Epiphany, 2019

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“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Php. 2:7-8, NIV)

With these words the apostle Paul exhorts Christians to humility after the example of Christ.  He who was highest made Himself lowest for us.  Though humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creatures, made in His image, in comparison with the glory of God we are nothing.  But God the Son eschewed the privileges of divinity to become man for our salvation.

Such was the advent of the King of Kings, which those wise men followed the star to see two millennia ago.  At epiphany we remember their coming, noble guests from far away who journeyed to see the newborn king.  But, for us, epiphany is richer because we know the story of this great king.

In the passage from Philippians, Paul goes on to describe the depths of Christ’s humility, that He died on the cross–a death which, like His incarnation, was for us.  Having humbled Himself so far in obedience to the Father, having done obedience to cover our disobedience, He has been exalted:

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (vv.9-11, NIV)

Epiphany is richer for us because the newborn king lived a human life, died for our sins, and has been exalted on high.  He sits enthroned above, and reigns forever and ever.  He has gone from the manger to the cross, to the tomb, to rise again, to glory.  We will not find Him in a stable, but at the right hand of God the Father; and, sooner or later, everyone will acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ.

That is the invitation of epiphany: to bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, giving glory to God the Father.  For Christians today it is a joyous thing, because it reminds us that we have hope and confidence in this dark world, hope in the face of adversity, confidence against every setback, joy in the certain triumph of Christ our Lord.

And for everyone it is an invitation.  You were made to worship God.  Christ has triumphed over sin and death; in Him you may be brought back to God, made whole, and restored to your vocation of worship.  Come to the King.

Come and worship Him.

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The Light

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Light has come!

The wondrous Word:

Prophets’ promise, life and Lord,

Master, Maker, divine stranger

With us, with us,

God-man swaddled in a manger.

 

Light has dawned!

In darkness shining,

Searing sin’s tendrils entwining

Souls in prisons shadowed—

Free finally

To walk in daylight hallowed.

 

Light has broken!

Brightly burning,

Light and life, returning

Days lost to the tomb—

All eternity

Bundled in the virgin’s womb.

 

Light has dawned!

Lift every voice,

Let men and seraphim rejoice;

From each and all, let praises swell

Abundantly,

Glad and glorious noel.

 

Light has come!

Come, holy light;

Pierce the blackness of my night.

Living one, abide in me

Ever anew—

Your advent my nativity.

 

The Cost of Having a Spine

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Peter Vlaming has paid the price for being a man of integrity and sense in America today.  The Virginia school teacher was fired because of his unwillingness to march in step with the mandates of the transgender movement.  He has committed the terrible offense of refusing to lie about a student’s identity, and therefore must be punished.  The revolution does not brook dissent.

From what the article says, it doesn’t seem Mr. Vlaming was even very confrontational about things.  He was perfectly willing to just refer to the student by name.  But, in a moment when a quick word was required, to try and prevent the student from coming to harm, he accidentally referred to her as she.  She has recently started identifying as he, so this was completely unacceptable and has led to Mr. Vlaming being disciplined because he will not recant.

The story is disturbing.  The school board’s decision was apparently unanimous, which tells us that the whole group has lost the use of their reason; not only are they fully on board with jettisoning science in favor of feelings, but they fully support trampling Mr. Vlaming’s freedom of conscience.  These are people tasked with overseeing the education of children–an education that ideally would include a modest grasp of biology and respect for other people’s conscience.

Here is the school’s Principal: “I can’t think of a worse way to treat a child than what was happening”.  Really?  You are a high school principal, and you can’t think of anything that would be more abusive to a student than a teacher lovingly refusing to lie to them about their gender?  And you are someone who should be entrusted to oversee education?

Here is the West Point Schools Superintendent: “That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment.  And the student had expressed that.  The parent had expressed that…They felt disrespected.”  So the feelings of the student and parent overturn reality?  Conscientiously refusing to lie is discrimination?  And your leadership as Superintendent is going to help the school train students in integrity and rational thought?

This is the consequence of the secularization of American education.  Having rejected the knowledge of God, they have lost the knowledge of mankind as well.  They purport to educate children, but they have educated themselves out of what even most children know–the difference between boys and girls.  The goal now is to miseducate children into sharing their ignorance of this basic facet of humanity.

It is, of course, a clash of fundamental worldviews.  Mr. Vlaming has the Christian worldview, wherein the world is intelligible and humanity is understandable, as creatures of a loving Creator; “in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27, NIV).  And the same God who told him what boys and girls are told him he must not lie about it.

The authorities in the West Point Schools have a secular worldview, wherein the world is unintelligible and the human being is in flux.  Girls may become boys, so ultimately there are no such things as girls and boys.  Educators should cooperate in the spiritual and psychological abuse of children by helping confuse them about their gender.  Truth and conscience are to be trampled upon in the rush to accommodate feelings.  Reason is out, but the argumentum ad baculum is very much in.

Now, which worldview would we rather see at work in our nation’s educators?  A difficult choice, to be sure.

Believing God

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It takes courage and clarity of thought (not a lot of courage and clarity of thought, but a little) to engage in moral reasoning in public.  It’s easy for us to lose our nerve or suddenly become confused when put on the spot.  That’s why it’s so important for Christians to be deeply rooted in the Scriptures; we can stand on God’s truth, even when our wits desert us.

Singer Lauren Daigle has recently been caught up in a kerfluffle.  While open about her Christian identity, she has recently publicly stated that she can’t say whether or not homosexuality is a sin.  Why not?  As is usual in cases like these, the problem seems to be that she doesn’t have a good grasp on the authority of Scripture.

In the first place, relationships with homosexuals have confused her about whether it is right or wrong.  “I have too many people that I love and they are homosexuals,” Miss Daigle said.  This is standard fare, a basic strategy of the sexual revolution.  Normalization has done its work on her.  The logic is, once you get to know people who do x, and see that they are regular, kind, good people, you will come to realize that x isn’t sin.  But that does not follow.  Regular, kind, ‘good’ people do all kinds of sinful things.  Scripture tells us what is sinful, not social mores and the practices of people we love.

But that, again, is standard fare.  I found her other piece of reasoning more interesting.  Miss Daigle went on to say, “I can’t say one way or the other, I’m not God.”  This is not new either, but it is a rather extreme case.  She is saying, in effect, that only God can make a proper moral judgment on this issue.  It follows that, if you claim to have the answer about whether or not homosexuality is sin, you are putting yourself in the place of God.

I think that what is going on is that Miss Daigle has confused judging people with making moral judgments about issues.  This is a confusion encouraged by the left, who insist that making moral judgments about certain issues is condemning people, thus bigoted and hateful, etc.  Pope Francis is famous for falling into this trap, with his “Who am I to judge?” response on this very issue several years ago.

It must be observed that this only arises regarding certain issues.  Ask Pope Francis what he thinks about greed, and suddenly he will rediscover his ability and prerogative to make moral judgments–even to judge greedy people.  Ask Lauren Daigle what she thinks about racism, and I’m guessing she will have no problem making the correct moral judgment, even though she’s not God, and without any sense that one needs to be God in order to know the truth.

That tells us that the sudden inability to engage in moral reasoning, the sense that to do so would be putting oneself in the place of God, is a smokescreen.  I do not mean that Miss Daigle was lying.  Perhaps her nerve failed her, when put on the spot; but perhaps she is only confuses what is already confused to her.  There is a whole advocacy machine at work trying to change Christians’ minds about this issue.  The fog is thick in our culture.

What Christians must understand is that God’s Word is authoritative, and cuts through the fog with the mighty gale of the Spirit, the clarion call of truth, the light in our cultural darkness.  Miss Daigle was right in that God is the judge and His judgments are true.  But that would mean that making moral judgments is putting oneself in the place of God only if God had been silent.  If God has spoken, then it is good and proper obedience to cling to what God has said.  If God has spoken, then it is putting oneself in the place of God to deny the truth of what God has said.  If God has spoken, then we can know the truth.

If God has spoken and told us what is true, then we must have the clarity and courage to cling to God’s truth.

You don’t have to be God to know moral truth.  You just have to believe God.

Advent

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Advent is a season of joyful expectation, as we reflect on the coming of our Savior.  This world is full of darkness.  But into our dark world trumpets the proclamation of the prophet Isaiah:

The people walking in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of deep darkness

a light has dawned.

(Isa. 9:2, NIV)

            This is a message wonderful and strange.  What is the great light that brings hope in our darkness?  How has God reached down to us, and shown us the way home?

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

(v.6)

The answer is even stranger.  The light in our darkness is a child, a son—the birth of one who would be great and rule over all.  This is the miracle of Christmas.  God sent His Son into our world, for our redemption.  God the Son came down and took on flesh.  He was born as a child, to bring light in our dark world and offer hope to you and me.

But what a child.  What a Savior!  The prophet gives Him these glorious titles, for the child born on that first Christmas is our Redeemer, Comforter, Guide, and God.  He is the great light, and all who receive Him will find the way home.

Star and Guide

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“O holy Spirit, Love of God, infuse Thy grace, and descend plentifully into my heart; enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling, and scatter there Thy cheerful beams; dwell in that soul that longs to be Thy temple; water that barren soil, over-run with weeds and briars, and lost for want of cultivating, and make it fruitful with Thy dew from heaven.  Oh come, Thou refreshment of them that languish and faint.  Come, Thou Star and Guide of them that sail in the tempestuous sea of the world; Thou only Haven of the tossed and shipwrecked.  Come, Thou Glory and Crown of the living, and only Safeguard of the dying.  Come, Holy Spirit, in much mercy, and make me fit to receive Thee–Amen.

-Augustine of Hippo, quoted in Great Souls at Prayer, 61

The Greatest

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Luke 9:46 is a good reminder of our human weakness, and how very vulnerable we are to pride.  Following the revelation of Christ’s glory in the transfiguration (Lk. 9:28-36), the demonstration of the disciples’ lack of faith that they could not drive out a demon (vv.37-43), and Jesus’ repeated prediction of His coming betrayal (vv.44-45), comes the remarkable statement that “An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest” (v.46).

That’s just like us, isn’t it?  We see Jesus’ glory, we see our weakness, and somehow we get the lesson that we’re pretty great.

Jesus has a different lesson for them, and for us.  “Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him.  Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest” (vv.47-48).

Christ has a lesson to teach, when He directs the disciples’ attention to a little child.  Greatness is not found in wealth, or education, or power, or celebrity status.  Greatness is found in simple and childlike faith.  Greatness is all about Christ: putting our focus off ourselves and onto Christ, and treating those the world sees as unimportant with Christlike love.  Christ is great; our concern should be advancing His greatness.

Not a Hard Question

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Following up on my last post, someone might ask, ‘but what are the dangers of having celebrity pastors?’

Well, here’s a ‘for-instance’: Harvest Bible Chapel Sues Former Members, Julie Roys for Defamation.

Should a megachurch and its celebrity pastor, James MacDonald, be suing a journalist and some other writers over criticism?  It’s not actually a hard question.

The answer is no.

What could possibly have inspired them to think this was a wise and righteous course of action?  1 Corinthians 6:1-11?…no, that wouldn’t do it…Luke 6:28?…no, that doesn’t help either.  One suspects the inspiration for this litigation comes from something besides the Scriptures.

This quote from MacDonald is, I think, telling:

“It isn’t that some of the criticism wasn’t fair. I believe in the marketplace of ideas and of regular, vibrant discussion inside a local church. It’s just that their words were often untrue, their information was incomplete, and over time their tone of reasonableness disintegrated, exposing their obvious goal of ending our ministry. Over a three–year period, their materially harmful untruths drove more than 2000 members out of our church — a church we founded with a handful of people more than 30 years ago and have given our lives to,” MacDonald explained in the statement in which he said he was “devastated.”

The church belongs to Christ.  It’s His church; we give Him our lives.  The bigger and more famous we get, the easier it is to forget.