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Homily on Matthew 1:23: O, Come Immanuel

I wish to meditate just for a few moments on one text in Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew 1:23:

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

This singular text carries with it the force of redemptive history. The term “Immanuel” is used first in Isaiah’s prophecy. It appears three times in Isaiah. It’s Isaiah’s personal language for God. No other author uses it. And in fact, the majority of Isaiah’s prophecy of 66 chapters focuses on whether God is Immanuel or not. That is, is God with us or not? And Isaiah makes a case for how God is with us in the Old Testament, but it’s a shadowed presence. Yes, God appears, but then He goes away. Isaiah is prophesying a time when God will appear and never go away. The Jewish people grabbed on to this promise.

Matthew’s Gospel comes along centuries later and revives Isaiah’s term, Immanuel. In fact, only Matthew uses this term. It doesn’t show up anywhere else in the New Testament. The reason for this is that Matthew has a very special connection to the prophet Isaiah. One can say that Isaiah is Matthew’s mentor so that when Matthew writes his gospel he is very interested to let us know that God is no longer with us in a veiled fashion, but now in human form. As Charles Wesley observes: Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.

Advent has to do with waiting for a presence, not an appearance; a human in the flesh, not a theophany. “Immanuel” speaks to the permanence of Messiah. There is a with-us dimension to the ministry of our Lord. The incarnation is an incarnation grounded in a with-us theology; the nearness of God.

The Advent Season is a meditation on God’s with-us attitude towards his creation. He chose to be with us. We do not worship a deistic God. We do not worship a God who created and abandoned, but a God who created and dwelt in it. His name is Immanuel. He is with us. What then is Emmanuel for us?

As the 15th-century hymn O, Come, O Come Emmanuel, attests, Emmanuel is the solution to our lonely exile: “that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears.” Emmanuel needs to appear, needs to be with us because we have lived in a foreign land for far too long. But when Immanuel comes he will take us to a new land; he will make us his home so that God is never away from us, but eternally with us.

We often sing only the first five verses, but there are seven verses to this great hymn. The sixth verse is the expectation of Israel put into tender and emotional words:

O Come, O bright and Morning Star,

And bring us comfort from afar!

Dispel the shadows of the night

And turn our darkness into light.

The reason we want Immanuel is not merely because of theological certainty, it’s also because of emotional security. If God is not Immanuel, we only hope for a distant deity; we may be theologically certain of God, but not emotionally connected to God. But if God is Immanuel—God with us—then our darkness turns into light and our well-being is secure. God is with us; our comforter has come.

 

 

 

 

A New Beginning

A New Beginning

All good things must come to an end. For those of you who are new to the Church calendar, we are coming to the end of the Church liturgical year. The Church year goes from Advent to Pentecost and today is the last Sunday of Pentecost, traditionally known as Christ the King Sunday.

You are going to see a change in liturgical colors, a new prayer of confession, our colors will change to purple, and we will also be introducing the Sanctus next Sunday, which is already very familiar to those of you who attend our Vespers’ Service. Beginning on December 3rd, we re-start the entire Church year and begin anew this cycle of expectation, coming, glory, and power.

Why do we go through this cycle again and again? We go through it because we love the Gospel. We love to see it embodied in a baby and we love to see it embodied in an exalted, resurrected King.

The Church Calendar for us is a glorious repetition of what the world was before Christ, what the world became after Christ, and what the world shall be in Christ. The end is coming, but a new beginning is near.

Postures in Revelation

Revelation is a worship service filled with music, prayers, and responses. Notable though, is the use of bodily postures in John’s description of heavenly worship. Almost in every instance, there is a reference to kneeling, bowing, standing, etc. In short, public worship demands bodily postures from the entire congregation.

10 Tweets on the Care of Pastors

10 Tweets on the Care of Pastors

Pastoral theology needs to be considered afresh if it is to provide modern pastors the motivation to continue in long-term ministry. #10

If pastors are the priests of society, then they need to be restored and renewed first by the Great High Priest. #9

“It is I. Do not fear” is probably the most needed of Jesus’s statements for pastors today. #8

Pastors often interpret Jesus’ miracles as merely supernatural acts, but they are pastoral acts on behalf the Church. #7

Pastors need a pastoral view of the doctrine of union with Christ. We tire ourselves for others w/out ever resting in our Sabbath union. #6

In particular, pastors need to see Jesus’ earthly ministry as a way of shepherding. Jesus shepherds His church in every text. #5

The ministry of Jesus offers great encouragement to ministers, yet many ministers look to models rather than Jesus’ pastoral ministry. #4

There are many expectations laid at the pastor’s feet but rarely do people think of their responsibilities towards their pastor. #3

Congregations need to have long-term care for pastors; a neglected lesson which pastors don’t address for fear of self-promotion. #2

The care of pastors is neglected in the church because people perceive the pastor to have all the answers and not to feel pain. #1

 

Tenacious Biblical Fellowship

Tenacious Biblical Fellowship

Paul Tautges in his Counseling One Another observes that one of the affects of relying on secular psychology has been the internalizing of the faith, thus leading to a departure from the Church. He writes that the early church would never have entertained such a strange notion. The Church was tenacious about its biblical fellowship. He observes:

Whichever surface motivations are involved, what should be of great concern are the immature, fleshly priorities that seem to drive too many of today’s Christians.

Instead of running from fellowship, Christian counseling draws the individual to the body where soul care and soul cure are the transforming features of the church. Therefore, to depart from church is to depart from healing.

Feminine Threads

Feminine Threads

I am slowly working my way through Diana Severance’s stimulating Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History. The preface traces the attempt of feminism to re-write Biblical and Christian history. Severance observes that in the process of viewing the Bible just as another myth, the feminists “found themselves back in the garden with Eve, questioning what God had said and deciding what looked best to them.”a. The author argues that there is a certain continuity of “Christian women’s experience through the ages”b and that “Christian women were integral to the life of the Church wherever Christianity spread.”c

The author relies on a traditional interpretation of women’s role in the Church in contrast to the revisionist perspective of many feminine writers. She traces significant female figures through Christian history and offers an overview of their particular theological and sociological contributions.

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Baptism of Little Ezra

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As a pastor, I have many privileges. Among them is to baptize little people. This past Sunday, I had the joy of baptizing my fourth boy, Ezra Alexander.

But this baptism is not a single event. It’s an unfolding event. Baptism is not a ticket to heaven, it’s a call to live heavenly. As the Apostle John says, Ezra is also being called to walk throughout his life in the way of obedient faith, and faithful obedience.

 

Quitting the Internet in a Post-Truth World

Quitting the Internet in a Post-Truth World

I’ve been fairly fascinated by the concept of going “analog.” It means leaving social media behind for older ways of doing things. For many, the headache, tension, frustration are almost enough to unplug. I’ve come to a few conclusions about how to best use social media appropriately which I hope to share in the future. Among them is the idea of minimal engagement with responses. But many are taking it a step further and unplugging all together. I’ve written about some dangers here and the natural consequences of a plugged world here.

In an interesting interview with Parks and Rec star, Aziz Ansari, he makes some observations for why he quit social media. Here are some highlights:

…in a post-truth world, it doesn’t feel like we’re reading news for the reason we used to, which was to get a better sense of what’s going on in the world and to enrich yourself by being aware. It seems like we’re reading wrestling rumors…it all just seems so sensationalized,” he said. It’s not that the news doesn’t matter… it’s that reading the news is “putting me in a bad state of mind.”

I wanted to stop that thing where I get home and look at websites for an hour and a half, checking to see if there’s a new thing. And read a book instead. I’ve been doing it for a couple months, and it’s worked. I’m reading, like, three books right now. I’m putting something in my mind. It feels so much better than just reading the Internet and not remembering anything.

The interview contains some bad language, and Asiz seems strongly anti-Christian, but the ideas are fairly interesting to contemplate. The concept of “post-truth world” is an idea Christians need to wrestle with in this age. How do we communicate and what must we do to speak truth in a day when truth is not valued?

Teaching as a Spiritual Experience

Teaching as a Spiritual Experience

As a new school year begins I want to ask God’s blessings and favor on my friends who are instructors whether in the classroom or at home. Perhaps a good subtle encouragement may come from the lips of our rotund friend, G.K. Chesterton, who once wrote: “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” Teaching is a spiritual exercise. It is not a dispensing machine of facts.

Teaching is a deeply emotional and intellectual exercise. And in the process of instructing, one is faced with the many challenges of confronting, challenging, restoring, and rebuilding. There will be many situations where gratitude seems as distant as possible from reality. But in such situations, moms, dads and teachers need to contemplate the engaging and spiritually-charged journey of passing wisdom to another image-bearer. Through every tear and laughter, remember to give thanks. When gratitude is forgotten education suffers from the violence of idolatry; for idolatry entails forgetting the Creator and his gifts. Seek gratitude. Embrace gratitude as a caffeinated arrow of grace in your life. Teach. Give thanks. And persevere. The Lord be with you.

Steps to becoming a better counselor in the Church

Steps to becoming a better counselor in the Church

In a recent interview, Deepak Reju offered some helpful steps for those who would like to be better equipped to counsel:

First, find a discipler and a good, Bible-preaching, gospel-centered church. There is no legitimate substitute for living the Christian life out with a body of committed believers. As you grow and mature in the Christian life, so also will you be able and ready to help others grow, too.

Second, read a few basic biblical counseling books, articles or booklets that deal with a problem that you struggle with. You need to see how a profoundly biblical approach to problems stands as a stark contrast to how most of the world deals with sin and suffering.

Third, if you haven’t lost interest just yet, then read Paul Tripp & Tim Lane’s How People Change and Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. The former describes a theology of sanctification; the later describes a theology and methodology for counseling. Both are good intro texts into the movement.

Lastly, if you still want more, then pursue lay certification or formal educational training through the manifold of organizations or educational institutions that provide instruction and training in biblical counseling.