Many of the most well-known (and most enduring) songs are Christmas songs—scan through any hymnal, and you will be surprised about the percentage of songs that are devoted to Advent.

Not all Christmas songs are good, of course. In fact, some of them are particularly cheesy. But many more tend toward excellence than silliness, and the reason for this is simple: they start with the birth of the Savior.

But if they focus only on the birth, or the silent night, or the oxen and what-have-you, then they will be mired in shallowness. The reason many Christmas songs do become exceptional is because they don’t stay in the manger. Instead, they use the birth of Christ as a launching point to survey his life. The best of these songs even make it all the way to his cross and Second Advent.

This is true of all hymns, and not just Christmas ones. If any song is narrowly focused, or focused on the softness/stillness/nearness/gentleness of God, it will likely be a lame song. But if a song progresses through—from God in human flesh, to what that God did, to why he died, to his resurrection, and ultimately to eternity—then it is at least set up to be an exceptional song. Here are three Christmas songs that do just that:   Continue Reading…

Christmas eveChristmas is almost here. It’s a time to celebrate what God did. He brought everything together to do what we could not. He brought salvation to ill-deserving humanity in the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ. Like a perfect conductor, God orchestrated all things for the arrival of heaven’s King.

That night, some 2000 years ago, God pulled off a jaw-dropping display of sovereignty. He demonstrated himself the hero as he conducted his plan that he made before creation for the arrival of the God-man. The arrival of the long-ago-promised, long-awaited-Messiah was a stunning demonstration of God’s sovereign grace towards sinful humanity. Despite the obstacles of humanity’s sin and contrary historical events, God was moved by his own mercy to sovereignly orchestrate history in order to bring us the Christmas Gift; the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Consider the majesty of God in his heroic demonstration of sovereignty in bringing us the Person of salvation:

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December 15, 2015

What Would Jesus Do?

by Nathan Busenitz

wwjdReaching the peak of its popularity in the mid-1990s, the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” used to be the de facto slogan of mainstream American evangelicalism. (Remember the bracelets and wristbands?) And although its prevalence has declined in recent years, a quick internet search reveals that WWJD remains a popular motto.

You can still find the famous acronym emblazoned on a wide array of available paraphernalia: from the expected forms of share-wear (like bracelets, t-shirts, and buttons) to more-surprising curiosities (like baby onesies and pacifiers). There are WWJD books, booklets, bumper stickers, mugs, key chains, and cell phone cases. There are even several films: the 2010 original, and two sequels.

Yet, despite the continuing popularity of this evangelical catchphrase, I doubt the majority of American Christians have ever seriously evaluated whether or not the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” is a biblically-valid mechanism for everyday decision-making.

Upon closer examination, I would suggest that WWJD—at least in terms of its popular application today—is often less than helpful, and sometimes downright dangerous. Continue Reading…

“We don’t retreat, we advance,” he said smugly. It has become popular for some churches to promote their men’s retreat as a “men’s advance.” Cute to some, cheesy to others. And I’m all for using good diction to inspire confidence, or whatever. But I’m just as comfortable calling what our elders do three times a year a retreat, because I am well schooled in the art of war. No, not Sun Tzu’s classic worldview manual, but rather Mel Gibson’s expert tactics in Braveheart.

soldiers on breakThe difference between a surrender and a retreat is what happens afterwards. To cry uncle by waving the white flag of surrender is an admission of defeat. The result is capitulation and capture, with the concomitant humiliation that besets the conquered. A well-timed retreat, however, can be used to regroup, refresh, and refocus a beleaguered band of brothers. What follows this type of respite is a newly energized deployment into the fray of battle with higher odds of victory.

Every four months the elders of our church block off three days to retreat from the workaday flurry of life. One of those is spent out of town, just us; the other two are at a local venue so we are back with our families by sundown each night.

Here are four benefits we enjoy from this discipline.

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“But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”
– Philippians 4:18 –

Worship through GivingIn the final phrases of Philippians 4:18, Paul describes Christian giving in the language of Old Testament sacrificial worship—language that originated all the way back in Genesis 8. After Noah and his family emerged unharmed through the flood of God’s judgment, he worshiped God: “Then Noah built an altar to Yahweh, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. Yahweh smelled the soothing aroma (same as “fragrant aroma” in Phil 4:18) and Yahweh said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man…’” (Gen 8:20–21).

This was the essence of worship under the Old Covenant. God’s people were commanded to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and strength (Deut 6:5), to worship and serve Him only (Deut 6:13; cf. Luke 4:8), and to have no other gods before Him (Exod 20:3). And a principal way in which His people demonstrated that He had occupied first place in their hearts was by offering up to Him of the firstfruits of their livestock, by dedicating animals to God that would have otherwise been used for food or for securing profit through labor. As an act of worship—as a lived-out demonstration that they regarded God as more worthy than their own possessions—like David (cf. 2 Sam 24:24), they gave God that which cost them something.

The one who recognized God’s worth above all things and thus could part gladly and even eagerly with a portion of what God had given to him. And because that was the heart attitude of a faithful worshiper who brought a sacrifice to God, when the odor of the burnt flesh of an ox or a bull or a ram ascended into the heavens, rather than a disgusting stench, the text says it reached the nostrils of God and was to Him a soothing aroma—a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.

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*Greetings Crippledgators!  I’m back for a single article!*

Many moons ago, in the comment thread of the first part of the Shack Up, an LDS (or “Mormon”) commenter showed up and we had a little back-and-forth.  In the post, I claimed that no other world religion has writings that claim “to actually be written by God by means of people who were writing on behalf of, and empowered and guided by, the Spirit of God himself.”  The commenter suggested that the book of Mormon did indeed claim to be inspired, as according to the above definition.  I asked for citation, and he gave a series of references that I challenged as insufficient.  He also gave a smooth-sounding argument for additional scripture, which I’ll summarize:

1. The people recorded in the Bible added to the Bible without violating the commands of the Bible.

2.  Men chose which books to include in the Canon of Scripture, but they learned which books were inspired because they prayed about it.

3.  You too can pray about it and discover whether other books (i.e. the Book of Mormon) are also inspired.

4.  Therefore, pray about the book of Mormon so that God can tell you whether or not it’s inspired.

If you’ve had any interaction with LDS folks, the you’re likely encountered some form of the first three arguments but you’ve certainly encountered the fourth.  Conversations with LDS people often close in an exhortation to simply read the book of Mormon and pray that God would convict you, one way or the other, regarding the truth of the book of Mormon.

prayer

Seeing that this question comes up from time to time in my life and I’ve never taken the time to actually write out a response to it, I’m going to do that for the benefit of both myself and you, the Cripplegate readers. Continue Reading…

DoMoreBetter3DCoverGetting more done. Siggghhhh. Bring on the low-grade guilt, memories of shipwrecked New Year’s resolutions, and the “I-am-so-lame” feeling as we watch productive people owning their to-do lists.

Productivity is a huge topic and major cultural itch. A search of books on the topic in Amazon yields some 36,000 hits. And it’s not a new issue. Fairly productive guys like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin had their secrets. Jonathan Edwards, a time-management guru, preached an excellent exposition of Ephesians 5:16, entitled, “The Preciousness of Time, and the Importance of Redeeming It.”

In our day, veteran ninja-blogger, Tim Challies, also knows a few things about productivity. In addition to doing normal human things, ministry, and writing books (e.g. The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, Sexual Detox, and a Theological Critique of The Shack), he is probably best known for feeding the Christian world from his A La Carte and Blog for about 12 years now. So, his new book, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity, comes from real testing.

Challies writes to help us “do more of what matters most,” and “to do it better” (5). From the beginning, he avoids a pixie-dust solution to giant a problem. Some productivity books throw out commands that may work for some, but without discussing a lot of the necessary plumbing to implement the change. And that’s the problem. Anyone can tell you what they’re doing that works. It’s quite another thing to shepherd someone through change. I think this book does a fine job of that and I recommend it for a few reasons:

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Pope Francis, in a sermon preached in front of many Muslims at a mosque in the Central African Republic, expressed very clearly his thoughts about Islam. He said that Muslims are our brothers and sisters. Later that day he posted this on Twitter:

It is time for born-again Christians to come to grips with the fact that this man worships a different God. Continue Reading…

lady soldierNews from America fascinates me. Living in South Africa affords me a vantage point of detachment from local US news. But I nearly choked on my newsfeed last week when I heard President Barack Obama commend the Pentagon for opening all combat military positions to women. So now my two little girls, who are US citizens, will one day in all likelihood be required to register for the draft. (If you don’t think that’s the next station this equality train is heading for, you’re not following its trajectory closely enough; see this New York Times article on drafting women)

Objections to the announcement that we will soon have lady SEALs à la GI Jane have focused mostly on pragmatics and physiology. For example studies have irrefutably proven that unit cohesion will be diminished, and that male platoons have 69% more success in completing combat tasks than their co-ed counterparts, and that the 40% less upper body muscle mass of women will impede their ability to drag 200 lb wounded men from a burning tank, etc, etc, etc.

The problem with that reasoning is this: we all know that some women can physically outperform some men. Anyone who has visited a Crossfit box knows that. I know gals who can clean & jerk not only their own bodyweight, but mine too.

The real issue isn’t can a woman cope with combat, but should she have to? Women can and do competently step in if and when men neglect their duties. But do we really want to make this the norm rather than a sad necessary exception?

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Hey Christian! Please stop talking about gun-control, just for a second, and think.

At least fourteen people were shot in San Bernardino, Ca. and Terrorism has not been ruled out.

keep-calm-and-close-your-mouthIf your first thought in reading that first line is something like,

“Ha! So much for strict gun control laws! or “I thought California was a liberal state!”

then I just have one request. I beg you: Please don’t talk to anyone! don’t update your status on Facebook. Don’t talk to anyone at work. I don’t care what you have to do, whether it’s take a cold shower, turn off your internet, go on vacation, or whatever it is, please don’t say a word.

14 people just died, and if they didn’t know Christ they are suffering divine judgment in hell. 

Do you realize that? Do you believe that? Sometimes I wonder whether Christians truly believe in hell. It’s so important to train our minds to think eternally!

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