Monthly Archives: December 2012
Before the year is over, I thought I’d offer my entry to the annual collection of “best of” lists. Two notes: These are the best books I read in 2012, but that does not mean they were published in 2012. Also, as you will see, I tend to read a bit outside the tribe, so to speak. Without further ado, in ascending order:
10. Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman
This fascinating history and expose of the brainwashing cult Scientology started by fancy-pants huckster L. Ron Hubbard was a couldn’t-put-it-down read for me. Beginning with the enterprise’s roots in Hubbard’s days writing science fiction, Reitman’s book is meticulously researched but plainly written, culminating in a peek behind the scenes to the trauma of today, from the grooming of vulnerable young celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta to the emotional and physical abuse of cult members’ children. Reitman’s work is an important one.
9. Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman
The “little red book” from Leeman on church discipline — not to be confused with his big book on the subject, The Surprising Offense of God’s Love, which is also excellent — is one of the entries in 9 Marks’ Building Healthy Churches series. This is a great primer on a sorely neglected facet of the church’s love for Christ. Leeman writes clearly and concisely, no easy feat given he well covers all the exegetical ground and even provides guidance on a host of “what if?” scenarios. …
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
– Hebrews 13:8
Every year at this time as we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus to the virgin Mary, I don’t suppose it occurs to too many merrymakers that what they’re really celebrating is the Incarnation. All of the other miracles are in service of that central miracle: God became man. And in becoming, through Spiritual conception, the man Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God did not cease to be God. Baby Jesus, from the moment of conception to the straw habitation of the manger, was fully God and fully man. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
When we put our minds long to the idea of Jesus being one hundred percent God and simultaneously one hundred percent man, they naturally feel overwhelmed. The orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation is compelling, beautiful, biblically sensible, and salvifically necessary, but it is nevertheless utterly inscrutable. And that’s okay. In the end, the Incarnation is not for analysis but for worship.
But when we read Colossians 2:9 — “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” — the inscrutability of the Incarnation widens. The baby Jesus who was wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, was also omnipresent Lord of the universe. Omnipresence is one of God’s impassable attributes; God cannot not be omnipresent. So for Jesus Christ to be God incarnate must not mean he was no longer God …
Christmas Eve I saw a stable, low and very bare,
A little child in a manger.
The oxen knew Him, had Him in their care,
To men He was a stranger,
The safety of the world was lying there,
And the world’s danger.
- Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, “The Stable”
Grateful for Gospel-Centered Discipleship’s featuring an excerpt from my book Gospel Deeps today.
One snippet from the snippet:
This means that God picked us. In the days of my youth in Houston, Texas, I played pick-up basketball or football with my buddies nearly every weekend at our favorite park. When it came time to form teams, I enjoyed very often being the first or second pick. I had serious game, I assure you. Then my wife and I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. I stopped playing sports every weekend.
Several years later on a visit back home, the old gang decided to get together to throw the pigskin around. We began to form teams, and even though I had given no more demonstration of my current fitness level than simply walking from the car to the field, I was picked second to last. Oh, how the mighty had fallen! I was humiliated. All these guys had done was look at me; I guess several years had taken the sheen off their memories of my athletic prowess. I suddenly looked less Tom Brady and more Tom Bosley.
I felt very keenly in that moment how good it feels to be picked. Everybody wants to be picked. The gospel tells an interesting story about being picked. If I had to relate it to my weekend football humiliation, I would put it this way: God looks at the available selection, sees that I have no evident talent or ability and that in fact I give …
There is a great danger this Christmas season of missing the point. And I’m not referring simply to idolatrous consumption and materialism. I’m talking about Christmas religiosity. It is very easy around this time to set up our Nativity scenes, host our Christmas pageants and cantatas, read the Christmas story with our families, attend church every time the door is open, and insist to ourselves and others that Jesus is the reason for the season, and yet not see Jesus. With the eyes of our heart, I mean.
I suppose there is something about indulging in the religious Christmas routine that lulls us into thinking we are dwelling in Christ when we are really just set to seasonal autopilot, going through the festive and sentimental motions. Meanwhile the real person Jesus the Christ goes neglected in favor of his plastic, paper, and video representations. Don’t get distracted from Jesus by “Jesus.” This year, plead with the Spirit to interrupt your nice Christmas with the power of Jesus’ gospel.
Yet another story in the news about a church that botched report of sexual abuse on its premises. We are hearing about more and more, and there are still more besides, as the problem is certainly more prevalent than just what we see reported. Quite often in retrospect these cases reveal not simply mistakes made but systemic dysfunctions in a church community and a church’s discipleship culture. Below is a list of safeguards: some are obvious bare minimums, others are harder to implement and run deeper than superficial processes and procedures, but all are ways to help establish a church community as a safe place.
1. All employees and all childcare and youth volunteers, or anyone else who has regular contact with children in the church or as a representative of the church, ought to undergo a criminal background check as thoroughly as possible. It will also help if volunteers in these areas are required to be members of the church, assuming membership in a church entails clear communication about covenant responsibilities and church discipline.
2. A church should have a membership structure and a church should exercise church discipline.
3. Churches ought to have a “safe sanctuary” policy in place. Get consultation with an outside firm if necessary, but have a thorough, thoughtful plan in place that “intentionalizes” safety for children and others at risk. This plan should also include processes and procedures if a known sex offender or abuser wants to attend the church.
4. Every officer in the church should …
The depths of God’s love in the gospel of his Son Jesus Christ are fathoms enough for the baptizing of the universe and at the same time safe enough for a baby. The same ocean that offers the foot-soaking shore offers core-slicing trenches veiled in mystery, depths we may never see.
I think we see this glorious truth in the miracle of the raising of Jairus’ daughter, interrupted by the healing of the woman with the bloody discharge. A refresher from Mark’s account:
And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and …
From a new interview of John Piper by Mark Driscoll:
MD: As you reflect on your time as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist, what were some of the risks you took?
JP: . . . I took a risk less than two years into my ministry by proposing that the Church Covenant be amended to remove the requirement of teetotalism for membership. I’m a teetotaler. But to me, this came so close to Galatianism (the idea that, to be a complete Christian, you need circumcision) that I staked my ministry on it. Some of my supporters were shocked, and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union chapter said the church had called a liberal who would take us down the road to unbelief. It passed, but barely. I’m still here and have not heard the charge of liberal in a long time.
The gospel is worth centering your ministry around; therefore, anything that reeks of Galatianism is worth risking your ministry to oppose. I’m grateful for Piper’s example, especially in a practical area that would not have affected him personally.
Read the whole thing.
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”– Luke 1:35
Really, the Advent season runs from Genesis 3 onward, and Christmas Day is when the miracle prophesied in Luke 1:35 is fulfilled. For those of us who believe personhood can be derived from Psalm 139:13-15 and Job 31:15, we believe the Incarnation did not begin at Jesus’ birth but at his conception. And if this is so, when Colossians 2:9 says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” we know that the fullness of deity dwelled in fertilized ovum.
Will the Empire State Building occupy a doghouse? Will a killer whale fit inside an ant?
And here we are told that omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, utter eternalness and holiness dwelled in a tiny person. This makes Santa coming down a chimney seem a logistical cakewalk.
“The head of all rule and authority” (Col. 2:10) had one of those jelly-necked wobbly baby heads. The government rested on his baby-fatted shoulders (Is. 9:6).
This miracle of addition is important. We must hold it tightly or lose the bigness of the Incarnation. God came as unborn child so that Christ would experience all of humanity. And he experienced all of humanity so that we might receive all of him for all of us.
If God came as a vulnerable, needful, weak baby, we have no need to fear for …
“[T]here was in Stephen and the saints the fullness of a container, but in Christ, there is the fullness of a spring. Their fullness was given to them by someone else and so is derivative. In Christ, there is the fullness of a fountain, which proceeds from himself and depends on no one else. The medieval scholastic theologians expressed this well when they said that Christ’s and the saints’ fullness differ as fire and things set on fire. The fullness of the ocean is too small to express this. The removal of even a drop or two diminishes it to some degree, but you can light a thousand torches from the fullness of fire and it is not diminished at all.”
– John Preston, The Fullness of Christ