Devotional for the New Year: The Good News We Almost Forgot

Good News

For anyone looking for a good devotional book to use in the new year, whether for personal or family, I would recommend Kevin DeYoung‘s The Good News We Almost Forgot.  Insightfully written, this book follows the pattern of the Heidelberg Catechism, quite possibly the most devotional of all historic catechisms.  As the Heidelberg has been broken into 52 units by the Dutch church, one for each Lord’s Day of the year, so DeYoung has penned 52 short, two to three page, chapters, each digging into the truths of the respective catechism questions for that week, and then winsomely applying the truths to day to day life.  This book helps the readers go deeper while at the same time broadening the scope of the historic faith.

Seasons of Revival

Holy Spirit

No matter how many times I have seen them, my bemusement has never seemed to wane.  I appreciate the zeal, yet marvel at the naivete’.  Signs and banners adorning church doors and properties: “Revival Tonight!” “Revival This Week!”

Don’t get me wrong, I long to experience revival – a genuine work of God, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in ways that bring widespread renewal.  But whenever I see such signs I am reminded of something I heard long ago: “Just because you put up a sign does not mean there is a revival; and if there is a true revival, you won’t need to put up a sign.”

Again, while I appreciate the zeal, I suspect many people are confused about what a revival is and is not.  A genuine revival is beyond human control. It is a work of God.  A Reformation, on the other hand, is something that we – the Church – should continually labor toward.  A Reformation is the conforming of our practices to the ways of God expressed in the Word.  There is always need for us to be at work to this end, since we are prone to drift toward fads and to our own devices.  But where we work toward Reformation, we can only – and must! – pray for Revival.

As we embark on a new year, a time when many of us pause and press the mental reset button, I am praying that perhaps in this coming year I might see and experience a genuine revival.  But I wonder if what I pray for is the same as what those who place signs on their doors are hoping to see.  As I consider the possible differences of opinion I may have from others on this subject, I appreciate the insights of Tim Keller describing one of the points of confusion – the difference between Seasons of Revival and mere Revivalism:

How do seasons of revival come? One set of answers comes from Charles Finney, who turned revivals into a “science.” Finney insisted that any group could have a revival any time or place, as long as they applied the right methods in the right way. Finney’s distortions, I think, led to much of the weakness in modern evangelicalism today, as has been well argued by Michael Horton over the years. Especially under Finney’s influence, revivalism undermined the more traditional way of doing Christian formation. That traditional way of Christian growth was gradual – whole family catechetical instruction – and church-centric. Revivalism under Finney, however, shifted the emphasis to seasons of crisis. Preaching became less oriented to long-term teaching and more directed to stirring up the affections of the heart toward decision. Not surprisingly, these emphases demoted the importance of the church in general and of careful, sound doctrine and put all the weight on an individual’s personal, subjective experience. And this is one of the reasons (though not the only reason) that we have the highly individualistic, consumerist evangelicalism of today.

Read the rest of Keller’s article: Revival: Ways & Means

About Bible “Admissions”

HAPPY Strawman

When first reading an article featured in Relevant Magazine by John Pavlovitz, 5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible, I found myself feeling a mixture of mild reactions: chagrined by the banality, and indifferent because of the banality.  While the magazine does occasionally publish some thoughtful pieces, the majority seem to be either old fashioned theological liberalism dressed up in contemporary Millennial angst, or shallow pragmatism desperately wanting to be considered poignant and profound.  This particular article managed to qualify for both categories, as Pavlovitz offered his handful of wishes that people would understand:

  1. The Bible Isn’t a Magic Book
  2. The Bible Isn’t as Clear as We’d Like It to Be
  3. The Bible Was Inspired by God, Not Dictated by God
  4. We All Pick and Choose the Bible We Believe, Preach and Defend
  5. God is Bigger Than the Bible

Really going out on a limb there, with such staggering assertions. (Note sarcasm.)

It was not until I read a post by Blake Deal, What We Will Not “Admit” About the Bible, that I even gave it a second thought.  What had seemed unworthy to receive much consideration had now been given a thoughtful, appropriate corrective.   After reading Deal’s rebuttal, I started thinking to myself: “I wish I’d written that”.

Whether one takes the time to read Pavlovitz’s piece or not, I think Deal’s observations are worth the few minutes it  takes to read them, both for their succinct affirmations of the historic faith, and as an example of a good way to address other straw man allegations levied against historic Christian orthodoxy in the name of becoming relevant to this present generation.

God’s Gifts to Us

Gifts (B&W)

“When God planned the great work of saving sinners, he provided two gifts. He gave his Son and he gave his Spirit. In fact each person of the Trinity was involved in the great work of salvation. The love, grace and wisdom of the Father planned it; the love, grace and humility of the Son purchased it; and the love, grace and power of the Holy Spirit enabled sinners to believe and receive it.

The first great truth in this work of salvation is that God sent his Son to take our nature on him and to suffer for us in it. The second great truth is that God gave his Spirit to bring sinners to faith in Christ and so be saved.”

~ John Owen

Being the Church in the World: Distinctiveness

In this video John Stott discusses what he calls one of the most neglected themes in the Bible: Distinctiveness.

With all the clamoring for church to be seen as relevant in our culture, perhaps we – the Church – have lost sight of the call to be different.  Not different for the sake of being different, but different nevertheless.  Christians are to be different because, rather than being conformed to the principles of this world, we are more-and-more to be conformed to the likeness of Christ – in character, in passions, and in perspective.  We are to be formed by the Word, and consequently we become different from those around us.

Relevance has it’s place.  There is no merit in being irrelevant – and even less in just being weird.  But relevance must be considered as only one item, and it must be understood alongside with how we are also to be different from the world around us, and distinct in the communities where we live.

J.C. Ryle on the Incarnation

Exchange (Red-Yellow-Orange)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ~ John 1.14

Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle elaborates on these words to deepen our appreciation for the Incarnation of Christ:

The plain meaning of these words is, that our divine Savior really took human nature upon Him, in order to save sinners. He really became a man like ourselves in all things, sin only excepted. Like ourselves, he was born of a woman, though born in a miraculous manner. Like ourselves, he grew from infancy to boyhood, and from boyhood to man’s estate, both in wisdom and in stature (Luke 2.52). Like ourselves he hungered, thirsted, ate, drank, slept, was wearied, felt pain, wept, rejoiced, marveled, and was moved to anger and to compassion. Having become flesh, and taken a body, He prayed, read the Scriptures, suffered being tempted, and submitted His human will to the will of God the Father. And finally, in the same body, He really suffered and shed his blood, really died, was really buried, really rose again and really ascended up into heaven. And yet all this time He was God as well as man!

Nowhere, perhaps, shall we find a more wise and judicious statement than in the second article of the Church of England. ‘The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, were joined together in one Person, that is to say, the Godhead and the manhood were joined together in one person, never to be never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very man.’

Round Yon Virgin

Away in a Manger

Some of the more curious lyrics to songs seem to be evident in some of the best known Christmas-time hymns. At least it seems that way to me.

Perhaps the cause is sometimes from lack of attention. For instance, as a kid I was certain that the prolonged “glo-r-ia, in excelsius deo” of Angels We Have Heard on High was somehow about Oreo cookies.  I was in my early 20’s before I gave it enough thought and discovered the Latin lingo.  (Truth be told, even now knowing I still hear “O-re-o” echo in my head whenever the song is sung.)

But sometime it is not lack of attention, but archaic language that causes the confusion.  One such example may be some of the words to the song Silent Night, sung at the conclusion of many Christmas Eve services, as candles are being lighted all throughout the sanctuaries.  The folks from Mental Floss have shed some light on the odd phrases of that popular tune:

The “round” in Silent Night might call up imagery of the soft, maternal kind, but in the phrase “round yon virgin,” it simply means “around.” “Yon” is an antiquated word for “that one” or “over there.” The meaning of the phrase in the song depends on the line before it. It should be understood in the context “all is calm, all is bright round yon virgin mother and child.” In other words “Everything is calm and bright around that virgin mother over there and her child.” In technical terms, “round yon virgin mother and child” is a prepositional phrase.

So now we know.  The words do not describe a pregancy weight gain, or some other kind of personal allusion, but rather an idylic bucolic serenity that accompanied the Prince of Peace into this world.

The Glory of God’s Incarnation

Incarnation (Red)

Martin Luther expresses his appreciation of Christmas, not just that Jesus was born, but how and to whom he was born:

If Christ had arrived with trumpets and lain in a cradle of gold, His birth would have been a splendid affair. But it would not be a comfort to me. He was, rather, to lie in the lap of a poor maiden and be thought to be of little significance in the eyes of the world. Now I can come to Him. Now He reveals Himself to the miserable in order not to give any impression that He arrives with great power, splendor, wisdom, and aristocratic manners. But upon His return, on that Day when He will oppose the high and the mighty, it will be different. Now He comes to the poor, who need a Savior; but then He will come as a Judge against those who are persecuting Him now.  ~ from a sermon from 1530

Remember Christ dwelt with us in humility so that we might approach him receiving the covenant of peace which he secured for us by the blood of his cross.  (Colossians 1.19-20)

We 3 Kings

We 3 Kings

You probably know the song, We Three Kings of Orient Are:

We three kings of orient are,
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain,
Moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

The song is based upon the account of the Magi, in Matthew 2.  And though it may be a little less than an accurate account, it is still among my favorites during the Christmas season.

What is inaccurate? For one thing, there is no reason to assume there were only three Magi.  The three is largely assumed because of the mention of three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There very well could have been, and very likely were, far more guys in the caravan than those lonely determined three.  That is just one example.  There are at least a few other somewhat trivial issues. But otherwise, while the song may be a little fanciful, there is nothing seriously erroneous about it.

But more important than a few questionable lyrics is a greater question: “What are some things we can learn from the three Magi mentioned in the song?” To answer this question we can benefit from a helpful little piece Martin Downes wrote a few years ago for Against Heresies: We Three Kings.

Check it out, and give it some thought. And remember, this is not a story limited to Christmas. After all, the Wise Men themselves did not actually arrive to their destination until some time after that first Christmas Day. So this is a story worth pondering well into the New Year.

The Nativity

Nativity Set

by C.S. Lewis

Among the oxen (like an ox I’m slow)
I see a glory in the stable grow
Which, with the ox’s dullness might at length
Give me an ox’s strength.

Among the asses (stubborn I as they)
I see my Saviour where I looked for hay;
So may my beastlike folly learn at least
The patience of a beast.

Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed),
I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;
Oh that my baa-ing nature would win thence
Some woolly innocence!