Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Obadiah: Big Brothers and Pesky Squirrels

Obadiah is the book for big brothers who gloat. The letter is address to Edom which is the nation of Esau. God has harsh words for the nation that stood by and watched their little "brother Jacob" carried off by strangers. They stood by and "rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction." They walked through the streets and tsk-tsked, and shook their pious little heads and pursed their holy little lips. Others thought they would help God with the judgment and cut down various Israelites fleeing from the hand of their conquerors. And those they did not cut down, they dutifully turned in to their captors. "Dad, here's the culprit."

All of this is particularly interesting because of all that led up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Edom surely saw the hammer falling on little brother Jacob, and if this is from the hand of Yahweh, why can they not do their part? This is the national/corporate version of the big brother who nods approvingly as he watches his little sister marched off to the bedroom for her 'just desserts.' Perhaps he even adds some pious remark about why it's wise to obey mom and dad otherwise things like this happen. And if the parent has read Obadiah, the little boy will find that it's his turn next.

God requires loyalty even in the midst of his judgment. Even when the judgment is just and deserved, the response of the faithful is to identify with God's people even when they are getting the worst of God's fury. As David said, "Please let us fall into the hand of Yahweh, for his mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man" (2 Sam. 24:14). It's one thing to be thankful that you did not fall, but all the holy-speak is a show of false piety. God promises greater blessings for little brother Jacob.

The ecclesiastical version of this is refusing to rejoice when God's judgments fall on various portions of his church. When God sends the blight of sexual perversion upon portions of his church, the faithful response is not, 'see? told you so.' The response is to fear God, obey his commands, and plead for his mercy on all of us. When a denomination seems to have a knack for making foolish and mind-bendingly ridiculous decisions sort of like that pesky squirrel that always seems to run towards your car, the temptation is to merely mutter something about 'stupid is as stupid does.' But that simply will not do. "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles" (Pro. 24:17).


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Some of you have been asking about the recent hub-bub surrounding the release of the film "The Golden Compass" (to be released on Dec. 7th). Many Christians have expressed a very reasonable concern with the books (and now the movie) because Philip Pullman, the author of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy has openly declared his opposition to all things Christian. He stated plainly in one interview: "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief... Mr. [ C.S.] Lewis would think I was doing the Devil's work." I have not read any of the books yet or seen the movie, so the following thoughts are based upon reading several interviews and articles from what I would consider thoughtful and trusted sources.

First, anyone who openly sets out to undermine the basis for Christian faith has set themselves up against God and is therefore an enemy for the sake of the gospel. It is important that we insist upon the antithesis between light and darkness, good and evil, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. At the same time there have been many pagans who hated the God of heaven who created good and beautiful things. An atheist cannot consistently produce beautiful things, but God gives grace where he pleases. And sometimes he gives creativity and beautiful innovation to those who are far from him. Consider the fact that it is the line of Cain in the early chapters of Genesis who first create musical instruments, jewelry, and develop the arts and animal husbandry. While surely the God-fearing line of Seth did make some glorious inventions and discoveries, it is revealed to us that there was a renaissance-like emergence of the arts in the family line that had decidedly turned against the face of God. Similarly, there are a number of great civilizations that arise outside the covenant people of God throughout history, centers of cultural and industrial development that God's people inherit only later on. This often seems to be the pattern of God's working in the world: he gives gifts to those who hate him in order to pile burning coals upon their head and so that when they are gone his own people may inherit them.

Secondly, we must insist as Christians who serve the true and living God, that the only way for a story to work is for it to borrow or steal from the Christian story. In order for there to be character, story development, tension, release, and all of the wonderful things that go into an engaging and imaginative story, it must follow many of the basic contours of God's own creation and story. While Pullman has self-consciously set out to subvert that story, as an atheist he cannot present any counter story without descending into nonsense. If the world really is a series of chemical reactions then his story is no more meaningful than a couple of bubbles in the ocean. In an evolutionary universe, nothing means anything. But Pullman obviously understands that words have meaning, stories can be told in wonderful and winsome ways, and that there is such a thing as good and evil. While he openly sets out to subvert the Christian God and his Church (and this apparently becomes more and more explicit throughout the Trilogy), as the reviewer in the First Things article (see link below) points out this only serves to lesson the wonder of his story, and ultimately he has to borrow many basic Christian themes. As the reviewer says, despite all the 'God-killing' motifs, Pullman actually ends up with an "almost Christian trilogy."

Finally, one of the themes that shows up in several interviews with Pullman is his bitterness towards what he sees as a Christian rejection of this material world we live in. Of course this is entirely inconsistent with Pullman's strict materialism which doesn't believe that there is anything going on here but chemicals and atoms floating around and bumping into each other. But happily, I would suggest that Pullman appears to be critiquing something worthy of critique. He criticizes Lewis and Tolkien for envisioning a heaven which is some sort of escape from this world, and he insists in one interview that "this world where we live is our home." While it is completely incoherent for Pullman to suggest anything of the sort -- in his worldview he has done nothing more meaningful than burp and hiccup a few times -- I would suggest that he has identified one of the great failures of the Christian Church. Whether or not he is right about Lewis and Tolkien, in many ways we have failed to recognize that this world is the world that the Lord Jesus intends to make our home. After all, Jesus said that he came to save the world and that the meek would inherit the earth, and not some other far off heaven. The prayer that we pray each Lord's Day is for the kingdom of heaven to come down and impress its reality upon on our world. The vision of John at the end of Revelation is that of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven and being established here on earth. Related to this is the centrality of the doctrine of the resurrection. We confess our faith each week in the 'resurrection of the dead', and this means that we believe we will get our bodies back even after we have died just like Jesus did. This means that the life we live now, the jokes and stories we tell, the feasts we celebrate, the psalms we sing, and that feeling in our bellies when we've laughed really, really hard, all of that has meaning and will continue to be part of us forever. We will not rise from the dead as spirits with harps looking for a vacant cloud to float on for all eternity. This world was made to be ruled and glorified, and if the stars and planets are any indication of God's design, it would not surprise me in the slightest to find that there are more worlds to rule and explore after this one.

So what does all this mean? Should we or should we not read the books and go watch the movie? I would highly recommend that you do two things: First, don't be shrill. There are lots of emails going around about how these books (and the movie) will damage your children for life. But Pullman lives in God's universe, and he borrows generously from the treasures of God's story. If one of your friends reads one of the books or sees the movie don't banish them to a hot and lonely place. As Peter Leithart points out in one of the links below, the movie version in particular appears to be somewhat more innocuous than the books. Regardless, parents should make sure they are discussing these things with their children and winsomely encourage them to have a cynicism about all this stuff. Pagans are boring. But secondly, I would suggest that you have a lot of better things to do with your time than sort through the ins and outs of an atheist's attempt to undermine our faith. For instance, I would suggest that you read the Lord of the Rings again, then make sure you've gone through C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy at least three or four times. It gets better with every read. Of course there's the Chronicles of Narnia, and when you've gotten those stories deep in your bones, it's probably time to start the Lord of the Rings again. You also need to tell jokes and read stories by P.G. Wodehouse. You need to sit around the dinner table as families and sing psalms and laugh and then sing a few more psalms and laugh a little more. We're building a Christian culture here, and frankly there's a lot of work ahead of us. This world is our home, or better, this world is becoming our home. Through sin, we have been estranged from all the goodness for far too long, but God is giving it all back to us in Jesus Christ. So enjoy a glass of wine, plant a garden, sing some Psalms, laugh around the dinner table, and have a second helping of dessert. God is good, and Philip Pullman knows it deep down in his dark little heart.

I found the following links helpful in thinking about some of this. I thought you might too:

Here is blog page with a collection of interviews with Pullman.

Here is a balanced and thoughtful review of the books from the magazine First Things.

Here Peter Leithart has a few comments on the movie and gives three cheers for Hollywood.


The Other People that Live in My House

My wife and I are increasingly aware of the fact that we do not live alone. There are other people in our house. They have moved in sort of gradually it seems, making their presence known in various ways over the last number of months and years. The thing is that I think we would be OK with having other normal, decent people living in our house. We're generally very easy-going, hospitable, and welcoming sorts of people. The problem is that we do not have normal, decent people living in our house.

We have savages living in our home. The other people living in our house are completely and unapologetically uncivilized. They have come from the deepest, darkest jungles of some undiscovered continent, and they live in the bedroom across from ours.

One of the people that lives in my house left our dinner table to use the restroom last night. This, in itself was not particularly distressing, and I was happy to encourage this sort of civilized behavior and excuse him. But this person disappeared back into the recesses of our home and after a number of minutes did not appear to be coming back. All the indications were that he had fallen into the commode or been sucked into one of the numerous heating vents.

All was silence; all was darkness.

When my wife pointed out this peculiarity, I began calling for our missing housemate. After a moment or two more, the silence was broken by the announcment that he had completed his mission but had accidentally 'got some' on his foot. This was a little concerning, but we assumed that this was getting worked out and that he would be back momentarily. But the moments continued to pass with his seat being vacant. Finally, and fearing the worst, I ordered him to appear. His scampering feet could be heard coming down the hall for several seconds before his beaming naked body emerged from the hallway. The savage that had left the table some time earlier, fully clothed, reappeared wearing only a Lightening McQueen loin cloth and holding a bandaid in one of his hands.

I asked this person what he was doing. With utmost seriousness, he explained that he had procurred a bandaid for his foot so it would be OK since he had gotten some on it.

I can't make this kind of stuff up. We live with this native and his sister, and they do these kinds of things all the time. This kind of stuff is way better than comedy central. The really fun part is that these people have conspired together, and the forecast is that they will soon outnumber us.

I can hardly wait for the chaos.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Observing Times

I noticed in the first lesson this morning from Dt. 18 that one of the practices of the surrounding nations that the Israelites were to utterly reject was that of "observing times" (18:10). I was reminded of Gal. 4:10 where Paul is concerned for the Galatians since they are observing "days, months, times, and years."

The word in Dt. 18:10 is often translated "practice divination" or "soothsaying," referring to practices which involved studying entrails, blood, various liquids, or signs or omens to have knowledge of otherwise hidden information. Interestingly, the word for this in Hebrew is related to the word for "serpent." Apparently scholars aren't really sure what to do with that connection other than to point out that "diviners" sometimes make hissing noises like snakes. Leave it to academics to give us that gem. It seems far more likely to me that there is a deep relationship between the Serpent and the various practices of trying to tell the future.

While I couldn't find any direct connection, it certainly seems possible that what Paul is getting at is the fact that fanatical (legalistic) religious observation actually becomes a kind of superstitious divination at some point. The same word is used several times in the gospels and in Acts to refer to the actions of the priests and Jewish leaders "watching/observing" Jesus (and later Paul) making sure he's crossing his t's and dotting his i's according to the rabbinical traditions. The fanatic/soothsayer says that if you don't keep such-and-such requirement exactly and perfectly then this, that, and the other thing is sure to befall you. In other words, superstitious observances are always based upon explicit or implicit claims to hidden knowledge.

Anyway, Paul may very well be warning the Galatians about this sort of neopaganism, observing days and times like a bunch of soothsayers, hoping they don't step on any cracks and keeping clear of all the black cats in the neighborhood. Paul calls that living in bondage under the old elements. And since he's obviously talking about the Jewish calendar, he's claiming that after Christ, the Jewish Calendar is no better than a bunch of pagan divination rituals.

Finally, the picture is of my daughter, and while it isn't really directly related to this post, I did mention a serpent, and I really just wanted an excuse to show off her fearlessness.

Seed of the Serpent, meet Seed of the Woman.


Looking Backward and Forward

This is the last Sunday of the Christian Calendar. Next Lord’s Day is the beginning of Advent. Some of you are already preparing for your family Advent celebrations, and beginning the following week, we will begin having Advent services on Wednesday evenings. Advent dwells particularly on the themes of God’s coming. It remembers that God has come in judgment and salvation in the past in events like the Exodus. God came to the aid of his people through raising up particular judges and kings and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies. When the people sinned, God came in judgment on Israel and Jerusalem. God came in salvation returning the exiles from Persia through the decree of Cyrus, and God finally came in the incarnation, being born of young virgin woman. God came at Pentecost and gave birth to the Christian Church through the Holy Spirit, and God came in judgment once again on Jerusalem when she rejected his Messiah, and the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Roman armies in 70 A.D. To celebrate Advent is to celebrate the fact that God has come again and again in history and of course in the fullest sense, God has come to us in Jesus Christ, the God-man, Emmanuel, God with Us. To dwell on all of these comings is to gird ourselves with strength for our battles, our enslavements, our exiles, and our failures. If the Lord of the Covenant has come again and again to the aid of his people and raised up a horn of salvation, he will surely come again for us. He will come at the end of all human history and raise us up in new and glorious bodies to live and glorify him forever. That is glorious, but we are called to live in faith now. And this means living before God fully expecting for him to come and act in our lives, to come and save us from our sins, deliver us from our follies, and rescue us from our enemies. This meal is one of those Advents. Here our God promises to be present. He assures us that we are forgiven, that we are his, that he fights for us, and that he will win the victory. As we finish the last Sunday of Pentecost, it is fitting to look backward and forward, remembering that it is the Holy Spirit that came at Pentecost to be God with us at all times and in all places, and it is this same Spirit who feeds us here with the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit is God who is perfecting us, sanctifying us, conforming us more and more to the image of the Son, in whom the Father is well pleased. So come and feast, you are the sons and daughter of the Triune God, and you are most welcome.


Last Sunday of Pentecost: Exodus XX.10: Fifth Commandment

Opening Prayer: Father, we are in need of your teaching, your instruction, and your direction. We do not know how to honor our parents as we ought, and we recognize that this is because we have not honored you and your church as we ought. Teach us how to bestow honor on those fathers and mothers you have placed over us; give us hearts that are ready and willing to accept your instruction. In the name of Jesus your Son, Amen!

We considered last week the fact that the first “father and mother” are God and the Christian Church he has placed us in. Secondly, these foundational authorities establish the legitimacy of a number of other formal authorities: civil, educational, business, and many others informally. Recognizing that all of these authorities require our honor, it is necessary to consider what honor is and how it is bestowed.

The word “honor” is synonymous with “glory” which means to make heavy and weighty. Abram comes out of Egypt “very glorious” with silver, gold, riches, and livestock (Gen. 13:2). This can refer to the severity of natural disasters like a famine (Gen. 12:10) or evil things like the wickedness of Sodom (Gen. 18:20). Jacob’s eyes are said to be “heavy” with old age (Gen. 48:10), and Moses says that his mouth and tongue are too heavy to speak well (Ex. 4:10). Pharaoh’s heart is hardened or perhaps “weighed down” would be a better translation (Ex. 7:14 et passim). Some of the plagues on Egypt are described as heavy (e.g. 8:20, 9:3, 9:18). Strikingly, after Pharaoh has “glorified/hardened” his heart and Yahweh has sent “glory-plagues” upon Egypt, Yahweh finally asserts that he will get “glory” over Pharaoh in the victory of the Red Sea (14:4, 17-18). The priests are given heavy vestments of “glory and beauty” (Ex. 28:2). While the glory of God is something beyond us, God over and over again embodies his glory through natural disasters, supernatural events, riches, and people. In the NT, honor means price or worth: Jesus has no “honor” in his hometown, and he is sold for the “honor” of 30 pieces of silver (Mt. 27:6-7, Jn. 4:44). The honor that the Church ought show to widows includes financial support (1 Tim. 5:3-16). Honoring is the act of seeking to embody another’s worth.

Giving and Heeding Instructions
Honor is built into parent-child relationships because of the Trinity (Jn. 8:49, 54). Jesus says that he honors his Father by knowing him and keeping his word (8:55). Jesus honors his Father by obeying his commands: for he came not to do his will, but the will of his Father (Jn. 5:30). But Jesus applies this to his disciples saying that the Father is glorified in the Son when they ask for things from the Father in the Name of the Son (14:13). In other words, because the honor that the Son bestows upon the Father is principally being the Father for the world (14:9-11), it becomes the Father’s honor to bestow gifts upon those who ask things in the name of His Son. This is also why teaching and learning are significant parts of the parent-children relationship. This is evidenced in the Proverbs (Pr. 1:8, 10, 15, etc.) and in the relationships we noted last week in Elijah/Elisha and Paul/Timothy. Instructions are not limited to verbal commands and exhortations. Instruction includes the host of lessons we teach with our actions. We noted previously that the “image and likeness” of God was evidence of God’s intention for Adam to be his son. This image and likeness is being renewed in us, fallen creatures. The apostle encourages Christians to be imitators of God as dearly loved children (Eph. 5:1), he encourages them to imitate him (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1, Phil. 4:9), and he encourage them to imitate each other, striving for like-mindedness (Rom. 15:5, Phil. 2:2, 20, Heb. 6:12, 3 Jn. 1:11). Imitation always occurs; it’s just a question of who you are imitating. The fools on television and in the magazines who tell you to “be different” mean that you ought to shop in their stores like everyone else. Godly instruction and imitation also establishes the biblical pattern of tradition. Christians ought to love and cherish biblical tradition (cf. apostolic tradition, 2 Thess. 3:6, 14). Thus, children must obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1). Paul’s exhortation suggests two things: first, Children need to know that their obedience to their parents is counted as obedience to the Lord Jesus (Eph. 6:5-6, cf. 1 Pet. 2:13). Children must obey their parents as obedience to the Lord, and rebellion against that authority is rebellion against the Lord. Secondly, in the Lord establishes limitations on all authority. Because your allegiance is to King Jesus, if a lawful authority instructs you to disobey Jesus, you must not (e.g. Acts 4:19-20).

Conclusions & Applications
Children need to be taught to honor their parents, and this is not an act of selfishness. Teaching children to honor and obey their parents is teaching them how to honor and obey God. Refusal is rebellion. This means teaching obedience that is immediate, complete, and cheerful. Fathers, in particular, you need to teach your sons to honor their mothers. It is notable that at least twice the order of “father and mother” is reversed most probably to emphasize this very fact (Lev. 19:3, 21:2). The fact is likewise reinforced by the civil penalties for rebellion and cursing one’s parents (Ex. 21:17, Dt. 21:18-21). It’s not as if cursing or disobeying mom is any less offensive than cursing or disobeying dad. This means holding doors, standing when a woman enters the room, saying ‘yes ma’am’, waiting for mother to sit down before sitting, waiting for mother to eat before eating, pushing in their chairs, etc. It’s not enough merely to not openly rebel or curse your mother; the weight of glory must be lived out; their worth must be embodied.

Some of you need to start honoring your parents by confessing the sin of not honoring them. Remember Achan (Josh. 7:19). Perhaps you have dishonored your parents by rolling your eyes, disregarding their counsel, or just skating by, barely avoiding trouble. Remember that God requires you to esteem them highly; honor means glory and weight.

Finally, we need to recognize that God does not put any exceptions in the Fifth Commandment. Honoring (with faith in the God who sees) is actually the way that God bestows honor. Glory is reciprocal; it shares in the glory of the Trinity.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty and glorious Father, we bless you and glorify you now. We proclaim that you are holy, just, good, and true. We ask that you would teach us to honor our fathers and mothers as you teach us to honor you. Do this for your glory and honor.


Building toward the End

We’ve considered over the last couple of weeks the fact that our modern casual dating culture is a perversion of the gospel and that part of reestablishing a Christian culture of love and marriage is the reestablishment of real parental authority and guidance in this realm, particularly by fathers. But these are enormous steps to take, and as any builder knows, you cannot just show up to the job site and order a house to be built. If you want a house to look a certain way, it takes months of preparation, laying the foundation and ordering what you’ll need for the next phase, then framing it out, and making sure you have crews getting ready to wire it and lay the plumbing. Likewise, a parent cannot suddenly take their teenager aside one day and say you’re not allowed to date and by the way I’m in charge. The parent that feels the need to do this has already failed. He has shown up to the job site while the builders are just finishing up, and he ordered two more bedrooms and a bigger basement. The time for figuring out basement size and number of bedrooms is at the beginning not the end of the project. So also, the work of parenting daughters and sons during the last years they spend in your home is something that builds on many years of faithful preparation. In other words, you should begin teaching and training your children now for what you want them to be like then. It won’t do to say that you ‘just want a nice basement and don’t bother me with the details please’, and then get upset when your car doesn’t fit in the garage. What Godly parents want later must be thoughtfully and prayerfully taught and prepared for now. If you want your daughter to trust you when it comes to finding a spouse, you must teach her to trust you all the way up to that point. If you want your son to have the wisdom and courage to choose and marry a godly and virtuous woman as his wife, you must train him to be growing in that kind of wisdom and that kind of courage now so that he will have it then.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Constitutional Christianity

While the Constitution is clearly pluralistic to some extent, insisting, for example, that there be no religious test required to hold office in the federal government, there are still points at which the writers of the Constitution allow their Christian bloomers to show.

Of course there are generic references to the "Creator" and the "Almighty" and "blessings" which many religions would have no difficulty with, but there are at least two places in particular where Christian practice and faith are explicitly assumed. Interestingly, both have to do with our reckoning of time.

First, it's fairly interesting that Sunday is explicitly recognized as a day off by the Constitution. A president has 10 days to consider a bill presented by Congress, Sundays not included. This is clearly a Christian sentiment, as it does not except Saturdays (for a Jewish president) or Fridays (for a Muslim president).

Secondly, the reckoning of time is measured from the birth of Christ, Anno Domini, "in the year of our Lord." While this may seem rather insignificant and mundane since that method of reckoning was so pervasive and universal, the fact of the matter is that this is the Constitution of our country. This is Constitutional language that affirms time to be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. While the Constitution is far too generic and pluralistic for my tastes, there are still these two explicit references to specifically Christian doctrines.

In affect, the framers of the Constitution recognize the high feasts of Christmas and Easter. By reckoning Sunday a day of rest, the Lord's Day is implicitly honored, the day on which Christians celebrate the resurrection each week. And by reckoning years from the date of the birth of Christ, the Incarnation is implicitly honored and recognized as the beginning of the kingdom of God, the birth of God's Son as King.

All of this, it must also be pointed out, is entirely consistent with the prohibition against the establishment of religion by the federal government. The First Amendment cannot be construed to be mean something inconsistent with these Christian assumptions enshrined within the original document itself.


Parish Life at Baal Peor

While doing some background reading for Ps. 106, I reviewed the story of Israel at Baal Peor (Num. 25), the Moabite shrine that probably looked a lot like a modern day strip club. As the wrath of God broke out against Israel in the form of a great plague, Moses called the judges together and told every one of them to "kill his men who joined himself to Baal Peor" (25:5). Of course Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron the High Priest, gets out his spear and does a little shishkabob action with a particularly brazen Israelite and his Midianite whore. As a result of Phinehas' zealous actions, God's wrath is appeased, and the plague is turned away.

There really are a number of fascinating elements of this story. But the bit I thought interesting was the fact that the judges actually had rosters to look over. Each judge had a directory to go through to check on all the men under his care; the guys on their lists that had gone down to the Baal Peor Strip Club were to get whacked by order of Yahweh.

This is the parish model of accountability and ministry at work. In a parish model of ministry, the elders are called upon to take responsibility for particular people and their families. The elders are not merely collectively responsible for all these people, in some generic sense. When this happens, and the elders collectively are responsible for all the people collectively, the result is often that no one is responsible for anyone in particular. Rather, each elder ought to have a roster of particular names, ages, marital status, addresses, blog sites, and perhaps other pertinent information and be faithfully shepherding those particular households.


Thursday, November 22, 2007


My son and I were sitting at the table this morning talking about the day ahead of us. I tried to explain a little about Thanksgiving, and how we celebrated in order to give thanks to God for his many blessings. I told my son that I was very thankful for his mother, his sister, him, and the two siblings that his mother is carrying. Then I asked him what he is most thankful for.

Without missing a beat, he said, "really sharp swords."

Hope you've had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Blessings to all.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Wilson, Wilkins, and the PCA

Just to make sure we're getting this broadcast as far and wide as possible, I'd like to draw your attention, dear readers (all three of you), to the proceedings currently taking place in the PCA.

This denomination (along with a number of others) has recently studied a subject matter referred to as the 'Federal Vision', largely condemned it, and now is in the process of seeking to apply these findings to those pastors and elders in their denomination they believe to be holding these aberrant views. There is of course nothing wrong with carefully studying an issue, deciding that it is outside the pale of a particular confessional heritage, and then judiciously applying those findings to particular people, circumstances, etc. The problem comes when an issue is NOT carefully studied, the so-called proponents of said teaching are not contacted or asked for clarification, a report full of ambiguities and bizarre conclusions which does not accurately describe said teachings of said proponents is passed in the name of 'justification by faith', and then certain Mohicans in the denomination get out their war paint and tomahawks and go after these so-called proponents having already decided what they believe, how false, bad, and horrible it is, and whooping at the top of their lungs with fingers in their ears demand that they recant or leave.

In typical Presbyterian polity, the presbytery is the body that holds ministers accountable for their teachings. On this particular issue, one of the ministers under scrutiny is Pastor Steve Wilkins from Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana. The Louisiana Presbytery has been asked on TWO occasions to examine Pastor Wilkins, and TWICE the presbytery has not found him guilty of any aberrant views contrary to the Confession (WCF). The first time another presbytery sent an overture requesting the examination, and the LA Presbytery voluntarily complied. When that exam yielded a not-guilty verdict, an appeal was made to the Standing Judicial Commission of the PCA (their highest court of appeal), and the SJC asked the LA Presbytery to conduct another examination on the grounds that the first exam was not sufficiently documented and did not carefully follow the proper procedures. The LA Presbytery complied with this SJC directive, re-examined Pastor Wilkins, and again found that there was "no strong presumption of guilt" in the teachings of Pastor Wilkins.

Now this re-examination report, meticulously documented and complying with all the proper PCA procedures was just fine except that the LA Presbytery did not come up with the correct answer. Now, the SJC has ordered the LA Presbytery to appear in court to answer the charge that they did not do their job properly in examining Pastor Wilkins. That is, because there is a "strong presumption of guilt" with regard to the teachings of Pastor Wilkins, they have not been diligent in preserving the peace and purity of the church. In other words, while there has been no trial of Pastor Wilkins, the SJC is proceeding to take matters into their own hands. What is so unfortunate (and sub-biblical) in this situation is the fact that these proceedings are beginning with the presumption of guilt.

If you have not already seen the recent volley of posts by Douglas Wilson, they are well worth checking out. Beginning here, just start working your way through the posts that follow.

One final comment with regard to why I/you should even care about all this. I have never been a member of a PCA church, but my wife grew up in the PCA, we both attended and graduated from a PCA sponsored Christian School, and I have many good friends in that denomination. In general, all Christians should be concerned about the 'goings-ons' of our brothers and sisters, we ought to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. In this case, we have brothers and sisters who are near-kinsmen in Christendom, Reformed Presbyterians who claim a similar heritage, similar confessional standards, and a like-mindedness on many significant issues facing the Christian Church today. If the PCA goes through with this trial, and in whatever clinically sterilized, moved, seconded and passed sort of way they come up with, they actually force Pastor Wilkins and/or his presbytery out of the PCA without an actual hearing and fair trail (which is virtually impossible now), a great travesty will have passed for justice. All Christians should be concerned about this sort of miscarriage of justice, but all Presbyterians should be particularly concerned about this sort of fiasco. Secondly, as Wilson suggests, it is important to point out the injustice as it is happening for the benefit of not only those involved but also everyone else watching this happen and/or letting this happen. Finally, Pastor Wilkins and many of the saints at AAPC are my friends, and it is apparent that there are far too few people out there, especially in the PCA who are willing to actually associate with these brothers, even when it is a matter of requiring simple justice.


Brothers, Knock it Off

In our NT lesson this morning (2 Thess. 3:1-15), Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to withdraw from brothers who are disorderly, and he seems to be particularly concerned with those who do not work to provide for themselves and their own families. He says to withdraw from them, note those persons, and do not keep company with them. But Paul says, “Do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” Paul says that there has to be a category for dealing with erring brothers. Paul says there will always be those who are brothers who must be separated from and admonished to faithfulness. Different churches have applied this principle in different ways, but we must recognize that this is here in the Scriptures. In our eagerness to embrace the catholicity of the church, we must not ignore those passages (like this one) which plainly exhort us to not fellowship with those who do not walk according to the apostles’ traditions. What are the apostles’ traditions? They are the inspired writings and teachings of the apostles found in the New Testament (2 Thess. 3:6, 14). As we gather around this table, we must recognize that we are not the Lords of this table. There is only one Lord Jesus Christ, and it is by his authority that we exhort other brothers who gather at this table to stop killing their babies. We exhort others at this table to stop ordaining homosexuals. Others, we exhort to stop praying to images and statues of the saints and our Lord. Others, we exhort to end their abominable worship; stop singing those stupid songs and learn to fear the God of the universe. To still others we command them to stop stealing from their employers, to stop cheating on their wives, and to quit being harsh to their children. This is not meant to dredge up your sins and make you feel guilty as you come to the table; if you have suddenly remembered an old sin, of course you must confess it and forsake it now. The point of all of this is that the unity of the Body of Christ does not mean that we treat all brothers the same. It is right and proper to acknowledge the brotherhood of all Christians, and it is this very fact that requires us to admonish some in the family to quit being rude at the table. It requires us to admonish some in the family to knock it off. And having done so, we are invited to the feast as God’s true sons and daughters. So come: eat, drink, and rejoice.


Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus XX.9: Fifth Commandment

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we come now to submit ourselves to your word. We recognize that we are part of a culture that has significant authority problems. We shirk our responsibilities as authorities, and we are quick to rebel against lawful authorities that you have placed over us. Teach us to submit to you and your Word hear so that we may learn both how to lead and how to follow. Through Jesus our King, Amen!

Where the first four commands are clearly related to our duties toward God, the fifth commandment is a transition commandment. It connects the first four to the last five commands. The requirement to honor father and mother is not limited to individual families but also serves as the foundation of all human authority established by God.

God as Father
The foundation of honoring our human fathers is found in the fact that God is our Father. We considered in the Third Commandment that honoring God’s name as Father means submitting to his fatherly chastisements. But this was the way God always intended for the world to work: Adam was created to be the son of God (Lk. 3). This means that God always intended for Adam to ‘grow up’ to be more and more like Him. The promise of a “seed” is a promise for God to raise up another “son,” another Adam. This promise continues to be reiterated in God’s faithfulness to the patriarchs. We have noted previously that the Exodus itself is based upon the fact that Israel was Yahweh’s firstborn son (Ex. 4:22). Later, God promised to be Father to David’s son (2 Sam. 7, cf. Ps. 89:26). Isaiah recognizes this (Is. 63:16, 64:8), as does Jeremiah (31:9). Malachi specifically likens the honor of a human father to the honor due to God our Father (1:6). Thus, while Jesus brings this point home, it was not really a new idea. Yet, it is he who makes the aim of the OC the reality of the NC. Paul says that it is specifically the gift of the Spirit that makes us sons of God and enables us to honor God as Father (Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6).

Other Fathers
But it is not enough to merely note that God is our Father and then we have human fathers to honor as well. God has designed the world to work under his rule through lawful authorities. These authorities are fathers and mothers which God requires his people to honor. While it is difficult to distinguish family fathers from these ruler-fathers, in the early history of Israel, the whole logic of the Covenant is that Abraham is our father by virtue of covenant loyalty (i.e. faith) (Rom. 4:16-18). Abraham and all of the “fathers” of Israel were not merely fathers by blood (though that was often the case). They were fathers of Israel by faith, meaning that they were God-appointed rulers and teachers of Israel and were to be honored as such. This begins to emerge more explicitly in the era of the kings: Elijah is the father of Elisha (2 Kgs. 2:12). Servants call their master/king “father” (2 Kgs. 5:13). Isaiah calls kings “foster fathers” and queens “nursing mothers” (Is. 49:23). Elisha is considered the father of the king of Israel (2 Kgs. 13:14). The prophets being called father suggests that the office of prophet/teacher in Israel was considered a “fatherly” office. Thus, much later, Paul describes his relationship with Timothy similarly to Elijah and Elisha (cf. Phil. 2:22, 1 Tim. 1:2, 2 Tim. 1:2). Paul says that he and Timothy came and ministered to the Thessalonians as nursing mothers and exhorting fathers (2 Thess. 2:7-11ff). Paul says that the Corinthians have many instructors but few fathers in the faith (1 Cor. 4:15). Paul extends this in other directions as well when he encourages Timothy (and other young ministers) to exhort older men as fathers in the faith (1 Tim. 5:1).

Mother Church
We have noted before that Jesus makes many radical statements concerning father, mother, brother, and sisters. When his family comes to see him while he is teaching, he apparently ignores them and insists that those who submit to His Father in heaven are his family (Mt. 12:50). Elsewhere Jesus says that he came to divide families (Mt. 10:35). And perhaps most disturbing of all, the Lord says that if anyone does not hate his father, mother, children, brothers and sisters, and his own life, he cannot be his disciple (Lk. 14:26). We know that Jesus is not setting aside the Fourth Commandment because Jesus elsewhere explicitly appeals to the Commandment (e.g. Mt. 15:4, 19:19), and the Apostle Paul also plainly affirms the Commandment (Eph. 6:2). Yet, the sharpness of Jesus words cannot be set aside. Jesus insists that His family comes first; his family has priority over all other families. Paul teaches this same idea when he says that the Christian church is the Mother of us all (Gal. 4:26) in contrast to the old Jerusalem in bondage (without the Messiah) which John also calls the Mother of Harlots (Rev. 17:5). The Scriptures insist that the Christian Church is the family of God (Eph. 2:14-15, Gal. 6:10).

Conclusions & Applications
The command to honor father and mother applies first to our heavenly Father and to his Bride, our Mother, the Christian Church. It is not an accident that in an era where the Church has been considered negligible, the biological family has quickly fallen apart. This means that gathering as the people of God is central. This also means that you need to cultivate a delight in being around each other. You are family: act like it.

Honor is not merely nice sentiments. Jesus says that honoring parents has a lot to do with money (Mt. 15:4). Paul explicitly commands Christians to do good to all, especially those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). In the same context Paul exhorts Christians to bear one another’s burdens, restore brothers in sin, and not to grow weary in doing good. This means helping with meals, caring for children, helping brothers out in hard times, correcting, teaching, and receiving all of it with thankfulness and gratitude.

None of this should be taken to imply that your own families are not part of this broader family. Honor your Father and Mother: bless your wife. Honor your Father and Mother: discipline and love your children. Honor your Father and Mother: respect your husband.

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

Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we honor you now as our Father, and we bless you for giving us new life through your Son and in your bride, our Mother, the Christian Church. Teach us to keep your commandments as we honor you and your people.


Fathers and Daughters

In Numbers 30, Moses explains that while a woman is still in her father’s house in her youth, she remains under his authority. He is her head. Moses explains that this means that if she makes a vow and her father hears about it, he may legitimately give his blessing to her vow or annul her vow. If her father hears about the vow and does nothing, he de facto gives his blessing to it. This specific law regarding vows establishes a larger principle that a daughter while she remains under the provision of her father’s house is under his authority. One of the most important vows a young woman will make will be the decision of whom she marries. This means that the traditional portion of a wedding ceremony where the father gives his daughter away is not just a nice, sentimental thing to do. It is in fact based upon the ancient wisdom and word of God. A father is called upon to guard, protect, and defend his daughter until he gives her away in marriage to a man that he has come to trust and respect. The father is called upon to ratify or veto his daughter’s desire to marry a particular man. This of course flies in the face of the modern Disney gospel that says teenage girls need to follow their hearts and Dads are usually old, dowdy cranks. While this is itself a slander on every faithful Christian father, it is also ultimately a slander of our Gracious Father in heaven. The gospel of Grace is that if our Heavenly Father numbers the hairs on our head and clothes the flowers of the field, how much more so will he provide for all our needs and more. Likewise, human fathers are called upon to imitate our heavenly Father. They are not called to replace our heavenly Father, but they are called to set an example that mirrors his grace, his wisdom, and his goodness. This being so, daughters, you are called upon to honor your fathers, respect them, trust their counsel, and ultimately submit yourself to the guidance of your fathers in cheerful obedience; this is not tyranny, this is the grace of God.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My Father

I'm sure this has been noticed many times before, but it occurs to me that a man going around calling God his Father in Israel had to have been considered to be making an implicit (or explicit) claim to be Israel's king. The covenant that God made with David was the explicit promise of God saying, "I will be his father and he shall be my son..." (2 Sam. 7:14). Later, the Psalmist envisions this reality in the inauguration of the king of Israel (Ps. 2:7), and according to Ps. 89, to be the son of God, to be the firstborn of Yahweh, is to be the highest of all the kings of the earth (89:26). I've noted before that the title "son of God" was not first and foremost a claim to deity but had all of the OT weight of the callings of Adam, Israel, Solomon, all come to fulfillment in the true Son. But it goes the other way too of course. When Jesus calls God 'my father' and teaches his disciples to pray 'our father', he is speaking as though he is the son of David, the king of Israel and the king over all the kings of the earth. Likewise, for disciples of Jesus to pray 'our father' is implicitly to claim to be royalty; it is to claim to be sons of David, a nation of kings who rule over all the other kings of the earth.


Happy Sabbath

The Fourth Command reiterates the command to “remember” several times. In the OT this meant remembering the great redemptive acts of God in creation and the Exodus. In the NT, our Memorial is the Eucharist. In the Lord’s Supper we perform a “Remembrance” of the even greater act of redemption in Jesus. In the death and resurrection, Jesus both remade the world and brought us out of the greater Egypt. This is why the first prayer of the Eucharist begins, “Remembering our Lord’s life-giving passion and death…” The Sabbath command is to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy. We are gathered here to keep the fourth commandment, to remember the re-creation of the world and the great and final Exodus out of every form of slavery and bondage. But we are not only to remember, but to remember to keep it holy. “Holy” is one of those Bible words that people often say but rarely think about. Holy is what the Cherubim cry out around the throne of God, Holy is what the people of God were to be, and Holy is where God’s special presence is promised and to be protected and guarded. This Eucharist, this thanksgiving is one of those places where the Lord has promised to be present. Here we are entering the Most Holy Place. And just as the priests of old were required to keep themselves pure and clean, so too we must not assume that this meal is something common, a snack with Jesus. This means that whatever uncleanness, whatever sin has gotten on us we need to confess and forsake. This is why we confess our sins at the beginning of the service every week. And you have confessed and you have been forgiven; therefore let us keep the feast with joy and sincerity. Rejoice before the Lord, remembering that you were once slaves in Egypt, but now you have been made free lords and ladies. You are the royalty of the Triune God, and you are welcome at his banqueting table. And the Lord of the Sabbath says to you, ‘Happy Sabbath!’


Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus XX.8: Fourth Commandment

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we are assembled here before you in order that we may rejoice in your goodness, in order that we may rest in your provision. Teach us to delight in your Sabbath, to rejoice in the great rest that you have won for us and to enter into that rest even now. Feed us now by your Word and Spirit, through Jesus Christ, Amen!

Last week we investigated the Old Covenant Sabbath principle which was not only a day, but included feasts and years and was a continual sign of the covenant, a sign of forgiveness, release, freedom, provision both for Israel and ultimately the world. The New Testament shows us that Jesus came to fulfill the Sabbath, and when he died and rose again, he remade the world and gave us an even greater Sabbath.

Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath
Jesus has a number of run-ins with the Jews on the issue of Sabbath keeping. One that is mentioned by several of the gospel writers is the grain eating incident (Mt. 12, Mk. 2:23ff, Lk. 6). Jesus explains that it is lawful for he and his disciples to eat the heads of grain because David and his men at the showbread of the tabernacle. He concludes by insisting that the ‘Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’ Far from this being an incident where Jesus is bending the Sabbath laws, Jesus is in fact fulfilling and revealing the full meaning of the Sabbath. David and his men were on the run from Saul (on the Sabbath) and were likely preparing to defend themselves. David asks the priest for the Face Bread, the ‘Bread of the Presence.’ David tells Ahimelech that his men are holy and therefore may eat of it (1 Sam. 21:5). This means that David’s men had probably taken a Nazirite vow which gave them a temporary priestly status. Thus if David was a ‘lord of the Sabbath’, this primarily refers to the fact that he has access to the sanctuary and to the holy bread. Jesus is in effect saying that he and his disciples are free to eat heads of wheat on the Sabbath because they have access to the holy place and to the holy bread. The implication is that the Pharisees are like Doeg the Edomite and King Saul, plotting to kill Jesus and his disciples.

The Sabbath in the Gospels
The grain eating incident is followed by Jesus healing a man with a withered hand. Jesus says that it is lawful to heal and to do good on the Sabbath (Mt 12, Mk. 3, Lk. 6). This of course fits with the Sabbath pattern we saw last week where God expects his people to forgive debts, give rest and provision to the land, animals, and strangers. He explicitly appeals to these provisions when he heals a woman with an unclean spirit and likens it to loosing an animal to pasture (Lk. 13:10ff). He also healed a man of dropsy on the Sabbath likening it to pulling an animal out of a pit on the Sabbath (Lk 14:1). John also records a couple of Sabbath healings: a crippled man (Jn. 5:9ff), a blind man (Jn. 9).

Sabbath in the New Testament
Paul has a number of references to Sabbaths and observing days, etc. In Col. 2:16, Paul exhorts the Christians not to allow anyone to judge them for food, drink, new moon feasts or festivals or Sabbaths. Paul is likely dealing with Judaizers here as he does else where, and he says that Christ is the fullness of the gospel (Col. 2:9-10). There is nothing missing or lacking in their salvation; they were even circumcised in their baptisms (2:11-13). In this context, Paul says not to allow anyone to say they are lacking or incomplete. In Christ the old Sabbaths all died and were nailed to the cross with all the other laws (2:14). Christians are not required to keep the seventh day Sabbath, neither are we bound to the precise application of the law (e.g. making fires on the Sabbath, gathering manna, etc.). Romans 14:5-9 is similarly concerned with Christian Jews and Gentiles loving one another. Some Christian Jews were observing the old feast days and Sabbaths, and Paul says that Christians are free to observe them or not. He says the issue is thanksgiving and loving one another (14:6, 17-18, cf. 13:8). Paul has a similar point to make in Galatians. The issue is the conflict between Judaizers and Christians. Paul says that submitting to the Judaizers is turning “back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world,” and a chief sign of this was the observance of days, months, seasons, and years (Gal. 4:10). Paul is not against having a calendar per se; the point is that he is adamantly against living like the Messiah has not come and remade the world (cf. 6:15).

A Sabbath Remains
Hebrews says that a Sabbath remains for the people of God (Heb. 4:9). While we recognize that the exact regulations for this law were for a particular nation and time in covenant history, the Fourth Command remains in force. The center of this command is the requirement not to neglect coming together as God’s people (10:25). While God’s people are free to gather at any time any day; the Lord’s Day is the New Testament pattern in honor of the resurrection, the day of the new creation. At the center of this gathering is entering the holy place in the power of the Spirit to partake of the Bread of the Presence and the wine of gladness. As Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath, so we have been made lords of the Sabbath and given access to drawn near in full assurance of faith (10:19-22) to partake of the altar (13:10) and to offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving (13:15).

Conclusions & Applications
Sabbath keeping means having access to the Holy Place and to the Holy Bread. And therefore it means worshipping God together with God’s people on the Lord’s Day. If the Lord’s Day is our Sabbath, our release, our celebration of freedom and forgiveness then we need to do all we can to make it special: dressing up for worship, working on the songs during the week, look forward to the Sabbath with your children. Make worship a big deal by singing with gusto, saying ‘Amen!’ with vigor.

We have Christian Worship at the center of our New Covenant Sabbath observance. That feast flows out into the rest of the day and ultimately our entire lives. In the New Covenant, God’s people have been raised to positions of authority; we are the Sun, moon, and stars of the New Creation. We have been given authority over the days, seasons, and years. This means that in some non-Christian cultures it is impossible to have the day off on Sunday. In the early church Christians gathered late at night and early in the morning to worship. As our society returns to a semi-paganism it may be increasingly hard to keep the Lord’s Day as a feast day, but it should be our aim, our goal, what we are working toward.

Differing families will work out the details of their Sabbath cultures in different ways. Some families will decide to have certain guidelines to direct the family culture. There is freedom here, but the central goal of God’s people needs to be rejoicing before the Lord for his goodness and resting in Christ.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty and Gracious Father, we give you thanks and praise that in your infinite wisdom you have remade the world and given us access to the garden. You have placed us as kings and queens in your new Eden, the Church, and you have given us access to the Tree of Life. This is the great and final Sabbath that we partake of each Lord’s Day, and we ask that you would give us deeper and more vigorous experiences of this life that we might be your ministers of Sabbath freedom, Sabbath forgiveness, and Sabbath joy both here and throughout this community and the world.


Dating and the Gospel

In Ephesians, Paul calls upon husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. One of the implications of this is that marriage is always a picture of the gospel. It is either a good picture or a bad picture, but marriage always pictures the gospel. This means that the steps leading up to marriage are part of this picture. The story of the Scriptures can be told as a great love story, a romance, a courtship, the story of a faithful, courageous and noble man who woos, courts, and marries his bride. And because we live in a culture that despises the gospel, it should come as no surprise that marriage is under a full scale assault. It is attacked on a number of different levels, but one of the most insidious attacks is at the level of preparing for marriage. The prevailing winds of dating, hooking up, going out, getting together, whatever you call it, is a lie and slander about the gospel we proclaim. Does God just play with his bride? Is the Lord Jesus just dating around? Does the God of the universe single out his bride and say, hey, this isn’t really serious, we’re just casually dating? Of course there have to be ways for a man and a woman to meet and determine if God would have them marry. But we cannot watch our young people casually date and hook up with numerous people over a number of years and then we wonder why over half of marriages in our nation end in divorce. We train our young people that marriage is basically a game of musical beds, and then we wonder when they don’t understand commitment. We train them to think casually, and then we’re shocked when they act like it. But if marriage is a picture of the gospel, if the love between a man and a woman is meant to be a glorious picture of salvation and grace, it cannot come as a surprise that so many covenant children grow up and connect the dots. Being a Christian is just a casual relationship, Jesus is just a sometime boyfriend, off again, on again. No big deal. This approach to love and marriage is essentially Arminian and Pelagian, and we ought not be surprised when it grows up into a sub-orthodox theology and ultimately produces the fruits of apostasy, heresy, and divorce.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Struggling with Coolers

We all struggle with sin. We all have crosses to bear.

My son is no exception.

I do not point out my son's struggle because I wish to embarrass him or gloat or any such thing. Rather, the apostle Paul says in Romans that we ought not despair when we face trials and temptations because no temptation has overtaken us except that which is common to man. And when we are tempted, he always provides a way out.

My son has recently experienced the most accute temptations while at the grocery store. It's not merely the task of helping mom, keeping his hand on the grocery cart, or reigning in his little boy wiggles. No, those are small, vague challenges that shrink in comparison to the overwhelming giant of the deli and freezer coolers. You see, these are not just coolers. They are glass coolers. And they are cool. They are clear and shiny and they look yummy. They are the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They are pleasing to the eyes, desirable to make one wise, and good for food. Please understand that it's not just any glass that has this effect on my son, it is the uniquely powerful seduction of the deli and freezer coolers.

My son has a deep and profound desire to lick the deli and freezer coolers. He wants to lick the glass. It was funny the first couple of times, but you know, moms can only watch that sort of thing a few times before the stomach turning begins. We now have to begin preparing for the temptation before we get to the store on grocery day. "Son," my wife says, "will you lick the coolers today at the store?" "No, ma'am." "What if they look really good?" "I won't do it."

My wife tells me that even after sincere oaths and promises like these, she has to watch him.

I suspect that this is a sign of some repressed feelings. Probably there's a name for this condition. There's probably a genetic predisposition for licking deli coolers somewhere in our family line.

Anyway, I just thought I'd share.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

All the Saints at Rest

This week the Christian Church celebrated All Saints Day. Part of the Sabbath principle that we have seen today required Israel to love their neighbors by giving them rest, forgiving their debts, and setting them free. And many times Sabbath keeping meant have great feasts that included children, neighbors, friends, and even strangers. This Eucharist is the fulfillment of those Sabbath Feasts. Here, we sit down every week to rest in the presence of God. We sing, because this meal is a celebration, a feast. And we pass bread and wine to one another because we are one body, one family, and we serve each other as a token of our love for one another. This means that our celebration here is one of the most important ways we keep the Sabbath and obey the Fourth Commandment. Here we rest in the provision of God in Christ, and we serve one another with that same provision, that same joy, that same rest. But we are not the only ones celebrating this communion. The communion that we share here also includes that great cloud of witness throughout the world and in heaven. The writer of Hebrews says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witness. We are seated at this table in the heavenly places with Adam and Eve and Able and Abraham and Deborah and Gideon and Ruth and David and Ezekiel and Peter and Mary and Athanasius and Augustine and Gregory the Great and John Huss and Martin Bucer and George Whitefield and John Wesley and J. Gresham Machen are in that cloud of witnesses, those who have already entered their final Sabbath rest, and they are rejoicing with us, cheering us on. Every Sunday is All Saints Day, every Eucharist is the celebration of this one loaf, this one body, the one baptism, the one death and resurrection, the one God and Father of us all, and the one Holy Spirit that binds us together. Therefore come and rejoice, come and rest: this is the Sabbath.


Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost: All Saints: Fourth Commandment

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we bow before you now asking for wisdom as we consider your word. But we ask that you be particularly kind to us as we consider a subject that has been a cause a great stumbling and misunderstanding for many. We ask that you would protect us from the many potential stumbling blocks and that you would even protect us errors that we have embraced even without knowing. For Jesus sake, Amen!

It is necessary to review the context of the giving of the law in general and this fourth commandment law in particular. For many reasons the fourth commandment is perhaps the least appreciated and most controversial law in the Decalogue. But the story of the Exodus is the story of God redeeming his son from slavery and teaching him how to be free, how to live like royalty, and to serve in his Father’s house for the blessing of the world.

Sabbath Rest
As we consider the concept of Sabbath we need to recognize that Sabbath rest was not limited to the bare cessation of work on the Sabbath day. As the command makes clear, the requirement to rest extended to family, visitors, and even to animals (Ex. 20:10). The Sabbath principle also applied to the land (Ex. 23:10-11, Lev. 25). Debts were to be cancelled every seven years (Dt. 15:1-2). Furthermore, in the 50th year (the seventh sabbatical cycle of seven years), a year of jubilee was proclaimed which required the release of slaves, the return on inheritance, and rest for the land (Lev. 25:8-17). The year of jubilee is in many ways the supreme expression of the Sabbath principle, and it began with the sounding of the trumpet on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 25:9-10) which celebrated the forgiveness of Israel’s sin, the gift of the covenant, freedom, release from slavery, and mercy. Therefore, the Sabbath day, year, and Jubilee were institutionalized ways for Israel to forgive the debts of others as their own debts had been forgiven. Israel was given rest and gives rest based on the shedding of blood.

Peace on Earth
The Sabbath rest given to the land is significant if we remember the Sabbath in the creation week and the curse pronounced on the soil. To give rest to the land is not only to enter the rest of the Creator God, but to rest in Him is to signify faith in his provision for the curse against sin. If the Israelites were faithful weeds would grow during the Sabbaths years. But those weeds would be used to replenish and rejuvenate the land. It was the lack of giving rest to the land that led to the exile (2 Chr. 36:21, cf. Lev. 26:34, 43). Thus Sabbath rest is not only for people but for land, for work, and a sign of faith in God’s provision. Ezekiel calls the Sabbath a sign of the covenant (Ez. 20:12, 20). This means that the Sabbath is also a plan for the future: it looks forward to the forgiveness, freedom, and rest of all the world. In this sense the Sabbath law is not merely about taking rest but giving rest, giving forgiveness, bestowing blessing, life, and health to others (Mt. 12).

Sabbath as Feast and Worship
The Sabbath is listed among the principle feasts of the Jewish calendar (Lev. 23:2-3). On these feast days there were to be holy convocations and cessation of regular, daily work. As we have seen previously, God’s desire is for his people to gather before him and rejoice. Part of honoring the Sabbath was calling the Sabbath a delight (Is. 58:13). The other feasts of Israel were Sabbaths as well: The Feast of Booths included the command to rejoice before the Lord for seven days (Lev. 23:40). In our OT passage it includes the requirement that the people of Israel tithe in order that they may bring a portion before the Lord and rejoice before the Lord with “whatever your heart desires” (Dt. 14:26). This, incidentally, is why it is fitting for the Church to sponsor feasts and meals and dances for the covenant community, and to pay for the expenses with the tithe.

Conclusions & Applications
First, before making any applications, we need to conclude that the Sabbath is an enormous blessing. We need to get this deep down in our bones. When we hear the word Sabbath it needs to hit us like the words “Christmas” or “chocolate” or “bonus.” God overflows with goodness, and Sabbath rest and freedom is a sign of this. God’s people are kings and queens, and therefore he gives them days, weeks, and years to live like royalty. They are his children; they are his nobility. Learn to say, “Happy Sabbath.”

Second, Sabbath keeping clearly means forgiving those who sin against you. This means that you may not hold grudges, keep accounts of what he/she said, did, etc. Cultivating a Sabbath culture means forgiving financial debts, being generous with food, and giving gifts. All of this requires understanding that you have been forgiven, redeemed, and set free in Christ. Therefore, go and do likewise.

We will return to this next week, but Paul tells us that the Lord’s Supper is the New Covenant feast (1 Cor. 5:8). Therefore, the Lord’s Day is a festival day, a weekly holiday celebrating Christ our Passover who was sacrificed for us and is now risen from the dead. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the remaking of the world, the proclamation of freedom, forgiveness, and peace with God, man, and earth (2 Cor. 5:15-17). This fact is worthy of our celebration:

Prepare to celebrate: You don’t ‘wing it’ on Christmas or Thanksgiving. Plan ahead: Budget to keep the Sabbath. No need to be extravagant: just put forth your best. Prepare for worship on Saturday and during the week: train your children, family worship, etc.

Learn to rejoice as families and as a community on the Lord’s Day: laugh, invite your friends over, drink good wine, play games, give your wife flowers, have steak for dinner, read poetry, laugh some more, set your best tables, tell jokes, give gifts, laugh some more, dance, read stories, eat chocolate, and rejoice in all of it before the Lord.

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

Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you for your great provision for us your people. We thank you for the Sabbath rest that you have won for us in Christ. We rejoice in our salvation; we rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus; we rejoice in the forgiveness of sins and the great freedom you have won for us. Give us grace that we might begin to recover a Sabbath keeping culture, that our homes be marked with Sabbath delight.


Christian Freedom: Stick or Scalpel?

The Christian life is a journey, a path, a road. And with all roads there are always at least two ditches to avoid. Two of the biggest ditches are antinomianism and legalism. Antinomianism says that in Christ there is no law, and therefore Christians are free to do whatever they want. Legalism on the other hand says that Christians must keep the law, and since we’re sinners and it’s dangerous out there in the world we need to erect extra, special laws that protect us from breaking God’s law. So antinomians may overtly break the law, drink too much, or else they push every limit of the law by dressing like prostitutes, or spend their time watching movies that they would be embarrassed to tell their friends about (or at least they should be embarrassed by them), and on the other hand legalists don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew and don’t go with girls that do. And usually, most importantly, the legalists are also busy keeping track of all the antinomian infractions: counting the cigarettes, counting the beers, keeping track of the so-called sins of everyone else like an accountant keeps her ledgers. An antinomian takes Christian freedom and swings it around on the end of a stick and doesn’t care if there’s anyone else within striking difference, and they take a few people down, too bad for them. The legalist turns Christian freedom into a scalpel and gets busy performing heart surgery on every passerby with the sort of precision and intensity of a three year old boy. But these are ditches, errors, and both extremes are to be despised and rejected. Antinomians, your freedom is not for your selfish pleasure. You are free in Christ to love and serve one another. Do not use your freedom as opportunity for the flesh. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passion and lusts. Legalists, stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free. Remember, the entire law is fulfilled in one word , even this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Do not bite and devour one another: Love God, love His Word, love one another, and bear with one another.