Monday, July 29, 2019

Christmas in Galatians

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Christmas in July is in full swing this week. It's one of those made up holidays that originated at a girls camp in North Carolina in 1933. It has become kind of a big deal over the last few years – and a great reason for shopping centers, strip malls, and online retailers to have mid-summer sales. Even the White House is planning a Christmas in July event. So why not the church? 

For the last few years we have celebrated Christmas in July at our church on the last Sunday of the month. Everyone seems to enjoy the wonderful worship, festive fellowship, and of course, the christmas cookies. (We also try to have a canned food drive for the local food pantry.)

Additionally, this year we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the book of Galatians in our Adult Bible Class. Just in time for Christmas. Why do I say that? Because when you open up your Bible to Galatians chapter 4, what you find is the Apostle Paul's celebration of Christmas.

Now of course, Christmas as a festival came much later for the early church. Easter was the first great festival of the church accompanied by the first Christian creed, “Christ is Risen”, which was soon followed by “Jesus is Lord”. Only later did the early believers begin wondering about the details surrounding Jesus' birth. Of utmost significance to them was the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ – as it still should be for us today.

But Christmas is still wonderful – and full of wonder as well. That's why the Apostle Paul gives us this radiant passage in Galatians 4 to illuminate us with the Christmas Gospel. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying 'Abba Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

We don't get much Christmas in the Epistles. There is Philippians 2 where Jesus is “born in the image of men”, and Colossians 1 and 2, where in Him “the fullness of God dwells bodily”. But there isn't much else. And aside from Luke 2, there isn't much in the Gospels either. Half a chapter in Matthew 1 and that's about it. But here Paul give us the whole enchilada in just 4 short verses. The mystery and majesty of the incarnation of the Son of God wrapped up into a single package. And guess what? It's got your name on it! Because what God has done my sending His own Son is for you – all for you.

In the fullness of time. What a captivating phrase. It has always been a fascinating idea to me - that Almighty God in His infinite wisdom looked down upon the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, and as executive director and producer of the entire cosmos, orchestrated everything just so that when the time was right, He sent forth His own Son, to be born of a virgin, to live a perfect life, die a sacrificial death, and rise victoriously from the grave for us and for all.

Talk about mind blowing. That's the kind of thing that can keep you up at night pondering all of the perplexities and intricacies therein. But fortunately for us (and for everyone else) we're not in charge of ruling the universe. Our Three-in-One God has that under control, thank you very much. And because the Son was born under the law to redeem those under the law, we can now have peace with God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” - Romans 5

We have peace and joy because we are now sons and daughters of God who are able to call out to Him, “Abba, Father!” No longer slaves, but sons, and if sons, then heirs of heaven.

All that's left for us to do is the same thing we do when receiving a Christmas present. Smile and say thank you. Or as Martin Luther put it – thank, praise, serve, and obey - this is most certainly true.


Monday, July 15, 2019

CS Lewis and the Return of the British Open

"The longest way round is the shortest way home."

The Open Championship (or British Open) is one of the four major tournaments in golf and is one of the largest sporting events in the world. It is being held this week at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland - the first time this event has been back in Ireland for nearly 70 years. So what does this have to do with CS Lewis?

Lewis was born and raised in and around Belfast, Ireland. He and his family would often take family vacations to Portrush and the surrounding area, just over an hour away. There were beaches, an amusement park, natural attractions, and yes, even a castle. Just the place for a little boy with a fertile imagination.

One of the main natural attractions in the area is the Giants Causeway - a series of hexagonal rock formations which are the result of ancient volcanic activity. Of course, the Irish have a different story. They say that the causeway was formed by a scuffle between two giants who once lived there. Perhaps this was the place Lewis was thinking of when he wrote about the giant’s territory of Harfang in the Silver Chair.

Dunluce Castle is not far away - sitting high atop a cliff overlooking the Irish Sea. Although now it is just a skeleton of its former self, it is still a majestic sight on the rugged coast. It must have made quite an impression on little Jack when he saw it for the first time as a child. Many believe that this castle was the inspiration for his royal city of Cair Paravel in the Chronicles of Narnia books.

In Narnia, the castle also happens to be right on the edge of the sea. After ruling there during the Golden Age of Narnia, the four Pevensie children return when called back by Prince Caspian. Upon their return the castle is overgrown and in ruins, a mere semblance of what it once had been, but still standing and still evocative.

The Open Championship returns to Ireland this week for the first time since 1951. What else happened that year? Prince Caspian was published as the second book of the Chronicles of Narnia series, which tells about the ruins of Cair Paravel, inspired by Dunluce Castle.

We often think of CS Lewis as an Englishman since he lived and taught in Cambridge and Oxford. That is of course true in part. But he always remained an Irishman at heart, returning to his home country nearly every summer for a holiday by the sea.

These brief times of joy for Lewis would anticipate and finally culminate in that final journey home to Aslan's country, which for him was only the beginning of the real story. All his life in this world and all his adventures had only been the cover and  title page. Now at last he was beginning chapter one of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Monday, April 1, 2019

scripture interprets scripture

This graphic is an amazing example of how the Bible speaks to itself and interprets itself. The bar graph on the bottom represents all the chapters in the Bible, while the nearly 64,000 textual cross references are depicted by colored arcs, which correspond to the distance between two chapters.

Stunning ...


Thursday, March 14, 2019

keller on tolkien on fairy stories

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"There is a kind of story that all people crave. It doesn't matter if they are religious or secular, there is one type of story that everyone wants to hear. It is a story with a supernatural world where miracles can happen, where you can cheat death and come back to life again. It is a story that show us a love that is eternal, where good triumphs over evil, where the good guy wins in the end after much tribulation, where victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat, and where the victors live happily ever after. It is a story of a sacrificial hero that brings life out of certain death.

Modern critics hate these kinds of stories because they see them as just fairy tales. They say that life isn't really like that so we shouldn't be telling these kinds of stories. But Tolkien points out, on the contrary, that these stories connect to our deepest human longings, to those things that we all hope and dream and wish for.

The impression we are given by our culture is that there is no supernatural world, that evil will triumph over good, that death is the end, and that love is not eternal. But on a gut level, most people know that this is not right. That's not how it's supposed to be.

That is why, even though fairy tales aren't true, most people feel that they are true. Because they point to an underlying reality that is almost more true than the way life is being lived in this world.

And the greatest fairy tale story of them all? The story of Jesus. This one has it all - a supernatural world, a love that conquers all, good triumphing over evil, escape from death, heroic self sacrifice - it's got everything people hope to find in a good story.

But there is one difference. This is the one grand fairy tale story that is actually true. It really happened. It is not merely another story pointing to the underlying reality. The story of Jesus is the reality to which all the other stories point."

- Tim Keller


Monday, March 4, 2019

rembrandt at 350

I'll never forget walking up to this painting in Amsterdam as a 9 year old kid. I didn't know anything about it except that it was big, bright, and beautiful - and that the figures on the canvas looked like they might walk right out into the gallery and start talking to me. Later on I learned that it was a Rembrandt - "The Night Watch" - one of the most famous paintings in the world.

Rembrandt died 350 years ago this year. If you haven't experienced his artwork before, this might be the year. "Rembrandt goes so deep into the mysterious that he says things for which there are no words in any language." - Van Gogh

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

winter poem

The wintry west extends his blast,
  And hail and rain does blow;
Or the stormy north sends driving forth
  The blinding sleet and snow:
While, tumbling brown, the burn comes down,
  And roars frae bank to brae;
And bird and beast in covert rest,
  And pass the heartless day.

“The sweeping blast, the sky o’ercast,”
  The joyless winter day
Let others fear, to me more dear
  Than all the pride of May:
The tempest’s howl, it soothes my soul,
  My griefs it seems to join;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
  Their fate resembles mine!

Thou Power Supreme, whose mighty scheme
  These woes of mine fulfil,
Here firm I rest; they must be best,
  Because they are Thy will!
Then all I want, O do Thou grant
  This one request of mine,
Since to enjoy Thou dost deny,
  Assist me to resign.

- Robert Burns


Monday, January 21, 2019

something excellent

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After Jesus performed a miracle in Mark 7, the people said of him, "He has done all things well."

The same could be said of His entire ministry - even His entire life. Everything Jesus ever thought, said, or did was perfect. He was excellent in all of His ways. This part of Jesus life is almost inconceivable to those of us who seem to sin every minute of every day. But the Scriptures are clear that it is in His perfect life of active obedience to the Father that Jesus fulfilled the law for us on our behalf - culminating with the words "Thy will be done" in the garden on the way to the cross. (His suffering and death for us on the cross constitute His "passive obedience.")

Although as the eternal Son of God He possessed all the excellencies of heaven, He lay aside His glory in order to take on human flesh, to live and suffer and die for us, that we might be forgiven of our failures and lifted up to new life in Him forever.

God the Father has given us His very best in the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf. We now in faith give our best back to Him.

"If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things, and the God of peace will be with you." - Phil. 4