Well, since 3 of my 4 readers have recently complained because I haven't posted in awhile, I thought I would take a moment and post some thoughts. There is no necessary order to any of these, just 'thoughts i'm thinking':
1. As I sit in the library of my alma mater today, with snow covering the ground, I have reflected on many fond memories of my college days. I was pretty young and relatively immature then (and not much has changed since then, except i'm gettting older!), I am grateful to God for the way He has guided my life. Not everything has turned out at I would have planned, but He has made things work out. I've got so many friends still left in my college town. I even went to my old church last night to watch their Christmas play. It was a blessing to see old friends.
2. I'm often times caught off guard when I really realize that God is never caught off guard; He is never surprised by the events of our lives. Even when I don't know what to do, or when to do what I don't know what to do, I am trusting that God is working things out for my good. If anything, the events of my life in the last few months have been a test case in trusting God in the big and small things (Matthew 7.11 comes to mind at this point).
3. As I get older, the more frustrated I am with the commercialization of Christmas. Christians make such a fuss about "keeping Christ in Christmas" (in response to stores that announce "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas") but they fail to see their own inconsistencies regarding the holiday. I suspect I have a more radical view than others (which I am afforded due to my lack of wife or kids), but I see no need for Santa Clause or buying presents. I can't imagine how it is 'Christ-honoring' to spend hundreds of dollars each Christmas buying presents for family and friends. I'm not opposed to giving gifts, per se. However, I think Christmas has become too much about giving to ourselves and not enough about giving to others. Don't get me wrong. I think it's fine to buy a present or two, but I've changed my outlook on things recently. I've bought a few presents for my family, but told them not to buy me anything. I'm tired of the 'expense' of Christmas. The "joy" of shopping is a hoax and it seems that there is too much 'extra-curricular" ties to celebrating the Incarnation.
4. More and more I'm grateful for an obedient local church that seeks to minister to the community at large instead of being satisfied with hearing decent/good preaching and demanding that the pastor come and visit the sick and hospitalized. I pray that more chuches in my convention wake up to the fact that the world is moving past us and, for the most part, doesn't care about what we do unless we are actively engaging them outside of our own buildings.
5. Finally, I hope that this year I will have a greater understanding of Christmas. It has to be the most miraculous event in all of history. How did the Divine add mortality to Himself? How did the incorporeal take on a body? Why do I sometimes fuss when I am treated with guile when the King submitted to being born in a manger and sleeping in a trough? Will I remember that I was not worthy to receive the benefits of His Incarnation and then be motivated to share His story with others who are equally unworthy?
I'd like to hear your thoughts on Christmas. What are you thankful for? Do you agree with my assessment on Christmas?
May the King reign supreme in your heart and, as a result, cause you to celebrate His birth with more joy and thanksgiving than ever before. "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2.11)
I am not sure what the next steps will be. However, I do know that this is an issue worth taking a stand over and a battle worth fighting. I pray that these issues will quickly be resolved, but my convictions cannot allow me to stand by while some try to redefine Baptists in ways I deem unbiblical and unfaithful to our historic beliefs.
Since mid-June, I've been in nothing short of an' emotional funk', to say the least. Those of you who know me well have watched me progress up and down through various stages of depression. I don't wish to recount the reasons, for some are very private. However, in addition to private hurts also comes the flooding of my city, New Orleans. I, like everyone, was forced out and, like many, lost everything I own (save a bit of laundry, a few books, and my computer). I was not able to say goodbye to my friends. The pictures of my apartment and church are devastating, to say the least.
Now, I live in an efficiency apartment in Ft. Worth. Don't get me wrong, I have everything I need but, as they say, "Life ain't what it used to be." I don't go to bed until about 2 or 3 AM every night and then I don't get up until 10 or 11 AM. In addition, I usually take one or two naps each day (totally around 1-2 hours total). I have all the resources I need for study, being as I'm only 2 blocks from SWBTS's library. I just can't get motivated. I laid in bed for over an hour last night just thinking about how things have turned out and, on some level, how I might have been able to change some things.
This morning, though, in my time of Bible reading, I chose to read Psalm 46, said to be Luther's favorite psalm (but that's another story). The text is as follows:
1. God is our refuge and strength, a very present (or, well proved) help in trouble. 2. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3. though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah 4. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. 6. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah 8. Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. 9. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. 10. "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" 11. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Time does not permit me, this morning, to make comments about every verse. However, I would be remiss if I said nothing about how this passage works to assuage my fears and concerns. First, there seems to be an overwhelming idea that, where God is present, there is no need to fear (v 1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 11). Despite circumstances, whether the mountains do or do not shake, whether in war or in peace, God is in control. Second, nothing goes unnoticed with God. It's not as if he has TiVo, so he can rewind time and catch up on all the stuff he missed while he was at work. There is nothing that happens without his knowledge. Third, he is a shelter for those who need protection (v 1, 7, 11). As an evacuee from New Orleans, I know all about needing someone to provide a shelter and refuge. The difference, though, is that I don't have to drive across the state, or across many states for that matter, to seek refuge with him. According to v 1, he is a 'very present help' when we face trouble. An alternate reading is that he is a 'well proved help'. Either way, we know God is trustworthy during times of trouble. Even in times of distress, He is worthy of our devotion.
In the end, I am reminded of Ps 27.14 "Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" May God be your stronghold today, in the face of diversity.
CNN.com is reporting that a man in Rhode Island has decided to do something different this year for his Christmas decorations. Instead of a manger scene, or even Santa and some elves, he's decided to post near life-sized posters of Paris Hilton in his yard. It's causing quite a stir.
Although I don't think this is right, I find it to be very creative and funny. The sad part, though, was the reaction of one of the townspeople, Ron Raffonelli. When asked what he thought of the display, he said he "would be upset if his young grandchildren came to associate Christmas with [a] naked woman. He'd prefer the kids to think of Santa Claus. After all, Raffonelli said, 'He's been around longer.'" (quote taken from the CNN.com article).
Two things bother me. First, here's another example of people missing the historical, and primary, meaning of Christmas. It's not about Santa or presents (see here for a great poem about the consumerism of Christmas), but about the birth of Jesus, Son of God, Messiah, Lord. I don't expect the world to trust Jesus, but it would be nice to hear non-believers admit that the reason Christmas exists, at least historically, is to commemorate Jesus' birth. Second, and equally disterbing, is Raffonelli's comment that Santa should be the 'poster boy' of Christmas instead of Paris Hilton because "He's been around longer." Again, no respect shown for history or religion. I'm no expert on this subject, but I'm pretty sure Santa doesn't pre-date the pre-existant Second Person of the Trinity. In addition, he doesn't even pre-date the Incarnation.
Ah, just frustrating to see such ignorance. Anyways, have a Happy Jesus Birthday (maybe that's what I'll call it from now on, instead of Christmas) and spend your money on missions instead of cd's, Ipods, and X-box's.
I woke up this morning and heard a strange sound. It was raining outside, which is unusual for this part of the country (Ft. Worth, TX). Then I realized that it was cold last night and that there might be some snow on the ground.
Sure enough, I peered through the window to see snow/sleet falling from the sky. What a beautiful, and unexpected, sight.
Ok, so there isn't a whole lot of snow, but something is better than nothing!
Let me encourage you to take a moment and email him. I already did today. As President of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, he could always use our prayers and support. However, during such a time as this, he could use as much encouragement and support as he can get.
I know that during these last few months, as an evacuee from New Orleans, I have benefitted greatly just knowing that people care about me. My spirits are always raised when I know people are praying for me. I suspect he would feel the same right now.
If you are uninformed about the situation with Dr. Rankin, the following links to here, here, and here should provide some background into what is going on. Most of the time I'm proud to be a Southern Baptist. On rare occasions, and this is one of them, I am almost ashamed.
An AP article today noted that many megachurches will be closed on Sunday, December 25. Of all of the days in the calendar year to be 'closed', it's shocking to me that many churches are canceling services on THE DAY chosen to commemorate the birth of it's founder, Jesus. Even more appalling are the reasons for closure. Here is a small quote from the article:
Cally Parkinson, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, said church leaders decided that organizing services on a Christmas Sunday would not be the most effective use of staff and volunteer resources. The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was 1994, and only a small number of people showed up to pray, she said. "If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don't go to church, how likely is it that they'll be going to church on Christmas morning?" she said.
This bothers me on multiple levels. First, the last time I checked, no NT writer ever made mention of canceling a missionary trip because it wouldn't be 'the most effective use' of resources. What about gospel proclamation? How does that weigh into the equation? Have we become so consumer oriented that we are more concerned with efficiency than with obedience. I'm not trying to be legalization about this. I don't think canceling services on Christmas will bring judgment upon churches. Their reasoning, however, that it is not efficient to be open is less than biblical or persuasive.
The second problem I have with this statement is Parkinson's misunderstanding of the purposes of the church gathered and the church scattered (I don't fault only her on this; this is a categorical mistake most, if not all, seeker-sensitive churches as well as many other churches make). It is not the purpose, as I see in the NT, of the church gathered to 'reach the unchurched'. The audience of every NT document (barring the gospels, Acts, and Philemon) is either to a local church, to a pastor/elder of such a church, or contains letters to churches within the larger letter (i.e., Revelation). In all of these settings, the primary exhortation is directed towards believers. The letters, being written to the churches, show no hint of a mixed congregation of believers and non-believers. There seems to be absent any idea that the church is expected to be full of non-believers on a week to week basis. Evangelism is one of the expectations for the church scattered, not for the church gathered.
Does this mean unbelievers are unwelcome in a weekly worship service? By no means. However, to structure an entire philosophy of ministry around attracting the unchurched seems to make for an uneven balance, not to mention is totally absent from the NT. If churches exhort believers during times of gathering, the disciples will naturally make evangelism part of their daily interaction with the unchurched: witnessing at work, the gym, or the grocery store. To close churches on Christmas is to miss the point of the entire gathering of the church, for the celebration of the coming, obedient sinless life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
Who cares if the lost won't come to church that day? I'm sure I'll receive some criticism for this, but the church shouldn't concern itself with how many lost people come every week. Can they come, Yes. Should we cater our schedule to them, No. The church is comprised of those who have surrendered to Christ. Times of worship are for our encouragement, prayer, fellowship, and communion with Christ. Worship is not for lost people. Churches need to understand the differences in mission/purpose between the church gathered and the church scattered.