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Resurrection

Resurrection

[from La Corona John Donne]

Moist with one drop of Thy blood, my dry soul
Shall—though she now be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly—be
Freed by that drop, from being starved, hard or foul,
And life by this death abled shall control
Death, whom Thy death slew ; nor shall to me
Fear of first or last death bring misery,
If in thy life-book my name thou enroll.
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
But made that there, of which, and for which it was ;
Nor can by other means be glorified.
May then sin’s sleep and death soon from me pass,
That waked from both, I again risen may
Salute the last and everlasting day. 

Crucifying

[From La Corona by John Donne]

CRUCIFYING

By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate:
In both affections many to Him ran.
But O! the worst are most, they will and can,
Alas! and do, unto th’ Immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a fate,
Measuring self-life’s infinity to span,
Nay to an inch. Lo! where condemned He
Bears His own cross, with pain, yet by and by
When it bears him, He must bear more and die.
Now Thou art lifted up, draw me to Thee,
And at Thy death giving such liberal dole,
Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.

The gay marriage debate

Aaron Eley has posted a helpful note over at The Kuyperian Commentary on the recent debate held at the University of Idaho on the topic of homosexual “marriage” between Pastor Doug Wilson and Andrew Sullivan.

If you’ve missed out on the discussion that’s going on, you may want to go over and check out the post. It gives a number of additional links to help you catch up.

And that will also give you the opportunity to check out The Kuyperian Commentary. A great site with some great articles.

Lent’s focus

Tomorrow we begin another Lenten season which now means we will all have to endure endless posts on Facebook from “friends” telling us about all the things they’re “giving up” for Lent.

Here’s my problem: If Lent is the season when we consider afresh the great love and mercy of our Savior in willingly dying for our sins, then it has absolutely nothing to do with giving up chocolate (or caramel-mocha lattes or good barbeque). The purpose of Lent is to remind us of the hatefulness and deadliness of sin. Thus, if we’re going to “give up” something in honor of Lent, that something ought to be sin – and not something that God is perfectly pleased with.

God loves chocolate and good barbeque (He probably even tolerates caramel-mocha lattes) but it’s certain that He hates sin. Lent, if we’re observing it properly, should teach us to hate what God hates – and give that up.

Further, remember this: repentance means not only “putting off” sin and evil, but “putting on” new obedience (Eph. 4:22-24; Rom. 6:1-4). So, our focus during Lent is not merely to be negative – growing in our hatred of sin – it should also be positive – praying for strength to walk in new obedience. Where have you been unfaithful or careless in your walk? Where are you negligent in your obedience? Make Lent the time to identify these areas and focus upon growing in faithfulness.

Lent is the season when we are to remember the high price that was paid for our salvation. And as we remember, we are to give ourselves to growing in gratitude for God’s love and growing in likeness to the One who gave Himself for us.

So, here’s a Lenten resolution for you: “This Lenten season, I want to grow in my hatred of sin so that I can turn from it and walk in new obedience, growing in conformity to my faithful Savior, Jesus. . . . and I’m going to give thanks for Jesus’ love by eating some really good food in anticipation of Easter.”

Transformation

Paris je t’aime is not a movie I can recommend. The two-hour film consists of eighteen brief stories set in eighteen of the twenty administrative districts that make up the city of Paris. Each of the short films is directed by a different director (all totaled, 22 directors were involved in the entire project). The movie as a whole is very uneven — some of the vignettes are ok, some are good, some are simply terrible — but my favorite of the bunch (and the only one I can fully recommend) is “Bastille” directed by Isabel Coixet.

It’s a powerful story of a man who has been involved in an affair with a much younger woman and has come to the point of telling his wife that he’s leaving her for his lover. The plan was to tell her over lunch at one of their favorite restaurants. But his plan (and his heart) is changed by unexpected news.

Take five minutes and watch this piece — you’ll be happy you did.

Christmas and gift giving

Ok, I know I do this every year, but I can’t help it. Someone keeps on bringing it up and I have to say something. Just yesterday a well-meaning reporter for our local newspaper asked me how I would respond to those who say that all the “commercialization” that surrounds the celebration of Christmas distracts us from its true meaning? We spend too much money. Shopping brings stress and anxiety and the hustle and bustle and worry drives everyone crazy! Why can’t we just forget the gifts, spend time around the fireplace thinking warm thoughts of love and gentleness, sipping hot chocolate, and maybe enjoying some simple, home-made gifts (which are far more meaningful than anything you could possibly buy from one of those greedy merchants at the mall or online)? This is how we remember the Reason for the Season. 

You’ve heard it before. Indeed, we hear so much that many of us have begun to think it is actually true.

It isn’t.

In fact, I will go so far as to say, if you really believe this, you don’t understand the true meaning of Christmas.

And I don’t mean that we’re free from sin in the celebration of Christmas. There are real sins connected with our celebration that we need to be mindful of and avoid:
– There are people who spend more than they can afford on gifts and go into unnecessary debt. That’s bad stewardship and that’s sin.
– Many still think (in spite of all the evidence to the contrary) that money and things can bring happiness and contentment. Materialism is idolatry.
– Many fall into the trap of focusing more upon the hassle and the expense of gift-giving than upon the privilege of giving. This is the sin of selfishness.
– Many don’t spend enough time with their children and loved ones and neglect the cultivation of their relationships with others. That’s another form of self-centeredness.
– Many forget that there are people in need of basic necessities and do nothing to help them. That’s the sin of indifference and a lack of love for our neighbor.

And ALL OF THESE SINS are present with us and contradict the true meaning of Christmas.

But the “true meaning of Christmas” police are saying more than this. They imply (and often say bluntly) that giving unnecessary and expensive gifts to friends and family is a waste of money that encourages selfishness, covetousness, materialism and indifference to others. And thus, these actions are a great dishonor to God and contrary to “the true meaning of Christmas.”

To which I say, Bah! Humbug!

Christmas is the celebration of the infinitely loving Father who gave His Son to be the Savior of the world. Christmas is the celebration of the infinitely loving Son who gave Himself joyfully and willingly to suffer and die for the salvation of the world. Christmas is the celebration of the infinitely loving Spirit who continues freely to give all good gifts to us and to all men. Christmas is the celebration of the incredible, indescribable, hilarious, ecstatic, generosity of the Triune God who has always existed in joyful, holy, loving communion and whose love moved Him not only to create but to redeem the world and mankind. Christmas is the celebration of the astonishing, unbounded, overflowing, love of the Triune God who gives us all things richly to enjoy and daily loads us with benefits.

And we’re worried that somehow if we give some gifts to our friends and loved ones that we’ll distract them from the true meaning of Christmas? We’re worried that if we spend money on gifts to express our love for others that we’re missing the true meaning of Christmas? Really?

If extravagant generosity automatically tempted men to these sins, then the holy, Triune God would be a more dangerous Temptor than Satan himself. The Lord gives to us generously, without measure, pressed down, overflowing, exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think — and He does this every day. He doesn’t merely give us necessities, He gives us far above what we need. He gives us luxuries, things we could easily get along without, and He does it every day. And yet, He’s not afraid that His extravagance will transform you into a materialistic monster who covets his way to hell.

I even have a Bible passage that proves this: Deuteronomy 14:22-27. There, the Lord commands Israel to take a tithe of their increase and spend it for anything their hearts desire. The only requirement is that they enjoy these things before Him in Jerusalem. Obviously, we don’t know the income of the average Israelite, but it’s not hard to imagine that this would have been a huge celebration, filled with expensive, once-in-a-lifetime-type foods and drinks. Think of how much your tithe would purchase for a feast and the things you would be able to obtain if you spent it all on special items? It sounds like gross extravagance, like something that can only lead to evil, right?

And yet, the Lord commands Israel to do this so that they can learn to fear Him (Deut. 14:23). This is the same reason given for the public reading of the law that was commanded every seven years (Deut. 31:10-13). God says this extravagant celebration was designed to accomplish the same thing that hearing His Word was intended to accomplish. If you obeyed Him and put on this huge party, you would grow in His fear. How can this be?

The answer is fairly simple. The triune God is the God who has eternally and continually loved. The Father has loved the Son from eternity. The Son has loved the Father from eternity. And the Spirit has eternally been the One through Whom the Father and the Son love one another. This is why John can say, “God is love.”

But go further: Love means giving. Giving yourself. Giving gifts. Giving to meet the needs of others. Giving to enrich and delight others. Giving to bring joy and hilarity to others. Giving so that others may know your love for them. NOTHING is more important to the true and living God than this. And that’s why He continues to do it. All the time. Every day.

So that when He sent His Son into the world — giving us the most extravagant and expensive, valuable gift imaginable — He wasn’t acting out of character. He wasn’t doing something unusual. He was simply being Himself. And He didn’t worry that His extravagant gift would spoil you, or make you arrogant and ungrateful, or tempt you to become a materialist. He knew that His extravagance would humble you and eventually make you like Him. He knew that His love would provoke your love for Him in return so that you would become generous like Him. So He commands Israel to take a tithe of their increase and buy whatever their hearts desire and enjoy it with the poor and the Levites before His face, knowing that if they do this, the sheer extravagance and joy of such a celebration would destroy covetousness and materialism and remake them in His likeness.

The covetous man doesn’t have any desire to spend his money for others. The materialist has no regard for the joy he might bring to others with his wealth. This grand celebration was intended to expose the ugliness of covetousness and materialism. And a joyful, generous, ecstatic celebration of Christmas (along with our other feasts) will do the same for us.

God doesn’t attack consumerism and materialism by being stingy with His gifts or restricting the number of them because He’s afraid that you will become a selfish pig. Rather, He lavishes His gifts upon you so that you will learn to be like Him. And Christmas, if we celebrate it rightly, gives us the opportunity to grow in godliness (God-likeness). By giving generously and joyfully, we imitate the One who has loved us and who delights in nothing more than in giving good gifts to His children.

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas!

Today is the day set aside by the Church to commemorate the life of Nicholas, bishop of Myra, who died on December 6, 342. Nicholas was orphaned early in life and inherited great wealth from his parents. He used his wealth throughout his life to assist the poor and afflicted.

Nicholas became known for his compassion to children, great deeds of generosity, and concern for sailors and ships. Like many of the faithful, his life became surrounded by a number of fantastic stories of miracles and amazing feats but his most famous act of charity may well be true. It involved a nobleman of the city of Patara who suddenly became bankrupt. The man had three daughters whom he wished to give in marriage, but his bankruptcy meant that he had nothing for a dowry. Unable to support his daughters, he resolved to sell them into prostitution. Nicholas heard of the situation and decided to do what he could to prevent this.

He learned that the man slept with his window open and so, under the cover of night, he threw a bag of gold in the man’s open window. This act was repeated three times for each of the man’s daughters.


Nicholas served as bishop of Myra during the reign of Emperor Diocletian and, consequently, like many other bishops of the day, he suffered persecution and exile. One of the biographers of Nicholas, St. Methodius, records, “As he was the chief priest of the Christians of this town and preached the truths of faith with a holy liberty, the divine Nicholas was seized by the magistrates, tortured, then chained and thrown into prison with many other Christians. But when the great and religious Constantine, chosen by God assumed the imperial diadem of the Romans, the prisoners were released from their bonds and with them the illustrious Nicholas, who when he was set at liberty returned to Myra.”

Not only did Nicholas attend the Council of Nicaea, but, according to legend, he became so infuriated with Arius’ folly that he punched him in the face (commemorated in the lovely painting on the left). Methodius credits the teaching of Nicholas for preserving Myra from “the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as death-dealing poison.”

Because the day set apart to commemorate his life is so close to Christmas, and because his three gifts to the poor man are somewhat analogous to the three gifts received by Christ from the Magi, St. Nicholas became closely associated with Christmas. And that is how he became associated with the most venerated saint in America. “Santa Claus” is simply a corruption of “Sanctus Nikolaus.”

“Almighty God, who in your love gave to your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the well-being of others, the care of widows and orphans, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” Amen.

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