Thursday, December 29, 2016
HT: Scotty Smith
Lord Jesus, Anna’s story is compelling. If I’m alive at 84, like Anna, then I want to be like her—fully alive to your beauty, passionate for your glory, and hope-full of your coming. You are a most wonderful and merciful Savior, Jesus. No one is more worthy of our adoration, affection, and allegiance.
at 9:51 AM
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
|New Line Cinema|
HT: G. Shane Morris
Fifteen years ago today, the naysayers ate their words. As the folks at document in an insightful little anthology, , many had concluded prior to the release of Peter Jackson's adaptation of “The Fellowship of the Ring” that the Oxford philologist's high fantasy was incompatible with the screen. They were wrong. As wrong as Saruman was about a halfling's chances of reaching Mount Doom.
“” soared to box office success and critical acclaim. Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Weta Workshops, Howard Shore, and a small nation of cast and crew opened up to the world in an unprecedented way. The novels on which Jackson's films were based quickly moved from paperback fantasy and sci-fi sections to shelf-ends or kiosks in bookstores. The merchandising machine ground into action like the wheels of Isengard. And this 2001 blockbuster kicked off a trilogy of films that would culminate in record ticket sales worldwide and one of the biggest Oscar hauls in history.
But of course, for true fans—especially those who shared Tolkien's Christian faith—none of that was very important. Fifteen years ago, what really mattered was that the story they loved, the epic that shaped their lives, thought, and spirituality, had been discovered by millions for the first time. And for our culture, New Line Cinema's interpretation of “The Fellowship of the Ring” became a guidepost of morality and meaning in a time when evil had reasserted itself in our world in a terrifying way.
at 10:44 AM
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
HT: Rachel Watson
Have you ever been in one of those team-building circles where you are asked to share something positive about the person next to you? My palms grow sweaty just thinking about it. Not only is it hard to think up something on the spot, it’s terrifying when you look to your left and realize you have nothing to say about the person. So you begin making a mental list of words like “nice,” “kind” and “awesome.”
As a teacher, I have my students practice affirmation from time to time—usually when they aren’t getting along. It always starts out rocky. But as they sit thinking about the person next to them, a snowball effect of affirmation begins. It ends in amazement over how much they were able to say about one another.
Today, affirmation is clickable. It doesn’t require articulation of thought or even demand the use of words. If you want someone to know you were encouraged by their blog post, there’s a “like” button for that. If you enjoy their photography, you can click the heart icon under their photograph. After scrolling and clicking for about 15 minutes, you have fulfilled your affirmation quota.
I don’t want to downplay the ministry of emojis and “likes”; after all, technology and social media can be used to build up and connect believers from all over the world. But we need to look up from our screens long enough to see the body of Christ in front of us. How are we affirming the actual people we worship with each Sunday? Are we proactively considering “how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24)?
This isn’t just a job for the extroverts. The entire body must be engaged in the exercise of affirmation.
at 11:12 AM
Monday, December 26, 2016
HT: Jonathan Dorst
If you could start your life over, and you got to choose your parents, what would they be like? I’ve always been a little sore at my parents for not being taller. When I was a teenager, my goal was to play in the NBA and at 5’10” (and not particularly fast or gifted with ‘ups’) that was not going to happen.
Maybe you wished your parents had had smaller ears to pass on to you, or that they had had more money to pass on. Maybe you just wished your parents had stayed together, or had wanted you more, or that neither of them had an addictive personality.
But, we don’t get to pick our parents, do we? It’s one of the interesting things about God that He starts us out in life by saying, “Here, your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being are going to be tied to these two people in some way for the rest of your life.” I think, for a lot of teenagers, that’s one of the first crises of faith: “God, of all the parents in the world, you gave me these people? Whatever.”
But, there was one person who got to pick his parents. Jesus got to choose where and to whom He was born. Now, it was a somewhat narrow pool; in order to fulfill the Old Testament, it had to be a Jewish family. But, of all the Jewish parents available, He chose a poor carpenter and a teenage girl who lived in a backwater town as part of an occupied nation of people. They weren’t even married!
Friday, December 23, 2016
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
HT: Taylor Drummond
Around this time of year, many Christians take time specifically to celebrate the birth of Christ. Yet a number of myths have arisen around the story, ones with no actual basis in Scripture. Without further ado, here are eight of them.
at 8:49 AM
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
The season of Advent brings with it pleasing rituals of happy anticipation. Open a door on the Advent calendar and find a piece of chocolate. Light a candle in the Advent wreath and know you are getting closer to Christmas. Make your lists and check them twice as you look forward to giving, receiving, and feasting.
The waiting that comes with Advent is fun because it is finite. We know what’s coming at the end of our wait will be good, and we know exactly how many days we have left to wait for it.
But much of the waiting that occupies our lives is open-ended. We wait for love and marriage without knowing if it will come. We wait for children without knowing whether we will conceive. We wait for justice. We wait for healing.
The hardest thing about waiting is not knowing when it’s going to end, if it is going to end. Waiting brings questions without easy answers. If your life’s plans aren’t coming to fruition, should you change course or hold out for your heart’s desire? Are your unfulfilled yearnings indicators of sinful discontentment, or blessings God simply hasn’t yet fulfilled?
Monday, December 19, 2016
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
HT: Justin Taylor
[Henry Wadsworth Longfellow] wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him. He heard the Christmas bells that December day and the singing of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14), but he observed the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truthfulness of this optimistic outlook. The theme of recurred throughout the poem, eventually leading to a settledness of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair.
at 10:53 AM
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
HT: Chris Gehrz
Ah, Christmas memories from childhood… Playing elf to my pediatrician father’s Santa at the Children’s Hospital party. Honoring my Swedish heritage by choking down one bite of lutefisk every Christmas Eve. Getting a pile of books about natural disasters and true crime from Grandpa Gehrz the next morning…
Good times. And recalling such rituals reminds me that I shouldn’t be quick to judge the way that other people celebrate Christmas.
But even someone more charitable than me might balk at this version of the holiday . . .
at 10:57 AM
Monday, December 12, 2016
HT: Lindsey Carlson
There’s a common question surfacing among families this time of year. No matter how you answer, you may feel awkward when asked:
Does your family do the whole “Santa” thing?
Behind this question are many others. Are we a bad family if we do Santa? Are we the oddball family if we don’t? Are we too influenced by our culture? Are we legalistic? Whatever conclusions we reach, it’s easy to form strong opinions. My answer can make me fast friends with those who can relate or brand me a fast freak with those who don’t.
Friday, December 9, 2016
Thursday, December 8, 2016
HT: Gene Veith
A new book by Gerry Bowler entitled Christmas in the Crosshairs: Two Thousand Years of Denouncing and Defending the World’s Most Celebrated Holiday points out that the “Christmas wars”–the conflict between secular and religious observances of Christmas–have been going on throughout the history of Christianity. The Bishop of Amasea complained in 400 A.D. about how Christmas presents make children greedy. St. Augustine complained about the commercialization of Christmas. And Christians have long complained about the conflict between the drunken revelry once associated with the day and its true meaning.
Meanwhile opponents of Christianity have tried to either suppress or co-opt the birthday of Christ. At one point in the Soviet Union, children had to be told that their presents came not from St. Nicholas but from Stalin. And Nazi Germany sang a revised version of “Silent Night” that replaced Jesus with Hitler.
at 9:45 AM
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
HT: Gene Veith
Another remarkable prophecy of Christ in the Old Testament (the study of which is a classic devotion for Advent), is Isaiah 9:1-7. Not only do we learn that the Messiah will live in Galilee and will be the eternal Davidic King. Verse 6 also establishes His deity and does so in Trinitarian terms.
at 10:39 AM
Monday, December 5, 2016
Christmastime is here. For some of you, that sentence evokes nostalgia and joy. Others of you, not so much.
Yet one thing many of us share in common this time of year is hearing the classic readings from the Gospels (if not in church then from Linus). And all the while, we can become so familiar with the incarnation that we end up domesticating it.
Christmas is familiar, but it isn’t tame. As Tim Keller puts it in his new book Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ (Viking), “Christmas is both more wondrous and more threatening than we imagine.” Working from the writings of Matthew, Luke, and John, he illumines the modern import of the ancient story.
I asked Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and vice president of TGC, why neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would’ve bothered with Christmas, how unbelievers try to “name” Jesus, and more. (And yes, this brief book would make an excellent Christmas present.)
at 10:22 AM
Friday, December 2, 2016
Thursday, December 1, 2016
HT: Jared Wilson
Burk Parsons tweeted something a while back that prompts me to revisit the new perennial Christmas topic in the evangelical subculture—taking (or not taking) offense when people say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Parsons put it this way:
Saying in a corrective tone “Merry Christmas” in response to a store clerk’s mandated “Happy Holidays” greeting is not a form of evangelism.
at 8:05 AM
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
HT: Russell Moore
Sometimes I learn a lot from conversations I was never intended to hear.
This happened once as I was stopping by my local community bookstore. It’s a small, quiet store, so it was impossible not to eavesdrop as I heard a young man tell his friend how much he hated Christmas. To be honest, the more he talked, the more I understood his point. This man wasn’t talking about the hustle and bustle of the holidays, or about the stresses of family meals or all the things people tend to complain about. What he hated was the music.
This guy started by lampooning one pop singer’s Christmas album, and I found myself smiling in agreement on how awful it is. But then he went on to say that he hated Christmas music across the board. That’s when I started to feel as though I might be in the presence of the Grinch. But then this man explained why he found the music so bad. It wasn’t just that it was cloying. It’s that it was boring.
“Christmas is boring because there’s no narrative tension,” he said. “It’s like reading a book with no conflict.”
Now he had my attention.
at 11:02 AM
Monday, November 28, 2016
HT: Ryan Reeves
The earliest dating of Advent is impossible to determine. The start of Easter in Christian history is far more obviously tied to Passover (albeit with different methods for dating), and Christmas came to be associated with the birth of Christ as a result of it falling during the December Solstice, the darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The coming of the Light of the World made a lot of sense in so much darkness. Within a few centuries of church history, both Easter and Christmas took on special meaning due to their use in commemorating the life of Jesus.
at 11:54 AM
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
HT: Thomas Kidd
The Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony weren’t the first Europeans to settle in North America, nor were they the first permanent English colonists. But because of our annual celebration of Thanksgiving, and our hazy images of their 1621 meal with Native Americans, the Pilgrims have become the emblematic colonists in America’s national memory. Although modern Thanksgiving has become largely non-religious — focused more on food, family, and football than explicitly thanking God — the Pilgrims’ experience reveals a compelling religious aspect of our country’s roots.
at 9:57 AM
Monday, November 21, 2016
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you will become children of your Father in heaven, because he makes his sun rise on both evil and good people, and he lets rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you greet only your relatives, that’s no great thing you’re doing, is it? Even the unbelievers do the same, don’t they? So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
This saying is hard enough that we tend to leave “love” as a gaseous feeling of not-hating when it comes to our enemies. When I see bad people around the world, I studiously avoid hating them. This is not loving them, but it is good enough, I hope.
But it is not nearly good enough, because loving is more than not hating.
at 10:29 AM
Friday, November 18, 2016
Thursday, November 17, 2016
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
In Eastcheap, near Fenchurch St. in London, stands the medieval church of St. Margaret Pattens. Founded in 1067 and rebuilt by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666, it slowly lost its congregation. It was closed as a parish church in 1952—more than 900 years after opening its doors. St. Margaret Pattens still offers some weekday services to those working around its urban location. It also remains open to passerbys like me, interested in canopied pews and an 18th-century organ. It is a peaceful space: quiet, beautiful, calm. It is also is an empty space.
at 11:08 AM
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
HT: Joe Carter
How did American evangelicals vote in the 2016 election?
Based on polling data and news sources, you might be under the impression that an overwhelming number of evangelicals—more than 80 percent—voted for Donald Trump. But this isn’t quite accurate. There isn’t any way to truly know what percentage of evangelicals voted for our president-elect. But using a more nuanced analysis we can reasonably estimate that somewhere between 35 percent and 45 percent of all evangelicals in America voted for Trump.
Why are the media reports so off the mark? Here are four reasons.
at 10:54 AM
Monday, November 14, 2016
Friday, November 11, 2016
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
HT: Jonathan Leeman
So Donald Trump won. (I can’t believe I just typed that.) Maybe you voted one way. Maybe the other. What now, Christian?
To you who voted Republican, I would say, make good on your commitment to life. Fight for the unborn. Fight for the minority. Fight for all who are oppressed and abused. Fight for whatever is true, right, and admirable.
To you who voted Democratic or third party, your fear is understandable. No one but God knows what the next four years hold. While believers trust that authorities have been instituted by God, we must hold those authorities accountable to do justice for all. Remember your Christian brothers and sisters around the world, under better and worse administrations, and know that God is on his throne no less today than yesterday for them or for you.
One thing, I think, is probably clear to everyone after yesterday’s unexpected results: America is a divided country. Even more regrettably, some of that division characterizes our churches. Do you understand why some of your fellow saints are feeling numb right now? I pray so.
at 12:14 PM
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
HT: Melissa Kruger
Our Father, who art in heaven
Father, it’s good to remember this day where you dwell. Heaven is your throne and the earth is your footstool. You reign over all. You are mighty, sovereign, and just. And, you are loving, kind, and good. You are our gracious Father and we can come to you with all our earthly requests.
Hallowed be thy name
Whatever happens today, may your name be declared holy. May you be glorified and honored. May your people honor you with their hearts, words, and actions this day whether they speak in the public sphere or in the privacy of their own homes.
Thy kingdom come
Overwhelm our hearts with a greater desire for the advancement of your kingdom. Help us to not place our trust in earthly governments or political powers, but to set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
at 9:38 AM
Monday, November 7, 2016
HT: Thomas Kidd
In C. S. Lewis’s , the demon Screwtape advises his protege and nephew Wormwood to convince his human target that politics are a key part of his faith. “Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part,” Screwtape said. That way, faith would become a mere pretext for politics.
at 10:26 AM
Friday, November 4, 2016
Thursday, November 3, 2016
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
HT: Dan Chappell
My intention is to stand up for the increasing middle ground and advocate that a loving, grace-filled, and gospel posture toward the LGBT community, while sincerely holding to historic and traditional ethics on sexuality and gender is possible. In fact, I am convinced it is the right space to be. I categorically reject the idea that non-affirming theology in and of itself fuels violence or harm to LGBT people. In all the years I lived as a gay man, non-affirming theology was not the problem; it was a Christian community that thought they had to keep me at arm’s length or away altogether because of their beliefs.
at 11:11 AM