Thursday, December 27, 2007


So I've been reading The Collects of Thomas Cranmer. It's a great little book: easy to read, thin, with short chapters.

The book is broken out into two-page mini-chapters. Each one starts with one of Thomas Cranmer's collects on the top of the left page, followed by a short historical blurb on the bottom of the left page. Then there is a one-page meditation on the right page.

So for background, a collect is a short, corporate prayer: the word "collect" implies this corporate character. Collects are generally short, centre on a petition, and always have a single theme.

The collects in this book are Thomas Cranmer's: many of "his" collects were revisions of earlier prayers, from the medieval Roman Catholic church and earlier. Cranmer revised and edited prayers from existing prayer books in light of the Reformation in addition to composing original prayers. The history section of each chapter explains where Cranmer got the collect: if it's not an original, it lays out where he got it, and what he changed in his revision.

The historical sections are well worth the weight of the book alone. While a character sketch of Thomas Cranmer is understandably of limited appeal and relevance, this book does a masterful job. But the real value of the book is in the meditations: this guy gets it. The Gospel of God---man is lost and hopeless, but the Son of God came here as a Man to die for us---is presented clearly and concisely. He understands that we have nothing to offer God, but He has given everything freely to us.

So if you get a chance, I highly recommend it.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Lo, He comes

Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.

Well, Advent draws to a close today: time to remember the Lord is coming. Now it's time to remember that the Lord has come.

This [is] a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
-- 1 Timothy 1:15 (KJV)

Of course, Scripturally speaking, the Lord told us to "remember Me." That includes His coming the first time and the next time. And so we really ought to be expecting His imminent return at any time, just like we ought never to forget that the Son of God came here and died for us.

For thou art our salvation, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward;
without thy grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.

So if you're into that sort of thing: Merry Christmas! If not, keep looking up! remember He's coming back quickly.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mystery of Love

Christians, awake, salute the happy morn
Whereon the Saviour of the world was born
Rise to adore the mystery of love
Which hosts of angels chanted from above
With them the joyful tidings first begun
Of God incarnate and the virgin's Son

I have taken every imaginable position on the question of whether Christians should celebrate things like Christmas and Easter. I've read The Two Babylons (more than once, in fact): I understand why John Calvin, Oliver Cromwell, Arthur Pink, and J. N. Darby all condemned celebrating these holidays. On the other hand, I understand why Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer encouraged them.

But in the end, I've come to the conclusion that whether you condemn Christmas or revel in it; there are deep and amazing mysteries that are ostensibly "the reason for the season." If you don't celebrate Christmas, I can accept that. But I will tell you with absolute certainty: if you allow yourself to forget that the Son of God came down here--if you let the wonder of it fade---then you're falling down as a Christian.
Lo, within a manger lies
He who built the starry skies;
He who throned in height sublime
Sits amid the cherubim

I enjoy traditional Christmas carols: partly for the wonderful music, partly because I grew up with them. But I really, really value the sense of wonder they have for the mystery of Incarnation: the Son of God became a Man. You and I can't fathom that: only God can understand what happened there.
Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

Of course, the story doesn't stop with Christ coming here. As amazing as that is, a pagan might be able to appreciate that. The real wonder is, He came to die for sinners.
Sacred Infant, all divine, What a tender love was thine
Thus to come from highest bliss , Down to such a world as this

I came to the conclusion long ago that this is a principle difference between Christianity and the majority of religions: many if not all religions try and teach men how to become God; Christianity tells how One who is God became Man. Not with the intention of making us gods with Him, but to make us consciously objects of His love.
Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice
Now ye need not fear the grave:
Peace! Peace!
Jesus Christ was born to save

So if you see me driving by, obviously singing (terribly out-of-key and with not talent at all) at the top of my lungs; feel free to join in. If you don't celebrate Christmas, that's fine---but even then, you ought to be able to appreciate why I'm so obviously enjoying the song.
Then may we hope, the angelic thrones among
To sing, redeemed, a glad triumphal song
He that was born upon this joyful day
Around us all His glory shall display
Saved by His love, incessant we shall sing
Of angels and of angel-men the King

So blessed forever dear Jesus our King
Who brought us Salvation, his praises we'll sing

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The quiet path

I've had several recurring themes since I started this blog. That's not really deliberate, but I suppose it's inevitable. It's the result of my being an average guy trying to walk it out down here until the Lord Jesus comes back; as opposed to an attempt at systematic theology (or systematic anything, for that matter).

One recurring theme is, there is no shortcut to spirituality. I've had to realize this time and again over the last couple years: time and again, I find myself trying to figure the angles, trying to find the fast-track to maturity and godliness. It doesn't exist.

I was reflecting on that recently: I was sitting on my bed, reading my Bible. My wife was writing email on the computer in the corner. I suddenly realized that of all the spiritual exercises---including many that seem so glamourous and boast-worthy---my silent and unremarkable Bible reading was probably the one worth doing.

And that got me to thinking that one hindrance I've had in my Christian life is the vague expectation that godliness and maturity would somehow be a very visible---perhaps even public---thing. I never really articulated it to myself that way, but I think it's been that way in the back of my mind for years.

I've started to see that godliness and maturity are more likely to look like the Italian grandmother kneeling quietly in a Catholic church than the brilliant speaker delivering a thought-provoking sermon. No, I'm not espousing Roman Catholicism, but I've more and more come to the conclusion that the stereotype of quiet piety is probably what spiritual maturity really looks like.

I suppose a fundamental part of that is the idea that one's spiritual life is a deeply personal thing, perhaps even a private thing. I'm not saying there is no corporate dimension to Christianity---there certainly is---nor am I trying to suggest that there is nothing public about faith. But unless there is the deeply personal relationship one cultivates with the Lord, everything else is smoke and mirrors: show without substance. This is perhaps one of the things the Lord Jesus was warning against when He spoke of praying in the closet, of annointing our heads when fasting.

Obviously there is an appropriate place for ministry, even public ministry. But it seems we rush into these things... and the end result is, we have people saying a lot, but not saying much.

Several years ago, my xingyi teacher told me the secret to flawless kung-fu. It's simple, it's not glamourous; but it takes time, patience, and perseverance. Why isn't my kung-fu flawless? mainly because I'd rather "work on" the more exciting, glamourous bits than take the slow, boring path my teacher outlined several years ago. See, I just have trouble believing---really believing---that the silent, boring, unglamourous "practice" is the key to success.

I've started to see I've made the same mistake in my Christian life: the slow, gradual path seems so boring, fruitless, and lifeless compared to all the cool stuff I could be doing. But just like in kung-fu, I need to realize that I am the least qualified to judge: as Ahab told Benhadad, "let not him who puts on his armor boast as him who takes it off." To know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings---that's the goal. And the more I examine, the more I see that the path to that goal is a path of surprising quietness, privacy, and anonymity.

So as I've been contemplating, praying, reading, and examining, I've finally gotten a glimpse of the path I want to take: it's not an exciting path, not glamourous, and probably pretty lonely. But I am becoming certain it's the one I need to be walking.