Category Archives: commentary

Dickens and Handel on the Meaning of Christmas

Tony Reinke:

For Dickens, Christmas is a reminder that we are all Scrooges, self-centered ungrateful nobs who yet have some hope of appeasing God through our personal reform.

For Handel, Christmas reminds us that we are all sinners, we are “in Adam,” and for that we are helpless to stop God’s righteous judgment towards our sin. Yet there is One who has paid the price to quench God’s wrath on our behalf.

In both A Christmas Carol and Messiah, our warm tranquil Hallmark Christmas sentimentality gets blasted by cold reality. Death is coming for us all, and the grave is approaching quickly.

Dickens wants people to die in peace.

Handel wants people to get raised from the dead.

Dickens’ hope is rooted in the future – in the finished work of moral reform necessary in our lives.

Handel’s hope is rooted in the past — the full and complete work of Christ on our behalf. Dickens’ message is “do.” Handel’s message is “done.”

Dickens’ work is good for what it is, a seasonal, warmhearted morality tale. For that I find it agreeable and commendable.

But Handel’s work comprehends the scope of the hope-giving and guilt-freeing meaning of Christmas. For that I find eternal comfort, and hope for my ongoing battle against my inner self-centered, thankless Scrooge.


Read the whole thing here.

HT: Justin Taylor

Highly Recommended Biblical Nerdom

The folks at openbible.info have some great analytical Bible tools and mash-ups that are sure to please the Bible nerd in everyone.

Topical Bible (warning: don’t enter your name in the search box…you may be disappointed):
http://www.openbible.info/topics/

Bible book browser (mouse over):
http://www.openbible.info/labs/browse-books/

Bible cross-references:
http://www.openbible.info/labs/cross-references/

Bible word locator (Genesis in top left, Revelation in bottom right…try typing love or judge):
http://www.openbible.info/labs/word-locator/

Real-time trending verses (for social nerds only)
http://www.openbible.info/realtime/

——cross this line at your own risk——

Biblical sentiment analysis:
http://a..openbible.info/blog/2011-10-sentiment-big.png

Bible sentence paths:
http://www.openbible.info/labs/sentence-paths/

Bible geocoding:
http://www.openbible.info/geo/

Believing in God vs. Believing God

Michael Patton provides a useful illustration for measuring God’s prominence in our lives…

“Most people I know have God in one of four places in their car:

1. Trunk: In this sense, God is the “go-to” God when we are in trouble. Like with the spare tire, the tool kit, or the flashlight, we only call upon him when we are in desperate need. Other than that, he has no part to play in our daily living. We believe in him, but we don’t believe him enough to let him out of the trunk.

2. Back seat: This represents a heightened conviction about the need for God in our lives, but we don’t really want him bothering us. He is like a back seat driver who is constantly whining about what direction we are going, telling us to turn here rather than there. We would like him to just be quite, but we are willing to put up with his disruptions in order to feel better about our conviction that we need him in our lives.

3. Passenger seat: This person is very convicted about their need for God so they allow him to be right beside them. In fact, this person likes God quite a bit. They enjoy the conversation and even ask for suggestions about where to turn and how fast to go. We are so proud about this level of involvement that we create bumper stickers to let others know that “God is my co-pilot”.

However, God is not calling us to any of these first three. I am not saying that if you find God in your passenger seat, back seat, or, even, trunk you are not a Christian. That is not the issue. I am talking about what it means to believe God.

4. Driver’s seat: This is where God wants to be. This is where we graduate from believing in God to believing God. This is where we hand control of everything to him. This is where he is no longer just a god in our lives, but our God. He says to us, ‘Give me the driver’s seat of your life. I want nothing less. Believe me; I know much more than you do. I want control of your passions, your plans, your family, where you are going, and where you have been. My way is the best. I know you better than you know yourself. I know you believe in me, but will you believe me. You sit there in the passenger seat and I will take care of the rest. And please…no back seat driving.'”

Read the whole post here.

Prayer at Ground Zero

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his decision not to include prayers as part of the official memorial event this weekend which has resulted in expected controversy.  The initial reaction for Christians might be related to Constitutional rights regarding prayer in public but deeper reflection is needed. Michael Horton digs in:

“It’s not a question of whether prayer at public occasions of this kind is sanctioned by our Constitution, but, for Christians at least, whether we can participate (much less encourage) such acts of “non-sectarian” worship.”

What purpose is prayer to fulfill?  A critic of Mayor Bloomberg argues that prayer has a subjective effect on its prayers that is healing and therapeutic: “Prayer is not always about religion, it is instead often about relief and repose.”  This perspective should not be surprising with our country’s plunge into moralistic therapeutic deism. Horton disagrees:

“Is the purpose of prayer mainly therapeutic: personal and national catharsis? Is it basically horizontal-human-centered (whether in individual or national images)? Or is it a solemn act of “calling on the name of the LORD” (i.e., Yahweh, the Father of Jesus Christ)? Does such an act have a personal object? Is that personal object the God who is revealed in Scripture as the Holy Trinity? Is the prayer directed to the Father, through the mediation of the incarnate Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit by whom we confess “Jesus as Lord”?

Imagine Elijah calling for a revival by trying to negotiate a public prayer or perhaps series of public prayers led by the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Yahweh. Israel, after all, has always been a religious nation. Isn’t it more important for the nation to acknowledge its piety than to become too obsessed with the theological specifics? The nation was divided, after all, and the point is to bring the people together through prayer, to bring them consolation in the face of national disaster. Of course, this isn’t how the story plays out at Mount Carmel, as the God of Israel proved that he alone is God and Baal is a helpless idol.

Read more here.

My glory I will not give to another

A few weeks ago, Justin Taylor shared a passage that explains God’s ultimate motivation:

For my name’s sake I defer my anger,
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.

For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.

—Isaiah 48:9-11

Several things are worth pondering here:

  1. The first verse is tremblingly foreboding.  God’s wrath paces restlessly behind the bars of his kindness and forbearance and patience that separate it from its prey.  God will be glorified both in His mercy and His wrath.
  2. What is the result of this wrath?  Our Western notions of autonomy blind us to the fact that our every breath is in his hand.  As a branch, being cut off from the Vine stops the flow of His sustaining grace and results in the shriveling of despair.
  3. God purifies us through pain.  He works all things for good – especially the “bad” things.  It is more loving for God to point us to Himself through pain than to ourselves through comfort.
  4. God is passionate for His own glory.  So is He for us or for Himself? According to Piper: “God is the one Being in all the universe for whom seeking His own praise is the ultimately loving act. For Him self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When He does all things “for the praise of His glory” as Ephesians 1 says, He preserves for us and offers to us the only thing in all the world which can satisfy our longings. God is for us, and therefore has been, is now and always will be, for Himself. Praise the Lord!”
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