Muslims and non-Muslims who live in nations where Islam is not the law of the land talk a lot about how Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. Christians who live in Islamic nations tell a different story. I picked this up from Ron Dreher’s blog, who writes: “If you want to know what it’s really like to live under persecution for your Christian faith and culture, listen to this presentation by Bishop Thomas, a Copt who serves in Assiut, an area of intense Islamic persecution of Christians. I met him once, and the man is so luminous, and peaceful. It’s almost humiliating to be an American Christian, with such an easy life despite it all, and to hear what life is like for Christians in Egypt and elsewhere. If you don’t have time to watch the whole nine minute video, start at about 2:45:
In a recent post, over on the blog Evangel, Nathan Martin shared some interesting observations by Os Guinness about the state of Evangelicalism. It is a thought-provoking post. It made me realize that for all the years I’ve been reading about, and studying, Evangelicalism, self-understanding and self-definition remain, at least as far as I can tell, ever-elusive. What is that? And, for that matter, on this blog site, called, Evangel, do the contributors to this blog site share a common understanding or hold to a common definition of what Evangelicalism is? I’d be very interested to hear what this understanding and definition is. So, what is Evangelicalism? What does it mean? Where is it found? How is it done?
1. We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth;
Clothed in flesh You came to earth.
The virgin bears a sinless boy
And all the angels sing for joy.
2. Now in the manger we may see
God’s Son from eternity,
The gift from God’s eternal throne
Here clothed in our poor flesh and bone.
3. The virgin Mary’s lullaby
Calms the infant Lord Most High.
Upon her lap content is He
Who keeps the earth and sky and sea.
4. The Light Eternal, breaking through,
Made the world to gleam anew;
His beams have pierced the core of night,
He makes us children of the light.
5. The very Son of God sublime
Entered into earthly time
To lead us from this world of cares
To heav’ns courts as blessed heirs.
6. In poverty He came to earth
Showing mercy by His birth;
He makes us rich in heav’nly ways
As we, like angels, sing His praise.
7. All this for us our God has done
Granting love through His own Son.
Therefore, all Christendom, rejoice
And sing His praise with endless voice.
This Christmas hymn from Lutheran Service Book is a translation of Luther’s text (st. 2-7) (Stanza 1 is German c. 1380.) Multiple translators worked in this text for Lutheran Service Book (LSB 382) including Gregory Wismar, st. 1, 6; F. Samuel Janzow, st. 2, 4; Lutheran Service Book st, 3, 5, 7. The tune is GELOBET SEIST DU from Eyn Enchiridion oder Handbeuchlein, Erfurt, 1524. HT: Pastor Stephen Starke
Just read a very important and very honest assessment of why Twitter generally stinks, but what keeps a lot of us using it. You may enjoy reading it too. I can only but give a hearty “Yes and amen” to this post. I really enjoy Twitter for the sake of the quick news/information I can get it from it, sent directly to my cell phone as text message, most importantly, my morning weather forcast. Yes, that’s the best thing about Twitter: quick and easy weather updates. The rest? Not so much. But do ahead and read the article, see what you think. Here’s an excerpt:
Twitter, while based on the same premise, sends us back to our teenage blogging years. Many personal Twitter accounts have deteriorated into conversations between friends that would be better left to texting or calling, rants about life, and, very occasionally, a 140-character versions of “deep”-ish thought. What, exactly, is this contributing to the online social world? Does it really have any value? It probably doesn’t. Tweeting, as a friend recently tweeted (there’s some irony for you), has become a socially acceptable way to talk to ourselves. Keeping these inane, silly thoughts to ourselves simply isn’t as fulfilling as throwing it out to others, who may or may not be listening and who may or may not respond. We like to think what we have to say, no matter how trivial, is interesting. And just because people follow us, We get the sense that it really is interesting – even when it really isn’t.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?
My colleague at Concordia Publishing House, Laura Lane, shared this Barna Survey with a number of us. If you have not seen it, you may find it interesting and helpful. I would say there is nothing terribly earth-shatteringly new in it, but it is always helpful to have this kind of “take” on the situation in which we find ourselves. Here is the link to the full story, but here is an excerpt:
Some of the related survey results Barna cited from this year’s studies included:
o Just 50% of adults contend that Christianity is still the automatic faith of choice in the US
o Nearly nine out of every ten adults (88%) agreed either strongly or somewhat that their religious faith is very important in their life
o 74% said their faith is becoming more important in their life
o Substantive awareness of other faith groups is minimal; even simple name awareness of some groups, such as Wicca, is tiny (only 45% have heard of Wicca)
o Most self-identified Christians are comfortable with the idea that the Bible and the sacred books from non-Christian religions all teach the same truths and principles
o Half of all adults (50%) argue that a growing number of people they know are tired of having the same church experience
Pastor Scott Murray sends out daily e-mail devotions, which are well written and thought provoking. If you want to get on his mailing list, just drop him a note at: email@example.com. Here’s a recent one that I thought offered a great insight into the meaning of Christmas. Perhaps you will too.
One of the pious truisms of our culturally-normed celebration of the “holiday season,” is that “it is better to give than to receive.” That’s true as far as it goes. Perhaps such a thing should be taught to children to ward off greed and to encourage human sympathy in their self-centered little hearts. But that is certainly not the meaning of the Nativity of Christ our Lord, who takes human flesh so that the eternal Word could give Himself to us. For us, Christmas is about getting, not giving. It is far better to receive than to give. Christ comes not to receive from us, but to give to us all that we need to be lifted up from our depravity and the fear of death. Christ Himself had no need of being exalted (Phil 2:9). What glory could be added to the King of Glory? How could the One who is exalted far above all heavens in His own nature as the true Son of God, also receive exaltation in time? How could He be higher than the Highest (Lk 1:32)? Such progress as He received in time, He received according to His human nature born of the Virgin Mary, and that not for His own sake, but rather for ours.
His humiliation in time happened according to His human nature, and yet because of the personal union the person of God’s Son was humbled. He undergoes this humbling in our human flesh to raise our flesh out of its fallen condition and to seat us in heavenly realms with Him, so that we can be with Him where He is (Jn 14:3). Here is what Athanasius meant by “deification:” that Christ transferred these enormous divine gifts through His assumption of our humanity in time, so that what happened in His humiliation resulted in our exaltation.
While the term “deification” sounds blasphemous on our western ears, Athanasius exhibited a crystal clear grip on the “for-us-ness” of the humiliation and exaltation of Christ our Savior. The great exchange is on his mind, even if not on the tip of his pen. We are in Christ so that what is His becomes ours. Perhaps Athanasius is groping for words to express this gift of exaltation from the Savior hitting upon “deification.” It is a groping attempt to show how exalted we have become through the exaltation of the Christ Child in the incarnation. That it was what we are given through the incarnation and there is nothing better to be gotten. It truly is better to receive than to give. At least from Jesus.
“How is Christ exalted (Phil 2:9), if before His exaltation He is the Most High? How did He receive the right of being worshipped, who before He received it, was ever worshipped? It is not a dark saying but a divine mystery. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;’ but for our sakes afterwards the ‘Word became flesh’ (Jn 1:1, 14). And the term in question, ‘highly exalted,’ does not mean that the essence of the Word was exalted, for He was ever and is ‘equal to God’ (Phil 2:6), but the exaltation is of the manhood. Accordingly this is not said before the Word became flesh; that it might be plain that ‘humbled’ and ‘exalted’ are spoken of His human nature. For where there is a humble state, there too may be exaltation; and if because of His taking flesh ‘humbled’ is written, it is clear that ‘highly exalted’ is also said because of it. For this is what man’s nature needed, because of the humble state of the flesh and of death. Since the Word, being the image of the Father and immortal, took the form of the servant, and as man underwent for us death in His flesh, that thereby He might offer Himself for us through death to the Father; therefore also, as man, He is said because of us and for us to be highly exalted, so that as by His death we all died in Christ, so again in the Christ Himself we might be highly exalted, being raised from the dead, and ascending into heaven, ‘where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf’ (Heb 6:20; 9:24).
“If now for us the Christ is entered into heaven itself, though He was even before and always Lord and Framer of the heavens, for us therefore is that present exaltation written. And as He Himself, who sanctifies all, says also that He sanctifies Himself to the Father for our sakes, not that the Word may become holy, but that He Himself may in Himself sanctify all of us, so likewise we must take the present phrase, ‘He highly exalted Him,’ not that He Himself should be exalted, for He is the highest, but that He may become righteousness for us, and we may be exalted in Him, and that we may enter the gates of heaven, which He has also opened for us, the forerunners saying, ‘Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in’ (Ps 24:7). For also here the gates were not shut on Him, for He is Lord and Maker of all, but because of us is this too written, to whom the door of paradise was shut. And therefore in a human relation, because of the flesh which He bore, it is said of Him, ‘Lift up your gates,’ and ‘may come in,’ as if a man were entering; but in a divine relation on the other hand it is said of Him, since ‘the Word was God,’ that He is the ‘Lord’ and the ‘King of Glory.’ Such our exaltation the Spirit announced beforehand in the eighty-ninth Psalm, saying, ‘For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted’ (Ps 89:17). If the Son is righteousness, then He is not exalted as though He was in need of exaltation, but it is we who are exalted in that righteousness, which He is (1Co 1:30).”
Athanasius of Alexandria, Four Discourses Against the Arians, 1.41
Here is a great sermon by my brother in Office, Rev. Christopher Esget, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia.
Readings for St. John’s Day: Rev. 1:1-6; 1 Jn 1:1—2:2; Jn. 21:20-25
Beloved, today is St. John’s Day, the beloved disciple of Jesus and the man inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Fourth Gospel, as well as three epistles in our New Testament and the Book of Revelation. On Christmas Day, we heard the majestic prologue of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Today, on St. John’s Day, the author of those great words testifies to this great truth: “That One who already was in the beginning, who existed from all eternity, and who was made flesh – that is the One whom we have heard, whom we have seen, whom we looked on and have touched with our hands.” The next time you hear the horrible idea that Jesus and the Bible is a collection of fables or falsehoods, remember John’s testimony: He and the other Apostles heard, saw, and touched Jesus. And in hearing, seeing, and touching Jesus, they touched God, God in the flesh.
That is the historical fact. But it is not just history. Now, he says, we who were with Him, we who heard Him, saw Him, touched Him – we are proclaiming Him to you, so you can be with us, so you can have fellowship, communion, with us, so you can be part of the Church that Jesus established.
What does it mean to have fellowship, communion, with the apostles? What does it mean to be a true Christian, to be a true member of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church? St. John teaches us two important things about this:
1) We must not think of ourselves as holy people, good people, perfect people, people without sin. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
2) But then, we also are to dedicate our lives as Christians to turning away from sin and living a new life. “My little children,” John writes, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”
He goes on to emphasize in all his writings how important it is that we make every effort to be holy: to not sin, and to keep the commandments of Jesus. Again and again he hammers this home:
* “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:4)
* “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” (1 Jn 2:9)
* “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” (1 Jn 2:15a)
* “Everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” (1 Jn 2:29b)
* “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” (1 Jn 3:4)
* “whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil.” (1 Jn 3:8)
* “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning.” (1 Jn 3:9)
* “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” (1 Jn 3:10-11)
* “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:18)
John’s writings are replete with sayings like these. Note well that word “practice” – he speaks of ongoing, habitual, and intentional sins. You know what the commandments of God are: [list 10 Commandments]
All the Commandments summed up in one word: “love” – love God, and love your neighbor.
St. John calls us to holiness of living – and thus constant repentance as we feel and experience our own unholiness – but at the same time John assures of the forgiveness and salvation found only in Jesus. “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” We have an attorney who will go to court for us. And the case He argues is based on the iron-clad fact that our penalty has been paid: “He is the propitiation for our sins.”
That is why you who through Baptism have become followers of Jesus can know that He ever loves you. St. John is called the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” and I suspect John records that not to boast, but to say, “Jesus loved even such a one as me.” And John says of this same Jesus in our first reading, “To him who loves us.”
As we follow Jesus, there is one thing alone that is our authority, our guide, our light: the words of Holy Scripture. And today, in those sacred writings, we heard about “the things that must soon take place…. for the time is near.” The Bible gives us a different view of time – a view that sees this life as short, where Christ’s coming is always “soon.” It does not matter if it is another two thousand years, or a mere two minutes from now; we are always to be prepared.
All this is lived out in different ways for each of us. After Jesus had prophesied Peter’s martyrdom, Peter asked the question recorded in today’s Gospel: “What about him? What about John?” Jesus replied, “How does that concern you? You, follow Me!” St. John and St. Peter had different kinds of endings to their lives – Peter was crucified, while John suffered in a different way, being exiled to an island called Patmos. Peter and John had different particular callings in life, but the same overarching calling to be disciples of Jesus: “Follow Me.” That is also our calling. Whether you are an engineer, housewife, secretary or soldier, in every place you go, the words of Jesus go with you: “Follow Me.”
Those words are not burdensome. For you follow the One who at Christmas took on your flesh and bone, your human nature, and who proceeded to live perfectly in your flesh, to suffer every temptation you suffer in your flesh, to endure every pain and humiliation you endure, and finally to die your death, and to rise again in your human nature, now glorified, and to bring that human nature into the presence of God the Father. That is the One you now follow, the One who is coming again for you, soon, for the time is near.
This day we give honor for the ministry and testimony of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, who so faithfully recorded these glorious truths for us. May God pour out on us His Holy Spirit, that we may always heed John’s Words as a light in a dark place.
“Penetrate into the mystery, plunge into the darkness which shrouds that birth, where you will be alone with God the Unbegotten and God the Only-begotten. Make your start, continue, persevere. I know that you will not reach the goal, but I shall rejoice at your progress. For He who devoutly treads an endless road, though he reach no conclusion, will profit by his exertions. Reason will fail for want of words, but when it comes to a stand it will be the better for the effort made” (Hilary of Poitiers, NPNF 2 9:55; see also p 58).
I have enjoyed following the Intelligence Design movement, which has secularist/atheistic evolutionary theory on the run, to say the least. I bumped into this video and thought you would enjoy it. When you see how irreducibly complex even something as “simple” as a human cell is, it boggles the mind to try to imagine this being a massive “accident” of nature. What do you think? I recommend Signature in the Cell for further reading.
Thy manger is
My paradise at which my soul reclineth.
For there, O Lord,
Doth lie the Word
Made flesh for us; herein Thy grace forth shineth.
He whom the sea
And wind obey
Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness.
Thou, God’s own Son,
With us art one,
Dost join us and our children in our weakness.
Thy light and grace
Our guilt efface,
Thy heavenly riches all our loss retrieving.
Thy birth doth quell
The pow’r of hell and Satan’s bold deceiving.
Thou Christian heart,
Whoe’er thou art,
Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee!
For God’s own Child
In mercy mild,
Joins thee to Him; how greatly God must love thee!
What glory now
The Lord prepared thee for all earthly sadness.
The angel host
Can never boast
Of great glory, greater bliss or gladness.
The world may hold
Her wealth and gold;
But thou, my heart, keep Christ as thy true treasure.
To Him hold fast
Until at last
A crown be thine and honor in full measure.
And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. The appointed readings for Christmas Dawn are:
Luke 2:(1–14) 15–20
The Birth of the Good Shepherd Is Proclaimed to the Shepherds
The first ones to visit the infant Lord Jesus are lowly shepherds (Luke 2:15–20), for Christ came that the last may be first and that the humble may be exalted. Furthermore, Jesus Himself came to be a shepherd, the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for the sheep. “He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord” (Micah 5:2–5). The babe in the manger whom the shepherds worship is He “whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” For in Christ Jesus, conceived and born of Mary, “the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared” (Titus 3:4). Like Mary, let us keep and ponder in our hearts these things that God has revealed to us through His Word. And like the shepherds, let us glorify and praise God for all the things we have heard and seen in Christ His Son.
At this time of the year, many of us make special donations to various Christian ministries. Will you join me in making a special Christmas gift to the finest Lutheran media outreach available? I’m referring to Issues, Etc. a daily Internet radio broadcast that consistently delivers the beautiful good news of Christ in a clear and consistent way. It is a strong advocate for solid, faithful Lutheranism, and is, frankly, the only such media resource broadcasting, day-in and day-out, an unapologetic advocacy for our dear Lutheran Confession of the Christian Faith. If we cherish the Gospel purely confessed, taught and advocated for, we must support Issues, etc. If you say you value the Lutheran Confession of the Faith, then you must support Issues, Etc. Period.
My wife and I made a special Christmas donation and are joining the Reformation Club to become monthly sponsors.
To make a one-time Christmas gift to Issues, etc. follow this link.
To become a Reformation Club member, read this information.
Friends, as we all learned, painfully, we can not take Issues, Etc. for granted. Those who wished to silence it were unsuccessful, only because of those who continue to support it. Issues, Etc. deserves our support. Will you join me?
Many Christians gather for a midnight Divine Service, or Mass. Here are the Scripture readings appointed for this service, according to the historic lectionary:
Luke 2:1–14 (15–20)
The Light of Christ Shines Forth in the Darkness
Heaven and earth rejoice on this night because the glory of the Triune God is manifested in the human birth of “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). In Him, the Father’s grace, mercy and peace rest upon the world. The silence of death is broken by this “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). And all we who have gone astray like lost and wandering sheep, who have “walked in the darkness” of doubt and fear and sinful unbelief, behold “a great light” in the nativity of Christ (Is. 9:2). In Him “the grace of God has appeared” (Titus 2:11). For this Child of Mary who is born for us, this dear Son of God who is given to us, will bear the burden of our sin and death in His own body on the cross. He thereby establishes a government of peace, “with justice and with righteousness,” which shall have no end; not by any work of man, but “the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Is. 9:7).