When we look at the Christmas manger, we need to see more than a baby. We need to see a heavenly Father, the One who gave his only Son to us so we might become adopted sons and daughters. Could a Father this good, who gave this much, be anything but perfect for our weary, sinful, broken hearts?
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Early in the morning, I wake and quietly make my way to the gray wing chair in my home office. I’m determined to be productive in these precious predawn hours.
Only a few minutes into my routine, however, the door next to me slowly opens and my 4-year-old son walks in, bleary-eyed. All he wants to do is crawl into my lap and put a tired head on my shoulder. My plans for this moment are spoiled, but I couldn’t care less. Why? Because I’m this boy’s father, and he’s my son, and that’s enough to make me welcome his intrusion with joy.
One of the reasons we miss drinking more deeply of God’s love is that we forget to think of him as Father. We may know it’s true because we’ve read our Bibles, but our intuitions still imagine God as a more distant figure. This isn’t merely a shortcoming in our thinking; it’s a tragic distortion of our view of God.
“Father” isn’t a random nickname for God. It’s who God fundamentally is. He is Father. God the Father has eternally begotten God the Son.
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By Scott Aniol — 2 years ago
God’s purpose for calling out a people for himself and unifying them together into one body under Christ is that his great wisdom might be marveled at by supernatural beings, ultimately bringing him supreme glory. Now what does it take for supernatural beings to marvel? It takes something supernatural, and God’s eternal plan of regenerating sinful people and uniting them together in one body is clearly that kind of supernatural act that would cause supernatural beings to marvel at the manifold wisdom of God.
What makes the events of Paul’s mission work in Philippi (Acts 16) so interesting for us is that this one of the first times that we are introduced to specific individuals who are converted and joined to the body of Christ. Luke takes note of a few individuals earlier in the book such as Paul himself or Sergius Paulus on Crete, but most of the time he just tells about groups of people who accepted the gospel. In Acts 16, Luke records the conversion of three specific individuals—Lydia, a slave girl, and a jailer.
The record of the salvation of these individuals serves a greater purpose than simply to provide interesting conversion stories. The fact that Luke, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose to record the conversions of these three specific individuals was to teach us some important truths regarding the power of the gospel and Christ’s plan in building his church. Comparing and contrasting these three individuals help us to draw some conclusions regarding the nature of the gospel and the purpose of the church.
The Universal Appeal of the Gospel
Christ could hardly have chosen three more different people to save than Lydia, the slave girl, and the jailer. Notice how different they were.
First, their nationalities were different. Philippi was quite a cosmopolitan city. It was fairly large and influential, it was a common retirement spot for Roman military men, and it attracted much commerce. Lydia had evidently come to Philippi for the reason of commerce. Verse 13 says that she was from Thyatira, which was a city in modern Turkey. Thyatira was known for its fabric dyes, and evidently Lydia had come to Philippi to deal in dyed cloth.
The slave girl was likely a native of Philippi, and so she was probably Greek. As we’ll see in a moment as well, she was a worshiper of the Greek god Apollo, so that further indicates that she was probably Greek.
The jailer was a Roman soldier, maybe even a retired Roman official who had retired in Philippi.
So here we have three individuals who come to Christ, each of different nationality—West Asian, Greek, and Roman.
It probably goes without saying, but these individuals differed in gender as well. This may seem like a mundane point to us, but in that day women were looked down upon, and here Lydia becomes an influential member of the church, one of the few believers to be named in Paul’s letter to the church here. In fact, many scholars believe that Lydia was wealthy, and that her home was the meeting place for the church here.
Which leads to the next difference. These three individuals were of completely different social status. Lydia was a business woman. She was likely wealthy. Not just anyone would have had space in their home to entertain guests like she did in verse 15.
The girl, as verse 16 tells us, was a slave. You couldn’t get much more opposite to a wealthy business woman than a slave. The girl was a member of the lowest class of their society.
The jailer fell somewhere in the middle. Being a soldier in the Roman army, he would have been your average middle-class worker.
The religious beliefs of these individuals differed as well. Lydia, according to verse 14, was a worshiper of God. She was a Gentile proselyte to Judaism. You might remember that on Paul’s first missionary journey it was his practice when he first entered a new city to visit the Jewish synagogue there. Now that his second journey had found him further away from Israel, the city of Philippi evidently had no synagogue. In order to have a synagogue, a city had to have at least 10 Jewish male heads of households in the city. So even in a fairly large city like Philippi, there were not even 10 male Jews. So Paul found the next best thing. As verse 13 tells us, on the Sabbath they went down to the river, and found several women who had gathered there to worship, and Lydia was among them. She had probably converted to Judaism in Thyatira where there was more Jewish witness, and when she came to Philippi had joined with other God-fearing woman in their Sabbath worship.
Once again, you could not get more opposite to Lydia in terms of religion than the slave girl. Verse 16 says that she had a spirit of divination. It literally says that “she had a spirit of Python.” According to the Greek myths, Zeus, the king of the gods, brought into existence at the town of Delphi an oracle, a place where the gods could be consulted. The oracle was guarded by Python, a female serpent, and answers from the gods were obtained through a priestess. According to mythology, Apollo, the son of Zeus, killed the serpent and took control of the shrine. He made the priestess, known as the Pythia or Pythoness, his servant. As a consequence, Apollo became known as the god of prophecy. Sometimes the name “Python” was associated directly with Apollo.
Based on the myth, at this time, there was an actual shrine and a succession of priestesses at Delphi, which wasn’t too far from Philippi. There are ancient pictures of the Pythoness sitting on a three‑legged stool over a cleft in the earth from which the oracle was supposed to proceed. When about to prophesy, she would go into a kind of ecstatic trance and utter a stream of unconnected phrases and obscure words. People would come from all over Greece to the shrine to enquire of the oracle, especially concerning the future. A priest would put their questions to the Pythoness, and her utterances, which were supposedly inspired by Apollo, would be interpreted by the priest and presented to the questioner, often in an ambiguous form.
The prophetic powers of Apollo, supposedly manifested in the priestess at Delphi, were also thought to be present in other women. Like the priestess, their utterances would be accompanied by convulsions or other abnormal behavior, which were assumed to be evidence of the presence of a spirit from Apollo, or a “spirit of Python.” In some cases, such behaviors may have been self‑induced; in other cases, they may have arisen from mental disturbance, or physical defects in the brain. Usually such a woman would be a slave, often owned by a group of men, who charged clients for her services.
So in Acts 16:16, the “slave girl who had a spirit of Python” was one of these women supposed to have similar powers to those of the Pythoness at Delphi, and to whom people came seeking the future. And evidently in this case she actually was demon possessed, which made her do things that people thought proved she was a Pythoness.
By Clifford Humphrey — 8 months ago
It appears that our most bitter political divisions are over what we all truly should consider morally outrageous. This fact helps reveal the artificiality of the political posture of late-stage liberalism: we can’t help but feel morally outraged by the breaking of certain laws because they touch on loyalties that transcend the laws. This fact explains why the laws seem to be interpreted unevenly, especially in the court of public opinion. We long for laws to be interpreted in accordance with that ultimate standard we reverence above all.
Yoram Hazony carefully and thoughtfully interpreted a recent tweet thread of James Lindsay’s often erratic and vitriolic Twitter feuds with conservative Christians. Hazony points out that Lindsay is convinced that politically engaged, conservative Christians are walking into a trap set for them by the progressive Left. The content of the discourse is instructive for what it reveals about the general character of our regime and the specific strategy being employed against conservative Christians.
Lindsay believes that Christian nationalists are being goaded by the left through increasingly graphic transgressions against Christian sensibilities and pieties by the transgender wing of the LGBTQ+ coalition. The Left’s goal, presumably, is to use symbols and scenes that conservative Christians find morally disturbing in order to activate moral outrage in them that might override their better judgment and lead them to do acts of violence that would justify broad repercussions against the whole Christian Right.
Lindsay is wrong to suggest that the best response is to retreat into a fairytale land of classical liberal moral neutrality. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting thesis because moral outrage is indeed a powerful force embedded in human nature when that nature is operating well. Micah Meadowcroft made this point recently at The American Conservative, when commenting on the LA Dodgers’ decision to honor and platform the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, which is a group of drag queens who get a rise out of mocking traditional Christian symbols, at a ball game dedicated to Pride Month. Meadowcroft writes, “Some things are disgusting, and we should cherish and protect our capacity for disgust.” This point merits a discussion about the nature and role of moral outrage.
The left is morally outraged that Christians consider homosexuality a sin, labeling Christian opposition homophobia. Similarly, Christians are outraged by blatant, public, I dare say, proud, displays of sexual perversion. Obscenity laws are meant to police and protect the moral outrage of the majority of citizens, and the way these laws are enforced reveals exactly what is considered morally acceptable and legitimately morally outrageous.
Okay, so Left and Right differ on what is morally outrageous. What of it? Should not the laws be indifferent with regard to who is internally offended by a particular crime?
By Vern Poythress — 2 years ago
The teaching takes place not only by hearing the message that people around us sing, but by singing the message ourselves. This benefit is confirmed by modern observations about how people learn. People learn more effectively and more deeply if they not only hear, but try to re-express what they learn. Getting one’s voice involved deepens one’s participation. Singing engages our emotions, and may help to make the message more memorable. People remember songs that they have sung repeatedly, and embrace them more deeply. Their active participation reinforces their memory.
For decades now, Christian congregations have had to deal with differences in musical styles in Christian worship. Some prefer “contemporary music.” Others prefer “traditional music.” The differences become a source of contention. Sadly, we now have the term “worship wars,” as a label to describe the extent to which music in worship has become a battleground.
We should not want more wars, especially within the bounds of the church. Therefore, a discussion of music and singing in the church must begin by recalling Christ’s command: Christians should love one another as Christ has loved us (John 15:12 ESV; see 13:34; 1 John 4:19). Loving one another is a central principle in the life of the people of God. We need not only to teach the principle, but to practice it. Any disagreement or tension in the body of Christ should be seen as an occasion to practice Christian love.
My purpose here is not to talk about Christian love, important as that is. My focus is rather on one specific element: congregational singing. I wish not to create tension, but to ask both pastors and musicians, both leaders and followers in the Christian faith, to approach the issue of congregational singing with wisdom and with balance. For the sake of the health of the church, we want congregational singing to contribute to that health.
How do we best do that? In this four-part series, I briefly set forth my own thoughts. Even if other brothers and sisters may not agree, I hope this may help lead the conversation in a positive direction.
As we have observed, one prime factor is love, and with love, patience. We should bear with other people in the congregation, and bear with decisions about singing with which we disagree. But now what else should go into the decision-making and practice of a Christian congregation?
Mind the Goal
What should be the long-range goal in congregational singing? Everything that we do in Christian worship and in all of life, we should do for sake of honoring God, that is, for sake of promoting the glory of God: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). The glory of God is primary and essential.
In addition, the Bible indicates that church meetings should have the aim of building up the church: “Let all things [that take place when the people assemble] be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26). The goal is that the people should grow in spiritual maturity, not only individually but as a body, as a community. Nearly the whole of 1 Cor. 14 is about the importance of building up the church, and how this goal regulates and guides the details of what happens during a congregational assembly. Likewise Eph. 4:1-16 has a focus on building up the church. According to Eph. 4, the goal is “the stature of the fullness of Christ” (verse 13). We are “to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (verse 15).
We have two goals before us: the glory of God and the building up of the church. These two goals are not two diverse goals that pull in opposite directions. Rather, each implies the other. Building up the church takes place properly only when we are serving God and seeking to please him. So we need to seek the glory of God in Christian worship.
We can also reason the other way, starting with the glory of God. Seeking God’s glory includes seeking to honor his commandment to love one another. This means we cannot seek God’s glory properly without attending to the goal of building up the church. Seeking the glory of God and seeking to build up the church are two sides of the same coin. The two aspects, oriented toward God and toward fellow Christians, are intended by God to work together harmoniously.
How do we build up the church? Much is involved. We need the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and among us.