Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Other Side of Christmas

Even the pagans know a little about the Incarnation. Songs are sung about it this time of year. Christmas cartoons and musicals allude to it. The nativity, showing Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, implies such a condescending act by God.

But even if unbelievers can mechanically explain the Incarnation, the proper understanding of it and the implications thereof completely elude them. Like watching a play without a background and underlying plot, many unbelievers observe the nativity with a vague sense of something missing. "What's the big deal?" they ask.

Unfortunately, this question is asked because the message of Christmas is disappearing--not only due to the obvious chaos of narcissistic materialism, but also because of the increasing silence of the Church herself. To the extent that the proper background of the Incarnation is poorly explained, grasped or believed by the American Evangelical church, to that extent she is silent and unhelpful. She becomes a mime, acting out a story without a context.

And what is that context? Sin.

Not only was the Coming of the God-man a marvelous act of a Sovereign King dwelling among infinitely lesser beings, it was more. It was the merciful and forgiving act of a maligned Judge. A Judge and Ruler who was given no grounds for mercy. A Judge, Ruler and Avenger who did,
would and will cast the final sentence against unbelieving rebellion: eternal damnation.

This is not a popular message. Unbelief would rather watch the miming of the church than hear the thundering of the Law. It would embrace the psuedo-gospel of "God-loves-everyone-hoping-to-send-them-all-to- heaven" instead of hearing that God actually intends on sending insurgents to their rightful

Yet, this other side of Christmas is crucial. And it makes sense. Human judges will dispense justice according to the rule of law. How much more will the Great All-Seeing Judge of the Universe dispense justice? And so, Adam was judged, as were all mankind, you and me included. But that is not what unbelievers want to hear during this season of joy.

However, it is exactly what they need to hear. And it is what we need to hear as well. The Incarnation is intelligible only in a Christian framework that takes sin seriously and rebellion as deserving of death. There was nothing in mankind to bring amnesty from God the judge. There was everything in mankind to repel Him. This is the reason why the coming of the Son of God is amazing: we deserved eternal damnation instead of life.

With the truth of the other side of Christmas, the Church can stop miming and start singing aloud with joy the clear message of why the Messiah became a man. And then the world will know what the "big deal" is all about.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Gospel of Action-Figures

I grew up with action figures. I spent many an afternoon imagining great military battles and ingenious military tactics with my action figures, vehicles and equipment. And although I did join the military, I never experienced a “blood lust” because of these toys.

These toys simply represented a relaxation time in which my imagination could be utilized for things other than short story essays in my fifth-grade class. Yet, it also represented a value-system that accepted military might and lauded military prowess. It capitalized on such moral virtues as bravery, shrewdness, and perseverance. Within a pagan culture, these virtues are ends in themselves, without reference to God or His Law. Thus, they are the roots of militarism and a military state.

Within a Christian context these virtues are not ends in themselves but attributes defined by the Law of God. Within this context, these toys, specifically, the virtues they highlighted, were used for God’s glory because they reinforced God’s Word. The Bible lauds such character traits as bravery, shrewdness and perseverance—remember Christ exhorted the disciples to be as cunning as serpents. However, God does not smile upon the use of stupid bravery, sinful cunning, and prideful perseverance. So, already, one sees how a toy reflects a culture behind it and thus a gospel. For cultures are religions externalized.

Now, what can one make of the new Jesus Christ action figure? (Yes, you read that correctly!)

For starters, is one even allowed to make action figures of Christ? At least, that is the first question our Puritan forefathers would have asked. Remember those men we easily laud as great founders of America—we’d like to have their moral superiority but not their morals. And one of their morals was the Second Commandment: not to make any image of God. Christ is God. Therefore, no image of Christ is allowed.

Secondly, one could write a plethora of pages on the obvious religious-cultural implication involved in a Jesus “action-figure” (I hate even writing that word). We create gods in our own image…need I say more!?

This so-called god of modern commercialism readily fits into the Humanistic god of Americana: he is pliable to the whims of his creator. As the child manipulates the figurine into “action poses” (like dying on the cross?), he merely mimics the theology of his nurturing: a passive god who tries to appease the desires of mankind. Whether this obvious critique maps to the Christmas demigod, Santa, or to the god of the average Christian in America, it does not matter. The metaphor is powerful and ripe, ready to for any energetic pastor to pick and throw at the nearest lackadaisical Christian’s heart.

My toys imbibed on action and heroism. This toy imbibes on pure paganism: man’s sovereignty over God. Instead of imbibing this refuse, try giving your children something more uplifting, like a G.I. Joe or a Book…with Exodus 20:4 earmarked.


Providence Points e-Newsletter

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Verbal Vomit & Golden Apples

After, providentially, finding a blog through Christianity Today, I nearly dropped my computer. The posting outlined an amazing event at a church in Denver--Scum of the Earth. The pastor was in a bit of a quandary: you see, the church celebrated Christmas through a service that included poetry readings. And the woman they asked to compose a poem included the f-word—not once or twice, but multiple times. At the end of the day, after much consulting, it was decided to let her read a modified version for the Christmas Eve service—including “only four expletives” and those as quotes from another character in the poem.

How thoughtful.

Naturally, there were strong reactions from the audience.

Such verbal vomit reflects more than a desire of a pastor to “connect” with a sub-culture. It displays a basic misapprehension of what the third commandment entails. Although clearly sinful, it is a barometer of the level of rebellion found in churches today. A wandering mass of vagabonds seeking any means to stretch the limits of credulity, some in the wasteland of American Christianity (whether in the mainline churches or not) have no sense of shame.

At first blush readers may condemn my language as harsh. Please bear with me: I acknowledge that churches have a zeal for evangelism—but more often than not, it is not according to knowledge.

I have not the time to elucidate the breadth and depth of this commandment; nor explain the differences between false swearing, oath taking and cursing; nor expound how using God’s handiworks—creation—in a flippant and coarse manner demeans God Himself; nor explicate the psychology of how sinful men verbally vomit on others as a form of emotional expiation for their anger, guilt, self-righteousness and the like.

Language is neither private (God is everywhere) nor unlimited and infinitely pliable (only God is unlimited). Thus, individuals or even a group of individuals do not have the right to do anything with language. In other words, language, although conventional, still expresses cultural values—and since all cultures are rooted in religion, that language expresses one’s religion. And all religions have standards of right and wrong, which, again are reflected in language. So, when a sub-culture wishes to express its rebellion against the larger cultural mores it turns toward those things that are taboo, obscene or shocking. Shame is the first thing to go.

Besides the obvious fact that we should offend people with the Gospel (Christ preached more about sin and hell than grace) and not our speech, it is patently clear that Christians should avoid coarse, filthy speech (Col. 4:6, Eph. 4:29). “Filth” in the Greek means “foul speaking, low and obscene speech” [Thayer]—the Greek background points not to blasphemy per se (language against God) but coarse or crass words.

Followers of Christ do not need to act out their old ways to bring shock to their audience. Imagine: instead of reading a poem about sinful acts, one acted it out instead—that by voyeuristic proxy the reader of the play gestured as well as cursed?

One cannot have speech be a free-for-all without denying absolute truth. If this were so, what words would express rebellion, dissatisfaction or dishonor? One could say anything with moral impunity.

Although most of this posting is related directly to abuse of language, the third commandment involves false doctrine as well as false speech. So, even though many Christians would be offended at verbally transforming the marriage bed into a crass cursing, they should be more offended at doctrinally filthy mouths. Besides the obvious pragmatism of the situation, with its disregard for the third commandment and apparent therapeutic usage of filthy words, the last installment on the blog made a passing remark that was shocking in its simplicity and amazing in the fact that no one commented on it:

Most non-Christians I know do not hate God; they think that God and the church hate them because they are considered vile. We want to reverse that deception…” ---Mike Sares
Really!? Romans one through three clearly declares that man is self-deceived, loving sin and hating God: to love the world is to hate God (John 15:18ff.). Thus says the Lord:

The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. –John 7:7

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. –Romans 8:7

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;
being filled with all unrighteousness…backbiters, haters of God—Romans 1

Since this false doctrinal stance is maintained, false speech is allowed. It is that simple. The sub-culture under question is not assumed to be in rebellion against God through its language; thus, it is acceptable to use such language to communicate to them. Since they "do not hate God" then the language they use does not express hate; therefore such language is proper to use.

It is too bad the entire situation is setup as an either/or fallacy in which that church is supposedly taking a stand for people perceived as “vile”—I do not perceive them that way and my church welcomes them. The real fact is that many of them do not want our churches because we make them uncomfortable (or should!) with the Law and the Gospel.

James reminds us that our tongue is a powerful member: we must choose—through His power—between breathing sweet truth or vomiting lies. Between ingesting golden apples or digesting garbage.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Regeneration "Christmas" Style

TV shows can be easy blog fodder. But why?

The simple reason resides in the fact that many shows manifest the cultural icons and beliefs of the populace at large--the religion of society.

This truth especially struck me with the 1970 stop motion TV special, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. I passed by it surfing. Stopped. And I watched the regeneration sequence--the one when the Winter Warlock's heart melted. After being born-again from the reception of a toy, the Warlock asked Kris Kringle how he could continue being born-again. Or more precisely, he lamented to Kris that his heart was so bad that he did not know how to be good.

"It's easy," Kris replied. Then he (as with all musicals) broke out in spontaneous song:

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walkin' 'cross the flo-o-or
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walkin' out the door.
...If I want to change the reflection
I see in the mirror each morn
Oh, you do?!
You mean that it's just my election
Just that!
To vote for a chance to be reborn.

I don't think I need to exegete this. This song is about self-regeneration. The American religion. And what is worse, it is--with many--the Evangelical American Religion.

Try telling your Christian co-worker, neighbor or friend that he did not "vote for a chance to be reborn" but that God chose him first (Rom. 9:18). That Biblical rebirth comes from above, from the Spirit who moves as He wishes. Or if you want to be subtler, ask him his opinion about the song.

This song is just one part of the larger piece of Americana. If the churches cannot differentiate themselves from the religion of this song, there is no hope for America. If the church members cannot differentiate themselves from this song, there is little hope for American churches.

But God has promised to work His will through us (Phil. 2:13). And that begins with teaching and living the truth of God's sovereign grace.

Then one day, Lord willing, there will be new songs and new TV specials that reflect Holy Spirit regeneration instead of self-regeneration.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Best Blogs and Best Bloggers

I started blogging because it was an opportunity to hone my writing skills.

I think it has. I hope it will. Of course, it is hard to tell since feedback is minimal, especially on the Internet (I write a weekly e-newsletter that receives feedback on Sunday..."you wrote that??" :-)

Be that as it may (or will be), being the holiday season it is time to use old postings. (Don't I get a vacation too?)

So, if you have any postings you liked tell me and I'll post 'em. (Note: in English 'you' can be singular or plural; I use the singular). Or I'll just pick 'em.

Enjoy your vacation time, dear reader, and above all, enjoy your salvation in Christ Jesus the Lord.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Calvin & Michael Jackson

I always thought some modern songs dovetailed with Calvinism so well...like here!