Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Miscellany


Oh, it's lovely this morning with 6 inches of fresh snow and more falling! How about a few Christmas items to get you in the mood for this coming holiday!

CT has a fascinating story about the effect of sacred music on Chinese audiences, particularly the Messiah. Check it out here.

Al Mohler gives a good review of why the virgin birth is important here.

And Stephen Altrogge gives a good reminder of what Christmas is all about here.

Have a merry Christmas, Gentle Readers!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sabbath Sentiments


"All My Heart This Night Rejoices"
by Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676
1. All my heart this night rejoices
As I hear Far and near
Sweetest angel voices.
"Christ is born," their choirs are singing
Till the air Everywhere
Now with joy is ringing.

2. Forth today the Conqueror goeth,
Who the foe, Sin and woe,
Death and hell, o'erthroweth.
God is man, man to deliver;
His dear Son Now is one
With our blood forever.

3. Shall we still dread God's displeasure,
Who, to save, Freely gave
His most cherished Treasure?
To redeem us, He hath given
His own Son From the throne
Of His might in heaven.

4. Should He who Himself imparted
Aught withhold From the fold,
Leave us broken-hearted?
Should the Son of God not love us,
Who, to cheer Sufferers here,
Left His throne above us?

5. If our blessed Lord and Maker
Hated men, Would He then
Be of flesh partaker?
If He in our woe delighted,
Would He bear All the care
Of our race benighted?

6. He becomes the Lamb that taketh
Sin away And for aye
Full atonement maketh.
For our life His own He tenders
And our race, By His grace,
Meet for glory renders.

7. Hark! a voice from yonder manger,
Soft and sweet, Doth entreat:
"Flee from woe and danger.
Brethren, from all ills that grieve you
You are feed; All you need
I will surely give you."

8. Come, then, banish all your sadness,
One and all, Great and small;
Come with songs of gladness.
Love Him who with love is glowing;
Hail the Star, Near and far
Light and joy bestowing.

9. Ye whose anguish knew no measure,
Weep no more; See the door
To celestial pleasure.
Cling to Him, for He will guide you
Where no cross, Pain, or loss
Can again betide you.

10. Hither come, ye heavy-hearted,
Who for sin, Deep within,
Long and sore have smarted;
For the poisoned wound you're feeling
Help is near, One is here
Mighty for their healing.

11. Hither come, ye poor and wretched;
Know His will Is to fill
Every hand outstretched.
Here are riches without measure;
Here forget All regret,
Fill your hearts with treasure.

12. Let me in my arms receive Thee;
On Thy breast Let me rest,
Savior, ne'er to leave Thee.
Since Thou hast Thyself presented
Now to me, I shall be
Evermore contented.

13. Guilt no longer can distress me;
Son of God, Thou my load
Bearest to release me.
Stain in me Thou findest never;
I am clean, All my sin
Is removed forever.

14. I am pure, in Thee believing,
From Thy store Evermore
Righteous robes receiving.
In my heart I will enfold Thee,
Treasure rare, Let me there,
Loving, ever hold Thee.

15. Dearest Lord, Thee will I cherish.
Though my breath Fail in death,
Yet I shall not perish,
But with Thee abide forever
There on high, In that joy
Which can vanish never.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Miscellany


I have read some interesting things about child-rearing in our culture lately. UNICEF is not usually a group I associate with family-centered values, however there is an interesting story here regarding a study they did about the adverse effects of daycare for the next generation. They say in part:
The report observes that "most children in the developed world are spending their earliest years in some form of care outside the home.” According to the organization, “80 per cent of children aged three to six are in some form of early childhood education and care outside the home,” and “about one in four under the age of three are also cared for outside the home — with the proportion rising to one in two in some countries.”

The report concludes that, "To the extent that this change is unplanned and unmonitored, it could also be described as a high-stakes gamble with today’s children and tomorrow’s world."


Another fascinating, but rather disturbibg study is the Immersion Project. I wonder what we are doing to this generation of children by assuming that nothing they watch or do or consume will affect them as adults. If that were true, many billions of dollars on advertising are wasted each year. Al Mohler has an interesting article about media immersion in our children here, quoting a recent NIH study. As parents and grandparents, we need to ask ourselves some important questions about how our children spend their time, and how involved we are with them.

And how about a few things just for fun? Test your European geography knowledge at this fun site sponsored by Lufthansa Airlines. And enjoy this long commercial for JCPenney.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Christmas remembrance


When I was in the sixth grade, my family moved from the former home of my grandparents to a different house in a new school district. I began attending a new school, where I was delighted to find a real, honest-to-goodness music teacher. My previous parochial school never had a music teacher, and I had longed for one with the deep heart-longings that only a little girl who loves to sing and has no opportunity to perform can know.

I can still picture Mrs. Moran: a beautiful black woman, with a quick smile and lots of energy. She and I took to each other immediately, and she was more than happy to put all my pent-up desire for exhibiting my talents to use. Though we had only been in St. Anthony's parish for a few months when Christmas time rolled around, she arranged for me to sing a solo with the organ, from the choir loft, at midnight mass. It was to be "Oh, Holy Night", right before mass began, after the church was packed and when everyone was waiting expectantly. I remember being excited, but I honestly don't remember being nervous. I felt like my time had come.

When it was time to sing my solo, I walked to the front of the choir loft (which was elevated at the back of the church), and stood next to the organist. She played the introduction, and I began:

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!


When I began to sing, and my voice filled the air in that church, many of the heads facing the front of the church below me turned to look. My voice seemed to float over the crowd and bless them like a prayer. It echoed and reverberated, and filled the place. And I, who had always loved singing, fell in love with singing all over again.

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!


I have sung this song at Christmas many times since that first midnight. And all these years later, I am still grateful that Mrs. Moran recognized my desire and gift, and gave me the chance to fly. And every time I hear that soaring chorus, I remember that space being filled with the voice of a little girl.

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My aching back


Yesterday and today we've had a lot of snow to shovel around here (14 inches of snow, and more coming). I've not done work like that in quite a while, and even though my 82-year-old mother-in-law did a good deal more shoveling than I did, my back and shoulders are complaining. But it felt great to work hard (even though I rested lots and only did a little), and the snow is simply lovely, so even with an aching back, i am glad to have done a little shoveling.

My aching back reminds me of many things. It reminds me that things do not always go the way I wish they would, but they do always go the way God wishes them to. It reminds me that I am temporary and wearing out, but inside I am eternal and will shed this sad, broken-down body one day. It reminds me that I am expendable; if something needs to be done, it will be done by somebody whether I do it or not. It reminds me of the blessedness of sleep and rest that God gives us.

It's amazing how God covers everything in beauty. Right now, every weedy, barren patch of ground looks just as lovely as every carefully-tended garden. Imagine what we will be like when He clothes us in Christ's righteousness. Now *that* will be something to see!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Advent


It is impossible to express in language adequate to the subject the glory with which Christ beautified his church by his advent.
~John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 87

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making the soul tremble


In the 10th chapter of Owen's book The Mortification of Sin, he gives us direction for waging war on our sin by understanding the guilt it brings, the danger it represents, and the evil represents. Unlike our culture, which tells us there is no such thing as sin, so embrace what you want and feel, Owen understands that when we ignore or make peace with our sin, we are embracing death.

When discussing the guilt of sin, Owen mentions one of my favorite excuses: that it is not as bad as other sins. He says that sin always works to further itself within us, and if we cuddle up to it, we can't war against it:
"This is the proper issue of lust in the heart; it darkens the mind so that it shall not judge aright of its guilt...Let this, then, be the first care of him that would mortify sin, to fix a right judgment of its guilt in his mind..."

Owen enumerates the dangers of sin, which include the hardening of our heart by its deceitfulness, the temporal judgments God may bring to rebuke us, the loss of peace and strength that accompanies it, and the very real danger of eternal destruction where it can lead. I remember an elder at our church in Maryland once saying that we would be less willing to embrace our sin if very time we thought of pursuing it, we would say, "Christ was crucified for this."

Finally, Owen discusses the present evils that come from our sin. Firstly, it grieves the Holy Spirit:
"Consider who and what thou art, who the Spirit is that is grieved, what he hath done for thee, what he comes to thy soul about,what he hath already done in thee, and be ashamed."

Secondly, Owen says, the Lord Jesus is "wounded afresh by it." And thirdly, loving our sin takes away our usefulness in this life for the kingdom of God.

The thing I kept thinking as I read this chapter was how I have made peace with the enemy, and embraced my sin until I no longer see it as sin. Oh the deceitfulness of the human heart! How can we wage war against sin when we call it virtue, or "my personality", or my "quirks"? I am too prone to wink at my sin, and take God's mercy for granted.

"This, then, is...the opposition which is to be made to lust in respect of its habitual residence in the soul. Keep alive upon the heart these or the like considerations of its guilt, danger and evil: be much in the meditation of these things; cause thy heart to dwell and abide upon them...until they begin to have a powerful influence upon thy soul, until they make it to tremble."

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Perhaps not so wise...


Is it just me, or does this Wise Man look cold? One has to wonder how wise he is... or maybe he just has cold feet... My friend Kelley and I walked by this guy and his whole group in our freshly fallen snow today, and it struck our funny bone!

Monday, December 08, 2008

A superfluity of naughtiness


I read chapter 9 of John Owen's The Mortification of Sin yesterday, where Owens lists symptoms of danger from our sin that we should be aware of and watchful for. Every one stabbed me in the heart, and reminded me just how sinful I can truly be, and how great God's mercy to me really is. I can really say that I am so comfortable with some of my sins, that I have ceased to think of them as sin. But, lest I am tempted to despair, I am reminded of the great quote from Richard Sibbes: "There is more grace in Christ than sin in me!"

Here are some symptoms of danger that Owen listed, from his own pen:

1. Inveterateness:If it hath lain long corrupting in thy heart, if thou hast suffered it to abide in power and prevalency for some long season, without attempting vigorously the killing of it, and the healing of the wounds received by it, thy distemper is dangerous...

2. Secret pleas of the heart for countencing itself and keeping up its peace, notwithstanding the abiding of a lust, without vigorous gospel attempt for its mortification are another dangerous symptom of a deadly distemper in the heart...

3. Frequency of success in sin's seduction, in obtaining the prevailing consent of the will unto it, is another dangerous symptom....

4. When a man fighteth against his sin only with arguments from the issue of punishment due unto it, it is a sign that sin hath taken great possession of the will, and that in the heart there is a superfluity of naughtiness...

5. When it is probable that there is, or may be, somewhat of judiciary hardness, or at least chastening punishment, in thy lust disquieting; this is another dangerous symptom....if thou findest this to have been they state, awake, call upon God; thou art asleep in a storm of anger around thee...

~John Owens, The Mortification of Sin, Chapter 9


Some may find this kind of introspection and self-examination morbid or unhelpful. But I find it helpful to dissect my own superfluity of naughtiness, the better to recognize and hate and fight it. And Dr. Owen is a great teacher in this regard!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sabbath Sentiments


Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming (15th C. German Carol)

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

O Savior, Child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Reading in Tehran


Last night I completed Reading Lolita in Tehran. A friend has recommended it, and another friend loaned me a copy. I found it a fascinating, if sad and sobering, reflection of life under Iran's Islamo-fascist regime. I am glad I read it for the insight I gained into the personal lives of those surviving the revolution in Iran, and for broadening my understanding of Islam in general, and radical elements of Islam in particular. And any good book should help us to live through new eyes and see lives that are not our own. I'm sure Dr. Nafisi would be pleased that even I, who disagree with her on many counts, found her book to do that for me.

There were a few things I found irritating about Dr. Nafisi's book. First, she speaks in glowing, nostalgic terms of her idealistic Marxist days, seemingly making no connection between this idealistic Marxist rhetoric and the realities of the Revolution. Secondly, her feminist and almost deconstructive criticism of the authors and their works was sometimes a little hard for me to take. Most of the authors mentioned (Nabakov, Fitzgerald, James) I have not read extensively, so I cannot disagree strongly with her... though most of those authors choose a pathway to telling a story that I find either unhelpful or distasteful, and so I haven't much enjoyed what I have read by them. The final author discussed, however, I have more familiarity with (Jane Austen). Her critical take on Austen seemed pretty politically correct to me, and not necessarily illuminating or helpful. And thirdly, the contemporary, abbreviated style, using punctuation quite loosely, and jettisoning most quotation marks so one can't always tell when speakers change, I found a mild irritant.

All that aside, it was a fascinating memoir of intermingled history, autobiography, and books.

Concurrent with reading the book, I came across several other articles that seemed to feed into what I was learning about Iran. Michael Ledeen wrote an interesting piece that was covered, in part, in Imprimus. Understanding Iran dove-tailed nicely with what I reading, as have several articles in the current issue of World Magazine. (See Stalked and if you have the print version, look at Alisa Harris' article entitled "Talk Is Cheap".)

Waiting in the wings for further reading on this type of subject is The Kite Runner, but I think I'll take a little break from Islamic Studies until after the holidays.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Miscellany


I wrote a heavy post on my other blog today, so how about some lighter fare?

Check out the amazing photographs here. Some made me laugh aloud. (Thanks to T.C.)

There's a pretty funny routine here, discussing the way we take so much for granted.

And if you want to appear intelligent, make sure to avoid the mispronunciations listed here.

And if all this is too light and fun for you, be sure to check out the Friday series being run over at Somber and Dull (there are links to the previous posts within today's post.) Randy has given us much good, practical theology in these posts!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Owen again


I am still plugging along in John Owen's book, The Mortification of Sin. In chapter 7, Owen discusses how only believers in Christ can mortify (or put to death) their sin. I guess I have always known that we cannot expect those without a relationship to Christ to behave in the same way a Christian does, but I had never thought of the implications to the fact that we cannot kill our own sin, only Christ can kill it. As Owen puts it:
Unless a man be a believer, that is, one that is truly ingrafted into Christ, he can never mortify any one sin. I do not say, unless he knows himself to be so, but unless he indeed be so. Mortification is the work of believers...

I think I knew this, yet the implications seem staggering to me. Owen points out that unbiblical encouragement to mortify sin apart from the work of Christ is the birth-place of hypocrisy and legalism. Again, he says:
When the Jews, upon conviction of their sin, were cut to the heart (Acts 2:37), and cried out, "What shall we do?" what doth Peter direct them to? Does he bid them go and mortify their pride, wrath, malice, cuelty and the like? No, he knew that was not their present work; but he calls them to conversion, and faith in Christ in general. Let their souls first be thoroughly converted, and then, looking on Him whom they have pierced, humiliation and mortification will ensue. Thus when John came to preach repentance and conversion, he said, "the axe is now laid at the root of the tree" (Matt. 3:10). The Pharisees had been laying heavy burdens, imposing tedious duties and mortification, in fastings, washings and the like: all in vain...The root must be dealt with, the nature of the tree changed, or no good fruit will be brought forth.

For some reason, the implications of this have never hit me so fully: when I load work upon work on myself or others (my children, my husband, my friends), in an attempt to make myself or them more "holy", am I really encouraging godliness, or am I tempting them to work for their salvation, and depend upon legalism or hypocrisy instead of Christ? It seems to me that if we really take this little piece of the gospel seriously, it would affect our expectations in many ways, not the least of which is the outward illusion of holiness that we require sometimes from our children. Perhaps we would be more likely to encourage them to throw themselves upon Christ than to conform their outward behavior to our standard.

Owen points out the problem with encouraging unregenerate people to work on mortifying sin apart from a relationship with Christ:
The mind and soul are taken up about that which is not the man's proper business, and so he is diverted from that which is. God lays hold, by His word and judgments, on some sin in him; galls his conscience, disquiets his heart, deprives him of rest; now other diversions will not serve his turn, he must apply himself to the work before him. The business in hand being to awake the whole man to a consideration of the state and condition wherein he is, that he might be brought home to God; instead hereof, he sets himself to mortify the sin that galls him; which is a pure issue of self-love, that he may be freed from his trouble, and not at all the work he is called unto; and so he is diverted from it.

While mortification of sin is not what one normally thinks of as a diversion from our real duties, this rings true in my life. I think this explains why legalism and hypocrisy are so tempting to us: we would rather DO something than submit. I recognize the ring of truth here:
When his conscience hath been made sick with sin and he could find no rest, when he should go to the great Physician of souls and get healing in his blood, the man pacifies and quiets his conscience by this engagement aghainst sin, and sits down without going to Christ at all. Ah! How many poor souls are thus deluded to eternity!

When I am convicted of sin, I must confess I want to find some self-help book that will help me fight my sin. Not that fighting sin is bad. Of course not (and Owen addresses this before his chapter is finished as well.) But my first response should be to flee to the Great Physician. My heart response should be to apply to the one who can mortify my sin and make me like Himself.

I will end this post with the closing words from Owen's chapter. I say "Amen and amen!":
It grieves me oftentimes to see poor souls, that have a zeal for God and a desire for eternal welfare, kept by such directors and directions, under a hard, burdensome, outside worship and service of God, with many specious endeavors for mortification, in an utter ignorance of the righteousness of Christ, and unacquaintedness with the Spirit, all their days. Personsand things of this kind, I know too many. If ever God shine into their hearts to give them the knowledge of his glory in the face of his Son Jesus Christ, they will see the folly of their present way.

It

Monday, December 01, 2008

In the Bleak Midwinter


In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rosetti

In the bleak midwinter, frost wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.