jesus. If we truly live in the unity God has exemplified for us, the gospel will be advanced throughout the world. Indeed He has taught us to love one another, and more than that, He has given us the means and motivation to do so.

Blind Willie Johnson - John the Revelator

The Real Endangered Species

The "Science" Mantra by Thomas Sowell

Like anything valuable, science has been seized upon by politicians and ideologues, and used to forward their own agendas. This started long ago, as far back as the 18th century, when the Marquis de Condorcet coined the term "social science" to describe various theories he favored. In the 19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels distinguished their own brand of socialism as "scientific socialism." By the 20th century, all sorts of notions wrapped themselves in the mantle of "science."
"Global warming" hysteria is only the latest in this long line of notions, whose main argument is that there is no argument, because it is "science." The recently revealed destruction of raw data at the bottom of the global warming hysteria, as well as revelations of attempts to prevent critics of this hysteria from being published in leading journals, suggests that the disinterested search for truth-- the hallmark of real science-- has taken a back seat to a political crusade.
An intercepted e-mail from a professor at the Climate Research Unit in England to a professor at the University of Pennsylvania warned the latter: "Don't any of you three tell anybody that the UK has a Freedom of Information Act" and urged the American professor to delete any e-mails he may have sent a colleague regarding the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
When a business accused of fraud begins shredding its memos and deleting its e-mails, the media are quick to proclaim these actions as signs of guilt. But, after the global warming advocates began a systematic destruction of evidence, the big television networks went for days without even reporting these facts, much less commenting on them.
As for politicians, Senator Barbara Boxer has urged prosecution of the hackers who uncovered and revealed the e-mails! People who have in the past applauded whistleblowers in business, in the military, or in Republican administrations, and who lionized the New York Times for publishing the classified Pentagon papers, are now shocked and outraged that someone dared to expose massive evidence of manipulations, concealment and destruction of data-- and deliberate cover-ups of all this-- in the global warming establishment.
Today, politicized "science" has too big a stake in the global warming hysteria to let the facts speak for themselves and let the chips fall where they may. Too many people-- in politics and in the media, as well as among those climate scientists who are promoting global warming hysteria-- let the raw data on which their calculations have been based fall into the "wrong hands."

The Anti-Psalm 131 vs. the Real Psalm 131

I’m grateful that CCEF is periodically posting great meditations from David Powlison. The latest is on Psalm 131, entitled “Peace, Be Still”: Learning Psalm 131 by Heart. Powlison argues that “Psalm 131 is show-and-tell for how to become peaceful inside.”
One of the things that Powlison likes to do is to contrast a biblical God-centered worldview with a functional godless universe; he does so by composing “anti-Psalms” that show the opposite of the life of the faith.
Here’s Anti-Psalm 131:
my heart is proud (I’m absorbed in myself),
and my eyes are haughty (I look down on other people),
and I chase after things too great and too difficult for me.
So of course I’m noisy and restless inside, it comes naturally,
like a hungry infant fussing on his mother’s lap,
like a hungry infant, I’m restless with my demands and worries.
I scatter my hopes onto anything and everybody all the time.
Contrast that with the real Psalm 131:
O Lord,
my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Justin Taylor

Monday, December 21, 2009

One Grand Miracle

by Joel Heck
C. S. Lewis loved the story of the birth of Christ. In fact, he argued that the one Grand Miracle of Christianity is not the Crucifixion or the Resurrection, but Christ's birth. He saw every other miracle of Scripture as preparing for, demonstrating, or resulting from, the Incarnation.

Obviously our Lord would not have suffered the cross or led humankind from the grave if he had not been born.

Lewis calls a miracle "an interference with Nature by supernatural power." Thank God, he does interfere in our world! Left to our own instincts, we go our own way. God became one of us because he yearns to make us one with him. That's why God has been miraculously interfering for millennia. Just for starters, think of Abraham and Sarah becoming parents late in life, the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, or the rescue of Daniel from the lions. Perhaps you have experienced a miracle in your own life. But none of these, remarkable though they were, were as important as the Incarnation.

While we believe that God is near, Christ is in us, the Holy Spirit has been poured out on us, God remains hidden in these miracles. With the birth of Jesus, God becomes visible in a tiny body for a mother to hold, for shepherds to admire, for magi to worship. He Himself is the miracle! "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9), Jesus said. The Word became flesh. He became one of us-his Grand Miracle! Let us-who recognize the Miracle-bow the knee.

Lord, give us a new appreciation of the Grand Miracle, your coming to Earth, this Advent season. Amen.

Lewis wrote "...the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left." ("The Grand Miracle," God in the Dock, 80)

Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton - Can't Find My Way Home

The Real Temperature

O Holy Night – Behold Your King!

He knows our need, To our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Behold your King.
Being God, Jesus obviously knows what we need. His omniscience is not limited by our self-perceived liberty or isolation. He sees all and knows all things simply by virtue of his deity.
What’s in view here, however, is not really the divine attribute of omniscience, but the experiential knowledge gained by Jesus as he lived, died and was resurrected. We are told that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature” (Luke 2:52). Jesus was tempted three times by Satan before He began His ministry, and we are later told the He is “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
There’s a comfort that comes with the understanding that He’s experienced our needs and weaknesses. I think it adds some tenderness to many of the things we read, such as when Jesus told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) He could say that knowing from experience the pain Paul went through.
Jesus experienced these things, “yet without sin.” He claimed victory over temptation, sin, and death. And so He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:4) “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.” (Phil 2:9-11)
Because He is victorious, we know He is King of all things. We are called to lowly bend before Him; to come adore and behold Him.
A-Team Blog

Avatar: Rambo in Reverse

If you can get a theater full of people in Kentucky to stand and applaud the defeat of their country in war, then you’ve got some amazing special effects.
I just left opening night of James Cameron’s gazillion-dollar epic film Avatar. The reviews were right. The plot is laughably cliched. And the special effects are the most jaw-dropping you’ve ever seen. What I wasn’t quite ready for was the preachiness of the propaganda.
The medium was George Lucas; the message Che Guevara. At one point in the movie, Southern Seminary student Daniel Patterson turned to me and said, “This is Perelandra meets Jurassic Park.” Yes, and then it became Rambo… in reverse.
First of all, from the preemptive war talk to the “blood for oil” theme to the napalm in the jungles to the “shock and awe,” the film couldn’t have been less nuanced. The American military was pure evil, while the Pandoran tribespeople were nature-loving, eco-harmonious, wise Braveheart smurf warriors.
Now, when it comes to issues of war and peace, I don’t mind a message to the movie. American citizens can and do disagree about whether Vietnam or the Iraq War were right. Christians disagree about whether these wars were just (and many would argue they were just but unwise).
Some who believe the wars were warranted and just still oppose some of the tactics used. And most who oppose going to war in some of these places, still hope for their country to win those wars once they’re entered.
For this film, there was no argument here, no appeal, no real narrative though. Just propaganda mediated through some “shock and awe” technology.
And in the end, a group of people (including some, I’m sure, who love the counter-propaganda on their local country music station about such things) stood and applauded as the “wicked” U.S. military went down, quite literally, in flames.
Of course, James Cameron is the same man whose moving images and music caused theaters full of “family values” Christians to tear up and cheer two teenagers fornicating in an abandoned car on the RMS Titanic.
Despite my eye-rolling here, I’m not really all that bothered. Propaganda isn’t dangerous, after all, when we know it’s propaganda.
Still, movies of all sort ought to remind us of the power of images, and what they can lead us to think and feel. Wonder how much propaganda we’re latching on to without ever even knowing it’s there?
Moore To The Point

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Money Greed and God

Doug Wilson has written that it’s one of the best books he’s read in some time. Sam Storms says it’s the best book he read in 2009. Kevin DeYoung said it’s the most engaging, readable, and thoughtful Christian defense of capitalism he’s read.
Here’s the table of contents along with list of the myths that Richards sets out to dispel:
  1. Can’t We Build a Just Society? Myth no. 1: The Nirvana Myth (contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives)
  2. What Would Jesus Do? Myth no. 2: The Piety Myth (focusing on our good intentions rather than the unintended consequences of our actions)
  3. Doesn’t Capitalism Foster Unfair Competition? Myth no. 3: The Zero-sum Game Myth (believing that trade requires a winner and a loser)
  4. If I Become Rich, Won’t Someone Else Become Poor? Myth no. 3: The Materialist Myth (believing that intellect cannot create new wealth)
  5. Isn’t Capitalism Based on Greed? Myth no. 4: The Greed Myth (believing that the essence of capitalism is greed)
  6. Hasn’t Christianity Always Opposed Capitalism? Myth no. 5: The Usury Myth (believing that charging interest on money is always exploitive)
  7. Doesn’t Capitalism Always Lead to an Ugly Consumerist Culture? Myth no. 7: The Artsy Myth (confusing aesthetic judgments with economic arguments)
  8. Are We Going to Use Up All the Resources? Myth no. 8: The Freeze Frame Myth (believing that things always stay the same—for example, assuming population trends will continue indefinitely or treating “rich” and “poor” as static categories)
  9. Conclusion: Working All Things Together for Good
  10. Appendix: Is the “Spontaneous Order” of the Market Evidence of a Universe without Purpose?

We Preach A Saving Christ

“There is no inconsistency between believing that God has a special sovereign love before the foundation of the world that is efficacious and brings in all the Body of Christ and that there is too love for all men, and that no man knows to which of those loves he has been brought until he is converted.  In other words, it is the love of God in Christ that is proclaimed.  And theoretical problems about how is this consistent with that, and so on, are not really our concern.  And ultimately, we don’t even know the answer to that.  So, Robert Candlish (1806-1873), another Free Church divine, says, We don’t preach a limited atonement or a universal atonement.  We preach a saving Christ.  And when people come to Christ, then they find they have been redeemed and his blood has been shed for them.”
Rev. Iain Murray, in a recent 9 Marks interview with Dr. Mark Dever.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bob Dylan-It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

Fool’s gold?

“Fool’s gold: a term for non-gold ore similar in color to gold, usually mistaken by beginning prospectors because of the brassy glitter.”
In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Jonathan Edwards pulled out of 1 John 4 the biblical indicators that God is at work, even if the people involved are complicating it with their own sins and eccentricities.  The true gold of grace is discernible in these four ways:
One, when our esteem of Jesus is being raised, so that we prize him more highly than all this world, God is at work.
Two, when we are moving away from Satan’s interests, away from sin and worldly desires, God is at work.
Three, when we are believing, revering and devouring the Bible more, God is at work.
Four, when we love Jesus and one another more, God is at work.
Satan not only wouldn’t produce such things, he couldn’t produce them, so opposite are these from his nature and purposes.  These are sure signs that God is at work, even with the imperfections we inevitably introduce.  Don’t turn away because of the non-gold; prize the gold.  God is giving it.

O Holy Night - Born To Be Our Friend

The King of Kings Lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials Born to be our friend.

The King of Kings is a lofty title. I used to think of it merely as God ruling over all the rulers on Earth. That, of course, is true. But it also encompasses the full scope of God’s reign. Everything we think a King might control or ought to be, God controls and is. God is the epitome of Kingship. He reigns sovereignly over all things large and small because it is His, and He manages His creation with perfect wisdom and justice. There are no boundaries to His kingdom. Unlike our American President, there are not checks and balances on God. He is free to act and will according to His desires.
Yet we find this most magnificent King in a most lowly place, a manger. We are again pointed back to the mystery of the incarnation, to Philippians 2 “He made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Though man is dust, God became man in order to save man.

Why would a utterly holy God stoop to such a lowly place? What could motivate Him to make Himself “nothing”? We are told in one of my favorite lines, “In all our trials born to be our friend.” The love of God is such a deeply rich love that it compelled Him to become “nothing” in order to be our dearest friend (amongst other titles, of course).

This friendship is costly. Not only did God have to become man, but He also had to die, as we saw in the last post. Jesus told us that true love is laying down one’s life for another. The only way God could truly love is by accomplishing this act. And because of the horrible mark of sin on our lives, the only way He could be our friend is through covering us with the perfectly righteous blood of His Son.

“Born to be our friend” assumes much because of cost required for God to be our friend. It is an expression of the gospel, that God so loved us that He did indeed send His Son to reconcile us to Him. In Him we find our truest companion, our dearest friend.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Human Factor

For example, in his only direct mention of abortion, he states that
even bracketing entirely more general arguments about abortion[,] the ready acceptance of abortion of "defective" fetuses .  .  . violates the human dignity we share. It sets aside the fundamental bond of parents and children, inserting choice in the place of love and acceptance, and teaching us thereby that we must justify our continued existence, especially when we constitute a burden to others.
All true, and certainly miles away from any kind of philosophizing we may expect from a White House bioethicist between now and 2013. But the point Meilaender is making--that abortion creates a culture of wantedness, where children's lives are valuable not intrinsically but only relatively, according to whether their parents want them--is universally valid. It need not be qualified by the implication that it applies more so to eugenic abortions. Every abortion "sets aside the fundamental bond of parents and children, inserting choice in the place of love and acceptance." Every abortion teaches us "that we must justify our continued
existence, especially when we constitute a burden to others." For what is an "unwanted" child but a human life considered to be "a burden to others"? I don't know why Meilaender fails to make this logical leap. Perhaps, sensitive to accusations that pro-lifers wish to impose upon others their religiously based belief in fetal personhood, he wishes to isolate his criticism of abortion in an area where there may be common ground. But if that is the case, such timidity is unwarranted, for the core of his argument is not that abortion violates the human dignity of the unborn. It is that abortion violates the human dignity of born children, by denying or relativizing their intrinsic value. This is a point that can be argued effectively purely through reason, and it is essential if we, as a society, are to accomplish what Meilaender rightly deems "our moral task .  .  . to seek to recognize the person who is there."
Understanding man's place in the ethical universe.
by Dawn Eden- The Weekly Standard

Frank Sinatra - I'll Be Home for Christmas

The Big Lie

The archaeology of repentance

In a sermon preached during the First Great Awakening, George Whitefield laid bare the four archaeological layers always uncovered in true repentance.  Preaching on “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14), Whitefield said that before we can speak peace to our hearts:
One, “You must be made to see, made to feel, made to weep over, made to bewail, your actual transgressions against the law of God.”  The dawning of non-denial.  Realism.  Honesty.  Brokenhearted self-awareness.  “Was ever the remembrance of your sins grievous to you?  Was the burden of your sins intolerable to your thoughts?  Did ever any such thing as this pass between God and your soul?  If not, for Jesus Christ’s sake, do not call yourselves Christians.”
Two, “You must be convinced of the foundation of all your transgressions.  And what is that? I mean original sin.”  We realize that, even when we haven’t acted on our impulses, the very fact that our hearts rise up against God is itself damning.  All self-hope stripped away.  “When the sinner is first awakened, he begins to wonder, ‘How came I to be so wicked?’  The Spirit of God then strikes in and shows that he has no good thing in him by nature.”
Three, “You must be troubled for the sins of your best duties and performances.”  Our righteous self-images start to deconstruct, our excuses, our rationalizations, our entitlements.  Every false refuge gives way.  “You must be brought to see that God may damn you for the best prayer you ever put up.  Our best duties are so many splendid sins.  There must be a deep conviction before you can be brought out of your self-righteousness; it is the last idol taken out of the heart.”
Four, “There is one particular sin you must be greatly troubled for, and yet I fear there are few of you think what it is.  It is the reigning, the damning sin of the Christian world, and yet the Christian world seldom or never thinks of it.  And pray what is that?  It is what most of you think you are not guilty of, and that is the sin of unbelief.”  Treating God as unreal at a functional level in our hearts and lives and churches and strategies.  “Most of you have not so much faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the devil himself.  I am persuaded the devil believes more of the Bible than most of you do.”
“One more then.  Before you can speak peace to your heart, you must not only be convinced of your actual and original sin, the sins of your own righteousness, the sin of unbelief, but you must be enabled to lay hold upon the perfect righteousness, the all-sufficient righteousness, of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Then you shall have peace.”
Select Sermons of George Whitefield, pages 75-95.
Ray Ortlund

How to Respond to Family Feuds

CCEF has posted on their website an edited version of Tim Lane’s booklet, Family Feuds: How to Respond.
Here’s a summary:
Christmas is coming and that means family get-togethers. But these celebrations are not always a picture postcard of family bliss. For some, these gatherings are dreaded and avoided when possible. Why is that? Why is it so hard to get along with the people you grew up with? Is there any hope that old, hurtful patterns can be changed? In this booklet, Tim Lane writes about these challenges and how through your relationship with Christ you can learn how to love your family and reach out to them in concrete and practical ways.
You can read the whole thing here.
Lane begins by rehearsing a number of truths:
  1. Every family is flawed
  2. Flawed families need God’s grace
  3. Your family of origin does not determine your identity
  4. God’s call to love includes your family
  5. Changed by the cross of Christ
He then gives some practical strategies for change:
  1. Respond with grace to your family
  2. Take responsibility for your sins, not your family’s
  3. Become an instrument of grace
  4. Make wise choices for your children
  5. Persevere in love

Thursday, December 17, 2009


My House Is On The Right

God With Us

Preaching on Isaiah 7:14, C. H. Spurgeon closed with this flourish:
“God with us.” It is hell’s terror. Satan trembles at the sound of it; the black-winged dragon of the pit quails before it. Let him come to you suddenly, and do you but whisper that word, “God with us,” back he falls, confounded and confused. “God with us” is the laborer’s strength; how could he preach the gospel, how could he bend his knees in prayer, how could the missionary go into foreign lands, how could the martyr stand at the stake, how could the confessor own his Master, how could men labor, if that one word were taken away? “God with us” is the sufferer’s comfort, the balm of his woe, the alleviation of his misery, the sleep which God gives to his beloved, their rest after exertion and toil. “God with us” is eternity’s sonnet, heaven’s hallelujah, the shout of the glorified, the song of the redeemed, the chorus of angels, the everlasting oratorio of the great orchestra of the sky.
Ray Ortlund

How Do You Take Criticism Of Your Views by Tim Keller

Recently several people have asked me 'how do you deal with harsh criticism?' In each case, the inquirer had felt stung by what they felt were unfair attacks on him or her. In this internet age, anyone can have their views censured unfairly by people they don't know. So what do you do when that happens? Here's is the gist of the counsel I give people when they ask me about this. For years I've been guided by a letter by John Newton that is usually entitled "On Controversy."

The biggest danger of receiving criticism is not to your reputation, but to your heart. You feel the injustice of it and feel sorry for yourself, and it tempts you to despise not only the critic, but the entire group of people from which they come. "Those people..." you mutter under your breath. All this can make you prouder over time. Newton writes: "Whatever...makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit." He argues that whenever contempt and superiority accompany our thoughts, it is a sign that "the doctrines of grace" are operating in our life "as mere notions and speculations" with "no salutary influence upon [our] conduct."

So how can you avoid this temptation? First, you should look to see if there is a kernel of truth in even the most exaggerated and unfair broadsides. There is usually such a kernel when the criticism comes from friends, and there is often such truth when the disapproval comes from people who actually know you. So even if the censure is partly or even largely mistaken, look for what you may indeed have done wrong. Perhaps you simply acted or spoke in a way that was not circumspect. Maybe the critic is partly right for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, identify your own short-comings, repent in your own heart before the Lord for what you can, and let that humble you. It will then be possible to learn from the criticism and stay gracious to the critic even if you have to disagree with what he or she has said.

If the criticism comes from someone who doesn't know you at all (and often this is the case on the internet) it is possible that the criticism is completely unwarranted and profoundly mistaken. I am often pilloried not only for views I do have, but also even more often for views (and motives) that I do not hold at all. When that happens it is even easier to fall into a smugness and perhaps be tempted to laugh at how mistaken your critics are. "Pathetic..." you may be tempted to say. Don't do it. Even if there is not the slightest kernel of truth in what the critic says, you should not mock them in your thoughts. First, remind yourself of examples of your own mistakes, foolishness, and cluelessness in the past, times in which you really got something wrong. Second, pray for the critic, that he or she grows in grace. Newton talks about it like this:

"If you account [your opponent] a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom are very applicable: 'Deal gently with him for my sake.'  The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly.  The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself.  In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.  Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever."

So whatever you do, do anything you can to avoid feeling smug and superior to the critic. Even if you say to yourself that you are just 'shrugging it off' and that you are not going to respond to the criticism, you can nonetheless conduct a full defense and refutation in the courtroom of your mind, in which you triumphantly prove how awful and despicable your opponents are. But that is a spiritual trap. Newton's remarks about this are very convicting:

"A man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature, and the riches of free grace.  Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments.  Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good.  They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify.  I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others."
rcpc blog

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jeff Beck - Amazing Grace

I love this song and this version by Jeff Beck really blesses me.

Wolves On The Loose

SNS – Exclusive Bob Dylan Interview

Interview by Bill Flanagan
Bob Dylan has at various times revolutionized folk, rock, country and gospel music.  However, any Dylan fan who says he was not surprised that Bob has released an album of traditional Christmas songs is pulling your leg.  Christmas In The Heart is another surprising move by an artist famous for surprises.  Yet when you hear Dylan’s direct and obviously sincere readings of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Little Town Of Bethlehem,” and “The First Noel,” this unlikely exercise seems of a piece with the rest of Dylan’s work.
From the very first, this was an artist who made us look at the familiar with new eyes and ears. While some critics tie themselves into knots analyzing Dylan’s motives, it has usually turned out that Bob Dylan means exactly what he says. Featuring members of his touring band along with Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Chess Records vet Phil Upchurch, Christmas In The Heart is Bob Dylan’s celebration of family, community, faith and shared memory. And a timely celebration it is. Recognizing the world wide problem of hunger, Bob Dylan has donated all of his proceeds from the record, in perpetuity, to organizations around the world to help with hunger and homelessness.
We sat down to talk in the Waterfront Plaza Hotel in Oakland on a rainy, windy, October day.
BILL FLANAGAN: Is recording a Christmas album something you’ve had on your mind for a while?
BOB DYLAN: Yeah, every so often it has crossed my mind. The idea was first brought to me by Walter Yetnikoff, back when he was President of Columbia Records.
BF: Did you take him seriously?
BD: Well, sure I took him seriously.
BF: But it didn’t happen. How come?
BD: He wasn’t specific. Besides, there was always a glut of records out around that time of year and I didn’t see how one by me could make any difference.
BF: What was Christmas like around your town when you were growing up?
By Bill Flanagan Picture Courtesy of Columbia Records

BD: Well, you know, plenty of snow, jingle bells, Christmas carolers going from house to house, sleighs in the streets, town bells ringing, nativity plays. That sort of thing.
BF: Your family was Jewish – as a kid did you ever feel left out of the Christmas excitement?
BD: No, not at all.
BF: What’s your idea of a good Christmas Dinner?
BD: Mashed potatoes and gravy, roast turkey and collard greens, turnip greens, biscuit dressing, corn bread and cranberry sauce.
BF: Have you spent any Christmases overseas and been struck by how the holiday is celebrated in other countries?
BD: I was in Mexico City once and they do a lot of re-enactment scenes of Joseph and Mary looking for a place to stay.
BF: How do you like to spend the week between Christmas and New Years?
BD: Doing nothing – maybe reflecting on things.
BF: Why do you think Christmas has better songs than other holidays?
BD: I don’t know. That’s a good question. Maybe because it’s so worldwide and everybody can relate to it in their own kind of way.
BF: Very often when contemporary artists do Christmas records, they look for a new angle. John Fahey did instrumental folk variations on holiday songs, Billy Idol did a rock and roll Christmas album, Phil Specter put the Wall of Sound around the Christmas tree and the Roches did kind of a kooky left-field collection. You played this right down the middle, doing classic holiday songs in traditional arrangements. Did you know going in you wanted to play it straight?
BD: Oh sure, there wasn’t any other way to play it. These songs are part of my life, just like folk songs. You have to play them straight too.
BF: There’s something new that happens when your voice goes up against the very smooth background singers and old-fashioned arrangements. It adds a new flavor to the mix. When you do I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, it sounds really forlorn, like you’re singing the song in jail and this is your one phone call. Do you ever approach singing a song like an actor?
BD: Not any more then Willie or Nat King Cole would. The songs don’t require much acting. They kind of play themselves.
BF: Do you try to go for different emotions on different takes?
BD: Not really. The emotions would pretty much be the same on any singular take. The inflections would maybe differ if we changed the key and sometimes that might affect the emotional resonance.
BF: When I hear your version of HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING, it makes me think of a lonely fellow outside the church, looking through the window at the congregation, wishing he were in there. Did any of these songs surprise you when you heard them played back?
BD: No, they were pretty much the same going in as going out. You can already hear them in your head before you begin.
BF: Any Christmas songs you like but you did not think you could do?
BD: Not really. There were ones I didn’t want to do, but not any that I didn’t think I could do. The idea was to record the best known ones.
BF: CHRISTMAS BLUES is an old Dean Martin song. What attracted you to that?
BD: It’s just a beautiful song.
BF: Stan Lynch once told me about you and him slipping out of a rehearsal with the Heartbreakers to go see Dean, Sinatra and Sammy Davis. What appealed to you about those guys?
BD: I don’t know, maybe the camaraderie. On the other hand I wasn’t much into that whole scene actually – it left a lot of people out.
BF: MUST BE SANTA is a real jumping polka. Did you hear a lot of polka bands growing up?
BD: Yeah, I heard a few.
BF: I never heard that song before. Where did you hear it?
BD: I first heard that song years ago on one of those “Sing Along with Mitch” records. But this version comes from a band called Brave Combo.  Somebody sent their record to us for our radio show. They’re a regional band out of Texas that takes regular songs and changes the way you think about them. You oughta hear their version of Hey Jude.
BF: The way you do WINTER WONDERLAND makes me think of Gene Autry and Roy Rodgers, the singing cowboys in the old movies. Even in John Wayne films, there’d always be a scene back at the fort where an Irish band was playing, or the Sons of the Pioneers were singing. Did you have a favorite cowboy singer as a kid?
BD: Yeah, Tex Ritter.
BF: What about Gene and Roy?
BD: Yeah, they were okay, but Tex Ritter was my favorite. He was way more heavy. There was more gravity to him.
BF: Have you heard “Christmas on Death Row,” the rap Christmas record?
BD: No I don’t think so.
BF: Do you listen to rap music?
BD: I don’t listen to rap radio stations and I don’t play rap songs on the jukebox, and I don’t go to rap shows – So no I guess I don’t listen to rap music all that much.
BF: What do you think of rap music?
BD: I love rhyming for rhyming sake. I think that’s an incredible art form.
BF: There’s a lonely quality in the way you do SILVER BELLS. You were a young man when you moved from Minnesota to New York City. Was Christmas very different in New York?
BD: Christmas was pretty much the same in New York, only more so.
BF: Did it make you homesick?
BD: Not really, I didn’t think about it that much. I didn’t bring the past with me when I came to New York. Nothing back there would play any part in where I was going.
BF: Hearing you sing ADESTE FIDELES reminds me of being an altar boy at Midnight Mass. The priests all had to lead the singing, and it didn’t matter if they were singers or not, they belted it out. Have you ever sung in a foreign language before?
BD: I’ve sung in French, Italian and Spanish. Over the years, Columbia has asked me to do records in those languages and I recorded stuff here and there.  None of the tracks have been released though. It’s hard deciding whether to do a translation of one of my own songs, or an original song in one of those languages – which I’m actually more partial to. I’ve always wanted to do some Edith Piaf songs.
BD: Yeah. That one and a couple of others. SOUS LE CIEL DE PARIS, POUR MOI TOUT SEULE and maybe one or two more
BF: What stopped you?
BD: Well, I can hear myself doing them in my head, but I’d need written arrangements to pull it off and I’m not sure who could do that.
BF: Which singers do you associate with Christmas?
BD: Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole. Doris Day.
BF: What about Bing Crosby?
BD: Sure, White Christmas was always a big song.
BF: I always get choked up at the end of GOING MY WAY when the old priest’s mother comes walking toward him on Christmas Eve and Bing watches from the door of the church then picks up his suitcase and walks off into the snow – TURA, LURA, LURA playing in the background. You can’t get any more Christmasy than that. Did movies have a big effect on how you saw the world growing up?
BD: I think so. I lived in a small town and movies were a window into the outside world.
BF: CHRISTMAS ISLAND is a wacky song! Santa’s going to sail in with your presents in a canoe. Where did that come from? You ever been to Christmas Island?
BD: No I’ve never been there. I have no idea where the song comes from, who wrote or even if there is such a place.
BF: Your song THREE ANGELS always reminds me of the holidays. Did you ever sit down to write a Christmas song?
BD: I have never done that. It’s something to think about though.
BF: You have grandchildren. What do you think they’ll make of this record? Did it occur to you making this record that years from now your grandchildren will play this album for their own kids?
BD: I don’t know what my grandchildren think of any of my records. I don’t know if they’ve even heard them. Maybe the older ones.
BF: You’re a lot more loyal to these melodies than you are to the melodies of the songs you’ve written. Do you figure these tunes can’t be messed with?
BD: If you want to get to the heart of them they can’t be, no.
BF: Your version of THE CHRISTMAS SONG is right in the pocket. You slide into that song like you’ve been singing it all your life. You also sing the intro (“All through the year we waited…”) which most people leave out. I don’t think Nat King Cole used that intro – why did you bring it back?
BD: Well, I figured the guy who wrote it put it in there deliberately. It definitely creates tension, predicts what you are about to hear.
BF: I think you did drop the “goodies” on the sleigh. Did something about that bother you?
BD: No not really. I don’t think I thought of it until you mentioned it. I try my best to be exact, but sometimes things just fall away. We probably recorded the song, got the feel right and moved on. Most likely we didn’t even listen back. Just moved on to something else. I don’t think that’s something I would have noticed anyway.
BF: You really give a heroic performance of O’ LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM The way you do it reminds me a little of an Irish rebel song. There’s something almost defiant in the way you sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  I don’t want to put you on the spot, but you sure deliver that song like a true believer.
BD: Well, I am a true believer.
BF: You know, some people will think that Bob Dylan doing a Christmas album is meant to be ironic or a put-on. This sounds to me like one of the most sincere records you’ve ever made. Did anybody at your record company or management resist the idea?
BD: No it was my record company who compelled me to do it.
BF: Why now?
BD: Well, it just came my way now, at this time. Actually, I don’t think I would have been experienced enough earlier anyway.
BF: Some critics don’t seem to know what to make of this record. Bloomberg news said, “Some of the songs sound ironic. Does he really mean have yourself a Merry Little Christmas?” Is there any ironic content in these songs?
BD: No not at all. Critics like that are on the outside looking in. They are definitely not fans or the audience that I play to. They would have no gut level understanding of me and my work, what I can and can’t do – the scope of it all. Even at this point in time they still don’t know what to make of me.
BF: Derek Barker in the Independent, compared this record with the shock of you going electric. So many artists have released Christmas records, from Bing Crosby to Huey Piano Smith. Why is it a shock if you do it?
BD: You’ll have to ask them.
BF: The Chicago Tribune felt this record needed more irreverence. Doesn’t that miss the point?
BD: Well sure it does, that’s an irresponsible statement anyway. Isn’t there enough irreverence in the world? Who would need more? Especially at Christmas time.
BF: The profits from this album are going to buy Christmas dinners for folks who are having a hard time financially. When I heard that I thought of the Woody Guthrie song PRETTY BOY FLOYD – “Here’s a Christmas dinner for the families on relief.”
BD: Exactly.  PRETTY BOY FLOYD. “Pretty Boy grabbed the log chain and the deputy grabbed his gun.” Did you ever notice how Pretty Boy Floyd looks exactly like babe Ruth?
BF: Yeah, I have.
BD: Did you ever think it could be the same guy?
BF: Maybe they’re interchangeable?
BD: Yeah, in the real world Pretty Boy would be batting clean up for the Yankees and Babe Ruth would be robbing banks.
BF: Yeah, and they’re both legends.
BD: Right.
BF: Why did you pick Feeding America, Crisis UK and The World Food Program to give the proceeds of this record to?
BD: Because they get food straight to the people. No military organization, no bureaucracy, no governments to deal with.
BF: Do you still send out Christmas cards?
BD: I haven’t for a while.
BF: Do you have a favorite Christmas album?
BD: Maybe the Louvin Brothers. I like all the religious Christmas albums. The ones in Latin. The songs I sang as a kid.
BF: A lot of people like the secular ones.
BD: Religion isn’t meant for everybody.
BF: What sort of gifts do you like to give?
BD: I try to match the person with the gift.
BF: Are you a last minute shopper?
BD: Always.
BF: Do you drop any hints about what you hope to get from your family?
BD: Nope. Their well-being – that’s enough of a gift for me.
BF: I know we’re out of time but I have to ask, what’s the best Christmas gift you ever got?
BD: Let me think… oh yeah, I think it was a sled.
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