Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Torture in North Korea

Camp 22
The North Koreans, many of them our brothers and sisters in Christ, suffer terribly.  This link takes you to 9 brief videos (each 1-2 minutes) describing the suffering.  It's not easy to take in, but it is motivation to pray against the regime.

HT: Justin Taylor

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Stark Contrast in the Nativity


The biblical accounts of Jesus' birth reveal both the glory and the humbleness of the event.

What especially strikes me each time I slow down to read the nativity accounts is the abject plainness of the birth on the one hand, and all the celestial announcements on the other hand.  It's like Jesus must become like one of us, even to the degree of being born no higher than a commoner, but Heaven simply cannot allow the birth of the Savior go unnoticed, and so there are the angels and the star.

On the humble side, the announcement that she will bear the Messiah comes to a common woman in an Israelite village far away from the prestigious Jerusalem.  Nazareth isn't even known to the biblical reader until the birth announcement.  And the chosen mother-to-be is betrothed to a carpenter (not a prince or priest or prophet).  Yet the Messiah is of the lineage of the house of King David.  And he is to inherit the throne of that ancestor.

There's the obscurity into which he is born: in another small town on the outskirts of Jerusalem, in a place unfamiliar to his parents.  Yet a star in the sky marked his location, a celestial GPS for some impressive men.

Unless family came along with Mary and Joseph, he was born away from the interest and support of his extended family and friends.  To whom would his Galilean parents turn to share the good news of his birth in this Judean country?  Obscure and unnoticed.  Yet his Heavenly Father doesn't hold back.  He sends angels to declare his birth: "today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David." 

His first visitors were shepherds (yawn); shepherding was a humble means of employment in Israel.  Yet these shepherds had been supernaturally informed of Jesus' birth and significance.  And another set of visitors showed up some time later, men of higher social rank, magi from the east.  These also had been notified of his birth and status, and they had come to worship him.

The Son of God become an unknown baby.  The Joy and Center of heaven become a common citizen in the backwaters part of the country.  The Creator become a nursling.  Master become servant.  God become man.  The Center of all worship become the periphery of obscurity.  But Heaven could not let that go completely unnoticed.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Divine Killjoy?

I don't think so.

Thou didst live to bless,
                    die to bless,
rise to bless,
ascend to bless,
take thy throne to bless, and
now thou dost reign to bless.

The Valley of Vision

Why the Shepherds?



Why the shepherds that first Christmas night? 

Well, they were poor and lowly, and the Lord often chooses the weak and the insignificant to reveal himself to (cf. 1 Cor 1:26-29).


The shepherds also pictured what Jesus had come to do.  Even as they tended their sheep that night, so Jesus had come to shepherd his people.
  • I will appoint over them a single shepherd, My servant David, and he will shepherd them. He will tend them himself and will be their shepherd (Ezekiel 34:23 HCSB).
  • He will stand and shepherd [them] in the strength of Yahweh, in the majestic name of Yahweh His God. They will live securely, for then His greatness will extend to the ends of the earth (Micah 5:4 HCSB).
  • I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11 HCSB).
  • Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep—with the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with all that is good to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ. Glory belongs to Him forever and ever. Amen.   (Hebrews 13:20-21 HCSB)
They were humble and received the angels' announcement with wonder and joy, and they followed the angels' instructions "with haste."
They were not afraid to share the message with others, giving glory to God in the process.

Linus & Lucy

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More Better Proverbs


Here are some more of the "better than" sayings in Proverbs.  (See yesterday's post.) 


All these are from the NIV.

Better a poor man whose walk is blameless
than a fool whose lips are perverse.  (19:1)

What a man desires is unfailing love;
better to be poor than a liar.  (19:22)

Better to live on a corner of the roof
than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.  (21:9)

Better to live in a desert
than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife.  (21:19)

A good name is more desirable than great riches;
to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.  (22:1)

Better to live on a corner of the roof
than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.  (25:24)

Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.  (27:5)

Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father,
and do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you—
better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.  (27:10)

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Better Proverbs


I've always been intrigued by the "better than" sayings in Proverbs.  They put matters in perspective and help us to value things that we tend to overlook in our striving to obtain something else that often isn't as good.

Below are some of these proverbs.  I'll post some more tomorrow.

Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant
than pretend to be somebody and have no food.  (12:9)

Better a little with the fear of the LORD
than great wealth with turmoil.  (15:16)

Better a meal of vegetables where there is love
than a fattened calf with hatred.  (15:17)

Better a little with righteousness
than much gain with injustice.  (16:8)

How much better to get wisdom than gold,
to choose understanding rather than silver!  (16:16)

Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.  (16:19)

Better a patient man than a warrior,
a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.  (16:32)

Better a dry crust with peace and quiet
than a house full of feasting, with strife.  (17:1)

Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs
than a fool in his folly.  (17:12)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Died

Douglas Wilson & Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens died last night.  Journalist, atheist, author, etc., I first became acquainted with him a few years ago when I heard of a spate of books being published by the new atheists—Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens.  Hitchens’ book was irreverently titled, God Is Not Great.  Cancer took him.

I became enamored with Hitchens when I watched Collision, a documentary which focuses on a series of debates that Hitchens and Pastor Douglas Wilson engaged in after they co-wrote, Is Christianity Good for the World?  I’ve watched Collision at least three times.

Hitchens struck me as an honest intellectual, at least as honest as a non-Christian intellectual can be.  He did not tow any particular line all the way.  While in some respects liberal, he was in other respects conservative.  He whole-heartedly supported the war in Iraq.  The enemy that defined him and his response was not specifically the notion of God; it was totalitarianism, whether that took the form of a god or of a dictatorial regime.  He promoted freedom.  He loved and wrote on George Orwell, and no doubt was influenced by Orwell’s own concerns on the subject.

I love the debates themselves for a number of reasons.  1) Douglas Wilson, no intellectual slouch himself, quite capably holds his own in debating Hitchens.  2) The behind-the-scenes repartee and friendship between the two men is heartening and humorous and stimulating.  3) Hitchens seems at least honest about his views, about how he came to those views, and about his own (selfish) motivations.

I mentioned that I was enamored with Hitchens.  I liked him, despite his positions and sometimes offensive statements.  I’m not the only one; many Christians came to like him and pray for him as a result of his appearance in Collision.  Unfortunately, Hitchens worked even harder to ensure his spiritual doom.  When asked about all the Christians who were praying for him after his cancer became known, he indicated that any deathbed conversion would not truly be him.  If there were a deathbed conversion, it would no doubt be a lesser mind ravaged by cancer.

I can imagine that the possibility of “succumbing” to a conversion would be a horror to such a vocal opponent of faith as Hitchens.  It would be a betrayal of his life’s work, an undermining of his legacy, the only part of him that would survive his death.

Hitchens’ death is a tragedy.  What a mind and what gifts the Lord gave to him!  And he used them against the Lord.  The Lord Jesus died for him, but Hitchens refused what had been so richly and lovingly provided for him, denying the reality of a God to whom we are responsible and the reality of the cross.  Mr. Hitchens, if only … 

The Lord is gracious and merciful, and he pursues men and women to extraordinarily great lengths.  The blame here lies not with the Lord but with Mr. Hitchens.  How tremendously stubborn people can be.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Adults Learn to Hate Weather



C. S. Lewis had the gift of looking at things differently (and maybe more accurately).  Here's a different perspective on our attitude toward weather:

     "We both like Weather. Not this or that kind of weather, but just Weather...."    

     "How ever did you learn to do that, Mr. Denniston?" said Jane. "I don't think I should ever learn to like rain and snow."

     "It's the other way round," said Denniston. "Everyone begins as a child by liking Weather. You learn the art of disliking it ...as you grow up. Haven't you ever noticed it on a snowy day? The grown-ups are all going about with long faces, but look at the children--and the dogs? They know what snow's made for."

     "I'm sure I hated wet days as a child," said Jane.

     "That's because the grown-ups kept you in," said Camilla. "Any child loves rain if it's allowed to go out and paddle about in it." 

--That Hideous Strength, chapter 5

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Perspective

Dreadful harm has indeed been done by those who have taken the sword in Christ's name, against his specific command.  Yet the holocaust in Nazi Germany and Stalin's purges in the Soviet Union warn us of the even deadlier danger that lurks in renunciation of a divine standard for thought and life.

Edmund P. Clowney, The Church 103

Monday, December 5, 2011

Not Our Call


[T]he church is Christ’s.
We cannot exclude those whom he welcomes,
or welcome those whom he excludes. 

--Edmund P. Clowney, The Church 97

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Book about Sleepovers

Peter Lovenheim was stunned when a husband killed his wife and then himself in his Lovenheim's neighborhood.  Their neighborhood is a very upscale neighborhood with large homes and manicured lawns.  How could this happen?

Investigating, he realized that virtually no one in the neighborhood knew this couple and their children, though they had lived there for some time.  Further, no one knew any of their neighbors, Lovenheim himself included.

Deeply concerned about the almost-total absence of neighbor-neighbor relationships, Peter decided to take a creepy approach (at least I think it's creepy, though fascinating).  He decided to get to know his neighbors by spending the night at each of their homes.  Such was the genesis of his book, In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time

When I first saw the book at Barnes & Noble, I was fascinated by the premise.  I personally find the stories of "ordinary" people fascinating and intriguing. 

Chapter by chapter, Lovenheim relates what he learns about each of his neighbors.  In truth, he did not spend the night at every neighbor's house.  Some had reservations.  (Imagine that!?)

Part of Lovenheim's motivation was guilt.  The neighborhood failed this tragic couple, particularly the wife.  In fostering community, he was trying to "redeem in a small way our neighborhood's failure" (232).  Part of his motivation was a felt emptiness, a sense that he was missing something in living in a community-less neighborhood.

His efforts were moderately successful.  He and another neighbor, Lou, started helping a third neighbor, Patti, who was struggling with cancer (and eventually succumbed to it).  Lou, widowed and retired, said that Patti was helping him, too, by allowing him to drive her around and help her.  Further, when Lovenheim's own relationship with a girlfriend fell apart, breakfasting with Lou for several days helped him through that grief.

Community is important.  Lovenheim is not a Christian, but the importance of community that he senses is biblical.  Is the neighborhood the prime place for community?  There's something to that: "when disaster strikes you--better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away" (Prov 27:10 NIV).  For me, the church is my primary community. 

And yet ... God has put me in my neighborhood.  That is my immediate geographical community.  What joys ... and help ... and opportunities to minister (and be ministered to) am I missing by not knowing my neighbors better than I do?