Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Biblical Horizons Conference

The 2007 Biblical Horizons Annual Weeklong Bible Conference will be 23-27 July.

The topic this year is Outside the Box. Speakers on the topic will be Peter Leithart on the challenging work of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy; Mark Horne on Ephesians; Blake Purcell on Russian Orthodoxy; James Jordan on Nazirites and Knights, including Rohmer’s film Percival. There will be other speakers and other topics as well.

More information can be found here.


Shameless Plug

As it turns out, the good folks over at Veritas Press are now offering a wide range of online classes for homeschooling families. This fall, I will be teaching two sections of their Omnibus III which consists of the literature and history and biblical-theological themes from the Reformation to the Modern Era. This should be an excellent year examining a number of classic texts such as Pilgrim's Progress, the Federalist Papers, A Tale of Two Cities, 1984, The Great Gatsby, and several others.

If you or someone you know might be interested this class or any of the others being offered through Veritas, you can find out more information here.



Pentecost Wine

One of the glories of Pentecost is wine. When the Holy Spirit breaks out in the upper room, and the crowds gather together, their first inclination is to think a frat party has gotten out of control. Peter is quick to deny the accusation, but we should notice the fact that the Holy Spirit is not so concerned about the reputation of the disciples.

But the irony of Pentecost is that Wine is precisely what God had promised. When Peter stands up he quotes from Joel 2, but just prior to that God says: “Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, and He will cause the rain to come down for you –the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. The threshing floors will be full of wheat, and the vats will overflow with new wine… Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God, in your midst.”

Pentecost is the celebration of new wine. It is God’s victory dance, rejoicing over his Son, and pouring out all of his joy and vigor onto us. Before us now is bread and wine. You are about to eat and drink Christmas. You are about to eat and drink Good Friday. You are about to eat and drink Easter. You are eating and drinking the Ascension. This is Pentecost before you bread and wine, and you are what you eat. God is making you into a new family. Look around you. These are your mothers, your fathers, your sisters, and your brothers. This is mind blowing, this is insane, this is glorious. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore come in faith believing the promises of God.


Pentecost: Genesis 11: Urban Development

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we praise you for pouring out your Holy Spirit on your people. We thank you that this is how you are building your kingdom in this world. Remind us once again this morning that it is not by might or by power by your Spirit that all things are accomplished. Renew us, remake us, and send us from your presence with your glory that we might be faithful witnesses, through the Faithful Witness, and Amen!

The resurrection of the King of Kings was the rebirth of the world, the remaking of the universe. In this new universe, all authority has been given to Jesus Christ both in heaven and on earth. The dominion that was lost by man has been re-given to man at Pentecost (Acts 1:8). At Pentecost, God has begun a new building project in the world. The Kingdom of God is the building of a city, a New Jerusalem. Thus one way of looking at the task set before us is urban planning. What should the city look like? How do we build? If we don’t know the answers to these questions then we are like builders trying to ‘wing it’, and too often we reflect this.

The whole earth was one lip, the Hebrew says, and had all things in common. This of course reminds us of the early chapters of Acts. The text also tells us that they were going to the East. Directions are loaded with meaning because of the early chapters of Genesis. When Adam and Eve were sent out of the Garden of Eden they were sent eastward, away from God’s presence and cherubim were placed there (Gen. 3:24). This means that for Adam to re-enter paradise he must “go west.” When Cain murdered his brother, he was sent to the east of Eden, away from the presence God even further (Gen. 4:16). The fact that these Babylonians were going East should be our first clue that all is not well. Nimrod and the heads of all the peoples of the earth were intent upon building two things: a city and a tower. The tower was to be gigantic, and the fame of the city and its tower would make a name for them in the earth. They view themselves as Adam, in fact this is what the Lord calls them: Sons of Adam (v. 5). Adam’s first job was naming, and these over officious building contractors even have proof texts, “See? See? It’s in the Bible!” We’re taking dominion, they might say. But of course it’s the fool that wants a simple faith, a simple religion. And the God of heaven laughs. That great tower all pristine and pointy in the clouds is still a tiny speck from the vantage of God. And so God decides to come down and see what all the racket is about. There at his footstool is a bustling patch of ants. And having seen the gory details (‘Jeepers!), a Triune council is held, a course is decided upon, and the Lord goes down to scatter the ants from their little sandbox. Go play nice somewhere else.

Shem to Abraham
We’re not given the details of when the building project began or how long it lasted before it was abandoned. But if we assume that there was a significant city and building project underway, it doesn’t seem unlikely that they may have been building for some time perhaps as long as a couple hundred years. Remember, these folks were used to long life spans and a few hundred year project was feasible. We know that it was in Peleg’s days that the earth was divided (10:25), so we might estimate that God scattered these first Babylonians between two and three hundred years after the flood. We also notice that the life spans of these men decrease significantly over the ten generations from Shem to Abram. From five hundred years to a little over a hundred, it’s notable that Shem outlived a number of his descendents and was probably still alive when Abram was born. And from this weakness (short life spans), the chapter ends with movement in the opposite direction: west. Wherever Ur may have been, Canaan was surely to the west of the Chaldeans. Two opposing civilizations are matched together in this chapter, two cities are at odds. One is a great unified people with a city and tower stretching into heaven. The other is a rag tag family plagued by death and barrenness. But notice that Abram, no less than Nimrod, hoped for a great city, but he was holding out for better. He sought a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10). And this is the pattern throughout history. It is the story of the city of God and the city of Man, one that seizes power and authority and is reduced to ruins, the other which embraces the way of the servant and the martyr and is raised up to glory and honor. It’s not that we don’t want the glory. It’s not that we don’t want the city or the tower or the name. It’s just that we want the real glory, the real city, the real tower, the real name. And we will not settle for less.

Babel Reversed
Pentecost marks the reversal of the curse of Babel. Where God scattered the nations of the earth defying their plans to build a city, God has reunited the nations of the earth by the outpouring of his Holy Spirit. Acts 2 clearly notes that when the Holy Spirit was poured out in Jerusalem, “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (2:5). It is this international multitude that assembles before the disciples thinking that they’ve run across a Frat house soirĂ©e. But Peter stands up and tells the crowd that they’ve not had anything to drink, but that the Day of the Lord is at hand in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. The Day of the Lord signifies many things, but one of the central elements is that the world is remade. Babel is reversed, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, it has become possible for all men to speak with one tongue. The boundaries of language no longer divide men, the risen Christ in heaven means that the King is on the throne. And if the King is on the throne, then the Kingdom is being restored, the building of the city is commencing. The tower can now be built into heaven, and a name can be made for all those who enter. But that name is Christ, and the tower resembles a cross.

Conclusions & Applications
Beware of lurking individualism. Abram was not seeking isolation; he was seeking a city. Beware of thinking that seclusion is a protection from evil for you or your children. Abram was seeking a city, and the writer of Hebrews says that we have found it. Babel was reversed at Pentecost. You are a part of a new family, and you need each other. You need help in the raising, training, and educating of your children. You need help and advice concerning medicine, car repair, job hunting, finances, and all manner of other areas. This is an exhortation to ask for advice and being willing to help, but this is not the same thing as exhorting you to always give advice. Don’t be a nuisance. Throughout the New Testament, the Spirit is what unites us to Christ and to each other. It is the Spirit that gives gifts to the Body. It is the Spirit that knits all of the members of the body together in unity (1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4). This is what Pentecost is all about. It means loving one another, serving one another, building one another up.

This Spirit that we have been given is one of “power.” The authority and power that Jesus has been given has been given to us. One practical ramification in the life of a local church is recognizing your city and your neighborhoods as your problem. Yes, care for your families, yes, care for your own in need, but if you stop there you haven’t really understood the resurrection. To the people of God has been committed the word of reconciliation. This means that you have been called into the service of the King to minister mercy and grace to your neighbors. Love has hands and feet. Love gives time and sacrifices energy for people who don’t deserve it. This may take many different forms. But begin by recognizing all the people in your parish as your people. This is not a form of ‘sheep steeling’, this is just grace to a messed up world.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that every last square inch of the world belongs to Him, and if it belongs to Him, it belongs to us (Rev. 4-6). You are the godparents of the children down your street. You are the counselors of the confused and lost teenagers in your school district. You are the first line of defense for every domestic dispute. You are the authorized social workers, peace keepers, and judges of civil disputes (1 Cor. 6:2). You are the friends of the lonely and the outcast. You are the homeless shelter, the food kitchen, and the friendly face (Mt. 25:31ff). All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him, therefore go.

Finally is the fact that God builds His city His way. And His wisdom is not our wisdom. God is pleased to send His Spirit upon the weak and the afflicted. God is pleased to build mighty kingdoms and nations out of children, strangers and barren wombs. God likes to stack the odds against Himself, and we might as well get used to it. The builders of Babel had everything, the entire earth was at their disposal, and yet God scattered them and thought it better to build His Kingdom out of a rag tag family from Ur. God likes to build cities under fire; He likes to build His Church under duress. Whatever fire you are under begin by giving thanks. This is not Stoicism; this is real faith in the God who raises the dead. This is how the city looks; this is how the city is built. Christ is the blueprint. The word “witness” means “martyr” (Acts 1:8).

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

Concluding Prayer: Gracious Spirit, you are how we worship, how we live and move and breathe, and therefore we worship you and glory in how you are remaking this world. We thank you that there is no obstacle too great for you, and that you delight to do the impossible. You part seas, open barren wombs, and defeat giants through the faith of children. Fill us evermore with your glory, your strength, and bless the work of our hands.


Authority is Responsibility

Authority means responsibility. When Jesus sends his disciples out, it is because of the authority that has been given to him. But Jesus didn’t get this authority because he was the biggest, strongest, or loudest. He received this authority because he accepted responsibility for all things and then suffered the consequences of that. This is why Jesus first died; Good Friday comes before Ascension Day. Last we celebrated our ascension with Christ to rule in the heavenly places, but today we celebrate the giving of the Spirit, the anointing that gives us the same authority and glory as Jesus. But as his disciples we are called to join in his authority and glory by imitating him, and He gives them his Spirit in order to carry this out. Because the death and resurrection of Jesus was God’s taking responsibility for the world, this means that we are called to assume responsibility for our world. And we do this by dying for it. Husbands, true masculine authority is found in dying for your wives and children. Wives, true feminine authority is found in dying for your husbands and children. Being a Christian means fundamentally declaring that if this world is going to live, everyone must learn to die. When we claim to be the rulers of this world, we are claiming the responsibility for the state of this world. We are claiming that our house is our responsibility, our street is our responsibility, and our city and nation are our responsibility. Why is this? All authority in heaven and in earth has been given to Jesus, and therefore it is our problem. This is why Jesus said if anyone wants to be great, he must take up his cross. Do you want glory? Then come and die. But be assured, you have been given the Holy Spirit, and therefore all who die in faith God will raise up and give glory and honor and authority in King Jesus.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Saved like Jesus

In Ephesians 2 Paul says, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” This means that salvation is being raised up (just like Jesus) and being seated in heavenly places (just like Jesus). You have been raised up and you have been seated here at the table of the Lord. How do we know that this is what Paul is talking about? Because Paul goes on to explain to the Gentiles in Ephesus that they have been brought near by the blood of Christ (2:13), and it is through Christ that we have access by one Spirit to the Father (2:18). “Drawing near” and “access” to the Father are loaded terms that recall all of the sacrifices and offerings of the Old Covenant tabernacle and temple. One of the mind blowing things about this is that in the Old Covenant only special priests could go into the presence of God, but even when they went into the presence of God to offer sacrifices, they could never sit down. They were always on their feet. But now in the New Covenant not only have we all been given access by the blood of Jesus, but we have been invited into the presence of God and invited to sit. We are invited to sit like friends of God, invited to sit like King Jesus, as though we are royalty, as though we are rulers: because we are. Paul goes on to say that we are no longer strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. This is what it means to “be saved.” It means to know that you are forgiven in Jesus. It means that he has raised you up, cleansed you, and seated you in his presence to be part of his family. This is salvation. So come eat, drink, and rejoice with one another.


Seventh Sunday in Easter: Ascension Sunday: Ephesians 1:15-23

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, our ascended Lord and God, we worship you now and ask that you would speak to us through Your Word. Declare to us your will, your orders, your directions for our lives, that we might know and live in the same power that raised you from the dead and seated you in the heavenly places. Hear and answer, for you are our King. And Amen!

Ascension Sunday is the last hurrah of the Easter Season. He was seen for forty days by his apostles before being taken up into heaven (Acts. 1:3), and ascension day commemorates this fact and we celebrate it today. The entire Easter season comes to close with the celebration of Pentecost next week, the celebration of Christ’s Spirit being poured out on to the Church.

Faith and Love
Paul begins Ephesians with an extended doxology of praise (vv. 3-14). And it is following that doxology that he begins his address to the Ephesians, “Therefore…” Paul begins by saying that he has heard of the Ephesians’ faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for the saints (v. 15). It is this combination that Paul does not cease to give thanks to God for. In fact, in his letter to Galatians, Paul connects the two by saying that it does not matter whether one is a Jew or not. The issue is “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). This is Paul’s version of what James describes as faith being perfected by works (Js. 2:22). And given what Paul has “gushed” about in the preceding verses, it is safe to say that Paul is excited because the Ephesians “got it.” They understood just how amazing and spectacular their redemption really was.

Understanding the Gift
But Paul’s thanksgiving is part of his prayers in which he asks that the Ephesians would receive the “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him…” (vv. 17-18). The Ephesians have begun to understand and act on that understanding, but it is only the beginning. Notice that what the Ephesians need to come to understand is what has already been given to them. It is “His inheritance in the saints” and exceeding greatness “toward us who believe” (vv.18-19). Paul wants the Ephesians to recognize the greatness of the glory which is promised to the Ephesians, the hope of their calling. They have not been saved to grin and bear it and go to heaven when they die. That is not the gospel.

The Heavenlies and Rule
Paul says that the same power which is at work in them (the Spirit of wisdom) is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at the right hand of God in the heavenly places (v. 20). Paul has already hinted at this in his opening doxology where he blessed God for blessing us “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (v. 3). What is Christ’s is yours. But we need to recognize that the “heavenlies” have invaded this world (Eph. 2:6, 3:10, 6:12). Yes, we are speaking of a reality that is beyond our reckoning, but we are not talking about something far away or in another dimension. Heaven pervades this world, and it will more and more (Mt. 6:10). So we need to understand what the Spirit has done and is doing in Christ’s resurrection and ascension because Paul says that this is what has been given to us. Christ has authority over every authority (v. 21) and all things have been put beneath Him (v. 22). To what end? For what purpose? For the church which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (v. 23). Paul says that the center of this authority and power and rule is found in the church which Christ is the head of. This is why the church matters.

Conclusion & Applications
Faith and Love: Brothers and sisters, this is nothing more than the two greatest commandments, loving God and neighbor. And the two have to go together. And John says that anyone who says they love God and doesn’t love his brother is a liar (1 Jn. 4:20). This is just what faith does. Love in the little things and in the big things.

Understanding: You don’t get to check your brain at the door here. And neither do you get to check your brain at the door when you leave as though it only matter what you think for an hour and a half one day a week. You are called to grow in knowledge and understand and wisdom (vv. 17-18). The wisdom of God is the Word of God. This means that you are called to be here in the Church where Christ’s fullness fills all in all. And this means that your entire lives should be permeated with his words in song and speech.

The Hope of Our Calling: All of this is based on the ascension of Jesus. That Jesus went into heaven and is seated there, and that in the power of the Holy Spirit we are seated with Him. This means that Jesus rules over all, and we cannot get tired of saying this. Jesus is king. But this means that we are rulers too. Atheists and secularists and materialists are our slaves, our servants. They are ignorant fools, and we let them carry on with their blather. But we are the rulers of this world because Jesus reigns. This is the hope of our calling. This is not our imagination; this not last night’s dinner. Jesus lives and rules, and we fully expect that this whole world will slowly but surely submit or be destroyed. Jesus said that the meek will inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5). We are called to this hope, to the riches of the glory of this inheritance.

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

Concluding Prayer: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus, you have seated our Lord Jesus at your right hand, and you have given him authority and power over all things. And in your infinite wisdom and goodness you have granted us a share in this rule and reign. We ask that you would teach us to speak like nobles, to live like rulers or this world, and to believe with firm conviction that you are giving us this world for your glory and for the glory of your saints.


Sing and Loud

One of the things that the Bible clearly commands the people of God is to sing, and specifically it urges us to sing Psalms. In Ps. 105 we are commanded to thank the Lord and to sing to him. In Js 5 he says that if we are cheerful we should sing psalms. Paul says that we are supposed to speaking to one another with Psalms. Surely this means singing them, for if we don’t sing them, we’ll never know the right words we’re supposed to be speaking to each other. In another place, the apostle says that the Word of God is to dwell in hearts richly, and we are to do that by singing Psalms and hymns. By God’s blessing, we have already begun to recover this, but as a minister of this gospel, I exhort you to fill your days with singing psalms and hymns more and more. If you are not regularly singing the word of God together, you are disobeying. If you need a psalter or hymnal, ask for one or buy one. Fathers you are responsible to see that your homes are growing in this. Sing a psalm at breakfast, sing a few at dinner time, and maybe another when the family is retiring for the night with your evening prayers. Sing when you have friends over, sing when you’re all by yourself. But take care: the point isn’t that you need to go home and start singing “because the Pastor said we have to. So I guess we better do it.” That’s all backwards and upside down. The point is that we have been forgiven, we have been delivered. We have family, we have health, we have eyes for sunsets and stars and lips for kissing and tongues for ice cream and teeth for steak and bodies for dancing and sex and hard work, and the list goes on and on. God is good! And God’s goodness has been dumped all over us: how can we not rejoice in that. We are to be thanking the Lord constantly, making melody in our hearts because we just can’t get over how kind God has been to us. People sing when they’re in love; they can’t help singing, it just spills out of them. So get over your pride, get over your arrogance. God loves you, his people. He can’t get over you; therefore sing and do it loud.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Screwtape on the Internet

Now here's some infernal advice from an old friend.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Communion Tokens

My professor in Reformation and Modern Church History made a passing comment this semester regarding communion tokens which I couldn't recall ever hearing about. Turns out there's actually quite a bit of information on this practice. I did a little google action and up comes a number of hits. Here's one quote I found on the history of the practice of communion tokens. The quote is also a link to the page it came from where you can find out more.

"Communion tokens were first recommended by John Calvin with the intent that no unworthy person would be admitted to the communion service. They were first used in the Reformed Church of France in the year 1560. The Dutch used tokens in Amsterdam as early as 1586. England and Ireland began to use communion tokens near the end of the 16th Century when authorities found it useful to know who did or did not conform to the legal form of worship of the state church. The Catholic churches in France may have been using tokens as early as 1613.

But it was in the Presbyterian churches of Scotland that communion tokens were most widely used. Many believe that there was a second reason for using tokens, to protect communicants from betrayal by spies during periods of religious persecution. The use of communion tokens in the Presbyterian churches of Scotland began during the reign of the Stuarts in 1605. The conflict between church and state continued until the reign of William and Mary and the establishment of the Presbyterian Church as the Church of Scotland in 1690. For nearly 50 years, the Presbyterians had been forced to meet in glens or other secluded places at long and irregular intervals to celebrate the communion service. When the struggle between the church and state finally ended, the use of tokens was by then considered to be an essential part of the Scottish communion service. Communion tokens were used in the Presbyterian churches of Scotland until World War I and a few of the Reformed Presbyterian Churches in the United States and Canada may have used tokens until about 1950. A number of churches have issued tokens in recent years, but these are normally replicas to commemorate a church centennial or some other important event.

Communion tokens have been used in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Italy, Africa, India, South America, the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Churches in at least 24 states in the United States issued communion tokens. But it was in Scotland where the tokens had their deepest roots with over 5000 different types being recorded."


Sunday, May 13, 2007

River & Felicity for Mother's Day


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Psalms and the Pentateuch

In his introduction to the Old Testament, Lasor says that the five books of the Psalter correspond to the five books of the Pentateuch. In fact that number of psalms (150) is probably related to the sections the Pentateuch is divided into for readings in the synagogue (153). (p. 430)


Friday, May 11, 2007

Wilson and Hitchens Debate

Our former pastor, Douglas Wilson, is engaged in a debate over at Christianity Today's website. The debate is scheduled to proceed for the month of May. The first salvo is here and the second one is here.



Thursday, May 10, 2007

Unmaking the World

Nahum Sarna points out that there are seven calamities that befall Job in the first chapter. The calamities come in three groups of two, each cycle begins with the destruction of animals and finishes with the death of humans. The final blow comes in the seventh announcement which is the most devistating, the death of Job's own children. Sarna suggests that this an example of a narrative built on a creation theme much like the plague narratives of Exodus 7-10.

Sarna doesn't say this, but the point clearly seems to be that God is un-making or de-creating the worlds of Pharaoh and Job.


A Response to the PCA Report on the Federal Vision

Pastor Jeff Meyers has responded to the recently released PCA study report on the Federal Vision.

Meyers' response, entitled "30 Reasons," can be found here.

Also, it appears that Reformed News will be covering things over the next few weeks and months.


Saying Thank You

This is the Eucharist. Eucharisto means “I give thanks.” This the “Thanksgiving Meal.” Here we offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Here we commune with one another and the Lord of the table, our Lord Jesus Christ. But you must understand what you are saying by eating and drinking. Fundamentally, you are saying “Thank you.” This is the Eucharist; the Thanksgiving. You are not saying you are good enough to be here. You are not saying that you came half way and God came half way and He met you in the middle. You are not saying that you are a fairly decent, middle class American and this is just what we do on Sundays. You are saying Thank You. And this means that you are saying you don’t deserve any of this. What’s the this? You are saying thank you for your parents, thank you for your children, thank you for your spouse, thank you for your teachers, your neighbors, your boss, your employees, your house, your job, your car, your money, your clothes. And of course most importantly, you are saying thank you for Jesus who gives us all these blessings. You cannot come here and then go out there and complain. You cannot come here and say “thank you” and then go out there and be bitter. You cannot say “thank you” here and then go out there and say “gimme.” Jesus gives himself to you here, and in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge and blessing are given to you. So come, eat, drink, and say thank you.


Fifth Sunday in Easter: Exodus 8:1-32

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, you speak the Word and mountains explode. You give the command and the deep plates of the earth churn, and the depths are broken up. There is nothing that withstands your mighty Word, and therefore we ask that you would speak to us now in your Word. Break our hard hearts and give us hearts of flesh, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!

Creation is the foundation of everything. We saw last week that Yahweh’s battle with Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt was preeminently seen in the promise of God do battle with the dragon, the serpent who deceived Eve. The effect of that original sin and curse in Genesis 3 was that creation was cursed, and therefore for God to fully deal with the curse of sin not only would the dragon have to be killed, not only would sin have to be dealt with and forgiven, but creation would have to be renewed. In an important sense, sin is always fighting the order and glory of creation. It is always asking, “Did God really say…?” Which is another way of saying, “Did God really make the world like this…?” And thus for God to deal with sin, He must un-make the world and then remake it. We see the world “de-created” and remade in the Flood, and here in the Exodus we see another instance of de-creation and re-creation. And ultimately he must do this to us.

Creation and De-creation
First, we need to remember the basic structure of creation itself. God made the world in six days, these six days can be seen as two cycles where God creates and fills the three spheres of the universe. Day 1 and Day 4 are concerned with heaven, Day 2 and Day 5 are concerned with the seas, and Day 3 and Day 6 are concerned with the land. In the first cycle (Days 1-3) God creates the realms of the universe, and in the second cycle God creates the inhabitants and rulers of those realms. These three spheres are used as short hand for the whole of creation in the rest of Scripture (e.g. Ex. 20:4, Dt. 5:8, Neh. 9:6, Ps. 69:34, 135:6, Phil. 2:10, Rev. 5:3,13). Thus, when we get to the plagues on Egypt it should not escape our notice that the plagues come in cycles of three (minus the last).

The first (Nile), fourth (flies/swarmers), and seventh plagues (hail) all occur after a confrontation in the morning (7:15, 8:20, 9:13), presumably at the banks of the Nile (7:15, 8:20), and are associated with water. It seems fair to assume that Pharaoh is going out to the Nile for religious reason. The second volley of plagues in these cycles always includes a command from Yahweh to go and confront Pharaoh and a request to let Yahweh’s people go (8:1, 9:1, 10:1-3). Notice that these plagues (the second, fifth, and eighth) are particularly tied to the land (frogs, disease, and locusts). The third plague in these three cycles comes with no confrontation of Pharaoh (lice in 8:16, boils in 9:8, and darkness in 10:21). At least two of these have clear associations with the sky and heaven (not sure what to do with the lice/gnats except for the fact that they would be flying in the “air.”) Nevertheless, there is enough here to see that there is clearly a “heaven, earth, and seas” pattern. Yahweh is un-making the world of Egypt. He is de-creating their world.

But there is more we might point out as well. In Genesis, God created creatures that “teem” and “swarm” and they were good (e.g. Gen. 1:20), but here in the plagues creatures are teeming and swarming for ill. We have also considered how Adam is God to Pharaoh. He is like a new Adam, re-presenting God to Pharaoh. Moses, as a new Adam has dominion of the world. He speaks and creation obeys. We see that the magicians are only able to duplicate a couple of the plagues (making matters worse!), but they are utterly powerless to bring healing (8:7). When God brings lice the Egyptian magicians are finally stumped. Their powers only reach so far, and they conclude that this is the “finger of God” (8:19). When Pharaoh hardens his heart here, he is not listening to his own people now. God has reversed the circumstances: Now piles of frogs stink (8:14) just like the Red Sea had stunk (7:21) reminding us of the claim that the officers of Israel had originally made that Moses had made Israel to stink before the Egyptians (5:21). Now Pharaoh is beginning to “stink” to his of wise men and vice versa (8:7-8).

Finally, we should notice that the second cycle of plagues introduces the difference between Yahweh’s people and Egypt (8:23, 9:4, 9:26, 10:23). This means that the judgment is becoming more severe and God means business. The first three plagues were plagues of inconvenience and uncleanness and apparently affected Israel as well, but beginning with the fourth plague Yahweh brings “corruption” (8:24) and death (9:6). It’s at the beginning of these second cycle (the “swarmers”) that we see the first sign of Pharaoh reconsidering his public policy (8:25-28), but of course it is short lived (8:32).

Conclusions and Applications
Throughout this narrative there are several repeated phrases, but one of the most terrifying is the phrase “he hardened his heart” (7:13, 7:23, 8:8, 8:15, 8:19, 8:32, 9:7, 9:12, etc.). These are terrifying words because this means that God’s judgment is already falling. Pharaoh’s hard heart is the judgment of God. The Psalmist warns Israel of the same danger (Psalm 95:7-11). The irony of the Exodus is that after all of these wonders that God is performing Israel will go into the wilderness and fall under the same judgment. Israel became bitter and complained and did not receive the grace of God with thanksgiving. And the writer of Hebrews says that we are in the exact same position (Heb. 3). The question is always how will we respond to God? When God determines to remake us it often hurts, but will we respond with thankfulness or hardness of heart?

This exhortation is to all of you young people in particular. You are the heirs of grace. Blessings have been piled up on you. Do you realize that? Do you realize that out there, there is nothing but sin and darkness and sadness? Consider what you have been saved from. But consider also what you have been saved to. This is a small church, and there are particular temptations that come with this. But God is determined to bless you. So give Him thanks and praise.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty and most awesome God, you turn the heart of the king like rivers of water. You cast down and raise up; you rule the nations of the earth, you rule all of creation, and you direct the paths of men. Give us hearts of gratitude. Clear out all of our pride, all our arrogance, all our bitterness. For you have blessed us beyond measure, and therefore we praise you, and lift your name on high.


Your Highest Calling

The worship of God’s people on the Lord’s Day, on Sunday, is the most important thing you do each week. If you are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have been adopted into the family of God, and he summons you here to appear before him. You have an audience with the King, and this is a high privilege. Therefore put away distractions now; you are here to worship. Put away your unbelief, Jesus who was crucified for your sins is alive and ever intercedes for you. Believe this and rejoice with trembling. Put away your grievances against others. God holds no grudge against you even though he, of all people, has every right to; therefore put it down, let your grievances go. Forgive as you have been forgiven. We are ascending into heaven now by the power of the Holy Spirit. There we will sing praises. There we will listen to our Lord speak to us in his word. There he will feed us with his own life. And there, having assured us of his love, he will bless us and send us back into the world as his nobles, his royalty, to live as subjects of the king. Therefore come with empty hands, and God will fill them. Come with questions and God will answer them. Come with prayers and God will hear them and answer. This is the Day of the Lord, and nothing in all of life is more important than this. God has drawn near, therefore come and worship.



Saturday, May 05, 2007



Toward a Corpse Bride Theology

I just saw Tim Burton's Corpse Bride a couple weeks ago. Like many of Burton's other films, Corpse Bride is a dark-humored fairy tale of sorts. Just a few things I found intriguing and fun (spoilers below):

1. The humor was clever and kept the movie light in the midst of dark themes. While it wasn't too over the top or cheezy, all of the jokes and puns (many of which were delightfully subtle) surrounded the dead and death and life kept the otherwise dark adventure firmly in the realm of comedy.

2. Artistically, the film clearly presented the "living" people as dead while the "dead" were the ones with life. Many conservative Christian types might recoil from the "Halloween-ish" themes and pictures, but I think the story can be taken to picture what Jesus says in the gospels. "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it... For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." Only those who have died in Christ have life. And thus, Burton presents the real world with surprising accuracy.

3. The turning point of the movie comes when the hero decides to give his life up and marry the dead girl. And of course he must die in order to marry the dead girl. I absolutely loved the wedding scene: this is what weddings are! They are grand and joyful celebrations of two people promising to die for eachother until they are literally dead. Good stuff here.

4. Of course, the hero doesn't end up dying, but his willingness to give up his life is the turning point, and only after that is the villain destroyed. The hero marries the living girl, but this is only after he has given his life up. And so the paradox is complete: only those who give their lives up receive them back. Life is the prefered existence, but it can only found by traveling the paths of the dead.

Of course people can take this stuff and do weird and pagan stuff with it, and I'm generally not a fan of all the tacky Halloween stuff that shows up in October. Some of our neighbors put on such a show and hardly a single Christmas light shows up a couple months later. Little strange, that. But Corpse Bride isn't just a Halloween flick; and the thing that rescues it is the humor. The whole story is lighthearted with only momentary "scares." I don't know, but it's kind of hard to take the skeletons seriously when they're singing and dancing and telling jokes.

Great story, funny, clever, artistic, and thoroughly Christian. Might be a little scary for young ones, but there's a lot of great biblical and theological points to be made from a movie like this. Check it out.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Father Damien

This Sunday is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Our monthly fellowship dinner is this Sunday after worship. Please bring some food to share and plan to stay after for fellowship.

The Christian Almanac records that on May 4th, 1873, Father Damien, a Flemish missionary, joined the lepers of Molokai Island in the Hawaiian archipelago. The courageous minister sought to transform the little colony of outcasts and the horrible conditions of the settlement known as Kalaupapa which was surrounded by high walls to contain those infected with what today is known as Hansen's Disease. Where disorder and chaos had reigned, Father Damien brought a measure of order, discipline, and beauty to the suffering community. He served not only as their pastor, but as their physician, lawyer, and friend. Eventually Father Damien contracted the disease himself and after 16 years of ministry, he died. In 1995, the church set aside May 10 as an annual memorial feast day in honor of Father Damien's sacrificial ministry and service to the lepers of Hawaii.

While this sort of ministry may seem extreme and even fool-hearty, it is really nothing short of what we are called to. Jesus clearly says that if any man wants to save his life, he must lose it, and if anyone wants to follow Jesus, he must take up his cross and follow Him. Who are the hurting, the outcast, and the needy in your life? May God grant us the grace to follow Father Damien, even as he followed Jesus.

Our lessons for this Sunday will be from Exodus 8, Acts 13, and John 13.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Strength for the Weak

We’ve considered the nature of this world this morning. God created all things both visible and invisible, and we live in a world that obeys its Creator. There is no such thing as “natural laws.” Those are just descriptions of how God usually runs things. But this means that the spiritual and material are intimately connected. Therefore it should not surprise us that God does the same thing here. If the whole world is enchanted, why would we be surprised to find out that here at the center of the world is a meal that Jesus has given to us to feed us spiritually. This is not really different from the rest of the world. All actions and words are more than they seem. But here we are told what our words and actions mean. As we eat this bread with thanksgiving and drink this wine with thanksgiving, God promises to feed us with the life of Jesus, to feed us with his flesh and blood. Our response should not be to try to do the physics; that’s the Darwinian, materialistic response. Our response should be thanksgiving and faith. The Lord of the universe is giving himself to you here and now. The Lord who crushed the head of the dragon, the Lord who does battle on our behalf is strengthening us for battle here and now. You are the hosts of the King; so come and eat and drink with him that you may go forth and conquer. But this means that this meal is for people who are not strong; this meal is for people who know they have failed. If you’ve messed up then you qualify. If you have not fought sin and wickedness faithfully, then this meal is for you. This meal is not for people who think they’re doing pretty good. This meal is for people who need Jesus, people who need his life and strength, people who need his forgiveness. Are you messed up, have you failed? Then come and welcome. Jesus fights for you.


Fourth Sunday in Easter: Exodus 7:8-25

Opening Prayer: God our Father, you raised our Lord Jesus from the dead two thousand years ago and remade this world. You destroyed the power of death and sin, and you freed us to live before you in joy and thanksgiving. Conform us more to this new life now, remake us according to your Word, our Lord Jesus, for we pray in His name, Amen!

Yahweh and the Gods
It must be recognized that this showdown is not only between Moses and Pharaoh and not merely Yahweh and Pharaoh but also between Yahweh and all the gods of Egypt (Ex. 12:12). “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12, cf. Rom. 8:38-39) “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Col. 2:15) Perhaps this explains what the angel means when he describes Michal and the princes of Persia and Greece in Dan. 10. We know for a fact that Israel was afflicted with evil spirits by the time of Christ, and these demons have some power and authority in this world (e.g. Mk. 3:22, 5:7). At the same time we know that the prophets call the gods of the nations nothing, gods of stone and wood and precious metals. How do we put these things together? Paul does this for us in 1 Cor. 8:4-6. And therefore we must recognize that Yahweh is not merely doing battle with men and their card tricks; he is doing battle with the gods of Egypt.

The Dragons
We’ve pointed out previously that the word for serpent here is actually dragon or sea monster (7:9-10 cf. Gen. 1:21). We cannot fail to recognize this first sign is a throw back to Genesis 3. It was a dragon who deceived the woman, and now Pharaoh, the seed of that dragon has risen up again to fight against the word of the Lord. Many centuries later, Pharaoh is still referred to as a dragon (Ez. 29:3). But every dragon is ultimately a picture of the descendents of the original dragon (Rev. 12:9). It simply will not do to dismiss dragons as some kind of fairy tale legend. In the wilderness Yahweh sent “fiery serpents” to afflict Israel (Num. 21). Job describes the Leviathan as an enormous sea monster that breathes fire and smoke (Job 41:19-21). In fact, when we look at Num. 21, we see that these serpents are actually “seraph serpents”, and what Moses actually puts up on the pole in bronze for the healing of Israel is a “seraph” (Num. 21:8). This is the singular for seraphim which Isaiah sees (Is. 6), and he mentions elsewhere (Is. 14:29, 30:6). So then, this first sign is not just a fancy magic trick. Here Yahweh shows himself as the Lord of the Dragon, the God who rules the Serpent and all seraphim (7:12). Who is Yahweh? Yahweh is the God who promised enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent and ultimately to crush the head of the serpent.

The Bloody Nile
Scholars have pointed out that this sign and the ones that follow can be explained by naturally occurring phenomenon. The Nile annually floods and then recedes, and in the annual cycle, there is usually a change of color in the Nile which is reddish and bloodlike. Furthermore, generally after this there are more frogs, and when the frogs die there is an increase in lice and flies. What are we to make of this? God made heaven and earth, and we must not be afraid that God uses natural phenomena to perform miraculous deeds. If these things are attested to having happened, great, but there is a slippery slope in both directions. If God is directing these events in supernatural ways, then it doesn’t much matter if historical records show increasing frog populations after the Nile floods. It doesn’t matter much that piles of dead frogs would tend to attract lice and flies. The fact is that God is directing these events down to the minute. If that is the case, then there’s no need to examine what kind of chemical make would turn the Nile a bloody color. The text says that it turned to blood and everything died (7:21). Here we cannot forget the history of this river: this is the same body of water where the Hebrew baby boys were thrown 40 years earlier (1:22). Finally, remembering that Yahweh is carrying out holy war against the gods of Egypt, it cannot be forgotten that the Nile was worshipped as a god. Their god who gave them life and sustenance has been struck dead and now it is only giving death. Yahweh rules the dragon and the sea.

Conclusions and Applications
First, we need to recognize that we do not live in a materialistic world. Darwin and all his ugly stepchildren were wrong. We live in the world that God made which is both material and spiritual and consists of both visible and invisible elements. This means we need to recognize that actions and words are full of weight. Sin is always insanity, but we sometimes believe the lie that our actions and words somehow cannot affect others, our families, and our society (e.g. Achan, bitterness). Secondly, we need to recognize that we serve the true God and in Christ, he has triumphed over the prince of darkness, and we cannot be harmed by him. Therefore James says, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” The power of the Devil and his angels has been broken. Jesus was lifted up and the god of this world was judged and cast out (Jn. 12:31-32). Finally, as Christians we need to embrace the world as God made it. It will not do for Christians to say that they will not read or watch anything with magic; no fantasy, no fairy tales. Not only does this immediately eliminate the Bible, but it also is a rejection of the world that God made. God made this world a fairy land. This world is full of mystery and wonder that cannot be explained: butterflies, dragons, unicorns, tornadoes, cell phones, etc. This world is enchanted, enchanted with the Spirit of the Triune God. The history of this world is the story of the great dragon slayer Jesus and his armies (us).

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you that you have always done battle with the serpent, that dragon of old. We thank you that in Jesus, you have dealt the fatal blow, and that in his death and resurrection we celebrate and share in this victory. Grant us faith to live in this world with the joy and imagination that reflects your glory and goodness. Give us this world that we might change it from glory to glory. Root out every sin in our lives that we might be able to do this, and begin this by overthrowing every lie that says our sin somehow doesn’t affect others, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!


Serving Up Life

“A man's belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled. Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” (Prov. 18:20-21) This means that people always eat what they say. If your words are sharp and bitter, you will have sharp and bitter meals to eat. If your words are empty lies and flattery then you will feast on deceit and treachery. And if your words are full of gossip and criticism then with the same measure you have measured it will be measured back to you. But not only do you eat your own words but all who hear your words feed upon them as well. Death and life are in the power of the tongue; harsh, critical, and bitter words are poison and death not only to you but to your children, your spouse, your neighbors and friends. But words of joy, thankfulness, and blessing are words that make bones strong, hearts glad, and give life. We are celebrating Easter, the reality of resurrection life, the world made new. Therefore do not speak as though Jesus is still in the grave. Do not complain, do not harp on one another, do not backbite, do not constantly critique your friends and neighbors, do not lie, do not speak to your children as though they were only chattel. If you are guilty of these things, use your tongue to begin giving life now by confessing them and forsaking them. Christ is risen. Therefore feast on these things. Rejoice in the goodness of God in your words, and serve up life for dinner.