Christmas is About Faith

Christmas is about faith
Visitation by Fra Angelico

In the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we read of Mary’s visit to her relative Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. When Mary entered the house, John leaped for joy in his mother’s womb. Elizabeth then says of Mary:

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished – Luke 1:45

This is the text-book definition of faith – believing God will do what He’s said He’ll do.

Christmas is about God fulfilling His promise to send a Savior. And, just as He came as promised all those years ago in Bethlehem, He will come again to rule and reign over all the earth.

Christmas is about looking back to the Incarnation but also forward to the Parousia, the Glorious Appearing.

Merry Christmas & Come Lord Jesus!

Will The World End Tomorrow?

Will the World End Tomorrow?

Because of what is inscribed (or better said, not inscribed – any dates past tomorrow) on an ancient Mayan stone calendar, some have predicted the world will come to an end on Friday, December 21, 2012. While there has been a lot of joking about this across the internet, some are taking the possibility seriously. A man in Hong Kong has sold all he owns and is spending money enjoying luxuries, convinced the world will end before Saturday.

So, will the world end tomorrow? My answer might surprise you: It could. But, my response has nothing to do with a centuries old Mayan calendar. Writing to the Thessalonian church the Apostle Paul tells them:

Now brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. – I Thessalonians 5:1-3

Scripture tells us no one knows the date or time of Christ’s return (see also Matthew 24:36). It could very well be December 21, 2012. It could also be a hundred years from now. Either way, Jesus is clear in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) – one day, when people least expect it, He will return. For Christians, our calling is not to engage in idle speculation about when and certainly not to participate in date setting. Our calling is to be like the wise virgins – living as if the Lord could return at any moment and staying ready.

The Ice Cream Eaters – A Parable

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There was once a town where the people ate healthy. They ate natural foods – meats, vegetables, and fruits. As a result the people of the town were healthy and prosperous. Then one day a stranger came to town. He opened something the people had never seen before, an ice cream shop. He told the people they deserved better, tastier things to eat. Told them what they’d been eating for generations was old fashioned. At first few people in the town frequented the shop, choosing instead to keep eating the things they had always eaten. Over time, however, more and more people tried the ice cream and when they saw that it was good for food began to eat more and more of it. Some liked it so much they began to eat nothing but ice cream. These people began to talk to others about the goodness of ice cream and to encourage them to stop eating vegetables and other old fashioned foods.

As time went on, the ice cream eaters became a significant portion of the town’s citizens. They occupied positions of influence and power such as teachers and politicians and ministers. They used that influence to promote ice cream and to marginalize those who still ate the old fashioned food.  After all, ice cream tasted great. Who doesn’t want something like that for the citizens of their town? Clearly only backwards, ignorant people would oppose something people enjoy so much.

One day, the people of the town began to notice they didn’t feel as well as they once had. They didn’t have the energy they’d had before and they often got sick now. Something had to be done. They appealed to their leaders for help.  Looking around, the town council realized the butcher and the green grocer were still operating in their town. That must be the problem. These purveyors of the old fashioned foods were poisoning the citizens! They immediately passed a law making it illegal to sell fresh meats and vegetables and simultaneously introduced three new flavors of ice cream (for the town council now ran the ice cream shop to ensure that everyone was able to exercise his right to have ice cream). The people were greatly relieved and began eagerly to eat the new flavors.

However, things didn’t get better. In fact, they got worse. Not only were people still getting sick but some were now dying. “Why is this happening!” they cried. A few people were bold enough to suggest perhaps it was the ice cream so many people were eating. That, just perhaps, the diet people had eaten years ago was the correct one, the one needed if people in a society were to be happy and healthy.  “Who are you to tell me how to live!” the people screamed. Others responded “how dare you judge my diet. Just because meat and vegetables work for you doesn’t mean I have to eat that way!” The town’s leaders reassured everyone that it was possible to eat nothing but ice cream yet still enjoy all the benefits of eating meats, vegetables and fruits. Laws were quickly passed to prevent vegetable and meat eaters from publicly sharing their views about food so people would not be offended or feel bad about eating as much ice cream as they wanted.

So the people of the town kept on eating ice cream, feeling good about themselves, getting sick and dying.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” – Proverbs 14:12

Read Calvin’s Institutes in 90 Days (or less)

Read Calvin's Institutes in 90 Days (or less)

I’ve always wanted a nice copy of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion – not just to have it but to actually read it as well. Recently I was able to fulfill the first half of that wish by getting the edition published for the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth. Christianbook.com had it for only $19.99, a great price, so I went ahead and bought it. Now I have to make good on my second wish and read it.

This is not a light read. It’s also long. It’s over 900 pages, not including prefaces, introductions, etc. In my experience, the best way to read a book like this is in small portions over a long period of time. I’ve read the Bible that way for a while now, breaking it up into bite-sized portions and completing it over the course of six months to a year. (If you’ve not made plans to read the entirety of the scriptures in the coming year, I encourage you to do that. If you need some tips, go here). I wondered if something similar would work for Calvin’s Institutes.

The Plan

With that in mind, I developed a reading schedule for the Institutes that allows you to finish it completely in 90 days – actually 87 days if you’re diligent. Otherwise you’ve got a few days leeway. The Institutes consists of four books, each with chapter and section divisions. The schedule uses only book, chapter and section numbers (no page numbers) so it should be adaptable to any version you’re reading.

For each of the four books, I used a notation system similar to that used for chapter and verse in the Bible – chapter numbers first, the, if applicable, section numbers after a colon. For example 1-4 means read chapters one through four, 13:1-12 means read chapter thirteen, sections one through twelve and 11:12 – 12:3 means read chapter eleven, section twelve through chapter twelve, section three. You get the idea. I’ve tried to keep each section as close to ten pages as possible but some sections are a bit longer because a more natural break occurs a few pages further on.

To get a free copy of the reading schedule, go here where you can download it for your use and to share with whoever you’d like.

Other Resources

If you need a copy of Calvin’s Institutes, the Kindle version can be found here for only $0.99. A free copy is available here at Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Another helpful resource is Timothy Lane’s A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes which provides chapter outlines and summaries. This is not designed to replace reading the full work but as a supplement to it.

If you use the schedule to read the Institutes in the coming months, I’d love to hear from you and find out how it went.

Why Should I Join A Local Church?

Biblical basis for church membership Church membership is a concept once universally accepted that now must regularly be defended. While there are many reasons for this, the excuse most often trotted out by it’s detractors is that the Bible does not mention church membership.

Besides being an argument from silence,which is not a sound footing on which to build a theology, it’s also not true. To be sure, “thou shalt join a church” is nowhere to be found, but the New Testament is full of teachings that can only be explained in the context of church membership. Here are three:

  1. Pastors are repeatedly referred to as having the function of “shepherds” (I Peter 5:2) and “overseers” of a flock (Acts 20:28, Philippians 1:1). Shepherds always have a specific flock. Trying to function as a shepherd to some amorphous “whoever” is like trying to cool the yard in July by turning on the air conditioning and opening all the doors and windows. Apart from set boundaries ministry, like air conditioning, is ineffective. For pastors, that boundary is church membership. It tells them who they are responsible for before God and therefore who is under their care.
  2. Church discipline is a command of scripture. In Matthew 18:17, the final step of that process in the face of stalwart unrepentance, is to tell the matter to the church. The reason? So the church will no longer treat this person as among their number but as a tax collector or sinner. In other words, someone outside the church. This is reinforced by Paul in I Corinthians 5:2 when he commands the church at Corinth to remove an immoral person from among them. Absent an understanding of who is and is not part of the local body, commands like these make no sense.
  3. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in the local churches where they were ministering (Acts 14:23) and Paul commanded Titus to do the same (Titus 1:5). Elder is but another New Testament term for pastor or shepherd or bishop – a leader in a local church. Believers are responsible to obey and submit to the elders (Hebrews 13:17). Which elders? Everyone in the world whom a local church has called as an elder? Certainly not. The implication is to the elders of your local church. Again, it’s a matter of knowing who is and is not part of the flock, both so the elders know to whom they are called to minister and so individual Christians know which brothers and sisters in Christ are their primary responsibility and to which spiritual leaders they are accountable.

These are just a few reasons church membership is important, indeed essential, for believers. So why do so many reject the notion of church membership today? That’s another topic for another post but never let anyone (or any church) get away with telling you that church membership is optional or unimportant by claiming the Bible is silent on the topic.