Friday, February 29, 2008

February

4. Far as the Curse is Found by Williams
5. Confessions (Bks. I-X) by Augustine

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Cheetah Ship

My son is 3 and a half years old. This should say a lot to most parents, but it really is amazing to watch. We are not sending him to some posh pre-school to learn this stuff. He just does it on his own. You know, 3 year old stuff, mostly of the imaginative-can-barely-hold-myself-still variety.

This is one of those complex chemical reactions that must be carefully directed. You can't bottle this nuclear fusion. So we have various plays we run on his endless exuberance. There are of course the extremes: on one end is the bathroom in which one may find various and sundry methods of discipline of the Proverbs 23 variety. On the other end of the spectrum is the open-the-door-and-let-the-storm-out attack. In the former, we get the sander out and smooth out the rough edges; in the latter we let the kid out and allow the air, dirt, rocks, bugs, trees, and playground equipment to do the sanding.

But a lot of life is spent in between these two poles, even though these tend to be regular occurrences depending on the day or week or month. For the regular in between times we have several regular plays we run. We have laps. River thinks its amazing fun. We have one hallway that runs from the front door down to the bedrooms. It's not too long but definitely long enough. Our job is to count; his job is to run. We usually do 5 or 10 lap sessions at a time, depending. One additionally exciting variant on this play is to have him perform "slides" at various intervals. All baseball players must know how to slide. What better way to begin training then on carpet in the hallway.

Another play we run is the Green Chair. This is not "time out," well, OK, maybe it is. But let's put it this way: it's not where we send him when he's in trouble. It's where he goes when we want to know where he is. As I said earlier, he has this condition that doesn't allow him to sit still. Chairs have an amazing objectifying ability. It looks like this:

Bottom in Chair = Good

Bottom not in Chair = Bad

He usually goes to the Green Chair with soldiers, swords, books, or sometimes none of those things are necessary. His handy imagination can sometimes be all he needs. He knows the drill. One of us says, "Alright, River, grab a book or a toy and go get in the Green Chair!" His job is to respond cheerfully and quickly with a "yes, sir!" or "yes, ma'am!"

The other day, Jenny had sent him to the Green Chair several times throughout the morning. He cheerfully, complied each time. Played, read, whatever for as long as required and then off to bigger and better things. I guess it was about the third or fourth time that Jenny sent him off to the Green Chair, when River hesitated for a moment and looked up at his mother, "Mom, do you think you could call it the Cheetah Ship?"

Of course that was just fine, and now from time to time, River is sent on a daring mission in the all new "Cheetah Ship."

And we think it's swell.

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Remaking the World in the Backyard

On Sunday we considered the theme of "firstfruits" as found in passages like Dt. 26. The fact that the word tied to the original creation as it is the same word for "beginning" as found in Gen. 1:1 suggests that the firstfruits offering has a lot to do with re-creation. If God spoke the world "in the beginning" and formed this universe then the Israelite action of taking their "beginnings" every year and bringing it to Yahweh is an imitation of God's original creation. As this is tied to the Promised Land, surely part of the point is that the Promised Land is the beginning of God's intention to remake the whole world. Each year the Israelites bring a portion of their "beginnings" to the Tabernacle, they are confessing that God has begun to remake the world in their own backyard.

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From the River to the Ends of the Earth

This meal is the Christian common meal. Just as you regularly eat dinner together as families, so too, the Lord Jesus invites us to dine with him every Lord’s Day. Just as you have certain manners and customs at your table, so too, the head of this table has given us a pattern to follow here. Here at Holy Trinity, after the bread is broken the assistants and I serve one another and then we pass the loaves to you. We repeat to one another a blessing, “My Life for Yours,” as we serve one another the bread. In this way we not only imitate the likely pattern of the Last Supper when Jesus first instituted this meal, but we also picture the gospel going out into the world, as we serve and bless one another. Likewise, after we give thanks for the wine, the assistants and I serve one another and then we take the cups to you, and once again we repeat the simple gospel blessing to one another, “Christ’s blood for your sins,” and in so doing we imitate Christ and the disciples as well as picture the gospel going out to the ends of the earth like the great river flowing out of Ezekiel’s temple. As Ezekiel followed the river which flowed out from the door of the temple, it was at first ankle deep then up to his knees and then his waist, and then it was too deep to measure. And the man in the vision spoke to Ezekiel saying, “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes” (Ez. 47:8-10). Thus, as we proclaim the Lord’s death in this meal, we are enacting what we believe the future of the gospel is. Our manners at this table picture blessing flowing out from the thanksgiving, out into the world, bringing healing and restoration to the ends of the earth.

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Third Sunday in Lent: Exodus XX.19: Dt. 26:1-11

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you for calling us into your presence. We thank you that you are pleased with us because of Jesus, and that because you have poured out your Spirit in our hearts, we may call you our Father. Therefore we ask that you would teach us now to forsake all covetousness and to cultivate grateful hearts.

Introduction
As we have noted throughout this series, the Ten Commandments are the fountain head of a culture of freedom. They are not mere prohibitions; they include a multitude of positive commands which are instructions for being God’s free sons. And the foundational difference between all liberty and slavery is faith and unbelief.

Rejoicing versus Covetousness
Covetousness is a sin of greed and evil desires. And again, we are called not only to turn away from coveting anything that belongs to our neighbor, but we are required to pursue the opposite. God’s people must not covet their neighbors’ belongings, but instead they must rejoice in what they have been given. Here, Moses reminds the people that they are getting ready to take possession of the land (26:1). This was the fulfillment of many years of God faithfully keeping his promises and granting Israel this great inheritance, and therefore it is to be marked with a great confession of faith (26:5-10), worship (26:10-11), and offering (26:2-4, 10). The purpose of this rite is for each Israelite to “rejoice in every good thing which the Lord” has given them and their house. The opposite of covetousness is rejoicing in what God has given. But the central act of gratitude for what God has given is an act of worship at the tabernacle (26:2, 10). This is why Paul says that covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5). If you aren’t giving thanks to God for what he has given then you are somewhere else, worshipping at some other shrine.

The Confession
This recital of the Israelite is a confession of faith. It is the Israelite Creed. In the confession the Israelite calls Jacob (Israel) their father, recites the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the granting of the Promised Land, and finally a profession that the firstfruits are a token of the land that Yahweh has given. The confession of “my father was a Syrian about to perish” also recounts a number of important elements of the story of the patriarchs. The word for “Syrian” is the word “aram” and is sometimes translated “Aramean,” and this is the region where Terah first came with his family from Ur and later died (Haran, Gen. 11:31-32). Abram’s brother Nahor settled there, and thus Isaac and Jacob both took wives from this region (Gen. 24:7, 10, 29:4). The confession is also commonly translated, “my father was a wandering Aramean,” drawing off of a secondary definition of oved and emphasizing the whole story of the patriarchs rather than focusing on Jacob and the famine.

Firstfruits
The word for “firstfruits” is “resheet” which literally means “first” or “beginning.” It first occurs in Gen. 1:1. This is a separate offering from the tithe, and it seems to be tied particularly to the gifts of God: sons, grains, oil, wine, fruit, bread, etc. (e.g. Gen. 49:3, Num. 18:12, ). The annual harvest feast was at least one annual requirement to offer firstfruits (Ex. 23:16, Lev. 23:9), but they could be offered at other times as well (e.g. Neh?). A related word is “b’cor” which means “first born,” and this word is used a number of times interchangeably with resheet. Both words are used together in a few places; Ex. 23:19 is one place where the wording is striking: “The beginning of the firstborn of your ground [lit. Adam] you shall bring…” (cf. Ex. 34:26, Ez. 44:30). It is difficult to ignore the allusion to the creation narrative of Genesis. If we remember that the sanctuary is a new garden, then whenever the Israelites brought these firstfruit offerings, they are symbolically bringing Adam back into the garden-sanctuary. This is why the New Testament writers understand Christians to be the fulfillment of this offering. Paul says that since we have the “aparke” (beginning) of the Spirit, we (with creation) groan for the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:23). And since Christ has already been raised from the dead, he is the “firstborn” of many brethren (Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 15:20-23, cf. Col. 1:18). But the only other use of this term is with reference to Christians (Rom. 16:5, 1 Cor. 16:15, Js. 1:18, Rev. 14:4).

Conclusion & Applications
If the tenth commandment prohibits coveting all of these particular things of our neighbor, it exhorts us to give thanks and rejoice in all of the particular things that God has bestowed upon us. Giving thanks is recognition for the gifts. Refusing to give thanks is a denial of the gifts. Notice too that this rejoicing starts in worship with your family and flows out to include the strangers in your midst. Ministry should always be an overflow and not a redirecting. In other words, caring for strangers should not create more strangers.

In Christ, you are the firstfruits of creation. This is because the Spirit is bringing Adam back into the garden. Jesus is the new Adam, and in him, we are all being made alive. But if we are the firstfruits of this creation, this means that all that we are is the promised inheritance of King Jesus; all of it is holy to him. You are called to rest in this promise.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you that in Jesus you sent your Son to be man, to be a new Adam for us. We thank you that in Christ you have made the entire world our promised land and our inheritance because you have given the ends of the earth to Jesus and given him a name that is above every name. Teach us to walk in this faith; to live with gratitude to our king for all that he has bestowed upon us.

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Wrestle for Blessing

Why do you go to church? Why do you gather for worship with God’s people every Sunday, every Lord’s Day? One way to answer is that we go to worship in order to be blessed by God. Knowing that we are sinners, means that we know we can do nothing without God. Apart from God’s blessing our work, our family, our hopes and dreams, all that we are is futile apart from the blessing of God. Our lives are full of wrestling and struggle. We are Christians and therefore we struggle with joy and gladness, but we struggle and wrestle all the same. But we are the new Israel of God; we are called to be Jacob. We are called to recognize that our struggles, our wrestling is ultimately with God himself. Through the Spirit, he is giving us challenges, trials, testing, and responsibility, wrestling with us, because he loves us. And our task is to see the angel of the Lord in our struggles, to see God as the one wrestling with us, and to refuse to quit until he blesses us. Jacob clung to the angel of the Lord and insisted that he would not let go until he had been blessed. Likewise, we gather week by week in the midst of our struggles, in the midst of our wrestling and call out to God again in our weakness and in our frailty, “I will not let you go unless you bless me!” We gather here to cry out to God for his blessing. We gather here together because we refuse to let go until God blesses us. And we serve the God who loves to bless his people, the God who answers this prayer for blessing. Another way of saying all of this is that we go to church for the benediction. Of course all of the service is God’s ministry to us, but the benediction is the summing up of all the worship means. You confess your sins so that God can bless you; you hear his word so that you can obey and God may bless you; you eat and drink at his table as his blessing; and finally at the end God places his hands on you and assures you of his blessing. All of this is part of the reason why for the coming weeks we are kneeling on one knee for the benediction. Just as Jacob laid his hands on his grandsons and blessed them while they knelt down at his knees, so too God lays his hands upon you, through the minister and sends you back out into the world in peace.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

You are the Rainbow

We considered this morning our duty to remember, to love and tell the truth, and to hate all forms of dishonesty and deceit. As we have said many times, this table is our great remembering; it is our memorial. Throughout Scripture memorials not only remind people of God’s redemption and promises, they also remind God of his own promises. God says that when he sees the rainbow in the sky he will remember never to flood the world again. Likewise, when he sees the blood of the Passover smeared over the Hebrews’ doorways, his angel of death passes over them. God remembers his promises and his covenant and bestows life on the Israelites. Centrally, this means that God keep his word; it means that his word cannot be broken. It means that he is the Truth. Paul says that as often as we celebrate this feast, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. This table is a proclamation of the truth of God: the truth that all men are sinners in need of grace, the truth that God has provided that grace in the death of Christ, and that life and freedom and joy are only found in the cross of Christ. This is our glory, our joy, our crown. Let God be true and every man a liar; his promises are ‘yes’ and ‘amen.’ And as we celebrate this memorial, as we feast here at this table in faith and gladness before the Lord, we are the new rainbow. We perform the great reminder before God and all the world that in Jesus Christ we are forgiven. In Jesus, we are set free. In Jesus, all the world is being reconciled and put back together. This is nothing but the kindness and mercy of God. Therefore, come and eat and drink. You are the rainbow of this world. You are the mercy of God to your neighbors. You are the memorial of God’s promise to save the nations of the world. You proclaim the death of Christ until he comes, until all of his enemies have been put under his feet. This is the Truth, and it will always set you free.

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Second Sunday in Lent: Exodus XX.18: Dt. 25:11-19

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, you have sent your Word into the world in Jesus Christ, and your Word is the Truth and the Life and the Way. Grant to us eyes to see and ears to hear that might love the Truth and hate all lies, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction
We noted last week that the ninth commandment insists that all of our words are oaths, sworn testimony, and therefore truth and justice are closely aligned. Justice is the insistence that the truth be told and justice enacted. People with good names are those who defend the truth and the good name of their brothers. Moses continues here to insist that God’s people must love the truth and equity even when it is not easy.


Just Measures
Dt. 25:11-19 is concerned with being honest and fair in our dealings. The passage opens with the wife intervening to help her husband in a fight, and there are fierce consequences for this action. This is probably because she is acting like an Amalekite. They took advantage of Israel’s weakness by attacking the stragglers in the rear ranks when they were tired and weary (25:18). The Amalekites are to be destroyed, and therefore those who act like them are to receive strict punishments. The prohibition may also be related to the previous section where God requires Israelites to defend the inheritance of their brothers (25:5-6). Seizing the genitals of a man is to striking at his inheritance and ability to raise up heirs. All of this is tied to the requirement that God’s people deal openly and honestly in all their dealings. They must use just measures even in the middle of a fight or a sharp business dealing. And this is so that God may give them long lives in the land (25:16). Yahweh calls such dishonest dealings “abominations,” and abominations are only fit to be destroyed.

Remembering Not to Forget
The next portion of the text begins with the exhortation to remember (25:17) and ends with the command not to forget (25:19). They are to remember in order that the remembrance of Amalek and his injustices may be blotted out. Remembering is tied to truth telling which means that forgetting is a form of dishonesty. Forgetfulness is culpable; it is for forgetting that Israel will later undergo God’s judgment (e.g. Hos. 2:13, 13:6, Is. 57:11). If a man says that he will perform some task, and he forgets, he has not only forgotten, his forgetfulness has become a lie. This is why God instituted memorials, feasts, and rituals all over Israel’s culture so that they would not forget Him or his law (e.g. Num. 15:39, Dt. 5:15, 6:8-9, 16:2-3). Furthermore, the primary “remembering” is to destroy the injustice of Amalek. Israel is to study and rightly understand history in order to do justice in the present.

Conclusions and Applications
Do not forget to blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. This means that you are called to war with injustice and deception. A righteous man hates lying (Pr. 13:5) because God hates lying (Pr. 6:16-17). A great deal of injustice is perpetrated through dishonesty and lies. Therefore we are called to hate lying and to pray and worship against all dishonesty and deceit (Ps. 59:12-13, 120, 144:11). Worship in Spirit and in Truth accomplishes this.

Not only must we hate it out there; we must hate it in ourselves. True repentance from dishonesty means telling the truth; it means confessing all sins honestly and naming them rightly. In particular, we must confess our dishonesty to those we have lied to. Short of confessing our lies, we are still making peace with an enemy of God.

Last, we must recognize that Jesus is the Word of God, the Truth of God. God sent his Truth into the world to save us from our lies and deception. Truth has come to set us free (Jn. 8:32). Man without Christ suppresses the truth in unrighteousness and exchanges the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1:18, 25). But this is slavery. But the Truth of God has suffered and died for our lies, and his blood cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn. 1:6-7). It is in that freedom that we are called to bestow liberty on the captives of sin around us. But our culture has turned upside down and backwards. They refuse to call sin by its name and thereby enslave the world, but we are called to a ministry of grace and mercy.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty and kind Father, we ask that you would teach us to be a people who love justice and hated all deception. Grant us honesty in all our dealings, and give us grace that might bestow freedom upon one another as we love and tell the truth.

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Dodging the Cross

As we consider the work and ministry of Christ during this season of Lent we must remember that in Christ we see both God revealed for who he truly is and we also see man revealed for who he truly is. Jesus of Nazareth was very God and very man. And Jesus says to all who would be Christians, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” And throughout history there have been many who have sought to mitigate this command. Some downplay Christ’s perfections and deity; he was just a wise moral teacher and political activist. So the bar is lowered, and it is not nearly as demanding to follow him. Or others downplay Christ’s work and suffering. Well, he was God after all, sure it was painful and hard, but God can take a whole lot more than I can. Or others get right to the point and try to dodge Christ’s command. “Take up your cross,” they say, “that’s just Jesus’ way of saying that you can’t expect it to be easy.” But that turns Jesus’ command into a warning, and there are places were Jesus gives those kinds of warnings but not here. Jesus commands every one of his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him. This is an act of obedience; it is active and willful and is not a passive-grin-and-bear-it approach to life. What is your cross? It may be anything from physical hardships to ongoing relationship issues to actual persecution or mistreatment, and ultimately it still simply means being willing to die for allegiance to King Jesus. Many Muslims today face the threat of the death penalty for converting to Christianity. The command of Jesus is that if you want to follow him you must give up your life, you must be willing to die and follow him. We are at war with all sin and wickedness, and Jesus is the commander. And He says to you, follow me. Husbands, love your wives and your children and follow Jesus. Wives, respect your husbands, delight in your children and follow Jesus. Children, obey your parents and love your brothers and sisters and follow Jesus. All of you, give up your lives for one another and follow Jesus. Do justice, love mercy, and follow Jesus.

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Mediation 2: Moses on the Mountain receiving the law for Forty Days (Ex. 24, 34, Dt. 9)

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you for the presence of your Spirit that you have poured out in your church. We ask that your refining work would continue in us and through us. Empower your word now through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Introduction
Last week as we began Lent, we considered the first instance of the theme of forty in Scripture in the Flood. This week we consider the next instance in Moses’ sojourn on Mt. Sinai for forty days and forty nights. He actually does this twice with the incident of the gold calf at the center.


Forty Days and Forty Nights: On Mt. Sinai (Ex. 24, 34, Dt. 9)
The sight of the glory of Yahweh is described as a “consuming fire” in Ex. 24:17. There Moses spends forty days and nights receiving instructions for constructing the tabernacle and the law (Ex. 25-31). One of the only other places God is described as a “consuming fire” is Dt. 4:24, and there it comes on the heels of reminding Israel that they have been brought out Egypt, the “iron furnace” (Dt. 4:20). Literally, Israel went “out of the furnace and into the fire.” In Dt. 9, Yahweh explains that the “consuming fire” that Moses encountered on the top of the mountain is going to go before Israel into Canaan to destroy the great and mighty nations living there (9:3). But the presence of God is not safe for the unfaithful. If Israel is not faithful to drive out the nations in Canaan, instead of destroying the nations, God’s anger will burn against Israel and destroy them (4:26, 9:8, 14, 19, 20, 25). As Moses recounts the bumpy history of Israel in the wilderness, Yahweh determines to destroy Israel at least three times (v. 7-9, 17-19, 23-25, cf. 10:10). And Moses responds to each of these threats by fasting forty days and forty nights interceding on behalf of Israel. Moses goes up into the “consuming fire” for the salvation of Israel.

Conclusions and Applications
Israel eventually goes into the land, and while Yahweh does consume the nations before them, many years later when they have turned their backs on him, they are consumed by him in the fires of exile, the furnace of affliction (Is. 48:10, Ez. 22:15-22).

Lent is an annual reminder that our God is a consuming fire, and we are called to serve him with reverence and fear (Heb. 12:29). But this is a call to conquest by intercession. We have seen that Israel took the land of Canaan because Moses prayed and fasted for them. We too are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, but the stakes are higher. The entire world is now the land of promise, and the consuming fire goes before us. Therefore, we not only fast and pray for ourselves and our families but for the nations in the land.

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

Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you that you have called us to be priests to the nations. Grant us hearts and minds that are given to interceding for your people and for those who are far off whom you will call. Amen.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Gospel Trumps the Season

We are celebrating the season of Lent; today is the first Sunday during these forty days. And I want to emphasize the fact that in the wisdom of our fathers in the faith, Sunday has always trumped every season, all penitence, and all fasting. Though we are celebrating a season of fasting, today is a feast day. This is because Sunday is the Lord’s Day, the day of Resurrection, the day of re-creation. We celebrate Easter every Sunday, and that means that Sunday always trumps the season. But this is itself what the gospel always does. The gospel is a feast; it is joyful, glorious fellowship with the Triune God of all the earth. And this gospel, this feast, always interrupts. It always trumps the season. You may be doing a little or lot in your families for Lent, but the point is that this feast, the Eucharist, the high Thanksgiving interrupts and trumps whatever is going on in your life. Have you been struggling with a particular sin? Come to the feast, you are welcome. Are you downcast, have you had a difficult week? Come and enter into the joy of the Lord. Are you worried about the future, your children, your finances, your job? The Lord of the Feast provides you with life and freedom and security here. We celebrate the Lord’s Day, and this meal at the center of it, because this is what grace is all about. Grace is God coming to us in our need and being God for us. This bread and this wine is for you, for strength, for blessing, for forgiveness, for assurance, for joy. Here, God gives himself for you, and assures you of his love. This is your weekly oasis. This is the calm in the storm. This is God’s faithful word to you: I will be your God; and you will be my people. Therefore, believe the Word of God and rejoice.

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First Sunday in Lent: Exodus XX.17: Ninth Commandment: Dt. 25:1-10

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we ask that you empower your word now. We know that you stand by your word, and that it is trustworthy and true and righteous. Therefore, give us wisdom by your word, and strengthen your people to love the truth, through Jesus…

Introduction
We come now to the Ninth Commandment. This commandment prohibits bearing false witness and requires that God’s people love truth, honesty, and justice. Here, as with the eighth commandment it is important to emphasize the intense personalism of words. Our words are not bare facts, assertions, ideas, or thoughts; our words are extensions of ourselves. This is because we serve the God of the Incarnate Word.

Justifying the Righteous
Understanding Moses’ teaching on the ninth commandment becomes more clear when we recognize the connection between the ninth and the third commandments. “Bearing witness” is a legal description of our words and is the principle upon which all honesty is required. In other words, in some sense all of our words are oaths. All of our words are sworn. This is why absolute honesty and integrity are required of God’s people. When God “bears witness” he swears by himself, by his own Name (Heb. 6:13). This is why honesty is tied to a person’s name. If a person is known for being trustworthy and faithful, he or she is said to have a good name (Pr. 22:1, Ecc. 7:1). God’s word is true because He is his Word, and his Word is Truth (Jn. 1:1, 14:16). And in the New Covenant God’s Word, the Lord Jesus, is his Name (Acts 4:12). This means that truth has hands and legs. Truth walks and talks and decides. Therefore, honesty and truthfulness demands upholding justice, and Moses says that judges must justify the righteous and condemn the wicked (Dt. 25:1). At the same time, punishments must be carried out with equity (Dt. 25:2-3). A reputation for justice is a reputation for loving the truth.

Justice and Levirate Marriage
The custom of Levirate marriage is strange and foreign to modern ears. This law provided that a brother in-law ought to raise up an heir for his brother’s widow in order to preserve his brother’s name and inheritance (Dt. 25:5-7). The ninth commandment requires that we love and defend the good name of our family, neighbors, and friends. Because the promises of God were tied to the promise of the inheritance of the land, it was necessary for God’s people to defend and protect God’s Word by protecting and defending the name and inheritance of their families, even at great cost or loss to themselves (cf. Ruth 4:6). Refusing to raise up an heir was a refusal to defend the name of a brother, and further, it was tantamount to making God a liar which is itself a lie. This is a cause of great shame, and the one who refuses to defend his brother’s name is given a name of shame (Dt. 25:10).

Conclusions & Applications
If bearing false witness is wickedness, bearing false witness in the name of God is a great wickedness and profanation (Lev. 19:12). This is why we must take our oaths seriously (Is. 48:1). This is also why James says that we should not swear by heaven or earth but simply let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no’ (Js. 5:12). This is not an exhaustive prohibition of oaths, but rather an exhortation to avoid truth inflation and to weigh our words carefully. Oaths that God expects us take seriously are: baptismal vows, marriage vows, our corporate “Amen!” is a vow unworthy of mumbling or mindlessness, and the confession of the Creed is a symbol of loyalty to our God. These oaths are sworn testimony before the God of heaven.

Jeremiah warns that lying and deception is one of the sins that God does not tolerate in his people. People who lie and then come and stand before God in worship are inviting his judgment (Jer. 7:9ff). Your words are you; you are your words. Therefore love the truth, defend and promote the reputation of your neighbor, and do justice. And do all of this recognizing that this is what God has first done for you.

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

Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, you have sent to us your Son, the light of the world, the very Truth in flesh. You sent the Truth to us in order that we might know the Truth and the Truth might set us free. Give us the courage and humility to follow the Truth, to follow Christ wherever he might lead that we might walk in freedom and liberty.

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Take Care of the Cut

When a brother or sister sins against you, you have only two options before you. You may either confront and be reconciled or let love cover it. Jesus says before you bring your gift to the altar if you remember that you are not right with your brother or sister, leave your gift and be reconciled and then come and offer your gift. This is one of the reasons why we have the Passing of the Peace just prior to the offering. If you have suddenly remembered something in the course of the worship service that you need to make right with someone, you may do so quickly during the Passing of the Peace. Peter exhorts his readers to have fervent love for one another because love covers a multitude of sins. Those are your two options: confront and be reconciled or let love cover it. You do not have the option of holding a grudge, and it will not do to say that you are going to let love cover it all the while feeling all rotten and bitter about it inside. If you cannot let it go then love cannot cover it. Go and be reconciled to your neighbor, and do not let the sun go down on your anger. Sometimes all a cut needs is a band-aid, cover it up and a few days later it’s gone. But sometimes, a cut gets infected and needs to be disinfected and sometimes even cut back open and cleaned out thoroughly. It’s painful and no one enjoys it at the moment, but if the infection is allowed to grow and spread, it can have even worse consequences later on. The writer of Hebrews says that when a root of bitterness is allowed to spring up, it defiles many. Therefore do not delay; if there is an old cut that’s still festering stop pretending that a band aid will fix it. Confront the problem in humility and be reconciled to your brother, your sister, your husband, your wife, your neighbor, your friend, your father, your mother, your child, your grandfather, your grandmother. And if you are the one confronted, if someone comes to you to be reconciled, you are called upon to forgive up to 70 times 7, even if it’s the same offense 490 times in the same day. For if you do not forgive your brother, neither will your Father in heaven forgive you.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Greschat on Bucer

I'm still working on my Bucer paper, so here's another quote on Bucer's view of the relationship between the church and the state:

Further, as the Kingdom of Christ subjects itself to the kingdoms and powers of this world, so in turn every true kingdom of the world (I say kingdom, not tyranny) subjects itself to the Kingdom of Christ, and the kings themselves are among the first to do this, for they are eager to develop piety not for themselves alone, but they also seek to lead their subjects to it.


Again, on the role of the state with regard to families:

Thus, because the authorities are a father, they must truly and even zealously ward off every trouble from their community, just as a particularly conscientious father is duty bound to keep all trouble away from his house, because the authorities are subject to a higher command and in a wider sense are fathers of the fatherland. They should therefore take responsibility for what individual fathers neglect or are unable to accomplish by way of Christian discipline and urgings toward piety.


Both of these are cited by Martin Greschat in his chapter on 'Church and Civil Community' in D.F. Wright's book on Bucer.

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Ash Wednesday: The Flood: Forty Days and Forty Nights (Gen. 7-9)

Opening Prayer: Gracious God, we ask that you would be gracious unto us, show your kindness and favor now by empowering your word. Teach us that we might be your faithful servants. Through Jesus Christ has suffered for us and now lives and reigns…

Introduction
Celebrating Lent is new to many of us, and therefore it’s fitting that we consider carefully what Lent is or ought to be. Lent is the forty days leading up to Resurrection Sunday. In Lent the Church reaffirms its commitment to follow Jesus to the cross and grave. The first time the theme of forty appears in Scripture is in the story of the Flood.

Forty Days and Forty Nights: The Flood
One of the most wonderful phrases in the Bible is found in the statement that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). The word for “grace” means favor, and it is found throughout the Old Testament to indicate not only averting judgment or disaster but often includes promotion and blessing as well (Gen. 33:8, 39:4, Ex. 11:3, 33:11-23, Est. 2:15ff, Zech. 12:10). Not only is Noah being saved from destruction, the fact that God is making covenant with him (6:18, 9:9-17) also means that God is granting Noah fellowship with him. Yahweh is making Noah a new Adam, giving him authority over the animals (6:19-20, 7:2-3, 9:1-2, etc.). But God is saving Noah through a tremendous trial. Not only is Noah called upon to build the Ark and prepare for the flood, but the flood comes and the rain continues for forty days and nights (7:4, 12, 17). All said Noah is in the Ark for a little over one year (7:11, 8:14). But at the heart of that is a forty day storm during which he is remaking the world. The writer of Hebrews tells us that it was by faith that Noah feared and obeyed God, condemned the wicked, and became an heir of the righteousness by faith (Heb. 11:7). This is what Yahweh had said to Noah, declaring that he had seen him to be righteous (Gen. 7:1). Peter says that Noah and his family were saved through the water and says that baptism is the antitype which now saves us (1 Pet. 3:20-21).

Conclusion and Applications
What is striking is that Peter says that the water saved Noah rather than the ark. The storm was Noah’s salvation. Of course it was not salvation for countless others, but because Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, and by faith heeded the word of the Lord, he was seen as righteous and saved by a storm.

Lent is not a season where we pretend to be in a storm. It is not a simulation for real life. Rather, Lent is an annual reminder that life is a storm. But Lent is a call to remember where you are in the storm. You have found grace in the eyes of the Lord; you are in the Ark. Lent is a call to faith in the God of the storms.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty and most merciful God, we are ever before your eyes. We are ever before your face, and you know our lives far better than we do. Teach us to trust you in the wilderness, and save us through the storms that you bring. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

January Fun













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Exodus Enacted: Passing through Animals

I've never been a big fan of the fairly common exegesis of Genesis 15 where Yahweh has Abe cut up the animals and passes through the halves of animals as the smoking oven and burning torch. The common take is that this covenant making ceremony (which it obviously is) consists of making a 'self-maledictory oath', that is, the persons bound in covenant who pass between the divided animals say, 'may this be done to me if I break this covenant.' Of course in Genesis 15 only Yahweh passes through the divided animals, and thus the obvious conclusion drawn is that this is an allusion to the cross. Abraham does not have to pass through the animals; Yahweh takes full responsibility for the keeping of the covenant, and he will take upon himself any of the curses of the covenant.

But I've never been a big fan of that explanation.

I'm not saying it's impossible, but it has never appeared to me to be found in the text. It's been largely based on extra-biblical texts, other ancient near eastern literature, etc., but while I do think that material can be helpful in places, I want the text to do the heavy lifting of exegesis and use the ANE material as garnish. Often the ANE literature gets brought in and the text is treated like Gumby in order to get it all to fit. Another objection I have to reading Genesis 15 like this is that it reduces the meaning of the ceremony to God saying, "I promise, I really, really, really promise." The ceremony doesn't actually answer Abe's question if all Yahweh is saying is that he will die if he's wrong. And that leads to the third objection: why does God need to make such a promise? Why would God swear about something that he can't do? He cannot break his word.

My working hypothesis has been to suggest that the covenant making ceremony in Genesis 15 is actually more of a prophetic vision of what God is promising to do. The smoking oven and burning torch seem to be most closely fulfilled in the pillar of smoke and pillar of fire that lead the children of Israel out of Egypt in the Exodus. Thus, Yahweh is not making a self-maledictory oath; he's showing Abe exactly what he's telling him. While passing through the animals, he's explaining that Abe's children will be slaves in a foreign land but that he will bring them back up into the land of promise with great riches. The text itself has to do with God's promise to give Abe children and the land of promise (15:2,7). Thus, it makes sense for Yahweh's oath to visualize the reality of that promise. The fact that Abe does not pass through the animals can be explained in several ways: first, part of the word of God to Abe is that he is going to die (15:15), that is, he is not going to inherit the land, but Yahweh himself will lead Abe's descendents into the land. Second, animals represent people throughout Scripture; this is why animals are fitting sacrifices. They represent the people who offer them. Angels are glorified animals that in some sense represent what God intends for glorified humanity (e.g. Mt. 22:30). That being the case, Yahweh passing through the divided animals is a picture of his intention to pass through the midst of Abe's descendents, to be near to them, to fill them. This is Yahweh's action, his role in the covenant, and therefore again, it would be strange for Abe to pass through the animals. Last, Yahweh promises that Abe's descendents will be afflicted four hundred years in this foreign land; this means that Abe's descendents are going to die (like Abe); but even after that death of slavery and exile, Yahweh will bring them back up into the land of promise. Yahweh passing through butchered animals is his covenant promise to make the dead live again.

One last point: As far as I know this sort of covenant making ceremony does not occur anywhere else in Scripture except for Jeremiah 34. There, it is once again tied (and here explicity) to the Exodus (34:13-14). The nobles of Jerusalem had bound themselves together in covenant to free their Hebrew slaves in the face of the coming exile to Babylon but ended up breaking their word and refusing to free their slaves. Their covenant ceremony had apparently consisted of cutting a calf in two and passing bewteen the parts (Jer. 34:18-19). While I grant that some might see this as confirmation of the self-maledictory oath idea, since Yahweh promises to "give them into the heand of their enemies and ... their dead bodies shall be for meat for the birds of the heaven and the beasts of the earth" (34:20). And one might reference the fact that Abe worked diligently to keep the carion from the butchered animals in Genesis 15:11. I actually think this is far more of a stretch than my reading. If Genesis 15 is Yahweh enacting his promise, displaying his intention to bring Abe's descendants back up into the land out of bondage and oppression, it makes complete sense that these Jewish nobles would perform a similar ceremony when it comes to their promise to free their slaves. This time it is fully fitting for them to pass through the divided parts of the animals because they are the ones promising to do the freeing. In Genesis 15, it was Yahweh who was swearing to free his slaves, and therefore he passed through the animals. In Jeremiah 34, it is the nobles promising to free their slaves, and therefore they pass through the animals.

What is also striking is the context of Jeremiah 34. There, this covenant to free the Hebrew slaves comes on the heels of Yahweh's promise to bring back the captives to the land after exile. He promises an heir to David (33:21 cf. Gen. 15:2-4), he promises to multiply and glorify the descendents of this heir as the stars of the heaven (33:22, cf. Gen. 15:5), and finally, Zedekiah the king is told that he will die in peace and be gathered to his fathers (34:5, cf. Gen. 15:15). All the momentum of the text is in displaying the promise of God to be the God of Abraham, the God of the Exodus; the nobles are then right to initially draw the connections and make a covenant to free their slaves. Passing through animals cut in half was an enactment of their intention to free their slaves, an enactment of the Exodus, giving freedom to slaves, giving life back from the death of bondage and exile. When they broke their word and broke covenant, they certainly came under God's judgment and wrath. But here of all places it would be fitting for Yahweh to have these worthless men split in two to show how the "self-maledictory oath" works. Of course he doesn't because that's not what is really going on. There are always covenant curses, punishments for breaking covenant, but the ceremony of passing through animals seems to make a great deal more sense in connection with the freeing of slaves, bringing the dead to life, and trusting Yahweh to do it.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Littell on Bucer's Catholic Spirit

This is from an article by Franklin H. Little entitled What Butzer Debated with the Anabaptists at Marburg:

"Butzer's great strength was expressed in his doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Both Lutheranism and Calvinism speedily fell into legalism, the piling of precept upon precept, the savage persecution of those who read the script differently, the brutal wars of religion which destroyed 80 per cent of the people and reduced the German lands to poverty and disease for generations. Neither the Lutheran Formula of Concord (1577) nor the Calvinist Canons of the Synod of Dort (1618-19) satisfactorily expressed a consensus fidelium. Both signified a willingness to settle for particularity long after the ability to discuss charitably had atrophied. Both required abandonment of universal perspectives, the canonization of particular formulas, the eclipse of eschatology. Both, in their lack of hope in things to come, lack of confidence in God's continuing purposes, derived from a scholastic mind-set which was insufficiently chastened and governed by a vital doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Butzer could have instructed the brethren, but even in his own time he was accused of "enthusiasm," of sympathy with the "Anabaptists of M√ľnster," of spiritualizing tendencies. Because he remained open to discussion and was willing to learn even from those with whom he had little in common, he was condemned by the dogmatic and inflexible for supposed instability and uncertainty of stance. Actually, he believed that the ultimate decision rested neither with hierarchy nor professional theologians but with the whole body of believers." (P. 256-257)

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Oyer on Bucer

In an article entitled Bucer Opposes the Anabaptists, John S. Oyer suggests that the early Bucer did not hold to infant baptism primarily for theological or sacramental reasons but rather for social and political motivations. It was the separatism of the Anabaptists that Bucer was primarily in conflict with; infant baptism insisted that all members of society were bound together through the church. Oyer suggests that Bucer sought to build a society with the roles of church and state interwoven and (in places) overlapping. The basis for this societal vision was found in identifying the Old and New Covenants closely. The Anabaptists, on the other hand, insisted that the two covenants were quite distinct and different. The identification of baptism as the New Covenant fulfillment of the Old Covenant sign of circumcision fit this hermeneutic beautifully and was at the same time utterly repugnant to the Anabaptist commitment to the separation of church and state. Oyer says that it was Bucer’s commitment to a unified society that drives his reluctance to give up infant baptism.

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Remembering the Exodus means Giving Alms

Twice in Dt. 24, God commands Israel to remember that they were slaves in Egypt and therefore they are required to care for the strangers, the fatherless, and the widows. Earlier in Deuteronomy Moses exhorts the people to remember that they were slaves in Egypt and to keep the Sabbath (Dt. 5:15), remember they were slaves in Egypt and send their slaves away with great riches (15:15), remember they were slaves in Egypt and celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with the strangers, widows, and orphans in their midst (16:12). It is striking that Moses ties this “remembering” to being generous to the strangers, widows, and orphans in Israel. This meal is of course our great memorial. Here we enact a great “remembering” that we were all once slaves and God has freed us. This remembering week after week should send us into the world accordingly. If you eat with the King of the Universe every Lord’s Day, then you are called up to live like that Monday through Saturday. Eating here means that God has freed you and is freeing you from all slavery. Every week God calls us to remember that we were once slaves in Egypt and therefore we ought to go home and feast and celebrate in our families and with our neighbors and friends. Every week God calls us to remember that we were once slaves to lusts and greed and immorality and therefore we ought to give bigger tips at restaurants, better presents on holidays, and be carelessly generous with the people that we work with, live near, and come in contact with. Here, with this bread and wine we remember that great Exodus that Jesus performed in his passion, death, and resurrection, that Exodus which Moses and Elijah discussed with Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration. Therefore come, eat, drink, rejoice, and take this joy and salvation out into the world.

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Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: Transfiguration Sunday: Exodus XX.16

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you for how you have blessed us as individuals, as families, and as a congregation. We thank you for providing all that we need and more, and we ask that you would feed us and provide for us now that we might do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you, our God, through Jesus, Amen!

Introduction
Last week, we focused on the personal nature of property. Theft is not merely the stealing of objects, it is a personal offense against the owner as well as the Giver of all gifts. This is why restitution is so important: it reaffirms the personalism of the world and embodies our repentance where we have erred. This is Trinitarianism in action.

Righteousness To You
As we have insisted previously, the Ten Commandments are not merely prohibitions; they also imply positive commands. Paul says this explicitly to those who have stolen: stop stealing and work hard so that you can give to those in need (Eph. 4:28). This means that laziness is a form of theft because it is stealing from the poor that you have an obligation to help (cf. Pr. 21:25-26). As Reformed Christians we insist (quite rightly) that righteousness is a gift of God; but this righteousness is not a static property or quality. Righteousness is justice, right actions, right judgment, and defending the defenseless. Moses says here that showing care and mercy for the poor is righteousness to us (Dt. 24:13). This includes not taking advantage of those under our power (24:10-11), whether they are employees, friends, neighbors, children, etc. We must not take their dignity or the means that God has given them to provide and be kept warm (24:6, 12-14). It is a matter of justice to be careful and generous with those under our care (24:15-17).

Leaving Sheaves
Moses insists that God’s people must not go over their fields twice (Dt. 24:19-21) because they were once slaves in Egypt (24:18, 22). God wants his people to have a generous way of life about them. They are to do this so that God will bless them and the work of their hands (24:19). Generosity is an incarnational prayer for God to bless us and our labors. This means that we ought to have intentional methods of leaving sheaves and grapes behind for the needy in our community. This may mean planning to be generous with those who work for us (i.e. bonuses), leaving generous tips for waiters who work hard for us, or having a line item in our family budget designated for this task. God requires his people to take responsibility for the strangers, the fatherless, and the widows in their midst. They are not someone else’s responsibility they are yours.

Conclusions & Applications
First, we need to recognize that the early church understood this calling well. Almost immediately there is a crying need for deacons to distribute food to the poor (Acts 6:1). Jesus had taught to that his disciples’ righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Mt. 5:20). The logic of Jesus’ interpretation of the law is clearly that our calling is much greater not lesser than the law given by Moses. This is why we hope to continue to grow our diaconal ministries.

Second, this means that Christians should have a reputation for being open handed, generous, and even “careless” with their generosity. This was the case in the New Testament and for several centuries in the early church. If people are going to fault us (and some people are always looking for something), we want the accusation to be that we are too generous. At the center of a generous spirit is the giving of tithes and offerings. If our attitude is “I paid my dues now get off my back,” then you might as well keep your filthy money (Dt. 23:18). God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). But we also need to recover a robust culture of almsgiving (Mt. 6:1ff). Christ teaches on almsgiving in the context of prayer and fasting (Mt. 6). They all belong together.

Lastly: We are a young church, and we are setting a tone now that will be here for generations. We are part of a tradition that has placed a ton of emphasis on Word and Sacrament. But the earliest Reformers put a significant amount of effort into mercy ministry. Throughout the Scriptures, God’s harshest condemnations do not come to those with doctrinal errors and liturgical blunders. The overwhelming condemnations come to those who ignore neglected children, subvert justice for single moms, and steal by refusing to care for the illegal immigrants next door. Pure and undefiled religion is not a beautiful liturgy or doctrinal precision. God has been carelessly gracious to you; therefore go and do likewise.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty God, we ask that you would make us a people known for generosity. Give us open hands and open arms for the neglected and needy in our communities. Teach us to hate all forms of theft and robbery, especially stinginess, greed, and carelessly neglecting our neighbors.

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Glory Before the Cross Before the Glory

This Lord’s Day is the last Sunday of Epiphany. This Lord’s Day is the culmination of this season as well as the culmination of Advent and Christmas; it also looks forward to the coming season of Lent which is the story that leads to Good Friday and Easter. This Sunday is also called Transfiguration Sunday. Today we remember and celebrate the event in Christ’s life when he and his disciples were on the mountain and he was transfigured. His face and clothing became bright white and shone with light, and Elijah and Moses appeared with him talking about the Exodus that he was about to perform in Jerusalem (Lk. 9:31). Again, God’s voice thundered from heaven, and he said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 17:5). Here God reveals Jesus to be his Son, his beloved Son, his all glorious one, arrayed in white, but we must notice that he is discussing his coming Exodus in Jerusalem. The Exodus that he will perform is his arrest and betrayal, his suffering under Pontius Pilot, and his crucifixion and death. God is revealing his Son, his all glorious Son, as the one who has been chosen to suffer and die. Because this is the pattern of Christ, this pattern is common in the lives of God’s people: first comes God’s word to you and his gifts. He declares that you are forgiven, you are his people, and he delights in you. He baptizes you, he forgives you, he gives you his gifts of bread and wine, and seats you with glory at his table. But this is all preparation for Lent and Good Friday. In other words, if you want to follow Jesus, you must recognize that this is a call to take up a cross, to suffer, and to die. God reveals the glory of Jesus in the Transfiguration as a glimpse of the full glory of the resurrection and ascension. But the path to glory is the way of struggle, pain, suffering, and hardship. But this is not cause for despair; this is cause for rejoicing. You are the beloved of God, and he is growing you up, maturing you. Trust him; he is your faithful God.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Preparing for Lent

Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent. As is our custom, we will be having an Ash Wednesday service Wednesday evening at 7pm at the church building. Please plan to come out for a service of prayers and psalms and meditation as we begin the season of Lent together as a community.

As we begin our celebration of Lent, it would be helpful to outline what it is we are doing and equally important to state what we are NOT doing. Recovering traditions and the rich heritage in the Christian Church is truly a great gift, but we must also recognize that our fathers in the faith have stumbled in various places. Our job is to study and recover the riches and leave behind any of the dross. We also need to recognize what our particular temptations are likely to be as we do so. Surely some of you are completely new to the whole idea of celebrating any seasons of the church calendar, much less Lent.

As with other seasons of the church year, we utilize these times throughout the year to learn from the Scriptures and the wisdom of our fathers in the faith. In particular, we direct our prayers and devotions in a concentrated way toward the spiritual warfare that we are called to wage at all times. Lent is the forty days (not counting Sundays) which lead up to Holy Saturday, the day before Resurrection Sunday. During these weeks, we look back to the repeated themes of trial, testing, and sanctification found in the forty days and forty years motifs throughout Scripture. Ultimately, we look to the faithfulness of Jesus under temptation, we look back to his willingness to suffer for us and for our salvation, and we consider his resolution to accomplish the calling that his Father had put before him.

But Lent should not be thought of as a time to wallow in sins or doubt one's salvation. Some traditions of the Christian Church have tended toward this, but that is not our intention. Rather, it is an opportunity to be reminded that we have been called to battle, summonsed to take up our crosses and follow our risen Savior as faithful disciples. We do not pretend that Jesus has not risen from the dead, nor do we pretend that we are lost or on the verge of being overwhelmed by sin and death. On the contrary, this season points us to the reality of the cross and resurrection as the only firm reason for believing that we are more than conquerors, that death has been swallowed up in victory, and that we endure all our struggles, battles, and trials for the joy that is set before us. We face the various "wilderness" experiences of our lives fully confident of victory, salvation, and the Promised Land. In this sense, Lent should be celebrated much like Advent. It is a season of preparation and expectation. It is of course fully fitting to add prayers, fasting, and other elements to your celebration of this season as a family. But your celebration should be just that, a celebration, a remembrance of forgiven sin, salvation accomplished, the glorious hope that is ours in Christ, and a renewed committment to follow in the steps of our King. And remember that every Sunday, every Lord's Day, continues to be a miniature Easter, and if anything, your Sabbath tables should only be more glorious, more joyful, and more festive like a slowly growing roar ready to errupt on Resurrrection Sunday.

As we take upon ourselves the ash of Ash Wednesday and remember that we are 'but dust and it is to dust that we will return', we do so with joy and expectation, eagerly awaiting the resurrection of our bodies and the renewal of the entire world. And far from making this life irrelevant, this gives our day to day duties and activies deep and abiding meaning. Your life now, your children, your spouse, your hobbies, and all that you do and say is part of the world that God is remaking and redeeming. We serve the God who constantly spreads a table for us, even in the presence of our enemies, constantly reminding us and assuring us that He rejoices over us as his people and promises to be God for us. And truly, if God is for us, who can be against us?

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