gratitude & hoopla: July 2006

gratitude & hoopla

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton


The Naming of Jesus: A Sabbath Meditation

Three times in the first chapter of Matthew's Gospel, the account speaks of the naming of Jesus. That is, it speaks of what he was to be called called, how he was to be known.

At verse 17, just at the end of the 42 generation genealogy, we read: "and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ."

That Jesus was called Christ does not of necessity imply divinity. But it does require one in the line of David, who shall rule over a restored kingdom. This is in fact the purpose of Matthew's genealogy, to show that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed descended from David. In fact, the start of the genealogy affirms this: "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham."

So the first name featured here is Christ, which is to say, a Davidic messiah, or savior. But we get more light on the matter of who Jesus, and what it means to be a savior, when we read the words of the angel to Joseph at verse 21:
"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."
His name shall be Jesus, which means, Yahweh is salvation. Christ means savior, but Jesus means God saves.

So Jesus was, yes, descended from David, fulfilling one aspect of messiahship, but now we have affirmed another aspect of that prophecy: Only Yahweh can save. Therefore, the messiah must be, at the very least, a servant of Yahweh, doing his will. And yet we are approaching a new possibility here. Can it be that the Christ is God? God himself? Matthew cinches the deal immediately after affirming that "Yahweh is salvation," by going back to the ancient prophecy of Isaiah 7:14:
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel."
And "Immanuel" means, as Matthew is quick to point out, "God with us." So, the three "names" of Jesus affirm three propositions:
1) Jesus was the prophesied Davidic savior (as Matthew's genealogy shows).
2) Only God saves (as the OT Scriptures show again and again).
3) Therefore, Jesus was "God with us" (as his life, ministry, death, and resurrection would show).


G. E. Hawthorne on the Holy Spirit

I've been reading Gerald F. Hawthorne's The Presence and the Power: The Significance of the Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ. It comes highly recommended by such luminaries as Scot McKnight and Sam Storms. Here's a great little summation of the Spirit's work (from p. 53):
The Spirit of God is powerfully present in his world, involving himself primarily in the world of human beings, coming upon people so as to infuse them with new life, new vigor, new vision, new strength, new powers of body and mind in order that each person so infused might play a significant, important, and decisive role in the course of redemptive history.
Just thought I'd share.



Something Jared said (see my quotation in yesterday's post) has me thinking. He spoke of the conflation of optimism (or an energetic "go-getter" attitude) with the filling of the Holy Spirit. I think this is a pretty important insight, especially for Christians who call themselves Charismatic. This phenomenon manifests itself in a couple of ways (at least). One is the emphasis on enthusiasm as a necessary prerequisite that allows God to move. The other is the conflation of positive thinking with faith. You know, "I'm believing God for a parking space near the entrance."

Regarding "enthusiasm": well, the simple fact is, it's easy as pie for a decent bunch of musicians to whip a willing audience into a frenzy of excitement. Actually, that's common as paint. But when the band is a "worship team" and the frenzied crowd a congregation, we call it being Spirit-filled. Okay, maybe. Maybe all we have to do, really, is shake off the dust and dance. Or maybe we're just attending a rock concert.

That's one maifestation of this "conflation." [Hmmm, new catch-phrase: conflation-manifestation] The other is the God-is-my-good-luck-charm brand of optimism, that says along with the old Mets-Phillies reliever Tug McGraw, "You gotta believe," and if you do, if you believe hard enough and well enough, God will land you that new job, find you that choice parking space, lead you to that wife/husband you'd always wanted, even cure your cancer.

That's all I have to say this morning. Except that, well, I admit that this conflation rests on the twin truths that enthusiasm is indeed a natural response to the love of God, and faith is certainly of bedrock importance in the walk of the Christian. So there is truth beneath this conflation. But somehow I get the feeling we're getting the focus skewed. What do you think?


Two from Jared

Jared at Shizuka Blog is saying things I've wanted to say myself, but couldn't find the words. Like this:
The real devil in the details of the prosperity-type teaching overtaking evangelicalism is not really that it skips over the stuff about sin. Sure, it does that too, but the pernicious paradox of this stuff is that it champions "victorious Christian living" yet does not equip believers for sustainable discipleship. It emphasizes feelings and "outlook," not the power of the Spirit, which is hard for some folks to notice since the latter is often conflated with the former (so that being optimistic or a go-getter is ipso facto being Spirit-empowered). The problem over time is that, going from victory to victory, expecting victory after victory, cultivates a contagious form of spiritual greed. (Is it any wonder that this sort of teaching often goes hand and hand with talk of financial riches and prosperity?) The real stuff of discipleship -- what Eugene Peterson calls "a long obedience in the same direction" -- involves hard stuff like discipline and the fruit of the Spirit. In pop discipleship discipline is replaced by steps, tips, and amazingsupercolossal breakthroughs.
The post is called Content (as in contentment) and is well-worth a careful reading.

Oh, and while we're in a "let's quote Jared" mood, how about this one from a brief post called Flipside:
We are in a strange -- but, dare I say it?, exciting -- place where the Gospel continues to scandalize even those sitting in the pews next to us or in the chairs across from us in small group.


Five Good Things

I just realized Jared is posting again at Shizuka Blog, after a long layoff. That's a good thing.


Douglas Groothius is one of those bloggers who actually writes books! In fact, I just sent for his On Jesus, which I'm looking forward to reading. Anyway, in a recent post Douglas presents a reading list "for developing a Christian mind." The blog is Culture Watch, and the post is It's Never a Bad Time to Recommend a Few Books. I agree.


Bill of Out of the Bloo is very cool. Cool like jazz, you might say. But what may be cooler is Way Out of the Blue, which is the newish blog of Bill's son, AJ. Blogging dad, blogging son. Very cool.


A nice post on the subject of repentance at Boar's Head Tavern. I concur.


Finally, Ligon Duncan quotes from an African evangelist on the state of Christian teaching over there. I think we Western Christians often have an idyllic view of Christianity in the developing world. We assume their faith is more authentic, more powerful, because they're supposedly undistracted by the charms of advanced material culture. Duncan's correspondent puts the lie to all that. Wherever the true Gospel is preached, false gospels spring up everywhere, because a false gospel is the devil's primary weapon against your faith and mine.

Changing Times

Some big changes coming in my little ol' life. Main one, I'll be sliding into a new position at work. I've been a reference librarian for the past five years, but now will be moving into a "back-of-the-house" role as purchaser for the three libraries at USM. This means, well, that I'll be buying books for a living. Hmmm, dreams really do come true!

The potential down-side of this is that I'll probably be going to work earlier, thus will have less morning time to blog. Morning has always been my blogging time. I don't intend to abandon this blog--not on your life--but I have no idea how evening blogging will effect the content.

The other thing is . . . well, umm, I think I'm going to try to write a novel. I hesitate to say this, because the whole thing could fall apart like a house of cards, but lately I've gone from toying with a few ideas to actually writing them down, working them out. I have no pretentions about writing a great novel or even a very good one, but I think it would be fun just to give it a whirl. And fun is my one goal, by the way. Fun, and finishing. I want to have fun with it, and I hope to finish it. But I don't have any qualitative goals. This thing could be comically bad, and that would be just alright with me.

So, what does all this mean for gratitude & hoopla? I dunno. Maybe shorter posts that simply link to other blogs, ala the good milton at Transforming Sermons. We'll just have to wait and see. What will remain constant, though, is gratitude. And hoopla. Because God is really really good!


The Centrality of the Cross

If you cruise around the Christian blogosphere, you'll find the occasional blogger who distinguishes himself as a Cross-centered or Christ-centered or perhaps a Gospel-centered blogger. The very fact that these terms are in use points to the reality that it is possible to be a Christian and yet be "centered" on other things.

As I've progressed as a Christian I've developed in my understanding of what should be central. I don't insist that everyone agree with me (or they're not true-blue Christians!), and I fear that I may sound rather pompous and know-it-all-ish here, but I've simply identified the doctrinal hook on which I personally intend to hang my hat. And so, yes, I'm one of those who might be overheard calling my blog (or my doctrine) Cross-centered. I count among the many like-minded bloggers such fine folks as Brad at Broken Messenger, Mark at GospelDrivenLife, and Cruv at To Tell You the Truth, to name just a few (there are many others).

Now, I've been following Jesus for about 15 years. My first church was Lutheran, and there the central thing (doctrinally speaking) might be summed up with the old Latin phrase, sola fide, faith alone. This was all well and good, and it is a doctrinal understanding that is as Biblical as can be, but I'm not sure that it's really at the center, the very core of what I believe. Very near the core, perhaps, and very dependent upon what is at the core, but not the core itself. And to treat it as the core belief, the one thing without which all of the other doctrinal pieces fly apart like stars in an exploding galaxy, will lead inevitably to problems. And did.

When I left the Lutherans (for various reasons both doctrinal and personal), I wasn't exactly sure of what I was looking for as an alternative. This question of centraility--what should be the central theme, the core message--didn't really occur to me. I guess what I'm saying is, I've come by my understanding of the centrality of the cross of Christ in a gradual and rather piecemeal fashion.

Now I'm a Vineyard guy, and I love my church for all the reasons everyone else loves it. Mainly, there's a lot of love there. At the Vineyard the core doctrine has to do with their understanding of "the Kingdom of God." George Eldon Ladd's slim book, The Gospel of the Kingdom, lays out this doctrine in fine fashion.

Now, as with Luther's doctrine of sola fide, Ladd's delineation of the meaning of the Kingdom of God for Christians is something I honor very highly. I've got no argument with it at all. But in practical terms it is not, in my opinion, the primary New Testament truth on which all other truth depends. Yes, it is very nearly central (or, to change the metaphor, "foundational"), but not quite. And to treat it as the central thing can lead to problems. And does.

The Christians at Corinth, in the first century, placed various things at the center of their doctrinal understanding (the charismatic gifts, for example). Paul takes them to task for that. In fact, he wrote his letters to the Corinthians in a white heat, eager to correct false or misleading emphases, to make the Corinthian Christians understand what was truly the one thing, the central thing upon which all other Christian "things" must be anchored. He said, "I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."

I'll have more to say on this, but for now just go read Brad's post called The Greatest Doctrine. It says everything I just said, only better.


Peterson on Taking up the Cross

Eugene Peterson, in his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, speaking of Christ's call to his disciples to "pick up your cross and follow," says this:
I don't know of any part of the Christian Gospel that is more difficult to move from the pages of sacred Scripture and the honored volumes of theology into the assumptions and practices of our everyday Christian lives.
Boy, I like that. And I don't believe it is a truth that is often faced, or that we often allow to challenge us. This is a place, a verse, that can speak a "who goes there" into the life of a disciple. Unless you are willing to take up your cross, you shall not pass.

Me, I don't know exactly what that might look like in my own life. Peterson says that, generally speaking, it looks like self-sacrifice. Putting aside personal interest and comfort in favor of the interests and comfort of others. He writes:
We begin our morning prayers with Jesus, "Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet . . ." (Mark 14:36) And our "yet . . ." trails off: instead of completing Jesus' prayer ("not what I want but what you want") we begin entertaining other possibilities. If all things are possible for the Father, perhaps there is another way to do something about what is wrong with the world, a way by which I can help out and make things better other than through a sacrificial life. In the jargon of the day, we pray: "sacrifice is not one of my gifts--I want to serve God with my strength, with my giftedness." It's a strange thing, but sacrifice never seems to show up on anyone's Myers-Briggs profile.


Graceful Words

Mark McMinn, in an article for Christianity Today (back in 2004) wrote:
Karl Barth, the 20th-century Swiss theologian, shows the absurdity of [pride]. Our pride demonstrates how much we want to be like God. Meanwhile, God—the eternal and majestic Creator, filled with all power, knowledge, and goodness—empties himself in the form of Jesus, even to the point of a violent and horrific death on trumped-up charges. Humans are puffed up in pride as God is emptied in humility. It is absurd.

But it is nonetheless real. While pride blinds us spiritually, our defense mechanisms—the psychological armor we use to protect ourselves from seeing the truth about ourselves—keep us in the dark, and for good reason. If we live in a world without grace, then our defense mechanisms are the only things keeping us from the precipice of despair.


Taking a Break (sort of)

Well, folks, I have not felt this disinclined toward blogging--and for this long--since I started nearly four years ago. It's a mood that can change in a day of course, but I think I'm going to blog sparingly in the coming days. Everything is fine. I'll continue to keep tabs on my favorite bloggers and I think may post briefly from time to time, but for the next week or two (I suspect) that will be the extent of it. Unless of course I change my mind . . . .


Saturday Re-wind: Patricia

This is an old post from Mr. Standfast, better than 2 years old now, a tribute to my mother. Since then her husband has passed away and now she's dealing with breast cancer (btw, I know she'd appreciate your prayers). She's tough as nails, though. Everything I wrote about her 2 years ago still holds true today:
Her name is Patricia Imogene. She was born on a farm in southern Indiana. Like many people who grow up on a farm, she has always been both gentle and tough--soft, but stubborn--like saddle-leather. When she was a girl, her father died, and her mother moved the family into town. That would be Columbus, Indiana. This must have been a very hard time in her life, but I'm only guessing, because she never spoke of it much. She has never been one to speak of such things, except in the most matter-of-fact way. Later, she married her high-school sweetheart. I don't know, maybe he reminded her of her Dad. He was smart, funny and ambitious. He joined the Navy. They moved a lot. Home was always very far away. After a while things began to turn very bad. Rotten, that's her word. She learned to curse like a sailor. When it was all too much, she divorced him and moved to another state. Three kids. No job. No friends. No child-support in the mail, as promised. But she kept everything together. She held on. She did the best she could. She poured herself out for her children. That's a cliche, but that's what you really need to know about her. She worked as a seamstress in a factory, sewing cushions. Eventually she married again. She learned to drink like a truck-driver when his shift is done. Her kids grew, and had the usual troubles, some of them quite bad. She made mistakes, but she kept on pouring herself out. It was just a matter of fact. Her mother-love was stubborn, unpretentious, unassuming, sacrificial, and overcoming. She loved when it didn't seem to matter or make sense. She kept on and kept on and kept on.

Now she's taking care of her husband, who's in failing health. Her children have scattered. They write, they call, but they seldom visit. The farmland of her childhood is all paved over. The place where her dog went to die, after it had been kicked by the horse--paved over. If you ask her how she's doing, she says, "Oh, fine, I guess. Can't complain. It wouldn't do any good anyway."

Listen. Here's all you really need to know about Patricia Imogene. She drank the cup she was given. Sometimes it was sweet, sometimes bitter, but she drank it up. She lived her life.



That five-day blogging break was not planned, but certainly welcome. And now it seems like a fine time to re-assess what gratitude & hoopla is all about. This is the sort of thing I need to do from time to time, to keep me from getting off course.

Gratitude & hoopla should be, first and foremost, a grace-centered blog. I love and admire the other grace-bloggers out there. Brad at Broken Messenger, Mark at Gospel Driven Life, the gang of all-stars at Together for the Gospel, and of course the inestimable Milton Stanley at Transforming Sermons, among others. May I be counted among them.

The ease with which we Christians allow ourselves to be diverted to other things is really quite remarkable. We drift. We need an anchor. In the past year or so I have made a detirmination to spend the rest of my life investigating the riches of the grace that is to be found in Christ Jesus. As a subject of study, it is inexhaustable. As a tool of ministry, it is ever-relevant. As a weapon against the wiles of the evil one it is ever-powerful.

In the little epistle to Jude near the very end of our Bible, the unknown author warns about "ungodly people, who pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." Notice how closely associated are the perversion of grace and the denial of Christ's lordship. Christ and grace are inextricably bound. To preach grace is to preach Christ, and especially His cross. A preacher may have many other things to say and do, but if in the midst of it all he loses this focus, he is no longer preaching the Gospel.

I say all that in order to come at last to this: gratitude & hoopla only exists as a tool to remind both its readers and its author of the inexhaustible riches of the grace that is found in Christ Jesus.