Friday, December 17, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

My Cheesy Christmas Poem

 
Here’s a corny little rhyme-couplet style poem I wrote a few years ago. Trust me, the metre works if you make it...



Twas 750 years before Christmas and all throughout Judah
There were idols a-plenty (of Baal, not Buddha)

The Assyrian Empire was everywhere feared
Led by Tiglath-Pilesar, whose name was quite weird

King Ahaz had buckled like the belt on my khakis
And the great nation Judah became boot-licking lackeys

They abandoned the covenant and the God who had made them
Looked to Egypt for help, which had been...um...forbaden

Their enemies were mean, they were kickers and spitters
So the people lost hope, like a bunch of lame quitters

The Devil was happy; he was pleased! he was winning!
With the king a big wimp and the people all sinning

And so without hope, they gave in to these Gentiles
As Isaiah had prophesied, a couple of exiles

The South off to Babylon, the North to Assyria
(‘fore that massive Diaspora from Spain to Siberia)

Could there ever be hope again for this covenant people?
It seems the Old Testament is in need of a sequel.

For 400 years, not a peep from a prophet
God withheld the big bomb, not quite ready to drop it

Then about A.D. 1 God said, “Now, let’s get to it—
To reverse the great curse that came down when they blew it”

The arrangements all made and the stage all prepared,
The Virgin conceived and the census declared

And up in the heavens, God let loose with his Spirit
(He doesn’t say “Ho ho ho”—when He laughs, you can feel it)

“On Raphael, on Michael, on Uriel, on Gabriel”
Operation Immanuel will kick off in a stable.

Salvation is coming; Satan’s curse is deleted,
The people redeemed and the devil defeated

Old Satan was cooked—with potatoes and gravy
How horribly embarrassing—to be trounced by a baby

So into the darkness was born a great light
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

 
Monday, December 13, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

Talkin' Bout a Revolution

Facebook can be a great tool for keeping in touch and re-connecting with old friends. It can also be a depressing source of unhappy discoveries. I have previously blogged about how many of my childhood friends have left the Faith, and how I probably wouldn’t know about most of these apostasies if it weren’t for facebook.

A similar phenomenon has developed (with a different demographic) in the past five years, as junior high kids from the Baptist camp where I pastor each summer friend me on facebook, all on fire for Jesus and stuff, only to—in many cases—immediately begin cooling off. It’s heart-breaking to see kids’ faith being slowly chipped away and the culture begin to conform them to the patterns of this world. Add to that the majority, who never saw any use for the the Gospel to begin with, and whose updates reflect the godless culture with which they’ve chosen to identify.

Yes, the tweets and such of young people (and I use that term broadly, to encapsule everyone from middle schoolers up through my own peers, now entering our mid-30s) can be an eye-opening, heart-wrenching thing to behold.

I am occasionally overwhelmed by this phenomenon, and will from time to time become very depressed by the way the youngest couple of generations have embraced carnality, relativism, and blasphemy almost in complete unison, regularly mocking and attacking the Scriptures, the Church, and the Lord in that distinctly Gen X/Millennial way that is so sarcastic, it almost makes sarcasm lose all meaning. At such times, I am tempted to go all grizzled and make blanket statements about how the end must be near, because it’s never been this bad before, blah, blah, blah. And all the while, the tweeters in question have an equal-but-opposite view of such things: We’ve never been this free, they say, this unencumbered, this evolved.

And, of course, both the would-be grizzled and the would-be evolved are dead wrong. It’s always been this way.

Sure, young people today laugh at “repressive” ethics that would cramp their experimental style with outdated biblical guidelines. They believe that all spiritual roads lead to the same God (or non-god enlightenment source). They look increasingly to purely empirical sources for Truth, even while promoting a view of truth as relative and ever-shifting. And this is all so unheard of! Why, to find another generation who thought like that, we have to go back to . . . their parents. (There’s that Gen X sarcasm again.)

Yeah, when they were young, large swaths of Boomers were largely about the Summer of love, anarchy, free-thought and legalized drugs. Damn the Man!, etc.. Now they are the Man. Most of them, anyway. It’s difficult to find a Boomer who hasn’t grown up and grow out of all that (or at least tempered it with large doses of reality). In fact, one of the most automatically funny characters in film and TV today is the Boomer still stuck in his hippy ideals, lovable for his naïveté.1

Before the Boomers, we could point to the hedonism of the beatniks in the late ’50s / early ’60s, with their own experimental drugs and sex. Or back another generation to the Roaring ’20s: swingers, flappers, jazz, and liquor. The young people who were into that scene were later the very moms and dads who sat down on the couch to watch Leave It to Beaver every week with their kids in the 1950s.

We could keep on pushing backward in history and form an unbroken chain, if we were so inclined, highlighting the culture of Rome in the 1500s or Roman Culture in the 4th Century (a brief perusal of Augustine’s Confessions will remind us that there is nothing new under the sun, and certainly nothing unique or ultimate about the current moral slide). We could follow this back to the Athenians, the Cretans, the Babylonians, the men of Sodom, all the way to Cain. They all thought they’d arrived by throwing off shackles. They scoffed at their uptight forefathers and patted themselves on the back for their wide acceptance of any vice or perversion in the name of unfettered living and shameless self-gratification. Granted, an outer veneer of decency (a la Leave It to Beaver) or righteousness (a la the Pharisees) does not necessarily indicate a right standing with God, but when a generation actively rejects God and rebels against his Word, it is a sign that they are lost. It’s happened before and it will happen again. Again and again. Until the end.

Inside the Church, we lament that we haven’t arrived anywhere good. But the fact is that we haven’t arrived anywhere at all. This is as cyclical and predictable as it gets.

I’ve got some bad news for the tweeters in question, and history will bear me out: You’re not liberated. This isn’t social, sexual, and philosophical freedom; this is bondage to sin, self, and Satan and it ends with epic emptiness and regret. This isn’t the inevitable progress toward man’s great evolution; it’s the inevitable growing pains on the way to (none-too-inevitable) maturity—the moral and intellectual equivalent of those awkward, gawky teenage years.

This is not the Revolution that won’t be televised; it’s a temper tantrum, and it’s archived on YouTube.

And this isn’t limited to generational distinctives. As Christians, we know that the wheat and the chaff will grow up together. We need to remind the Church that there will always be chaff, lest we fall into the man-centered eschatology of the old Postmillennials. But we also need to remind the world and the Church alike that there will always be wheat—no matter how unified the prominent cultures of the world may be in their rejection of Christ and his revelation (and how deep into the church visible these errors may seep), the gates of hell will never prevail against the True Church. This world will not be ceded to the enemy and Christ will prevail. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again.

I suppose, then, that it is a revolution, in that it keeps going around and around. What will cause the wheel to stop spinning is not our collectively reaching some Nirvana state of enlightenment, but the return of our Lord Jesus in glory.

With that in mind, the eye-opening, heart-wrenching proclamations of generations past and present should fill us, not with despair, but with compassion, as they did our Lord Jesus when he saw that the people were like sheep without a shepherd. They need the Great Shepherd, and we know the Great Shepherd. And as these wandering sheep, one by one, run out of fight when it comes to their Creator, and run out of interest when it comes to the “revolution,” we can be there to proclaim the Good News, and see them taken home, safe and sound.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach



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1 “There’s nothing more pathetic than an aging hipster.” -Dr. Evil
Wednesday, December 8, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

Seriously, DO call it a comeback...

While I count down the days to the release of the Crossway/Gospel Coalition title Don’t Call It a Comeback featuring pretty much every YRR superstar (including my boy Ted Kluck), there is a more urgent comeback taking place.


Once great and once defunct website, www.calvinistgadfly.com has finally and fully been resurrected by the great Frank Turk. The NEW Calvinist Gadfly is less about counter-polemics and (at least so far) more about getting back to the basics of what Calvinism is really about and how it affects our lives as disciples of Jesus. And, of course, Turk does this as only Turk can.

It also features a purple and green comic book character (the aforementioned gadfly) in a biomechanical suit of some kind, and lots of fun Calvin-related photoshop. (Turk referred to the above graphic as “almost Bartels-esque,” but I think that’s giving me too much credit.) And like any good website, fan art is part of the culture at the New Calvinist Gadfly, which means you’ll be seeing some of my humble offerings soon.

Anyway, it’s just a click away on the blogroll to your left, so go check it out. And have I mentioned that Frank Turk wrote the foreword to Younger, Restlesser, Reformeder: A Good-Natured Roast, a little humor book by me and Ted Kluck, which comes out on December 15? Well, I have now...


 
Thursday, December 2, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

Christmas Morning (and Evening)

First of all, let me just apologize for not blogging for a full month. I have been giving most of my free time (and my creative energy) to a couple of projects, which lend to this preacher’s mind a sense of Ahhh, that is complete that is ordinarily missing from a life of ministry. I will be talking your ear off about a couple of these projects soon enough. For now, let me talk about Spurgeon.

One of my very favorite preachers of all time, Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, lived from 1834-1892, and pastored the famous New Park Street Chapel in London (called there when he was only 19 years old!). I read at least one Spurgeon sermon each week and am always blown away, inspired, and convicted.

I also appreciate Spurgeon’s devotional book, Morning and Evening, which offers two short devotionals for each day of the year, one intended for reading as the day begins, and one for reading as the day ends. Each devotional entry is short—sometimes, no longer than an article in “Our Daily Bread” (which I often call “Our Daily Crouton”) but the depth and insight contained within are far beyond any modern devotional I’ve ever encountered.

If you are looking to deepen your devotional life in 2011, I highly recommend you get a hold of a copy of Morning and Evening. You can actually access this work online without trouble, and there are even a couple of sites (here and here) that will drop you off right at today's reading, but I prefer the feel of a book in my hands. Along with the Treasury of Daily Prayer, this book has been one of the greatest assets to my devotional life.

To give you a little taste, enjoy the morning and evening entries for Christmas day, which I find to be just as relevant today as they were in the 19th Century when they were first written.


Morning

”Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”-Isaiah 7:14

Let us to-day go down to Bethlehem, and in company with wondering shepherds and adoring Magi, let us see Him who was born King of the Jews, for we by faith can claim an interest in Him, and can sing, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” Jesus is Jehovah incarnate, our Lord and our God, and yet our brother and friend; let us adore and admire. Let us notice at the very first glance His miraculous conception. It was a thing unheard of before, and unparalleled since, that a virgin should conceive and bear a Son. The first promise ran thus, “The seed of the woman,” not the offspring of the man. Since venturous woman led the way in the sin which brought forth Paradise lost, she, and she alone, ushers in the Regainer of Paradise. Our Saviour, although truly man, was as to His human nature the Holy One of God.

Let us reverently bow before the holy Child whose innocence restores to manhood its ancient glory; and let us pray that He may be formed in us, the hope of glory. Fail not to note His humble parentage. His mother has been described simply as “a virgin,” not a princess, or prophetess, nor a matron of large estate. True the blood of kings ran in her veins; nor was her mind a weak and untaught one, for she could sing most sweetly a song of praise; but yet how humble her position, how poor the man to whom she stood affianced, and how miserable the accommodation afforded to the new-born King!

Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with Him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendour.

Evening

“And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.”-Job 1:5


What the patriarch did early in the morning, after the family festivities, it will be well for the believer to do for himself ere he rests tonight. Amid the cheerfulness of household gatherings it is easy to slide into sinful levities, and to forget our avowed character as Christians. It ought not to be so, but so it is, that our days of feasting are very seldom days of sanctified enjoyment, but too frequently degenerate into unhallowed mirth. There is a way of joy as pure and sanctifying as though one bathed in the rivers of Eden: holy gratitude should be quite as purifying an element as grief. Alas! for our poor hearts, that facts prove that the house of mourning is better than the house of feasting.

Come, believer, in what have you sinned to-day? Have you been forgetful of your high calling? Have you been even as others in idle words and loose speeches? Then confess the sin, and fly to the sacrifice. The sacrifice sanctifies. The precious blood of the Lamb slain removes the guilt, and purges away the defilement of our sins of ignorance and carelessness. This is the best ending of a Christmas-day-to wash anew in the cleansing fountain. Believer, come to this sacrifice continually; if it be so good to-night, it is good every night. To live at the altar is the privilege of the royal priesthood; to them sin, great as it is, is nevertheless no cause for despair, since they draw near yet again to the sin-atoning victim, and their conscience is purged from dead works.

Gladly I close this festive day,
Grasping the altar’s hallow'd horn;
My slips and faults are washed away,
The Lamb has all my trespass borne.


By the way, if you’re intrigued by the evening reading, Spurgeon preached an entire Christmas sermon from that text, which you can read here or listen to here.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach