Thursday, December 31, 2009

Brief AVATAR review

I saw the new James Cameron movie last night- AVATAR. I saw it in 3D for $13.50. It was well worth the money.

The movie, as a spectacle, was amazing. The effects, artistry, and seamless interaction between "live" actors and computerized figures sets the new standard. The storyline was pretty good, which surprised me. James Cameron never does anything small scale, this $300 million production is no exception.

The story is set in almost 150 years in the future. Earth has apparently been raped of its natural resources so Earthlings (called "Sky People" by native Pandorans) travel many light years away to a planet (Pandora) to mine it's vast deposits of a particular multi-million dollar mineral. The native Pandorans (10 foot tall skinny blue people called the "Na'vi") have a spiritistic relationship with their planet akin to the Native Americans that once populated North America, and are extremely defensive with the intrusion of Sky People. Many years prior Earthlings visited Pandora as a way of understanding the indigenous people and to see if a peaceful agreement could be reached so some of the minerals could be mined. As part of this process a new technology was developed where a Na'vi body could be "made" in a giant test tube. By way of a computer link up the body could be controlled by a human in a remote location. These controllable Na'vi bodies were called AVATAR's, hence the movies title. An avatar is a computer user's representation of himself/herself or alter ego usually in the form of a three-dimensional model. In this case they were actual physical Na'vi-looking representations of whatever human was controlling them. So as not to alarm the Na'vi, the human scientists would interact with the natives through the use of avatars. The Na'vi were at ease with these creatures, but didn't fully accept them as authentic. The Avatar "program" was a primarily a Scientific endeavor with nerdy Ph.D's controlling the Avatars. Mineral acquisition wasn't very important to the scientific team which started to weary the private companies itching to get at the planet's minerals.

As time went on, a particular private mining company built a military base on Pandora and basically gave the Pandoran's a deadline to strike a deal or have their minerals taken by force. Enter Jake Sully. Unlike the scientists controlling the other avatars, Sully was a former Marine who lost the use of his legs in a prior battle on Earth. He controlled an avatar who was able to infiltrate the main Na'vi village and gain the trust of the natives. Over the course of 3 months he was ritualistically accepted as a true Na'vi and basically married a Na'vi woman (who also happened to be the chief's daughter).

As you might expect, Sully became torn about his allegiance to the mining company that was paying him to talk the Na'vi in to giving up their minerals and his new found tribe and wife. I won't spoil the conclusion, you should see the film (you can read a full synopsis here). This isn't a film for pre-teen kids. There's some harsh language and some goofy sensuality that's hard to categorize- you basically have nakedish tall blue skinny people gallivanting to and fro throughout.

There is a pretty clear theme in the movie, perhaps it's a message or worldview promotion, I don't know. The Na'vi are portrayed as deeply spiritual. Spirituality is defined as being one with all things (living and non living). The planet in some way is God (called Eyra) and all living creatures are united together in a balance. It's kind of a spiritism meshed with animism. Complicating this unusual admixture is an actual physical way for all creatures to be one. It seems that all the creatures (flying creatures, horse-like things, and even a special tree) have a sort of link rope, including the Na'vi. You can become one with any living creature simply by linking your "rope" to theirs. A bit weird, I know.

It's a great movie to analyze with teens to talk about the worldview that seems to underlie the film. It could be used to discuss a genuine, biblical view of creation, among other things. Like Star Wars, the "religion" of the movie is obvious but also fantastical and easily deconstructed biblically- great conversation fodder. I'm glad I saw it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

No Big Buck in 2009

Well, I spent my last morning on stand in the deer woods pursuing a big buck today (pictures are from my cell phone this morning). The primary bow season ends tomorrow. I will get out a couple times in January for a special doe season, but for all intents and purposes, my 2009 pursuit of a big buck will end without a new head to add to my wall.

This season was tough as far as mature buck sightings go. I hunted many mornings and a few evenings and only saw 2 deer I would classify as 4.5 years or older. I absolutely blew it not shooting at the first one (a very old 7 pointer). I didn't have an ethical shot at the second one (a heavy beamed 8 pointer). I saw about ten 3.5 year old 8-pt bucks in various locations with most being inside 20 yards at one point or another, but I have shot quite a few of those and decided to hold out for something older this year. I must have seen twenty 2.5 year old bucks, many in range also. As far as deer sightings and encounters, this may have been my best season in 9 years of bow hunting. I just didn't get a shot at "Mr. Big" this year. I assure you (and my wife will confirm) it wasn't for lack of trying.

I really enjoyed this season despite not getting a big buck. I did harvest two fat does and witnessed my son shoot his second buck. I also learned a new method of stand hunting where I can basically go to a spot with little pre-hunt intrusion or contamination, put a stand up in the dark and hunt it that morning. I'm really looking forward to using this method next year throughout. I also hunted in all conditions of weather - 95 degree September days in a hot ground blind with ticks a'crawling, windy October evening vigils, cold and rainy November all- day sits (and a bad case of poison ivy to endure), ending with sub-zero December mornings like these past several weeks. I have some great memories and several pounds of ground venison and summer sausage to show for it all.

So, my bow will soon go to the shop for new strings and a tune up. I'll get out my .223 and try to smack a few coyotes in January and February- All the while I will be plotting my moves for the Fall of 2010 and my overdue appointment with a monster buck.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rich, Effective, Satire

There just doesn't seem to be much in the way of effective satire in the Church these days. Someone just sent me a link to the following article that will introduce you to a stellar exception.
It's in response to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) virtual approval of homosexual practice characterized most vividly when they recently voted to accept actively homosexual persons as members of their clergy and to condone gays and lesbians living in “lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships.” Check out the brilliant satirical response here:

Temple Prostitution: A Modest Proposal by Peter Speckhard

Thanks Lance!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Silent Night! Holy Night!

Good hymns, those marked by sound theology and a fitting match of text and music, have endured because they are timeless and because they are based on scriptural truth. Silent Night! Holy Night! fits the description of a good hymn. Here is a brief reflection on the story behind this hymn followed by the self-explanatory words.

The Christmas Eve of 1818 was at hand. Pastor Joseph Mohr of St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria decided that he needed a carol for the Christmas Eve service. He surmised the little poem he had written two years earlier while serving another church might work. Perhaps this poem could be set to music?

Pastor Mohr hurried off to see his friend, Franz Xaver Gruber, who was a schoolteacher and also served as the church's organist and choir master. In a few short hours Franz came up with the hauntingly beautiful melody that is so loved and revered to this day. At the request of Joseph, who had a special love for guitar, Franz composed the music for guitar accompaniment. Just a few short hours later, Franz stood with his friend the pastor, Joseph, in front of the altar in St. Nicholas church and introduced "Stille Nacht" to the congregation! Pretty amazing if you ask me.

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight!
Glories stream from heaven afar,
heavenly hosts sing alleluia;
Christ, the Savior, is born!
Christ, the Savior, is born!

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love's pure light
radiant beams from the holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Silent night! Holy night!
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
with the angels let us sing
alleluia to our King;
Christ, the Savior, is born!
Christ, the Savior, is born!

Very simply, This hymn reflects on the how the extraordinary nature of Christ’s birth (Holy) compels reverent reflection (Silence).

Every year Redeemer has a Candelight Service of Six Lessons and Six Carols. We conclude the service singing Silent Night. It is a precious time of worship and reflection bringing Advent to conclusion with the arrival of Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Johnson Male "Athlete" of the Year?

Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson of NASCAR racing. He has won an unprecedented 4 NASCAR championships in a row, truly a monumental and noteworthy accomplishment.

The Associated Press named Johnson the 2009 Male Athlete of the year.


He deserves all sorts of accolades for sure, but recognition as an athlete? What am I missing? I'm sure many of my beloved redneck readers are going to rip me with "you try driving one of those cars 160 mph for 2 hours" for dissing their boy, but this is just crazy. OK, I'll grant you it takes physical strength to car race, but so does navigating the aisle with a shopping cart at Wal-mart during the holidays.

Car racing is in the category of "Motor Sports", not athletics. Jimmie Johnson as "Sportsman of the Year", maybe. But definitely not athlete of the year. Come on already!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Darth Sidious gets a job

I will readily admit I am a total nerd for thinking this is so funny...I mean, really funny!

Only Star Wars fans will appreciate this (thus attesting to the nerd factor to which I just referred). Supposedly the Emperor (Darth Sidious) survived Darth Vader throwing him in to the power generator and is now unemployed and looking for a job. He goes to a temp agency to find employment (of course). What transpires absolutely slays me it's so funny. I especially enjoy how he "takes care" of the dog!!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Silent Jawas Cry Out

My friend Zach posted this over on his blog. Of course he tries to make it look like a group of Roman Catholic monks singing the Protestant classic from Handel. In fact, anyone can tell this is clearly a group of Jawas (see here) singing the Hallelujah Chorus despite the misleading Youtube label.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (Part 2)

Continuing our consideration of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel-the hymn’s five antiphons or verses include 5 Old Testament references to the coming Messiah. Let’s consider each verse for a moment and their OT reference:

1. O Come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Matthew 1:21-23 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).

This opening verse of the hymn uses the most meaningful of all titles for the coming Messiah- Emmanuel. It literally means “God With Us”, as Matthew points out and as the origin of the word so clearly means.

The concept of "Emmanuel"- God with us- is so foreign to all other religious constructs, both in the day of Isaiah’s prophecy and in our day now. The idea that God Himself would become man in order to literally be with us is totally unfamiliar, alien, and unknown to us. Concepts of a distant, uncaring God are shattered with Jesus Christ, the second person of the eternal Trinity, agrees to take on flesh and come ransom us from our sins.

In addition to this concept of Emmanuel revealed in the OT and accented by this wonderful hymn, notice the hymn writer’s reference to Emmanuel ransoming captive Israel. Early in the life of the NT church it became clear that the new Israel was the Church- not just a favored ethnic group but people from every tribe and tongue united by faith to Jesus Christ, the Head of the church. When the words of this hymn were first written, the most used version of the bible was the Latin Vulgate. The translator of that version, Jerome, was careful to point out the equality between Israel in the OT with the Church in the NT. Going back just a bit farther, when the Hebrew OT was translated into Greek, the word for Israel was often translated “ekklesia”- the very same word for “Church”. Emmanuel coming to Israel means God coming to His people- His Church.

The hymn uses the OT title Emmanuel ransoming Israel to evoke a picture of a Moses-type figure leading the people from literal captivity. There is a deeper meaning for us, though. Christ has come to ransom us from the penalty and power of our own sin- the real thing we are held captive to! Being slaves of Egypt is nothing compared to being slaves to our sin! We need God Himself to give us an exodus from our sin! Emmanuel comes to ransom us from our state of sin, described skillfully in this hymn and in this first verse as a state of exile. How true it is, we are exiled from God- separated from his presence- by our sin.

2. O come, O come thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height, in ancient times didst give the law in cloud and majesty and awe

The hymn writer infers by verse 2 that Jesus Christ was somehow involved with the giving of the Law to Israel at Sinai through Moses! Most of us think of God the Father alone meeting Moses on Sinai. The hymn writer suggests the presence of Christ, God the Son, as giving the Law also. Is this a biblical notion?

Exodus 19:16-20 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

Isaiah 11:1-5 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

Isaiah 33:22 For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us.

Have you ever wondered what Christ and the Holy Spirit were doing when God was meeting with Moses at Sinai? While the text in Exodus doesn’t clearly delineate the exact activity of the 2nd and 3rd persons of the Trinity during that historic, monumental time, the whole of Scripture weighs in to say they were present and took part! What a solid hymn that would cause us to ask such questions and consider such a matter! A truly great hymn teaches us and casts our gaze heavenward. Such a notion as Christ the “lawgiver” does exactly this!

3. 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

The third verse refers to Isaiah 11’s depiction of the Messiah as a distant relative of the family of Jesse. Of course, Jesse is David’s father, and eventually, Christ comes from the line of David. But notice what else these ancient lyrics imply- a particular nature to the redemption Messiah would accomplish:

free thine own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell thy people save, and give them victory over the grave

These words, probably originating in the 5th Century, support the doctrine of particular redemption. This makes good sense, since the doctrine is so clearly taught in Scripture. Free us from Satan and the penalty of sin that is ours! Messiah, free us! Your people!

4. O Come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight

The fourth verse refers to Christ in the way the last prophet of the OT labels Him:

Malachi 4:2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Luke 1:78-79 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

The coming of Messiah is compared to the rising of the Sun in the morning. After a long, dark, gloomy night, the sun begins to rise. The warmth begins to be felt.

One of my favorite books of all time is “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" by C.S. In that book, the coming of Aslan the Lion is an allegory of the coming of Christ to this cursed world in order to redeem it. In the story, the Witch has placed a curse on all of Narnia- which was created by Aslan- causing it to be perpetually winter- frozen, dead, and cold. When the time is right, Aslan begins to make his move to dethrone the witch and reverse the curse. As the climactic confrontation draws closer, the winter of Narnia starts to melt. It is clear He is moving to strike the wicked work of the evil witch. The coming of Christ is like the rising of the Son or the coming of Aslan. It begins to thaw what has long stood in a state of deep freeze.

O Come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by they drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight

The coming of Christ chases night away and changes the entire perspective of life.

5. 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

The final verse of this great hymn refers to the coming Savior as “thou Key of David”. This is a reference to David the King and His lordship over Jerusalem- the dwelling place of the Temple, Zion, God’s people. Isaiah is fond of referring to David in Messianic terms, meaning that his eventual offspring will bring a spiritual, eternal reality to all the physical ways David was ruler of Israel. Very simply- Christ holds the key to heaven Christ is the one who leads His people to ultimate victory over sin-not only it’s penalty and power- but it’s presence when we all enter the heavenly Jerusalem ruled by King Jesus!

Isaiah 22:22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

I would humbly submit several relevant thoughts for us today related to this hymn-

1. There is great value in knowing the Old Testament well

This hymn identifies 5 different OT passages that label the Messiah and forecast His coming- Emmanuel, Rod of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, Lord, King. To know Christ better is to know Him Better in all of the Bible’s revelation about Him Photo albums really help us to know someone better….so does a better knowledge of the OT. Read the book of Micah this year during Advent! I dare you to read through Isaiah!

2. We need to be “ransomed” from the penalty and power of sin

The opening verse uses the vivid word ransom. Ransom, among other things, means an outside power must act to save you. The hymn uses vivid imagery- all biblical imagery- to give us the straight story about our condition and our need to be rescued!

v. 1- Ransom, mourning, exile
v. 2- The awful otherness of God in the giving of the Law we fail to keep- reminded of our sin!
v. 3- Free (means we are enslaved), under Satan’s tyrrany (we are helpless, need liberation), depths of hell is our state, destined to the grave! Not a bright future!
v. 4- Cheer us (we need it in our sinful state), under gloomy clouds of night (the darkest of dark- not even stars or moon to give light!), the inevitability of death always looms- death’s dark shadows…the reeper comes
v. 5- Need to be led out of all this mess we are in- to be freed from misery (what a graphic term)

3. Like all Great Hymns, we are reminded-against the backdrop of our sin- Our Savior is totally sufficient to rescue us!

As bad as it is-and it is-Christ is that good, sufficient, faithful, and able redeemer who saves us. Every title for Christ makes clearer the sufficiency of Jesus Christ to save us!

v. 1- GOD WITH US (his intimacy with us)
v. 2- Lord of Might (his power)
v. 3- The Rod of Jesse- the long awaited Savior- not a “plan B”, the very Ancient of Days
v. 4- Dayspring form on High- comes to dispel the darkness, He is the Light, He is the Way
v. 5- Key of David- Not one of the keys- THE KEY to heaven and eternal life- able to escort us safely Home.

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Still my favorite Dean moment

By popular demand, and to keep my recent appreciation of Howard Dean in perspective:

Howard Dean is right! (Did I just say that?)

I don't know who would argue that Health Care costs in the U.S. aren't out of control and causing major stress on our economy. Something has to be done soon.

At the same time, the bill that is currently being debated by the Senate seems to only make matters worse.

As unbelievable as it may be, Howard Dean does a good job communicating why this bill should not be passed. For the record, this has to be the first time I have found myself agreeing with Dean.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Joy and Solemnity

This past Sunday, in the first of two Advent-oriented sermons, I tried to relay how the birth of Christ, when viewed accurately, is an unusual admixture of joy and solemnity. Joy that our Savior has come. Solemnity that He will have to die for our sins.

Someone from Redeemer captured a picture (from a Westminster family's yard) that embodies the aforementioned admixture of joy and solemnity.

Super Scary Siberian Bridge

This bridge is somewhere in Siberia. It's something like 25 feet above the water with no railings.

No thanks!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

O Come, O Come Emmanuel (Part 1)

Of all the great hymns that focus upon the Advent of Jesus Christ, the relatively ancient hymn called “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is certainly one of the greatest. The words are very old and extremely well ordered. More importantly, the words are thoroughly biblical and the theology exceedingly sound. Perhaps what is so wonderful about this hymn is the sense of expectation it produces in the congregation as it is sung. As the refrain is sung- Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel- we have a sense of looking forward to Christ’s future coming in glory also. I think we are here viewing a true masterpiece of word and music.

Let’s first consider the story of how we came to sing this hymn.

The words for this hymn are taken from an ancient chant or liturgical song. More specifically, the words of this hymn come from the seven great “O” Antiphons of the 8th Century Gregorian chant period. Some believe these words, before being set to song, were part of a prayer that dates back to the 5th Century. We know for sure, the words for O come, O come, Emmanuel are among the oldest of any hymn we sing today.

In the 8th Century through to the 12th Century, many hymns were written to be sung in an antiphonal way. A choir would sit across from each other and interchange singing verses back and forth to each other. The words of this hymn were written to be sung antiphonally. There were 7 originally, and they were written in Latin. The original Antiphons are as follows and in this exact order-

O Sapientia… (Wisdom from on high)
O Adonai… (Lord and leader of the house of Israel)
O Radix… (Root of Jesse)
O Clavis… (Key of David)
O Oriens… (Dayspring, splendor of eternal light)
O Rex… (Longed for King of the nations)
O Emmanuel.. (God With Us, our king and lawgiver)

These 7 verses form the reverse acrostic “ero cras”, meaning “I shall be with you tomorrow”. It speaks of Christ’s first Advent with an eye to His second Advent also. So, we have a timeless hymn, the words developing most likely in the 5th Century, taking more permanent form in the 8th Century, and being clearly identifiable as a regularly sung or chanted song in the 12th Century.

While ancient and profound, the hymn wasn't sung with great regularity until the mid 1800's when John Mason Neale set about the task of translating and rearranging some ancient hymns that had been lost to the church. One of his first projects was to translate the Latin lyrics for “O come, o come, Emmanuel” and arrange them for singing in a congregational tune. Neale used 5 of the 7 great “O” antiphons of the 8th Century and wrote “O come, o come, Emmanuel”. The only change he made was to move the last antiphon to the front of the hymn. This is the order we have today- just as Neale translated and arranged it for us.

What about the music? The music chosen for these magnificent words are of somewhat mysterious origins. We do know it’s a 15th Century plainsong melody, which is a common tune used for songs that could be chanted back and forth. It possess a more somber tone- a perfect blend with lyrics that speak of the suffering we endure as sinful human beings and our need for the Savior to come and rescue us from it all! A longing hope. A gripping expectation. These are the human realities and emotions this great hymn addresses.

This great hymn has come to us down through the ages because it is a quality hymn. Most commendable, without a doubt, is the lyrical content and biblical depth it possesses.

More to come...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Angels From the Realms of Glory (Part 2)

Notice the first four verses cover, in order, the first individuals (or groups) who recognized Christ for who He is- God in flesh- to be worshiped.

Angels, from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o'er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation's story,
Now proclaim Messiah's birth;

Montgomery points out the first announcement of Messiah’s coming to earth comes from the same beings who witnessed Christ create the heavens and the earth! The angels were created before mankind and therefore were witnesses of the creation of the heavens and the earth and all that they contain, including man himself. Angels have long been used by God for multiple purposes. Angels appear in the Old Testament 108 times and 186 times in the New Testament. Now, at the beginning of the NT, the pronouncement of Messiah’s Advent is carried out by an angel and reaffirmed by the “heavenly host” (See Luke 2:7-15).

Shepherds in the fields abiding,
Watching o'er your flocks by night,
God with man is now residing,
Yonder shines the infant light:

Second to witness the birth of Christ were the most unlikely characters- shepherds keeping their flocks by night. Shepherds were a nomadic lot, even considered outcasts in most parts of Israel. Shepherds were normally very poor. Moses or David might come to mind when you think of a shepherd, but these were not the norm. Even they were actually keeping flocks for others- Moses for Jethro and David for his father. Most of the time, shepherds were keeping someone else’s sheep. Point being- they were generally poor, social outcasts, looked down upon, and avoided. Yet, God chooses to announce the birth of Christ to these social outcasts first! (See Luke 2:7-10)

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen his natal star:

Third to witness the birth of Christ were some mysterious visitors from the East.
The ESV translates the Greek word “Magi” as “wise men”. Montgomery describes them as “sages”. Scholars debate who these visitors were exactly, but most agree they were some kind of star-readers astronomers in their day. The Star of Bethlehem is a study of its own. Several explanations have been offered for this phenomenon. Perhaps it was an alignment of Jupiter, the Sun and our moon? It could have been any old star given more power for this event- maybe even a supernova. Whatever the case, the magi were drawn to this anomalous event. Legend has taught there were three wise men because of the three gifts given to the Christ child (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), however, there could have been a whole school of “wise men” or just a few. What makes these magi significant is their apparent non-Jewish ethnicity. In a way, they represent Gentiles coming to worship Christ. Montgomery captures this in this third verse when he says they seek the great “desire of nations"- not just the Jews. Leave your contemplations- put down your books and discussions, get up and go see him! (See Matthew 2:1-14)

Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear,
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In his temple shall appear;

The angels,shepherds,and the sages have all taken their place of worship before Christ the newborn King, now Montgomery bids the Saints to do the same! Who are the saints? Biblically speaking, those who trust in God’s Redeemer. Simeon is a wonderful example of one who looked forward as the hymn states: “watching long in hope and fear”. (See Luke 2:25-34). This call for Saints to come and worship the newborn King is extended to us. Don’t leave it to the angels, shepherds, and sages…or the saints who have gone before us alone- we should take our place in redemptive history worshiping Christ in this day and age. With beautiful, balanced symmetry, we come to the last verse which completes this universal call to worship-

All creation, join in praising
God the Father, Spirit, Son;
Evermore your voices raising
To th'eternal Three in One:

While not written by Montgomery, this well-crafted Trinitarian closing verse is one we often use to close our Sunday morning worship services. All creation, join in praising! The angels created before mankind begin worshiping Christ from the time of His Advent (maybe sooner). The shepherds are called to worship the newborn King. The sages travel for miles to worship the Jewish King who is actually Earth’s King. The saints-the community of the Redeemed- you and I- are called to bend the knee to King Jesus. Finally, all creation- every created thing- is called to join us in praising the Triune, Thrice-Holy, God. So, we are brought full circle as it relates to our purpose in life! We are to be worshipers of God.

Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Angels From the Realms of Glory (Part 1)

Once again, good hymns, those marked by sound theology and a fitting match of text and music, have endured because they are timeless and because they are based on scriptural truth. Angels from the Realms of Glory fits the description of a good hymn.

The first stanza captures the hymn's main theme- a call to worship Christ.

Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight over all the earth. You who sang creations story, now proclaim Messiah's birth. Come and worship, Come and worship, Come and Worship Christ the newborn King.

Before considering the words of the hymn, notice God's providence in moving the author to write it.

James Montgomery was born in Scotland, 1771. His father was a poor Moravian minister who along with his wife answered the call to be missionaries in the West Indies. James was in a boarding school as his parents headed to their new mission field. Unfathomably, both of Montgomery's parents died just a few years after arriving in West Indies. Montgomery was only 12 when he received word of his parents death. At the age of 15, the young poet wrote these words about his missionary parents-

"My parents hailed their firstborn boy; A mothers pangs my mother bore, My father felt a father's joy. My father, mother- parents now no more! Beneath the Lion Star they sleep, beyond the western deep, and when the sun's noon-glory crests the waves, he shines without a shadow on their graves..."

Montgomery was a poet and writer. He became the editor and publisher of the "Sheffield Register" in England at age 21. His writing raised the ire of governing authorities as he regularly spoke against the social and political injustice of his day, especially the practice of slavery in England. Eventually, on two different occasions Montgomery was put in prison. He continued to write while in prison. At age 43 Montgomery came out of prison and returned to the Moravian church and became an active worker for missions and the bible society. Montgomery died at the age of 83 having written 400 hymns.

His most popular hymn is the focus of this two-part post, Angels from the realms of glory. The song was actually a poem turned in to a hymn after Montgomery's death. Henry Thomas Smith gave us the current musical arrangement in 1867. Montgomery never got to hear Angels from the realms of glory sung.

Most hymnals have 5 stanzas for Angels from the realms of glory. The first 4 are Montgomery's, the fifth verse is by Chope to round out the hymn. Angels from the realms of glory is one of the most sung and most beloved hymns of the past 150 years.

We'll consider the words and their application in part 2

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Reflecting on the Apparent Life of Tiger Woods

I have had a variety of "talks" with my oldest son about sex (albeit, through the consideration of whitetail deer breeding practices as part of hunting strategy) this past 6 months. My hunting escapades caused him to ask some questions thus allowing him to put two and two together. In the summer months I took him with me to prepare some tree stands on one of the properties I hunt. While we were working he asked me some questions about whitetail hunting strategy. I explained the difference between placing a stand you plan to hunt in the early season when the bucks are in bachelor groups and during "the rut" (whitetail mating season) when they are out on their own aggressively cruising for receptive does. To make a long, uncomfortable story short, he has figured out that whitetail bucks don't chase does just because they want to wrestle or play. I have a book on whitetail biology he has paged through, he basically understands the mating/birthing process of whitetail deer. I know the clock is ticking for him to ask me more pointed questions about human sexuality, so I am praying that Jesus comes back first.

Anyways, recently when we were hunting together he asked me why deer don't stay in family groups. He can see that bucks chase and breed as many different does as they can for what amounts to a 6-week period every Fall. Otherwise the bucks pay no attention to does. Furthermore, bucks could care less about fawns. They have nothing to do with guarding or nurturing does or fawns. Bucks and does essentially live apart except for the 6-week mating season when a whitetail buck almost kills himself trying to breed every receptive doe he can find. This is how God wired deer to survive. They are animals. That's what they do. There is no restraint, just unbridled testosterone that is willing to die to mate.

Basically, this is how Tiger Woods seems to be acting. Obviously I don't know if he has actually had affairs with the eleven women currently being linked to him, but quite frankly, if even half that number is true, it's staggering. In the realm of sexuality, Tiger has been acting like an animal and it's saddening and disappointing to learn.

Now, before I come off as better than Tiger, let me be clear- by all indications (and I don't just mean his behavior) Tiger is not a Christian. Human sexuality is a total broken mess apart from the redemption that only God can give through Christ. Even after a person trusts Christ and is made a new creation, he or she will battle with the brokenness of their sexuality at some level and in some way. Sexual brokenness is worse for some, but every person is messed up sexually, such is a burdensome vestige of the Fall. The truth is, I don't know what I would do if I had the looks, power, money, and connections that Tiger has. I might well do the very same thing he has done, I am making NO statement of judgment in this post except to say that Tiger has been acting like an animal...and so could all of us apart from the redeeming and sustaining grace of God through Christ.

When I see a case like Tiger Woods I am at first disgusted, then sad for his wife, children, mother, etc. Then I get upset at the example he is for millions of people, no matter how much the pundits want to tell us "he is not a role model". Then, upon further reflection I am set back by how weak we are. How weak I am. I just know it is only the grace of God that keeps me from all manner of habitual, addictive, life-destroying sins. I battle gluttony. I battle lust. I battle anger. If I struggle like I do, how does a person void of the Holy Spirit live? Frankly, Tiger didn't battle, he is doing what comes sinfully natural- he is following his fleshly passions. Honestly, the fall of Tiger Woods (and he is falling, make no mistake) is a tragic thing to watch because he represents, at some level, the potential all of us sinners have.

What's the answer? How should we react to the Tiger Woods fall? As Christians, the answer is once again the same- the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The same gospel- the payment for my sins by Jesus on the Cross and the giving of His righteousness to me so I can be an adopted son and new creation-is what has restored a level of control and perspective over my sinful (animal-like) passions. I don't begrudge Tiger Woods or think of him as somehow lesser than me. He just hasn't been freed from the slavery to his fleshly lusts. Even this side of redemption I struggle with fleshly lust, don't we all? For the person without the Holy Spirit though, eventually the seeds of the flesh sown will reap an awful, corrupt, and rotten fruit.

Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

I make no promise that I would not do what Tiger Woods has apparently done or something worse. I am so very grateful to God for the gospel's transforming power in my life, but I'm not kidding myself about the powerful pull of sin either. The same gospel of grace that has brought me new life also works to preserve and guard me from sin's slavish strangle hold. I always need this grace, every minute. It is in such grace that I stand. But make no mistake, it is by grace that I do not fall, not by anything I have done or am doing.

My prayer is for Tiger Woods to come to Christ before His sinful passions destroy him completely and eternally.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Electric Mayhem rocks

You can keep the CGI and Pixar quality animation now used in various children's movies today, I still say the Jim Henson Muppets rule.

I just watched the Muppet Movie with my boys. Electric Mayhem (circa 1979)rocks!!!

Embarrassing Hoax of this Century (or more)

Despite clear and notable dissension in the global "Scientific Community" (a designation I always have trouble granting, given the deeply religious nature of most modern science) concerning the legitimacy of Global Warming, President Obama and the EPA want us to make monumental, massively expensive changes in how we use energy, etc.

Am I the only one who has a sense that Global Warming will be the embarrassing marker capturing the essence of this humanistic, arrogant, age in which we live?

Looking back at the pre-Galileo days when people thought earth was the center of the universe I admit to snickering about their naivete. The Global Warming hoax is far worse. In the pre-Galileo days there was limited perspective and ability to assess the true nature of Earth and it's position in space, etc. In time evidence emerged that painted an accurate picture. The notion of Global Warming has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese with a waning consensus among world scientists, yet, politicians and various idealogs drive the concept forward.

In the core of my being I think the promotion of the Global Warming ruse is the product of two motives. One is genuine (albeit, genuinely mistaken), stemming from a thoroughly committed humanism that boasts a very high view of man (his ability to impact the Earth and his superior intellectual capabilities) rooted deeply in evolutionary philosophy. This perspective causes a distorted view of the "evidence" and even tends to find stuff where it doesn't exist. When I'm out deer hunting I can't tell you how many times I think I see a deer somewhere, only to find out it's a log or a clump of leaves hanging off a tree. I expect to see deer, I want to see deer, so I see them where they don't exist. I think this describes what so many of the Global Warming crowd are doing with scant evidence. The other motive that drives some concerning Global Warming is older than the discipline of science itself- the almighty dollar. Certain segments of industry and business stand to become marvellously wealthy if President Obama and other world leaders are able to ram various sorts of climate legislation through. It has the potential to effect virtually every segment of commerce- energy production, food production, travel, etc. Al Gore won't be the only one to get rich off this scam. I often look back at John Tetzel, the heretic who peddled indulgences just before the Protestant Reformation. I don't think Tetzel had any care in promoting the Roman Church or in building St. Peter's through selling pieces of paper that granted the payer (or his long dead relative) absolution and freedom from Purgatory. I think Tetzel saw a way to make money and went for it. The legitimacy of indulgences wasn't even on his radar. There's a huge segment of people and business that are probably smart enough to see the joke Global Warming is, but are salivating and plotting how to make the most money from it.

What a strange era we are living in.
Greg Gutfield read my mind (or post)- Read his thoughts here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen (Part 2)

The application of God Rest you Merry Gentlemen’s message comes mainly in the form of contemplation that will hopefully compell us to live lives of gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ!

The first verse sets the tone for the hymn-

God rest you merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day, To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray! O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy!

The first line is: “GOD REST YOU MERRY, GENTLEMEN” This is often thought of as “God rest you, merry gentlemen”- it makes a big difference where you put the comma! The encouragement of the hymn is that God would give you rest in merriment- “May God rest you merry”. The hymn bids us merry rest- happy rest. It’s not bidding rest to merry gentlemen! So, the hymn bidding God to give us rest- a joyful rest at that! Hey, that’s Christmassy, isn’t it? Joyful rest? Sure, joyous rest is what Christmas is truly about. Please note, however, the hymn is totally honest about what is required for us to experience rest.

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day, To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray!

Whoa! Satan? What happened to the silver bells, jingle bells, Santa coming to town and the Chestnuts roasting? Why so serious? What about: Have yourself a merry little Christmas? You know- Let your heart be light from now on, our troubles will be out of sight?

Well, very bluntly, our troubles cannot be “out of sight” unless Christ comes in human flesh to rescue us from Satan’s power! to fully appreciate Christmas, we have to see Satan’s role in the redemptive drama!

Notice the hymn’s honest acknowledgement of our dire straits and Satan’s personal involvement in our situation:

To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray!

Apart from Christ, our situation is way beyond dire- it’s sure eternal death. Notice the third verse of the hymn as well-

To free all those who trust in him from Satan’s pow’r and might.

Under Satan’s power? We were gone astray? You bet. According to scripture have all gone astray, that is, we have all sinned- every one of us!

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Furthermore, Sin has a terrible price:

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is what was meant when God told Adam-

Genesis 2:17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.

We must be saved from the penalty due for our sins. We can have no merriment, no comfort, no true Joy, apart from our sins be forgiven. This shed an important light on the opening of Matthew as Joseph is told of Jesus’ purpose in coming-

Matthew 1:20-23 …"Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

So, by all means, let us have our parties, let us roast chestnuts (although microwaving with a little water works just as well), exchange gifts, wear a Santa hat (if you must), drink a little eggnog (with a touch of rum), and make merry, but let us not do so without seriously contemplating the gravity of this fact- Our freedom from Sin and it’s penalty cost a great price! Jesus had to come to free us! The chorus of the hymn celebrates this reality:

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A little more on the Manhattan Declaration (and Marinara)

I have taken some heat from various people for signing the Manhattan Declaration. I have read and appreciate all the various critiques of the MD. Some can be found here:

MacArthur's critique

Begg's critique

Batzig's critique

Horton's critique

There are others. Having read the MD several times along with these various critiques, I still remain at peace having signed it. I know some accuse signers of poor judgment and possibly hurting the cause of the gospel. I can only say that I would rather God strike me dead than hurt the cause of the gospel. My teaching is on wide display both here and in every recorded sermon, so I am confident no credible argument could be given that would prove I am weak on the gospel (by God's grace only). I have a faithful group of elders who would lay the proverbial smack on me if I strayed in such a way, for which I am grateful. I am sorry if some are disappointed with my judgment on this, I am certainly open to correction as I consider the matter going forward. To be clear and to save you from posting a frenzy of corrective comments- I don't need repeats of the arguments so thoughtfully displayed in the linked critiques, but rather I am letting you know I will keep thinking and praying about this issue.

When I signed the MD I saw terms like "christian" and "gospel" and even "church" in a very general light. I thought it was obvious that each of the three groups (Evangelicals/Roman Catholics/and Eastern Orthodox professors) have different technical definitions and understandings of these terms. Indeed, I would argue I have a different definition of the order of salvation (Reformed) than most of Evangelicalism (Arminian), if not a different understanding of the gospel all together (I don't understand how Arminians can think they "choose" God, isn't that a work? I don't believe works can save, etc., hence, do we have a different understanding of the gospel?). So, the definition of "gospel" in this document, being secondary (in my opinion) to the purpose of the Declaration, wasn't an area I stopped to parse. I still don't think the document is a theological statement no matter how much the various critics say it necessarily is. I don't see the document as a joint statement of agreement on these descriptive terms, but rather a call to conviction concerning the addressed issues. I understand many disagree, I am simply stating my rationale.

Further explaining my very general interpretation of the aforementioned terms, the fact that Roman Catholic signers had no problem with protestants/evangelicals being lumped under the "church" umbrella made me think we are using these terms in a very general, loose way. The Roman Catholics I know understand we (Evangelicals) have different technical definitions of the terms. They are no more agreeing with our understanding of the gospel in signing than we are with them. It happens to be a term that both entities use. If this is too close for comfort for some, and I know it is, I totally respect the choice to not sign. I applaud such conviction. For me as an individual signer, I understood (and still understand) the terms to be general and not technical and the cruxt of the document to be a call to moral conviction not doctrinal unity.

Suppose I called Italians to stand in unity by signing a public declaration addressed to all people calling for the use of only marinara sauce on pasta (instead of, say, alfredo sauce), what would you say is the purpose a such a declaration? Now, keep in mind, as a Sicilian I don't really think Northern Italians should have much say in this as they have not been faithful guardians of marinara. From the other direction many Northern Italians think we Sicilians are the dregs of Italy bearing no sense of wider European culture. Some Sicilians would balk at the notion of my having an Irish mother!!!(I love you mom!). But as it relates to the rest of the nations of the world, "Italian" is a label that people at large basically understand as a group of people that fall in to a certain geographic boundary. If a person looks closely at the "Italian" designation they will find some significant differences between those who call themselves Italian, but that's not the point of the declaration. The purpose of the declaration is to help stop the crime of putting a white sauce on pasta when God meant for tomato sauce to be applied. We'll save the "who's really Italian?" discussion for another time.

I see the MD in much the same way. The world basically sees the three groups who joined to sign this document as "christian" in a general way, inside "Nicene" boundaries we might say. The technical definition of christian isn't the point, it's the call to conviction about three important areas. The "Who's really Christian?" discussion is worthy and will not stop until Jesus returns, but that's not the point of the Declaration. I know some say the cause of the gospel may be hurt by this document because it blurs the necessary doctrinal lines between the three groups represented. I just don't see it that way. I can't see reading this document and saying "Oh look, the Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, and Eastern Orthodox have finally come to an agreement on the gospel and what it means to be Christian". Some are concerned such confusion might happen as a result of the MD, at this point I am not.

In addition to the above critiques, several of the signers offered explanations. Kevin DeYoung's response resonated sharply with me. He captures much of my sentiment concerning signing the document very well. You can read it here.

Here's a meaningful statement in DeYoung's post-

So where do I stand on The Manhattan Declaration? Well, I wish I would have listened to my initial hesitation about signing these sorts of documents. The Declaration does not need my signature to make it significant and I don’t need people to misunderstand what my support means. But having signed it (only as one of the crowd), I still agree with the Declaration and feel no pang of conscience for supporting it. If it comes out that the Declaration was meant to minimize the deepest divisions between Evangelicals and Catholics, then I will regret my support. But as it stands, I agree with Mohler’s reasons for signing the document and share his understanding of what signing does and does not mean.

Before you post any comments, let me try to reiterate my main point. This debate, at least among many of us in the conservative reformed world, is not a debate about whether there are essential core-gospel differences between Catholics and Orthodox on one side (who don’t agree either!) and Evangelicals on the other. So please let’s be careful before we blast each other for selling out the gospel. The debate is about whether The Manhattan Declaration implies that there are no essential core-gospel differences among us. After reading the criticisms that have come out I understand how the Declaration could be seen as minimizing our differences. I have great respect for those who read the document in that way. But I still think the Declaration can be read as a statement that simply says “We all as individuals stand in the tradition of Nicene Christianity and we speak together on these three crucial issues of our day.”

So, my dear Reepicheep readers-the critiques are clear enough, there is no need to hammer this post with comments that repeat their notable arguments. In this light, I'll resist responding to the comments that may come, don't be offended, it's a matter of available time. Frankly, save the "you're selling out the gospel" comments, I'm not posting those. I just ask the reader to appreciate a different angle on why someone like myself might sign such a declaration, whether you agree or not.

Finally, no matter what you make of signing the document, I commend the three different statements concerning the issues of Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty to your consideration. I think they offer us a great tool to succinctly argue a biblical case for each of these critical issues.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


A church member friend asked me my take on "Santa Claus" today. Here's what I told him-

"Personally, for us, we have told the boys from day 1 that Santa is a legend that is roughly related to the St. Nicholas of the 5th Century. We have never minced though, he's a fake. I just don't see the upside of letting them believe something that isn't true and not setting them straight. I mean, they watch a make believe movie, we tell them it's make believe. No biggie. They talk about Santa and we either re-enforce the ruse or we don't say anything to correct? I don't know, for me it isn't worth it. He's a big fat fake. My boys have actually taken heat from other church/school kids for saying the fat guy's a fake. I don't get it. Bah HUMBUG!!!"

Besides, did you notice who has the same letters in his name as Santa? Think about it. Ha ha!!

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen (Part 1)

Good hymns, those marked by sound theology and a fitting match of text and music, have endured because they are timeless and because they are based on scriptural truth. In my view God Rest You (Ye) Merry, Gentlemen fits the description of a good hymn. I’ll begin the consideration of God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen by noting a verse that fuels the sentiment of this hymn-

Matthew 1:21-22 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).

This is a wonderful hymn that gets the focus of Advent right by accenting how we may experience true comfort and joy instead of just the superficial, temporal, sensations that come from eggnog and cookie exchanges. The message of God Rest You Merry, Gentleman has nothing to do with Santa Claus, Silver Bells, White Christmases, or Chestnuts roasting. The message of this hymn is the message of Scripture.-In light of sin’s hold on us, Christ is the only source of true comfort and joy.

Little is known about the origin of this hymn. Some argue that references to the hymn- not the hymn itself- appear in 1800, others say the same about 1820. Charles Dickens, in his original script for “A Christmas Carol” in 1842, uses one line from this hymn when a group of carolers try to sing to Ebenezer Scrooge. Of course, nasty old Scrooge slams the door on them so they cannot even finish the first stanza. It is clear, however, by 1843 the hymn was in decent circulation in England. A.H. Bullen wrote in 1885 that it was the “most popular of Christmas Carols.”
I find it amazing that such a great hymn, clearly not written more than 200 years ago, has no clear author. I like what one hymnologist says about this:

“Like the oldest and best worship liturgies, this song is no one’s personal property, time and usage having wiped away nearly all distracting fingerprints of authorship and ‘originality’. Instead, it belongs to all of us…”

Here are the words of “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”:

God rest you merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day, To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray!

From God our heavnly Father, a blessed angel came; And unto certain shepherds brought tidings of the same: How that in Bethlehem was born the Son of God by name.

“Fear not, then,” said the angel, “let nothing you afright; this day is born a Savior of a pure virgin bright, to free all those who trust in him from Satan’s pow’r and might.”

The shepherds at those tidings rejoiced much in mind, And left their flocks a-feeding, in tempest, storm, and wind: And went to Bethlehem straight way, the Son of God to find.

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy!

The application of this hymn’s message comes mainly in the form of contemplating the truth of God’s Word that will hopefully affect the way we live- lives of gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ!

I will consider the particular lines of the hymn in the next installment…