Archive for December, 2009

Give a listen

The 2010 AAPC Pastors Conference is coming (everything gets underway next Monday!) but you can click here for an interview conducted by Jarrod Richey with the speakers (Doug Wilson, Jeff Meyers, David Cassidy, and me).

We talk about some of things you’re going to hear next week. Listen in.

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Someone just pointed out something that I had missed completely . . . and maybe you missed it too. On Thursday, December 19, our president signed an executive order (“Amending Executive Order 12425”) allowing INTERPOL to operate within the United States without having to answer to the FBI or any other American agency AND they are no longer required to meet Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests. [Details can be found here]

What does this mean? Well, according to Anthony Martin:

It means that INTERPOL now has the full authority to conduct investigations and other law enforcement activities on U.S. soil, with full immunity from U.S. laws such as the Freedom of Information Act and with complete independence from oversight from the FBI.

President Reagan (in Executive Order 12425) had granted INTERPOL the status of diplomatic personnel in our country allow them operate more easily enforcing international law. But he included two exceptions to this status. The first had to do with taxation and the second insured that INTERPOL had the same accountability for its actions as American law enforcement (they had to produce records when demanded and they could not have immunity for their actions). President Obama’s action repealed the latter exception.

Now, whether or not you approve of an international police agency (and that’s another discussion altogether!), what possibly could be motivating our president to amend Reagan’s order and grant them immunity from all — that’s all — accountability??? Why grant this??

One of the elementary rules of law-making (and it applies fully to “executive orders”) is “Consider how the wording and provisions of this law might be abused and used unlawfully and unjustly against the citizens of our country.” Is it possible that our president is so naive as to think this provision is “safe”? Really?

I’m not one to see conspiracies everywhere, but what possible rationale can there be for this? I mean, I know that the constitution means nothing to modern politicians but this is beyond anything even the most liberal congressman would dare to recommend.

Is this what he means by “international cooperation”? If so, I’m a new convert to isolationism.

[HT: Barb Harvey]

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For many people Christmas is over. They’ve already taken down the tree and the lights and the other decorations, and are setting the house in order for the new year. No more Christmas hymns. No more celebration (well, until New Year’s Eve). Christmas comes but once a year and thanks be to God! because they’re exhausted.

If I were to ask, “How’s your Christmas going?” they would give me the blank stare. But according to our calendar (and I mean the Church calendar), Christmas is just getting started. We’re now only on the third day of the twelve days of Christmas. We’ve remembered not only our Savior’s birth (the feast of the Nativity on December 25) but our first martyr (St. Stephen, December 26). We’ve had a day of worship before commemorating St. John the evangelist today (put off for one day because the normal day, December 27, hit on a Sunday). Tomorrow we’ll remember the murder of the babies in Bethlehem by Herod (“Holy Innocents” which normally falls on today) and on Friday, the circumcision of our Savior. All that before closing out our celebration of Christmas with the Feast of Epiphany on January 6!

Christmas is intended to be a “season,” not just a day.

“But who can stand this? I’m already worn down to my last frazzle!” Well, granted, given the way things are presently, changing our practice and getting into the new rhythm of the Church calendar is going to take some time — and realistically, it may now be impossible to turn the culture away from the present “tradition.” I’m not quite sure how to go about it or what it would look like.

But somehow, I think it would be good to try to get back to the old rhythm of the Christmas season. The fact that we have lost the rhythm of the various “seasons” has contributed, at least in part, to the fleeting joy (and often extended depression and disappointment) we have during these times — and here, I’m speaking especially about Christmas — the celebration is too brief to be appreciated fully. The traditional Christian calendar gives us a different rhythm for life and time — especially Christmas time.

And following the Christian calendar is not another way to thumb our noses at secular ideas of the “Christmas season.” The twelve days are important because they give us time to reflect on what the incarnation means. We need the twelve days to celebrate the wonder of God becoming man and all that was accomplished by our Savior.

Why twelve days? No one knows for sure. Perhaps this was to be an analogy to the twelve tribes of the old Israel that have now been transformed into the new Israel. Or maybe the 12 days signify the twelve months of the year pointing to the fact that Christ is with us not just one day but year-round.

Whatever the intention, the twelve days give us an opportunity truly to rejoice and reflect on the great mercy and grace of God in giving us His Son.

We have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection and have now entered the “new heavens and new earth” (though not yet perfected). Whether we are called to martyrdom, or to prophetic witness, or simply to faithful living in the joys and sorrows of our daily lives, we must live all of our days in the knowledge of our blessedness: redeemed by Jesus and in Him made acceptable and beloved in God’s sight. We are part of the society of people whose world has been turned upside down, and we are to live out this truth that overturned the old world and made all things new.

Observing Christmas as a season helps us to move beyond the sentimentalism that has become so much a part of “Christmas” and commemorate the true significance of Jesus’ incarnation. It enables us to see that Jesus’ coming truly transforms all things. It marked the end of the old world (under the dominion of sin and death) and the beginning of the new. And it reminds us of our new identity and purpose. We are now children of the King and are called to rejoice and give thanks and show the world the new destiny that now has come in Him. To celebrate for twelve days (as opposed to one) enables us to realize afresh the significance of what happened in Bethlehem and it declares to the world the remarkable reality that Jesus has destroyed the works of the devil and established a kingdom that shall have no end.

So, I don’t know exactly how to begin to do this, but it sure seems like a good idea to me. Stretching Christmas out over a number of days — making it a more full (and perhaps a more relaxing and refreshing) celebration — might bring far more benefits than frustrations; it just might bring us more joy than worry; more peace and less hustle and fuss. Whaddaya say? I think we should give it a shot.

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Let me respond a bit more regarding my concern over the Advent Conspiracy film (and for all you friends of AC, I was contacted by the creative director of AC, Tony Biaggne and had a great conversation with him — which I look forward to continuing at a later date). I need to make clear that I’m reacting to the 2008 video since that’s all I’ve seen. I have not read the book, I had not even seen the blog, or the facebook page until Tony told me about them, so all I know of AC is the video — and it’s the video to which I’m objecting.

Passing over some of the assertions that are made (which I do have some questions about), there is certainly a great deal said that no one can argue with:
— Do many people spend more than they can afford on gifts and sin by going into unnecessary debt? You betcha.
— Do we have a problem with materialism in our culture? Indeed we do.
— Do we often think that money and things can bring happiness and contentment? We sure do.
— Do we fall into the trap of focusing more upon the hassle and the expense of gift-giving than we do upon the privilege of giving or upon the far more valuable relationships God has given us? Absolutely.
— Should we spend more time together with loved ones and work on building our relationships and loving one another? Of course.

But, you see, if this was the point of the video, then it would simply be an exercise in stating the obvious. Nobody, however, goes to the trouble and expense of producing a snazzy video to say things that everybody already knows, right? So the question is, what is the real message here?

Here’s the way it hit me: “Why are we spending $450 billion on Christmas when it would take only $10 billion to solve the world’s drinking water problems. What’s more important? An unnecessary toy or saving lives? An ugly sweater or water that won’t kill people? A stupid gift card or giving a cup of clean water? And you could accomplish that for only 2% of what you spend on these useless, unnecessary, mindless gifts. What is wrong with you? When are you going to quit being so selfish and materialistic and start caring about someone aside from yourself? Stop wasting your money on Christmas, you fat slob, you eat too much anyway and you already have too much stuff. It’s not going to kill you to eat less, and not have a new toy. Quit being such a selfish pig and try being compassionate for a change.”

Ok, that’s over-stated, and Tony has assured me that this is not the message intended, but honestly, that’s how it came across to me (and to quite a few others as well).

My question is this: If you’re tithing and being generous with your wealth, is it wrong to spend your money on “unnecessary” gifts and celebration? Should you feel guilty that you’re doing so? Is it wrong to buy things already made or should I try to make all the gifts I give? Is it wrong to give something to another that is not needed? Does my son need that truck or space ship or xbox? And if not, is it wrong to give it to him anyway? The implication of the video is that it is – or at least, it is not the most God-honoring use of your resources. (more…)

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Guilt manipulation redux

[Since this video is making the rounds again, I’m re-doing a post from last December 7.]

No one disputes the need for remembering the poor and the obligation we have to be generous with our wealth. And certainly, no one can object to the charge that Americans (and American Christians) have fallen prey to the idol of materialism. But this video (and those arguments which follow these lines) seems to be trying to provoke guilt not over materialism and greed, but over the mere fact that we have abundance and are able to purchase “unnecessary” gifts for our friends and families at Christmas.

Instead of giving that “unnecessary” toy, we’re told, you could give to a project which provides clean water for people in need. Right. But what if I can do both? Is it wrong to give gifts that the recipients don’t need? [Is there even such a thing as a necessary toy?] Why does God give us hundreds of thousands of “unnecessary” things all the time? We don’t have just one kind of tree or fish or bird or cat or dog or flower or weather or cloud — rather, we have thousands of “unnecessary” varieties. And we have them apparently because God loves to give us lots of things — not because they are necessary, but because they bring delight and joy. Gift giving is an imitation of this lavish and super-abundant love of God who gives us exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think — and not merely those things we need.

I was reminded of a post by Peter Leithart on this same issue a couple of years ago. Peter notes that Christmas (like all our feasts) means enjoying an abundance of good things and then asks, “What are we to make of this as Christians?”

There are some – let us call them liberals – who want us to feel guilty for the excess of our celebration. How can we be eating all this chocolate and making this great expenditure when people are hungry and lonely and vulnerable. And there are others – let us call them conservatives – who say that the hungry and lonely and vulnerable are not our responsibility, so we should celebrate with a clear conscience. Besides, if someone is hungry, so goes the thinking, it’s probably their own fault anyway.

Scripture does not allow us to be either liberals or conservatives when it comes to Christmas, or when it comes to anything else for that matter. Against the liberals, we have the Scriptural pattern of abundant and rich and frequent feasting. At their feasts, Israel cut loose and enjoyed food and drink, and enjoyed it abundantly. . . . But we are not conservatives either. The fact that we are to feast and rejoice with a clean conscience does NOT mean that we feast without any thought for those who have nothing to feast on. Israel is commanded over and over not to forget the Levite, the orphan, and the widow. . . . Remembering the Levite, the orphan, the widow and the stranger was not a way of smuggling liberalism and guilt-manipulation into the back door. Israel was not supposed to refrain from feasting because there were orphans and widows around. Rather, they were commanded bring the orphan and the widow into their feasting, so that the needy could share the abundance of their joy and of their goods. We in the new covenant have an even more profound reason for doing so: God has shared the abundance of His life with us in Jesus, and so ought we to share with one another.

So, feast this Christmas in good conscience. Lay your hands on whatever your soul desires, and eat it in rejoicing and thanks. But look for opportunities to share your abundance with the orphan, the widow, the aged and the poor. God has filled you when you were empty, and helped you when you were helpless. Go and do likewise.

and I says Amen to that.

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[HT: Herb Melton]

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Play it baby

ok, while the discussion on Mary continues, a little piece of music to enjoy (think of it as the musical score to the discussion):

[thanks to Josh Appel through Peter Leithart for pointing me to this great piece]

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Unfaithful Mary

John Barach has an intriguing post on the passage in Mark (3:20-35) which speaks of Jesus’ “own people” wanting to lay hold of him because they believed Him to be “out of His mind.” John points out that this story is interrupted by a second story, Jesus’ confrontation with the scribes from Jerusalem who claim that he casts out demons by the ruler of the demons (3:22-30). Then, in verse 31, the original story picks up again with the identification of those referred to as “His own people” (v. 21) with His mother and brothers (v. 31).

There is an interesting play on words here as well. The word translated “out of His mind” is related etymologically to the word which means “standing outside.” John writes, “So Jesus’ ‘own people’ think Jesus is the one ‘standing outside’ (= crazy). But Jesus’ family members turn out to be the ones literally ‘standing outside,’ while Jesus identifies those who are sitting inside as his true family, those who, in obedience to God’s will, are ‘sitting around him’ (3:32, 34). To be his true family — his true mother and brothers — his natural mother and brothers ought to come inside instead of calling him out.”

Jesus goes on (3:24-25) to declare that divided households cannot stand. If His own family (Mary and His brothers) oppose Him, then they will be “outsiders” and not members of His “true family” — those who sit around Him and receive His word. Barach observes, “If Jesus’ family thinks Jesus is ‘standing outside’ in the sense of being insane, then their household won’t ‘stand.'” As Jesus says (v. 35), His true family consists of those who do “the will of God.” If Mary and His brothers desire to be acknowledged as His “own people” they must trust in Him and obey just like the rest of the Family.

Thus, we see that Mary joined with Jesus’ brothers (who at this time were yet unbelieving) against Jesus Himself. All of them repented of opposing Jesus later of course. But here we have more evidence of the reality regarding Mary. Rather than being the unfailingly faithful woman who never wavered in doubt or unbelief, we see that Mary too, like the rest of us, had moments of weakness and failures of faith. She was a sinner and had to experience the forgiveness of her Son just like the rest of us.

And, that’s no insult nor is it a derogatory judgment. It’s the truth that Mary herself acknowledged from the moment we first see her in the gospels. The angel declares that Mary had “found grace” with God. Mary was delivered from the consequences of her father Adam’s sin in the same way the rest of us are — not by an immaculate conception, but by the grace of God which forgives us and delivers us from all sin.

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Our family went to see The Blind Side during Thanksgiving week and enjoyed it immensely. I had read Michael Lewis’ book a couple of years ago and enjoyed that a great deal as well. If you haven’t yet seen the movie or read the book, the story is about Michael Oher — a huge young man who grew up in the projects in Memphis and ended up being adopted by a Christian family (Sean and Leigh Ann Touhy) who provide, love, and care for Michael as he struggles through high school and develops into a scholarship football player (eventually signing with Ole Miss after being recruited by nearly every major Division 1 school in the country).

It’s a great story about the power of Christian compassion and love. Is it sappy? Youbetcha! But not in an unreal, manipulative way. This really happened and there are witnesses to confirm it. I liked the movie and would encourage you to see it.

But I’ve heard that some of our “black leaders” (along with some black followers) have found the movie offensive and paternalistic. “So, Michael could never have made it if these rich white people hadn’t taken him in. Well, praise the Lawd, chile! Bless Gawd for all these nice, sensitive white people, savin our chillin from the ghetto and all those terrible influences in the black community.”

Ok. I get it. And yes, I do see how this could be used to make ignorant and uncaring white people feel good about their skin color while ignoring the real story.

But here’s the truth: Michael Oher was deserted by his father and mother. He had no place to go. If it hadn’t been for a Christian woman in Michael’s neighborhood who had compassion for him, and insisted that her son find a place for Michael in a Christian school, he would likely not have survived. And if it hadn’t been for the Touhys, Michael wouldn’t have survived in the Christian school.

Leigh Ann Touhy could have sought out “government assistance” and gotten Michael under the care of “Social Services” if all she had desired was good feelings. She could have written a check. She didn’t have to take Michael into her home or feed him or clothe him or really care about him. But she did. And so did Sean and so did their children. And Michael survived and grew and became fruitful, flourishing under their love, and today is thankful to God for giving him a real father and mother — even though they are rich, white Southerners.

If you want to call this sappy sentimentalism, have at it. If you want to view it as an effort to glorify Southern racist culture, knock yourself out. But if you do, know that you’re missing the point of the story.

The story is about the calling God has given His people. This is what we are called to do: care for the broken, the oppressed, the unloved — and by God’s grace be instruments in their healing, protection, and restoration. That’s what The Blind Side is all about. And when you think about it, it’s not really all that unusual after all. God’s people have been doing this sort of thing for over 2,000 years now.

This is who we are. This is what we do. Sean and Leigh Ann had the privilege of doing this for a young man who has become a very gifted professional athlete. The rest of us have the privilege of doing it for those who may remain quite unknown and undistinguished. But the glory is the same — this is how the world is changed.

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Here’s why

Reverend Bill DeJong has done us all a great favor by giving a careful examination of the URCNA FV Study Committee Report which has been touted for its wonderful exposition and critique of “Federal Vision” theology. Rev. DeJong has taken the time to go through the report (in 17 brief posts which you can read on his blog) and has pointed out the numerous shortcomings of it. The sad thing is, this report is probably better than the OPC AND PCA reports.

But if you want to know why many of us have been frustrated to the point of almost being unwilling to discuss any these issues at all, read what Rev. DeJong says (and, trust me, he’s only hitting the high points, much more could be said). If the men who served on the various FV committees of the NAPARC denominations really care about truth, it would be nice to see some evidence of that in their reports. But so far, . . . nothing.

But in spite of that, Rev. DeJong deserves our thanks for taking the time to do something the rest of us were too disheartened over to bother with. It is encouraging to find someone who cares enough to examine things carefully.

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