Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Time Magazine: Best Photos of 2006

Visualizing One-Year Bible Reading Plans

From the ESV Bible Blog @http://www.esv.org/blog/2006/12/visualize.reading.plans

How do you choose a Bible reading plan for the upcoming year? Aesthetically? In this post we graph a few different reading plans so you can see visually how they differ from one another.

Through the Bible

The Through the Bible reading plan is about as simple as they come: you read one passage each day from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament, starting in Genesis and Matthew in January and ending in Malachi and Revelation in December. Here’s how it looks:

One Year Bible Reading Plan (M’Cheyne)

The One Year Bible Reading Plan, based on the M’Cheyne system, is more complex. You read through the New Testament twice (though you read the gospels and the rest of the New Testament at different rates), the Psalms twice, and the Old Testament once.

The One Year® Bible

The One Year Bible has some similarities with the previous plan. But it also looks quite different. You only read through the New and Old Testaments once, while you read the Psalms twice and Proverbs slowly throughout the whole year.

Daily Reading Bible

The Daily Reading Bible goes through the Old Testament once and the Psalms and New Testament twice.

Chronological Reading Plan

The Chronological Reading Plan from Back to the Bible lets you read the Bible in the order in which events occurred. So, for example, you read the account of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel on the same day you read the parallel account in 1 Chronicles. The next day, you read the psalms that David composed related to the events in the historical books.

Several trends become apparent when visualizing the reading plan this way:

  1. The antiquity of Job.
  2. Parallel passages in some of the Old Testament historical books.
  3. The wide historical distribution of the Psalms and the Minor Prophets.
  4. Parallel passages in the four gospels.

Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary

Finally, the Book of Common Prayer, a two-year plan, doesn’t try to take you through every verse in the Bible. It focuses on key passages, so its chart looks more organic. (The BCP is a two-year plan, and you can’t read every reading every year.)

Here are the two years side-by-side:

Here are the two years superimposed on each other. The Psalms appear purple (the second year color) because almost every Psalm reading is identical between the two years.

For the Love of God

Recommendations from Justin Taylor @ http://theologica.blogspot.com/2006/12/for-love-of-god.html

'Tis the season for new commitments of discipline.

One of the best investments you can make is D.A. Carson's two-volume work, For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God's Word. Each day he wisely and deftly guides readers through a section of the M'Cheyne Reading Plan, highlighting the "big picture," biblical-theological themes.

Here is an excerpt from the preface:

The challenge has become increasingly severe in recent years, owing to several factors. All of us must confront the regular sins of laziness or lack of discipline, sins of the flesh, and of the pride of life. But there are additional pressures. The sheer pace of life affords us many excuses for sacrificing the important on the altar of the urgent. The constant sensory input from all sides is gently addictive— we become used to being entertained and diverted, and it is difficult to carve out the space and silence necessary for serious and thoughtful reading of Scripture. More seriously yet, the rising biblical illiteracy in Western culture means that the Bible is increasingly a closed book, even to many Christians. As the culture drifts away from its former rootedness in a Judeo-Christian understanding of God, history, truth, right and wrong, purpose, judgment, forgiveness, and community, so the Bible seems stranger and stranger. For precisely the same reason, it becomes all the more urgent to read it and reread it, so that at least confessing Christians preserve the heritage and outlook of a mind shaped and informed by holy Scripture.

This is a book to encourage that end. Devotional guides tend to offer short, personal readings from the Bible, sometimes only a verse or two, followed by several paragraphs of edifying exposition. Doubtless they provide personal help for believers with private needs, fears, and hopes. But they do not provide the framework of what the Bible says—the “plotline” or “story line”—the big picture that makes sense of all the little bits of the Bible. Wrongly used, such devotional guides may ultimately engender the profoundly wrong-headed view that God exists to sort out my problems; they may foster profoundly mistaken interpretations of some Scriptures, simply because the handful of passages they treat are no longer placed within the framework of the big picture, which is gradually fading from view. Only systematic and repeated reading of the whole Bible can meet these challenges.

That is what this book encourages. Here you will find a plan that will help you read through the New Testament and the Psalms twice, and the rest of the Bible once, in the course of a year—or, on a modification of the plan, in the course of two years. Comment is offered for each day, but this book fails utterly in its goal if you read the comment and not the assigned biblical passages.
Vol 1: Preface, Introduction, and M'Cheyne Chart of Daily Bible Readings (237K PDF)
Vol 2: Preface, Introduction, and M'Cheyne Chart of Daily Bible Readings (298K PDF)

If you'd like to receive the daily commentary by email, I think you can do so by sending a blank note here: christwaymedia-join@associate.com.

Is It Wrong for Wives to Work?

By John MacArthur@ http://www.sfpulpit.com/2006/12/26/is-it-wrong-for-wives-to-work/#more-374

In light of the Christmas holidays, we will be taking a short break from the emerging church this week — running several miscellaneous articles instead.

The issue of wives working is one that she and her husband must come to understand from a biblical perspective, then allow the Holy Spirit to lead in their specific situation.

Titus 2:4-5 teaches women to be sober minded (i.e., to know their priorities). What are the priorities a married woman should pursue? Her first must be to meet the needs of her family. Verse 4 says wives are to love their husbands and children.

To be “husband‑lovers” and “children‑lovers” (as the Greek literally reads), verse 5 says women should be “workers at home.” That phrase is one word in the Greek (oikourgos) and means “home workers” or “workers in the home.” First Timothy 5:14 emphasizes the same point by saying wives are to “guide the house.” This phrase in the Greek (oikodespoteo) means “to keep house.” A wife’s first priority, then, is to care for her home. She shows her love for her husband and children by making the home a haven of peace and rest for family, friends, and strangers.

A wife’s second priority is found in 1 Timothy 2:15, which teaches that she will find great usefulness in childbearing. The Greek word for childbearing (teknogonia) means not only to give birth to children but also encompasses the idea of rearing them. That verse also teaches that instilling values in children is part of a mother’s role. Deuteronomy 6:6‑7, Proverbs 1:8 and 6:20 tell us that children should be taught the principles of Scripture (beginning with the truth of the gospel). Mothers play a crucial part in that process.

A woman’s third priority is found in the description of the industrious woman found in Proverbs 31:10‑21. Verse 21 says she is involved in ministering to the needs of the poor and underprivileged. As a believer, a Christian wife has the privilege and responsibility of serving others. A primary area in which this works itself out is the church, as she employs her giftedness within the body of Christ.

A wife who fulfills those three priorities will probably be a very busy individual. If she still has time left over, she then would be free to pursue enterprising and creative activities outside the home. Of course, the women who are most free to do that are single women and married women with no children. But even those women should be sure they are fulfilling their responsibilities at home before they leave it for the work place.

God's Design for a Successful Marriage

The Role of the Wife

Responses to “Is It Wrong for Wives to Work?”

  1. on 26 Dec 2006 at 6:39 am Doug V. Heck

    I would add the 4th Priority of a Married Woman, i.e., being mentored by the older women and mentoring the younger women (Titus 2:3-5). That seems to be an ongoing central apsect of her ministry responsibility, along with the other three.

Monday, December 25, 2006


Wise Men visiting Jesus on Twelfth
Night after his birth on Christmas
Christmas (literally, the Mass of Christ) is a traditional holiday commonly observed on 25 December. In most Eastern Orthodox Churches, even where the civil calendar used is the Gregorian, the event is observed according to the Julian calendar, which coincides with the predominant reckoning of 7 January. It is celebrated by most Christians to mark the birth of Jesus, which is believed to have occurred in Bethlehem in the Roman Province of Judea between 6 BC and AD 6. Christ's birth, or nativity, was said by his followers to fulfill the prophecies of Judaism that a messiah would come, from the house of David, to redeem the world from sin. Efforts to decide upon a date on which to celebrate his birth began some centuries later.

The word Christmas is a contraction of Christ's Mass, derived from the Old English Cristes mæsse.

It is sometimes abbreviated Xmas, probably because X resembles the Greek letter Χ (chi) which has often historically been used as an abbreviation for Christ (Χριστός in Greek).

Christmas has acquired many secular aspects, which are sometimes celebrated as often—or more—than the birth of Jesus. Many Christmas traditions originated with pre-Christian observances that were syncretised into Christianity. Examples of this process are the northern European Yule, and the Winter Solstice celebration found in many older as well as recent pagan celebrations.

In Western countries, Christmas has become the most economically significant holiday of the year. It is largely characterized by gifts being exchanged between friends and family members, and the appearance of Santa Claus. Various local and regional Christmas traditions are still practised, despite the widespread influence of American and British Christmas motifs disseminated by globalization, popular literature, television, and other media.

The story of Christ's birth has been handed down for centuries, based mainly on the Christian gospels of Matthew and Luke. The gospels of Mark and John do not address the childhood of Jesus, and those of Matthew and Luke highlight different events.

According to Luke, Mary learns from the angel Gabriel that the Holy Spirit has caused her to be with child.

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

34"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

35The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. -Luke 1:26-35

Shortly thereafter, she and her husband Joseph leave their home in Nazareth to travel about 150 kilometres (90 miles) to Joseph's ancestral home, Bethlehem, to enroll in the census ordered by the Roman emperor, Augustus. Finding no room in inns in the town, they set up lodgings in a stable in Bethlehem in Judea. There Mary gives birth to Jesus. Jesus' being born in Bethlehem fulfills the prophecy of the Book of Micah.
2"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." -Micah 5:2

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem -Matthew 2:1

Luke's Gospel has some references to historic events at this time, saying "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world" (Luke 2:1), but the only known census was in the year AD 6.

Matthew's gospel begins by telling the genealogy and birth of Jesus, and then moves to the coming of the Wise Men from the East (see the Magi) to Bethlehem. Matthew mentions no trek to Bethlehem from Nazareth. The wise men, or Magi, first arrive in Jerusalem and report to the king of Judea, Herod the Great, that they have seen a star, now called the Star of Bethlehem, heralding the birth of a king. Further inquiry leads them to Bethlehem of Judea and the home of Mary and Joseph. They present Jesus with treasures of "gold, frankincense, and myrrh". While staying the night, the wise men have a dream that contains a divine warning that King Herod has murderous designs on the child. Resolving to hinder the ruler, they go home without telling Herod of the success of their mission. Matthew then reports that the family next flees to Egypt to escape the murderous rampage of Herod, who has decided to have all children of Bethlehem under the age of two killed in order to eliminate any local rivals to his power. After Herod's death, Jesus and his family return from Egypt, but fearing the hostility of the new Judean king (Herod's son Archelaus) they go instead to Galilee and settle in Nazareth.

Another aspect of Christ's birth which has passed from the gospels into popular lore is the announcement by angels to nearby shepherds of Jesus's birth. Some Christmas carols refer to the shepherds observing a bright star directly over Bethlehem, and following it to the birthplace. The Magi, who Matthew also reports seeing a giant star, have been variously interpreted as wise men or as kings. They are supposed to have come from Arabia or Persia, where they might have obtained their particular gifts. Through the years astronomers and historians have offered conflicting explanations of what combination of traceable celestial events might explain the appearance of a giant star that had never before been seen.

Many different dates have been suggested for the celebration of Christmas. The theories for the reason Christmas is celebrated on December 25 are many and varied; none are universally accepted.

From early antiquity, the days following the winter solstice on December 21 were of particular significance to cultures who worshipped sun gods. These cultures believed that their sun god was born on December 21st, the shortest day of the year, and that the days grew longer as their god aged. Other cultures believed that their deity died on this day, only to return for another cycle.

It is alleged that, according to Celtic Mythology, the sun god was crucified on the winter solstice, and three days later, as the days grew longer again, he rose from the dead. It is said that this was the origin of the Celtic cross, symbolising the crucified sun god, thus making it a few thousand years older than Christianity. Nevertheless, there is no record of the Celts actually ever practicing crucifixion or stories of any crucifixion of a "Celtic Sun God" before 19th century source. Crosses and circles are found worldwide as solar symbol, whether or not a particular culture practiced crucifixion.

The context in which Christianity, and thus Christmas, formed was during the Roman Empire. The Romans honored Saturn, the ancient god of agriculture, each year beginning on December 17. In a festival called Saturnalia, they glorified past days when the god Saturn ruled. This festival lasted for seven days and included the winter solstice, which according to the Julian calendar, fell on December 25. During Saturnalia the Romans feasted, postponed all business and warfare, exchanged gifts, and temporarily freed their slaves. Such traditions resemble those of Christmas and are used to establish a link between the two holidays. These and other winter festivities continued through January 1, the festival of Kalends, when Romans marked the day of the new moon and the first day of the month as well as the beginning of the religious year. As Isaac Asimov comments in his Guide to the Bible, "[C]onverts could join Christianity without giving up their Saturnalian happiness. It was only necessary for them to joyfully greet the birth of the Son rather than the Sun."

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Christmas is not included in Irenaeus's nor Tertullian's list of Christian feasts, the earliest known lists of Christian feasts. The earliest evidence of celebration is from Alexandria, in about 200, when Clement of Alexandria says that certain Egyptian theologians "over curiously" assign not just the year but also the actual day of Christ's birth as 25 Pachon (May 20) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus. By the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325, the Alexandrian church had fixed a dies Nativitatis et Epiphaniae. The December feast reached Egypt in the fifth century. In Jerusalem, the fourth century pilgrim Egeria from Bordeaux witnessed the Feast of the Presentation, forty days after January 6, which must have been the date of the Nativity there. At Antioch, probably in 386, St. John Chrysostom urged the community to unite in celebrating Christ's birth on December 25, a part of the community having already kept it on that day for at least ten years.

In The Roman Empire, the celebrations of Saturn during the week of the solstice, with their climax on December 25th, were the main social event. In order to make it easier for the Romans to convert to Christianity without missing out on their festivities, Pope Julius I ordered in 350 that the birth of Christ be celebrated on the same date.

Some scholars maintain that December 25 was only adopted in the 4th century as a Christian holiday after Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity to encourage a common religious festival for both Christians and pagans. Perusal of historical records indicates that the first mention of such a feast in Constantinople was not until 379, under Gregory Nazianzus. In Rome, it can only be confirmed as being mentioned in a document from approximately 350 but without any mention of sanction by Emperor Constantine.

An alternative theory asserts that the date of Christmas is based on the date of Good Friday, the day Jesus died. Since the exact date of Jesus' death is not stated in the Gospels, early Christians sought to calculate it, and arrived at either March 25 or April 6. To then calculate the date of Jesus' birth, they followed the ancient idea that Old Testament prophets died at an "integral age" — either an anniversary of their birth or of their conception. They reasoned that Jesus died on an anniversary of the Incarnation (his conception), so the date of his birth would have been nine months after the date of Good Friday — either December 25 or January 6. Thus, rather than the date of Christmas being appropriated from pagans by Christians, the opposite is held to have occurred.

Another extremely popular cult of Persian origin, in those days was that of Mithras. The similarities between Jesus and Mithras are many. Mithras was born on December 25th of virgin birth, the son of the primary Persian deity, Ahura-Mazda. His birth was witnessed by shepherds and magi. He was reputed to have raised the dead, healed the sick and cast out demons. He had a Lord's Supper. His day of worship was Sunday. He was killed and resurrected, returned to heaven on the spring equinox after a last meal with his 12 disciples (representing the signs of the zodiac), eating "mizd" - a piece of bread marked with a cross (an almost universal symbol of the sun). The Mithraic cult peaked around the year 300 AD when it became the official religion of the empire. At that time, in every town and city, in every military garrison and outpost from Syria to the Scottish frontier, was to be found a Mithraeum and officiating priests of the cult. This is not to suggest that the Mithraic cult was the only factor in this syncretization, many pagan gods had similar aspects of mythology (e.g. resurrection, virgin mother etc).

Early Christians chiefly celebrated the Epiphany, when the baby Jesus was visited by the Magi (and this is still a primary time for celebration in Argentina, Spain and Armenia). Historians are unsure exactly when Christians first began celebrating the Nativity of Christ. At times it was forbidden by Protestant churches until after the 1800s because of its association with Catholicism.

Some Christmas traditions, particularly those in Scandinavia, have their origin in the Germanic Yule celebration. Christmas is still known as Yule (or: Jul) in Scandinavian countries.

According to one tradition, Jesus was born during Hanukkah (25 Kislev into the beginning of Tevet). Under the old Julian calendar, the popular choice of 5 BC for the year of Jesus' birth would place 25 Kislev at November 25.

Early Christians sought to calculate the date of Christ's birth based on the idea that Old Testament prophets died either on an anniversary of their birth or of their conception. They reasoned that Jesus died on an anniversary of his conception, so the date of his birth was nine months after the date of Good Friday, either December 25 or January 6.

St. Hippolytus, who was already knowledgeably defending the faith in writing at the start of the third century, said that Christ was born Wednesday, December 25, in the 42nd year of Augustus' reign (see his Commentary on Daniel, circa 204, Bk. 4, Ch. 23).

Additional calculations are made based on the six-year almanac of priestly rotations, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some believe that this almanac lists the week when John the Baptist's father served as a high priest. As it is implied that John the Baptist could only have been conceived during that particular week, and as his conception is believed to be tied to that of Jesus, it is claimed that an approximate date of December 25 can be arrived at for the birth of Jesus. However, most scholars (e.g. Catholic Encyclopedia in sources) believe this calculation to be unreliable as it is based on a string of assumptions.

The apparition of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah, announcing that he was to be the father of John the Baptist, was believed to have occurred on Yom Kippur. This was due to a belief (not included in the Gospel account) that Zechariah was a high priest and that his vision occurred during the high priest's annual entry into the Holy of Holies. If John's conception occurred on Yom Kippur in late September, then his birth would have been in late June. If John's birth was on the date ascribed by tradition, June 24, then the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, said by the Gospel account to have occurred three month's before John's birth, would have been in late March. (Tradition fixed it on March 25.) The birth of Jesus would then have been on December 25, nine months after his conception. As with the previous theory, proponents of this theory hold that Christmas was a date of significance to Christians before it was a date of significance to pagans.

Christmas is now celebrated on December 25 in Roman Catholic, Protestant, and some Eastern Orthodox churches, such as the Greek, Bulgarian and Romanian Orthodox Church. The majority of Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on January 7. This date results from their having accepted neither the reforms of the Gregorian calendar nor the Revised Julian calendar, with their ecclesiastic December 25 thus falling on the secular date of January 7 from 1900 to 2099. This calendrical difference has led to confusion on the part of those unfamiliar with the older calendar. The Orthodox churches begin preparing for Christmas with a fast that begins 40 days before Christmas and ends with Christmas, dubbed the "Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ." In the U.S. and Canada, some Orthodox dioceses allow the parish priest or parish to decide which of the two calendars (i.e., Gregorian versus old Julian) to follow at the parish level and hence the timing of Christmas Day. Armenian Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6th except those in Jerusalem, who still use the old calendar and celebrate Christmas on January 18th.

Dates for the more secular aspects of the Christmas celebration are similarly varied. In the United Kingdom, the Christmas season traditionally runs for twelve days beginning on Christmas Day. These twelve days of Christmas, a period of feasting and merrymaking, end on Twelfth Night, the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany. This period corresponds with the liturgical season of Christmas. Medieval laws in Sweden declared a Christmas peace (julefrid) to be twenty days, during which fines for robbery and manslaughter were doubled. Swedish children still celebrate a party, throwing out the Christmas tree (julgransplundring), on the 20th day of Christmas (January 13, Knut's Day).

In practice, the Christmas festive period has grown longer in some countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, and now begins many weeks before Christmas, allowing more time for shopping and get-togethers. It often extends beyond Christmas Day up to New Year's Day, this later holiday having its own parties. In the Philippines, radio stations usually start playing Christmas music (see also Christian Music) during what is called the "-ber months" (September, October, etc.); this usually marks the start of the Christmas season.

Countries that celebrate Christmas on December 25 recognize the previous day as Christmas Eve, and vary on the naming of December 26. In the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, Lithuania and Poland, Christmas Day and the following day are called First and Second Christmas Day. In many European and Commonwealth countries, December 26 is referred to as Boxing Day, while in Finland, Ireland, Italy, Romania, Austria and Catalonia (Spain) it is known as St. Stephen's Day. In Canadian French, the December 26 holiday is generally referred to as Lendemain de Noël (which literally means "the day after Christmas").

A plethora of customs with secular, religious, or national aspects surround Christmas, varying from country to country. Most of the familiar traditional practices and symbols of Christmas originated in Germanic countries, including the now omnipresent Christmas tree, the Christmas ham, the Yule Log, holly, mistletoe, and the giving of presents to friends and relatives. These practices and symbols were adapted or appropriated by Christian missionaries from the earlier Germanic pagan midwinter holiday of Yule. This celebration of the winter solstice was widespread and popular in northern Europe long before the arrival of Christianity, and the word for Christmas in the Scandinavian languages is still today the pagan jul (=yule).

Rather than attempting to suppress every pagan tradition, Pope Gregory I allowed Christian missionaries to synthesize them with Christianity, allowing many pagan traditions to become a part of Christmas.

The dynamic relationship between religious and governmental authorities and celebrators of Christmas continued through the years. Places where conservative Christian theocracies flourished, as in Cromwellian England and in the early New England colonies, were among those where celebrations were suppressed.[5] After the Russian Revolution, Christmas celebrations were banned in the Soviet Union for the next seventy-five years.

Several Christian denominations, notably the Jehovah's Witnesses, some Puritan groups, and some fundamentalist Christians, view Christmas as a pagan holiday not sanctioned by the Bible and refuse to celebrate or recognize it in any way. Incidentally, this was the practice of the Puritans in 17th and 18th Century England and the American Colonies. Christmas was not widely celebrated in New England until after the middle of the 19th Century.

In Commonwealth countries in the southern hemisphere, Christmas is still celebrated on 25 December, despite this being the height of their summer season. This clashes with the traditional winter iconography, resulting in anachronisms such as a red fur-coated Santa Claus surfing in for a turkey barbecue on Australia's Bondi Beach. Japan has largely adopted the western Santa Claus for its secular Christmas celebration, but their New Year's Day is considered the more important holiday. Christmas is also known as bada din (the big day) in Hindi, and revolves there around Santa Claus and shopping. In South Korea, Christmas is celebrated as an official holiday.

The religious celebrations begin with Advent, the anticipation of Christ's birth, around the start of December. (In most western churches, Advent starts the 4th Sunday before Christmas Day, and thus can last for 21 to 28 days.) These observations may include Advent carols and Advent calendars, sometimes containing sweets and chocolate for children. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services may include a midnight mass or a Mass of the Nativity, and feature Christmas carols and hymns.

A Christmas Visitor

By Paul Helm

It happened like this. We were on the point of starting Christmas Dinner - just the family, the three of us - when the bell rang. A strange figure at the door. A tramp begging, was my first thought. He was small and skinny, but with a compelling look, even though his eyes were a mess, swollen and sore. Black hair, long and lank, with skin like old bark. He dressed oddly. I remember thinking, 'a bit like the Dalai Lama'. There was a scar down one cheek. How old he was is anyone's guess. But not young.

It was freezing outside, but before the Scrooge in me could say anything, the caller was in the hallway. He trembled a bit. From the cold, I thought. But he seemed weak and fearful. Whoever could he be? What did he want? He muttered what sounded, in his broken English, like 'gentleness' or 'Gentiles'. But it was what was under his arm that gave him away - some scrolls and other papers. 'Books and parchments' came at once to mind. Very politely, but with a thick Jewish accent, he asked, 'I wonder if you have some water?' Of course. The glass was quickly brought.

Angela and Alice looked at each other, and at him, startled and a bit upset at this intrusion. But I was now convinced I knew who this visitor was. Fear. Panic. Putting my Cessationist scruples to the back of my mind, I quickly looked around the room. All the trappings of Christmas were very evident: the tree, the streamers, the cards, the nativity scene, candles, Father Christmas, the holly and the mistletoe, accompanied by 'seasonal' music. What would our visitor think?

As far as I can see the Apostle Paul - for that is who the caller was, I now knew - had not given us any advance warning of what he would think. By a slip (or a little bit of Royal pressure on the translators) 'Easter', occurs in the KJV translation of Acts 12.4, but 'Christmas' is nowhere to be found. Perhaps Paul did not mention Christmas because he accepted the Regulative Principle of Worship, the principle that except in regard to 'common circumstances', Christian worship is to be governed solely by the commands of the Word of God, and not merely by what it forbids. A rule easy to state but (even with the best will in the world) hard to observe, as Derek Thomas has shown. But 'Regulative Principle' does not appear in the KJV either, nor in any other version I'm aware of. But of course Paul could have kept to the principle without using the phrase 'Regulative Principle' and (come to think about it) he could have celebrated Christmas without using the word 'Christmas'. Or Paul might have used the word 'Christmas' or (if you think that the word 'Advent' is more seemly), the word 'Advent', but it not find its way into his writings.

I think I know what the late Professor John Murray, who adhered to the Regulative Principle, would have said about Christmas, but I have never been sure what the late Apostle Paul would have said. Perhaps I was about to find out.

If the Apostle, like Professor Murray, kept to the Regulative Principle, or at least tried to, then what would he say about all these trappings? And about the very idea of a Christian festival in the middle of winter, a Christ-mass? What sort of a defense could I put up if he once got going? Perhaps I could persuade him that Christmas was a 'thanksgiving upon a special occasion'. But, to be frank, this did not seem very likely. Yet there was a glimmer of hope. For Paul did say things about days and festivals, which gave me something to hold on to. Perhaps he would not take a hard line. He may think that Christmas is one of those times that (as he wrote to the Romans), provided that we are fully convinced in our minds that they're OK, then they're OK. However, in a situation like this, who the 'weak' brother is, and who the 'strong' has always been a bit of a puzzle. Perhaps Paul would explain. Maybe we could simply agree to differ, or even (happy thought!) agree to agree. That would be a great deliverance. It would be wonderful if somehow we could deflect things away from Christmas.

I took a deep breath. The Apostle to the Gentiles! Here, at Christmas! Panic. Fear. But delight and excitement too. Wait till Derek and Ligon hear of this.....Carl Trueman, eat your heart out!

Resisting the temptation to pick up the camcorder, Angela brought extra things for the table, and we settled him down there. Though it wasn't easy, because we discovered that he limped rather badly. He was also reluctant to let go of the scrolls, but we were eventually able to persuade him. He muttered his appreciation, and was about to say something else, but when he saw and smelled the food his appetite seemed to get the better of him. We tried the 'business as usual' ploy, as if Apostles were regular visitors to our home. Our visitor had to eat slowly because of some missing front teeth. The gaps gave him a rather comic appearance. Alice looked him over and began to giggle. He loved the turkey, though the knife and fork were difficult. He kept peering at how we were managing the food. Angela quietly passed him a spoon. Wine? The plum pudding was a bit rich for him, I think. Cheese and biscuits (with olives) were a great success. More? Why not! (I was relieved that that stuff I remembered about him knowing how to be abased and how to abound seemed to be true to life.)

After the food, and a couple of cups of very white coffee, he began to steady and to gain in strength. The chocolates were opened. An instant success. As we talked, it seemed that he already knew quite a bit about us. Perhaps not. But he was certainly courteous, thanking us warmly for what he had eaten. He now began to look around the room. My spirits drooped. Here comes the Regulative Principle!

I began to try to convey the significance of what he saw, not very successfully I fear. He was extremely polite. I was struck by that. At one point, after some moments of total silence, I ventured to ask him what he thought about our way of celebrating Christ's birth. He liked the candles. They made him think of meals at home. And the tree took him back to the pines near where he was brought up. And as I explained the Nativity scene set up under the window, he beamed and remarked that he was thrilled whenever Christ was at the centre. The only thing that made him mad was the figure of Father Christmas. 'A god, a god' he seemed to be saying, in a rather grumpy kind of way. I tried to make the connection with Santa Claus, but it did no good.

He was an attentive listener, and picked things up very quickly. But boy, could he talk once he got going. I shall try to give you as much of the rest of our conversation as Angela and I can remember. I've attempted to do this in his own words, but what with his accent and the fact that he sometimes became excited and gabbled so fast, there are some things that we can only remember the gist of. So, no speech marks. To try to make things a bit clearer I've put in some of our questions to him. His quotes from his own words and those of others were made in a very free way, so I’ve taken the liberty of expressing them in the ESV.

We explained that Christmas was part of the 'Church Year'. He could see advantages with that idea. Certainly, he recognized that the cycle of the Christian year keeps people focused on the central things of the faith, and that can't be bad. Yet - and he was very strong on this, gently tapping the coffee table with his fingertips - it could easily give the wrong impression. How so? Because the Church Year is a circle, not a line, he said. His voice down to a whisper, he reckoned that he'd had a hard job in his letters conveying the once-for-all character of Christ's coming. He mentioned several sentences; descended from David according to the flesh; yet for your sake he became poor; who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped; great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh; the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ.

But he seemed to think that none of them were very good at expressing this idea of once-for-allness. That was not his phrase, incidentally. He thought that one of the most satisfactory ways he'd come up with was, when the fullness of time had come. By contrast , whoever had written the letter to the Hebrews, (he did not seem to know who the author was, and not to care), had done a great job. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. He sounded out every word clearly and solemnly. He added, I wish I'd thought of that. Were there tears in his eyes? It was difficult to tell.

You see, he said, - glancing at Alice, who was putting another DVD into her new machine - the Incarnation, like the Cross, cannot be played over and over again. It actually happened. (Alice leaned over and whispered, 'He means that Jesus came in real time. No playback facility!') It won't happen again. Can't do. Christmas...Christmas....Christmas....Nativity scenes....Nativity plays. Doesn't all this repetition make it seem as if you can't quite convince yourselves that it has happened? Are you trying to be persuaded that the very nature of God became flesh by re-running the story, by trying to turn the clock back? And trying to imagine how it was, what it must have been like to be there, on that 'first Christmas'? Gently, he suggested that maybe it has the opposite effect.

At the time he was writing his letters, he went on, there were big problems with the Stoics, who thought that everything recurred. So given enough time, on their view the Incarnation would happen again. So then there was a special need to stress Christ's once-for-allness to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. He went on, forget the Stoics. You probably haven't heard of them anyway. The point to remember is, the Lord's purposes aren't a circle, they're a line. Christmas cannot recur each year, because it cannot return, not even once.

So how do you put it? Angela asked. He said that he thought the best idea he'd come up with - it came to him in a flash, right out of the blue - has at first sight nothing to do with Christmas. When he was writing to the Christians at Rome and trying to motivate them to live properly he'd thought of this: for salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Nearer than when we first believed - there's the line of God's purposes, and we are on it. And so (our visitor seemed to like drawing inferences) nearer than when the Advent occurred. And tomorrow (another inference loomed) our lives will be a day nearer the second Advent, our salvation, and a day further away from the first.

Some have noticed - he went on - that in my writings I don't have much to say about the birth and life and ministry of Jesus. You don't find any references to the manger, or the shepherds, or the wise men. Not even - he seemed to wink at this point, or maybe his eyes twinkled - not even Mary! I butted in, (it was necessary to do this sometimes), Did you know all those details at the time you were writing, then? He was rather surprised by my question. Do you not think we all got to know about Jesus' life and death and resurrection pretty soon after everything was over? Look, he went on, when it was necessary to get down to details, I could and did. There was that serious misunderstanding at Corinth about the resurrection of the dead, and so I had to insist on the historical facts about Jesus, about his resurrection and who saw him afterwards, and so on. When we had the discussions at Ephesus, in the school of Tyrannus, there were lots of questions about Jesus' teaching. Those were great days! I suppose that's why I referred to Jesus' words when I talked to the Ephesian elders at Miletus. But apart from that, and of course the words of institution of the Supper, there's little or nothing else. And when you think of all that stuff I wrote about the death of Jesus and what it means! Yet I did not even mention Judas and Pilate and the two thieves.

Why was that? Well, no one can deny that the writers of the four Gospels have done a great job. What would the point be - apart from giving extra work to New Testament scholars - to add a fifth? Who needs a fifth? (He sounded very Jewish, I remember.) He said that he believed that his task, his calling, as he expressed it, was to place Jesus in history, to try to show how his coming, and his death and resurrection, fitted into God's unfolding purposes, and so what they mean to us who come after. (At this point I could swear he muttered someone's name. But because of his accent, and the sound from the DVD player, we could not quite make it out. We discussed it endlessly afterwards. I thought it was 'Geerhardus', while Angela was adamant that it sounded like 'Griffin' or 'Gaffin'. Anyhow, we were both agreed on what his next words were: 'redemptive - historical'. I remember thinking, What a mouthful!)

I was sure he was about to nod off. But then he jerked awake and wagged a spiny forefinger at us both. Union with Christ, he said, was his big idea. He was disappointed that it does not seem to have caught on. People go on about the birth and death of Christ, about satisfaction and atonement, about justification and sanctification, even about election and predestination, without somehow getting the basic point, the key idea. Union with Christ. A big idea expressed in small words. In your translations of my letters, he said, look how those phrases 'in Christ', 'with Christ' keep coming up. There was that French chap in Geneva, brilliant, devoted to Christ, though rather excitable and bad-tempered. His name escapes me. Cauvin? Calvin? He had the right idea. He got to the heart of what I was trying to say. But not many others have.

When we think about union with Christ, we are taken beyond Christmas;
- at this point I remember he waved his arms around the room in a rather expansive way - what now matters is not only the fact that Christ has come, but that because we are united to Christ we have been clothed in Christ, and we must keep on being clothed in him. So Christ is not only to be admired or celebrated or worshipped, and the details reconstructed. We must not stop there. His voice dropped. I might even say, if you'll allow me, hold onto the details but don't fuss over them. Christ is to be put on. We must wear him. Don't forget that, he said. That's what Christmas (I was rather surprised he kept using this word) must lead to. Not putting on a Father Christmas suit, or wearing Mary and Joseph outfits, but wearing Christ himself. We have Christ's real presence ('real presence' were his very words) not when we look at a model of a baby in a replica manger, or a picture on one of your Christmas cards, but when we put him on.

I'll always remember that text. The timing was perfect, though quite unintended, I'm sure. As he was slowly repeating the passage, But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires, he promptly took another chocolate from the box that Angela held out to him. Then he dozed off. And we crept out to the kitchen to do the dishes.

When we came back, the scrolls were gone, and his chair was empty.

Pardon the Interruption, but . . . I Believe in Santa Claus

by Kevin T. Bauder @ http://www.sharperiron.org/2006/12/24/pardon-the-interuptioni-believe-in-santa-claus/

In The Nick of Time

The apostle Paul was under arrest, being transported to Rome by a military guard. Along the way, his ship put in at the Lycian port of Myra, where the Roman centurion found a different ship that was sailing to Italy (Acts 27:5-6). The book of Acts does not tell how long Paul was in Myra between ships.

Nobody knows when or how the Christian church was established in Myra. Paul had previously ministered in cities near Myra, so perhaps missionaries from one of those churches may have gone to that town. Or perhaps Paul himself was able to do some preaching while waiting for the centurion to locate a ship to take Paul to Italy.

What we do know is that the church in Myra survived until persecution came under the Emperor Diocletian. The Diocletian persecution was the most widespread and deadly harassment of Christians in Roman history. So systematic and thorough was the persecution that the emperor believed he had wiped out Christianity forever. He even minted a coin to commemorate the event.

Well into the Diocletian persecution, the church in Myra found itself without a pastor. Unable to locate a new shepherd (pastors were special targets of the emperor), the church sought counsel from neighboring pastors. These church leaders gathered in Myra to pray and to seek the Lord’s provision of a new bishop for the church. When they had exhausted every alternative, they gave themselves to a night of prayer. They asked God to send His choice as the first person to enter the church building in the morning.

In the church at Myra was a very young man names Nicholas. His parents were wealthy and privileged, and they were also Christians. Somehow they had escaped the persecution. Though no record exists of Nicholas’s conversion, he clearly was reared in the Christian faith. As he approached manhood, many opportunities were open to him in commerce and civil affairs. He sensed, however, that God had something else for him. He did not know what, but he began to pray for the Lord’s leading. Each period of prayer seemed to bring a greater sense of his unworthiness and sinfulness.

After one long night of struggle, Nicholas determined to go to the church to pray. Arriving early in the morning, he was surprised to find the building occupied by pastors from the surrounding churches. These men asked him who he was, and he replied, “I am Nicholas, a sinner.” Delighted with such a humble response, the pastors announced to Nicholas that God had called him to become the next pastor of the church. Nicholas took this as the answer to his prayers and the Lord’s direction for his life.

Though Nicholas had learned the Scriptures from his childhood, he pondered how a young man could pastor a church during persecution. He knew that Christians had to be taught to live by faith—but how could he teach them? The answer was obvious. He had to teach by modeling, and for Nicholas, modeling faith meant living in complete dependence upon God. Shortly after becoming the pastor in Myra, Nicholas gave away all of his wealth and possessions, committing himself publicly to live only by what God provided.

The city of Myra was dedicated to the worship of Diana—not the Roman goddess, but a goddess similar to Diana of the Ephesians. She was a fusion of the worst features of European and Asian deities. Nicholas abominated this goddess, but he was moved with compassion toward the people who ignorantly worshipped her. Once the persecution ended, Nicholas determined to attack this pagan worship directly. He announced publicly that he intended to demolish the temple of Diana. If she was truly a goddess, then she could stop him without human help. Day after day Nicholas carried his tools to the temple. He dismantled the whole structure stone by stone, preaching Christ while he worked. When he stood triumphant among the ruins, many of the people of Myra abandoned their paganism and turned to Christianity.

There is an old story that Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea. Subsequent researches have shown that this legend is probably untrue, but Nicholas was certainly aware of Arianism. This new heresy denied that Jesus was truly God. It insisted that Jesus was the first and greatest of God’s creatures, but that He was not eternal and did not share the divine nature. The task of the Council of Nicea was to answer Arianism and expose it as a perversion of Christianity. Even if Nicholas never attended the council, he certainly agreed with its decisions. He was a true worshipper of Jesus Christ, the God-man and Savior.

Through the years many stories have been told about Nicholas of Myra. Most of these appear to be fabrications, but some might likely be true. One of these concerns a poor man who had three daughters. Because he could provide no dowry, the daughters could not marry. The father determined to sell them into prostitution as they came of age. Nicholas heard about the plan. The night before the eldest daughter was to be sold, the pastor crept to the man’s home and left a bag of gold for her dowry. As each of the daughters came of age, he duplicated this generosity. For the third daughter, however, the father was watching and caught Nicholas in the act of leaving the money. The story is that Nicholas told him about the forgiveness that Christ offers, and the man repented and became a Christian. Incidentally, the symbol of St. Nicholas is still three gold balls, representing the three bags of gold.

Whether the story is true or not, it almost certainly bears the stamp of Nicholas’s character. His generosity was legendary. That is why he became associated in myth with the giving of gifts, and that is why people still give gifts in his memory. Saint Nicholas—Santa Claus—was not a fat man in a red suit who drove a sleigh pulled by reindeer. That character was invented by Thomas Nast and other merchandisers during the late 19th Century. Saint Nicholas was a pastor. He was a man of faith, courage, and generosity. He was a true worshipper of Jesus Christ. Every indication is that he was genuinely a saint, according to the biblical definition of that term.

When children ask if I believe in Santa Claus, I tell them the truth. I most certainly do believe in him! Then I tell them who he was. More importantly, I tell them who he worshipped.

O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright

Ambrose of Milan (4th Century)

Tr. Robert S. Bridges and John M. Neale

O splendor of God’s glory bright,
O Thou that bringest light from light;
O Light of light, light’s living spring,
O day, all days illumining.

O Thou true Sun, on us Thy glance
Let fall in royal radiance;
The Spirit’s sanctifying beam
Upon our earthly senses stream.

The Father, too, our prayers implore,
Father of glory evermore;
The Father of all grace and might,
To banish sin from our delight.

To guide whate’er we nobly do,
With love all envy to subdue;
To make ill fortune turn to fair,
And give us grace our wrongs to bear.

Our mind be in His keeping placed
Our body true to Him and chaste,
Where only faith her fire shall feed,
To burn the tares of Satan’s seed.

And Christ to us for food shall be,
From Him our drink that welleth free,
The Spirit’s wine, that maketh whole,
And, mocking not, exalts the soul.

Rejoicing may this day go hence;
Like virgin dawn our innocence,
Like fiery noon our faith appear,
Nor known the gloom of twilight drear.

Morn in her rosy car is borne;
Let Him come forth our perfect morn,
The Word in God the Father one,
The Father perfect in the Son.

All laud to God the Father be;
All praise, eternal Son, to Thee;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To God the holy Paraclete.Kevin Bauder

This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

It's Christmas -- time to mock the Christians

My Photo
By Frank Lockwood@ http://spirituality.typepad.com/biblebelt/2006/12/its_christmas_t.html

If I wanted to win friends and influence people, I would think long and hard before belittling the nation's majority religion during its holiest season. But every year, without fail, writers launch cheap shots against Christianity -- mocking devout Christians as they celebrate the birth of their Lord.

Newsweek religion writer Lisa Miller's Dec. 18 cover story is one such example. "The World of the Nativity" starts with a groundbreaking discovery: Jesus was conceived out of wedlock and there are nagging doubts about the child's paternity.

Here's the lead: "Sometime around the beginning of the Common Era, a nice Jewish girl comes to her fiance with a problem. She is pregnant; he is not the father... Her explanation, that the baby was conceived by God, must have sounded implausible, desperate, even insane."

Newsweek doesn't buy Mary's explanation for a minute, of course. It also rejects the datekeeping system (B.C./A.D.) that most of us use. And the Bible? What a crock... "On close inspection, the details of the Nativity don't add up particularly well," Newsweek declares. "The birth narrative appears in just two of the four Gospels, Matthew and Luke, and they differ a great deal..."

But Miller's story looks like a puff piece compared to what appeared on our Christmas Eve editorial pages today.

Titled "Jolly Santa has more appeal than Jesus" Ric N. Caric claims in a lengthy op-ed that "the Jesus story is becoming increasingly less attractive and plausible." Caric, a Morehead State University government professor, writes:

"Why have a god who needs and wants to be loved so much that he makes loving him the first law for humanity? Why have a god who cooks up the unlikely plan of tearing his substance apart to create a son who is man and god all in one?

Why make the gruesome sacrifice of that son into the key evidence of the god's love for humanity and belief in that sacrifice humankind's only hope for escaping an eternity of suffering?

Just as there's a big element of masochism in God's sending his son to suffer as evidence of his love, there is a great deal of sadism in God's throwing into the flames of hell anybody who doesn't return his love by believing the whole implausible story.

We have a right to hope for better in our gods."

According to Caric, Jesus is a jerk. Santa, on the other hand, "is one of the few white European figures who translates easily into other cultures," Caric writes.

Perhaps there are readers who enjoy December "Christians are Stupid" editorials , who look forward to the "Experts doubt Jesus rose from the dead" Easter exposes. Maybe there's a market for "Abraham May Not Have Existed" Yom Kippur articles or "Scholars say Muhammad was Sexist" Ramadan centerpieces.

Personally, I prefer not to poke people in the eye -- especially on their high holy days. I'd love to hear what you think.


CIA Reveals Christmas Terror Plot Against the Chunnel

Jason Burke in Paris
Sunday December 24, 2006
The Observer

The Channel tunnel has been targeted by a group of Islamic militant terrorists aiming to cause maximum carnage during the holiday season, according to French and American secret services.

The plan, which the French DGSE foreign intelligence service became aware of earlier this year, is revealed in a secret report to the French government on threat levels. The report, dated December 19, indicates that the tip-off came from the American CIA. British and French intelligence agencies have run a series of checks of the security system protecting the 31-mile tunnel but the threat level, the DGSE warns, remains high. British security services remain on high alert throughout the holiday period.

According to the French sources, the plan was put together in Pakistan and is being directed from there. The plotters are believed to be Western Europeans, possibly Britons of Pakistani descent. The DGSE say that levels of 'chatter', the constant communication that takes place between militants, has not been so high since 2001. Last week Sir Ian Blair, the head of the Metropolitan Police, described 'the threat of another terrorist attempt' as 'ever present' adding that 'Christmas is a period when that might happen'.

'It is a far graver threat in terms of civilians than either the Cold War or the Second World War,' he said. 'It's a much graver threat than that posed by Irish Republican terrorism.'

American security sources told The Observer that the threat was 'sky high'.

The news of the threat to the Channel Tunnel comes as Eurostar trains transport record numbers of passengers heading home for Christmas and as fog continues to affect flights to and from the continent.

More than 8 million passengers travelled on Eurostar trains last year. Staff on the line went on strike earlier this year in protest at what they said were lax security arrangements.

'A successful attack on such an installation would be almost as spectacular as September 11', said one terrorist expert. 'Al-Qaeda and those they inspire are trying everything from low-level strikes to major attacks on critical infrastructure.'

The DGSE report also mentions an al-Qaeda project for a 'wave of attacks in an unidentified European country planned and run from Syria and Iraq'. The period of highest risk is said to be from September 2006 to April 2007.

The detail in which the attacks have been planned in Pakistan will worry British counter-terrorist services. The UK is in a particularly vulnerable position as a result of its close alliance with America, its physical accessibility compared with the US, and its large Muslim minority, many of whom have links with Pakistan.

Osama bin Laden and other key senior al-Qaeda leaders are thought to be based in the tribal territories along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. There is believed to be a steady stream of British militants making their way to the newly reconstituted al-Qaeda bases in the region. More than 400,000 British citizens travel to Pakistan every year. Though the vast majority are visiting family or friends, some have exploited the ease of travel for darker reasons: at least two of the 7/7 bombers spent time in the south-west Asian state.

Last week news reports in America detailed a squad of a dozen English-speaking militants, nine of whom are said to be British who, having sought out the al-Qaeda bases, have now been trained to a high level in terrorist tactics. The group is known as the English Brothers because of their shared language. Apart from the nine Britons, the squad is made up of an Australian and two Norwegians. It was reported that Bin Laden and other militant leaders hope they will lead a new wave of terror attacks on the continent.

Eliza Manningham-Buller, director-general of MI5, recently disclosed that UK intelligence services are monitoring more than 200 networks and 1,600 individuals in Britain. She said that her investigators had identified nearly 30 plots 'that often have links back to al-Qaeda in Pakistan, and through those links al-Qaeda gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here'.

Special report
Terrorism threat to UK

Useful links
UK resilience - Civil Contingencies Secretariat
Full text: the law lords' ruling on the detention of foreign terror suspects (December 2004)
Islamic Human Rights Commission
Liberty human rights organisation
Metropolitan police - counter terrorism section
Ministry of Defence
Red Cross

Bad Christmas Gifts for Your Pastor

The Left Behind Series "Practical Survivors Guide."

A Monopoly Acts 16 "Get out of jail free" card.

A "Begats" Family Tree Chart.

A Christian Supply House "Woman At the Well" water cooler.

A Gospeland Bookstore Fourth Watch Baptistry swimsuit

Golf Club Covers with the 12 Disciples' Faces on Them

The Damascas Road auto fog Light (It'll blind ya).

A bobble-head statue of the apostle Paul for the back of his car.

A LifeWay Dead Sea Bathroom Deodorizer

An Official Cokesbury Hellfire and Brimstone Backyard Grill

A half- size replica of the Popemobile

A rooftop hot tub.

And the Sermon Fodder Number 1 Bad Christmas Gift for Your

Frankincense Aftershave

Handel's Messiah

Hugh Hewitt recently did a three-hour interview with Professor David Allen White on Handel's Messiah. You can listen online to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Apologetics Through Literature

In these three lectures at the Wylciffe Summer School program, Alister McGrath explores the ways in which Christians can use literature to explain and defend the Gospel.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Advent Wreath: The Christ Candle

By Mark Roberts @ http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/advent.htm#dec2405

Today is Christmas Eve. On this day Christians light the fifth candle of the Advent wreath, the Christ candle. In today's post I'm going to put up a version of the Advent candle lighting ceremony we use in my church. The candles signify different dimensions of our Advent waiting. So far we've focused on waiting for our Good Shepherd (week 1), waiting for forgiveness (week 2), waiting with joy (week 3), and waiting for the son (week 4).

Note: Remember, I have written this so it would be accessible to children. Hence the simple language. This is just a guide. Use it as you wish, or let it inspire you to write your own. The whole guide, by the way, is available here.

The Lighting of the Fifth Candle: The Savior is Born!

[Re-light the three purple candles and the pink candle]

In the season of Advent we have used the Advent wreath and its candles to help us get ready for this great celebration of the birth of Christ. When we lit the first purple candle, we asked God to come and be our Good Shepherd. God our Shepherd has come in Jesus Christ! When we lit the second purple candle, we asked God to come and forgive our sins. God has come in Jesus Christ to take our sins and die upon the cross so that we might be forgiven! When we lit the third, pink candle, we felt joyful even in our longing for Christ to come. Christ, who has been born in a manger, will come again in glory to wipe away every tear from our eyes! When we lit the fourth candle, we remembered that Christ would come as a son -- the son of Mary, the Son of David, and the Son of God! This Son has been born! He is Immanuel -- God with us!

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Good Shepherd, Jesus who forgives our sins, Jesus who will come again, Jesus the son of Mary, the Son of David, and the very Son of God!


Dear God, as we light the center candle today, may we celebrate with full joy the birth of your Son, Jesus the Christ. Amen!

Scripture Readings

Hear the Christmas story from Luke 2:1-20:

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Other Christmas reading might include: Micah 5:1-5; Psalm 145

Lighting the Candle

[As someone lights the center, white candle, the following should be read or paraphrased. If you want to "light" the Advent wreath to the right, click on the wick of the white candle.]

We light this candle with great joy and celebration, because Christ is born in Bethlehem. God's Son has come into the world to be our Savior!

Prayer of Hope

Dear God, as we light this candle, we rejoice in the birth of your Son. May we worship him, welcome him, and make room for him in our hearts. O come, let us adore him! Amen!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

An Uncomfortable Christmas Card for Unbelievers Comfortable at Christmas

By Charles Randall Biggs @ http://www.reformationtheology.com/2006/12/an_uncomfortable_christmas_card_for_unbelievers_comfortable_at_christmas.php#more

Each year at this time, I think about how I would like to remind my unbelieving friends and loved ones of the glorious gospel and hope found in Jesus Christ. Seasons like Christmas give us another great opportunity to make the good news of Jesus known to the whole world, and especially to those closest to us.

Sadly however, when Christmas comes and we gather with our unbelieving friends and family, we Christians look into the eyes of our unbelieving friends and family members excitedly telling them of how God has greatly blessed us, and what the true meaning of Christmas is about, only for these glad tidings to be received at best as a nice sentiment that spiritually falls flat in their response to us, or at worst it is received as divisive and ignorant, and a subject to be avoided in our Christmas conversation.

This year I decided to write a letter to those friends and loved ones who love me, but who do not love Christ; this is a letter to friends and family who do not believe. I decided to write an uncomfortable Christmas card for unbelievers comfortable at Christmas.

No one should ever be too comfortable with the truths of Scripture any time of the year! I think it is important for the truths of Scripture to keep believers all uncomfortably ever-depending upon Jesus Christ alone for our righteousness throughout the year (one of the purposes of gospel preaching). I especially think it is good for unbelieving friends and relatives to be uncomfortable this time of year when we celebrate God becoming flesh in order to save those who believe. When unbelievers become comfortable this time of year, it is time to ask ourselves as the Church whether we are speaking and proclaiming the gospel in clear, pointed, penetrating ways as Jesus, John, and Paul preached it.

If you find this letter helpful, and would like to use it yourself in order to send to those whom you love and desire them to know Jesus, I invite you to use it as often as you would like, and to send it to as many as you would like.

Merry Christ,

Pastor Biggs

Dear Friend or Loved One Who Loves Me, but Does Not Love Jesus Christ:

This Christmas, I eagerly and affectionately desire to write to you a different kind of Christmas message. I long to send you good tidings of great joy, and high hopes that your Christmas and New Year will be cheerful and full of good things, but I also want to write to make you as uncomfortable with the Christmas message as possible.

“Why would I do that?” you may ask. “Why would you want someone you love to be uncomfortable by the Christmas message?” Well, Christmas is about more than eating together, mustering up good feelings, enjoying a restful winter holiday, giving and getting presents, and singing songs around the Christmas tree (even when we don’t feel like singing). Christmas is much more than that! Now understand me, you can have a holiday anytime of the year if you want, and if you want to take a holiday at Christmas time, then that is your prerogative, but please don’t feel comfortable with Christmas and Christmas things.

The gospel message of Christmas should greatly frighten all who do not believe and love Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Great and Powerful God and Maker of the universe became flesh and dwelt among us; this is the message of Christmas. This great God who made us all, and to whom we will all be accountable, became one of us in order to make himself fully known. If you want to know God, you find him and understand him in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ; Jesus is the one who reveals God or makes him known in all of his attributes and righteousness (John 1:14-18).

This Christmas, I want you to consider three very special Christmas Bible verses, and I want you to feel very uncomfortable each time you read and hear them until you know the Lord Jesus Christ himself as your Lord and Savior. These three verses will be found this season in great number on church signs, songs you hear sung, and in Christmas cards sent by others to you. In hoping to make you feel uncomfortable, I am not doing this to be mean, or to be angry, or to cause you to be unnecessarily upset with me. I am doing this because I believe your eternal destiny is at stake for not believing upon the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, and I take it very seriously because I love you very much! The Bible says in John 3:18 and 3:36:

John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God….John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

There are only two kinds of people at Christmas: those who believe in the Christmas message, and those who do not believe the Christmas message.

Those who do not believe in Christ the Son, who was sent by God to save sinners, are already condemned. This means that if you are an unbeliever, or one who rejects Christ outright, or merely accepts Christ on your own terms as a good religious teacher, you abide under God’s wrath for your sins at this very moment (John 3:18, 36), and this is not something to take lightly- -but fearfully and uncomfortably until you find your sins forgiven and your rest in Jesus Christ alone. My hope as you read further is that you would feel greatly uncomfortable and convicted by your sins against God and man, and that the powerful Holy Spirit of God would reveal your need, hope, and ultimate and eternal comfort to be found in Christ alone!

With that said, may you never think the same comfortable, mere sentimental “Christmas” thoughts about the following Biblical passages! I am taking three familiar passages, two from Isaiah the Prophet (Isaiah 9:6-7 and Isaiah 40:1-5) and one from the Gospel of Luke. Let’s read together Isaiah 9:6-7:

“For Unto Us a Child Is Born…”

Isaiah 9:6-7: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

This prophecy of Isaiah that is quite familiar and quoted very comfortably during the Christmas season is about the manger ultimately. This prophecy is about a child being born and a son being given for sinners. Notice how this child, this son is described: 1) He shall be a great ruler over all governments (“the government shall be upon his shoulder”); 2) He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace; and, 3) His great rule will increase so that peace will cover the face of the earth and his Kingdom will extend throughout the earth and throughout eternity. He will rule with justice and righteousness forever.

This should only comfort you if you believe upon Jesus Christ, the child, the son who is given for us. Otherwise, this prophecy should greatly threaten your comfortable existence. The first way he is described is a great ruler over all governments. Do you bow before him in service and worship as your king? Do you treat this Jesus Christ as a King, a great and mighty ruler? Do you understand that even though you might not recognize his sovereign rule, he does indeed rule? If you do not obey and serve Christ as King, you are guilty of cosmic treason against the King, and he will judge you for your unrighteous trespassing on property that has been claimed by him as his own, and over which he rules and reigns even now.

Secondly, Jesus is described as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Do you long for someone to guide you through this dark world of sin and misery, giving you a sense of purpose and understanding of who you are and who God is; HE is the Wonderful Counselor to guide and teach you. Do you listen to his counsel; or do you reject it; or are you disinterested in his counsel to you? Jesus came to make known the true God and he said that salvation was a knowledge of the True and Living God found in himself (John 17:1-3). Is he your wise and great Counselor, or do you live life on your terms, your way, according to your puny knowledge?

Jesus is called Mighty God. Do you recognize Jesus Christ, born in a manger of a virgin, from the little town of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem to be God himself for us? Jesus Christ was born as man to reveal God in all his greatness and power to us! Jesus called himself the Great “I AM”, making himself equal with Jehovah God. Jesus claimed to be very God of very God, that is, equal with God. The Apostle John opens his gospel with these words (speaking of Christ as ‘The WORD’): “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Do you acknowledge him as God and Creator of all things? Think of how a Word describes and communicates something. John is saying that Jesus Christ was God’s communication of himself “The Word made flesh” to make his love and grace known (John 1:14).

I beg of you who think of Jesus as a merely another sentimental Christmas icon, don’t come to the manger to peer in and fondle God’s Son unless you are coming humbly as a sinner to bow to him as Lord, to serve and worship him! Do not come to Jesus merely thinking of him as a good teacher, or a nice man who lived and made a bit of a difference in the world. Jesus witnessed of himself, and other Scripture writers witnessed of him that he was the Mighty God; he is nothing less and will accept nothing less than your obedience and worship as God.

Jesus is called Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. As Everlasting Father he shows to us eternal love and care. No matter how much hardship we have endured, no matter how far we have gone from the love of God, and how much we have sinned again him, he receives the humble and repentant back as his children. He has come to save his own, not to condemn those who believe! Do you believe you have sinned against him as a naughty child? Do you believe he is a forgiving Father (despite what kind of earthly father you had, or did not have)? Jesus says he came specifically for the sinners, not the righteous; he came to seek and save the lost! Are you lost? This “Everlasting Father” full of grace and truth has come to heal your wounds and forgive you your sins.

As Prince of Peace, Jesus has come to bring peace with God so that guilty consciences can be silenced by God’s grace and love. Do you long to know the peace with God that only Jesus can bring in reconciling you to the Father through his bloody death? Romans 5:1 says of believers that we receive reconciliation with the Father through Jesus Christ alone. Why? Because Jesus died as a sin offering, taking the wrath of God that sinners deserve upon himself, so that we could have peace with God.

Do you want this peace of God that passes all of your understanding? Not some fragile, temporal and idyllic peace of the world where everyone just “tries to get along” (the impossible!), but an eternal peace with God the Father and with those who are called by his name. Do you understand that accepting this peace causes you to be at enmity with those who do not believe? Jesus brings peace with God for those who believe, but he also divides families in the process. Jesus said that father and son, mother and daughter, and other members of one family will be divided because of the peace he offers. Some will give their all to him, and some will despise him in the same family- -but he comes to bring the eternal peace with God that truly matters and makes us members of his own family.

Jesus’ Kingdom is spoken of as extending throughout the world and throughout eternity. Are you a member of that Kingdom through belief in Jesus Christ? If you do not believe, as part of the display of his righteousness and justice, he will punish eternally in hell those who deny him. The only way and hope for salvation is found in Jesus Christ. Since he is the Great God and King, he calls the shots! If he says that there is only one way to receive eternal life and it is found in him, then he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no man comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6).

If this great God and King says that those who oppose and deny him will be eternally punished and cut off from the grace and mercy of God, then this will occur because the mouth of the Lord has spoken. The Book of Revelation says when he returns it will be as a Mighty Warrior and as God Almighty to save and redeem his own of this world of sin and misery and to punish with fire those who do not believe (Revelation 19:11-16). This is not a picture of a baby in a manger, but of a warrior on a white horse full of the righteous and just wrath of Almighty God!

Repent now before it is too late. But please, stop merely thinking of Jesus as just another nice religious teacher, and baby Jesus as another American Christmas icon, and accept him as Lord and Savior. We shall now look at another popular text of Scripture from Isaiah 40:

“Comfort, Comfort My People…”

Isaiah 40:1-5: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

This is another famous portion of Scripture that has been made famous by Handel’s ‘Messiah’, but I beg you not to get too comfortable with it. Rather, heed and hear it’s message! It is good to be uncomfortable in God’s presence in order that perhaps through the work of the Holy Spirit and humility, you might seek after God in the face of Jesus Christ and find true and lasting comfort in his saving and loving arms- -but do not reject him!

Notice how this prophecy of Isaiah begins with words of comfort. This seems to be the opposite of what I am trying to do in my Christmas letter you might think. But notice something important: the comfort that God wants Isaiah to speak is address to his people. God says to comfort “my people” and to speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and from this Old Testament perspective, to speak to Jerusalem, meant to speak to those who were confessing to be God’s people. The sad news is that Jesus came to his own in Jerusalem, but many did not receive him. Those who received him in Jerusalem and in other parts of the worlds were saved, and were called sons of the living God, and were those to whom words of comfort could be spoken (John 1:9-12).

God, the living God, Creator of Heaven and Earth speaks through his Scripture. There are no more prophets like Isaiah, but Isaiah’s words are still in the Bible for us, and when we speak or declare these words, it is God speaking to us (Heb. 4:1-11). Is God speaking tenderly to you through these words? Do you find comfort in these words?

For these words were written as preparatory for those who confessed faith in God to be eagerly awaiting and eagerly watching for a voice, one calling in the wilderness to prepare the way of the LORD, in order for the LORD to come and make his glory manifest all over the earth. The voice that was prophesied in Isaiah was John the Baptist (Matthew 3), and John testified and witnessed to Jesus, who was God come in the flesh. The words of comfort here were for those eagerly awaiting and anticipating the arrival of God in the flesh, who were those who believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who believe in God’s Christ can truly take comfort as his people.

Do you believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ who has come? Do you await the Lord Jesus’ coming? Then you should be uncomfortable in the presence of God and His Christ. This passage in Isaiah goes on to say that the glory of God shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it. The Apostle John writes in John 1:18 that we have “beheld his glory” that is, the glory of God was revealed in the face of Jesus Christ (John 1:14-18). Do you see God’s glory in the testimony of Jesus Christ found in the Scriptures? Jesus says that blessed are those who saw him and believed, but even greater blessings await those who do not see yet believe (John 20). In the Bible, we see the glory of God (that is all of who and what God is) in Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is your only hope of comfort and source of joy in this present evil age, as well as in the world to come. Do not make this prophecy a prophecy that is just part of the make up and background music of Christmastime. Let this prophecy make you feel greatly uncomfortable, and seek comfort in God alone. God speaks comfort to HIS PEOPLE- -those who receive the Lord Jesus Christ—not those who reject him selfishly.

And for those who are part of the Christian Church, who confess Christianity as their religion. Do you hope in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation? Are you comforted by Christ and something you have done for him as the basis or source of your salvation? Only in Christ alone will you find the righteousness of God that God requires in order to be saved and redeemed from death, hell, and the devil.

Remember also for those who are outwardly Christian in name. This comfort was written for those in Jerusalem who confessed their belief in God. When Christ came however, many of them rejected him because he was not the Savior they desired. Do you long for Christ’s return as the Christ that is revealed in Scripture? Do you believe in Christ alone not trusting merely in the fact that “Jesus is alright with you” and that perhaps the Christian religion seems the best option or choice for you among many good religious out there? Or, is belief upon Jesus Christ your only hope of eternal life, the very revelation of God’s glory and righteousness, and the one you hope in daily in order to be saved from hell?

“Would Someone Tell Me What Christmas is All About?!”

Finally, we shall turn to Luke 2. Growing up as an unbeliever, I was thankful for the opportunity every year to hear Linus Van Pelt in Charles M. Schultz’s ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ broadcast on CBS, to hear the gospel good tidings of Jesus born in a manger. If you remember the cartoon, Charlie Brown the main character, while unsuccessfully trying to direct a Christmas play, yells out in great frustration: “Would someone please tell me what Christmas is all about!”

His friend Linus asks the lights to be dimmed, and steps forward into the spotlight, to declare the gospel of hope for all those who would believe. I remember believing sentimentally in what Linus was saying when I was a child, but it was not until later that I truly believed the truth of what Linus (and Luke) were saying in Luke 2! May you also come to understand this as more than a quotation from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ and a sentimental Christmas wish- -and come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, the babe in the manger!

Luke 2:8-16: And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.

Notice in this passage that when the angels appeared with this great and glorious news it caused sinful shepherds to quake in their boots at this vision in the dark night sky. The angel of the Lord tells them (and the entire world) not to fear because they bring glad tidings, or gospel good news from God himself! In order to find peace and hope they were to go to a manger, and in that manger they would find eternal hope in a baby. He was a Savior and was Christ the Lord.

What does this mean? It means that the little baby in Bethlehem’s stable was a Savior of sinners and an Anointed One full of God’s Spirit to save and renew those enslaved by sin and misery. A savior is one who can redeem, or purchase back from slavery, and Jesus said that he came to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus as Savior came to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). As an Anointed One (which is the translation of ‘Christ’ from a Greek word; Christ is not his last name!), Jesus is one full of the Spirit of God, able to save the lost, able to renew them by His Spirit, able to lay down his life in order to take it up again for them in resurrection, and able to take away all the guilt and pollution in them because of their sins and unrighteousness.

This was great news but it was not for everyone, and so once again please stop merely sentimentalizing this passage, and remember to whom it is addressed specifically. Don’t get me wrong, this message should be proclaimed to the whole world; this message of this baby in the manger is God’s only hope for peace, hope, and love for mankind, and this is to be declared to as many as possible.

But the actual point of this message, that is, the message as a message that makes a difference for a weary world as far as the curse is found, is the message addressed to those with whom God is pleased (Luke 2:14). There have been other translations of this passage, but this is the best one. God is saying that there is peace on earth and goodwill toward men in Christ alone! Please do not lie to yourself (or God), and pretend to think that this message of good tidings and cheer, and peace on earth is for those who would deny and reject the Lord Jesus Christ!

God is saying through the angel here that there is true peace found among those whom he is pleased. God is pleased when men and women no matter how wicked their sins, or how hopeless their lives, believe upon the Son he sent to be Savior and Christ, who came to dwell with man, being born in a manger.

Jesus is the one who came to save us and deliver us from our sins. Do you know of the hope that only Christ can give? Do you long to know how to be right with God and the world? Are you tired of each Christmas getting a glimpse of what it is all about only to find yourself rejecting him once again?

This Christmas receive the Lord Jesus Christ. As Savior of sinners he does not require you to be righteous first (he will make you righteous later)! All that he requires is that you believe and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your only Savior and hope.

This is the message of good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people throughout the earth who believe! Jesus came to be born for you, to live the law of God perfectly for you; Jesus came to die a terrible death on a heinous cross for your sins, and he came to be raised for your justification (or your being declared righteous and no longer condemned before God!).

Do you believe?

If you do not believe, you have every right to be uncomfortable this Christmas! The wrath of God abides on you; you are in serious danger. You should not be comfortable at Christmas or any other time of the year! Repent of your sins! And believe the good news of Jesus!

Hear the words of Jesus (and I pray with every fiber of my being that you can hear):

“Come to me, all of you who are burdened by the commands of God, and of the uncomfortable feeling found in sermons about Jesus and sin, and who feel like a world of trouble and sin is on your shoulders and that it is killing you…

Come to me, and I will give you rest!

Come to me, and I will give you rest!

Come to me, and I will give you rest!

My burden is easy, and my yoke is light!” – Jesus says.

This means that belief upon the Lord Jesus Christ will give you the peace for which you so desperately long, and the good news and glad tidings of Christmas will be truly yours. But don’t seek comfort until you believe and bow before the babe in the manger in worship and obedience because you have recognized that he is God with us, and if God is with us, he is for us who believe!