On a Family Regathered for Christmas

 

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The reigning King of Christmas looks anything but joyful here. I’m not sure why, really. I think I was just very focused on framing the selife “just so” in order to get the background festivities in the shot. Those festivities — a sumptuous Christmas Eve-Eve feast prepared by my amazing bride — included “Christmas crackers,” the British holiday tradition that invariably contains a riddle or joke, a prize and a paper crown. (Thus the headgear.)

The fact is, the last couple of weeks have indeed been filled with joy. And life. And good friends. And laughter around tables heaped with delicious foods encircled by all my favorite faces. All of them.

Christmas Girls

 

That’s no small thing when two of your favorite faces reside half a world away. It has been roughly a year since I had seen the Aussie Lassies. And we said goodbye to one of them a couple of days ago with the knowledge that it would probably be another year before we’d see her again.

In another week or so it will be just me and the Mrs. once again. And that just fine. We’re good together—and much living remains to be done.

But even the happiest empty nest needs to be refilled from time to time.

 

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On the Reign of the King

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My previous post made the case that Jesus was born to be a king. Of course, there is nothing controversial about that assertion. Jesus’ kingly-ness is affirmed and taught in every corner of Christendom. However . . .

. . . within the Protestant world, there are two very different understandings about when that king’s reign begins in earnest.

Much of the Evangelical world views “the kingdom”—i.e., Jesus’ rule on earth—as primarily a future prospect. The position held (in varying forms) is that, although Jesus is currently recognized and honored as “King” throughout heaven, His kingdom will not be present and active on earth until He physically returns. Upon returning, Jesus basically kicks tail; takes names; sets everything in order; and sets up His throne in Jerusalem from whence He reigns for precisely 1,000 years.

There is another view. This one views Jesus’ reign as rightful, ruling King of Earth (as well as Heaven) as beginning when he “sat down at the right hand of the Father” (Mark 16:19). In other words, the rule of King Jesus is primarily a present prospect.

Which view does the witness of Scripture support? And what difference does it make which view one holds?

I’ll be addressing these questions in a series of blog posts to come. (An exciting promise, I know. Try to contain yourself.)

 

 

On the Birth of a King

crownThe scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
the one whom all nations will honor.
Genesis 49:10 (NLT)

Jacob, the patriarch, is dying. His twelve sons have gathered around his bed to hear from their father one last time.

In his final hours a powerful spirit of prophecy settles upon the 147-year-old grandson of Abraham. Beginning with the eldest, Jacob prophesies in turn over each of his sons. When he reaches his fourth-born, Judah, he concludes his prophecy with the lines from Genesis 49 cited above.

The “scepter” and “ruler’s staff” speak of kingship. The implication is that all the legitimate Israelite kings would hail from Judah’s descendants, a.k.a., the tribe of Judah, “until . . .”

Until the coming of “the one to whom it belongs.”

A thousand years later a similar spirt of prophecy falls upon one of Judah’s descendants. Gifted with special vision, Isaiah looks down through seven more centuries of history and sees the coming of that “one whom all nations will honor.” He writes:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:10,11 (NASB)

 These words foretell the arrival of more than a mere messiah. More than a military genius who will deliver the oppressed from their oppressors. More than a temporal leader with a finite, albeit wonderful, term of administration.

No, Isaiah sees a king.

The “government” rests upon his broad, strong shoulders. He sits “on the throne of David” and rules “over his kingdom.” But there are two distinct and unique aspects to this king’s rule.

The first is that this king’s reign is eternal. “From then on and forevermore . . .” the prophet reveals.

The second is that this kingdom never stops expanding. Ever. The borders of His domain are forever and always moving outward. New territory is constantly being brought under His rule of peace. And this expansion continues for eternity.

Seven hundred years later, the imminent arrival of that extraordinary king was announced by an archangel to the woman who would carry Him for nine months. The words of the messenger are a direct and unambiguous reference to Isaiah’s prophecy:

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.
He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.
And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Luke 2:31-33 (NLT)

 Within the first two years of His birth, sky watchers from Mesopotamia will arrive seeking the recently born “King of the Jews.” They had seen the signs indicating His royal birth in the stars.

Jesus—this one who was foretold, foreseen and ultimately born—is many things. He is a Savior; a kinsman Redeemer; a Deliverer; an Elder Brother; a once-and-for-all Sacrifice; a High Priest and Intermediary. Yes, He is all these things.

But we do well to remember. He is, and ever will be, a King.

. . . He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named,
not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet,
and gave Him as head over all things to the church,
which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Ephesians 1:20-23 (NASB)

Joseph G. Rainsford (1861) on “The Faithfulness of God”

“God, from the beginning, has dealt with His people in the way of promise. Hence they are called “Heirs of Promise” (Heb. 6:12) God’s promises are sure and suitable. They are built upon four pillars:

1. God holiness, which will not allow Him to deceive.

2. God’s goodness, which will not allow Him to forget.

3. God’s truth, which will not allow Him to change.

4. God’s power, which will not allow Him to fail.”

On Youth

We’re all magnificent when we’re 19.

Most of us were just too busy feeling like misshapen freaks of nature to realize it.

This is What I’m Saying

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My previous post addressed the endemic and dismaying tendency of many to uncritically accept  any piece of information—no matter how ridiculous—if it validates their existing biases. To put it in the Postmodern vernacular . . . Anything that fits your preferred narrative is clearly true and obviously important.

As I’ve already noted, no one is immune, but younger, politically liberal Americans seem to have a terminal case of this disease. Shocking, I know. Who would have ever thought that a generation of badly educated people with little life experience, no historical perspective, and a inflated sense of their own ethical righteousness could be so easily fooled?

This week’s face-palm triggering example comes by way of a couple of fake news articles on the liberal fake news web site. The Daily Currant is sort of like The Onion but without the intelligence, wit or subtlety. The editors clearly hate conservatives but hold an especially intense loathing for Sarah Palin. So this week the DC posted two fake stories designed to give Palin haters a comforting hot oil foot massage:

Sarah Palin: Send Immigrants ‘Back Across Ocean’ to Mexico

Sarah Palin: ‘Convert Mexicans to Christianity’

Soon the social media channels exploded with mockery. Thousands of eye-rolling liberals linked to the articles—clearly believing these were real news stories—and offered their own comments about how stupid Sarah Palin is:

Idiot 4 Idiot 5 Idiot 7 Idiot 1 Idiot 6 Idiot 2That’s right, “Magenta.” Sarah Palin is the idiot.

This is just a small sampling of the tens of thousands of social media comments earnestly tapped out this week calling Sarah Palin an imbecile and accompanied by links to a fabricated news story on a fake news website. Just marinate in the irony of that for a moment.

As I said in the previous post, the easiest lie to fall for is the one that you need to be true. The Bible calls this deception. And deception is the only option when you’ve been blinded by your own pet narrative.

Cognitive Bias: From Cairo to Colleyville

WARNING: Long, meandering, stream-of-consciousness blog post ahead!!! Those choosing to proceed risk exposure to half-baked thoughts about fallen human nature, race, psychology, epistemology, Postmodernism and a possible Kierkegaard quote.

(Escape Pod: Here’s a YouTube video of Kittens Being Cute.)

(No? Well. here’s a 1940s-era hygiene film called “Joan Avoids a Cold.” It’s a timely, neglected gem.)

 

Still with me?  Wow. Okay then . . .

One evening on our recent trip to Egypt, our wonderful hostess related a story that fascinated me.

Earlier in the day she had gone to her favorite Cairo hair salon. Her hairdresser, a young Muslim woman, was chatting about the latest celebrity gossip and the news of the day. (Some things are universal.) The big headline of the day was a surprise attack by a terrorist group affiliated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood on Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai desert. Thirty-one Egyptian soldiers had been killed.

SinaiWhy would Hamas massacre Egyptian soldiers? Well, it was widely known—if not officially admitted—that Egypt had been sharing intelligence with Israel in its struggle with Hamas during the wave of rocket attacks out of Gaza. Hamas is allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. And the secular, military-backed government of Egypt has been actively working to squash the Brotherhood like a bug ever since they took the reins of power away from them back in July of 2013. (A big majority non-radical Egyptians view this as a good thing, by the way.)

In other words, the Hamas-Muslim Brotherhood terrorist partnership has lots of reasons to despise the current government of Egypt. And the feeling is oh, so mutual.

The hairdresser brought up the massacre of the Egyptian soldiers, mentioning how sad and awful it was. Then she added, “I read on Facebook that the Israelis helped Hamas do this terrible thing.”

Of course, in the history of ludicrous conspiracy theories, this one is worthy of a leg-lamp “major award” for nonsensicality. This assertion was just bat-guano crazy. So my friend called her on it.

“Hold on just a second,” She interjected. “Do you seriously think that the Israelis, who just spent the last month bombing the daylights out of Hamas . . . the same Hamas that just spent the last month shooting missiles into Israel–suddenly decided to work together to kill some Egyptian soldiers? Seriously? Think about what you’re saying.”

The hairdresser looked stunned for a moment, having expected nothing but a nod of agreement about those sneaky Israelis. Then she  shrugged and said, “I guess I see what you mean.”

As it turned out, this utterly ridiculous, completely irrational conspiracy theory was, at that moment, being embraced and repeated all over Egypt. But it wasn’t the only one.

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Not Made in Israel

We also heard another popular theory circulating in the Islamic world—namely that ISIS—the Islamist terrorist group raping, massacring and beheading its way across Iraq and Syria—was actually a creation of the Israeli Mossad (with assistance from the United States, of course).

It’s hard to know which of these two widely held beliefs is more bizarrely at odds with the facts, reason and common sense. Yet both are circulated widely as articles of faith in Egypt and throughout the Islamic world.

It illustrates an important truism concerning human nature:

The easiest lie to believe is one that validates your existing biases.

So, if it helps to blame the failures of your country or culture or tribe on some insidious and powerful “other,” you’ll seize upon any and every assertion that seems to validate that narrative—no matter how absurd the claim or tenuous the evidence.

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard

None of us are immune to this tendency.  Not me. Not you. The lie you fall for is the one you want or need to be true. Con men throughout history have exploited this fact with astonishingly consistent success.

This phenomenon is not new. There are, however, a couple of fancy new names to identify it. The first of these is “confirmation bias”—our tendency to take note of evidence that supports our beliefs and be blind to evidence that challenges them. Any contradictory evidence that can’t easily be ignored is dismissed, devalued or twisted.

Dilbert Confirmation Bias

The second is like unto it. I’m referring to postmodern culture’s slavery to preferred “narratives.” We’re all susceptible to this but it seems people under 50 are particularly prone—at least that’s my admittedly subjective and anecdotal observation. (I, of course, am immune to confirmation bias.)

Once a group adopts a preferred narrative—whether it be “the Jews control the media”; “men are pigs”; “Christians are stupid”‘ or “conservatives are racist”—no amount of contradictory evidence can pry them away from it. Indeed, due to confirmation bias, most won’t even see any contradictory evidence. But they’ll find validation of their views all around them.

This brings us to the Current Events portion of today’s broadcast . . .

Knees Will Jerk

The moment news reports emerged that an 18-year-old unarmed black man named Michael Brown had been shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the dormant Trayvon Martin outrage machine sparked, sputtered and clattered to life.

The above details were all many people needed to instantly form an opinion about the event. Like a Rorschach ink blot, most saw in the news report whatever their preferred narratives dictated.

The bigger, neglected question is, “Why was this particular shooting national news, when police-related shootings occur on a near-daily basis?” And sadly, shooting deaths of young black men are a near epidemic in some cities.

For example, 107 days elapsed between the night Michael Brown was killed and the day the grand jury announced that officer Darren Wilson would not be charged in the shooting. In that span of time, 244 teenagers were shot in Chicago alone.

244.

In Chicago alone.

Ten of those shootings of teens were by Chicago police officers. None of these made national headlines. Nor did any of the scores of other inner city shooting deaths that have occurred in recent months. Why? Are these deaths less tragic? Are these boys’ mothers less grief-stricken?

Of course, not  Those deaths aren’t newsworthy because they don’t fit the preferred narrative of the dominant culture. Namely, what Jonathan Tobin of Commentary magazine recently called “A False Narrative of Oppression.” Confirmation bias renders these tragic deaths invisible.

Let me hasten to add that it wasn’t just card carrying members of the Civil Rights Grievance Industrial Complex who uncritically seized upon the narrative of a helpless, compliant teenager gunned down in cold blood by a trigger happy cop.

Lots of white conservative and libertarian knees jerked at the news as well. For some time now, I’ve been watching conservatives and libertarians growing increasingly critical and suspicious of police power and nervous about the lack of police accountability. I certainly understand those concerns.

The militarization of the local police forces was a huge topic of discussion and alarm across the conservato-libertarian blogosphere in the months preceding the Michael Brown incident. As was police resistance to being videoed or photographed while performing duties.

Thus, when the early and factually flawed accounts of the shooting emerged, many of these pundits were quick to point to it and say, “See. This is what we’re saying.”

By the time the world learned that those early “eyewitness” reports of Michael Brown being gunned down with his hands in the air were inflammatory fabrications, the truth no longer mattered. The narrative was set in stone. And the easiest lie to believe is the one that validates your most cherished biases.*

 

*(Exhibit B: Feminists re: Rolling Stone Fabricated Rape Expose at UVa)

 

Bonds of His Own Making

“On the throne of grace, sovereignty has placed itself under the bonds of love. God will do as He wills; but on the mercy seat He is under bonds—bonds of His own making—for He has entered into covenant with Christ, and thus into covenant with His chosen.”

Charles Spurgeon

On The Supernatural Power of Giving Thanks

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Pardon the expression . . . but if the Bible contains a string of “magic words” these are they. I’m referring to a phrase repeated numerous times in the scripture. In fact, these lines—in a few variations—are some of the most frequently repeated in all the Bible.

The Bible reports that on several occasions, the unified saying or singing of these words by a group of people was accompanied by either a miraculous deliverance or a tangible manifestation of God’s presence and power—or both.  These are clearly some powerful words.

We see the first recorded appearance of these extraordinary words in a song penned by King David to celebrate the bringing of the Ark of Covenant (and therefore the presence of God) back to the center of Israelite life. At the climax of a long, exuberant hymn of praise, David the extraordinary lyricist writes:

O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

There they are. The phrases that seem to unleash Heaven’s power on earth.

Second Chronicles chapter 5 reveals how the unified singing of these special words resulted in the very glory of God Himself filling the room in cloud-like fashion—becoming so intense that the no one present could even stay on their feet.

In the 20th chapter of that same book, we see the Israelites going out into battle to face an overwhelmingly superior enemy. The army is led by the worship singers singing David’s special lyrics. Suddenly the enemy armies become confused and turn on each other. The attackers are destroyed without a single Israelite sword being unsheathed.

These words appear repeatedly in the Psalms of David and in a one of Jeremiah’s prophecies. As I said, they may very well be the most frequently repeated phrases in all the Bible. Why are they so obviously important and so clearly powerful?

The supernatural strength of this declaration is a three-fold cord. It is woven of these strands:

  1. A heart of gratitude
  2. An affirmation of God’s goodness
  3. A reminder that God’s love is covenantal and therefore relentless.

First, thankfulness is always the most appropriate posture for the child of God approaching the Father. Not fear. Not resentment. Gratitude.  This special declaration then gives us two big reasons why this is so.

First, “. . . for He is good.”

A faith in God’s fundamental goodness is the foundation upon which all sound theology must rest. It is the presupposition . . . the underlying premise . . .  from which all accurate logic and reasoning about God flows. It is the most important thing you can understand about Him. And it is the ultimate reason to be thankful—to God, and for God.

Second, gratitude is supremely appropriate because God’s “lovingkindess is everlasting.”

The Hebrew word translated “lovingkindess” here, or in some translations, “mercy,” is chesed. It speaks to the covenantal nature of God’s love for us. It means God’s love is more than an emotion or a disposition. His love is bound to us through an immutable, unchangeable, unbreakable covenant.

When you contemplate the truth that God loves you with a love that is relentless, tenacious, and impervious to your frailty, flaws and wavering faithfulness, the heart has only one rational response.

To cry, “thank you.”

And when we utter that cry together, it rends the very fabric separating Heaven from earth, allowing glory and power to pour down.

Abundant Grace

“The grace of God is abundant. It is for all lands, for all ages, for all conditions. It seems to undergird everything. Pardon for the worst sin, comfort for the sharpest suffering, brightest light for the thickest darkness.”

—Thomas De Witt Talmage (1874)

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