On the seventh day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me:

Seven Spirit gifts

I admit, this one is a bit arbitrary. Feel free to think of a better one.
This comes from Romans 12:6-8:

"Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness."

Prophecy: public speaking in a church setting, with insight into the human condition and circumstances. In this sense, many call C.S. Lewis a prophet, for critique the modernism that was just beginning to arise in his time.

Ministry: the word is diaconia, or general service. Some have a gift for seeing basic needs ahead of time and planning to get them met.

Teaching: explaining things effectively. R.C. Sproul has been a great teacher of Reformed doctrine, able to put the cookies low enough on the shelf without diluting the truth.

Exhorting: calling us to godliness from the Scriptures. It's a delicate balance, avoiding the guilt trip and the pat on the back. Instead, convicting us of sin and constructively motivating us to believe and live for God. You could also take this as encouraging - Barnabas did this well, and called Paul alongside (recruited!) him in ministry work.

Giving: in God's providence, we don't all have an equal amount of time or money to give. Those who have and give more have been given a gift themselves. Giving is a gift! Notice we are to give with liberality, or sincerity. It's easy to give a lot, with strings attached.

Leading: painting a picture of where we should go, going yourself, and having people follow you there. Not just anyone can "herd cats," as they say. It takes a certain "charisma" and social IQ, and tenacity.

Mercy-showing: kindness and compassion with worldly goods to those in need, like the Good Samaritan. Or being quick to forgive those who have offended you, like Ananias calls persecuting Saul his brother (Acts 9:17).

Thank God for the gifts He has given His people today!


On the sixth day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me:

Six creation days

The fourth commandment in Exodus 20 builds the Sabbath on the foundation of the first week of creation. Because God took 6 days to work at making the world, and one to rest, we also work for 6 and rest for one. So this is a pattern for us, and it is a gift, indeed. Our human frame needs such regular rhythms, and God built a pattern of worship (Leviticus 23:3) and work into His temporal world.

Not only are the six creation days a pattern for living, they are also a pointer for us to meditate on God's creation work. He could have made it all instantaneously, but He took time. And at the end of the six days (before the seventh, notice!) He sat back, considered His work, and declared it good (Gen 1:31). The first chapter of the Bible; Psalms like 8, 24, 65, and 104; and 1 Timothy 4:4 all call us to wonder and gratitude for the physical creation God has given us. Take time to notice it today.

Jesus and Jacob

I just noticed something for the first time in John 4.

Jesus stops at Jacob's well. Their stories converge. Jacob fled from Esau, who was angry that Jacob got the birthright. Jesus is "fleeing" the leaders in Judea for much the same reason (4:1). But like Jacob, and David too for that matter, Jesus will return to the land He is fleeing and claim God's promises of land and rule. Older brother Esau (or Saul, or Annas/Caiaphas), disobedient to God but jockeying for position and possessions, cannot stop God's promises for His people.

Incarnation Meditation

Belgic Confession article 18 says in part:

"Therefore we confess, against the heresy of the Anabaptists who deny that Christ assumed human flesh from his mother, that he "shared the very flesh and blood of children"...

Doing some research, it seems Menno Simons affirmed the humanity of Jesus, but thought that taking His flesh from Mary would impute sin to Him. This false inference led him to think God must have prepared a body for him without becoming /our/ flesh. That would be sinful flesh, he thought. This is the old gnostic error, that our sin is inherent to the physical flesh. Following it, God must have created a new "kind" of flesh body for Jesus. This ends up rejecting that He was made like us in every way, except for sin, I think.

This is why the Belgic confession is so adamant to reject his error. It can be easy to dismiss him as a heretic, denying the humanity of Jesus. But I don't think he goes that far. He thinks God accomplished the incarnation in another way, than by Jesus taking the human flesh of His mother. Peculiar and wrong-headed, yes. Leads to a denial or diminishing of the physical world God came to save, yes. But be careful branding people heretics too quickly. This seems a decent summary of Simons.


On the fifth Day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me:

Five books of the Law!

In the song, this is a climax, and meditated on joyfully. So in the Word. Psalm 119:97: "Oh, how I love Your law; it is my meditation all the day." Joshua 1:8: "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it."

The New Testament has much to say about us not being under the law if we are in Christ. That the curse of the law is lifted and removed from us. Thank God! But we also praise Him that He has given us a way to live. The law remains the oracles of God (Romans 3:2), and its requirements are met in us as we are justified by Christ (Galatians 3:13) and sanctified by His Spirit (Romans 8:4). That last phrase is key. The Spirit filled life is contrasted to the life lived in the flesh, based on the law-principle of works. But the Spirit filled life leads to doing the law the way the law was meant to be followed.

Praise God for His gift to us of the law, showing us how to live before Him!


On the fourth Day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me:

Four Gospel Books

Step back and consider the unique contribution the Gospels are to the canon of Scripture.
Without them we would not know of Christ's earthly ministry, the crucifixion or resurrection. There is simply no better way to get to know your Lord Jesus than by reading these books. Plan to be in them regularly in 2014.


On the Third Day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me,

Faith, Hope and Love

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
"We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."

1 Corinthians 13:13
"And now abide faith, hope, love, these three..."

Notice these are gifts God gives to us! Ephesians 2:8 tells us faith is a gift of God. We love Him because He first loved us. He gives us hope by promising us a Savior, giving Him to us, and then having us wait for His glorious appearing (Titus 2:13).

To oversimplify for a moment,
1. Faith looks to the past, trusting a person in the present because of that person's past (Hebrews 13:8).

2. Hope looks to the future, acting differently in the present because of an envisioned future (1 John 3:3).

3. Love acts in the present, because of commitments and relationships made in the past, and as an act of faith that the envisioned future will become a reality (Galatians 5:6).

On the second day of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas my True Love gave to me... two testaments.

God has revealed Himself to us in Scripture with an old and new testament. With about 400 years of silence between them, the new is in the old concealed, and the old is in the new revealed. I think that's Augustine... It reminds us of the close connection, no matter the time gap.

Hebrews highlights the difference between the covenants, as Christians were tempted to go back to the temple, back to the old testament. After all, there were physical and tangible experiences there. No, it is passing away and obsolete, even, Hebrews says.

And yet, Paul warns the Roman Christians not to despise the root that supports (present tense!) them. We are grafted into the old testament story. We are all adopted children who come to take on a new family identity as our own. So make sure you read the Old Testament regularly in 2014.

The Nativity

If you're looking for a holiday movie to watch, this has become a family tradition for us.

I think it's wrong about the wise men being at the manger, and it adds things, as movies almost have to. But there is obviously an intention of drawing out the characters biblically when they add stuff. Except the wise, who are just fun. I especially liked Herod. Very well done. It draws out the coming antithesis and opposition very well.

It has an intense scene around 2:00-3:00, not for younger (10?) viewers.

Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Absurd. A big part of the perspective is that random things happen that don't make sense, are unpredictable and unstoppable. Like a post-modern, he denies meaning or purpose can be found. This connects with his repeated, offhanded assertions of our evolution from the slime.

In spite of the above, it was laugh-out-loud funny in parts. Monty Python-esque. I could tell he was British by the sense of humor.

Can't really recommend it, except as a blow-off-steam, change of pace kind of book. I'm on vacation, so...

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The First Day of Christmas - Jesus

I'm going to do a series of short posts on each of the twelve days of Christmas.

There are two reasons for this. The lesser is to sustain the Christmas season the way it was meant to be done, up to Epiphany. Unfortunately, we are too exhausted to do this, after a month of Christmas rush. We might be more ready for a 12 day celebration starting December 25 after month of a preparatory (maybe even penitential?) Advent season.

The second (non-holiday related) reason is that it is simply good to reflect on the good gifts God has showered upon us.

We have a song we use in our house, to do what some think the song did: refer to gifts God has given us.
So, everybody now (deep breath)...

On the First Day of Christmas my true love gave to me - Jesus Christ our Savior, baby!

The greatest gift the world has received is God giving Himself to us. John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

True love.
God is our true love, the one who truly loves us. God gave us Jesus, by His sheer grace. We didn't deserve to have God condescend to us, but He promised to do so (Isaiah 7:14), and so He did it. Because He loves us.

First Day.
This was the first day, so to speak, of a new era. A kingdom of grace ushered in. He who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John, because he only announced this king, this change, he did not live in His light. His light grows greater each passing year, like the length of sunlight each day grows greater from the first day of winter on into summer.

Jesus Christ.
The angels told the shepherds this over the hills of Bethlehem. He is the Messiah, the one God has appointed to deliver His people!

While Herod and most expected a powerful man whom Israel could rally behind, God sent a vulnerable baby to live, suffer and die for them.

Gabriel told Joseph right from the beginning that Jesus would save His people from their sins. This is why God named Him Jesus, which means "salvation."


Review: A Christmas Blizzard

A Christmas Blizzard
A Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Picked this up on a whim at the local library. I've found Lake Wobegon tales quite funny in the past, and this has the same feel, with a Christmas Carol structure.

I laughed out loud a lot. Keillor's skill at writing is quite good.

But the content is atrocious. It is a prime example of post-Christian sentimentality. Christmas robbed of its real meaning, with good feelings of getting along and being good and nice substituted in its place. I don't just mean the real meaning is ignored. It is brought up overtly and subtly rejected, with hints that true believers belong in the asylum.

If most Christian artists produce a good message while the artistic craft is spotty or mediocre, this is the opposite. Great lessons on HOW to write, here, but not WHAT to say.

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Creation Science

I recently attended a couple talks by Ken Ham for elementary and high school students. He was in the area and I thought I would do some reconnaissance.

Creation scientists are doing some great apologetic work. It's too evidence-based for some reformed folks. The concern is that the emphasis on reason and science gives those things too high an authority compared with the revelation of God's Word.

There are times when this is a fair criticism. When creation scientists use science as a tool to prove the Bible true, as if the proof is needed for the Bible to be true. But what is wrong with making a case that it is reasonable to believe in a young earth, for instance? Not that science is our authority or hope, but that the Bible makes sense and isn't absurd, scientifically.

It's when they overstate their case that we get problems. Sometimes straw men are used. They video interview an evolutionist and show him hesitating at a question. "See, they have no answer!" They descend to mockery, and ad hominem arguments. This is fighting dirty and being lazy.

There is a fine line between mocking the secular scientist, and training ourselves and our children to not be intimidated by their assertions.

I've found it helpful to view Creation Scientists more as apologists than as scientists. Some are doing actual scientific work, but most use scientific findings to defend the faith.


Review: Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith

Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith
Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith by K Scott Oliphint

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Solid defense of Van Til’s apologetic method.

Premise: We should argue for Christianity from its supernatural revelation, not from a natural theology or bare Deism or rational approach. When we critique atheism and Christian skeptics, we should point out their own inconsistencies, rather than argue from "neutral" reason.

For example. In answer to skeptics who ask how an unchanging God can become incarnate, we should appeal to Athanasian and Chalcedonian thought, not fall back to what the modern person would consider reasonable.

Strengths: depth and persuasiveness.
Depth. Christ is Lord cosmically and redemptively. Oliphint makes this point theologically, in the abstract, but also shows how it is revealed in Exodus 3 and John 1. Lots of solid stuff!

Persuasive. The examples of skeptics’ arguments, which he then refutes, are gold.

Weaknesses: language and exclusivity.
Language. Oliphint is a seminary professor, and it shows. This book is not for the average evangelical reader, but I would encourage you to read books that you think are too deep for you! This is a great start. The book is touted as a step toward practical apologetics, from a Van-Tilian approach. And the mock conversations help that a little. But as a pastor for 10 years now, I’d like to see the cookies on a lower, less philosophical, shelf for the average pew-sitter to get.
A second language weakness is that it is verbose at times. Often it is needed to explain his point with enough clarity, but there is also a lot of review and extra.

Exclusivity. I see the merit of the presuppositional approach to apologetics, but also believe, depending on the audience and the course of the discussion with a skeptic, that the classical apologetic appeal to reasoned arguments can also be useful. Oliphint usually dismisses it completely, even seeing it as always unhelpful. I suppose he and Van Til have seen theology by natural reason used in a way that compromises the faith, but I don’t think the method does so inherently.

Highly recommended for those who have profited from listening to Ravi Zacharias, and other defenders of the faith like him.

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Review: The Waterstone

The Waterstone
The Waterstone by Rebecca Rupp

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A rather Messianic theme of restoring all things through sacrifice and fighting the bad guy.
But there's an element of dualism: balance between good and evil is asserted, ying-yang style. This is undone by the defeat of the bad guy at the end, so it's muted, but still there.
Quite creative in the incidentals, but a standard plot line.

I'll let the older kids (12 and 10) read it if they want to, and discuss with them the theme of dualism versus a sovereign good God.

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A Brief Response to Advent Critics

Part of the Reformed and Covenantal argument for infant baptism is that OT patterns continue to apply in the NT, even as externals change. If the NT doesn't change the principle of marking your children with the covenant sign, then keep doing it, *even if the NT is silent about it*.

I see it the same with worship. Hebrews tells us to stop sacrificing animals (Heb 10:11-14), since Jesus has come, but the lack of direction about the externals of NT worship isn't a conclusive argument for minimizing them. They change with the coming of Christ. And perhaps there is less of them (most Reformers went this way - no incense, etc.).

But there is no requirement to do away with them altogether, or as much as possible. We are free to improvise according to OT principles. Mainly,
- annual feasts that commemorate God's acts of redemption for us,
- a pattern of weekly worship (Lev 23:3) laid out in Leviticus 9 (approach God, confess sin, consecrate yourself, commune, benediction), at the beginning of tabernacle worship,
- the NT adds preaching the Word, and celebrating the Lord's Supper

It's hard to apply the Leviticus 10 passage to this, since the explicit instruction of what to do is now absent. Nadab and Abihu were told to do A through H, and they went and did V. We don't have the command to do A-H. Profane fire today is outright contradiction of instruction (think 1 Cor 11:17-24, or 1 Tim 2:8-12), or irreverence, perhaps. But it is not profane fire just by the addition of any worship element, unless it violates a command (worship of images, for instance).