Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Sobering Thought: "Were death not a reality, Christmas would not be necessary"

Carl R. Trueman, who is the Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, posted "A Merry Pascalian Christmas!  over at "First Things". In it he points to the sobering reality underlying the awesomeness of Christmas.
Perhaps the irony of Christmas is that, in its current form, it has become one of the focal points of the culture of distraction, which Pascal so ably critiqued. It is all about consumption, which is just another form of distraction and diversion. It gives us a baby Jesus, helpless and conveniently trapped in a manger, a Christ who is just one more manageable commodity. Ironically, the real message of Christmas is the exact opposite: not to distract us from death but to point us toward death, and then its destruction in Christ. Were death not a reality, Christmas would not be necessary.
 To support the work of "First Things", here is a link to their donation page.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Broken Toys

Most of us can remember Christmas mornings as a child. It is hard to reproduce in our mature hearts the eager anticipation we felt as we discovered presents under the tree, all those packages waiting to reveal the secrets their colorful paper and ribbons concealed. How happy we were as we tore through the wrappings on Christmas Day and piled our new toys around us.

How long did it take before reality set in and those toys lay forgotten, broken, and discarded in the bottom of the toy box, no longer objects that create joy?

Toys and presents were our misplaced objects of affection. 

Give me a present that won't get broken. Give me something I will never tire of and can love forever. 

God gave us such a gift when he gave Himself in the form of Jesus, a baby, adored at his arrival but broken and discarded at his death. 

This was a present that refused to be discarded. This was a broken toy that rose from the depths of the toy box to present itself renewed, an object of hope, love, reverence, and affection. A brilliantly shiny someone who restores the youthful joy of Christmas to us all. 

Merry Christmas everyone!  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"SOULstice" Service at Local Episcopal Establishment

Each year I do a little recap of winter solstice services/celebrations at various erstwhile Christian communities. This year I had not planned on posting about this, but when I saw an announcement from a "church" I visited in the past regarding their solstice plans, I had to pass it along to my dear readers. The sad fact of the matter is that this ad was sent in the newsletter from the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, so barring a retraction or disclaimer, it has the blessing of Bishop Andrew Waldo.

St. Simon and St. Jude, Irmo 
SOULstice—a service of hope & light & healing
"In the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle, take the time to reach inward and find the light waiting for you (in the shadowy crevices of your being), the light that shows your pathway. This service gives you the opportunity to read, reflect, listen, heal and renew. Please join the other soul-searchers at 7 pm on December 20. The service will be led by Fr. Mark+. You don't want to miss it!"

I wonder if they are going to throw in a little Soulstice music,

"Going to set your soul on fire...
I'm not talking about a physical sensation,
but I'm sure talking about a spiritual elation..."
Each time I post a solstice round up I recall Paul's words,

"Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
     I am afraid of you,
lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." Galatians 4:10-11 (KJV).

I am afraid for people who fall for this new age claptrap.

Souls may actually wind up being set on fire... if you know what I mean.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Angels of Our Dreams

This Sunday's Gospel reading is Matthew 1:18-25. In it, we hear the story of the first of four dreams in which Joseph is visited by an angel.

"Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus."
 Joseph doesn't get a whole lot of ink in the Bible, but from these few sentences we learn that he was "righteous", obedient, plus he listened when an angel appeared to him in his dreams.

I wonder how many of us would do the same? 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The "Naughty or Nice" List of Retailers

Just in time as we rush around shopping for Christmas presents, the American Family Association has come up with a list of retailers which are "Nice" and "promote and celebrate Christmas on an exceptional basis" and a list of companies that are "Naughty" and may "use Christmas sparingly in a single or unique product description", but as companies, do "not recognize it". They also have other companies listed that fall somewhere in between. You might want to thank those retailers who have not caved in to pressure from the Zeitgeist to remove the word "Christmas" from our lexicon by shopping in their stores.

The full list is here, but here are the "Nice",

  • AFA Online Store 
  • Cracker Barrel 
  • Hobby Lobby 
  • Kirkland's 
  • Lowe's 
  • Michael's Stores 
  • Wal-Mart 
  • 1-800-Flowers.com 
  • Ace Hardware 
  • Banana Republic 
  • Bass Pro Shops 
  • Bath & Body Works 
  • Bed Bath & Beyond 
  • Belk 
  • Big Lots 
  • Books-A-Million 
  • Cabela's 
  • Dick's Sporting Goods 
  • Dillards 
  • Do-It-Best Hardware 
  • Dollar Tree 
  • Fred's 
  • H.E.B. Stores 
  • HSN.com 
  • Hallmark 
  • Harris Teeter Stores 
  • Home Depot 
  • Hy-Vee Stores 
  • JCPenney 
  • JoAnn Fabrics 
  • Kmart Kroger 
  • L.L. Bean 
  • Macy's 
  • Marshalls 
  • Meijer 
  • Menard's 
  • Neiman Marcus 
  • Pier One Imports 
  • ProFlowers.com 
  • Publix 
  • QVC.com 
  • Rite Aid 
  • Sam's Club 
  • Scheels Sporting Goods 
  • Super D Drug 
  • TJ Maxx 
  • Toys R Us 
  • True Value

And here are the "Naughty",

  • Academy Sports + Outdoors 
  • Barnes & Noble 
  • Best Buy 
  • Dollar General 
  • Family Dollar 
  • Foot Locker 
  • Gap, Inc. 
  • The Limited 
  • Maurice's 
  • Nordstrom 
  • Office Depot 
  • Office Max 
  • Pet Smart 
  • Staples 
  • Stein Mart 
  • Supervalu 
  • UncommonGoods.com 
  • Victoria's Secret

When I look through this list, I notice that I have mostly avoided the "Naughty" with one exception.

I leave it up to my audience's imagination to guess which naughty store in which I shopped this year.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Matthew Henry on Matthew 11:11 " minimum maximi est majus maximo minimi", or Are There Degrees of Glory in Heaven?

This Sunday's Gospel reading tells the story of the reply Jesus sent via John the Baptist's disciples to the imprisoned John,

"When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,   who will prepare your way before you.” Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.'" Matthew 11:2-11
Jesus speaks of John the man as the greatest man to date (with the exception of the one who was born due to immaculate conception), but still John ranks very low in the kingdom of heaven.

Is there a hierarchy in the kingdom of heaven? I am sure most of you will not hear much discussion of that in this Sunday's sermon. We will have to look at older commentaries to see how this question was answered in the past.

Matthew Henry (d1714) took on the challenge in his "Commentaries" (highlights mine),
"John has a surprising limitation, notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  In the kingdom of glory. John was a great and good man, but he was yet in a state of infirmity and imperfection, and therefore came short of glorified saints, and the spirits of just men made perfect. Note, First, There are degrees of glory in heaven, some that are less than others there; though every vessel is alike full, all are not alike large and capacious. Secondly, The least saint in heaven is greater, and knows more, and loves more, and does more in praising God, and receives more from him, than the greatest in this world. The saints on earth are excellent ones (Ps. 16:3), but those in heaven are much more excellent; the best in this world are lower than the angels (Ps. 8:5), the least there are equal with the angels, which should make us long for that blessed state, where the weak shall be as David, Zech. 12:8.  By the kingdom of heaven here, is rather to be understood the kingdom of grace, the gospel dispensation in the perfection of its power and purity; and ho mikroteros—he that is less in that is greater than John. Some understand it of Christ himself, who was younger than John, and, in the opinion of some, less than John, who always spoke diminishingly of himself; I am a worm, and no man, yet greater than John; so it agrees with what John the Baptist said (John 1:15), He that cometh after me is preferred before me. But it is rather to be understood of the apostles and ministers of the New Testament, the evangelical prophets; and the comparison between them and John is not with respect to their personal sanctity, but to their office; John preached Christ coming, but they preached Christ not only come, but crucified and glorified. John came to the dawning of the gospel-day, and therein excelled the foregoing prophets, but he was taken off before the noon of that day, before the rending of the veil, before Christ’s death and resurrection, and the pouring out of the Spirit; so that the least of the apostles and evangelists, having greater discoveries made to them, and being employed in a greater embassy, is greater than John. John did no miracles; the apostles wrought many. The ground of this preference is laid in the preference of the New-Testament dispensation to that of the Old Testament. Ministers of the New Testament therefore excel, because their ministration does so, 2 Cor. 3:6 John was a maximum quod sic—the greatest of his order; he went to the utmost that the dispensation he was under would allow; but minimum maximi est majus maximo minimithe least of the highest order is superior to the first of the lowest; a dwarf upon a mountain sees further than a giant in the valley. Note, All the true greatness of men is derived from, and denominated by, the gracious manifestation of Christ to them. The best men are no better than he is pleased to make them. What reason have we to be thankful that our lot is cast in the days of the kingdom of heaven, under such advantages of light and love! And the greater the advantages, the greater will the account be, if we receive the grace of God in vain."
What do you think? Are there degrees of glory in heaven? 

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Fetal Remains: New Texas Requirements Under Fire

This story from the Texas Tribune was picked up by the Washington Post and passed along by a Facebook friend,

"The rules will prohibit hospitals, abortion clinics and other health care facilities from disposing of fetal remains in sanitary landfills, allowing only cremation or burial."  
In other words, no more throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Needless to say, this will be hotly contested,
"...lawyers with the Center for Reproductive Rights warned that the proposal 'will almost certainly trigger costly litigation.' While the center did not take immediate legal action, senior staff attorney David Brown on Monday said the rule was 'an unnecessary burden and an intrusion' on a woman's  'personal beliefs.'"
I guess the Center for Reproductive Rights interpretation will argue that a woman has a right to determine how to dispose of "tissue" after it has been removed from her body. If they think that it still belongs to her, maybe it should be bagged up so that she could take it home. Of course the issue is not about the fetal remains at all according to Mr. Brown,
"'These new restrictions reveal the callous indifference that Texas politicians have toward women,' Brown said."
The responses to my friend's post from her pro-abortion friends were shocking. Here are a few examples,
"Insane. Cruel. Wrong. Should be a matter of personal choice."
"They really staggeringly evil."
"Beyond ridiculous"
"4th Reich...it all gives precedence...start here and you can do so much more..."
"A new low in Texas' hatred of women."
The blindness to the humane treatment of fetal remains is to be expected from these ardent supporters of abortion who have no respect for pre-term humanity.

The ugliest comments can be found at the Washington Post site. Here is one example,
"Turn their rules against them. Turn fetus funerals into parties. Put the little guy in a tiny fetus suit and hat. If they argue, tell them that you don't appreciate having your religious ceremonies disrespected. Then ask them if they want a cup of homemade placenta punch."
This is what we are up against folks.

Dad was right. It is a cold cruel world out there.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Bear Fruit Worthy of Repentance

This Sunday's Gospel reading is Matthew 3:1-12 and contains the story of John the Baptist and his encounter with the Pharisees and Sadducees,
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:“Prepare the way of the Lord,   make his paths straight.” ’  
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
John judges the Pharisees and Sadducees as perhaps not ready for his baptism and warns them that if they do not bear the fruit one expects from a truly repentant heart, then they will face the punishment from God, a trip to the unquenchable fires of Hell.

Scary stuff for them, but shouldn't we also take heed of John's warning?

Matthew Henry in his Commentary brought things into the present when he studied these same verses,
 (1.) There is a wrath to come; besides present wrath, the vials of which are poured out now, there is future wrath, the stores of which are treasured up for hereafter.  
(2.) It is the great concern of every one of us to flee from this wrath.  
(3.) It is wonderful mercy that we are fairly warned to flee from this wrath; think—Who has warned us? God has warned us, who delights not in our ruin; he warns by the written word, by ministers, by conscience.  
(4.) These warnings sometime startle those who seemed to have been very much hardened in their security and good opinion of themselves.
Al Mohler  in a commencement address this past Friday warned the newest ministers of today to take heed as well,
"Ministers of Christ: Never settle for the comfortable but false existence of the religious professional. Preach the Word, proclaim the Gospel, herald the truth that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Be humble, take courage, be not afraid. You go with the prayers and the hopes of this faculty who have taught you, this congregation who has loved you, and Christians far beyond this place.Remember this: His winnowing fork is in his hand — and so are you."

All of us who have been baptized have a great responsibility to ourselves and to others, and that is to share the Gospel of Jesus to an unbelieving world and to "bear fruits worthy of repentance".

Heaven help us if we don't.