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Friday, January 30, 2015

Preparing for Darkness

My last post was on the Light of the World: Jesus Christ, and not only Christ, but also His Church, which is His body. We crave light, especially during the depths of winter, and when storms come we fear its loss. Due to the large snow storms threatening my neighborhood lately, I've thought a lot about light and how much we need it to feel safe. So far, so good. No power outages yet, but it doesn't mean I shouldn't be prepared in case the darkness of winter closes in. How much more should we be prepared for life's darkness? How much more should we be in need of God's light?

In his first letter to the Church St. John writes that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”  This is a profound and comforting word that negates the philosophy (common among certain world religions) that claims dualism is the norm in both Creation and in God. John happened to see and experience just the opposite, both through his Jewish knowledge of the Scriptures and through his encounters with the Messiah. Jesus embodied the light of God and declared it firmly; to believe darkness is something that should be considered par for the course is untenable. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Light of the World


All Creation was made by God, through the Holy Trinity, acting in an outpouring of love, and the one element permeating all of it was light. When He spoke, God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. When He created man, God said, "Let us make man in our image," and since the Scriptures teach that God is light, man is therefore also a light; or, at least, that was his intended purpose: a light to the world, a reflection of his creator. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Word Made Flesh

There are many philosophies and religions in the world, each trying to explain the meaning of life and how we can relate to both this world and the mysteries beyond. Yet only in Christianity do we see God—the Infinite and Absolute—as a Person who comes to live among us in love, having shared with us our human nature. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

What Do You Expect to See?

"After John's messengers left them, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John. "When you walked into the desert, what did you go out to see? Just a reed swayed back and forth by the wind? But if not, then what did you go out to see? A great and powerful man dressed in fine clothes? No. Those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in power live in palaces. But then, if not that, what did you go out to see? Did you go out there to see a prophet? Yes. But I tell you, he is more than a prophet . . . among those born of women there is no one greater than John; though, the one who makes himself least in God's Kingdom will be considered greater even than he is." - Luke 7: 14-28
There is one thing that Jesus will never say about me; the words he spoke about John the Baptist. No greater honor exists than the thoughts the Son of God had for his servant and his beloved cousin. There was no man like him in all of Israel and no man in the history of the world: a man born in sin and yet, completely devoted to God and to his mission. He received the Spirit as a baby in his mother's womb; you could almost say he was born again before he was born the first time! There is no one like John the Baptist.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Why We Need the Puritans: Evangelical Outcasts

The following is taken from the book A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life:
I turn finally to those whom I call disaffected deviationists, the dropouts of the modern evangelical movement, many of whom have now turned against it to denounce it as a neurotic perversion of Christianity. Here, too, is a breed that we know all too well.
It is distressing to think of these folk, both because their experience to date discredits our evangelicalism so deeply and also because there are so many of them.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Why We Need the Puritans: Pure Intellectualism

The following is taken from the book A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life:
Think now of entrenched intellectualists in the evangelical world: a second familiar breed, though not so common as the previous type. Some of them seem to be victims of an insecure temperament and inferiority complexes , others to be reacting out of pride or pain against the craziness found in experiential Christian circles as they have perceived it, but whatever the source of their syndrome the behaviour-pattern is distinctive and characteristic. Constantly they present themselves as rigid, argumentative, critical Christians, champions of God’s truth for whom orthodoxy is all. Upholding and defending their own view of that truth, whether Calvinist or Arminian, dispensational or Pentecostal, or whatever it might be, is their leading interest.
There is little warmth about them; relationally they are remote; experiences do not mean much to them; winning the battle for mental correctness is their one great purpose. They see, truly enough, that in our anti-rational, feeling-oriented, instant-gratification culture the knowledge of divine things is undervalued, and they seek with passion to right the balance at this point. They understand the priority of the intellect well; the trouble is that intellectualism, expressing itself in endless campaigns for their own brand of right thinking, is almost all that they can offer, for it is almost all that they have. They too, so I urge, need exposure to the Puritan heritage for their maturing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

This past Sunday was the beginning of Advent. I went to a beautiful Advent service where we sang the hymn, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. The hymn was written by Anglican pastor Charles Wesley, brother to evangelist John Wesley. It's stuck in my head, and I keep thinking of the lyrics that point the worshiper to the desire in every human heart for freedom and joy. In this, we get in touch with our deep longings that only Christ can fulfill. At his first advent, he fulfilled the longing of Israel and many in the world who would put their hope in him; but even now, while freed from Egypt, we are still wandering in the desert, waiting for His second advent to usher in the Kingdom of God and put an end to all our griefs.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Why We Need the Puritans: Experience-Chasers

It must by now be apparent that the great Puritan pastor-theologians were men of outstanding intellectual power, as well as spiritual insight. In them mental habits fostered by sober scholarship were linked with a flaming zeal for God and an acquaintance with the human heart. All their work displays this unique fusion of gifts and graces. In thought and outlook they were radically God-centered. Their appreciation of God’s sovereign majesty was profound, and their reverence in handling his written Word was deep and constant. They were patient, thorough, and methodical in searching the Scriptures, and their grasp of the various threads and linkages in the web of revealed truth was firm and clear. They understood most richly the ways of God with men, the glory of Christ the Mediator, and the work of the Spirit in the believer and the church.
And their knowledge was no mere theoretical orthodoxy. They sought to ‘reduce to practice’ (their own phrase) all that God taught them. They yoked their consciences to his word, disciplining themselves to bring all activities under the scrutiny of Scripture, and to demand a theological, as distinct from a merely pragmatic, justification for everything that they did. They applied their understanding of the mind of God to every branch of life, seeing the church, the family, the state, the arts and sciences, the world of commerce and industry, no less than the devotions of the individual, as so many spheres in which God must be served and honored. They saw life whole, for they saw its Creator as Lord of each department of it, and their purpose was that ‘holiness to the Lord’ might be written over it in its entirety.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Why We Need the Puritans: The Quest for Maturity

The Puritans, by contrast to a scattered and immature church, were spiritual giants. They were great souls serving a great God. In them clear-headed passion and warm-hearted compassion combined. Visionary and practical, idealistic and realistic too, goal-oriented and methodical, they were great believers, great doers, and great sufferers. But their sufferings, both sides of the ocean (in old England from the authorities and in New England from the elements), seasoned and ripened them till they gained a stature that was nothing short of heroic. Ease and luxury, such as our affluence brings us today, do not make for maturity; hardship and struggle do, and the Puritans’ battles against the spiritual and climatic wildernesses in which God set them produced a virility of character, undaunted and unsinkable, rising above discouragement and fears, for which the true precedents and models are men like Moses, and Nehemiah, Peter after Pentecost, and the apostle Paul. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why We Need the Puritans

I recently had a discussion with a friend about the use of images in worship. For example, I have an icon of Jesus in my room; it has "spoken" to me about who God is and it reminds me about Jesus. I don't, however, bow down to it, kiss it, talk to it, or venerate it in any way. But even the use of Christian art for contemplation or meditation is offensive to many evangelicals for good reason: the historic use of images in most of the Church's history has bordered on idolatry, and in many places has entered into that realm, bringing no doubt God's judgment on those who claim to be His followers but unabashedly break the second commandment. 

One of my favorite theologians is J.I. Packer, whose classic, Knowing God, is still read by thousands today after almost fifty years. Mr. Packer is still alive; he's an Anglican and has worked in England as part of the Church for many decades. He's decidedly low-church and evangelical, championing the cause of conservative, Word-centered Christianity in England and in the world. His view of images, which is tolerated by some in Anglicanism, is not that their use is wrong (after all, God commanded artistic representations to be created in the Temple) but that it is unnecessary and ultimately unwise, considering human's propensity to turn objects into idols. I respect him immensely as a writer, a pastor, and a scholar and his use of the word "unwise" as opposed to "wrong" shows a clear desire to be gracious yet clear. Ultimately it's up to an individual's conscience, for only an individual can know whether a piece of religious art, used for contemplation and inspiration, is becoming the central focus of their worship.

This kind of debate between what's necessary to the Christian faith and what's peripheral or perhaps detrimental has been going on in the Church for centuries. In comes the Puritan.

"Yup. You need me."