Thursday, January 25, 2007

Listen Up

Canon Press now has Peter Leithart's "Wise Words" available in audio format. Turns out that it's my voice on the CDs. And you can take a little listen here.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I am the Father of a Woman

I am the father of a woman. I am the father of a new Eve, a Mary.

I started writing about my son fairly quickly after he was born. I’ve relayed a number of stories, anecdotes, and descriptions of his ways and words over the months and years. But my daughter is a glory. My son is a soldier, a warrior, a hero, an artist, a storyteller, and an athlete. My daughter is a sunset, a waterfall, a solar eclipse, a hurricane, and a fierce ocean. She is a lovely yet utterly terrifying person to me.

She is fierce and farseeing. She believes her knees are too easy, too rudimentary. She began doing pushups several weeks ago. At five and a half months, she pushes up on to her hands and feet, holding her head up. She holds this posture for several moments before deciding which direction to take. And she dives forward, arms out, face up, eyes open. Actually, she knows about her knees, and occasionally she resorts to them, but she has seen the world, and she knows that people use their feet. She will not be held back.

She is skeptical of attention, and I applaud her wisdom. Even when it is I who is seeking to bestow her with kindness, her approval is not easily won. Some would call it coy, but I prefer to call it cunning. She does not smile for just anyone. And when she does, her face is in motion, turning, spinning like the mystery that she is. She smirks at cameras with a knowing glance. She is not melancholy; I’ve seen her full blown smiles. It is grace and nobility.

She is aware. Her eyes are quick and sharp, assessing situations diligently. She loves her brother. Her mother and father goo and coo almost obsessively, and her brother shows up and casually says hi to her, and she breaks into laughter. She uses her hands proficiently, always pushing, pulling objects to her mouth. The universe is her table, the world her eucharist.

There’s something pejorative in the term “dramatic” as though there was something overdone, over-the-top, or else insincere. But nobility understands the centrality of the theatrical in all of life, learning to play the part of the hero, studying lines and gesture for the greatest effect, for the glory of the Audience. There’s something of the dramatic in her personality, something aware and unaware of the playfulness of life. There is no room for half-heartedness in these few years between birth and death; there is no time for a cowardly moderation. She can be subtle, content to sit and watch. She can be fierce in her disagreement with the arrangements and pour her wrath out in fury.

This is the woman I have now known for almost six months. God willing, there will be many decades of her story, with many children and grandchildren following in her wake. So here’s to you, Felicity: May your wine be mixed with wisdom and may your children and grandchildren be pillars in the palaces of righteousness.


The Rocks and Sticks of Coercion

Christians agree with Muslims that the goal of all of life (including politics) is theocracy. We agree that if God is Lord of our hearts, he must also be Lord of our state. Furthermore, we have always understood our goal and mission, as stated in the Great Commission, as the gospel of Jesus filling the earth. Our fundamental disagreement with Islam is over which God is Lord. Where Islam claims that Allah is God and Muhammad is his prophet, Christians insist that the Trinity is the one God of the universe, and that he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ. He has been given the name above every name, and it is to him that all things in heaven and on earth must bow (cf. Phil. 2:9-11).

This gives some Christians the “willies” when they remember some of the atrocities of the crusades and other “Christian” states carried out in the name of Christ. But the opposite and far worse error is the assumption that there is some realm that Jesus is not King of. Christians have for too long lived and thought like functional atheists when it comes to politics. The failure of the medieval Church, the crusades, et al was not that they believed Jesus was Lord of the state. The problem was that they came to believe that the weapon of the state (the sword) was to be preferred to the weapon of the Church (the Word of God). The Christian faith declares that God overthrew the powers of sin and darkness in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. More powerful than any two-edged sword is the Word of God, the same Word that created the worlds from nothing, the same Word that called Jesus back from the dead. The medieval Church, instead of understanding that self-sacrificing love is the way to glory and dominion, stooped to the rocks and sticks of military coercion. The irony is that in fighting Islam, we stooped to the tactics of Islam.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Islam, Muhammad, and Women

I just finished a week intensive course on Islam last week at Erskine. It was an excellent class both as an overview of the history of the second most influential religion in the world and as an introduction to Islamic theology and culture.

By some estimates, Islam is the fastest growing religion in America. It is also estimated that of American converts, women make up 65-75%. Indicative of this trend is the fact that Dr. Ingrid Mattson is the president of the Islamic Society of North America, the largest Muslim umbrella organization in North America. This marketing stunt, a disgrace to most orthodox Muslims throughout the world, flies in North America and aids their proselytizing of ignorant, abandoned, and abused American women, looking and longing for protection and love.

But you know that these scads of female converts are not being told the truth. When asked what might annul a Muslim man's prayers, Muhammad answered that there were three things that might annul his prayers. First, if a donkey walked in front of him, second, if a dog walked in front of him, and third, if a woman walked in front of him. This is one of the reasons why to this day, women pray behind the men during prayers. When it was suggested that Muhammad demeaned women with his statement, making them equal to dogs and donkeys, he replied by stating that women are worth only half as much as men because of their feeble minds. Elsewhere, after having a vision of hell, Muhammad commented that hell was mostly filled with women. Adding insult to injury, Muhammad is well known to have had at least 13 "wives" and many other concubines. His favorite wife was a 6 year old girl. But being a gentleman, the Prophet waited until she was 9 to consummate the marriage. And of course it is no surprise that the Qur'an explicitly allows, and even encourages, Muslim men to beat their wives if they are suspected of unfaithfulness.

But the list goes on. There is of course a facade of morality and modesty in the Muslim world, but the allowances for "temporary" marriage are poorly disguised houses of prostitution, not to mention the allowance of polygamy and easy divorce affected by the ever merciful three-fold declaration of "I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you."

One episode records the Prophet seeing his nephew's daughter-in-law in less than her usual apparel. Apparently his nephew saw the keen glances the Prophet was giving his wife and offered to divorce her for him. The Prophet, being the upright man he was, of course refused. But arriving home that night, he received a vision which ordered him (quite against his will) to take his nephew's offer and to marry his wife. Tales multiply of Muhammad's exploitation of women, and the legacy of the Muslim slave trade pushes the details from disgusting to horrific.

The total number of persons enslaved by Muslims is some 4 or 5 times the number enslaved by Westerners (not to excuse their faults in the least), and where the mortality rate of the western slave trade was something like 1 in 10, the Muslim slave trade sent in the neighborhood of 4 in 5 to the grave, marching them across such harrowing terrains as the Sahara Desert. And of the (by some estimates) 180 million slaves taken by Muslims through 14 centuries of aggressive slave trade activities, most were women sold as concubines. It was the usual practice to kill any children born to these slave concubines, and all male slaves were castrated.

Of course there are and have been "decent" Muslims and ignorant Muslims and liberal Muslims who would never dream of these sorts of atrocious schemes or practices and would readily denounce various abuses in the history of their faith. And well and good; and they need to renounce their nominal paganism and come to the truth in Christ. But there is a deep deception being promulgated particularly in this nation, largely motivated (I believe) by the billions of dollars being pumped into our nation's universities and various charitable organizations, all payoff money for the continuation of Islamic slavery ("submission") through lies and deceit.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Opa Comes to Town


Wine on the Third Day

We have seen today that on the “third day” on the day of resurrection, Jesus acts as a bridegroom, bringing the wine of the new covenant to Israel. But in fact, as James Jordan points out, the third day has always been associated with bread and wine. It was on the third day of creation that God created wheat and grapes. In the first creation it was on the third day that God gave bread and wine to the world. And likewise, it is in the new creation that God gives bread and wine to the world in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This means that bread and wine (and the Eucharist in particular) should be associated with resurrection life. And this is exactly what we find Jesus saying just a few chapters later in John: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (6:51-54) By the power and working of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection life of Jesus is communicated to us in the bread and the wine. But notice what this life is for: he gives us his life for the life of the world. You cannot eat this resurrection life and not become a life giving agent. So come now and feast upon life, and be strengthened to manifest that life to world.


Second Sunday in Epiphany: Exploring our Worship III: John 2:1-11

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, you have come into the world in Jesus Christ to save the world and fill it with your endless glory. We draw near to you now covered with the blood of Jesus; cut us up with the sword of your Word. Arrange us on the altar, consume us by the power of your Spirit, and so transform us into living sacrifices that we are pleasing and acceptable in your sight. For we pray with faith, knowing that you are a consuming fire, through Jesus Christ the righteous, and Amen!

We have considered worship as sacrifice, and last week we explored worship as the fierce order of God’s army, his warring hosts. One of the other most important images of worship in Scripture is the wedding/wedding feast. Epiphany or Theophany is the celebration of God’s revelation to us in Christ, God revealed in human flesh. Our gospel lesson today is particularly concerned with the first sign of that revelation of the glory of God: the miracle at a wedding in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine.

The Glory of the Bridegroom
This first sign that Jesus does is no incidental reference. John has already introduced Jesus as the Word made flesh who reveals the glory as the only begotten of the Father (1:14). When John finishes this episode with the explanation that this was the first sign that Jesus did to manifest his glory (2:11), we cannot forget that this is the glory of the Father. The fact that it is the first sign must also indicate its priority, indicating something primary about Christ’s mission. God comes into the world as a man, and after being baptized, the first thing he does is go to a wedding and turn water into wine. First, notice that Jesus is standing in for the bridegroom. The master of the feast calls for the bridegroom and praises him for setting out this “good wine” not knowing where the wine had come from (2:9). Jesus reveals God to us as the bridegroom come for a bride, come to give the good wine for a wedding feast.

Resurrection and New Creation
Secondly, notice that John labels this event as occurring on the “third day” (2:1). Given the gospel story and John’s tendency to pack meaning into texts, we cannot ignore this reference to Jesus’ mission. Here, Mary “mistakes” Jesus as the bridegroom, but we know that at the end of this gospel, Jesus will rise on the third day be “mistaken” by another Mary for a gardener. Again, remembering what will take place later, we see that this “third day” occurs just a few days after being hailed the “lamb of God,” a clear foreshadowing of Passover, death, and resurrection. On the third day, there will be wine for Israel (cf. Is. 25:6). But this “third day” reference also comes in a line of other time references. John opens famously with the phrase “in the beginning” and begins expounding Jesus as the “light of the world” followed by several references to “days” (1:29, 35, 43). Depending on how one does the math we might see this miracle on the “third day” as actually occurring on the sixth or first day of the week from the “beginning.” This creation week motif is unmistakable. Jesus manifests God as the Creator God, come to remake his people, to turn their water into wine.

Wine of Purification
Not only has God come in Jesus as the bridegroom and the creator, he comes as a new Moses-like teacher. He fills the water pots used for Jewish purification with wedding wine. The purification rites of the Old Covenant were a reminder of the Exodus: they passed through water before coming to God (at Sinai) and the land of grapes/ wine (Canaan). The old Jewish purification rites are being transformed in this new creation; as God came as a bridegroom and married Israel at Sinai, so God is come again in Jesus to marry his people. This new marriage (or remarriage) will have a new purification rite, one that involves the drinking of wine. The Old Covenant water is growing up into the New Covenant wine. Both the wedding/bridegroom theme and the wine point to the idea of maturity. In Jesus, God’s people are growing up (Gal. 4:2ff); wine is a symbol of maturity as an aged drink. And a wedding is one of the steps in maturity, the beginning of a new household. In Jesus, God is coming to his people for their graduation to adulthood; he’s coming to marry them, to renew covenant with them, to purify them with wine.

Conclusions & Applications
Worship is like a wedding. We are gathered here, week after week, to renew our wedding vows with our husband. Corporately we are the Bride of Christ, and he calls us out of the world to renew our marriage covenant. This is one of the reasons why our service is dialogical. Throughout the service there are spoken responses between the minister and the congregation. We see this pattern in the covenant at Sinai, and we still have this in our own weddings where vows and promises are made between the husband and wife. But a wedding is also a fitting description of the proper decorum of worship. Our worship is wedding-like in its solemnity and joy. It is not solemn like a funeral; it is solemn like a wedding, like graduation. It is full of deep joy. Our bridegroom still brings wine to the feast.

In this sense, worship is covenant renewal. We considered the theme of sacrifice a few weeks ago and noticed that our worship follows the order of sacrifices outlined in Leviticus 9. We also pointed out the pattern there is resident in the act of creation and in the Eucharist. But that pattern is also plainly seen in making covenants: Call, Rehearsal of separation, instructions, fellowship/meal, blessing/commission (e.g. Abram, Sinai & Israel, David). We see that this is the same pattern we saw before in creation, the sacrifices, and the Eucharist. And our worship follows the same pattern.

We are in some ways exactly like the bridegroom at Cana who was praised by the master of the Feast. Our offertory is offering up (somewhat sheepishly) what we did not make ourselves. Our bridegroom gives us gifts to give to him and for the world.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Final Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you that you have invited us (and the world) into your life and fellowship. We confess that we have attempted to horde this life and have believed that eternal life was found in fat theology books and thinking certain thoughts. But your life was manifest and gave joy to a wedding feast; your life was manifest and gave health to broken bones and hope to the broken hearted. Give us that life; and put to death our death. As we greet one another in the Peace, enable us to do it as images of your Triune love. And we ask that our peace and fellowship would be for the world.


Cling to the Light

We worship the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In God’s infinite kindness and goodness, He created the heavens and the earth and placed humanity over all to rule and fill and glorify it. But beyond merely being an enormous building project, the world was created to join the eternal fellowship of God. Creation was meant to join the symphony of God’s own glory and love. Adam and his descendents were supposed to have seen the world as an endless treasury of possibilities, all means to fellowship with the Trinity. But because of the Fall, sin has entered the world, and this means that various aspects of all of creation have been twisted and distorted. This means that as you come to worship there are some things that you must bring and there are others things that you may not bring. You are all given the choice of Cain and Able before God. You must bring the best of your labors and not settle for anything less. You must bring joy and gratitude and thanksgiving; you may not bring bitterness, anger, or pride. You must bring your voice and your hands and your ears; but you may not bring words of death, hands of violence, or ears of presumption. You are new creations in Christ Jesus, and as God divided light from darkness on the first day long ago, God speaks again, anew, and calls you to cling to the light and let all the darkness go. Put down your anger, put down your lust, put down your fear and uncertainty. Put away from yourselves harsh words and bitter thoughts. The Triune God has called you out of darkness now and in this moment; do not cling to the shadows; come into the light.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

For Aunt Molly


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Hobbit Faith

Our worship always culminates in this meal, and with David we confess that God has prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemies. And this is the gospel: yes you must obey, you must be faithful, you must sing, you must eat and fellowship with one another. But at the center of it all, in the middle of the battlefield, God invites us to sit down and eat. This reminds me of Tolkien’s hobbits who so often were concerned about when they would stop for their various meals; there is something fundamentally Christian in that picture. We are just little people in a gigantic world full of all kinds of dangers and evils. But we are with the King; the King is with us. And while we sit down and eat in the midst of the battle, our King is laying our enemies low. He fights on our behalf. So as you take up this bread and wine today do so in faith, hobbit faith. Eat the bread and see the godless fleeing to the hills; drink this wine and see giants and dragons and wicked politicians cowering before our warrior King. Eat and drink for God is giving us the Kingdom, and of its increase there shall be no end.


First Sunday in Epiphany: Luke 3:13-18, 21-22: Exploring our Worship II

Opening Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, you who have revealed yourself to the world as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we rejoice in the beauty of your holiness, your order, your mystery, and your goodness. We confess that we have believed the lie that believes spontaneity is more spiritual, more holy, and more lovely. Teach us to glory in the dance, to rejoice in the play, and to offer it all up to you in the vigor and ferocity of the Spirit. We pray in the power of that Spirit and in the name of our King Jesus, Amen!

Epiphany or Theophany is the celebration of God’s revelation to us in Christ. Historically the church has remembered the wise men from the east during this season, the baptism of Christ in the Jordan, and his first miracles beginning with the wedding feast of Cana. All of these are manifestations of Christ as God. It was prophesied that the nations would bring gifts and worship God; so in the wise men, the nations worship God as a little child. In the baptism of Jesus, not only does God the Father glorify Christ as his “beloved son” but the Trinity is revealed as the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove. Finally, the miracles of Jesus beginning in Cana, are spoken of by John as “signs” that manifest the glory of Jesus (Jn. 2:11). Our gospel lesson today is concerned with the ministry of John and the baptism of Jesus as recorded by Luke which focuses on the manifestation of the kingdom of God in the disciples, the manifestation of the work of Christ, and the manifestation of the Trinity. As we continue to explore our worship, these are three significant aspects that are not only present in all of life, but uniquely present in the corporate worship of God’s people.

Worship is discipleship. You are being trained for battle and you are taking part in battle. No military training, no martial execution can be carried out without attention paid to details. The Old Covenant shows us God’s concern for the details: Eden, tabernacle, Leviticus, and the temple. But these were all pictures to be fulfilled in the church. This is why Paul rejoices to see the “order” of the Colossians (Col. 2:5). The word for “order” is “taxis” which means “military formation, array, tactics, and constitution.” Paul is rejoicing in the military formation of the Colossians, not their informality, casualness, or spontaneity. This is because we worship in the Spirit. The Spirit is the presence in Creation, in the Exodus (Ex. 13:18ff), in the tabernacle (pillars), and in Solomon’s temple. This is the Spirit of discipleship that unites us to God and all his people, and the Spirit cannot be tamed (e.g. Samson) but the Spirit is orderly. God rejoices to see our order because we are his armies, his hosts (e.g. Revelation).

Christ as Baptizer
John says that the Christ will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. This is the same Spirit who comes upon men and empowers them with extraordinary skills, often martial (Ex. 31:3, Jdg. 3:10, 14:19, 1 Sam. 11:6). The Spirit-glory presence also filled places of worship and fire was often the physical manifestation of this presence (Ex. 4:34, 1 Kgs. 11:8). When Psalm 72:19 prays for God to fill the world with His glory, part of this prayer is for God to make the world like the Temple, to fill the earth with the beauty and order of God’s house. In Ezekiel 10-11 where the glory presence of God is departing, God leaves the temple in order to be “a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone” (Ez. 11:16). The reason the sanctuaries of the Old Covenant were ordered and constructed as they were is because they reflected the very person of God. This means that spontaneous, informal worship (however well-intentioned) is seeking to fill the world with a foreign glory. It is not the fullness of the glory of God.

The Trinity
In the baptism of Christ, we see the Trinity revealed: the Father glorifying the Son, the Spirit descending upon the Son, and we know from John’s words that the Spirit is descending upon Jesus so that he may pour it out upon His people, to conform them to the image of the Trinity, to make them his sanctuary, reflecting his order and beauty. When we say that God is love, we mean that God eternally loves. When God is good, we mean that God eternally shows his goodness. This can be the case because the persons of the Trinity eternally relate to one another in this dance of love and goodness. He is the original army, the original battle formation, and he rejoices to see us reflecting that same joyful, fearsome order. Orderly worship should reflect this dance, like the moves of a martial artist, like well executed warfare. This is glorious; this is the beauty of holiness.

Conclusions and Applications
1. Worship is the work of God’s people. The construction of the tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, and the restored temple under Nehemiah and the worship they offered were not easy. And the New Testament clearly teaches that if there has been any shift, worship has not become more casual, it has become more glorious (Heb. 12:18ff). And glory is heavy, weighty, and it takes work. And just because something is hard doesn’t make it good.

2. Our liturgy is very regimented and planed. This should not feel oppressive; it is actually meant to be freedom. You are given much to say and sing and do, and like dance steps, martial arts moves, they should become natural over time. Our worship is also very corporate. Since our worship is in Christ, all of Christ worships. You are in Him, and He is our head. We plan and write everything out because you are part of all of it.

3. Our worship is full of Psalms and Psalm-like hymns because these are the war songs of our King. We’re here for battle not to get “hooked up” with Jesus. Jesus is not your boyfriend; he is not your buddy. He doesn’t invite you here to “hang out” with him. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he did not break out into “This Little Light of Mine” or “Shine Jesus Shine.” We are here for battle. Christmas is the birth of our king, our hero, our captain, and our champion. He has led us into battle and has conquered the foe. And he has sent his Spirit of glorious, fearsome order into us that we might carry on this battle through worship.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Final Prayer: High and Majestic Lord of the Universe, you have called us into your glorious presence in the power of your fearsome Spirit. We confess that so often in our worship of you we have insisted upon using rubber bands and sticks for battle when you have offered us swords and battle axes. We glorify your beauty and majesty now, and we give you praise and thanks that you have invited us into your hosts; for you have made us your knights and soldiers here. We know that the praises of Israel brought the walls of Jericho down, and it will be the joyful praise of your people that will subdue the nations of this world to your Christ. Therefore we ask you to grow us up, and give us courage.


Faithful Wounds

Once there were some high school students standing around talking. One young man, a senior in high school, suggested that it would be cool to go out to see a new movie that was well known to be full of sexual immorality and foul language and crass humor. One of the other young men, a freshman, immediately replied with a sharp fist to his jaw. Stunned and fighting back tears, the senior licked his now bloodied lip and asked, “What was that for?” And the freshman answered, “So you can remember not say such a foolish thing again.” Their teacher had seen the scuffle from across the room, and now arrived on the scene. The young man who had delivered the punch admitted what he had done and said, “I just didn’t like what he said so I punched him.” The teacher thought it was very uncharacteristic for this young man to just randomly punch people for things they said he didn’t like, but when pressed, the boy refused to say anything more. So without anything else to go on, the teacher gave the offending freshman detention after school. And I tell you the truth: the freshman who bloodied his older friend’s lip went home justified. For faithful are the wounds of a friend and greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Need to take a Walk?

Here's one idea.


Friday, January 05, 2007

New Camera Fun

Brother and sister pose for Dad. This new camera has a number of different settings and options (which is what we wanted), but it's going to take a little while to get the hang of it. We ended up getting the Fujifilm Finepix F30 which is renowned particularly for its low-light pictures. But I saw enough good daylight photographs to be convinced that this camera would do well enough anywhere.

Here's a shot just outside our side porch. You can see from the 'shine' that it's been raining here today. This was just a literal 'point and shoot' on automatic settings. It was one of the most crisp shots we had all day.

Here's Dad playing with the black & white setting. Of course River was happy to play along.

This was Mom's favorite shot. Felicity has just gotten her first tooth, and apart from continuing to be River's biggest fan, she is just a motor skill away from crawling. She gets on her hands and knees, does a good bit of rocking, scooting, and even lunging. If she can just work out some kind of cooperation between moving the front end and the back end she will be unstoppable.


Mapquest Your Bible

This looks pretty nifty.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Flies on a Corpse

It seems strange that as Christians who celebrate the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone (JFA), we have historically been so impotent to bring justice to our own families, churches, neighborhoods and cities. The doctrine of JFA means that God does not wait for us to be good, honest, clean or hard working before He overwhelms us with his favor. He looks down on our train wreck lives and wicked hearts and smiles. He rolls up his sleeves and gets busy with us even while we are dead in our trespasses and sins, when we are kicking and screaming like an ignorant, snot-faced toddler. This is God's justice; his righteousness is saving us from our sins, our guilt, our families, our selves, and giving us a new life through the Holy Spirit which re-creates us and enables us to be re-creators in our homes, communities, and neighborhoods. This means that to be champions of God's grace, to be Truly Reformed, Truly clinging to Christ in whom we have Justification, we must be extending this same kind of justice to our families, neighbors, co-workers, and even (perhaps especially) our enemies.

This means that the drunk upstairs, the jerk boss, your nagging wife, the bratty kid down the street, your strict parents, the pot-head across the street, your demanding child, and the chain smoking single mom who watches Soaps all day are opportunities for you to display justice. The justice of God is not "getting what you deserve" otherwise we are all damned. The justice of God is getting mercy and love and favor even when we are sick, worthless, and belligerent enemies. It is not justice to shove a tract into someone's hand and hope for the best. It is not justice to ignore the person right and front you and hope to pray for them later. This is why James says that merely saying some kind of trite "hope you feel better" while doing nothing for their actual situation is dead faith. And James ties this directly to the doctrine of Justification. He says that dead faith does not justify because it is not clinging to the justice of God in Christ. Dead faith is a filthy corpse (Js. 2:14-26). In other words, ignoring the needs right in front you is a form of injustice. Yeah, there's a lot of injustice in the world, and we are the problem.

Of course all justice must be sought with great wisdom and discernment, but inaction is not the answer. Glib expressions and good intentions are just flies on a cadaver. There's something moving alright, but it ain't the stiff.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Baptismal Regeneration

A friend wrote and asked me today, "Do you believe in baptismal regeneration?" I figure this is as good a time as any to answer the same question here. Below is largely what I wrote to him.

As regards your question about "baptismal regeneration": It depends on what you mean by the phrase. If you mean the Roman Catholic doctrine which holds that an infant is automatically regenerated in baptism, then no, we don't believe in baptismal regeneration. However, we do believe that Trinitarian baptism does bring people into covenant with Christ. Baptism is spoken of in Scripture as uniting people to the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:3-4, Col. 2:11-12), and this union is regeneration IF it is received by faith (note Col. 2:12) but it is not automatic. As we understand it then, baptism does truly bring about a covenant relationship between the person baptized and the Lord Jesus. But we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). All that to say, we would describe baptism as something like a wedding. There is a real covenantal union that takes place, but covenants are kept by faith or broken by unfaithfulness. Faithfulness/unfaithfulness will fulfill that covenantal union (salvation) or destroy it (apostasy/damnation). And of course as Calvinists, we believe that all of this is ultimately in the hands of our heavenly Father, but this does not negate our own human responsibility to perservere in faith, clinging to Jesus Christ. We should also note that "faith" is something that is often attributed to little children and infants; Jesus even makes their faith a model for us. So while we still do not want to insist on any sort of automatic baptismal regeration, a more full-orbed biblical approach would nevertheless see baptismal regeneration as far from impossible and perhaps more frequent than we commonly think, not because of some kind of magic in the water, but given what Scripture says about infants and little children and their faith (e.g. Ps. 22:9-10, Mt. 18:3, Mk. 9:42, 10:15).

Of course Scripture is our ultimate authority, but the Westminister Confession of Faith is our church's secondary confessional statement. As you're probably aware, this statement is one of the most widely accepted confessions of faith for historic Presbyterians.

Below is the WCF statement on baptism. Notice the first paragraph that describes "regeneration" as one of the things that baptism is a "sign and seal" of, but also notice the fifth and sixth paragraphs which make it clear that salvation is not inextricably tied to baptism and that the grace of baptism may be applied by the Holy Spirit in varying ways and at various times.

Of Baptism.
I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, or his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus
Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in his Church until the end of the world.

II. The outward element to be used in the sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person.

IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized.

V. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

VI. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time.

VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered to any person.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

We are the Menu

We’ve noticed before that the sacrifices of God are spoken of in the Old Testament as the “bread” of God. God consumes these sacrifices as they are offered up in smoke on the altars of Israel. But every sacrifice began by laying hands on the head of the animal: the point was that the worshipper identified himself with the animal. Therefore when the animal was killed, the worshipper symbolically was killed. When the animal was consumed by God in fire and smoke, the worshipper was covenantally consumed by God in the fire and smoke. In other words, the bread of God was never really the blood and fat of goats and rams. The bread of God has always been his own faithful people. Therefore Paul says “For we being many are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17) In other words, in the act of eating we are being eaten. As we consume the bread of the Eucharist, we are enacting and symbolizing the one loaf, the bread of God. It is in this sense that the Eucharist can be spoken of rightly as a sacrifice. Not a bloody sacrifice, not (god forbid) a re-sacrifice of Christ on the cross. But a true sacrifice, what all those Old Covenant shadows pointed to in Christ: union and communion with the Triune God. So come consume and thereby be consumed. Eat the bread and thereby become the bread. Our God is a consuming fire, and we are the menu.


First Sunday in Christmas: Exploring our Worship I: Leviticus 9

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting Father, we live in a generation of great confusion regarding how your people are to worship you. We confess that this is because of our own arrogance and presumption, and because we have not sought you with a whole heart. Be merciful to us now, O God. You are Emmanuel, and therefore we would draw near to you because you have first come near to us in Jesus. Teach us to worship you faithfully. For it’s in the good name of Jesus we pray, Amen!

This is the Second Sunday in the season of Christmas. We do not celebrate the birth of Jesus out of slavish obligation; we celebrate it out of exuberant gratitude. And historically the church has been so exuberant that it has taken at least 12 days to get all the wiggles out. But worship is our continual feast and celebration of the entire life of Christ. Every Lord’s Day is Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, and all of the Saints wrapped into one. Every Lord’s Day we celebrate the gospel and the story of redemption unfolding in history. Therefore our Lord’s Day worship is central to the Christian life and therefore it is a very important subject to all Christians. Worship is the beginning and the end of faithfulness, and therefore, it is fitting to begin our new year considering this central matter. In an important sense, worship is what Christians do; it is our main job description. Therefore it is important to know what we’re doing and why we do it.

Old and New Covenant Worship
How does God say that we must worship Him? This is an enormous subject, but the simplest answer is that the Old and New Testaments teach that we are to worship God sacrificially. This sounds scary to some for various reasons. In the Old Covenant, there were bloody sacrifices that pointed toward the cross of Jesus. Hebrews says that Christ’s work on the cross was the final bloody sacrifice atoning for sin (Heb. 10:12). His blood enables us to make the sacrifices which God has always desired more than that of goats and rams: sacrifices of praise (cf. Is. 1, Mk. 12:44). Therefore, Romans 12:1 says that we are to present our bodies as “living sacrifices” which is our reasonable “liturgy.” Hebrews 13:15 exhorts us to offer the “sacrifice of praise.” Peter says that we are a “holy priesthood” called to offer “spiritual sacrifices” (1 Pet. 2:5). And these “spiritual sacrifices” are offered through Christ, our high priest, offering himself (and us) to the Father, drawing near to the Holy of Holies through his blood (Heb. 10:19-22).

Drawing Near
As Hebrews indicates, the act of worship is “drawing near.” Moses and the Levites are spoken of as being those who “draw near” to Yahweh (cf. Lev. 9:5, Ex. 19:22, Num. 3:6). The same idea is present when Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah, and he “draws near” to speak to God (Gen. 18:23). Eating of the Passover, was spoken of as “drawing near” (Ex. 12:48). But we must notice that all these acts of “drawing near” are precipitated by God’s own (drawing near) presence and instructions. Normally, through the Old Testament, believers “drew near” through sacrifice, and Hebrews indicates that this is the same in the New Covenant. The difference is that we have the ultimately pleasing and efficacious sacrifice: praise and obedience.

Christ Alone
Since our worship is an act of drawing near to the God of heaven, it must be initiated by God himself. And in this sense our worship is based on Emmanuel, God with us, God having drawn near to us. Our worship is centered on Christ and offered in and by Christ. We with the Reformers insist upon solus Christus. Salvation is in Christ alone, by Christ alone, and likewise our worship is the same. Our prayers and songs and eating and drinking and listening and speaking are all offered up in Christ and received as pleasing and acceptable only through the person and work of Christ. Emmanuel is not just good news that God has drawn near to us in our predicament; but that God in drawing near to us, in Christ, has invited us to draw near to him.

Conclusion & Applications
Our worship follows the sacrificial pattern of worship found here (Lev. 9) and elsewhere in Scripture (Num. 6:14 cf. Ez. 45:17). It also follows the general pattern of creation, individual sacrifices, and even the rite of the Lord’s Supper: taking, breaking, remaking, and resting. In an important sense, the Eucharist is the center of our worship; it is the culmination of worship, but the rest of the service is an enacting of the Eucharist itself.

Our worship is in heaven. Following the argument from Hebrews 10 to 12, we see “drawing near” to the Holy of Holies is, by faith, a taste of heaven (Heb. 12:18-29). We are gathering with the faithful (Heb. 11) around the throne of God to be consumed by the fire of God. We are the living sacrifices ascending in smoke to be a pleasing aroma to the Lord. This is why we have a processional and recessional, symbolizing our ascent and descent to that mountain that cannot be touched. This is why following the Confession and Assurance of Forgiveness, we speak about lifting our hearts to the Lord (Sursum Corda), acknowledge the presence of all the host of heaven (Preface), cry out with them “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Sanctus cf. Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8), and finally plead the mercy and grace of God for ourselves, our church, and the world (Kyrie).

As we embark on a new civic calendar year, it is good to be reminded that worship is central. Here God is remaking us: drawing near to us so that we can draw near to him. This transformation is accomplished as God wields the sword of the Word, cutting us up; we are arranged on the altar and the fire of God consumes us by the power of the Holy Spirit. But in that very act, God is re-creating us, and he then sends us back into the world as new Adams and new Eves commissioned and authorized to rule and take dominion.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Final Prayer: Almighty God, Father, Son, and Spirit: we know and believe that you are a consuming fire. We too often read our prayers and sing our songs as though you were far off and distant. But you are a consuming fire, and you are here and you are present with us. Therefore we offer all that we are to you now. We offer our bedrooms and our offices, our computers and our cell phones, our worship and our jobs, our words and our thoughts, our televisions and our checkbooks, our hands and our tongues, our hearts and our minds: all that we are and do. These are all altars to you, the Triune God of the Universe. And wherever we have erected altars to idols, we ask that you would come near to us now and tear them all down.


Real Accountability

We live in a day and age where no one wants real accountability. We serve the gods of self, autonomy, and the almighty “I”. And when someone stands up and says that’s wrong, that’s stupid, or that’s foolish; there is a high likelihood that that person is going to get laughed, mocked, or dragged off the stage. Now truly there are some busybodies and kooks in the world that draw this “persecution” to them selves like a lightening rod in a thunderstorm. But Jesus clearly shows us an example of a righteous big mouth. Throughout the gospels, Jesus busies himself with condemning and mocking the established godless traditions of the culture. When God raises up reformation in the church, worship and godliness is exalted and all godlessness is condemned and mocked for the death that it loves. Therefore, I call upon you to repent of a twofold sin: first, stop picking fights with your wife and your children. Stop criticizing your parents for their rules; stop speaking disrespectfully to your husband. Secondly, point your weapons elsewhere. We are the light of the world; and the light exposes darkness. When God gives us reformation, he will give men and women the minds of the men of Issachar who understood the times (1 Chr. 12:32) and are fearless to point it out in public. When God gives us reformation, the voice of the church will rise above the barely audible murmur that it now emits to the authoritative declaration of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of life. That is real accountability. And as that day comes, we can expect that they will want to do to us what they did to our Lord.