Thursday, March 29, 2007

How to Make Coffee at Erskine Seminary


Yahweh Gives Rest

Yahweh is our master and Lord. But he is not like Pharaoh; he does not make us produce bricks without hay. He is not deaf to our pleas. God always hears our prayers, and he gives us all that we need. He gives us our daily bread. We are his servants; therefore he does ask us to follow him. He asks us to obey him. But his law is freedom; his yoke is easy and his burden is light. But we are called to this life in faith. You are called to believe the promises of God, plead the promises of God to God, and to come here to receive the strength of God for all your tasks. Here, God gives himself to you, his life to you, for strength for blessing, for all your tasks, for all your labors. Eating here means that you are strengthened to obey out there. So come and eat as servants of Yahweh. Come drink as the subjects of the King of Heaven and Earth. And believe the Word of God that says come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.


Fifth Sunday in Lent: Exodus V

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, all wisdom is found in you. In you are all the depths and mysteries of all wisdom and knowledge. And yet we know that you are near to us; and your word is not far off. It is right here in front of us. Therefore show us your favor now by feeding us with your Word. Give us your Spirit who searches the deep things of God, and feed us with your good Word, O Lord. Through Jesus Christ, and Amen!

Many things in life are exciting at the beginning. The first few years of marriage, a new baby, a new job, a new home, etc. But every good gift comes with challenges. Maturity means growth which means growing pains. But God calls us to faithfulness even in these growing pains; he calls us to faithfulness we hit those first bumps. Moses’ experience here with Pharaoh is no exception.

To Feast and Sacrifice
Notice that the dialogue here is set up to present Yahweh speaking directly to Pharaoh. They speak as the mouth of Yahweh. Pharaoh even understands this in his response by questioning why he should listen to his “voice” (5:2). Aaron/Moses is the voice of Yahweh (cf. 4:16). This is why the church has always taught that preaching the gospel is the word of God (Rom. 10:14, 2nd Helvetic Confession). This is why a “quiet time” is not enough. God works through his Church.

The reason given to Pharaoh for letting Israel go is initially so that Israel can go “feast” before Yahweh (5:1). After Pharaoh’s rebuff they elaborate that they are to go only three days’ journey into the wilderness to have a sacrifice (5:3). This second request is more closely the actual wording that was given by God (3:18). Their reasoning is that they must obey Yahweh lest you strike them with sword or pestilence (cf. 9:3, 15). But the Pharaoh immediately changes the subject: why are Moses and Aaron interrupting the work of the Hebrews (5:4)? We assume that the elders of the people were with Aaron and Moses (3:18), and therefore Pharaoh was not just referring to Moses and Aaron.

Bricks without Straw
Pharaoh’s strategy is actually quite brilliant. His plan is to turn the people against Moses and Aaron. He does this at two levels: first he assigns the taskmasters not to give the usual rations of hay for making the bricks without lessening the number they have to make. He accuses them of laziness (5:8-9). They have too much time on their hands; that’s why they are listening to Moses and Aaron, “gazing on false words” (v. 9). The task masters go out and call the people together and announce “thus says Pharaoh” which is the exact same words that Yahweh has brought to Pharaoh (5:1). This is a battle for authority; whose word must be obeyed? This takes us back to the garden (Gen.3:1). The text says that the people “scattered” to gather straw over the “whole land” much like God scattered the nations at Babel (Gen. 11:4-9). Secondly, Pharaoh knows or suspects that this won’t work out very well and the officers are beaten for not producing the same number of bricks, for not completing the “ordinance/command” of Pharaoh (5:14). Not only are the voices competing, but there are two competing laws (e.g. 12:24, 15:26). The officers respond by pleading with Pharaoh as abused “servants.” Pharaoh has made Israel “serve” him (1:13-14), but Yahweh demands that his people “serve” him (3:12, 4:23). But the officers are pleading with Pharaoh as though he is their rightful master. Pharaoh’s response reveals what kind of master he is: he is a cruel taskmaster (5:17-19). This not only turns the people against Moses, but it also turns their officers against him (5:21).

Let Yahweh Judge
When the officers come out of the presence of Pharaoh, they “meet” and “encounter” Moses and Aaron, the very same words used to describe how Yahweh has or will come to Israel (v. 3). This is exactly what will happen shortly: Israel will go out from Pharaoh and “meet” and “encounter” Yahweh, but in the mean time, Moses is God to them (4:16). Their pleas for mercy having been rejected, they utter what is probably meant to be a curse, asking Yahweh to look on Moses and judge given what has happened to them. They say that their “smell stinks in the eyes of Pharaoh.” This will not be the last time God causes Pharaoh to be offended with foul smells (7:18, 8:14). In fact they have become such a bad smell they fear that there is sword in the hand of Pharaoh’s servants to slay them (5:21). Interestingly, the very things that Moses and Aaron warned of in verse 3 are symbolically fulfilled. The sword and pestilence have come.

Conclusion & Application
Moses immediately returns to Yahweh and asks why he has done evil to this people and why he has sent him (5:22). And his final complaint is that Yahweh has not delivered his people since Moses has gone to Pharaoh and things have only gotten worse (5:23). Of course we remember that God has already promised that Pharaoh will need lots of convincing (3:19, 4:21). One good thing to remember is that this whole story probably took place over a considerable period of time. The Exodus was not over in two weeks. The entire story is probably a period of at least a number of months. Time has a way of making us doubt the Word of God.

While Moses uses very strong words, his prayer assumes a deep faith. The officers pray that God look and judge their case against Moses. And Moses turns and brings the lawsuit against God. Moses is the prosecuting attorney. This chapter presents the struggle between masters, between laws, and ultimately between words. Whose word is Israel bound to obey? Moses pleads with God according to God’s Word (cf. 3:8). The application is two fold: First, you are called to patience. Wait on the Lord. Do what is right today. Be faithful with the task in front of you, and wait on the Lord. Secondly, as Christians we must learn to pray biblically. Prayer is speaking to the judge of earth and heaven on behalf of the world. We stand in the righteousness of Christ by faith, and therefore we must learn to plead with God and bring our cases before him confidently.

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

Closing Prayer: Great judge of heaven and earth, you are good and righteous and holy. And we are your people. Therefore we plead with you to be true to your Word. Plant your Word deep in our lives, produce fruit in our lives that is lovely and pleasing in your sight, and deliver us from all evil.


Honoring the Marriage Bed

We live in a culture that hates sex. Our culture disdains this good gift of God in many different ways. But they do this most insistently in how they present what a woman is to be. The world invites women to dress like prostitutes, and it makes fun of those who seek to protect their wives and daughters and sisters. The world presents one night stands as normal, exciting, and fulfilling. Television, movies, and magazines present men and women who are barely clothed hanging out as though they were happy, as though they were having fun. But these are all lies and slanders. All of these treat women as objects to be used and sex as a mindless fling.

Sex is a good gift of God, but it was given to be enjoyed in the context of marriage. God gives beauty and loveliness to women not to be cheaply displayed: hawking wares as though their bodies were some kind of cheap, drug store trinket. The Scriptures exhort every husband to cherish his wife, and to rejoice in the wife of his youth, and Solomon says; let her breasts satisfy you at all times. Men, no other woman’s breasts are your business. Women, your beauty is for your husband and not to be sold for attention or security. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; it is claimed by the Word of God. It is for his service and his glory.

As Christians we are called by God to hate the slanders of our culture. Every skanky picture in the mall is an affront to Christian marriage. Every cheap, lust-filled date mocks and dishonors the marriage bed which has been sanctified by God. As Christians we are called to honor the marriage bed. And we must teach our children these things.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Resurrection Ball 2007

Resurrection is coming.

This ain't about chicks and bunnies.
This ain't about springtime.
This ain't no phoenix myth.

This is about the world made new
when the Lord Jesus walked out of a grave
2,000 years ago.

Thus we must party.
Thus we must dance and boogy down.

Black tie invited, Jane Austen attire--even better.
$15 for individuals,
$25 for couples and families

Live music, Hors d'oeuvres, Psalm singing, brewed libations, and copious amounts of peeps.

Bring your children, bring your parents, bring your friends: This is an event for the whole family of the Triune God.

When: 6pm April 14, 2007
Where: The Davenport
230 Trade Street
Greer, SC


Saturday, March 24, 2007

My Brother's Left the Country

My brother Andy just left for Trujillo, Peru for a week. I don't know all the details, but this is an exploratory trip to meet some of the folks at the Peru Mission. Good friends of our family, Charlie and Ray Gibson are down there now for several months before Charlie heads up to Covenant Seminary for a year or two. His plan is to end up back in Peru.

Andy is spending his Spring Break serving down in Peru this week, and the thought is to perhaps go back for a longer stint if things look promising for him.

From what I've read and heard, the Peru Mission seems like an excellent approach to missions. The wholistic approach to evangelism and parish ministry is something more "home" missionaries would do well to adopt.

At any rate, keep my brother in your prayers as he travels and attempts to use his freshly aquired knowledge of Spanish.


J.S. Bach

The Christian Almanac records that on March 21st, 1685 Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenarch, Thuringia (modern day Germany). Bach was a master composer who is remembered for his artistic brilliance as well as his diligent labor. After the 45 years it took to compile and organize the fruit of Bach's labors, his musical compositions filled some sixy volumes, all work done while filling the occupations of organist, conductor, musical director of church services, and teaching lessons to boys. Throughout his life, Bach received no widespread fame or fortune. He faced the struggles of the death of his first wife, death of children, difficult financial circumstances, not to mention various conflicts with church officials and eventual blindness. Nevertheless, Bach's prodigous productivity proves a life of faithfulness and diligence. When asked about his work, he replied, "I worked hard." And from his labor came some of the best-crafted and most lovely music in music history. "The Saint Matthew Passion," "Mass in B-minor," "The Brandenburg Concertos," and hundreds of other pieces were written and crafted throughout his life. But it would be some 80 years after the master artisan's death before his music would gain renown, influence, and fame proving Bach's conviction that honest work is blessed simply by being done before the Lord and for his glory. And thus he always noted at the end of every composition, "Soli Deo Gloria," To God alone belongs all the glory.

May God give us diligence in our labors and bless us as we work before him and for his glory.

The sermon text for this Sunday will be Exodus 5, and our other lessons will be from Phil. 3:8-14 and Luke 20:9-19.


Passover Power

Every time we gather at this table we are celebrating the great and glorious Passover of Jesus Christ. We lift up the blood and body of Christ, reminding God that we are covered in the blood of Christ. And as we do this, proclaiming our Lord’s death, the Angel of Death passes over us and does battle on our behalf. God is at war with all our enemies.

Therefore, this is our Exodus meal. And every week we prepare once again to enter the Promised Land, to take dominion, to follow God’s law, and to plunder the Egyptians. But we do not rule by might or by power. We rule in the power of the Spirit. And that does not mean that we do not rule. It means that we believe that the most powerful force in the history of the world is resurrection, and we will not settle for anything less.

In battles, great generals have sometimes made their troops wait until nearly the last minute before firing, making sure that the first volley gets the greatest effect. In the gospel we proclaim the death of Christ as the death of death. Therefore our General bids us lay our lives down, to become servants and slaves of all. For the last shall be first. The least shall be greatest. He who gives his life up will find it. This is the power of the resurrection, the glory of Passover, and the authority of the Spirit of God who does battle on our behalf and gives us the glory and the victory.


Fourth Sunday in Lent: Exodus 4:1-31

Opening Prayer: Almighty and gracious Lord, we humble ourselves before you now and ask that you would deal with us. We thank you that you do not deal with us only where we should have been, but you come and meet us where we are. Empower your word and remake us. And as we are humbled before your word, lift us up and exalt us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!

Jesus says that the man who wants to be great must become a servant. (Mt. 20:25ff).

The Signs for the Elders
Notice that both of the first two signs have to do with healing and making useful. The serpent is the same word for serpent in Genesis 3 suggesting that Moses will lead the people to reverse the dominion of the serpent (“dragon” in 7:9ff). Remember, that Pharaoh is a “seed of the serpent” at war with the “seed of the woman” who is being “fruitful and multiplying.” Notice also that both signs have to do with the hand. The hand of man is his tool for work, the most basic technology. The rod of course is an extension of a man’s hand, a tool for shepherding sheep. As we noted with the burning bush, these signs are probably also meant to picture something fundamental about Israel and her situation in Egypt. Under Joseph, Israel had exerted great influence for the blessing of Egypt. Israel, under Joseph’s leadership had been a “helping hand” and a “shepherd” for Egypt and even all the nations around them. But Israel has fallen from this high calling. Leprosy will always have strong associations with Egypt as a plague (Num. 14:3, 37, Lev. 13-14). The final sign shows how God is going to accomplish his work. Through Moses, not only is God going to tame the serpent-Pharaoh and heal the uncleanness of his people, but Yahweh will also do battle with the gods of Egypt. The Nile was the most important source of life in ancient Egypt and one of their principle gods. But Moses will pour out the Nile on the ground and instead of being fruitful and giving life it will turn to blood and death. Remember, that it has already been a source of death to the Hebrew baby boys. The Nile god has killed the sons of Israel. Idolatry is death.

Moses and Aaron
We should notice that Moses is a little more than reluctant to take up God’s call on his life. But this is somewhat understandable given how his leadership was taken 40 years ago (2:14). Yet, Moses’ persistent reluctance is not excusable finally resulting in Yahweh’s anger (4:14). He has gone from asking “why me?” (3:11) to “what is your name” (3:13) to “what if they don’t believe me?” (4:1) to “I’m not a good public speaker” (4:10) and now finally “send someone else, please” (4:13). This passage could also be described as a battle of the “I’s.” The Hebrew first person pronoun for “I” is used repeatedly back and forth between Moses and God (3:6, 11, 12, 13, 4:10, 11, 12, 15, 23). While this is not particularly strange, it seems significant given the name God has given himself of “I AM” (3:14). Moses may have any number of excuses for being reluctant, but the fact is that God doesn’t care. God is the God of our fathers, the God who rules nature, the God who is with our words, and the God who is determined to accomplish his purposes. We are not sufficient of ourselves, but we are not by ourselves. “I AM” is with us and with our mouths (4:12, 15). Finally, God allows Moses to share the task with Aaron, but this concession is not a relenting of God’s purposes; it only lessens Moses’ glory in the Exodus.

Proleptic Passover
After asking for Jethro’s blessing to leave, God speaks to Moses once more and makes even more explicit his interest in his people. Israel is his son, and he will take Pharaoh’s son if he does not let His son go to serve him (4:22-23). This is to be a battle between lords. Yahweh requires the service of his son, and Pharaoh is usurping Yahweh’s authority. Then, on the way into the land, Yahweh comes to kill Moses’s son (4:24). We know it is his son because it is the circumcision of his son that turns away God’s wrath (4:26). This is a somewhat mysterious event, but given the context we should be able see what God intends to teach Moses here. Evidently, Moses’ son had not been circumcised. Circumcision is the sign of God’s covenant promises. This display of blood reminded God of his promise to Abraham to be his God and make him into a nation (Gen. 15). Here, Zipporah circumcises her son and touches it to her son’s legs (4:15). Many translations do not get this right. The point is that Zipporah is displaying the blood of the circumcision to turn away the “angel of death.” She calls him a “bridegroom of blood” reminding us that the covenant is a marriage to God. What we have here is yet another preview of the Exodus in the life of Moses. Yahweh will deliver his son by providing Passover blood, and all who are covered in the blood will be “passed over” and delivered.

Conclusion & Application
Moses and Aaron call the elders of the people together. Aaron speaks and Moses performs the signs (4:30). The response of the elders is worship (4:31). We should remember that this is the driving motivation for bringing the Israelites out in the first place (3:18). Of course God knows (and Pharaoh knows) that the freedom to worship would turn into freedom in life. Worship drives culture and society. We’ve previously noted that the Israelites had fallen into idolatry in Egypt (Josh. 24:14). We’ve also pointed out how far the Israelites have fallen in society: from Joseph/Jacob as rulers/shepherds and Israel as an upper class in the Egyptian society to slaves. These two realities are not unrelated. Liturgical idolatry is slavery and leads to a slave culture.

We are called to worship God faithfully and in faith; this is the single most important thing that we do. But this worship is not unrelated to the rest of our lives. Freedom here necessarily creates freedom out there. But freedom is never just doing whatever we want. Freedom is receiving the law of God with faith and joy. Freedom is the ability to rule through service. Freedom is the opportunity to lay our lives down for the sake of others. This is true authority. This is not a gimmick, a joke, a play on words. It is real authority, and all other attempts are fakes.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty God, we bow and worship before you now as the only true God, the high king of heaven and earth. To you belongs all glory, all honor, and all majesty. We worship you now in the power of your Spirit and in the truth of your Word. In this humility we ask you to exalt us; as we serve, make us to rule.


The Sin of Taking Offense

As we seek to build covenant community here, we are seeking to be involved in each other’s lives. This is good and right and as it should be, but whenever people get together, even Christian people get together, sin occurs. People will say and do things that are not true, good, or lovely. This is a fact. The question is not whether but when this will happen. And the only question after that is how will you deal with these situations? How will you respond when someone snubs you? How will you respond when some says something untrue or belittling about you? The gospel requires that you respond with love and kindness. This is not an option. This is not for “super-Christians.” This is the basic duty of every Christian. It is a sin to take offense even when you have been legitimately wronged. To take offense is to refuse to extend forgiveness. To take offense is to consider yourself more important than even God, who in his infinite kindness forgives us over and over and over again. When you are wronged you may not take offense, and your only options are to cover that sin with love which means to forget it and never bring it up against them again. Or your only other option is to confront the person in a spirit of gentleness and humility. You may not take offense ever, but sin must always be dealt with. Either it is covered with love or it is confronted in love. But it may never be dwelt upon, pondered, or shared with others. This must grow into a Christian reflex, returning good for evil, blessing for cursing, and kindness for wrongdoing.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Of Pharaohs, Dragons, and the Good Shepherd

In Exodus 4 Yahweh gives Moses a sign to perform before the elders of Israel: he is to cast his rod down so that it turns into a serpent (Hb. "nachash"). He is also to perform this and the other "wonders" before Pharaoh (4:21). Of course "nachash" is the same kind of serpent that tempts the woman in Genesis 3, and interestingly, Revelation calls that serpent of old a dragon (Rev. 12:9, 20:2), suggesting that even the "serpent" that Moses' rod turns into may be something more than your garden variety garter snake.

But there's more: in Exodus 7:9-12, Moses and Aaron go before Pharaoh and Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a "serpent" (Hb. "taneen") that swallows up the "serpents" of the Egyptian magicians. You'll notice though that "taneen" is a different word from the previous "serpent" word ("nachash"). "Taneen" is not merely a snake; "Taneen" is a great sea monster (Gen. 1:21, cf. Is. 27:1). Thus, when Moses/Aaron throws down his rod it probably becomes something much larger and frightening than a mere snake (which better explains Moses' reaction in 4:3). Moses' rod turned into something much more akin to a dragon.

Finally, it's Ezekiel who picks up this imagery explicitly calling Pharaoh a dragon, a great sea monster in the midst of the Nile (Ez. 29:3, 32:2). Of course Ezekiel is speaking about a different Pharaoh historically, but the symbolism is all still there. The Pharaoh of the Exodus and all other oppressive Pharaohs are the "seed of the serpent" or better, the "seed of the dragon." And thus Pharaoh is a dragon, a sea monster in the midst of the Nile River. But Yahweh intends for Moses, his servant, to take this dragon by the tail. It's astonishing enough that Moses would tame a snake by taking its tail (usually one goes for the neck right behind the head). But now, we are not dealing with a little garden snake or even a boa or a python. It's probably something at least more terrifying if not actually larger and fiercer. And yet Moses will take it by the tail.

All of this is ultimately what Yahweh is doing with Pharaoh. He is using Pharaoh, the sea dragon of Egypt as his rod to lead his people to the Promised Land. He is using Pharaoh as his tool to shepherd his sheep. And since he is Yahweh, he takes Pharaoh by the tail just as though he were a little garden snake. And when Yahweh is with his servants, he does this through his servants.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Eating the Promise

We’ve seen today that one of the central roles of a sign is to be a promise. The sign that Moses was given was first and foremost a promise, an oath of what God swore to do. This table is no different. When we celebrate this meal, we do it in remembrance of Christ, or better, as a memorial of Him. The first memorial in the Bible is the rainbow that God placed in the sky to remind himself of his promise to never destroy the earth with a flood again. This table is the same. This sacrament is a sign which is simultaneously a promise that all those in Christ are hidden in Him. The first sign and promise that God gives to us is baptism. In baptism, God declares that we are His and nothing can separate us from His love. And every time we come to this table, we remind God about what he promised to us in our baptism. God promised us the forgiveness of our sins, he promised us the fellowship of his people, he promised to meet all of our needs, in short, he promised us a land flowing with milk and honey. This means that the only way you may come to this table is in faith believing the promises of God for you. Come in faith believing that your sins are forgiven in Christ, because they are. Come in faith, believing that you are in fellowship with the Lord and all his people, because you are. Come in faith, believing that God will give you your daily bread and meet all of your needs, because He is. Come, eat, drink, and believe the promise of God. You are eating the promise of God. Believe it.


Third Sunday in Lent: Exodus 3:1-22

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, your glory is above the heavens; your name is Holy Holy Holy. We are but dust and ashes. We are children who barely know our right hands from our left. We do not know which way is up and which way is down. But you have called us here into your presence. You have summonsed us, and we have come in faith, believing that you will speak to us by your Word. Therefore empower your Word now; give us the words of life that we might live. For we pray in the name of King Jesus, Amen!

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 that God chose the weak things of this world to undo the strong and the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. This is one of the glories of the Christian faith: things are not as they seem. This is part of what we celebrate in the season of Lent.

The Burning Bush
In Acts 7 we are told by Stephen that Moses was 40 years old when he fled from Egypt, and that he was in Midian for 40 years before returning to Egypt (Acts 7:23, 30). Here in Exodus 3 we are told that he was a shepherd for 40 years for his father-in-law Jethro. As he is leading the flocks by Horeb (Mt. Sinai), he sees the Angel of Yahweh in a flame of fire in the midst of a bush (v. 2). The wonder according to the text is that this bush is not being consumed by the fire. This is not merely a bazaar gimmick to get Moses off the beat path so that God can get his attention (although it does seem to be that) (v. 4). It is also a vision of sorts meant to image what God is going to speak to Moses about. The bush is Israel in the crucible of Egypt, burned but not consumed. The place where Moses is standing is “holy ground.” The point of course is God’s presence, but more so, this is a reversal of the curse of the ground (Gen. 3:17).

The Promise of God
God has heard the cries of his people in Egypt, and he intends not only to deliver them out of bondage but to also bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey (v. 8). This is how God always works: his deliverance is always out of death, slavery, cursing into life, freedom, and blessing. The language of a land “flowing” with milk and honey would have reminded Israel of the Garden of Eden. But this is an Eden glorified. This is the way God always works; we are called to a life of continual conversion, continual repentance. Nor is He content with the status quo or merely what was good back then. He always strives for better. God hears the cries of his people, but it should be pointed out that this is exactly what God had promised 400 years ago to Abraham (Gen. 15:13, 18-19). Finally, notice that God gives Moses a sign, the promise that he will return and “serve God on this mountain” (v. 12). The sign is a promise. This is a reminder that we are never called to obedience apart from faith. We are always called to believe the promises of God.

The Name of God
Moses asks God what name he should give to the people if they ask who has sent him. And God says, “I AM WHO I AM.” He goes on to command Moses to also tell them that “the LORD God of your fathers… has sent me to you” (v. 14-15). The all-caps LORD in our Bibles is the name “Yahweh” which is something like the third person form of “I AM,” something like “HE IS.” But the name is tied to the fathers also; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are referenced three times in this passage (3:6, 15, 16). This is nearly God’s name. His name is not merely a title or position. His name is what he has done. His trustworthiness is bound up in who he has been God to. Notice that God’s name is bound up with the names of particular individual people. God’s name is bound up with us. This is how we know that God can be trusted: he has staked his reputation on us (cf. Num. 14:11).

Conclusions & Application
The passage closes with God’s promise that Moses will be accepted by his brethren, but will be rejected by the king of Egypt. They are to go and ask permission to sacrifice to Yahweh, three days’ journey into the wilderness (presumably at Horeb/Sinai), and yet God promises that the king will not allow them to until after God has done “all the wonders” that he will do. Then they will go out with articles of gold and silver and clothing. The Egyptians will be plundered, notice, by women.

We have to realize that Egypt was the greatest civilization the world over at this time. Not only was it a phenomenal feat to attempt the freedom of this enslaved people, it was seemingly a great folly to think that Egypt would be plundered by women. God is not worried about armies, popularity, science, or foolish laws made by men. He does not care about the polls. God has determined that the nations of this world are to be the inheritance of Jesus Christ. Just as God set Jeremiah over the nations of the world, he has set Christ, the great Jeremiah (Jer. 1:10).

You are God’s people, and therefore you may not doubt or worry about the state of this world. You are called to be faithful in your callings without heeding the catcalls of the world. An old man with a walking-stick challenging the most powerful ruler in the world looked like a great folly. It looks to all the world like foolishness and insanity. But it was the means by which God threw down the greatest civilization on earth. Likewise, simple acts of obedience may look like foolishness. Husbands remaining faithful and chaste; wives refusing to be bitter or backbite with their tongues, children obeying their parents and despising the treasures of this world, eating meals with gladness, serving the poor, loving our neighbors: All of these look like acts of weakness. What are we doing? Taking over the world and toppling kingdoms.

Closing PrayerAlmighty God, God of our Fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we declare that you are the Creator and Ruler of All. No one can stop your hand; no kingdom or nation is invincible to your will and rule. We know and believe that you have given this world to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that he will rule until every enemy submits, until all the earth is filled with your glory. Give us grace to live in this grace.


For us Men and for our Salvation

We confess our sins at the beginning of this worship service every week. This is because we know and believe that we are sinners in need of mercy and grace. But this is not just an opportunity to feel sorry for ourselves. This is not a therapeutic exercise to give you an emotional calm. This is an opportunity for you to come to Jesus. The Lord did not come for the rich, the full, or the healthy. He came to seek that which was lost. He came for the poor, the empty, and the sick and the hurting. This is why we confess our sins. If you’re doing alright on your own; if think you’re a fairly good person with relatively few problems, please leave. Go home. There are more effective ways of getting your ego stroked. But if you are a sinner in need of grace, God calls you now into his presence. If you are weak and in need of strength, your heavenly Father bids you welcome. How can He do this for us? Because he became one of us in Jesus Christ. The eternal, holy, and glorious God became a man for us men and for our salvation. And that same man suffered, bled, and died for our sins and the sins of the world. And that same man rose from the dead on the third day and ascended into heaven where he sits at God’s right hand world without end. Why does God welcome weak, broken, and dying men, women, and children into his presence? Because He became one. This is glorious. This is the goodness of God for you. This is grace and mercy. This is peace and rest for your souls. So come confess your sins, let them go, and place your trust in Jesus.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Schmemann on Lent

The season of Lent is the Church's annual journey to Easter. The Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann describes Lent as follows: When a man leaves on a journey, he must know where he is going. Thus with Lent. Above all, Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter, "the Feast of Feasts." It is the preparation for the "fulfillment of Pascha [Passover], the true Revelation."... the new life which almost two thousand years ago shone forth from the grave, has been given to us, to all those who believe in Christ. And it was given to us on the day of our baptism, in which St. Paul says, we "were buried with Christ... unto death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead we also may walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). Thus on Easter we celebrate Christ's Resurrection as something that happened and still happens to us... In the early Church, the main purpose of Lent was to prepare the "catechumen," i.e., the newly converted Christian, for baptism which at that time was performed during the Paschal liturgy [on Easter]. But even when the Church rarely baptized adults and the institution of the catechumenate disappeared, the basic meaning of Lent remained the same. For even though we are baptized, what we constantly lose and betray is precisely that which we received at Baptism. Therefore Easter is our return every year to our own Baptism... For each year Lent and Easter are, once again, the rediscovey and the recovery by us of what we were made through our own baptismal death and resurrection. [From Great Lent: Journey to Pascha]

May God be pleased to renew our faith each and every day, but especially during this season as we prepare to celebrate the victory of Christ at Easter, our great Passover and Exodus.

The sermon text for this Sunday will be Exodus 3, and our other lessons will be from 1 Cor. 10:1-13 and Luke 13:1-9.


McGrath on Covenant, Calvin, and Cucumbers

From Alister McGrath's The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation:

“In the twelfth century, however, the origins of one of the most significant theologoumena of High Scholasticism may be detected: the idea that, as justification involves an ontological change in man, an ontological intermediate is required in the process of justification – and this intermediate was to be identified with the created habit of grace or charity.” (p. 79)

“For Ockham, the implication of created habits in justification is not a consequence of the nature of the process of justification, but results form a divine decision that they shall be thus implicated. To suggest that habits are involved in justification as a matter of necessity (ex natura rei) is to imply that God was subjected to external constraints in establishing the created order, which is unthinkable… Ockham exploits the tension between the absolute and ordained powers [of God] to demonstrate the contingency of the role assigned to created habits in justification… In effect, Ockham works with a concept of covenantal, rather than ontological causality: created habits are involved in the causal sequence of justification, not because of the nature of the entities involved (ex natura rei), but on account of the divine will (ex pacto divino).” (p. 80)

Speaking of the theologians of the via moderna, McGrath explains, “It is this pactum [‘covenant’ or ‘contract’ between God and man] established unilaterally by God, which constitutes the turning point of the doctrines of justification… God is understood to have imposed upon himself a definite obligation, embodied in the pactum, to regard the man who does quod in se est with the gift of justifying grace. If man meets the minimal precondition for justification…God is under a self-imposed obligation to justify him… It is considerations such as these which suggest that the later medieval period witnessed a general transition from a concept of ontological to covenantal causality… Thus, for example, the concept of ‘grace’ was no longer considered primarily as a created intermediate species interposed between man and God, but rather as an aspect of God’s disposition towards man.” (p. 81-82)

“… the later medieval tradition as a whole… adopted a strongly voluntarist approach to the basis of merit. This observation applied equally to the merits of Christ as to human merit… In the Institutio, Calvin adopts an identical position in relation to the merit of Christ… Calvin makes the clear that the basis of Christ’s merit is not located in Christ’s offering of himself (which would correspond to an intellectualist approach to the ratio meriti Christi), but in the divine decision to accept such an offering as of sufficient merit for the redemption of mankind (which corresponds to the voluntarist approach). For Calvin, ‘apart from God’s good pleasure, Christ could not merit anything…” (p.104-105)

And then there's this, just for fun:

“Erasmus complied a list of theological concerns at Paris which demonstrates precisely the issues that were debated with the via moderna. Two such questions may be noted. First, can God undo the past, such as making a prostitute into a virgin? ... Second, could God have become a beetle or a cucumber instead of a man? In its more usual form, this question was stated thus: could God have assumed the nature of an ass, or a stone, instead of a man?” (p. 98-99)

By the way, the answer of the via moderna theologians was "yes."


Monday, March 05, 2007

Bread in the Desert

When Reuel sends for Moses he says for him to be sent for “in order that he might eat bread.” Reuel, the “friend of God” and “priest of Midian,” calls for Moses to feed him. As we have already pointed out, the life of Moses is a preview of the story of Israel. Moses passed through the “sea” and was delivered from his enemies just like Israel will later do the same. Moses has gone into the wilderness and found water and now bread. Israel, we know, will later go into the wilderness and be fed miraculously by springs of water and manna, bread that comes down from heaven. And Paul says, “now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted” (1 Cor. 10:6). Paul says that they all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink and they drank of that spiritual Rock, and the Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. But this is the point: while Israel looked forward to Christ and only had Moses as their down payment. We have Christ as our down payment. He has gone on before us, assuring us that we will come at last to the Promised Land. In fact, in Christ, we have already arrived. This is why Paul says with confidence, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” So come eat and drink of this spiritual food and drink. Come drink Christ in faith, trusting and believing that he has gone on before you, and he has already been tempted and he is the faithful one who constantly makes ways of escape for you, who constantly supports you so that you are able to bear up under temptation.


Second Sunday in Lent: Exodus 2:1-25

Opening Prayer: Our Father we are your sons and daughters, your royal family, and we come now before you to hear your wisdom. Speak to us now and deliver us from all our enemies. Speak and recreate us according to the image of your Son. Look down upon us and remember us and know us. We are your people, come now and empower your word by your mighty Spirit, Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!

Lent is the season in the Church calendar when we turn our attention in a focused way upon the struggles that we face in the flesh. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus.

The Baptism of Moses
Moses came from the tribe of Levi. He is a member of the priestly tribe, tasked with the teaching and guarding of Israel. His mother sees that he is “good” (reminding us of Genesis 1: God is beginning a new creation story.), and she hid/treasured him for three months (2:2). The extreme measures that Moses’ mother takes suggest that the murder of Hebrew boys had become fairly widespread. Notice that his mother is obeying the command of the Pharaoh: she is putting him into the river. Moses is placed in an “ark” made of bulrushes or papyrus, and the ark is covered with clay and pitch (v. 3). The word for “ark” is only used elsewhere to refer to Noah’s ark. The word for “clay” could be translated cement or mortar, but the point is that Moses is in some way symbolically being given up for dead. The word is used later to describe the mounds of frog carcasses after the plague (8:10). Clay reminds us of the ground out of which man was taken when he was created (e.g. Job 10:9, 33:6). Moses is symbolically returning to the ground in the river-grave of the Hebrew babies. The word can refer to the color “red” and may have actually looked somewhat “bloody” in the water. The ark is placed in the “reeds” in the Nile, suggesting that his mother hoped he would be found by an Egyptian and saved (v. 4). This also reminds us of the sea through which Israel later passed, the Sea of Reeds. Pharaoh’s daughter obviously knows what’s up, and goes along with the plan of Moses’ mother (v. 7-9). Literally, she “spared” him (v. 6). The same water that has killed many Hebrew boys is the water of life for Moses. Notice also that it’s Pharaoh’s own daughter who is saving the Hebrew baby who will rise up and deliver Israel. This also indicates Pharaoh’s impotence: it’s not just the midwives fooling the king; his own daughter is not obeying him. She is not only sparing Moses but paying his mother to nurse him. His mother is given money like the Israelites will receive from the Egyptians later (12:35-36).

From Saved to Savior
There are three events that mark Moses’ transition from an adopted prince in the royal house to Midian. He sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and intervenes to save him (v. 11-12). He intervenes to break up a fight between two Hebrews (v. 13-14). Finally, he intervenes to defend the daughters of Jethro from the shepherds (v. 16-17). The stories have in common Moses’ defense of the weak, but they also show us Moses’ future ministry to Israel. He will deliver them from Egypt (the Exodus), he will be their “prince and judge” to secure peace in Israel (the Law), and he will provide Israel with water in the wilderness. The word for “strike/smite” in 11-12 is the verb form for the word “plague.” Moses is prefiguring what Yahweh will do to oppressive Egypt. One commentator suggests that when Moses “looked here and there” (v. 12), he was actually looking for help. The episode at the well is a scene that we have witnessed before (Gen. 24, 29). This is what might be called a “stock scene” or “type scene” (think of a western movie shoot-out scene). This wedding-well scene has its great fulfillment in Christ (Jn. 4). Moses is married to one of Jethro’s daughters, Zipporah, and she bears him a son named Gershom. The narrator says that this fits with Moses historical circumstances; we might also point out that the name is based on the verb “to drive out” and is what Moses has just done to the shepherds. This is also what God promises Pharaoh will do to the Israelites and in fact what he does (6:1, 12:39, cf. 23:28ff).

God Knew
It is after Moses has left and the king of Egypt had died that Israel is first recorded as crying out for help. The people have obviously been oppressed for a long time, and God has defended them providentially, but it is only here when they cry out for help that God is spoken of directly intervening in the plight of Israel.

Notice that this chapter begins and ends with a wedding and the birth of a son. The names of the sons even have similar meanings: Moshe “he drew out” and Gershom “he drove out.” We noted in chapter 1 that there was a repeated emphasis on the word “son.” Here, interestingly, the word “daughter is repeated 9 times (2:1, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 16, 20, 21). These “daughters” join the midwives of chapter one in playing instrumental roles in the deliverance of Israel. This reminds us of the promise in Gen. 3:15 that it is through the seed of the woman that God promises to crush the seed of the serpent. Here, the serpent is the house of Pharaoh, but God is already raising up a seed, a savior, a deliverer.

In 1 Cor. 10:2, Paul makes the strange assertion that all of Israel was baptized “into Moses.” Paul explains that it was “in the cloud and in the sea.” At least one way of understanding this is that Israel followed in the steps of Moses. Moses passed through the waters and was delivered from his enemies, and in the same way Israel was later delivered from her enemies through the waters of the Reed Sea. To be baptized is to be joined to a head, to be married to a leader. Israel followed the savior Yahweh raised up for her, and we are called to do the same. Our baptism is into King Jesus. But we are told his baptism was a literal death, and therefore we have been baptized into his death (Rom. 6:3-4). We have been called to follow him to the Promised Land. Throughout Scripture God points his people to what he has already done in history. This is how we know that God will deliver us now and in the future. God has been faithful in Jesus, and therefore he will be faithful to all who are in Him.

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

Closing Prayer: Great and mighty God, you have come in Jesus and gone on before us. You are in front of us, securing our way, defending us from all our enemies. You have been faithful and therefore we believe that you will be faithful to us and to our children.


Parenting like Jochebed

In our sermon text this morning we will consider the story of Moses’ birth and deliverance from the hand of Pharaoh. The story of his rescue by Pharaoh’s daughter is a fitting analogy of what Christian parenting is all about. Our children are conceived and born in sin and under the curse of death, and in faith we bring our children to the river of baptism, believing that only God can save them by his mighty working. There in baptism, our children are taken into the royal family of God and given a new name. But then God gives our children back to us and asks us to care for them and nurture them. He even promises blessings for our faithfulness. Your children are not yours; they belong to God. Our task as parents is to bring them up to be faithful in his royal courts, to be prepared to serve in his palace. This can be a challenging and daunting task, but God has promised to give you all the resources you need. But we live by faith from first to last; the same faith that gives our children up to God at the beginning of their lives is the same faith that gives our children up to God every single day of their lives. They are his, after all. This means that our task as parents is to continually ask and consider how our children’s Father would have them brought up. We are just nurses, what does their Father in heaven prefer? How ought they to be disciplined? How should they be spoken to? How should they be educated? How should they be instructed? These questions cannot be answered rightly by reading popular magazines or psychiatric journal reports. The Scriptures are our unbreakable directions in these matters. God has given us these children to care for them for a few short years, and he has given us instructions in His Word. These children belong to God; they are his, and therefore we are required to bring them up in his nurture, in his culture, and in his way of life.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Drinking Christ

I'm sure that many other folks have pointed this out before, but Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10, says that Israel drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased and their bodies became fertilizer for the desert. And Paul says that these things were recorded as examples for us.

First, it's clear that Israel drank a spritual drink and that spritual drink was Christ. Israel partook of Christ. And it is also true that having partaken of Christ, God was not well pleased with most of them and sprinkled their bodies over the wilderness. And this is an example for us says Paul.

Now, I don't mean to read anything into the text or sound unconfessional or anything, but it sure sounds like Paul is saying that people can partake of Christ, even drink him spiritually, and then be judged for sin and taken out by God.

Of course it's a very sobering point the apostle is making, but his warning is mixed with a promise: "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."

So what is the answer to the reality of apostacy? What should Christians do when they wonder if they are destined to be left in the wilderness? Paul says that we have to trust God who is the faithful one. Our faith may falter; we may face various temptations. But God is the faithful one, constantly at work, constantly making ways of escape, constantly supporting us that we may be able to bear up under it.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Paul, Canonization, and Authorship

E. Randolph Richards suggests, based on ancient letter writing practice that it would have been very natural (and commonplace) for Paul to have kept copies of the letters he sent to the churches of the first century. Thus, when it comes to trying to figure out how the church came up with the canon of Pauline letters, he suggests that the early church inherited Paul's personal collection of "carbon copies." The most efficient way to have kept these copies would have been in a codex, a proto-book binding that stitched a number of parchments together. It is quite possible that this is in fact one of the items that Paul is referring to when he writes to Timothy, "The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments." (2 Tim. 4:13) Thus while Paul may have never thought consciously that what he was carrying around would become the Scriptures of the Christian Church, canonization still perhaps has its origins in apostolic authority in this very practical sense.

Richards also convincingly argues that Paul was the leader of writing the letters to the churches, but that he worked together with co-authors as well as utilizing the skills of "amanuenses," professional letter writers. He shows that this can adequately account for many textual issues that modern NT scholars have generally relagated to later interpolations. While he admits that there are still several places where a later interpolater appears to be the only reasonable solution, his research at least minimizes what was once (and perhaps still is) a burgeoning field for redaction critics. Richards shows that differences of style, interruptions in the text, and even somewhat different takes on similar issues within the same letter can be accounted for with committee or group effort authorship of many of Paul's letters. Of course Paul is still recognized as the primary author and pastoral voice throughout, and it is his authority which is still impressed upon every sentence of the text. But Richards shows what is a very reasonable way of understanding the writing process and gives us a hint into understanding the text more fully.


Moses & Other Exposed Infants

Several commentaries point out that the story of Moses' exposure in the Nile parallels other legendary figures. Moses joins Hercules, Cyrus, Romulus and Remus, and Oedipus as an infant child given up to nature, to the wilds, to death who is nevertheless destined for greatness.

Of course Moses' story dramatically differs from many of these. In fact the circumstances of Moses' birth are the photo negative of the typical hero. First, Moses' family is anonymous and ordinary, whereas these Persian, Greek, and Roman narratives have these infants coming from important families: royalty, clergy, or even deity. Secondly, there has usually been some omen or prophecy foretelling the child's greatness; Moses has no such herald of his birth. He enters the world literally "hidden" by his nameless parents, another Hebrew son to be cast into the Nile. Thirdly, the rescued infant usually grows up with a hidden identity to be discovered at the climax of the story or at least after some great struggle. Moses, on the other hand, apparently knows who he is from birth as do all the people directly involved. Ironically, it would appear that the only one 'in the dark' about Moses' identity may have been Pharaoh.

Finally, these differences seem significant to the scope of their stories. Where the pagan legends seem to put great stock in the original status, fate, the gods which ensure that the infant's exposure will not end in death but at last a return to greatness (even if in sorrow e.g. Oedipus), Moses' story is not about return but Exodus. Where the typical story structure leads a person of fame into anonymity back into fame. Moses leaves anonymity for the fame of Pharaoh's palace only to finally seek out a "fame" apart from Egypt, a "fame" of the wilderness and Sinai.