Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas! But what does it mean?

My wife was up early doing some baking. I can see the lights from our Christmas tree reflected on the computer screen. In a little while I'll go over to church and get things ready for our candlelight service that takes place tonight. I figure it will be pretty close to midnight when my older son and his family arrive here. It will be good to spend a few days with them. Monday, Kathy, my mom, and I will travel to Texas to see my other son & his family. It will be our first visit to their new home.
It is very much Christmas at the Merrell household.

Let me not take anything for granted.

Christmas is significant because it reminds us of an incredible & essential Divine act. In brief:

  • This world--that would be all of us--have a serious problem. God said don't and we did. He said do and we didn't. In terms that the average child can understand, that is what sin is. There is a whole lot of Theology to be explored here, but here it simply:
    Do you always do what you know you should, and refrain from doing what you know you shouldn't? If you give the answer I think you will then you agree with God's word. All of us have sinned, Romans 3:23.
  • Sin has consequences. Romans 6:23 points out that the result of sin is death. That is death in it's fullest sense--Hell.
  • Here is where it gets to Christmas. God always had a plan. The plan involved God the Son coming to earth to die as the substitute for us. The Babe in the manger is visible beginning of that process. The shadow of the cross falls across the manger.
  • Because Jesus grew up and died on the cross in our place and then came forth from the grave in victory over death, He is able to offer us new life in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:17 & 21, John 3:16, Romans 5:6-8, Romans 10:9)
  • Here is the greatest Christmas gift. Have you accepted it as your own?

Merry Christmas!

Enjoy friends and family. But more than all else, trust the Lord of Christmas as your Savior.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Can those who deny the heart of the Evangel be called Evangelicals?

I just read a post on Al Mohler's blog. On it he makes reference to a Pew survey on religion and a subsequent article in US News and World Report. The quote below gives the disturbing gist of the article.

"an overall majority (54%) of people who identified with a religion and who said they attend church weekly also said many religions can lead to eternal life. This majority included 37% of white evangelicals, 75% of mainline Protestants and 85% of non-Hispanic white Catholics.
This survey cannot easily be dismissed. The specificity of the responses and the quality of the research sample indicate that we face a serious decline in confidence in the Gospel. When 34 % of white evangelicals reject the truth that Jesus is the only Savior, we are witnessing a virtual collapse of evangelical theology." (Dec. 18)

Unfortunately, I am not surprised by the conclusion of this article. It has been my observation for some time that the bulk of so called "Bible believers" live lifes that are shaped much more by the views of respectable society than by the clear teachings of the Bible. I fear that this is one reason that Evangelicals have become so politically active. We want to create a society where we can fit in. We don't want to have to stand out. I'm not advocating a move to Evangelical monasiticism, but I am challenging the motives and focus of some of my brethren. Rather than being willing to stand for the scandal of the cross, are we trying to create a world in which the cross is less scandalous?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

One of the characters of Christmas shows us the way two millennia later:

I was thinking about Joseph, Jesus Christ's step-father (so to speak), this morning. I'm often impressed with how little press Joseph gets at Christmas time. The average Christmas celebrator knows more about the little drummer boy than Mary's husband, Joseph. Granted the Biblical material about the man is sparce, but, still, little is done to mine what is there.

I'll get back to Joseph in a moment.

Have you noticed that in our world it seems that Christian people congregate on the extremes? One example--matters related to moral purity: In the last week I heard about a local pastor who spoke about unmarried, cohabitating couples as bringing shame to the church; they just shouldn't attend. Granted the report was a step or two removed from first-hand information, but I have been around long enough to know that the sentiment is too common. I know of other pastors who imply by their actions that there is no difference between those who live together sans-matrimony and those who wait for the wedding.
It seems that we congregate on the extremes. Sorting out that difficult middle position is tough. I'm not saying that the middle is always right, but my experience and observations lead me to believe that more often than not the extremes miss the mark.

Joseph was a guy who sought to honor realties that were in tension. He is called a righteous man (Matthew 1:19). Yet his actions show that he was also a compassionate man. When Joseph first wrestled with the news that his betrothed, Mary, was pregnant he had not heard anything of the divine miracle that had resulted in the virgin-conception. He was committed to do what was right, and he was likewise motivated to do that which was kind--or at least that which would be the least harsh.
He allowed the tension that resulted from the pull of these two competing interests to lead him to a righteous plan that was tempered by kindness and a kind plan that did not violate God's standard of purity.
When I look at the Joseph figure in the creche I am reminded of this balance, and the price that this righteous man paid to achieve it.
It is not the main story that is portrayed in the manger-scene, but it is a side-plot worth looking into.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An interesting interview:

I just listened to the NPR, Fresh Aire interview with Frank Schaeffer. I still remember when he was "Franky," and breathed fire. Anyhow, the program is worth a listen.
Maybe the best way I can describe the conversation is, though I disagree with much I heard, Schaeffer's comments are worthwhile for us conservative evangelicals to think about.
It made me think.
I may get Schaeffer's book.
You can listen to the interview at

Monday, December 8, 2008

Government Bailouts, GM, Ford, Chrysler, the Church:

It is hard to have a cup of coffee without getting into a conversation about the auto-bailout. I've owned cars from all of the "big-three." I grew up on wages my dad earned at a steel mill, and one of my uncles used to make tires in Akron. For a summer I worked for a tiny auto-parts company. The little town where I live, now, has car-connections. Those evaporative-control canisters under the hood of modern autos are filled with carbon from a local chemical plant, and several times a week I drive by a complex of empty buildings where auto parts used to be made. The loss of those jobs still hurts.
I just looked at a map that shows the number of auto-manufacturing related jobs in the various states ( From the 242 jobs in District of Columbia (The sites says 20 workers are involved in auto parts and another score in sales. Are the other 202 lobbyists?) to the nearly quarter-million auto-workers in Michigan, there are people in all 51 units that make up these United States who earn a living from cars. CNN/Fortune Magazine says that over 2 million jobs are involved. (See the above link.) A coalition of auto-related workers, calling itself the "Engine of Democracy," says that 6 million jobs are at stake. ( Howard Merrell says there are a lot. You can quote me. Not all of those jobs are related to GM, Ford or Chrysler, but they are the "Big-Three," so many, perhaps most are.
I have heard no one who maintains that if one, two, or all three of these gi-hugic companies goes belly-up that the short-term consequences will be anything less than devastating. The argument has to do with after that. Is allowing the cruel force of the market to do its work a bitter pill we have to swallow in order to move toward a cure, or are the consequences so dire that allowing the Big-Three to crash would do irreparable damage?
The debate goes on. Since I'm not in congress I don't have to make up my mind. I'm praying for great wisdom from a group of people who don't impress me as being very Solomonic.

What really troubles me this morning, though, is that the car-companies are not the only ones looking for a government handout. The church, the body of Christ, an entity far bigger and more important than the auto-industry, far too often acts as if we are dependent on the government for our existence. Political action on the part of Christians is appropriate--even desirable. When government steps out of line morally or ethically, the voice of the church should be heard--loud, clear, and unequivocal. I'm not encouraging a withdrawal from political action. What I am concerned about is the impression that is often given by Christian leaders that unless the government does this or that all is lost. Fellow Christian leaders our model is not the 3 auto execs, chastened like school-boys, car-pooling to Washington in their politically-correct hybrids, meekly explaining that unless you guys help us out we will surely fail. No, think John the Baptist, here. He expected nothing from Herod, confronted him for his sin, and knew that the cause of God would go on whatever that corrupt leader did. Or think of those early Christians who, following the example of the Apostles, stood for the Lord even to death. They expected nothing from the government in the way of help. They certainly received none. They changed the world.
If we are going to effectively speak truth to power, our words must come from a knowledge that we have a power greater than, longer lasting than, more richly supplied than, and better focused than that of the government. The kingdom of God does not depend on the vote of the electorate or Congress, the decisions of the Supreme Court, or the next speech of the President. We look to the omnipotence of God for our resources. That is not diminished.