31 December 2010

Coda to Frank: a few of Phil's PoMotivators, timely as ever

by Dan Phillips

It's nice working with people smarter and more creative than I am. So here are a few of Phil's brilliant Po-Motivator graphics that I think put a nice cherry atop the brilliant Biblely Sundae of Frank's exceptional previous two posts. Comments closed, to respect Frank's closure of the previous post — but my co-admins should feel free to add their own, and Phil should bump this if he has a post.

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30 December 2010

What did Jesus (not) say about... the majority's eternal destination? (Full post)

by Dan Phillips
"Barring something extraordinary, odds are most people will end up in Heaven. Nothing to get worked up about."
Let's key off of Mark Lussier's comment from the last post: Of course we musn't forget about John 3:16 ;), Mark wrote. Indeed, not; so let's take a closer look: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." So if "whoever believes in" Jesus does "not perish, but [has] eternal life," what does that say about those who do not believe in Jesus? Clearly, they do perish, and they do not have eternal life.

That, then, must be the default setting of man, according to the Gospel: bereft of eternal life, and headed surely for perdition. After all, no one is born believing in Jesus. To enter that state would require a change, a shift; it is a shift that is necessary for a change of destiny. Minus that change, the destiny is death and perdition. Something extraordinary must happen, to change our fate.

Exegetically it is difficult to tell whether John presents this verse as Jesus' words or his own thoughts. There is, however, no such question about Matthew 5-7, the famed Sermon on the Mount. In a recent post, we had a drive-by  commenter give the Sermon a careless glance, and he pronounced it unremarkable. That's a bit like glancing up in a particular structure in Italy and pronouncing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel "a bit busy."

Regardless, Jesus approaches a critical, confrontive, red-hot climax to His sermon with these words:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).
What is Jesus saying? He is saying that the easiest, broadest, and most popular way is that which leads to destruction. For that reason, it is the most well-traveled; "many" take that path.

By contrast, the path to life is narrow, it is a hard way, and those traveling by it are relatively "few." So something extraordinary must happen for one to get off the majority's path, and onto the minority's.

On another occasion, Jesus is asked, frontally and in so many words, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23). Well, that set it right out, plain and blunt. How will He answer?

One thing we soon learn about our Lord is that He was not over-fond of gauzy, billowy theological yarning. Jesus shows no great affection for "what-if's" and "what-abouts." So here, rather than answering the question in detached terms, in effect He says "You are asking the wrong question. Standing here, in front of Me, you should not first be thinking about them, what they are going to do, and where they are going to go. You had better concern yourself with you. You strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able — and 'many' means you, unless something changes" (cf. Luke 13:24).

Jesus tells His questioner that he will have to "strive," he will have to focus and struggle and give effort — because "life" is not his default-setting. It is ordinary for him to miss the door. It would take something extraordinary for him to find it.

It was similar with those who may have been getting out their what-if and how-about game pieces when a bunch of Galileans were killed by Pilate, and some others had a tower fall on them. Ooh, juicy stuff — what theological debates can we get into over that?

None, Jesus responded; none, except one: "unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. ...unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (cf. Luke 13:1-5). Two stories, one moral.

In fact, this takes us all the way back to Jesus' first recorded sermon in Matthew — not the Sermon on the Mount, but this: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).

Repent, Jesus says. Repent: plunge yourself into a fundamental paradigm shift towards God and the world. Something extraordinary must happen in your heart and life. Change! Transform!

So we return to our opening thought. I daresay that most people would agree with what Jesus didn't say. That is, most would agree that, barring something extraordinary, they're headed for Heaven. I mean, if they turned into some kind of Hitler or Dahmer or Pol Pot, then they'd be in peril. Otherwise? Relax. Don't sweat it. Nothing to get "het up" about.

Don't you see, Jesus' thinking is the exact opposite? The default setting of man is death and doom. Unless something extraordinary happens — unless he repents, unless he finds the narrow door, unless he is miraculously born again — he is heading towards the wrath of God without a plea, a hope, or even a prayer.

Do the math, dear reader, as we head for the year's close. This means that the odds are that you and I both are headed for damnation — barring something extraordinary. It is not that we must have an extraordinary reason to believe that someone (including ourselves!) is doomed; it is that we must have an extraordinary reason to believe that someone is saved.

The Gospel alone provides that reason, in and through and because of Christ alone..

This, in closing, is one thing that drives me a bit nuts about emerg*s, liberals, and academics. we already saw that Jesus was deadly-earnest about all this. Further, Jesus said,
I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!" (Luke 12:4-5).
Given what we've been looking at, that makes perfect sense. It makes sense of the generations and generations and generations of Christians who have died for their faith, embraced torture and death rather than renounce the faith, sometimes with songs of praise on their lips.

But emerg*s, academics, liberals, tough-talking self-promoters? What would they die for? About what are they urgent? They play around with eternal truths, and eternal souls, as if it were all just a great gay game, just a grand faculty tea social. They give interviews to unbelievers, and write articles and present speeches and sermons, and spend the time whacking on Biblically-faithful Christians and puffing themselves up, leaving their hearers confirmed in their contempt for the Gospel.

It isn't like anything Jesus would say.

And I can't imagine He'd think much of it.

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29 December 2010

Open Letter to Derek Webb, 2010

by Frank Turk

UPDATED 25 Feb 2012
Yes: hello.  Before you read this further, this post is, right now, the #2 all-time viewed post in the history of this blog.  It accounts for 1% of all traffic to this blog. And, methinks, a lot of people miss about 2/3rds of what went into the original post because it misses the detailed analysis of the original interview which posted the same day, but gets missed when someone links through to this letter only.

For the sake of that being remedied, I offer a link to the analysis right here.  Don't miss it for the sake of your our righteous indignation.
-- Frank Turk

Dear Derek Webb --

I started my (meager and non-profit) blogging career with an open letter to you about 6 years ago, and it's funny how that has come full circle as you stay on your quest to be come an artist (we'll come back to that) and I stay on my quest to, um, blog.

Over at HuffPo, Chris Stedman's interview of you has made some waves in the week after Christmas. It's really cool that, unlike the rest of us, you can get interviews with secularists and directors of inter-religious dialogue -- and I mean that sincerely even though I know it sounds sarcastic. If more people who were actually Christians could get interviewed by Chris Stedman, Chris himself would probably be better for it -- and his readers would at least be disabused by the stereotype of "Christianity" with which they are abused today.

I have to grant you something: you are right about the problem the church has in addressing the "gay" issue. I blogged about that a few years ago myself, refer to that post frequently as the topic comes up and further notes are required, and I commend that to you for context of my note to you today.

There are three things which bothered me about your talk with Mr. Stedman that I want to pass on as we approach the New Year, and I offer them to you in no particular order:

1. The Gospel

What is the Gospel, Derek? (please forgive the faux familiarity; I address you as one somewhat-public person to another) You seem to have summed it up to Mr. Stedman as, "Jesus says we are to be preemptive about how we love." Yet this is not at all how Jesus prepares people for the Gospel, nor what he seems to put at the first place for the reason God sent him, the Son, into the world.

I know someplace, somehow, you "get" this: the Son of Man was not sent to be served, but to serve, and to lay down his life as a ransom for many. He came to suffer much at the hands of the leaders of Israel and to be put to death. And he did this not as a moral example but as a sacrifice -- as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Yet your interview with HuffPo doesn't really mention that -- and maybe that's Mr. Stedman's editorial hand showing. You instead leapfrog that in this interview and go directly to "love". But this is how we know what Love is: seeing that God did something for us when we were unworthy of it. Christ died for sinners and not merely for morally-neutral people -- or worse, for people who are just moral equivalents of each other who can't see either the log in their own eye or the mote in his brother's eye.

The key note of the Gospel, Derek, is the need for it. I am well-known in this little backwater of the internet for saying that any random sinner is "just like me" -- but can I point out a difference between your approach and mine? Your approach is to say, "I'm not any worse than the least of these," and my approach is to say, "I am no better, and maybe I am worse."

The nuance there is important. From the perspective you have delivered to the readers of HuffPo, it's just a "come as you are" thing to say that men are sinful. Them's the breaks, as they say. It soft-soaps the problem of sin significantly into something you put this way: "One of the hallmarks of following Jesus is to pursue and love people who are different than we are and have different beliefs than we do, and to live our lives loving, understanding and coming into common ground with those people."

The problem with that is that Jesus didn't die to establish common ground, Derek: Jesus died because the wages of sin is death, and that's the common ground of all men of all times and all places. I may actually be worse-off than the homosexual, morally: my sins may be more wide-spread and more deeply-rooted (which is an interesting question, given your position here; again: more on that in a second). But what that does not do is mitigate the fact that the homosexual's sin is actually an offense to God from which he must repent, and not merely recognize as a different expression of self.

2. the Church

To that end, Jesus died to make the believers into the Church, right? Jesus didn't die so that we can make a moral equation up which makes Islam and Hinduism and Judaism and then the social/religious agnostics who come 'round about Him as "believers" into a happy mixed family. Jesus died so that the believers can be called out from death into life, and called out from the world to the household of God, and called out of sin and into salvation.

Readers of this blog know that I am not a perfectionist -- I don't believe that there are any Christians who are perfect morally, least of all me personally. In fact, I think one of the greatest sins in the American Christian life is the inability of so-called theologically-conservative Christians to live in community with other believers. There is a call to repentance needed there which has not yet been sounded or even rightly-framed which we English-speakers have to face up to. It smashes our idols of individuality and intellectual pride. That matter is for another day.

But that said, Christ died to call out the Church. This is an unquestionable fact of the New Testament; it's the key-note point of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, and also the "book ends" of Paul's letter to the Romans. Somehow, if Christ died for us, we are a new people set apart from the world and it's fallenness. Right? Colossians 3? So when we make the confession that we are sinners, we are also making the confession that we ought not to be sinners. Making allowance for the sins of others so that we can "love them" is unloving because it is spiritually deadly. It completely squashes the actual Gospel in place of a new kind of legalism. Rather than seeking to find out all the ways in which we ought "not to do," we are in fact seeking out all the ways we can allow all the things we ought not to do. It's a legalism of tolerance -- which you exchange in your interview into a legalism of love. It's not love, you might say, if it doesn't include those who mutilate themselves to justify their sexual urges. It's not love, you might say, if we can't bless the sexual union of two people who are sexually identical rather than sexually compatible. It's the legalism of permissiveness, which is merely license raised to a moral imperative.

The Church cannot say such things. When it does -- and I submit to you that the conservative church does this exactly today regarding marriage and sexuality -- it is gone far afield. To have it go far into another false field for the sake of balance (which, as I take it, is your complaint) is not prophetic or artistic: it is blasphemy, and anti-Gospel.

3. The Artist

Which brings me to my final comment. Personally, I grew up in a liberal-arts environment. Then I "got saved" and spent 20 years as a Christian. I have found that there is a singular refuge for people who do not want to be held morally and philosophically culpable for the trash they flatulently expel into the common conversation. In Christian circles, it's the "prophet"; in academic circles, it's "the artist".

Back in the "old days" before you started filing complaints against the local church and Christians in general, you didn't couch yourself behind the conceit of being "an Artist". But today, that's your trip. Are you really more-qualified to make moral, political and social pronouncements than anyone else -- than pastors and qualified teacher of the Bible, for example -- now that you are "an artist"? Is it really at all reasonable let alone generous or spiritually-mature to denigrate pastors as people who don't have enough time to get spiritually informed except through CNN and blogs? I think it's a dodge you can cleverly use to escape scrutiny, and you should frankly know better. You're not some kid floating through college on his father's hard-earned dime; you're not some flattered entertainer who lives in a vacuum protected by publicists and agents and sycophants (I hope). You're in some way a self-made man who has been there, done that -- which makes your daffy diatribes against conservative Christianity, and the disguise of being an "artist", all the more unbelievable.

To say, as you have said here, that your pondering these issues trumps other views because you are an "artist" is simply adolescent. If your moral pronouncement trumps, for example, John Piper (not an artist), what if Charlton Heston says you're wrong? His artistic cred trumps yours for sure: how do you deal with it? And what if Ian McKellen then comes out and proffers yet another moral pronouncement -- does his cred trump Heston? What exactly will we do when the artist community unsurprisingly cannot speak with one voice and cannot come to a moral consensus? What will us poor non-artists do if CNN or FOX does not clear it up for us?

The answer, of course, is to put the artist in his place -- subject to God's revelation. That's the Christian answer, anyway -- settle matters of faith and practice by what God hath said -- and that, done by men of good faith who are elders and leaders in the church. But the way you have, over time, read the Bible, has become shallow and ambiguous -- which is the hallmark of pretentiousness, not artistic depth. To see Jesus as only a lover of the sinful and not a judge or even decent moral counsellor is to misread all of the book of John and all of Revelation and all of Paul's statements which begin "therefore" in the New Testament.

May we all suffer fewer artists of this sort in the future, and may you repent of it as soon as possible.

We all know you want to be a lion -- we all want to pass as cats. You want to be a big, big star; you want to be someone to believe. You want to be Bob Dylan. The problem is that you're not. You're a kid fellow from Texas who has, over 20 years, convinced himself that there is no Old Testament substantiating the New Testament; that Jesus does not fulfill that law so that in his death those who repent and believe are made a people like him. What we therefore ought to be is both enemies of sin and friends of sinners -- but I think you have missed this someplace, publicly and intentionally. My offer to you is to come back to this, which is the Christian faith and not some romantic or secularized stereotype of the actual faith.

While I have been harsh here, I hope this letter finds you well, and in the good graces of God, and with a heart inclined toward him and inclined to repent. You have said that you refuse no invitations for interviews, and I post this as an open invitation to do two things inclusively here together: [1] to post your [unedited] open reply to this letter in this space at your convenience, and [2] to also record a 60-minute interview with me on this subject which would be available here unedited on this subject to correct the record as necessary, correct my view of the interview with Stedman, and to dialog on the question of the church being in the world, on mission to lost people, but not of the world.

You can tweet me @Frank_Turk, or e-mail at frank at i-t-u-r-k dot com.

Awesome Update:

BEFORE YOU POST A COMMENT (and I do mean you personally), ask yourself this question: "Self, if my response to Frank Turk is that he should have first called Derek and had coffee with him to do the Biblical thing and not make this all like this, and I'm going to set him straight, why am I posting a comment on his blog rather than calling him? Am I just like Frank, or am I really following Jesus?"

If you can answer that question in a way that doesn't embarrass yourself, lay on, MacDuff.

--The Neighborhood Bully
Awesome Update #2:

After closing the comments and reflecting on this post, the one very obvious and glaring problem with the discussion has been the actual lack of actual discussion. For example, with the panoply of people pelting me for not contacting Derek directly to make nice with him privately over his public disapprobation (notice I got it right this time) of the church and its moral judgment, only two people have bothered to send me an e-mail about the subject to take their points off-line. TWO. And I bring it up only because I put my e-mail address and Twitter ID in the post. Finding me would have been as hard as blinking.

This describes the kind of objection that concern is -- because it apparently doesn't apply to the people who offer it. It certainly didn't apply to Derek who, rather than respond here, or respond with an e-mail, or even respond with a quick note with any clarifiers, posted drive-by tweets for three days about nameless bloggers and told people via twitter that I was specifically a body part of inglorious use.

File that with this open letter, and keep it between the ditches.

--The Neighborhood Bully

Notes: Where I am coming from

by Frank Turk

Most readers will have already read my open letter to Derek Webb, but this post is actually being published prior to the open letter. So I offer it as a post-script or epilogue or prologue (depending on when you read it) based on a phone call I had this week. I had a phone-chat with a reasonably-well-known SBC blogger (name obscured to give him the freedom to be in or out) after I tweeted about Derek's interview (long story, but he called because I didn't want to have a tweet war about the subject), and before the Ozarks canned my cell signal he asked me to at least deal with the interview and what it actually said -- not what I thought it implied.

I think that's a totally-fair request from him, and a totally-fair expectation from Derek Webb, so here is where I'll do that. Consider my letter to be based on what I have here exposited here from the interview.

The right thing to do is to place the interview in context, and the interviewer (Chris Stedman) does exactly that:
Given [Derek Webb's] willingness to reach across dividing lines, I asked Webb about his religious identity and how it relates to his work and his positions on issues relating to LGBT people, Muslims and atheists.
So explicitly, this interview is about Webb's "religious identity", and specifically it is about "his positions on issues", and those issues are specifically regarding "LGBT people", "Muslims" and "atheists". It's interesting to note that this interview offers one question each to the matter of atheism and Islam, and the rest stays in orbit around the question of receiving LGBT people into the church with open arms.

Here's Q1 from the interview:
Tracking the arc of your career, it seems to me that you've become increasingly vocal about your opinions on certain social issues. What's behind that?
So "certain social issues" are at stake here -- not just philosophy of ministry issues, but the actual "social issues" which Webb is speaking of. Here's the first half of his answer:
My wife and I are both artists. Part of the luxury of being an artist is that you not only can but kind of have a responsibility to think long and hard about things on behalf of those who might listen to your music. You can give them a jumping off point for subject matter that might be too tangled for most people in the busyness of their daily lives. I think there are a lot of smart people out there who honestly just don't have the time to think through some of these issues, and it becomes easier to watch CNN, to watch Fox News, to read some random blog and just get your answers and talking points from those kinds of places.
Now, get this: It's the artist, in his own words, who has a responsibility to "give people a jumping-off point for [complicated] subject matter". This is interesting because the second question was "Were you concerns about the risk of taking a stand on such a heated issue?" -- the "issue" being whether "LGBT" is acceptable Christian behavior, because the context is Webb's single "What Matters More" -- and his answer was this:
In terms of my being fearful or not [about the] reaction; I take my job really seriously, and I have tried to make a habit over the years of not listening to people who either criticize me or praise me. Spirituality is a really mysterious thing, and I feel as though I have received various coordinates from God over the years in terms of what I need to be spending my time and my work on, and that's really what I'm listening to. If following faithfully along those coordinates puts me in a season of praise with a certain group of people, that's fine -- but I don't do it to get in those graces, and neither am I upset if that also costs me some people along the road. I would much rather be faithful than successful, and I think that's a real professional difference [from] how some people do it.
So Derek Webb has said this explicitly about himself: [1] he's the deep thinker who is giving people the "jumping-off point" for complicated issues, and [2] if he takes criticism (or praise, as he says -- a point we have to get back to) for those jumping-off points, he doesn't listen. He feels like he has "received various coordinates from God over the years in terms of what I need to be spending my time and my work on, and that's really what I'm listening to".

Personally, I think that's troubling -- because Derek Webb says he's talking with God, and unlike the rest of us who are only invested enough (or maybe only spiritual enough, if I read his first answer correctly) to get our answers from CNN or blogs who ought to listen to him, he's not going to really take on outside analysis of his approach.

Now, that's a pretty clever way to set up one's vocational priorities -- to set the artist literally above criticism. But it seems to me that Derek is not really that disassociated from his critics and fans. Consider the first half of his second answer:
[the feedback] that I didn't really expect was the response from those that are at the business end of the church's judgment, especially around the gay issue. But what was surprising in a good way -- what showed me that I picked the right kind of trouble to get into -- was the response from a lot of people who were really struggling spiritually because they had no language for being who they actually were and believing what they actually believed. For their whole lives they had people telling them they couldn't be a certain kind of person. I was really gratified to be able to provide some small bit of sanity to a handful of people. That was worth whatever judgment or misunderstanding that might've come from the record itself.
There's a second reason to consider this statement, but the first is this: in fact, Derek does consider the voice of his praisers because they are the ones who showed him "he picked the right kind of trouble to get into". The criticisms he got were "predictable" and did not take him off the coordinates God put him on, but the praises: they gratified him.

The second reason to think about what Webb says here is the underlined part. My admission here is that Derek doesn't overtly say, "For their whole lives, LGBT people have had others telling them they couldn't be LGBT, but the church should not judge them for that." But if Derek does not mean my paraphrase by his statement, I'd like to see the paraphrase which will actually fit the context of his comment and still maintain the flow of his thought here.

So we make it to the third question:
How do you think the Christian community can build bridges to the LGBT community?
This is perhaps where the blogger I spoke to needs to take specific note of this conversation -- because as I talked to him, he seemed to think that Derek Webb was talking in abstract terms -- but the question makes the answers rather concrete.

So when Mr. Webb begins his response:
Initially, Christians can stop pretending that they're so different. I think there would be an immediate change in the conversation if we all realized how similar we are and the common language we share.
I find this catastrophically-inverted, but the SBC blogger thinks we should read this generously. We should read it, he has told me, as if Derek Webb was telling Stedman that the church is full of sinners and the LGBT community os full of sinners, and in that we have a common language.

But that's neither the tone of this statement, nor is it the intention of this statement -- and it overlooks the fact that it is not the church which establishes the "difference" necessary to even use the term "LGBT" to describe a demographic.

For the uninformed, "LGBT" means "Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transexual". Now think on this: that is a community which takes its identity from sexual expression and not from, for example, any other sociological accomplishment. The primary designator of one's heritage and people group is sexual practice and orientation -- that's what defines this community. When it is then said that the church is the one making a big deal out of what the "differences" are, it's a little more than a little sly to do so. It's actually accepting the LGBT definitions of how things work -- making others the bad guys for categories the LGBT are actually demanding be taken into account.

Let's be as clear as possible: this is a theme which is overtly stated in the song "What Matters More". Here are the lyrics for the song:
You say always treat people like you'd like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
About what you believe
Make you sound like a freak

'Cause if you really believed
What you say you believe
You wouldn't be so damned reckless
With the words you speak
You wouldn't silently consent
When the liars speak
Denying all the dying of the remedy

Tell me, brother what matters more to you
Tell me, sister what matters more to you

If I can see what's in your heart
By what comes out of your mouth
Then it sure looks to me like being straight
Is all it's about
It looks like being hated
For all the wrong things
Like chasing the wind
While the pendulum swings

'Cause we can talk and debate
Till we're blue in the face
About the language and tradition
That He's coming to save
And meanwhile we sit
Just like we don't have give a **** about
Fifty thousand people who are dying today
Webb's point in this song is obvious: the church ought to care more about the sick people in the world than about what kind of sex people will have. In fact, it seem that what kind of sex is only a matter of "tradition", and to say otherwise is "hatred".

For the doubters this is where Derek Webb makes his stand on the issue.

That said, returning to the interview, how the church then "stops pretending they are so different" is an intimation of moral guilt to the church which Webb does not flesh out at all -- and I leave it to him to flesh it out in some way other than to huff at people he disagrees with.

Now I say "other than to huff" because this is the next part of his answer:
Another thing that would really change the conversation between the church and the broader gay community -- and it so desperately needs changing -- is the church's response. The church has spent so many years dealing publicly in the morality of the issue, in a way that misrepresents the response that I believe Jesus would have, that Christians have forgotten, or maybe never really [knew] in the first place, that whether your moral response to the gay issue is that it is perfectly permissible in the eyes of the Bible, or that it is totally reprehensible, your interpersonal response should be absolutely no different to gay people.

The response, by the way, is love. Period. It's love and open arms, regardless of your position on the morality.
I find this disturbing for several reasons. First, if we consider the Sermon on the Mount, Christ is classically judgmental for all manner of sin -- including heterosexual sin, greed, and all the trouble which pours out of the heart of man. Jesus publicly decried immorality -- and not merely the superficial kind of the morally-careless, but the deep kind in which one discovers that one does not love God but one's self and one's pleasure. It's simply biblically illiterate to say Jesus' response to public immorality would have been "love and open arms" -- because Jesus rejected anyone who thought they were morally-clean, anyone who thought their sin was not sin.

Second, the interpersonal response that Christians provide to most people is not stoning, or shunning, or any manner of real moral approbation. It's just apathy. If he wants to get on about that, I'll applaud him -- but to say that most Christians somehow treat LGBT people with anything more-active than simply passing them by is just ignorant of the average Christian. Worse, it plays to anti-Christian stereotypes which do not serve anyone well.

Last, for a fellow trying to creating jumping-off points for Christians into complex issues, it would be useful to define love in a little more nuanced way -- perhaps in a more biblical way -- than to make it group hugs as if fellowship and interpersonal respect looked like a Michelob commercial.

Here's Derek's next answer to the question of whether he is "too Christian" or "not Christian enough":
You can't please everybody, and I don't do this to please everybody. But the job of any artist is to look at the world and tell you what they see. Every artist, whether they acknowledge it or know it, has a grid through which they view the world and make sense of what they see. Even if it's a grid of unbelief -- that you don't think there is anything orchestrating the world and that everything is completely random -- that is a grid through which you make sense of the world.

A lot of "Christian art" is about the lens they're looking through, rather than the world they see through it. I'm not going to criticize anybody for doing that, but I would rather look at the world through the grid of following Jesus and tell you what I see. But that doesn't presume that all the art I'm going to make will be about following Jesus.

The year I made Stockholm Syndrome, there were a lot of triggers that brought issues of race and sexuality to my mind. I have a lot of friends and family that have suffered because of the church's judgment; my best friend in the world is gay. I felt a lot of people around me drawing lines in the sand, and that year I decided: I don't want to draw lines and have to be on one side or the other, but if someone's going to push me to one or the other side of the line, I'm going to stand on the side of those being judged because that's where I feel Jesus meets people. Making Stockholm Syndrome was about that journey. That same lens, this year, brought Feedback to life. They are very different pieces of art, but the exact same ethic brought both of those records out.
That statement is the subtext -- perhaps the presuppositions -- of the rest of this interview for Derek Webb. It tells us explicitly his state of mind and what is driving him to make certain judgments of his own.

And let's make sure this gets clarified: in spite of Webb's explicit beef with the church making "public moral judgments", he is himself making public moral judgments about the church -- and juxtaposing himself against the church on certain issues. How he can justify himself and condemn the church is for him to explain, but I think it is obvious to anyone reading where he comes to this conclusion -- and it stems from his position as an "artist" who is set in some coordinates by God himself.

It's also interesting that he here again stresses that people who are being "judged" are not actually subject to Jesus' approbation. The church or the religious people might judge people, but not Jesus: he's about "meeting people". This is another point which I want to make explicitly to the SBC blogger if he is reading: this riff of Derek Webb in this essay is where I find him most obviously soft-soaping the problem of sin. This is the way Joel Osteen talks about sin; this is the way Oprah talks about sin. This is not the way people who are serious about sin being a problem for mankind which sets them at odds against God speak about sin. Sin is not the fault of the church which drives people away: sin is what comes out of a man by the overflow of his heart (a saying of Jesus, btw; a saying he can use against others but not in a balanced way), and God judges it.

There is more to this interview, and I ask the reader to read it for himself. This post is already twice as long as I intended to make it, but the perspective that we ought to deal specifically with what was said in the interview rather than with what we think was said is a legitimate one. I hope I have done that here, and look forward to other comments on this subject.

28 December 2010

What did Jesus (not) say about... the eternal destination of most people?

by Dan Phillips

"Barring something extraordinary, odds are most people will end up in Heaven. Nothing to get worked up about."

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27 December 2010

Simple Gifts

by Phil Johnson

    friend gave me a Flip Video camera for Christmas, so I made this Youtube Channel, and posted a video I took Christmas Day afternoon. Ray, Wrigley, and I made a mess of Darlene's kitchen, but it was fun. We find the best joy in the simple gifts:

Enjoy the rest of the holiday, and I'll be back in the New Year.

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25 December 2010

The Reason Jesus was Born

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Jesus, the King of Truth," a sermon preached Thursday evening, 19 December 1872, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

hrist did not merely speak the truth, but he was truth. Had he been truth embodied in an angelic form, he had possessed small power over our hearts and lives; but perfect truth in a human form has royal power over renewed humanity. Truth embodied in flesh and blood has power over flesh and blood. Hence, for this purpose was he born.

So when ye hear the bells ringing out at Christmas, think of the reason why Jesus was born; dream not that he came to load your tables and fill your cups; but in your mirth look higher than all earth-born things. When you hear that in certain churches there are pompous celebrations and ecclesiastical displays, think not for this purpose was Jesus born.

No; but look within your hearts, and say, for this purpose was he born: that he might be a King, that he might rule through the truth in the souls of a people who are by grace made to love the truth of God.

C. H. Spurgeon

Stamp Thine Image in its Place

by Charles Wesley [and others]

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

23 December 2010

DJP book announcement: title and date, woo-hoo

by Dan Phillips

I promised -- someone, somewhere -- that I'd share, when I knew. Now I know.

My book from Kregel has an official title and publication date. Now we start work on a cover and such.

Official title: The World-Tilting Gospel: Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight

Official release date: August 1, 2011

That leaves my Proverbs book in the works with Kress Biblical Resources, but I don't have a publication date. When I know, I'll share.

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What did Jesus (not) say about... His mother, Mary? (Full post)

by Dan Phillips
"You know what you lot's problem is? You just don't think enough about My mother."
I've often had two thoughts about Mary:
  1. I dearly hope that her heavenly bliss has not been spoiled by the knowledge of how monstrously men came to pervert her significance and place in relation to her Son. And...
  2. In that view, I've thought that my article on Mary in a Bible dictionary might read, "The mother of Jesus. A pivotal yet minor figure in the New Testament, mentioned by name in only four books."
On the subject of Mary -- as on all other subjects -- the world divides into two kinds of people: those who affirm the binding sufficiency of Biblical revelation, and those who rebel against it. With the latter, their issue is spiritual in origin, and no amount of reasoning or Biblical evidence will suffice. With the former....

My semi-humorous summary above makes a point, but it is scarcely fair to the real woman, who was a truly remarkable individual. Few if any of us (and certainly no men) can do much of a job of imagining ourselves in her sandals. She was clearly a God-fearing young lady, as we shall see, who found a massive weight laid on her small, young shoulders.

We once dwelt on the difference between aged priest Zechariah and young Mary. The trained expert, faced with a word from God that would bring him blessing and cost him nothing, doubted and was judged. The rustic young girl, receiving a word that would also bring blessing but potentially cost her dearly, simply responded "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). For this, her cousin later said, "blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Luke 1:45).

That tells us a great deal about Mary.  Also, when she went to see Elizabeth, Mary burst forth in a song of praise that could be described as a glorious patchwork of quotations from (and allusions to) previous written revelation (Luke 1:46-55). Given that this is presented as a spontaneous outburst of praise, we surmise that Mary had hidden God's word in her heart. This gives us a strong indication as to how she could embrace the angel's word with such believing grace.

Think of it: this is in all likelihood a young teenaged girl. No formal education, no Bible college, no T4G or TGC conferences, no Christian blogging or bookstores. Probably not even a personal copy of the Torah -- just what she heard in synagogue and at home. But Mary received what she heard with such faith and eagerness that it prepared and enabled her for this absolutely and literally unparalleled place in history. It would be churlish at best to denigrate Mary as a believer solely because cultists deify her.

In fact, it is ironic that cultists themselves slander Mary by insinuating that she was in effect an ungodly, faithless wife in standing aloof from her wifely obligations to her husband (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5). Though any word of Scripture can be twisted to say anything when subjected to alien agendas, we do best to take the text in its most natural meaning, and affirm that Jesus was the first of a number of children (Matthew 1:25; 12:46; 13:55; Luke 2:7; 8:19; John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; 1 Corinthians 9:5), sharing the same mother but separated from them by His virginal conception and birth, and His divine nature.

Yet (and all Christians will add "of course") Scripture portrays Mary as a flawed sinner, saved by grace alone just like every other believer. She knew and confessed that she personally needed a Savior (Luke 1:47). When she tried to hint to her adult Son what she thought he should do, she received a respectful reminder of how their relative roles had changed (John 2:4). We must note the grace with which she accepted that word (John 2:5).

Nor was this the only time Jesus put a distance between Himself and His earthly family. One day when He was teaching the Word of God, His earthly family -- who evidently were not numbering themselves among His students at this point -- stood outside the circle of believing pupils, and tried to call Him from His ministry and back to themselves (Matthew 12:48; Mark 3:33). How did Jesus respond? "Family first"? "Mom first"? Hardly:
But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:48-50).
So it is hardly surprising that the rest of Scripture gives very little notice to Mary. The New Testament is primarily about Jesus, not about Mary. She has played her role -- pivotal, yet taking up less space in the inspired text than the patriarchs, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, or even Job. As a devoted Son, in His dying moments Jesus assures Mary's continued care (John 19:25-27). Then she basically vanishes from the text, apart from one last appearance in Acts 1:14, where she has finally taken her place on a level plane with every other Christian, in prayer and worship of her risen Son.

So what would Mary say to us today, were she to speak? Would she bid our attention on her, summon the spotlight from her Son to herself to any degree, try to increase her place in the Christian's worshipful consciousness?

Or would she not rather reiterate what she had already said - "Whatever He tells you, do" (John 2:5)?

To ask the question is to answer it. We best honor Mary not by idolatrously focusing on her person, but by embracing her example of humble, devoted, Biblically-informed, self-disregarding, God-centered faith.

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22 December 2010

6-Part Harmony

by Frank Turk

This ia a "best of" which I composed about 4 years ago for the Christmas day service at our church -- a harmony of the texts which directly speak to the birth of Christ. I think it's useful to get a more-robust picture of what we're talking about at Christmas, which is not just a historical event but the purpose of all of history: God's working out His plan to save sinners.

It still needs some work; there's more that could be said from Scripture. But this is what we are going to celebrate -- those of us who are Christians.

I have a post for Christmas day, too, but I didn't even edit that. And it was written by a Methodist. You're welcome, and good tidings of great joy to you as you prepare to make straight the way of the Lord.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,
    "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"? Or again, "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son"?
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
    "Let all God's angels worship him."
Of the angels he says,
    "He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire."
But of the Son he says,
    "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions."
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to her. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But Mary was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"

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. … For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
    "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.

A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
    "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when [the child] was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."

(they said this because the prophet Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, and he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse and said,
    I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;")
After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

21 December 2010

What did Jesus (not) say about... His mother, Mary?

by Dan Phillips

"You know what you lot's problem is? You just don't think enough about My mother."

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20 December 2010

Another Reason I Am Confident Salvation Is Secure

by Phil Johnson

"I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).

his is one of the most basic truths of Christianity: Salvation is not a work the sinner does for God; it is a work God does for the sinner. Ephesians 2:10: "We are his workmanship."

Even the good works we do as Christians are the result of God's work in us. Those good works are not accomplished by our own willpower or initiative. Ephesians 2:10 continues thussly: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

If God foreordained even the good works we do, and since He is the one who empowers us both to will and to do them (Philippians 2:13), then salvation is truly all God's work.

And He always finishes what He starts. That's the point of the verse at the top of this post.

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19 December 2010

The Foundation of God stands Sure

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Great House and the Vessels in It," a sermon preached Sunday Morning 8 April 1877, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London.

NE of the most serious calamities which can befall a church is to have her own ministers teaching heresy: yet this is no new thing, it has happened from the beginning.

Paul and Peter and James and John in their epistles had to speak of seducers in the churches, even in those primitive days, and ever since then there have arisen in the very midst of the house of God those who have subverted the faith of many, and led them away from the fundamental truths into errors of their own inventing.

The apostle compares this to a gangrene, which is one of the most dangerous and deadly mischiefs which can occur to the body. It is within the body; it eats into the flesh deeper and deeper, festering and putrefying, and if it be not stopped it will continue its ravages till life is extinguished by "black mortification." False doctrine and an unchristian spirit in the midst of the church itself must be regarded as such a gangrene, a silent wolf ravenously gnawing at the heart, the vulture of Prometheus devouring the vitals: no external opposition is one-half so much to he dreaded.

Yet here is our comfort when distressed at the evils of the present age, among which this is one of the chief, that the truth abides for ever the same, "The foundation of God standeth sure." There is no moving that. Whether ten thousand oppose it or promulgate it, the truth is still the same in every jot and tittle; even as the sun shineth evermore, as well when clouds conceal its brightness as when from a clear sky it pours abroad a flood of glory.

The lovers of profane and vain babblings have not taken away from us, nor can they take from us, the eternal verities: the Lord liveth, though they have said, "There is no God." The precious blood of Jesus has not lost its efficacy, though divines have beclouded the atonement; the Spirit of God is not less mighty to quicken and to console though men have denied his personality; the resurrection is as sure as if Hymeneus and Philetus had never said that it is passed already; and the eternal covenant of grace abides for ever unbroken though Pharisees and Sadducees unite to revile it.

The foundation of God standeth sure, and moreover the foundation of the church remains sure also, for, blessed be God, "the Lord knoweth them that are his." All that God has built upon the foundation which he himself has laid keeps its place, not one living stone that he ever laid upon the foundation has been lifted from its resting place. Earthquakes of error may test the stability of the building and cause great searching of heart, but sooner shall the mountains which are round about Jerusalem start from their seats than the work or word of the Lord be frustrated. The things which cannot be shaken remain unaltered in the very worst times.

C. H. Spurgeon

17 December 2010

The Perseverance of the Saints

by Phil Johnson

I am absolutely confident no true believer in Jesus Christ will ever lose his or her salvation. Authentic believers can never do anything to forfeit the eternal life that is ours in Christ. Otherwise, by definition, it could not be said that we have everlasting life and will not come into judgment, but have passed from death to life (John 5:24).

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3-5).

'm not fond of the expression "eternal security" because of the way the doctrine is abused by antinomians and people who think it's possible to own Jesus as Savior without bowing to Him as Lord. I prefer to speak of the perseverance of the saints, because that expression better captures the gist of what the doctrine entails.

The idea is not that if we once "accept Christ" we are guaranteed heaven regardless of whether we continue in the faith or not, but that those who are truly regenerate will not depart from Christ. The supposed Christian who does depart demonstrates that he was never a true Christian in the first place: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19).

On the other hand, I'm convinced that the saints will persevere not because I have any confidence in the saints' own strength or their own faithfulness. My own security not does not rest in my devotion to Christ, but in His devotion to me. I am "kept by the power of God." His power is what energizes my faith and keeps me in the process of salvation, ready to be revealed at the last time.

That's an echo of the truth of 2 Thessalonians 3:3: "The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one." And 2 Timothy 2:13: "If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself." Also, Jude 24: God "is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy."

So on the authority of Scripture I believe absolutely in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. But it's not because I have any confidence in the saints themselves. It is God who secures their perseverance.

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16 December 2010

What did Jesus (not) say about... truth and love?

by Dan Phillips

"Doctrine doesn't matter. All that matters is that you love, love, love."

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15 December 2010

In that sign

by Frank Turk

OK -- before I get to Christmas, and what you should be thinking about about it based on what the Angels said, I'm going to shamelessly plug my newest blogging adventure. After 18 months of suffering over what to do with the domain I acquired, and really killing a lot of time trying to create the right visual tone (which is still under advisement), I'm proud to introduce you to the NEW Calvinist Gadfly. The original Gadfly went to the big apologetics bug trap in the sky after entering seminary, and he encouraged me to pick up the domain name when his registration expired. Now it's a blog which will not be strictly apologetics but broadly about applying the full-throated confession of "Calvinism" to, well, everything -- include most notably, those who claim to be "Calvinists".

I'm going to enjoy it, and I hope you do, too.

That said, last time I pointed out that the Angels, in speaking to the farm boys in the field on the night Christ was born, pointed them to a sign that it was true that unto them was born a Savior who was Christ, the Lord. And the sign was not a double-rainbow in 3D made of fire and lollipops; it wasn't that their seed money was returned 1000-fold; it wasn't that somehow someone was speaking in the tongues of angels (since plainly: angels were speaking in the tongues of men).

The sign was that there was a baby laid in a manger, wrapped in "swaddling clothes".

I want to linger there a second, because the Greek word there rendered by Luke is "σπαργανόω", which comes from the word "σπαράσσω". It's rightly translated "swaddling clothes", but it means to wrap up in rags -- to wrap up in torn fabric as in to "swaddle" a baby.

You never looked that word up in a dictionary, I am sure, so here's what the dictionary says about it:

swad·dle   [swod-l]
verb, -dled, -dling, noun
–verb (used with object)
1.to bind (an infant, esp. a newborn infant) with long, narrow strips of cloth to prevent free movement; wrap tightly with clothes.

2.to wrap (anything) round with bandages.

3.a long, narrow strip of cloth used for swaddling or bandaging.

So the sign the Angels point to is this baby placed in a feeding trough wrapped up in rags -- rags which might be for babies, or for the wounded. Maybe for the dead.

So that's the sign at Christmas -- the sign at the birth of Christ: there's a baby born not in a temple or a castle or some lofty estate, but born so low as to be born with the poorest of the poor, in a stable among animals. And his garments are not fine cloth or soft linens: they're rags that are only good enough for a baby's back-end business or to wrap the sick and dying in.

So what to think of this? Here are three things to think about as you get on with your Christmas:

1. In that sign, it is clear that God is with us.

Look: that's the ultimate promise YHVH makes to Israel -- when the savior is born, he will be "Emmanuel - God with us." And the Angels point out that the sign to the Shepherds is that this child is born of no account at all -- above no one in the world. This wouldn't be so true if Jesus had been born in Solomon's courts -- because as the Prince of the nation, he would be above so many and unreachable by them.

But here is the child in the manger -- who the writer of Hebrews says is our high priest who is like us in every way, and still did not sin. He's not just "for us" in some divine way: he is like us and is with us is a way which someone who is pandered to could never be.

2. In that sign, it is clear that God loves us.

I was talking to my son about this because I was thinking he didn't get it, and I asked him: "Dude, when Papa and Grandma come over to stay, what do you do?"

"I let them sleep in my room," he said.

"And why is that?" I asked.

"Well, they need someplace to stay, and that's the best place for them to stay," he sort of shrugged.

"So it's just because it seems to make sense?" I asked.

"Well, no," he squirmed, "I give it up because I love them and I'm glad to be with them."

"Aha," I ahead. "So you give up your place in our home so that they can be with us. That's awesome. Now think about this: Jesus didn't just give up his bedroom to be with us. Jesus gave up heaven to be with us -- and he was willing to give up everything he deserved in Heaven to come and be born in a stable so that he could be with us."

You know: Jesus gave up Heaven for a stable so that, as he said to Peter and the boys, he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. For us.

That's actually how we know what love is: the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

3. In that sign, God clears up everything He has been saying for the past 2 or 3 millennia.

As I said last week, and the writer of Hebrews has said to you a jillion times, In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son -- the one who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

You know: God said a lot of things in the Old Testament. I know you know that because you probably haven't read them all because it's so much. It's more than War and Peace. It's more than The Stand. And you'd think after saying all that God would be like, "Geez -- what more can I say than to you I have said?" But no: God instead makes everything He said come true in the birth of a child in a barn because there was no room at the Inn.

All the ideas of blessing: rolled up in swaddling clothes.

All the ideas about being chosen by God: laying in a manger.

All those judgments and warnings: now in the hands of a mother who admitted she didn't understand these things, but submitted to them and considered them in her heart.

All the promises: in poverty, to the least of these, with the least of these.

All the power: not considering equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, but rather, made nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.

Here in the manger is the very clarification of all God meant -- because he is here in this world as it is created.

You might have more than that which you considered -- and good on you. This only scratches the surface. You could probably consider the sign of the baby in the manger every day this year and come up with something new to rejoice over, but we only have 10 days until Christmas. All I'm saying is that the Angels didn't think that their appearance was as spectacular as that sign. Maybe we should consider it more deeply this season.