Thursday, December 29, 2005

My Rant against "The Story"

Last night I was sitting and skimming through the newest issue of Relevant Magazine. Frankly, I consider it a complete waste of time. I could have been doing something more edifying or more entertaining - like watching Deal or No Deal, which isn't at all edifying or all that entertaining. Get the point. Anyway, I came to pg. 31, and that is what set off this rant - an add for the new TNIV (Today's New International Version) edition called The Story...

First, I'm not at all a fan of the TNIV which has adopted gender neutral language. It replaces words like "man" with "human beings" and seeks to elimate male-oriented language like "brother", "father", "his/him", etc. You can read great critiques of this at I particularly recommend an article called "Small Changes in Meaning can Matter: the Unacceptability of the TNIV" by Vern Poythress.

Second, this particular edition of the TNIV "Condensed into thirty accessible, it [The Story] reads more like a novel than your typical religious text". The real issue I have with this, besides condensing the Bible, is the idea that the Bible is a "typical religious text". God's word stands apart from every other "typical religious text". It is living, powerful, inspired and innerant. It is our guide to life and salvation. It reaveals God's glory in the person of Jesus Christ. It doesn't need to be repackaged and sold!

Despite the above evidence to the contrary, those aren't the things that set me off. What really made me mad was the catch phrase at the bottom of the add "This isn't your Grandmother's Bible". Ok, to begin with, it's a bad rip off of an Oldsmobile add campaign a few years ago - "This isn't your grandfather's oldsmobile". Come on. Be a little original.

More importantly, the phrase conveys something very disturbing - that the Bible our grandparents used, or great grandparents used, isn't relevant anymore. It's old and worn out, out of style, out of step with the times, kind like their oldsmobiles. I see something very disturbing among the Emerging Church Movement - disregard, sometimes bordering on disdain, for the faith of those who came before us. My grandparents and great grandparents generation fought battles of the faith (probably more successfully than we are fighting them now), took new ground (at greater cost), brought the gospel to new people groups (with less help from technology), loved God and knew their Bibles (the old out dated ones). I think we should be thankful for their committment to the truths contained in their old worn out Bibles.

Moreover, I can't stand the idea that we need to make the Bible relevant (done of course by adding a new trendy looking cover that you can get in flourescent green or pink, or metal!). The Bible is relevant precisely because it doesn't change with the culture. If it changed to be relevant to our culture today, it wouldn't be relevant to our kids twenty or thirty years from now when the culture shifts yet again. It is relevant because it is timeless truth. These truths are life changing, soul saving, God glorifying, and church edifying truths. They were true for my grandmother, and my great grandmother (who started the church with her husband that my father was brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in, who subsequently shared his love of God and Christ with his family - meaning me). If we hope to have impact on the world, that hope better not hinge on new marketing (or ripped off marketing). It better hinge on God's Spirit doing something new and tremendous through the proclamation of his timeless word!

Let me just say, if it isn't my grandmothers bible, I don't want it. Thank you very much!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Christ in the Carols - Away in a Manger

Ok, well I didn't post nearly as much as I would've liked to. I got busy writing the C-Group study for next semester. However, Christmas Eve the third verse of Away in a Manger stuck out to me. Frankly, Away in a Manger is probably my least favorite Christmas Carol, but that third verse is incredibly meaningful...

Here it is:

Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay,
Close by me forerever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all thy dear children in thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven to live with the there.

Have you ever meditated on this life as a fitting for heaven. Scripture tells us repeatedly to take off, or put off, the old self and our sinful natures (Eph 4:22; Col 3:9). In return, we are to put on our new self with it's godly passions (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). In other places, we are told to put on Christ himself (Rom 13:14; Gal 3:27). The imagery is of shedding old dirty clothes and putting on clean fresh ones. What I find incredible though is that the clothes aren't altered to fit us, we are transformed to fit into the clothes. We are becoming like Christ who we have put on (Rom 8:29). And, as the song reminds us, this is one of the greatest blessings God could bestown upon his children.

Christ in the Carols - Joy to the World

There are a few Christmas songs I wish we could sing all year long, not because I love them so much and want the sentimentality of them all year long, but becasue they're really not about Christmas. One of those songs is Joy to the World. I love the song, but if it's about Christmas, its as much about second advent of Christ - his return...

Here's the words:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Do you see the second advent here? A King reigning, creation singing, the curse of sin undone, blessings flow as far as the curse is found! I love it!

Christ in the Carols - O Come O Come Emmanuel

Hi all. I drove to work in the midst of a little snow squall, which to be honest, wasn't all that fun. It took a long time. But now that I'm in the comfort and extreme warmth of my office looking out, it looks real pretty.

Anyway, last night we had a small group over to our house and we were talking about our favorite Christmas Carols. I got to thinking it might be a cool thing to post some of the lyrics to a few great carols and talk about the imagery that they contain. These old hymns are so rich and full of great theology, and great poetic imagery.

Personally, my favorite Christmas carol is "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". Partly I like the tune, but more so because each verse is so rich in symbolism and biblical imagery...

Here's the words:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

This song really draws upon the theme of Jesus as the Son of David heavily. The Rod of Jesse (who was David's father), the Root of Jesse's tree, and the Key of David all draw upon this theme. God had covenanted with David that he would establish David's throne forever and ever (2 Samuel 7: 16). This song reminds us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise - a king from the line of David who's rule is without end!

Jesus draws upon this theme in Matthew 22:41-46: "Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of David." 43 He said to them, "How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

"'The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet'?

45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?" 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions." ESV

Jesus was certainly the Son of David, but not only the Son of David, also the Son of God. The Son of David would also be David's Lord, because the Son of David, the Messiah, was the Son of God, God in the flesh, Emmanuel - God with us.

Delighting in Jesus

Yesterday afternoon I was listening to a good friend of mine preach a sermon on Isaiah 42. My friends name is John and he shares my heart for God. Actually, I share his heart. He had it first and shared it with me, and I am forever indebted to him for that. He was preaching on a totally different passage, but saying many of the same things I struggeled to say Sunday night. In Isaiah 42:1 God says of his Son "My chosen one in whom my soul delights..." So John asked his congregation, and I pose the same question to you, "Do you delight in Jesus as much as God does?"...

Of course that's a rather unfair question, but as John reminds us, as I stated Sunday night, it is one of our primary tasks as Christians to learn to delight in Jesus like God does.
John asked another very penetrating question: "What gets me more excited than Jesus? What would I rather be doing than worshipping Jesus?" Don't just pass over that. Sit with it and ask the Spirit to work with you through that question. It's important cause it reveals what our hearts and souls actually delight in. Would you rather be at a movie, rather at a ball game, rather be with your girlfriend or boyfriend. What excites you? Does hearing of the beauties of God as revealed in Jesus excite you?

One more quote from John. John says concisely, "In every way you need him, Jesus is God's perfect Savior". I would encourage you to sit and read Jonathan Edwards sermon entitled "Excellecies of Christ" (available at He does an incredible job showing us why Jesus is a perfect friend, a perfect savior, a perfect and delight.

Edwards was more than Hellfire and Brimstone

I did you all a huge disservice by propagating the stereotype of Edwards as being all hellfire and brimstone when I drew so heavily from his imagery in Sinners in the Hands of and Angry God. Edwards talked about much more than wrath and hell, but becasue that is the only sermon most of us have read, that's all we think of when we think of Edwards...

Edwards preached amazing sermons on God's love, heaven, charity, the beauty of Christ. In fact, he preached amazing sermons on all biblical truth, including God's wrath. Did he speak more about God's wrath and hell than we do? Yes. But that is no fault of his, it is a fault in contemporary evangelicalism. Edwards was balanced. We are the ones out of balance, neglecting these vital biblical truths.

What makes Edwards sermons so amazing, partly, is his use of vivid imagery. He paints incredible pictures using words. That makes his sermons on heaven and Christ wonderfully appealing, and it makes his sermons on God's wrath and hell terrifying.

Please read something by Edwards, something other than Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Here is a link to one of my favorites - The Excellency of Christ (ok, i couldn't get the link button to work, so I'll type it in and you can cut and paste:


Christ and the Kingdom of God

Sunday night I mentioned a concept that I thought I should say more on. I mentioned that with the person of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God broke into human history. Prior to Jesus' coming, their existed on kingdom on earth - the kingdom of this world, also called in various places, the kingdom of darkness. But since the time of Jesus, the kingdom of God has been present, though not yet consumated. These two kingdoms exist in parallel - the weeds grow with the wheat.

Both Matthew and Luke record an account of John the Baptist sending messengers to Jesus to ask him a very important question - "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Luke 7:19). Think about this for a minute. John was in prison. He was about to loose his head at the hands of Herod. He had proclaimed some time earlier that Jesus was the Lamb who would take away the sins of the world. Why now does he question that Jesus is the "one who was to come"? I think the answer has to do with John's situation. He is in prison, about to die. And that puzzles him a little bit. John must have wondered "how could I be in this situation if Jesus really is the One, the Messiah, the King of the Jews. Certainly, if he was, then he wouldn't let a faithful servant like me suffer like this". I can empathize with the Baptists thoughts here.
What is very important is that we understand Jesus' answer to this question. Let me quote Luke 7:22-23 "...Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." (NIV).

What does this mean? Why didn't Jesus just say, "yes, I am the one to come"? Jesus, in this passage was quoting from Isaiah 35:5-6 and Isaiah 61:1. What is important about these passages is that they are about the Kingdom of God coming. In chapter 35 Isaiah speaks of Zion being a place Eden like. The blind see, the mute talk, the lame jump, the deaf hear - but more than that, the desert blooms, the glory of God is present, no ferocious beasts are in it, the Way of Holiness runs through it, and everlasting joy replaces morning and weeping. In chapter 61 the prophet speaks of the "year of the Lord's favor". He speaks of the good news being proclaimed to the poor, the binding up of the broken hearted and freedom for captives. In the same context he talks of it as a day of God's vengeance on his enemies, but also of the everlasting joy of the redeemed.

So why would Jesus quote these passages in response to John's question? Because Jesus was showing John that, yes, he was the one that was to be expected and that in his person, the Kingdom of God that Isaiah spoke of had broke in to human history. The age to come was now present, not in its full and consummated form, but really and truly present in the ministry of Jesus and his followers.

Jesus likened the kingdom to a mustard seed. Though small, it grows into a large tree. The kingdom, though it started small has been advancing and growing. We are then, citizens of this kingdom, but alien residence in the world. We live both in this age and in the age to come. But what is tremendous is that we have tasted and experienced the power of the age to come.

I challenge you to think with me about what kingdom power and kingdom living looks like in the 21st century. What should we look for? What should we expect? What should we do? These aren't just theological questions - they are questions about what the Christian life looks like - what our lives are suppose to look like!

Lessons from the Little Drummer Boy

Ok, so it's getting to be that time of the year. I don't know why, but I have been in the Christmas 'spirit' for weeks now. Maybe it has something to do with being in a new home and wanting to celebrate our first Christmas in B-town. Don't know, but I was listening to Christmas music the other day and one of my favorite little tunes came on - the Little Drummer Boy. As I listened something struck me - we all, everyone of us, can identify with the little drummer boy. Here's the text of the song (without all the Pa rum pum pum pum's) The Little Drummer Boy
Come they told me
A new born King to see
Our finest gifts we bring
To lay before the king
So to honor Him
When we come

Little baby
I am a poor boy too
I have no gift to bring
That's fit to give our King
Shall I play for you
On my drum

Mary nodded
The ox and lamb kept time
I played my drum for Him
I played my best for Him
The He smiled at me
Me and my drum

How is it that we are to identify with the little drummer boy? Well, we are all called to give our finest gifts in worship to the king. But, we are poor people with no gifts to bring that are fit to give such a heavenly King. All that we have, we have been given. Our responses in worship, service, love, etc. are done in the power that Christ has given us. The breath we use to sing, the strength we use to serve, even the love we have are all gifts from God (Acts 17:25).

What we offer in worship does not find its source in us. Ultimately, our worship and service and love finds its source in God. Matt Redman captures this truth in one song of his album Facedown. The song is called Gifted Response:

This is a gifted response
Father we cannot come to You by our own merit
We will come in the name of Your son
As He glorifies You
And in the power of Your spirit

We have come to something so mysterious
Too deep for minds to comprehend
Through the open door
Where the angels sing
And the host of heaven are antheming...

And we'll sing the glory of Your name
Celebrate the glories of Your grace
We will worship You, We will worship You
And we'll make Your praise so glorious
Singing songs of everlasting praise
We will worship You, we will worship You

Lets move away from the mindset that we are giving to God something that he needs. We are called to give God glory, but it's not glory he lacks. We simply reflect back to him the glory that is emanating from him. We are called to serve him, but in the power and Spirit he provides. We are called to love him, but with a new heart he places in us. This a humbling situation to be in, but it is a God honoring one. We simply offer back to God what he has blessed us with!

worship - the most theological thing we do

We often think of worship apart from theology. Worship is singing songs that move us emotionally, stir us, inspire us, etc. But worship is the most theological, theocentric thing we ever do!

What do I mean?

When I say that worship is the most theological, theocentric (God-cenetered) thing we do, I mean that it is focused entirely on God. It flows out of an understanding and deep love for who God is. If you don't know much about God, your worship will be shallow. The deeper one's knowledge of God, the more passionate the worship will be. FW Faber, a Catholic theologian, has said well, “Deep theology is the best fuel of devotion; it readily catches fire, and once kindled it burns long”. Every once and a while you can hear someone say, "I don't need that theology, just let me love and sing about Jesus" (maybe they don't say it exactly like that, but that's whet they mean). I can't imagine saying that to my wife. "Honey, I love you, but I don't want to know you any better". That's not love. Love wants to know the object of its affection more fully, more intimately. Worship flows out of this knowledge.

Moreover, I believe worship is the most theological, theocentric thing we do because it has no application, nor is it a means to any end. Preaching has application. Bible study has a goal. Evangelism is a means. But not worship. Worship is the end goal of all these things. There is no application. There is no desired outcome other than God be worshipped. In that way, it is entirely, at least it should be entirely, focused on God. It's not about outreach. It's not about instruction. Its not about ministering to people or inspiring them. Its all about, from beginning to end, God! Other things may happen, indeed, other things will happen. People will be inspired. As we sing great theological hymns, people will be taught. People will see the passion and be drawn to God. No doubt. But these are not the GOAL of worship.

In this way, worship is entirely unique. The missionary or evangelist or teacher can not claim their ministries are an end unto themselves. Think about that for a minute. If evangelism was an end, then when someone asked you why you witnessed, you would have to answer "so that the person who I witness to will accept Christ and then turn into a witnesser who will lead other to accept Christ and become witnessers who will lead others to Christ and to become witnessers, etc, etc...." There is not end point, no terminus if missions/evangelism is the chief end. But its not. Worship is. We lead others to Christ so that God will be worshipped! Period, end. The same could be said of teaching, preaching, fellowship, etc. They are not ends, because knowledge and community are not ends, only means to an end.

All we do is to bring honor and glory to God - that is worship. That is the chief end of man, and of Christ's church.