Monday, December 24, 2012

Promises Made, Promises Kept


Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began” (Luke 1:68-70).

The above prophecy concerning Christ comes to us from the lips of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. Though he had just experienced the birth of his own son, under the unction of the Holy Spirit, he spoke of the soon coming birth of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Zacharias’ anticipation, his certain hope; was the shared hope of all the Old Testament prophets and saints.  

What was the content of this Messianic hope? What was the anointed One to do for His people? 

First, Zacharias says that the Messiah was come “to perform the mercy promised to our fathers” (Luke 1:72). Thus we are assured that God did not send His Son to condemn the world (the unbelieving world was under God‘s just condemnation prior to Christ‘s coming), but to show the world His immeasurable mercy.  

Jesus’ birth is the fulfillment of God’s long promised mercy to the “fathers” of the true faith. More specifically, this is the keeping of the promise “which [God] swore to Abraham” (Luke 1:73).  

By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD . . . blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants . . . your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed . . . . (Genesis 22:16-18) 

We—along with the Old Testament prophets, Zacharias, the Apostles, and all the writers of the New Testament—understand that the merciful promises of God to His people are fulfilled in His Son, Jesus Christ. We celebrate the birth of our Lord, not because His advent delays God’s promises to the fathers, but because His advent fulfills them.  

Second, Zacharias declares that the Messiah comes “to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life” (Luke 1:74-75).  

We celebrate the birth of Jesus because He is our great deliverer. He is our King who vanquishes every foe. Our warrior King has crushed the head of our enemy and His victory is our victory.  

Because of Christ we serve God without servile fear, for Christ Himself is our righteousness, our holiness. Because Christ has come, we now serve the LORD all of the days of this life, and in the unending day of the life to come, confidently clothed in His imputed righteousness and holiness.  

God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, is our conquering King and He clothes us in robes of true righteousness.  

In addition to His office as righteous King, Zacharias also proclaims that the Messiah comes as our perfect High Priest “to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:77). 

Our perfect High Priest remits our sin through the offering of the perfect sacrifice. Lambs offered by sinful men could not remit sin. Only the Lamb of God, offered by God’s High Priest—the one Mediator between God and men—could atone for sin. Thus Christ our High Priest and Mediator offers up Himself to God as the perfect Lamb, sacrificed before the foundation of the world.  

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14)? 

The Baby in the manger is God’s spotless little Lamb. We celebrate the miraculous birth of Jesus because He is our King and our High Priest. But He is more still. Christ fulfills yet another office for us. He is our Prophet.  

Zacharias exults in the coming Messiah, the Prophet of God, that He comes “to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).  

Christ alone gives light to the sin darkened world. Christ’s words—the very words of God—reveal the way of peace with God. If we would hear God we must hear Christ in scripture. “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…” (Hebrews 1:1-2a).  

Prophets were agents of divine revelation. God spoke to His people through them. Yet Christ is the Prophet. He not only tells us God’s word—He is God’s Word. The Baby in the manger is God’s Word indwelling human flesh. This little One is God the Son incarnate: fully God and truly human.  

What a glorious, ordinary night—the night Jesus was born! It was unlike and like every other night before or since. A heavenly host was praising God over a sleeping Bethlehem. Such is often the case with momentous events: they go unnoticed. And this, the most momentous event of all, was by and large unnoticed then and ignored now.  

May this never be the case with us! In the heart of that slumbering village lay God’s only begotten Son, our Prophet, Priest, and King; and Savior of the world. Let us therefore rejoice.

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, 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, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:10-14)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Disarming Smile: Government’s Toothy Grin


You never want a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before. ~Rahm Emanuel 

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies. ~Groucho Marx 

Friday was a gut-wrenching day for America. The whole nation—thanks to 24/7 cable news—was transfixed and heartbroken over the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Matricide followed by the slaughter of 20 children and 6 adults: How does one process this? 

Predictably, before those little, lifeless bodies were lifted from the floor, liberals were clamoring for more gun control. Never let a “serious crisis go to waste” indeed. But will disarming American citizens make them safer—safer how and from whom?  

Here are a few things which seem to militate against taking away our guns. 

The pragmatic problem
How would the government disarm Americans? I don’t suppose there would be an immediate gun grab. It seems to me that disarming Americans would be done incrementally, step-by-step, one regulation after another—all in the name of the public good.  

Isn’t this how we’ve surrendered other liberties?

Still, there will need to be fines and/or jail sentences for those who are uncooperative. Let that sink in. Owning a certain type of firearm would be criminal—not using the weapon nefariously, just simply having it.  

How successful would such a “war on guns” be? Well, how did that little 'ol “war on alcohol” turn out? For the historically challenged, how’s the “war on drugs” faring these days? Does anyone lament the scarcity of drugs since they’re illegal? 

The truth is, prohibition was a disaster and so is the “war on drugs.” Prohibition didn’t stop drinkers from drinking and the war on drugs doesn’t stop druggies from drugging (not even the ones in the “big house”). The ubiquitous war on drugs hasn’t made even a dent in the usage and availability of illegal (or legal!) drugs. 

I suspect a war on guns would be every bit as "successful." It would simply be another gross misdiagnosis and wrong remedy. 

The Constitutional problem
Where does the Constitution authorize the government to disarm the American people? It doesn’t. Quite the opposite. Rather it reads: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. 

(No matter how the Second Amendment is interpreted or misinterpreted with regard to “well regulated militia”, it CANNOT be construed to mean “the right of the people to keep and bear arms SHALL BE infringed.”) 

Thus, the Constitution is problematic for those who wish to take our guns. It’s an obstacle, yes, but it is by no means an insurmountable one. The Constitution is, after all, but a legal document. That is, the Constitution, in and of itself, lacks the capacity of enforcement. 

To be sure, the government has the power of force. Government is force. But when the government refuses to abide by the Constitution, and when that recalcitrant government is elected by a lethargic people: What is the Constitution but a wrinkly piece of paper? 

Certainly, the government will not honestly and forthrightly say, “We are taking your guns; the Second Amendment be damned.” No, the government will simply “reinterpret” the Constitution as being in accordance with the will of the powers that be—“the Constitution means what we say it means.”  

Arbitrary governance is the end of the rule of law. 

Know this: those who would disarm you will do so while they work and scheme from within a building crawling with armed guards. And at this very moment our weepy President has machine-gun-toting personnel prowling on the roof of “his” house. Think about it. 

The common sense problem
We are going to disarm you for the sake of your safety.” The government makes us safer by rendering us defenseless? Do you buy this? How does taking my gun make me safer?  

Please understand, dear reader: The government does not, because it cannot, protect you. Imagine this. As you near the end of my article you hear a crash of glass and heavy, unfamiliar foot-steps in your foyer. In the next 15 seconds…who will defend you?  

Who will save your family? The police? Impossible! (At best they can investigate the crime scene of your home and maybe apprehend the intruder before he attempts to terrorize somebody else.) 

The government will not—because it cannot—protect you from present danger. But maybe you can protect yourself. When a hammer wielding meth-head breaches your door, which would be the best course of action for you:  

1) Hide in a closet and try to breathe a little quieter
2) Keep him at bay with a butter-knife
3) Look him in the eye and ask, “Do you know Jesus? Would you like to?”
4) Call the police and hope they hurry
5) Keep him on the business end of a .38 Special until he goes back out the door—one way or another.  

I know which option I’ll take.  

I do not own a gun because I live in fear. I own a gun because I live in preparedness. I own a gun for the same reason I own a fire extinguisher. And I pray I never need either one of them. 

Stories are told of how faculty at the Newtown school perished while trying in vain to halt the horror. Some of them heroically rushed the shooter. One tried unsuccessfully to be a human shield. 

I can’t help but wonder: Would things have been different if someone other than a murderous fiend had a firearm that morning, if the school hadn’t been a “soft target”?  

We don’t live a hypothetical world. But when’s the last time you heard of a mass murder at a shooting range?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Conversation About Race

Below is a conversation about race. It is a conversation, not a debate—no temper fits, name calling or bomb throwing. I pray that if nothing else, the discussion will serve as a primer to provide your mind with food for thought on what continues to be a designedly divisive subject and cultural phenomena.

Part of this conversation has to do with “Kinism” and “Kinists.” In case you are unfamiliar with the term, here’s a brief definition of “Kinism.”
 

Kinism is the belief that the God-ordained social order for man is tribal and ethnic rather than imperial and universal. Mankind was designed by its Creator and Law Giver to live and to thrive in extended family groups, and all other "alternatives" to this pattern are inhibitory of the chief end of man, which is to Glorify God and to enjoy life with Him forever.

As usual, my interlocutors’ words appear bold and italicized. May God add His blessing to your reading. 

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"I can understand being racist - supporting slavery, etc. If I was in the South at those times, I probably would have been quite racist (Dabney was). . . . But, modern day? When all around you is that all people are equal, especially at the level of race, it has to be a willful desire to be racist." 

You've put your finger on a sticking point for me. I've heard folks calling Kinists “heretics” and "cancers," etc. And yet, as you observe, R.L. Dabney was racist. 

And he's far from the only example. Jonathan Edwards owned slaves, as did some Puritans. What little I know of Kinism, it seems to me that--statistically speaking--ALL Christians, before the 1950's and 60's, espoused views on race similar to Kinists.  

I've read some very hateful words--written by Christians--directed towards Kinists. But it seems to me that the Kinists are closer to our Christian forebears on race issues than most of us. 

Are we guilty of a double standard? (What's heretical today MUST have been heretical before the civil rights movement. And morality hasn't changed since the 1950's. Right?)  

Please understand, I'm not talking about race-based slavery. I'm only speaking of the Kinists and the Christians of the not so distant past in how they view race. (Also, I don't suppose Kinism is monolithic and so I'm sure there's a whole range of views and opinions amongst them. Thus, I'm speaking in very general terms here.) 

"I have never believed that all Kinists are certainly not saved. So, I think people are overstepping to say that Kinism is 'heresy' if by that they mean 'damnable heresy'.
However, if I went back in time to Dabney's day, with my current beliefs, I would never attend his church. I would start my own ahead of joining anyone who held his views on race." 

The Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, Dabney, etc. were very much acquainted with people of color, and they were experts in the scripture. I believe they were entirely Christian. 

So, what has changed? How is it that we know better than they? Do present day Christians better understand the Bible? Hardly! Do present day Christians better understand people of color? Maybe. 

My question is: Why are today's Christians so much more "enlightened" about race than yesterday's Christians? From whence does this enlightenment come? Did our understanding of scripture have some kind of "advance" in the 1950's and 60's? (As I alluded to already, this seems HIGHLY unlikely!) 

Again, why do today's Christians know so much more than yesterday's Christians when it comes to race? What is the basis for this increase in knowledge? 

(One reason I'm interested in this discussion is the way in which the terms "racism" and "racist" are—in my opinion—being overused and abused these days. A couple of weeks ago, I addressed this:

"Did our understanding of scripture advance from the close of the cannon around 69AD? Does the church merely advance in numbers? Although I have great respect for the Puritans, reformers, church fathers, ancient creeds, etc, nothing takes the place of scripture and that interpreted by scripture itself. We err to idolize anyone or anything in the past." 

I think the church's understanding of scripture has advanced since 69AD, yes. I'm sure we could produce specific doctrines and corresponding verses or passages. 

(For example--though I disagree with this position--Dispensationalism. Prior to the mid-19th Century nobody was a Dispensationalist! However, Dispensationalists argue that their understanding of eschatology is biblical, and they have lots of verses to which they appeal--though nobody before the mid-19th Century believed such things. Hence, in their mind, their belief system constitutes a genuine theological “advance.”) 

That being said, what do you propose the scriptural advance is in the 1950's and 60's? What verses or passages, pertaining to race, do we now understand more clearly than the Christians before this time? 

We are agreed that "nothing takes the place of scripture." So, I'm wondering: What are the biblical bases for Christians' views on race BEFORE the civil rights movement and what are the biblical bases for Christians' views on race AFTER the '50s and ‘60s? 

In other words: Are the racial opinions of contemporary Christians, which are at odds with those of historical Christians, actually rooted in specific scripture? (Thus, our differences are a matter of hermeneutics perhaps?) Or, were their views THEN and our views NOW, regarding race, shaped by things other than the sacred text itself? 

"I agree with it is not a simple issue. . . . Cultural norms and majorities do impact Christianity - ten years ago, I would have laughed at you if you told me that I would know Calvinists who support same-sex marriage. . . . Marriage is one area where we understand it worse - race is one area where we understand it better.
Was there an improvement in our understanding of Scripture? I'd say yes - from Wilberforce to John Newton, it was certainly a re-finding of biblical truth . . . ." 

Thank you for recognizing the complexity of the issue. I've given this topic a fair amount of thought. Yet, it is such a "touchy" subject that folks are hesitant to discuss it in a calm, contemplative manner. We rarely get beyond "race-baiting" and name calling (99.9% of it from the Left). 

I don't know the SPECIFIC verses upon which our forebears based their views on race. Frankly, I don't know the SPECIFIC verses (beyond Gen 1, Acts 17, and Gal 3) upon which we base our present day views on race.  

(The aforementioned passages seem to go no further than teaching that all men are from the same parentage and are therefore image bearers of God and are equal in value and worth. Though I certainly do not downplay the essential importance of these truths, racial views seem to entail much more than this.) 

This being said, it seems sensical to me that our views of race are mostly based in culture, not in scripture. Perhaps in this one area of race (again, I am NOT talking about race-based slavery) our culture is morally superior to the cultures before the 50s and 60s; thus our views of race are an improvement upon our forebears'. 

Perhaps this is the case. However, I don't know that I can come up with a single other category in which our present culture is morally preferable to the cultures which precede it. (By "culture" I am referring only to Western cultures influenced by Christianity.) 

Finally, you mentioned Wilberforce and Newton: I'm guessing (I'm only GUESSING because I really don't know!) that their views on race were more similar to the Kinists' than to ours. (From reading his own words, I certainly believe Abraham Lincoln's racial views were quite similar to the Kinist position.)
 
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That's the extent of our discussion, but the "conversation" needn't end here. In fact, I think we all know that it will not, it must not, indeed it cannot end here. Thank you for reading and thinking.

 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Put The Past Before You

Recently I read of a war-torn country and the terrible lengths to which its ruler went to impose his will and defeat his foes. Within his controlled territory he declared “marshal law,” confiscated private property, and imprisoned nearly 30,000 citizens—without trial.  

In one large urban area somewhere between 300 and 1000 riotous war protesters were shot to death by his military. In effort to avoid conscription an estimated 120,000 boys and men hid in fear; 90,000 of them seeking sanctuary in a nearby country.  

And of course there were sanctioned war crimes—unimaginable atrocities: homes and farms burned, women raped, children and old men murdered.  

How do we feel about men and wars such as these? Would it alter your feelings to know that I was reading about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War? (Perhaps you’d already guessed.) Still, how are we to understand such savagery? Many don’t even try. Rather than process the past they romanticize and mythologize it. 

Thus, when it comes to major portions of U.S. history, we’ve been sold a bill of goods. And we are more than happy customers; for few things soothe the conscience of people more than an idealized past. But how does one construct a national identity on mythical foundations? 

I think we’ve all heard the maxim: “Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.” But do we actually believe this? Our disinterest in the past indicates otherwise. It is as though many Americans view the world as if they were born yesterday. In their minds, the “present” has no context of a past. This cannot serve us well. 

Think of the amnesiac. He has no clue as to who he is because he has completely forgotten who he was. That is, he has no known history. Is ignorance bliss? Not for long. Historical illiteracy catches up to us. The individual or nation with no knowledge of the past cannot make sense of the present, cannot self-identify. And such a citizen or country is entirely vulnerable to malicious manipulation.  

More to the point: Ignorance isn’t the biblical way. God would have us to be students of history. In fact, the Christian faith is rooted in history. Christ Himself is the focal point of all history and Christ Himself is the Lord of history. Thus, the past, as well as the present and the future, is vital to the Christian worldview.  

So let’s not leave “history” to the agenda-driven secularists. (Think of it, how much of our understanding of world history or even American history—however limited—is practically godless; that is, we have a humanistic interpretation of the past? How does a godless apprehension of the past mesh with the idea of Providence in the present?) 

The truth is we’re not rudderless. Mankind is not simply floating along, guideless and aimless. God is in control and rules over the affairs of men. This means there is a season and a purpose to all things (Ecclesiastes 3). We need to be wise and discerning so that we can properly view the past, present, and future through a biblical, Christocentric lens. 

The Christian can ill afford to bury his head in the sand and let the world go by. We can’t cloister ourselves away in some sort of neo-monastic pietism and plead for the “Rapture.” Rather, we must contemplatively and consistently apply the Lordship of Christ to every area of our lives; bring the truth of Christ to bear upon a sinful society: it’s past, present, and future. 

We are to be salt and light for a dark and tasteless world. This will require loving God, as is our duty, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. One cannot be spiritually, mentally or physically lazy to the glory of God. 

May God bless us to be as “the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1Chronicles 12:32).