December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

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And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 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. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths 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,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" 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."
(Luke 2:8-15 ESV)
{picture is Bartolome Esteban Murillo's The Adoration of the Shepherds}

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December 23, 2005

They Couldn't Do This Today ...

So I was cruising around the Internet looking for some stuff to post -- something quick and easy, so I could go wrap presents or something -- and I found something that really made me pause.

December 24, 1968. NASA astronauts James A. Lovell, William Anders and Frank Borman read Genesis 1:1-12 from lunar orbit.

In his autobiography Countdown, Frank Borman later wrote, "There was one more impression we wanted to transmit: our feeling of closeness to the Creator of all things. This was Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968, and I handed Jim and Bill their lines from the Holy Scriptures."

About six weeks before launch, a NASA official had called Borman. Noting that the crew would be circling the earth on Christmas Eve, he said, "We figure more people will be listening to your voice than that of any man in history. So we want you to say something appropriate." (from the Christian History Institute)

No WAY that could happen today. NASA would be sued. The three astronauts would be sued. Scientists around the nation would be up in arms at the unscientific sentiments expressed from these three astronauts.

But in 1968, it was appropriate. We've come a long way, unfortunately.

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December 19, 2005

Why Now?

Why celebrate Christmas now? What made the early church start celebrating in December? We've been taught that it was to compete with pagan holidays -- in fact, one of my favorite cartoons recently mentioned it. But is it right?

Maybe not. Head over to Between Two Worlds and check this out. And think about what you've always been taught about Christmas, and how it may all be wrong.

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December 15, 2005

Prayer Request

On Christmas morning, after you've thrown away the wrapping paper and the kids have gotten tired of the new toys that they got, please remember to say a prayer for me. I've been invited to preach the morning service at First Baptist South Shore in South Shore, Kentucky.

I really covet your prayers for this one. The church is looking for a pastor, and asked me to submit a resume. After a lot of prayer, I decided I would. So this message could be a kind of trial message for me -- it will be the third sermon I've preached at the church.

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December 13, 2005

No Surprise Here


My computer geek score is greater than 71% of all people in the world! How do you compare? Click here to find out!

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December 12, 2005

I Love It When ...

... people agree with me. From no less august a source than The Evangelical Outpost:

I find that I just don’t have the stomach for those old arguments anymore. I’m still willing to discuss doctrinal differences. But now I’m less sure that I’m standing on the right side of scripture. Is the view heretical or likely to lead someone away from salvation? Then I’ll fight it tooth-and-nail. If not, then I’ll have to sit it out.
I'm probably still a bit more argumentative than Joe is, and I'll admit that I will slip and argue about trivia. I will always be more than willing to lend my opinion (wanted or not), and I will engage in healthy debate with my fellow Baptists about issues related to Baptist piety and polity. If I am challenged, I will respond in what I hope will be a civil and scholarly tone. But I won't be picking fights over millennial views. I won't go on a rampage against my Presbyterian friends over infant baptism. I reserve the right to think they are wrong, and they certainly have the right to be wrong (that was a JOKE, folks!!). And as I debate, I will try to learn from my "opponents," as I hope they will try to learn from me. Because that's the point of actual debate -- anything else becomes a fight.

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December 11, 2005

What Do We Do With These Swords???

Isaiah 2:4 ESV He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

I appreciate what Wade Burleson wrote today on his blog.
I am glad and I rejoice over the conservative resurgance. I am a conservative. I love my convention.

But sadly, a new war has begun. It is a war initiated by fellow conservatives; conservatives who have forgotten how to put their swords in their respective sheaths. It is a war that technically may not have just begun, but one that simply never ended.

Conservatives who loved the battles of decades past have fallen victim to a crusading mentality of bloodthirst. Since all the liberals are gone, conservative cruasaders are now killing fellow conservatives.

Burleson has plenty of conservative "street cred." He's not some namby-pamby moderate, nor is he a crypto-liberal trying to undermine the resurgence. He's a genuine man with a genuine concern about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.

We have to ask ourselves the question: What do we do with all these swords? We spent almost an entire generation fighting for the soul of the SBC. We are going in a direction that Southern Baptists thirty years ago could not have envisioned -- a direction that many Southern Baptists despaired that we'd ever go in again. We've won.

So now we've declared war on ourselves. We've gone from fighting the good fight on inerrancy to fighting over fine points of theology. We are majoring on the minors in a way that I haven't seen since I left the Independant Fundamental church I was baptized in. And we cannot let that happen.

more...

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December 10, 2005

A New Controversy

There's a brand new controversy brewing in the Godblogosphere, and it started at one of those blogging awards shows that I don't get nominated for.

The Blogs of Beauty contest is intended to "honor those blogs written by women who seek to bring the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ to the blogging world." Great idea. But it ran into a problem -- how do you decide which Godbloggers are actual Christians?

The lady who ran the contest recognized this, and established as a "Statement of Faith" the following:

I believe in the Godhead of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as revealed in the Holy Bible. I believe that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God and my only means for the forgiveness of my sins and my salvation. My salvation is found in no one but Jesus Christ.
Orthodox, yet inclusive. Very good -- the contest wasn't meant to be denominationally specific, so this, I think, is a good list of criteria. And, after all, it ain't my contest, so the organizer can run it however she wants to.

But wherever two or three are gathered, there is disagreement. And problems. Maybe that's why I've never organized my own awards (except for the Pewies and the Clewies, both of which are awarded on an extremely subjective basis). And one of the winners (the Best Humor blog), is a Mormon blog. I'm not going to get into the arguement over whether the blog should have won -- none of my business, actually, and I've only ever read her blog today (interesting, and pretty well written, actually). But the whole thing has led to many, many posts concerning what a Christian blog is, and what it isn't.

So the question arises -- is Mormonism a Christian denomination? more...

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December 09, 2005

Another New Christmas Poem

Read "Ode to the Grinch" at the SBC Outpost.

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December 08, 2005

Baptism and the IMB Update

An update on this issue -- one of my concerns has been answered.

Marty Duren posted about this a couple days ago -- the vote numbers and the number of trustees present for the votes aren't as bad as I thought they were. From an email Marty received from the Assistant Recording Secretary: "There were 78 trustees present at the Huntsville meeting. The actual votes were not counted except to indicate that the recommendations made by the Personnel Committee were approved by a majority of those voting."

I'm still not quite sure where the numbers came from in the initial report, but that clarifies things (and makes me feel better about the attendance). It doesn't make me much happier about the actual outcome, though.

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Political Clout?

Still think that the "Religious Right" is running things in the US? Still think that evangelical Christians have all kinds of political muscle? Well try this on for size:

We can't even influence the White House Christmas card. Excuse me -- holiday card.

While everyone is up in arms about the "War on Christmas"(tm), the White House (where George W. "What a Fine Born-Again President" Bush lives) sends out a Christmas card that wishes everyone a happy holiday season.

I personally have no problem with this. It is, after all, a season of many holidays. There are a LOT of holidays crammed into the space on the calendar between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, so calling it the holiday season is completely correct and accurate in my own humble opinion.

But haven't we been complaining about this? (And by 'we' I mean evangelical Christians in general, specifically those whom the rest of the world consider our "spokesmen") Yet "our President" isn't on message. We can't even get him to change. How much political power do we really have? Or are we all finally ready to admit that the GOP treats us like the crazy rich aunt that nobody admits they're related to until she's got presents to hand out.

We have a lot more to be concerned about this year. There are better places to spend our resources. I don't like the idea that companies are putting policies in place that don't allow employees to say "Merry Christmas" to people, but I can't change people's stupid misunderstandings of the word tolerance. What I can do is share the truth of Christmas with as many people as I can, in the knowledge that this truth can transform lives.

And I can wish everyone I see a Merry Christmas.

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December 06, 2005

The Feast of St. Nicholas

Most of what we actually know about St. Nicholas of Myra is legendary. He was wealthy, having inherited a fortune as a young man when his parents died. He gave gifts from his wealth to the needy, but preferred to do it secretly -- giving rise to part of the Santa Claus legend. Some even say that he threw gold coins down the chimney, where it would lodge in the stockings that were hung up to dry overnight.

Nicholas later became the bishop of Myra -- rather against his will, according to the accounts we have. He was a champion of orthodoxy, and was especially incenseced at the Arian heresy that was running rampant. Legend has it that he actually punched Arius in the face during the council of Nicea, and would have been removed from his bishopric had a vision of CHrist not told the other assembled bishops that Nicholas had done well.

We do not know when Nicholas was born, so his Feast Day is the day of his death, somewhere between 341 and 352. Nicholas is venerated by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, but it is the Russian Orthodox Church that holds him in the highest regard. He is the patron saint of seafarers, scholars, bankers, pawnbrokers, jurists, brewers, coopers, travelers, perfumers, unmarried girls, brides, robbers and children.

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A Voice of Reason in this Season

I'm on a roll with Christmas posts today. This one also touches a bit on the whole politically-correct view of tolerance.

Story 1: A chaplain at Georgetown University in Washington DC threatened to resign if the school went through with plans to remove crucifixes from it's classrooms -- a move toward a policy of tolerance at the once Catholic school. No surprise there.

The chaplain is Muslim.

Story 2: From the Cincinnatti Enquirer interview with Karen Dabdoub, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations:

Who are we fooling? The Jews don’t put up a tree for Hanukah; the Muslims don’t put up a tree for Ramadan. It doesn’t take away from my celebration of my holiday for other people to celebrate their holiday. I don’t want anybody’s holidays to be watered-down. I think they’re all wonderful.

Now that's tolerance. I don't have any serious awards that I give out, or Ms Dabdoub would get one. BIG thanks to GetReligion for this one.

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Priorities? What Priorities?

OK, when I first heard it, I thought it was a joke. I figured someone had pulled a Larknews and written a fake story, and then some folks with an axe to grind picked it up and ran with it. It's happened before.

But no -- it's true. The "mega-churches" have cancelled their Christmas day services.

I was going to parody this decision, but I can't. And I'm not going to pull any punches on this. more...

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December 04, 2005

A Nice, Commercial Christmas

I'm torn on this issue, I admit. On the one hand, the pig-ignorance of people who insist on calling them "holiday trees" when Christmas is the only holiday currently being celebrated that features a tree as a symbol bothers me beyond belief. I think that it's stupid to ignore the fact that the nativity is an important symbol of the season. And I plan on sending the ACLU a nice "Wise men still seek Him" Christmas card this year.

But, on the other hand, I've been an advocate of less commercialization at Christmas for a while now, and it seems that when we boycot and protest and complain that stores aren't saying "Merry Christmas" we are actually encouraging the increased commercialization of this holiday. We're telling them that our idea of Christmas includes sales and shopping, charge cards at the ready.

I really don't care what the rest of the world calls this time of year. Last year about this time, I asked the non-Christian world to get their hands off our holiday, and it was pointed out to me that Christians are at the front of the charge, making the "holiday season" more a celebration of conspicuous consumption and debt than a celebration of the birth of our Saviour. What is our main purpose this time of year?

Don't get me wrong -- I'm still planning on exchanging gifts with my family this year. My daughter loves the idea that Santa is going to come -- though she's worried about how he's getting into the house, since we have no chimney. It's a fun time of year.

But we act as if it's our main focus. We get mad if the stores where we're spending our money don't recognize our holiday. We make sure that everyone knows it's Christmas, not "the holiday season."

And our Jewish friends sit back, with their ages-old tradition of Hannukah, safe from the commercial exploitation that we've brought on ourselves, and smile. Or maybe they laugh.

{edit -- a VERY well-written commentary on this can be found here}

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Advent Week 2: Peace

{I'm changing the way I label these Advent posts, so that where they fit in with the liturgy will be obvious. I'll change the first one so it will fit in.}

In my last Advent post, I talked about our anticipation -- Christ brings us hope, both in His first coming (the hope of forgiveness from sins) and in His second (the hope of ultimate redemption of all creation). This week I want to talk about peace.

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.
Isaiah 9:6 ESV

What kind of peace do we have in Christ? When we look around the world, we see just as clearly as Longfellow did that "hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men." If Christ came to bring us an immediate, temporal peace, then His mission failed.

But wait a minute. What did Christ Himself say? ""Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword."

I think the answer lies in Christ's words in John 14. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." He doesn't give peace as the world gives it -- the peace of Christ is an eternal peace. It is the peace of the Gospel -- Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, the atonement for our sins. This is the peace that He gave us in His first coming.

We anticipate the day to come, when the rule and reign of Christ will bring true peace to earth. Sickness and disease will be gone. Warfare will be no more. Everyone will live in peace because we will be ruled by the Prince of Peace. When all of creation is redeemed, we will live in harmony with each other -- that is the ultimate result of Christ's atonement, and the peace that we will live in is the peace of the Gospel of Christ.

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December 02, 2005

Perspective

From the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.

And
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons.
Emphasis added in each, of course.

Now, from the IMB

Regarding a candidate’s baptism, trustees voted two to one to establish a guideline that specifies (1) believer’s baptism by immersion; (2) baptism follows salvation; (3) baptism is symbolic, picturing the experience of the believer’s death to sin and resurrection to a new life in Christ; (4) baptism does not regenerate; and (5) baptism is a church ordinance.

The guideline establishes that candidates must have been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church of another denomination that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone. Also, the baptism must not be viewed as sacramental or regenerative, and the church must embrace the doctrine of the security of the believer.

Emphasis, again, added. The IMB has gone beyond what the BF&M says about baptism in defining specific doctrines that a local, autonomous church must adhere to for baptisms to be considered Scriptural.

I believe that baptism is not regenerative. I believe in the doctrine of eternal security. I would have to have the term 'sacrament' defined, but as I think it's being used, I would probably agree with the IMB there as well. My issue is not that I disagree with the doctrines being affirmed -- my problem is that the IMB has taken it upon itself to decide what Southern Baptists consider Scriptural baptism. That is the role of the local church, since baptism is an ordinance of the local church.

Regarding the 'private prayer language' issue, I have to agree with Marty Duren:

It seems that this had less to do with missionary guidelines and more to do with insulting Jerry Rankin. If you truly believe that this is an unbiblical practice, you should have fired him ...
Dr. Rankin let everyone know that he used a private prayer language when he became IMB President. Suddenly, the IMB trustees have created a rule that effectively eliminates their president from consideration for a missionary position. I'm sure that Dr. Rankin is insulted, and I'm disappointed in the trustees who were there that this "guideline" was adopted.

I'm still disturbed that barely half of the trustees actually voted in this election. It's telling that the vote numbers are no longer present in the IMB article about the vote. I think that we, as Southern Baptists, deserve some answers from the trustees concerning this vote.

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