Thou mammering shard-borne strumpet!
Monday, February 26, 2007
We gather here week after week to commune with the Lord, and we bring our children to this table. This is good and right, but it is worth reminding ourselves every so often why we do this. And it’s a good idea to know why we bring our children to this table particularly in the climate we live in where it is not very common and sometimes not very well received. We do not bring our children to the table out of superstition. We do not believe that grace is a substance and that after a lack of bread and wine one could measure a quantitative difference between two people. There is no grace calculator; there is no grace scale, and even if the idolatrous minds of men tried to come up with one, it would be completely useless. Our children are welcome and invited to this table because they are God’s children. God feeds his children; he does not starve his children. It is no accident that throughout the Old Testament the people of God are called the “children of Israel.” John picks up on this same theme when he repeatedly addresses exhortations in his epistles to “little children.” The point is that we all come as little children. And given what Jesus says, it is safe to say that you may only come as children for of such is the kingdom of heaven. You may not come here believing that your understanding of theology or liturgy or philosophy earns you any special grace points in the sight of God. Your high school diploma, your masters degree, or the fact that you are over 5 feet tall do not get you one inch closer to the Lord of this table. You must come here as children, hungry children: hungry for food, hungry for fellowship, hungry for the attention of your Father. So if you are a child of God, come now, hungry and be filled.
Opening Prayer: Almighty and Gracious God, you have gathered us here in your presence. We have heard many words this week: many of them ugly, many of them wicked, many of them shallow and meaningless, and many of them lies. But we have come now to hear your Word. Speak to us now with your life-giving word: your good word, your true word, and your faithful word. Strengthen and comfort us; equip us for the journey before us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
This is the first Sunday in the season of Lent. As we have pointed out previously, Sundays are not technically included in the 40 days of Lent. Yet, as we journey through the days and weeks leading up to our Savior’s death and resurrection, these Sundays are significant to the fight just as every Sunday is strength and encouragement for the battle. Today we also begin our study of the book of Exodus.
Picking up with Genesis
The book of Exodus begins recapping the end of Genesis, but the recap is worded such that it assumes that the readers/hearers know all about Genesis. The house of Jacob is reviewed (vv. 1-5) emphasizing the number 70 which reminds us of the seventy nations of Genesis 10 descended from Noah. Israel has become a nation. Joseph is mentioned as one “already in Egypt” (v. 5), and it is assumed that the reader/hearer understands the significance of Joseph dying (v. 6, 8). Another connection to Noah is the fulfillment of the commands to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 9:1, 7). Israel has been faithful to this extent in Egypt. This of course reminds us of Genesis 1-2, and verse 7 makes the connection even closer: (literally) “And the sons of Israel were fruitful and they swarmed/teemed and they multiplied and they became mighty/numerous…” This “teeming” is what the fish and sea creatures are said to have done on day five in Genesis 1; this is what God commands Noah and his sons to do in 9:7, and it is what the frogs will do in Exodus 7:28. The fact that Pharaoh is trying to stop this growth means he is fighting Yahweh. Finally, if we look back at the end of Genesis, there seems to be some indication that things were already in decline at the end of Joseph’s life (50:24-25). At the very least, God references Joseph’s prophecy when he begins to act (Ex. 3:16).
Come Let us Deal Wisely
Interestingly, the word “Pharaoh” is not used until the very end of this first episode in Exodus. The Pharaoh is referred to as the “king” four times before he is named “Pharaoh” (1:8, 15, 17, 18). “Pharaoh” itself seems to be a title for the ruling house of Israel. One commentator suggests that it is the name of the literal house where the king ruled, somewhat equivalent to us referring to “Washington” or the “White House.” It is this “new king” who did not know Joseph who calls his people to be “wise” (1:10). Prior to this, the word “wise” has only been used three times and all (ironically) in connection to the Joseph narrative (Gen. 41:8, 33, 39). It is the “wise men” of Egypt who are unable to tell Pharaoh what his dreams mean, and it is Joseph who suggests (after interpreting his dreams) that Pharaoh put a “wise” man over Egypt to prepare for the coming famine. Pharaoh declares that Joseph is the only one “wise” enough for the job. Thus it is hardly surprising that this “new king” who does not know Joseph should suggest this sort of “wisdom” to his people. Where the Pharaoh who knew Joseph cooperates with Joseph to save many lives, the new Pharaoh is determined to end many.
The Hebrew Midwives
We should note the king of Egypt makes three attempts to diminish the “Hebrew problem” in Egypt. First, he introduces task masters who afflict them with burdens (v. 11), but that results in the Hebrews multiplying and growing even stronger (v. 12). Secondly, the king intensifies the slave labor, making them serve with “rigor” (v. 13-14), and he instructed the midwives to kill the baby boys of Hebrew women (v. 16). But when the midwives disobey the king, Israel multiplies even more and grows even stronger (v. 20). Thus, finally, Pharaoh makes a universal edict to all of his people, ordering them to throw any male Hebrew babies into the Nile River (v. 22). We should note that Pharaoh is going after the “sons” of Israel. This is the same title given in 1:1 to the descendents of Jacob, and in fact, the word “son” is used 7 times in the first chapter. We know what is coming in the book of Exodus, but it is worth noting now that the “sons” of Israel are being oppressed and drowned in the river and God will visit this same judgment on Egypt shortly. Finally, it’s worth pointing out that the midwives are blessed for their civil disobedience and lying (vv. 19-21). The reason given for their integrity is that they “feared God.” This reminds us of Abraham’s somewhat similar situation with Abimelech (Gen. 20:11). There, Abraham lied to Abimelech because there was no “fear of God” in Gerar. Just as God blessed Abraham’s wisdom and faith with great riches (Gen. 2:14-16) so too here, God is good to the midwives, and Shiphrah and Puah are blessed with households (1:20-21) like Jacob’s sons (1:1).
Conclusions and Applications
One of the things that we do not see here, but which we learn about later is that Israel fell into idolatry in Egypt (Josh. 24:14). The blessing of Israel was the result of Joseph’s great wisdom and faithfulness and refusal to compromise, but the covenant curses fell upon Israel for their great disobedience as well (which we can see coming cf. ch. 37-38, 50:15-18). We must always remember the lessons of Job and Ecclesiastes, but this does not negate the way the world works: people reap what they sow. And consequences have generational effects. It is not enough to see our children faithful; our goal is our grand children and great-grand children. As we live between the great Easters, it will not do to throw up our arms and hope for the best. We are called to live by faith, trusting and believing that God does bless faithful obedience, and even in the midst of broader covenantal curses, God gives households to faithful midwives.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Our great and merciful God, so often we have lived presuming upon your goodness and grace, but you have called us to faith. Lord we believe, but help our unbelief. Rescue us from the pits that we have dug for ourselves. Grant us grace to live with open eyes and ready minds, living before you with faithfulness. Make us hungry for your blessing, believing with every ounce of strength within us that your blessings are far better than we can even imagine.
Worship is warfare. We are not here to pat each other on the back; we are not here to get an ego massage. We are not here to sing and say things that make us feel good. We are here as the armies of the most high God, the hosts of the Lord of hosts.
This means that what you do here matters. You may not mumble through the prayers while wondering how much longer till you can leave. You may not worry about what you’re going to serve for lunch, what you’re wearing, or what you look like. You may not hum the songs quietly to yourself as though singing is somehow an optional exercise.
You are the armies of God. You have been anointed in baptism, set apart and claimed by God to do battle, and your arms are weapons that make guns and swords look like sticks and stones. We have been given the Word of God which is sharper than any sword and more deadly than any nuclear blast. The Word is our weapon as we sing it, as we declare it, as we listen to it, and as we eat it. And this is not some kind of make-believe war game. The Scriptures declare that God is enthroned on the praise of his people and that when God is enthroned and declared as Lord and King, he sends judgments on the earth and he causes kingdoms to fall.
So come and worship now with faith. Sing out as though the words in your mouth were swords in your hand. Call out your prayers and responses with boldness and courage. Listen to one another and speak and sing together in unison, uniting your voices like a well ordered-army. Listen eagerly and attentively to the Word read and preached. Believe that you are waging war now, because you are. And believe that God promises to bless us, because he does.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
The Christian Almanac records that on February 23rd, 303 A.D., the Roman Emperor Diocletian re-instituted a severe persecution of the Christian Church. Struggling to revitalize an empire that was beginning to pull apart under a number of political and economic factors, the emperor identified Christians as one of the greatest threats to the cohesion of the empire. This "movement" challenged the empire with its fundamental loyalties to the Lord Jesus. In the days and months that followed, Diocletian targeted leaders and writings, hoping to scatter the laity. Thus, many church leaders were dragged from their homes and meeting places and tortured to death. Christian books and Scriptures were burned. Nothing was deemed too harsh: the rack, the scourge, slow fires, crucifixion, and other barbarities were carried out against faithful Christian leaders. But this dark hour was the night before a remarkable new day for Christendom. Only ten years later Constantine would issue the Edict of Milan giving legal protection to the Christian faith.
As we celebrate the season of Lent, journeying with the Church to Easter, it is good to be reminded of those who literally suffered to the point of death in hope of resurrection, in hope of Easter. May God grant us strength and courage in our little "crosses" that we may obtain to the resurrection without any fear or shame.
The sermon text for this Sunday will be from Exodus 1. Our other lessons will be from Deuteronomy 26:5-10, Romans 10:8-13, and Luke 4:1-13.
Turns out that technically, according to E. Randolph Richards, the word "scroll" was originally the verb, and the word "roll" was the noun.
This juicy tidbit was found slinking about in the footnotes on p. 49 of Paul and First-Century Letter Writing.
This is an outline of a recent presentation I gave at New Covenant School in Anderson, SC.
Toward a Biblical Vision for a Classical Curriculum
It was St. Augustine who said in his Confessions that “we learn better in a free state of curiosity than under fear and compulsion.” At the same time, every experienced teacher knows that some stuff just isn’t fun. Many of students, we think, shouldn’t even be trusted in “free state of curiosity” even locked up alone in a room with their history book. Please note that I am taking for granted very basic Christian values like hard work, discipline, and high academic standards. Nothing that follows is meant to suggest otherwise.
Teachers as Curriculum
Given what we’ve already seen about the nature of teaching and knowledge, it is not too difficult to realize that teachers are the most important curriculum. Another way of saying this is that “subjects” don’t exist on their own. What we mean when we say “subject” is the cumulated efforts of study of some area of creation and history. When our students study “math” we mean that we are introducing them to the labors and observations of people. And then we (the teachers) are standing up their in front of them as yet one more witness of how the world works in these particular instances. Every individual teacher is the face at the front of a great crowd of witnesses on any given subject. And yet, you, the flesh and blood teacher at the front of the classroom are the most important one for your students. The task of these students is to imitate you; to become like you (Lk. 6:40). You are not only called to be “good examples,” you are called to be the examples. Your job is to love your area of subject so much as to draw your students into the story; you’re aiming to stun, to romance, to stupefy your students with your studies. But what does this look like?
A Curriculum of Play
By this I do not mean that education should be less than rigorous or that we need to lower academic standards. Rather, if we see education as centrally concerned with imitation and discipleship then it is not too difficult to see the need for learning to be good actors. Christians have been suspicious of theater and drama for its many failures in the areas of morality, but “play” is central to being good Christians. We are called to “act” like Christ and to act like those who imitate him well. Also, if we understand knowledge as a kind of loving with all that we are then acting is a way of embodying the truth. Short plays, skits, and speeches can be excellent opportunities to live out what is being learned. Stories also invite our students to imagine themselves in foreign situations, to pretend, to act out (if only mentally) the world that the teacher is inviting them into.
A Curriculum of Poetry
While Augustine said that we learn what we love; it was Blaise Pascal who said that we love what we find lovely. This means that as teachers, we are called to present the world that we have been called to present in way that is beautiful, noble, and good. For several semesters of science, we used Audubon Field Guides, and we spent as many hours as we could outside observing and discovering. When we weren’t outside, we were inside drawing pictures of them, learning their names, and writing stories and poetry about them. Included in poetry is a love of song and the Psalms in particular. Martin Luther said that singing something is like saying it twice. Putting words to music gives them glory and beauty. Of course some subjects fit will with “ditties”, but we should be careful not to ignore the glories of the Psalms and hymns of our heritage. Finally, poetry teaches us to integrate. There is no area of the world that Jesus is not Lord of, and thus, if all things consist and are held together in Him, then they must all relate and supplement one another. The glory of poetry is metaphor, seeing the world through the world. As people of the Book, we should be people enamored with good books. As people of the Word, we should be people enamored with words: Scripture, literature, poetry, languages, etc.
A Curriculum of Laughter
When we studied history and literature, I wrote short, silly plays for my students to act out. Often enough, the plays would include various one-liners about things completely off topic (e.g. video games, baseball, dirty laundry, etc.). The point was of course to make my students laugh, but it was also to teach them something fundamentally true about the world and history. We live in the world that a good and sovereign God rules over. The story of the world and creation is a story that pleases God and he rejoices in. And we have been invited into that story. This means that we need to learn to rejoice and laugh at the world with the Lord of heaven. We know that the story of history is the story of God’s triumph over all evil with his grace. The death and resurrection is a comedy, and therefore the history of the world is comedy, a romance: it will have a happy ending. From this point of view, teaching our students to laugh with joy and wonder at the world that God has made is teaching our students to love the Triune God and revel in His goodness.
We have argued that fundamentally, when we say “classical education” we mean a full-orbed biblical education. We mean that we are seeking to follow the old ways, the good paths. We are seeking the good life, the life of abundance. We want students that have sharp minds and quick wits but also fat souls, joyful and thankful for their studies, not inoculated to the goodness of God. We have noted that learning is essentially discipleship, and since worship is the center of Christian discipleship, Christian education must flow out of Christian worship too. Just as worship is a dramatic performance and appearance before God, so too learning should be dramatic, artistic, and even theatrical. As Christian worship is filled with the poetry of God (his words and songs and blessings), so too Christian education should be filled with beautiful words and song. And just as Christian worship is a declaration of the Lordship of Jesus and His victory in the world, so too education should be full of the joy and laughter of faith. Perhaps one of the hardest skills that teachers need to learn is how not to tell all, how to intrigue and surprise, how to make our students hungry for more.
This is an outline of a recent presentation I gave at New Covenant School in Anderson, SC.
Toward A Biblical Vision for Classical Education
While it is exciting to see what God has done over last 25 years in this country with Christian Education, as educators, we know that one of the most important disciplines of learning is repetition and review. It’s not a silly question to ask, “What do we mean by Classical Education?” Some have emphasized the “classics” in terms of content, others have emphasized “classical empires/culture”, and still others have used the term primarily to describe the medieval Trivium, some in terms of subject matter others more specifically as applied to K-12 learning stages. And many of us have attempted to do a combination of all of these things.
We know that when we say classical there is at least some sense in which we are looking back. We realize that we have gone off the trail; we’ve lost our way in some way. And we want to get back to where we were going before. We see the ruins around us, and we want to follow the prophet’s exhortation. Jeremiah 6:16: “Thus says the LORD: "Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls.” But as Christians it is not merely enough to find old stuff. Dust is not the guarantee of success. Unfortunately, it appears that this is the idea some folks have gotten when it comes to classical education. But we are Christians, and we know that sin and ugliness is old too. So when it comes to looking back, we want to look back to what we know was good. The only infallible source of history and antiquity is the Bible. Thus, as Christians, when we say “classical” we mean first and foremost biblical; we mean Christian.
Classical Education as Discipleship
Of courses it’s not enough to sprinkle a bunch of Bible verses in our text books and move on. Having a weekly or daily chapel doesn’t make an education classical or Christian. The Scriptures speak of learning and education in highly personal terms, in terms of discipleship. Ephesians 4:17-21: “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus…” Luke 6:40: "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” In other words, our students are not studying subjects; they are studying us. We, like Paul, are urging our students to imitate us as we imitate Christ (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1). Imitation is more than just ideas or words. Imitation involves facial expressions, attitudes, actions, and more. We imitate Christ by doing what he says, but also doing as he did as, for example, in the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23). This is why worship is the center of our discipleship.
Classical Education as Knowing and Loving God
We learn not only be watching and listening but also by doing and saying and acting. Much of what we are talking about has a lot to do with our theory of knowledge. What does it mean to know something? If we want our math students to *know* math, it would be a good idea to have some notion of that might look like before we begin. If we start at the beginning, we remember that “knowing” is first used in connection to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Knowledge is presented as something that is far from neutral. Without denying the historicity of any of Genesis, the fact is that one lesson we learn is that we must acquire knowledge under the blessing of God or under the cursing of God. There is no other option. In other words, learning is covenantal. We will either keep covenant by faith as we learn or will break covenant by unbelief as we study. There is no middle road; there is no neutrality.
We know from the law and Christ’s own words that the entire law and the prophets are summarized with the two greatest commandments (Mt. 22:37-40). Fundamentally, this is how we are called to keep covenant with God: loving him with everything that we are. And this brings us back to the idea of knowing. Shortly after the incident in Eden, we are told that Adam “knew” his wife and she bore a son (Gen. 4:1). Knowing is something we do with our bodies and our minds. And this kind of knowing is really a deep sort of loving. St. Augustine is remembered as saying that in order for us to come to know something we must in some way come to love it. In other words, learning and knowing is not primarily a kind of “getting” but rather a kind of “giving.” When students learn literature or spelling or music, they are giving themselves to the stories, to the rules, to the practice of doing those things well. They are imitating their teachers, watching their teachers love their areas of study and following after them.
What we are aiming for as classical educators is the training of students who follow Christ in every area of life. Our aim is teach our students how to live well. We’re not aiming merely full brains; we’re aiming for fat souls (Prov.16:24, 19:8). Souls are fed with imagination, laughter, stories, poetry, puzzles, and more laughter. We are not merely aiming to have students graduate without having left the faith; we are not aiming merely to ‘make it’ to college. We are aiming to have disciples that are militant and courageous for Christ in every sphere of life, students who love life because they have known Christ and love him with all that they are.
Monday, February 19, 2007
We noticed this morning that the world is our feast, our banquet. God created Adam and Eve and put them in a garden and told them about the food. Fundamentally, this meal is what we are called to do with everything in the world. Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, named it, distributed it, and they rested and enjoyed it. And we do the same in our lives. We take hold of the world, give thanks for it, restructure it to make something better, give it a new name, evaluate it and rest in it. This is the pattern of God’s creation; and here at this meal, we see that this is the pattern of the new creation. God is taking hold of you here and remaking you into his priestly people, and as he does this, you are called to go out into the world to act as you have been acted upon, glorifying creation, taking it from glory to glory. This meal symbolizes our calling in the world to be active, taking dominion of all creation, and with thankful, grateful hearts turning the glories of God into greater glories for his honor and praise. So come with faith now, and then go out in faith to enact this Eucharist in all you do to the ends of the earth. Your sins are forgiven through Christ; the world is yours for the taking.
We believe that what we do here impacts the rest of the world. We see this taught from the beginning verses of Genesis (2:10ff): the garden/sanctuary is to flow out to the four corners of the world. We see this in the worship of Abraham as the proto-conquest of Canaan, the worship that is integral to the conquest (ie. Jericho), and even the war-Psalms of David. The vision of Ezekiel sees the river flowing out of the temple getting deeper and deeper as flows out into the sea for the healing of the nations (Ez. 47:1-12, cf. Rev. 22:1-2). This means that the aim of our worship here is establishing a culture informed by worshipping the Triune God. We want to eat, drink, sleep, dress, write, run, and breathe for the Trinity and for the healing of the nations.
Love of Wisdom
Our worship is both Word and Sacrament. It is mind and body because Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth. This means that we must be lovers of wisdom, lovers of the wisdom of God. We need to be people of words and people of the Word. This means that as individuals and as families we are to seekers after wisdom, hungry for understanding and knowledge. This hunger must be ultimately a hunger for God, but knowledge and understanding in itself without love is hot air and empty pride (1 Cor. 8:1-3).Central to this love of wisdom must also be a disdain for foolishness, a contempt of the cool. What is hip and trendy largely hates God and loves death. The mall wants girls to dress like prostitutes and men to dress like they just rolled out of bed. This is not the love of lady wisdom; this is the love of easy, casual sex. Not only must we stay away from it; we must learn to make fun of it. This is not a call to be rude; this is a call to hate evil and to mock it (Prov. 8:13).
Love of Feasting
Secondly, a culture that is shaped and formed by robust, biblical worship will be a culture of celebration. This does not mean that every meal should be a “Thanksgiving” meal, nor is this in anyway a slam on simplicity, simple means, or even fasting. This isn’t just a call to buy and eat more food. This is a call to joyful living; this is a call to the continual feast of faithfulness (Prov. 15:15). This festal living starts in the home, but it must spill out. Your Sabbath tables should be getting fuller as the years go by, not only with your own children but friends and neighbors whom you invite to share in the feast. The meal that Jesus gave us was a table of fellowship and love that he gave to us to be for the world. Learn to open your homes, your lives, and fill your tables. Not only should we literally feast, but we need to learn to see the world as a table set for us. God created Adam and Eve and put them in the garden and the first thing he told them about was the menu (Gen. 1:29). The world is our banqueting table. This means that whatever lawful thing you see in the world that delights and rejoices your heart is yours for the taking, exploring, and delighting in. Like every meal, begin with giving thanks and then dive in. Physics, sewing, mathematics, book binding, politics, mechanics, theology, philosophy, athletics, housekeeping, writing, organizing, building, cooking: the world is your feast.
Love of Psalms
Finally, music, singing, and the Psalms should be central to the recovery of Christian culture. This means that it is not sufficient to only sing Psalms and hymns on Sunday at church. Paul exhorts the Colossians to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly by singing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16). James also says that if anyone is cheerful (Gk. happy/courageous) let him sing Psalms (Js. 5:13). First, we need to recognize that these are imperatives, commands to sing. Secondly, we see that singing is a means to allowing the Word to dwell in us richly and a witness of our joy. We want to build a culture of vigorous psalm singing not as something we have to do but something we get to do. Robust, vigorous Psalm singing is also the answer to any discussion about worship music. The issue is not old versus new, traditional versus contemporary. The issue is the depth, glory, and militancy of the Psalms. Finally, the Psalms teach us how to respond in faith to every situation of life. There is a wonderful appendix in Athanasius’ On the Incarnation where he recounts the words of an old teacher friend who saw the Psalms as able to put words to every circumstance of life (p. 107ff). If we want to be faithful, we must learn and sing the Psalms. The Psalms are the war-songs of our King.
Conclusions and Applications
We are seeking to recover the centrality of worship in all of life. That means principally gathering here as God’s people to worship God in spirit and in truth. But if this is the garden sanctuary, the new temple of Ezekiel, the heavenly Jerusalem, then what we do here must impact and affect what we do Monday through Saturday. It is not sufficient just to say “be good Christians.” The words and patterns of speech and action must characterize your speech and action out there. We are taking the riches of the kingdom out into the world. If you confess your sins here, you must confess your sins there. If you read and hear the word of God here, then you must do it out there. If you sing Psalms and hymns here, you must do it out there. If you hear the word of God here and say ‘Thanks be to God!’ then you must thankfully obey the word of God out there. If you greet one another in peace here, then you must be peace makers out there. If you feast before the Lord here with thanksgiving, then you must be festive out there. If you receive the blessing of God here, then you must extend that blessing to the world.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Concluding Prayer: Almighty and glorious Lord, we know that you have promised to overrun this world with your grace and mercy. You must reign until every enemy has been placed beneath your feet. We rejoice in that hope and promise. Thank you for calling us to be your ministers of that hope and promise. Grant us the grace to live in the patterns and speak with the words of your kingdom.
Today is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany. This Wednesday we will enter the season of Lent, the forty days leading up to the passion and resurrection of Jesus. Historically this season has been marked with fasting, acts of repentance and restitution, and deeds of mercy. In Lent, we the people of God memorialize and seek to internalize the theme of suffering and waiting in Scripture. Our forty days here is a memorial of the forty days of rain during the flood of Noah when God unleashed his fury and judgment against wicked mankind but saved righteous Noah and his family. Forty is the space of time for trying, growing, and maturing. It is a time of judgment and salvation. Moses spends forty days and nights on Mt. Sinai, without food or water, communing with the Lord and receiving his law. Later Elijah did the same, fasting for forty days and nights on Horeb. Israel is disciplined in the wilderness for forty years, one year for every day that the spies spied out the land of Canaan. God often gives rest for forty years in the time of the judges, and other times, they are enslaved for forty years. The Philistine giant taunts the armies of Israel for forty days, morning and evening. Forty years old is an age of maturity. Isaac and Esau take their wives when they are forty. Moses begins his ministry to the Israelites in bondage when he is forty. Saul begins to reign when he is forty. Forty is also a length of fullness. David, Solomon, and Joash reigned for forty years. In Solomon’s temple, the sanctuary was forty cubits long, and there were forty baths. Forty days is the length of time Nineveh is given to repent before God’s promised judgment. Jesus spent forty days and nights in the wilderness after his baptism, fasting, and he was tempted by the Devil. After his resurrection, he was seen by his disciples for forty days before his ascension. In the law, forty stripes was the maximum number for a punishment, and Paul says he received “forty minus one” five times. We, like Christ our head, in Lent turn our faces resolutely to Jerusalem, obediently going to the cross for the joy set before him.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Raymond Brown suggests that when Peter exhorts new believers to be baptized "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38), he is primarily referring to the confession that new believers would make at their baptism: e.g. "Jesus Christ is Lord" (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2, Phil. 2:11). This is an interesting speculation that would fit nicely with the credo (Apostles' Creed) in all the early liturgies that converts recited at their baptisms.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Xon has been busily putting some replies/responses to the recent conference on the Federal Vision at Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church. The mp3s of the conference are available on the side bar under "Podcast: Misc Sermons."
Those on either side of the debate might be interested to see a sane, level-headed, and cordial analysis from the "Pro" side of the fence. Check out Xon's "Guide for the Perplexed"; there are two parts up so far.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
This meal is a Sabbath meal. It is a feast of rest and gladness. We sit down at this meal because that is what Jesus and his disciples did, but we also sit down at this meal because we are at rest. By faith we are entering that rest now. We are eating and drinking the first fruits of the new creation and enjoying the life of the true and final Promised Land. NT Wright points out in a recent lecture that the Lord’s Supper is like the cluster of grapes brought back to the Israelites in the wilderness from Canaan. This meal is a foretaste of the glories to come; and this rest, this Sabbath rest too is the final eternal Sabbath rest brought forward in time to us. Our eating of this meal and resting here and throughout this day is all a memorial of what Christ has accomplished and what we confess that means for the rest of the world. The conquest of Canaan has begun, the cities have begun to fall, though there is still much to be done. We rest here and now, trusting and believing that all will be accomplished and that just as Jericho fell to the worship of Israel, so too the new creation begun in Jesus will be brought to final completion as God’s people worship in faith. So come eat and drink and find rest for your souls. And as you rest here, remember that we are circling the cities seven times, and the walls will soon fall down.
Opening Prayer: Our Father, we confess that when it comes to the subject of the Lord’s Day and the Sabbath we are a confused people. We come to you now trusting and believing that your Word is our life and our hope and our rest. Speak to us words of correction where we need to be corrected, encouragement where we need encouragement, rebuke where we need rebuke, and comfort us by your Spirit. For we are your children, called by your name, and it is in Jesus’ name that we pray, Amen!
The subject of the Lord’s Day has been one of the most abused and controversial of many practical subjects in the church. While all Christians give some allegiance to the Ten Commandments and very few would seriously attempt to throw any of them out, the fourth commandment has perhaps been the most confusing. On the surface most everyone knows that Sunday is in some sense what Saturday was for the Jews. And yet there still seems to be some kind of significant differences.
First of all we need to understand the overall argument and flow of the book of Hebrews. While there is a lot going on, the writer is preeminently concerned with the temptation some Jewish Christians are facing to return to Judaism. His point is not to argue against Judaism per se but rather to show that it has been fulfilled and glorified in Christ (e.g. 3:1-6). As the Israelites were delivered from Egypt and led toward the Promised Land by Moses, so too the new Israel has been delivered from the ultimate Egypt and is being led toward freedom from the bondage of old, deformed Judaism. Examples of this bondage are particularly evident in the Pharisaical Sabbath regulations (e.g. Matt. 12, Mk. 2-3, Lk. 13:10ff). Just as there were forty years of wandering in the wilderness for old Israel, there was around 40 years between the ascension of Jesus and the destruction of the temple.
A Sabbath Remains
It is in this context that the writer exhorts his audience to enter the rest of God by faith (3:13-14, 18-19, 4:2). The rest that was set before Israel was clearly on the surface the Promised Land (3:7-11). But the writer says that it was actually more than that: it meant entering the very rest of God from creation (4:3-4). The Sabbath day was a weekly memorial looking back to the finished work of creation, but also a longing for the return to the garden (Ex. 20:11). The Jewish Sabbath also looked back to the Exodus, the great re-creation work of God (Dt. 5:15). Every day was always an opportunity to mix the good news with faith, as long as it is called Today (3:13, 4:7), but this rest was more than just the Promised Land because David is still talking about entering this rest almost five hundred years later (4:7-8). This means that the Jewish Sabbath day was anticipating something more than the Promised Land. It pointed to something bigger. And his conclusion is that there remains a Sabbath for the people of God (v. 10).
Resting from Works
Verse 10 is a little tricky because of the pronouns. But it simply cannot be referring to people ceasing from their “works” trying to earn their salvation because the comparison doesn’t work: “just as God did from his.” Are man’s attempts to earn his salvation comparable to God’s work of Creation or Redemption? Of course not, but the work of Christ is comparable to Creation and Redemption. Creation has already been spoken of as the “work” of Christ (1:10), and in the immediate context “his works” refers to the works of creation (4:3-4). Therefore the “he” in verse 10 must be Christ who has finished his new work of creation/redemption and entered his rest just as God rested from his original work of creation. The seventh day Sabbath could only have changed to another day if the world was remade and God saved his people with something greater than the Exodus, and that is exactly what has happened in the resurrection (Heb. 4:10, cf. Lev. 16:31).
Conclusions & Application
So what does this mean for us? Too often sermons and books on the Sabbath have run straight to a list of ‘thou shalt nots’. But the Sabbath is to be delight (Is. 58:13). Why is the Sabbath a delight? We get to imitate God’s pattern of creation and re-creation in Jesus. It is a delight because we get to picture physically and temporally what is true everywhere and at all times: God is our strength and our blessing. This is the way the world works: you can accomplish in six days what you can’t do in seven. The Sabbath is trusting God to bless us and make us fruitful.
The Sabbath is also a delight because it is a festive celebration. The Old Testament Sabbath was supposed to have been a feast day (Lev. 23:2-3), but the priests and Pharisees had turned it into a painful dirge. If the Sabbath was a feast in the Old Covenant, how much more so ought it to be a festival in the New Covenant? The Lord’s Day should be our favorite day of the week. And our children should know that it is our favorite day of the week.
All of this flows out of a rightful understanding of worship. Worship is the center of the Lord’s Day, the center of the Day of the Lord. While we gather in God’s presence, his living presence draws near to earth, and God creates, names, judges, fights, and raises up his own. The Day of the Lord is the day of God’s great work; our Sabbath is centrally resting at the feet of Jesus, hearing his word proclaimed, sharing bread and wine with Jesus, and receiving his blessing with faith. But a Sabbath remains for the people of God. In God’s goodness, he gives us rest. Growing a robust Sabbath culture is a declaration of what Christ has done in his death and resurrection and what that means for this world.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Concluding Prayer: Almighty God, you have done great wonders in our midst. When we were in slavery to sin and darkness, you remembered your covenant, the covenant that you made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and you came to us in Jesus, bearing your right arm, and you have thrown down the principalities and powers with your outstretched arm, and you have brought us out of darkness into your marvelous light. When Jesus burst from the tomb on the first day of the week, he finished his great work of redemption, and we praise you and thank you for the rest you have won for us in Him. Give us wisdom as we seek to follow after you in this.
The Lord’s Day is the only obligatory feast in the Christian calendar. Christians are not to forsake assembling together. This means that Christians are not required to celebrate Christmas or Easter or Pentecost. The church may not bind anyone’s conscious with requirements that cannot be derived from Scripture. Christians are free not to celebrate these days, and some may have good intentions, but the issue comes down to the Sabbath mind. The Sabbath mind is an internalization of God’s goodness to us in the Sabbath; it is a deep down, gratitude for the goodness of God. This mindset sees the world as God’s play, God’s theater; the Sabbath mind sees God’s goodness everywhere; the Sabbath mind is somewhat of a conspiracy theorist, believing that God is out constantly conspiring to bless us. The Sabbath mind not only sees the blessing of God under every bush and pebble, but it revels in the goodness of God. It stops in its tracks and says thank you. And then because it is so deeply thankful, it resolves not to forget and it builds gigantic monuments to the gigantic goodness of God. These monuments are sometimes made of stone, but often enough they are made of minutes and hours and days set aside for laughing and eating and blessing and dancing and sleeping to the glory of God. For if God has done this great thing, all is right in the world and nothing can ultimately end in evil. This Sabbath mind is not suspicious and cranky and legalistic. The Sabbath mind is simply, truly glad. And this means that the sin of Sabbath breaking is really just old fashioned ingratitude, unthankfulness, and bitterness. But we are Christians; we believe that God has conspired to tell the story of the world such that his glory and grace fill the world with laughter and thankfulness. So drop your crankiness now. God is looking for opportunities to bless you. He rejoices in this weekly excuse he has to bestow his love upon you; and he is always looking for opportunities to give you good things like presents on Christmas, chocolate on Easter, and roses on Valentines.
Friday, February 09, 2007
Paul quotes Psalm 51 in Romans 3 where he insists that God's justice will be upheld even if covenant members are unfaithful. In Psalm 51 the context is David's confession of sin, and part of the point is that David's confession is a vindication of God's justice. In other words, when we confess our sins to God, one of the things we are doing is justifying God, declaring that He is good and just and righteous. Obviously this is not the exact same sort of justification that we receive as sinners. But the parallel is there nevertheless. We confess our sins so that God "may be justified" in His words and "may overcome" when he is judged (Rom. 3:4).
The converse is also true: the refusal to confess our sins to one another and to God is a declaration that God is unjust and unrighteous and unfair. Our refusal to confess our sins is an to attempt to accuse God, to charge God with wrongdoing and injustice. This turns the tables around in terms of our own justification. From this angle, there seems to be a sense in which the reason unrepentant sinners are not justified is because they have refused to justify God. Refusing to declare that God is just, God has in turn refused to declare that they are just.
Of course in the mercy of God, our ability, interest, desire to declare God's justice is itself the gift of God, lest any man should boast. But Paul says that this was the point of the law, that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may become guilty before God (Rom. 3:19).
Thursday, February 08, 2007
This meal is the Lord’s Supper, but it is important to remember that the Lord’s Supper was also the Last Supper. This is Christ’s last meal before he was crucified. And Christ clearly instituted that meal to be eaten by his followers after him. This means that by eating this meal we are committing ourselves to die. We are committing ourselves to the cross. If you eat this last meal with Jesus, then you must be resigned to go to the cross with Jesus. This doesn’t mean that you have to die on a cross in order to save yourself from your sins. Jesus did that 2000 years ago. But Jesus said that if anyone would follow after him, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow him. This meal is for martyrs. Most of you will probably not be crucified, hung, or decapitated for your trust in Christ. But all of you must be willing to suffer in principle, and more importantly, you must be martyrs in the little things. Everyone wants to save the world, but no one wants to help mom with the dishes. You must be a martyr for Jesus in your work; you must be a martyr for Jesus at school. You must be a martyr for Jesus as you obey your parents; you must be a martyr for Jesus as you teach and train your children. This doesn’t mean being a pain in the neck around everyone until they start getting on your case. This means refusing to be ashamed of Jesus in all of life; obeying him, trusting him, and taking whatever lumps come along. You are eating the last supper of Jesus; you are committing yourself to the cross. But this is not a cause for sorrow or mourning, as though this were a pagan funeral. Our Lord rose from the dead on that great and glorious Day of the Lord, and all those who die with Christ will be raised just like Him. So come and eat, come and drink, come and die so that you may live.
Opening Prayer: Gracious Lord, too often we come to worship assuming that this is a social club, a theological society, or we think the main point is to have you pat us on the back and tell us “It’s Ok.” But you are fierce in your mercy, and your judgments are justice and truth. Come to us now by the power of your Spirit and blast our foolish assumptions to pieces. For you are God, Father, Son, and Spirit, and there is no other, and we plead with you to empower Your Word now, for your glory and honor, through Jesus Christ, Amen!
We’ve considered worship as sacrifice, worship as covenant renewal, and worship as empowered by the order and militancy of the Spirit. We now turn to the time of worship. We call Sunday the Lord’s Day or the Day of the Lord preeminently because it marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Jesus’ resurrection is not the first or last Day of the Lord.
The Day of the Lord
To begin to speak about the day of the Lord, we have to begin with the first days. We learn in Genesis 1 that a day of the Lord is the time of God’s working and structuring of the universe. When God comes on these days, he comes to create, divide, name, and evaluate. Where there is harmony/communion with God this meeting is joyful and blessed, but where there is sin, there is pain and cursing (Gen. 3). This motif continues throughout the Scriptures where the day of the Lord is also referred to as the “day of visitation” and “day of judgment.” The day of the Lord is the day of God’s fierce judgment (Jer. 46:10), a day of battle (Ez. 13:5), a day of de-creation (Is. 13:9-10, Joel 3:14-15), a day of thick darkness and clouds (Joel 2:1, 11, 31, Zeph. 1:14-15). This reminds us of the covenant renewal at Mt. Sinai where God’s presence was in the thick, black clouds. The day of the Lord is also a day where God shakes the heavens and the earth (Joel 3:16). This great judgment/battle/destruction occurs while God shakes the heavens and the earth, but in all of these passages God’s people are saved and preserved (Joel 3:16, Jer. 46:28).
Some of these “days of the Lord” refer to judgments that God brought against his people, but others (Joel cf. Acts 2:16, Mal. 4:5-6) refer to the work of Christ. Even Hosea refers specifically to being raised up on the third day (Hos. 6:2). We also need to remember that the third day was also the eighth day, the day of renewal, cleansing, and circumcision (cf. Lev. 9:1, 12:3, 14:10). In Ezekiel 43, the prophet sees a vision of the renewed temple, and it is on the eighth day that sacrifices and offerings are accepted (43:27). After the resurrection, the disciples immediately began meeting on this day, and it was the day that the risen Christ appeared to them (Jn. 20:19, 26, cf. 1 Cor. 16:2). It was on this day that John was in the Spirit in Rev. 1:10. What does John see occurring in heaven on the Lord’s Day? He sees a worship service. The Lord gives exhortations to the seven churches, and then John witnesses the worship of heaven and the consequences of this worship. When worship takes place (ch. 5) the Lord goes out to conquer (6:2) and to bring about great destructions (6:4, 8, 15-17). Then again the numberless multitude worships God (7:9-12) and great judgments are poured out on the earth (8:5, 7, 11ff). When heaven is filled with worship there is a great storm of earthquakes, lightening, and thunders (11:15-19). John is witnessing the Day of the Lord.
The Lord’s Day
If we remember what God’s Spirit presence is like: a great and terrible storm of battle, the day of the Lord is the meeting of heaven and earth. It is not as though God is normally lounging on a Persian rug, eating grapes and once in a while he gets really mad. God’s presence is a storm, life in abundance, overwhelming joy. The presence of God is as Isaiah said: it undoes us. And John shows us that it is this intense life and joy that we enter in worship.
Interestingly, the only other place where something is described as the “Lord’s” is in 1 Cor. 11:20 in reference to the Lord’s Supper. This surely is not an accident. It is the meal where God promises to meet us that is the center of the Lord’s Day. Here, the apostle says, God judges us. Those who receive the favor of God in faith and childlike trust are blessed and strengthened, but those who despise the goodness of God are cursed (1 Cor. 11: 29-30).
Applications and Conclusions
This cuts several ways for us. First, when we gather for worship on the Day of the Lord, we are gathering in the storm presence of God. It is the day of God’s judgments and destructions. But this day of the Lord is the day of resurrection, the day of the vindication of Jesus who passed under the judgment of God. When we worship God, he comes and shakes the earth and heaven, dealing with our sins but also with the sin of the world. Our worship is not a private event. It occurs in the heavenly places and from the throne of God issue judgments and destructions. This means that worship is not only our response to God’s salvation; it is also the enactment of God’s salvation in the world.
Just as God came to Israel and the nations of the world to destroy them and raise them back up, in Christ, God comes and kills us week after week and raises us back up again to resurrection life. This is not because your salvation is in jeopardy; this is because resurrection life is learning to die. Do you want to live? Then you must die. This is the fierce storm life of the Trinity where the Father dies to the Son, and the Son dies to the Father, and the Spirit dies to the Father and the Son. You must not forsake this gathering because here God is teaching you how to die, how to die well. You are called here to die because this is the life that we offer to the world.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Final Prayer: Almighty and gracious God, we confess that you are life, and that your life is fierce and glorious and wild. Remake us now in your presence. Undo us, destroy us, and revive us. Teach us to live as you teach us to die; that our lives may be living sacrifices, holy and blameless before you.
James says to count it all joy when we fall into various trials because the testing of our faith produces patience, and he goes on to exhort his readers to let patience have its perfect work. When God gives us hardships, we often want to learn the lesson right away. But James says that time is part of sanctification. God loves time and uses it to grow us up. This means that we need to learn to revel in the trials of God. Perhaps God has given you young, challenging children. Revel in their challenges, rejoice in the opportunity God has given to you to raise these covenant children. Perhaps God has given you older, challenging children. Glory in their gifts, their blessings, and growing wisdom. Perhaps God has given you what you consider to be challenging parents. God calls you to count it a joy. Tell God “thank you” for your parents. Perhaps God has given you medical problems, sickness or disease, thank God for your sickness, thank him for your disease. Perhaps God has given you financial troubles. Remember what James says; not only are these tests to produce patience, but let patience have its perfect work in you. Do this by recognizing that it is the good, loving, and sovereign Lord of the Universe who has bestowed these challenges and trials upon you. It is not enough merely not to complain; you must give thanks. He has given you this particular job, this particular hardship, this particular pain because this is how he is determined to grow you up and bless you. He is determined to have his perfect work in you. So thank him and trust him.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
We live in times where there is a great amount of confusion and discussion regarding baptism. What does baptism do, if anything? What does baptism mean? Our Confession of Faith teaches that baptism is “a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of [the person’s] giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.” The fact of the matter is that believing these things are being signed and sealed to these boys this evening is either the height of arrogance and presumption or it is simple, humble faith. But how can we tell the difference? The different is faith. Faith is resting in and receiving the promises of God in Scripture. This means that it is not faith to believe that God will give you wings if you jump from the top of the Sears tower. It is actually great arrogance and pride because God has promised you no such thing. What has God promised us regarding our children? We have already seen in Mark’s gospel that Jesus rebukes the disciples and exhorts the children to be brought to him. Not only must they be brought, but all who wish to enter the kingdom, must come as little children. In Acts 2:38-39 Peter exhorts the crowd, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” The promise is to you and to your children. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul says that the child of at least one believing parent is not unclean but rather holy, set apart to God. But this is the same God who revealed himself to Abraham saying, “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Gen. 17:7-8) God is a covenantal God who has promised to be our God and the God of our children. This is why David may say with confidence that Yahweh was his God from his mother’s womb, and that he trusted the Lord from his mother’s breasts (Ps. 22:9-10). There is nothing magical in this sacrament; there is nothing magical in this water. If that were the case, evangelism would be best done with a fire hose and a megaphone. What is powerful is the mighty Word of God. God promises that the children of believers are his. He promises to be our God and to be the God of our children. Either we believe this whole-heartily and rejoice in it or we doubt it and set up various safeguards like down playing what baptism means or delaying baptism until we think we can peer into the heart of our child. But that is not faith; it is unbelief. The promises of God are to us and to our children. God is a God to us and for us and for our children. We believe this and therefore we come now to publicly proclaim this fact. Our children are not our own, but they have been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. There is nothing automatic about this; there is nothing magical about this. It is all by faith in the powerful promises of God and the working of his Spirit. And because we believe that God’s word is true, we believe that God has already claimed these children as his own. These children must grow up in this faith and learn to cling to Jesus every day of their lives. But we begin with grace. We love him because he first loved us; and you must teach your sons the same. They must love the Lord Jesus because he has first loved them. Therefore believe your God and his Word and rejoice.
Friday, February 02, 2007
Most stats indicate that Islam is the fastest growing religion in America and one of the fastest growing religions in the world. One of the greatest attractions to Islam must certainly be its militancy and ambition, despite the many protests by ignorant or agenda-driven pundits. No one wants to join the losing side. Islam presents a vision of world conquest and militant struggle.
At least some of the responsibility for this state of affairs in this nation is American evangelicalism that has insisted quite loudly for the last hundred years or so through its fanatical and spurious eschatology that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. With the Antichrist under every funny looking rock and the rapture, an immanent reality, this world is irrelevant, passing, and at best, distracting. But if the world is a free-fall into hell, the human spirit at least cries out for a fight. And thus the starving, deformed masculinity of American evangelicalism cries out for an alternative, and Muhammad's religion offers many the appearance of a backbone.
But the Christian faith declares the victory of the cross. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, the death knell has been struck on all evil and darkness. The history of the universe will not be the story of the world’s free fall into hell but rather the complete and utter victory of Jesus in this world. He is in heaven reigning until all of his enemies have been made his footstool, and the last enemy will be death itself (Heb. 10:12-13, 1 Cor. 15:25-26). This means that before Christ returns, Afghanistan will bow the knee to Jesus. Before Christ delivers up the kingdom to the Father, Iraq and Indonesia will bow their knees to King Jesus. This is the story of the triumph of the gospel, the conquest of the world with the Word of forgiveness and grace in Jesus.
Ministry to Christians attracted to Islam and Muslims themselves must include this kind of faith and certainty in the work of the gospel in the world. Pastors and laity alike need to know and believe that their efforts are not in vain because God has promised the nations to Jesus. And Muslims need to know that their struggle is in vain; the winning conquest was begun in Jesus and continues in the Church until every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.