Jan 122017
 

Epiphany: Christmas of the Gentiles

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” ’

 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’ After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” (Matt 2:1-12)

Epiphany (which means manifestation) commemorates the visit of the magi to Jesus in Bethlehem. On the night Jesus was born, God gave the Jews a sign that their Savior was born through the appearance of an angel to nearby shepherds. However, Jesus came also for those who are far off – for the gentile nations. Therefore, God gave the gentiles a sign that their Savior too was born through the appearance of a special star to the magi who were from Arabia or Persia. The Epiphany of Christ to the magi is also known in Church tradition as Christmas of the Gentiles.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” (Isa 9:2)

The light (of the star) may have shined for the magi in the east, but when they arrived at Jerusalem, they found no light, only darkness. Why were the residents in the capital (except for a few), including Herod, the chief priests and scribes, not aware of the birth of their King? Why were the Jews not celebrating the restoration of the monarchy to the House of David? Did no one else see the star rising over Israel? One can only imagine the astonishment of the magi when they encountered the utter state of ignorance and indifference among the residents of Jerusalem.

“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matt 2:2)

When the magi could no longer follow the rising star for directions to Jesus, they would next be led by Scripture. (God desires that we seek Him in His Word, which provides our faith with a sure foundation.) When word of the magi’s inquiry reached Herod, he gathered the chief priests and the scribes who easily located Micah’s prophesy: “They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” (Matt 2:5-6, quoting Micah 5:2)

“If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)

Micah’s prophesy functioned as a second guiding light for the magi searching for Jesus. As Peter, writing later, teaches: “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (1 Pet 1:19). Jesus is the “bright morning star.” (Rev 22:16)

But what was guiding Herod and the priests and scribes? They also knew Micah’s prophesy. What was their guiding light?

The Priests and the Scribes. These men were experts and teachers of the Scriptures, but they did not come to Jesus. As educated men, likely of the Sanhedrin, they might have been the first to joyfully set out for Bethlehem to honor their King. But they feared Herod more than God. So they remained with Herod and hardened their hearts.

Later when Jesus did not appear with splendor and power, the priests and scribes apparently dismissed the visit of the magi as a hoax. Thus Jesus grew up among them in anonymity, just as John the Baptist later said to the priests and Levites: “among you stands one you do not know” (John 1:26). The priests and scribes knew the Scriptures inside and out and yet were blind in unbelief.

Herod. Herod was not an expert in the Scriptures, but he knew how to use them for his own purposes. He apparently believed the Scriptures were the Word of God, yet he foolishly set himself against the Word, thinking he could sabotage and foil God’s plan. Herod attempted to use Micah’s prophesy for evil, to preserve his kingdom, by destroying God’s Anointed One. Even the devil knows the Scriptures. However, Solomon teaches a greater truth: “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord.” (Prov 21:30)

The Wise Men. These were men “who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15) The magi traveled far at personal risk and cost to find Christ. They did not despair at the ignorance and indifference of the leaders in Jerusalem, but held fast to the Word of God spoken through the Prophet Micah. Upon leaving Jerusalem, the star reappeared to the magi, leading them to the precise house where Jesus was staying. “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” (Matt 2:11a)

The magi were neither wise like Herod, who amassed a kingdom and great wealth, nor like the chief priests and scribes, who achieved great status and positions among the people. The magi were wise like children, as Jesus would later teach by way of prayer: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21) The magi likely were held in contempt by the wise men of Jerusalem, but they were wise in the things of God. Only through the eyes of childlike faith could the magi behold their young King alone with His peasant mother in a small village outside Jerusalem. May our Father in Heaven protect us also from the ways of the world and grant us childlike faith which beholds our Lord and Savior who has reconciled us to God through the blood of His cross. Amen.

“Hail, Thou Source of every blessing, Sovereign Father of mankind!

Gentiles now, Thy grace possessing, In Thy courts admission find.

Grateful now we fall before Thee, In Thy Church obtain a place,

Now by faith behold Thy glory, Praise Thy truth, adore Thy grace.

 Once far off, but now invited, We approach Thy sacred throne;

In Thy covenant united, Reconciled, redeemed, made one.

Now revealed to Eastern sages, See the Star of Mercy shine;

Mystery hid in former ages, Mystery great of love divine.

 Hail, Thou all-inviting Savior! Gentiles now their offerings bring;

In Thy temples seek Thy favor, Jesus Christ, our Lord and King.

May we, body, soul, and spirit, Live devoted to Thy praise,

Glorious realms of bliss inherit, Grateful anthems ever raise!”

“Hail, Thou Source of Every Blessing”

by Basil Woodd

Jan 112017
 

Last week we got into a discussion about the doctrine of the Trinity on one of the threads here.  As the issue was parsed, we were able to see just how careful we sometimes need to be in our descriptions and definitions, as even just one unclear word can lead to significant doubt or confusion.  Especially on something as sublime as the Trinity where it is very hard for our human minds to comprehend three distinct Persons in one eternal God.  Truthfully, our minds can’t really comprehend it, but we do our best to try to faithfully describe and understand who God has revealed Himself to be.  Dr. Arnold then gave us an articulate expression of the Trinity just a couple days ago, correlating it to how we show love, and sin when we don’t. 

Unsaid in these discussions, but likely presumed by most, is that the doctrine of the Trinity is a pillar of the Christian faith.  An essential or fundamental or primary or cardinal doctrine, if you will.  That if a church is going to call itself a church, or a Christian to call themselves a Christian, then they should have a handle on this one.  As difficult as it may be to fully comprehend, if they have a faulty understanding of the Trinity, and especially if they reject it, one wonders if they truly are of the faith.  (The caveat here, of course, is that we wouldn’t be as concerned with young children or those new to the faith as they may not have yet had an opportunity to come to a sufficient understanding.)

All of this got me to thinking about the essentials of the faith.  We often refer to those things that are essential or primary, and subsequently those that are non-essential or secondary.  So what are they?  Now, I’m sure each and every one of us would have a list that’s a bit different, at least in some respects.  Some might have a list of a few core essentials, others might have a list of a hundred.  And I certainly imagine we would see some differences from the Evangelical list to the Lutheran list to the Catholic list to the Orthodox list.

The way I think about it, those items or doctrines that are the core or the essentials of the Christian faith would pertain to salvation and who God is.  Even these two categories can be very broad in what we could all include, but which items or beliefs within them do we see as primary importance for the faith?

The aforementioned doctrine of the Trinity would be included in the primary list for me.  Belief in God the Father, God the Son – Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit, all distinct Persons of the eternal God and Creator of heaven and earth and man.  While already admitting that this is a difficult concept for us to wrap our minds around, nonetheless if we don’t know who the Christian God is, as revealed and described in the Bible, then really in whom is our faith?

Certainly the person and work of Jesus Christ would be or primary importance.  A Christian would need to recognize the deity of Christ and His death on the cross for our sins and His subsequent bodily resurrection. Following from that, a Christian would need to recognize their own sin and have a belief or faith in Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross and in resurrection in order to be saved from those sins.

I also think a belief in the Second Coming of Christ where there will be final judgment and the resurrection of our bodies and when He will make all things new and set all things right is an essential of our faith.

These are the things I think of as being the most essential or fundamental to the Christian faith.  Much of what I have mentioned here can be found in one manner or another in the historic Christian creeds, which are obviously quite good baselines to the historic faith.

Matters involving baptism and communion and the authority of Scripture and God’s sovereignty are also of great importance, but I wouldn’t include them quite in the same category as the previously mentioned core.  Others may very well include them.

Beyond these things, there are also plenty of other doctrines which are certainly substantial but I would think as being more secondary or as a rung below the essentials.  Issues like the particulars of soteriology and sovereignty, such as are classically debated in the Calvinist/Arminian divide.  Issues like the particulars of eschatology or ecclesiology or the continuation of spiritual gifts or the existence and nature of Hell.

 Then we have all kinds of manner of topics, that while not denying their significance, I would see almost as being tertiary in importance.  Things like worship music and Bible translations and alcohol and how to spend money.

Now my listings here are far from complete and full.  This article was not meant to be an exhaustive study and I’m certainly not making the claim of being the final judge of the exact classification of importance for every doctrine.  These are just my introductory thoughts.  With the diversity in the faith we have here, it would be interesting to see what others would add or where they would see things differently than I do as a layman Evangelical.  So have at it, if you like.  We’re bound to have some differences, but I would hope we can also find some unifying agreements in our Christian faith.       

Jan 102017
 

A seminary professor’s struggle with sons mental illness…

Why be an Anglican?

Many sightings of hope…

When darkness closes in…

Church growth strategy…be weird…

Perry Noble is back…

The church without Christ and the ghost of Christmas future…

Alien citizens: why the church is political…

How a holy family handles conflict…

Bleep off…the fight to save filtering services…

What if?…

The disappearing middle in American religious and political life…

Thin slices of joy…

How the Trinity makes a decision…

Password Jesus…

Why kids ask why…

What can the church learn from Crossfit?

Work and enjoy it…

Six things egalitarian marriage is not…

America’s fighting faith…

The free gift…

Leaving the ministry…

United from above…

Huge thanks to EricL for the link help…support him at top right…

Jan 092017
 

God and the Church

Much of what I see written about the Church these days is less about theology and more about practicality. 

It is not that theology is absent, but it is often enlisted mainly to advocate for a certain form of church order, polity or to try and understand its diminishing status in much of  Western life and culture.  This is to some extent understandable.  Along with the rapid decline of mainline denominations both in America and Europe, we are also witnessing a politicization of US evangelicals unseen, to the same extent, since the American Civil War, some 150 years ago.

What is more painful, however, has been to come to terms with, especially theologically, the exposure of abuse that has taken place within our churches.  We think immediately of the crisis of child abuse and resultant “cover-ups” within the Roman Catholic churches, both here and in Europe. While such abuse, sexual and otherwise, is not unknown in Protestant  and evangelical circles, there are other patterns of abuse that have more often come to light.  In evangelical communities especially, where often the pastor has little accountability to either peers or strong lay councils or boards, numerous issues have come to light.  Many of these issues have received comment from others.  They range from pastors employing the so-called “Moses Model”, to the largely accepted nepotism of pastors’ wives, children, in-laws, etc. taking up positions of responsibility in a single church, to pastoral over-reach in terms of financial accountability (or the lack thereof), to the “pastor as star’ syndrome which often times seems endemic within certain circles.

Now, let us be clear, whether such behavior is evidenced in a Roman Catholic parish, or an evangelical free church, or a mainline Protestant denomination, the desired result is the same – control.   Along side that “desired result” is a related behavior that is shown all too often – those whom you cannot control, you exclude.  The exclusion may be subtle or blatant, but the message is clear nonetheless – “You’re not one of us”.

It strikes me, however, that this is the opposite of our relationship with God.  The whole point of that relationship is inclusion, that is, for us to be brought into the life of God himself.  The manner in which that inclusion is accomplished is rooted in the nature of the Triune God himself. Here, I am speaking of the ontological nature of the Trinity.  Most often we  speak of the economic Trinity, that is, the activity of God and the roles of the three persons with regard to creation and redemption.  When, however, we speak of the ontological nature of  the Trinity, we are speaking of something different but, I believe, something which we are called upon to imitate and to model as the Church. 

You see, our relationship with God is part of a dynamic of giving and receiving.  It is a ongoing continuum of bestowal and counter-bestowal.  St. Augustine recognized this in aligning the statement that, “God is Love” with God’s trinitarian nature, for God the Father is the Lover, God the Son is the Beloved and the Holy Spirit is the bond of Love.  As the Father loves the Son, he bestows himself upon the Son.  The Son receives this gift and, in turn, gives it back to the Father.  The gift given, bestowed and returned again, is God the Holy Spirit.  It is an ongoing eternal relationship of love and inclusion, of that which is entirely love, bestowed, given, received and given back that God might be “all in all”.  

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (Jn. 15:9)  You see, this is the relationship that I believe Christ is calling the Church to imitate.  Or again, “I in them and You in Me–that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.” (Jn. 17:23)  While we always consider this latter verse as a call to Church unity, I believe it is something much more, it is an invitation for the Church to participate in the life of God. 

When we consider early communion practices, I think the early Church understood this dynamic, even if it took time to fully articulate.  We know from the Didache, Ignatius and other early writings that believers would gather together to offer themselves to God.  The sign and symbol of that self-offering would be the bread and wine that was to be placed on the altar.  In the ante-Nicene period, all who were able would bring bread and wine which would be gathered together.  A small portion would be placed on the altar, while the rest of the offering would be set aside to be distributed to the poor.  The offered gifts on the altar would be consecrated and then given back as the body and blood of Christ to the people.

Do we see what’s happening here?  We give ourselves to God in the symbols of bread and wine.  God accepts the gift and bestows upon us, by the work of the Holy Spirit, the gift of his Son.  In this giving, receiving and giving again, we are given a glimpse of the ontological nature of  God himself.  The gift is freely given.  The message to the believer is not one of control, but one of love.  It is an invitation to inclusion, not exclusion

I am coming to believe that abusive situations in the Church – sexual abuse, emotional abuse, pastoral abuse and authoritarianism, lack of financial disclosure, nepotism, cliques, pastoral narcissism and all the rest – are not merely matters of “bad practice”, but something far worse. I had always wondered about the harshness of Christ’s words, when he said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” (Mk.9:42)  Now, after the many things that we have witnessed in recent decades, I begin to understand.  The sin is not merely against the person offended, the person excluded, the person made to feel unwelcome… No, the sin is against the God who wants to show the world that his nature is love and through the gift of his Son has demonstrated what love really is.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

Jan 082017
 

We have known forever that you call to obedience, that our obedience to your purposes brings well-being, that our departure from you may bring trouble, that life proceeds on a tight calculus of expectation and requirement, that in your awesome rule there is rigor along with generosity.

We have set out to he your faithful people and then we fall into an unintended brokenness.

We know about alienation from you and loss; we know about shame before our neighbors and embarrassment in the family; we know about the will to hide and become invisible, and we are consumed by depths of remorse.

When we are able, we come out of hiding long enough to face you.

We know all the cadences of confession and repentance, and that we have no secrets not already known to you. We sense before you our deep dread of failure and our last shred of innocence gone. We ask forgiveness and wait, at times before your presence we wait a very long time as we know of your silence and absence in our bottomness. But we know more! We know of your unfailing love, your willing generosity, your readiness to remember our sin no more.

And so, after shame before neighbor, after embarrassment within family, after dread before you, we wait and then eventually you appear, you reach, you speak, you touch.

You give yourself to us without judgment-after after we have judged ourselves. You invite us to your presence, to the table of your feast, to your walk of companionship, to your mission of well-being. We take timid steps toward home and are welcomed.

Now, in this hour of free-fall, be your good self again, meet us not according to our flaw but according to your generous self-giving: Be our Christmas, and start the world again; Be our Easter, and draw us from death to new life; Be our Pentecost, and breathe on its to begin again; Be your full, generous self toward us; we will begin again in obedience, and as we can obey, we will begin again in wonder, love, and joy.

Walter Brueggemann. Prayers for a Privileged People (p. 116). Kindle Edition.

 

Jan 082017
 

Matthew 15:1-9

Traditions and Commandments

1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,

  • This is the beginning of the old Israel coming to Jesus (the new Israel) and wanting to know why he is changing things.
  • Jesus is going to tell them. The old has served a purpose, the old has gone to seed, the old is done in God’s economy.

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”

  • Note that they say ‘the traditions of the elders’ – and not the Bible, not the commandments.
  • There was in the past and there is today no commandment –
  • Just what are the traditions? They are the go to commentaries explaining the commandment.
  • So they would ask “what does the Mishna say” instead of asking, “what does the word of God say.”
  • Rabbi so and so says “This is the way you should follow this commandment.”

He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?

  • Again Jesus will turn the tables on these guys.
  • “You guys break commandments to keep your own traditions.”
  • Pretty soon the interpretation either denies or breaks the commandments.
  • We sometimes see these as “work arounds”.
  • And we do this also. We know the word, hear it and say “but this is what it really means.”

For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’

  • Pretty simple commandment to understand.
  • We may not like our parents and we may not want anything to do with them
  • And that is OK — just realize what the consequence is –
  • but we don’t think that way- In our minds we change it around.

But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,”

  • What contribution (family support) you expected from me – I have given to God because I am such a holy worker.
  • Aren’t we tempted in the same way when a special need of the church comes up, we give to it and subtract it from our regular contribution?
  • Perhaps not us, but I have heard of people doing so.

he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.

  • But you say (Jesus speaking) “well, we have this other command.”
  • What is the word of God here – the 4th commandment
  • See what they have done? They made something above the commandments.
  • Pastors can be just as guilty – spending all of their time in ministry and neglecting their families.
  • Some great missionaries of the 19th century – left their wives and children in poverty to go on the mission field.

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

  • Again – the quotes keep coming from Isaiah.
  • We will see plenty of “you hypocrites! In later chapters – especially 23.

“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;

  • Giving Jesus lip service

in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

  • Worship for the sake of worship is in vain.
  • Just because something sounds good – sounds spiritual – sounds like good work – does not make it biblical or Christian.
  • So many teach man’s view of God’s word.

Let’s look at an example of how some today teach traditions of man over the scriptures.

“This is my Body / this is my Blood”. Clear words spoken by Jesus himself – not someone quoting him years later. So, how do some in the church handle this? Do they see Jesus’ true Body and his true Blood present in the communion? No!

Why is this? Because the rational of man is that finite things like bread and wine cannot comprehend, or cannot contain, or cannot handle, the infinite or divine things. ‘My mind cannot figure this out, but I must figure out all scriptures as God would not tell me something in the scriptures that I would not understand – so here is my answer – Jesus was speaking in symbols.”

The traditions of man superseding the very words of God – how can this be? Do we believe Aristotle or do we believe Jesus?

This is exactly what the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders did. The ‘commandments of men’ were not bad in themselves. The leader’s job was to help their people not sin – so they built a wall of smaller commandments around the 10 commandments (all of the Law) to keep the people from the grave sin.

How do you keep people from being drunkards? Don’t allow them to drink. How do you keep your people from lusting? Ban dancing. How to you keep your people from unwarranted gain? Forbid gambling.

So now drinking, dancing and gambling become the “laws” – not drunkenness, lusting or going after unwarranted gain.

What can you add to this list of modern day “commandments of men”?

 

 

Jan 062017
 

So..while I’ve been out of sorts, the Calvary Chapel Association has been busy.

I haven’t spent any time catching up on all the hijinks,but I do feel compelled to comment on one thing.

The McFocht Bros. have thrown together a “West Coast Pastors and Leaders Conference” for April, featuring the best of the CCA seniors crowd and their valet, John Randall.

Randall’s honorarium will be paid in ChapStick…

I digress…

The name of this conference is “Stay the Course”.

This is ironic, as that was the name of George Bryson’s campaign a few years back.

There were similar objectives, mainly that of establishing a “pure” version of Calvary Chapel that reflected the Distinctives and held fast to what Bryson believed was the intent of Chuck Smith.

Don McClure exiled Bryson out of the movement for his efforts.

Why would you exile someone with common views?

Bryson also said loudly and clearly that Smith had told him that the CCA was not his idea and that Chuck was not supportive of the group.

That got shut down in a hurry…

This flurry of conferences being thrown together is simply simply the work of McClure to accomplish what he’s been striving to gain for years.

This is all one massive power play…nothing more, nothing less.

If your analysis of the situation doesn’t start with that…your analysis is wrong.

More later as I catch up…

A new version of the CC video…

Jan 062017
 

2016 was beyond a doubt the most difficult year I can remember.

2017 seems to be trying to top it in the first week.

Fortunately, I don’t remember most of it as I’ve either been delirious with fever and chills, asleep, or somewhere in between delirious and asleep.

I’ve got experience functioning in the latter space, which leads me to todays topic, my cat.

Of course it does.

 

When the worst of this bug hit me, Miss Kitty sat on the bed and watched me go through it.

The violent hacking cough disturbed her napping as I convulsed the whole bed.

Then the fever hit, then the chills, and hacking continued, and I truly hoped I was wrong about the timing of the Rapture, because I was ready to go.

I was curled up in a pathetic mess with an electric blanket, two space heaters, and anything else I could cover up with.

It wasn’t working but I was too weak to care as the flu I was vaccinated for ripped through me, changing into pneumonia in my lungs.

That’s where the cat comes in.

Missy curled up right next to me and I hung on to her as I hacked, shook, coughed and sweated.

When the worst of that abated, she put her head under my chin and began to purr.

She wasn’t purring because she was happy….she was purring because when cats want to soothe themselves (or others) they purr.

Some believe the vibrations of the purring help the cat heal.

The purring wasn’t for her, it was for me…she kept her head right under my chin so I could feel her and hear her….and in about twenty minutes I was asleep.

When I woke up a few hours later, she was still in the the same place.

She didn’t leave my side for at least 12 straight hours.

I’m on my way to recovery now, but now I can’t fall asleep without purring in my ear…

I told you all that to tell you this…

We have no promise this year will be better than last.

We have no promise we will even see all or part of the year to come.

What we do know is that as long as we are here we can see and celebrate the goodness of God in the most difficult of times.

We can be assured He is present and active in whatever we are going through, and He is going through it with us.

We are not orphans, we are not abandoned.

We are adopted children of the King.

Sometimes it suits the King to come to us covered in fur.

Don’t miss the day of your visitation…

Make your own application…

 

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