26. Autobiography of Charles Finney
27. The Man who was Thursday by Chesterton
28. Simply Christian by Wright
29. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Twain
30. The Contemplative Pastor by Peterson
31. The Last Battle by Lewis
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Here's a way to read the Institutes over the next year:
Princeton Theological Seminary has set up a daily reading and commentary that begins January 1st in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.
Notice the podcast and rss feed options.
Monday, December 29, 2008
A few excerpts from N.T. Wright's Simply Christian:
"The fulfillment of the Torah by the Spirit is one of the main themes underlying the spectacular description in Acts 2, or the day of Pentecost itself. To this day, Pentecost is observed in Judaism as the feast of the giving of the Law. First comes Passover, the day when the Israelites leave their Egyptian slavery behind for good. Off they go through the desert, and fifty days later they reach Mount Sinai. Moses goes up the mountain and comes down with the Law, the tablets of the covenant, God's gift to his people of the way of life by which they will be able to demonstrate that they are really his people.
This is the picture we ought to have in mind as we read Acts 2. The previous Passover, Jesus had died and been raised, opening the way out of slavery, the way to forgiveness and a new start for the whole world -- especially for all those who follow him. Now, fifty days later, Jesus has been taken into 'heaven,' into God's dimension of reality; but, like Moses, he comes down again to ratify the renewed covenant and to provide the way of life, written not on stone but in human hearts, by which Jesus's followers may gratefully demonstrate that they really are his people." (132-133)
On reading Scripture in worship:
"Reading scripture in worship is, first and foremost, the central way of celebrating who God is and what he's done.
Let me put it like this. The room I am sitting in at the moment has quite small windows. If I stand at the other side of the room, I can see only a little of what is outside -- part of the house opposite, and a tiny bit of sky. But if I go up close to the window, I can see trees, fields, animals, the sea, the hills in the distance.
It sometimes feels as though two or three short biblical readings are rather like the windows seen from the other side of the room. We can't see very much through them. But as we get to know the Bible better, we get close and closer to the windows (as it were), so that, without the windows having gotten any bigger, we can glimpse the entire sweep of the biblical countryside." (150-151)
On the sacrament:
"Like the children of Israel still in the wilderness, tasting food which the spies had brought back from their secret trip to the Promised Land, in the bread-breaking we are tasting God's new creation -- the new creation whose prototype and origin is Jesus himself." (154)
"...[T]here has been endless confusion over the relationship between the bread-breaking service and the sacrifice offered by Jesus on the cross. Catholics have usually said they were one and the same, to which Protestants have replied that Catholic interpretation looks like an attempt to repeat something which was done once and once only, and can never be done again. Protestants have usually said that the bread-breaking service is a different sacrifice to the one offered by Jesus -- they see it as a "sacrifice of praise" offered by the worshippers -- to which Catholics have responded that the Protestant interpretation looks like an attempt to add something to the already complete offering of Jesus, which (they say) becomes "sacramentally" present in the bread and the wine." (156)
"For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect... But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified." (Heb. 10:1, 12-14)
The writer contrasts the sacrifices of the law which are offered continually but cannot make perfect (10:1) with the sacrifice of Christ which perfects forever those who are being sanctified (10:14).
What is striking is that the writer uses the same adjective to describe the continual offerings of the Law and the continual efficacy of Christ's sacrifice (translated 'forever'). In 10:1 the sacrifices are offered dianekes but can never bring to perfection. Likewise in 10:12, Christ has offered one sacrifice for sins dianekes and sat down at the right hand of God. And in 10:14, 'For by one offering he has perfected dianekes those being sanctified.'
The contrast then is most clearly on the number of the sacrifices which the the priests of the Law offered "frequently" (in 10:11 it's a different word than 10:1). Whereas the writer insists that Christ's offering was a single sacrifice (10:10, 12, 14). In 10:10, the offering of the "body of Jesus Christ" is described as ephapax which means once-for-all (cf. Rom. 6:10, Heb. 7:27, 9:12).
The word (dianekes) is used in one other place in Hebrews 7:3 where it describes Christs perpetual ministry as priest.
Of course all of this concerns issues which were significant in the Reformation. The Reformers all insisted that the Roman Mass had obscured the once-for-all character of the sacrifice of Christ. The concern was that the Mass had become a re-sacrifice of Christ which was both abhorrent to the glory of Christ who is seated at the right hand of the Father and also because of the kind of meritorious theology that seems to naturally flow from such ideas. If the one offering of Christ on the cross must be re-exhibited, re-offered, re-presented for sins to be forgiven, how does that not undermine the once-for-all sense in which Christ suffered on the tree under Pontius Pilate? How is it not in some sense insufficient for our salvation? It seems to imply that something more must be done. And further, if the Eucharist continually offers Christ as a sacrifice for sin, how are we not back in the same position as the people under the Law?
And yet, it does seem that the common translation of this word in Heb. 10 (as 'forever') may create a more severe contrast than is actually meant by the writer. Whatever the priests' many sacrifices could not do which were offered dianekes is what Christ's one sacrifice now actually accomplishes dianekes.
“Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock.” Ez. 34:2-3
It is no accident that our Lord was born in a stable, and it is certainly not extraneous that we are told that he was laid in a manger. He was laid in a food trough, and shepherds were some of the first guests to bow before the newborn king. Shepherds, whose job it is to lead the sheep to their food, shepherds like David and Moses, whose calling it was to lead the flock of Israel, kings whose task it was to feed the people of God. But these shepherds, these representatives of the many failed kings of Israel do what every king must do in the presence of the King of Kings. They come to bow before Him. And what they find is the King of Kings not only preparing food for his flock, but having become the food for his flock. The King has been born and he has been laid in a manger, a food trough; he has immediately become their food, their nourishment, their strength. This is because He is the Good Shepherd, who gives his life for his sheep. In Christ, God has come for his scattered sheep. He has come to search for them and seek them out, and he has come to feed them in the good pasture, to lead them in quiet pastures, to restore their souls, and to give them rest. So come, your Good Shepherd still gives himself for his sheep, he still gives himself as their food. Come and rejoice, you once were lost but you have been found. You have come to the manger, and your Shepherd has given himself for you. Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
We have just declared that Christ is born and called one another to worship Him. Just as we declare Christ risen during the season of Easter, so too, we proclaim Him born like the Shepherds, like the Wise Men, like the angels. Christ is born and we call everyone everywhere to glorify him. Historically, Christmas is not one day but 12. Beginning on December 25th, the Church has dwelled on these events for nearly two weeks, culminating on the 12th day of Christmas, the Feast of Epiphany, celebrating the manifestation of God in Christ, the revelation of God to the world in the person of Jesus. And this is not a little thing. This is everything. This is the birth of the Kings and Kings and the Lord of Lords. This is the birth of the Emperor whose kingdom will have no end, and the government will be upon his shoulders and he is the Prince of Peace. This is the gospel that there is a King to whom every knee must bow and every tongue confess, and this King’s name is Jesus, Emmanuel, Mighty God, and he must reign until all of his enemies have been put beneath his feet. He must rein until greed and materialism is put beneath his feet. He must reign until tyranny and oppression is put beneath his feet. He must reign until abdicating husbands and fathers are put beneath his feet. He must reign until harping, complaining, and bitter mothers and wives are put beneath his feet. He must reign until foolish sons and daughters are put beneath his feet. He must reign until disease and heartache and death are put beneath his feet. And he will reign until every tear has been wiped from every eye, until mercy and justice kiss, until all has been put to right. And this means that our proclamation that Christ is born means everything. So as we greet one another this morning and in the coming days of Christmas, greet one another with these words. Christ is born, Glorify Him.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Christmas Eve 2008 Homily
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert; a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted; and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight; and the rough places smooth; the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Is. 40:3-5
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and Truth.” Jn. 1:14
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, who He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high...” Heb. 1:1-4
We are accustomed to describing the act of God in the incarnation as a great act of humility, a great act of condescension, an act which is wonderful and amazing but in some way involves God leaving his glory behind. God as an infant, God as a crying baby in a stable, laid in a manger, what could be more humiliating? What could be more inglorious? Passages like Philippians 2:7 are quoted to describe this act: ‘But he made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, coming in the likeness of men.’ Some translations say that he “emptied himself,” and the famous Christmas Carol says “mild, he lays his glory by/ born that man no more may die.” We routinely describe the incarnation with regard to great contrasts. There is what God is in Himself, and then there is what God became in the incarnation. There is the glory and holiness and transcendent being of God enthroned as absolute King of the Cosmos, and then there is Jesus, born of a woman, born in a stable, laid in a manger, no crib for a bed.
Our catechism implies this contrast when we ask the question ‘what is God?’ The answer is that “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” There is no mention here of the incarnation, and the answer implies that the incarnation is something quite different from the way God usually is. God is a Spirit, the answer says, God is infinite, eternal, unchangeable. Those first four attributes would seem to contradict any notion of an incarnation.
And so we describe the great act of the incarnation as this wonderful impossibility that God overcame. How can the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable become the exact opposite of those things? How can the infinite become finite? How can the eternal have a beginning? How can the unchangeable be conceived? We ask these questions with amazement and wonder, and ultimately we worship and adore the God who does this. We worship the God who is able to do this, the God who was willing to do this for us, despite His glory and perfection and honor, overcomes the distance, bridges the chasm, and becomes one of us.
And of course there is truth in all of this. There’s nothing untrue in these descriptions in and of themselves. But there is a danger if this is all that we say. The untruth can begin to creep in if we do not tell the rest of the story. If we stop here, it can serve to obscure a more fundamental fact about the person and character of our God. One of the ways, we catch a glimpse of this is in passages like the ones just read: Isaiah 40, John 1 and Hebrews 1. A common theme running through all of them is the theme of glory, and that glory being revealed. Isaiah says that the glory of the Lord is going to be revealed when God comes to save his people. The prophet doesn’t say that the glory of God will be laid aside or veiled or somewhat hidden or obscured. The prophet says that the Coming One will reveal the glory of the Lord. So too, John insists that the incarnation was fundamentally the revelation of the glory of God. When the incarnation occurred, when we saw Jesus, we finally saw His glory, and not just any glory, we beheld the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Similarly, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus the Son of God is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person. And our tendency is to jump immediately to Trinitarian categories. We’re fine with the Son being the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person, but we don’t tend to think about the incarnation. The baby in Bethlehem, lying in a food trough? That’s the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person? But that seems to be the very thing that the writer is talking about. Immediately after saying that he is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person, he says that he not only upholds all things by the word of His power, but he also purged our sins and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Hebrews says that the brightness of God’s glory and his express image is evident in both his sovereignty in upholding all things and in purging our sins on the cross. The revelation of God is that God does both of these things.
And this gets back to our prior point. We tend to contrast the God who creates, the God who rules, the God who inhabits eternity with the God who is conceived, the God who is born, the God who dies. We are Christians, and we believe the Bible and so we don’t question these things. But we tend to contrast them nevertheless. We talk about God as God and then we talk about the incarnation as though it were something somewhat different. It’s something amazing and glorious, but we tend to describe the incarnation as though it doesn’t ordinarily fit with the idea of God. We have a notion of God, an idea of deity that pushes the idea of suffering and humility and incarnation to the far side of God-ness. To be God, we think, is to inhabit eternity, is to be a Spirit, is to be infinite, is to be unchangeable, is to be something and someone quite different than our human experience. And again, there is some truth there.
But these Scriptures push against this conception of God. John says that when Jesus was born we finally saw God for who he really is. We finally saw the glory of the Father full of grace and truth when Mary brought forth her Son and laid him in the manger. And when the child grew in wisdom and stature and in grace before God and men, we finally saw what God is like. And when that same carpenter’s Son was mocked and spat upon and despised and afflicted and finally crucified, Hebrews says that we saw the brightness of His glory; the express image of His person was revealed.
Similarly, in John’s first epistle, he says that the eternal life of the Father was manifested, revealed, seen, heard, looked upon, and handled. Whatever our conception of God, it must include this. When we ask ‘what is God?’ the first thing the New Testament writers would point to is the person of Jesus. Who is God? God is the one who revealed himself in Jesus. God is the one who was born of Mary. God is the one who lived as a man, who taught, who healed, who ate and drank with sinners, who was ultimately betrayed and crucified and rose again and ascended into heaven. That is our God. God is not first of all something else. God is not first of all infinite and eternal and unchangeable in a way that is at odds with the incarnation. Rather, the incarnation is the veil finally being torn away. If the ancients thought of God as someone distant and other and infinite and unchangeable they had some excuse for thinking that, although the Jews had plenty of hints that this was not the case. But when Jesus was born, when the incarnation occurred all of those preconceived notions were blown apart.
The incarnation is not something that we must try to fit into our doctrine of God. Rather, the incarnation is the beginning of our doctrine of God. It is the revelation of the glory of Lord, the brightness of His glory, the express image of his person. The incarnation is not merely consistent with the person and character of God; the incarnation shows us the kind of God we actually serve. The incarnation shows us not an aberration from the way God usually is; rather, the incarnation shows us what God is actually like. God is the God who both creates and sustains the worlds and gives himself for sinners. God is the God who both inhabits eternity and freely enters time and space and identifies with his people. God is the one who is both unchangeable, whose Word stands forever and cannot be moved, and He is at the same time always and unalterably free to experience growth and sorrow and love and joy. The God who rules heaven and earth is also the God who is born a child in Bethlehem.
And, as the hymn declares, this really is tidings of comfort and joy. The New Testament has a great deal to say about glory, and as we look at those passages we notice over and over again the association of glory with God’s people. We’ve already pointed out that Jesus is the revelation of God’s glory, but the New Testament writers don’t stop there. Paul says that in the New Covenant we have been given the Spirit, and as we read the Scriptures and hear the gospel proclaimed, we all with unveiled face, behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, and we are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:17-18). He says that we glory in tribulations (Rom. 5:3), and while our outward man is perishing and we experience afflictions, these are working in us an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:16-17). Paul’s own tribulations are the glory of the Ephesians (Eph. 2:13). He says that the Thessalonians have suffered like Christ and therefore they are his glory and joy (1 Thess. 2:14-15, 19-20). Peter, likewise says, ‘If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.’ (1 Pet. 4:13). A little later he says that he is a “witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed.” (1 Pet. 5:1).
The reason it is great comfort and joy to know the God who is both sovereign and humble, the God who is both infinite and a child, who is both eternal and born of a woman, is that this same God promises to bestow this glory on us. Partaking of the glory of God, sharing in that glory, means living in this same reality, living as weak and broken people and yet strong and exalted, seated with Christ in the heavenly places. We live as those who have been given eternal life and yet have been born, and who will all die. We have been united to the changeless one, the one will never leave us or forsake us, and yet we grow up, and live, and change, and die and rise again.
In Ephesians Paul prays that the eyes of their understanding might be enlightened, that they might know what are the riches of his glory of His inheritance in the saints (Eph. 2:18). What the Ephesians need, and what we so often need is not for God to show us his glory. That has been revealed to us in Jesus. What we really need is for our eyes to be opened to see the glory right in front of us. We see a child in a manger, and say God has in some way laid his glory aside. But God says, ‘no, no, that is my glory, my wisdom, my infinity, my changelessness, my holiness, my justice, my goodness, my glory. God in the manger is the glory of God revealed. And if God in a manger is the glory of God revealed, then God on the cross is the Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:8). The glory of God is joy in suffering, peace in upheaval, mercy in justice, exaltation in humility, losing our lives to find them. If the glory of God is revealed in an infant lying in a manger, then why can’t the glory of God be revealed in your family? Why can’t the glory of God be manifest in your fellowship at a table, in your exchanging peace and joy and mercy with one another? Why can’t the glory of God be revealed in the midst of brokenness and confusion? Why can’t the wisdom and power of God be evident in weakness? The answer is that it can be and that it is. And so here we are assembled to proclaim that glory, the glory of the Lord that has been revealed to us and is being revealed in us through the working of the Spirit. Christ is born! Glorify Him! The glory of the Lord has been revealed. The veil is torn away. See the glory.
“O Zion, You who bring good tidings, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!” Is. 40:9
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Friday, December 19, 2008
Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (ERH) (188-1973) says that the disintegration of our culture is tied directly to our inability to celebrate holiday which is not the same thing as having "leisure time."
Leisure takes men into pastimes whether future or past, or inner or outer ecstasies. Leisure is free time spent merely doing something else, something out of the central current of one's vocation. And any hobby or leisure activity which becomes a job is thereby no longer leisure. Similarly, ERH gives the examples of site-seeing/travel and interest in music. It's all good fun and serves to divert people from the central demands of life. But there is a kind of restlessness and aimless bound up in such an existence. ERH insists that peace and contentment is found in the center of this cross of human existence. If the inner, outer, future, and past form the four sides of the cross of human existence, only fixed to the center of the cross can human existence be fulfilling and fruitful. ERH names this "centered" existence one which celebrates holidays as contrasted with the individualism and escapism of mere leisure. It combines these modes of leisure into community life, fellowship, and celebration.
That's what holidays do. The are the "mortar of society," creating fellowship, togetherness, opportunities to plan, discuss, and organize. They are the concerted efforts of a whole community to celebrate despite what any circumstances may otherwise suggest, and ERH goes on to suggest that out of these holidays come creativity, ingenuity, productivity, and many other traits of a thriving society.
The Christian Future, 198-202.
One of the gifts of the lectionary and church calendar is the backbone it gives to our lives. If these gifts are the collective, devotional wisdom of the Church down through the centuries, then they are Fathers advising us about how to pray and what to pray for and when. Of course we may generally pray for anything at any time, any place. But following the lead of our Fathers places some healthy constraints on us. While we may face a particularly trying situation, we may find ourselves in Christmas or Easter. Or we may be blessed with overwhelming gifts and kindness and mercy and find ourselves in Advent or Lent or Holy Week. And this doesn't mean that we must put on superficial faces to fit in with the tenor of the calendar. But it does offer a deeper wisdom to our situations. Even in deep, abounding joy and laughter, there must be a humility that recognizes our need for grace and mercy. Likewise, in our deepest sorrows, if we are entreated to sing psalms of joy and give gifts to one another, it is the wisdom of the Fathers that reminds us to rejoice in all things and to give thanks even in the shadow of death.
Something similar is found in praying through the Psalter on a regular basis. As the inspired prayer book of the Church, the Psalter leads us to pray for things we wouldn't ordinarily pray for, thank God for things we might not otherwise remember to thank him for, and again it directs the tenor of our lives, offering a masthead to our ship in the main.
In one of the Psalms for this morning's prayer, Psalm 99, it says, "The Lord is King, be the people never so impatient; he sitteth between the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet."
We have our storms and trials and victories and battles, and still the Lord is King, still he sits enthroned.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Robert Webber at the end of a discussion remembering an Ash Wednesday service he once attended, says that the Passing of the Peace at the close of the liturgy is a reminder of the resurrection. "As I said, 'The Peace of the Lord be with you,' shook hands with my neighbor, and heard the words, 'Peace be with you,' I was hearing the resurrection. Here in these words that Jesus first spoke to his disciples in the upper room (see Luke 24:36-49), is the promise that the dark side of life in the world and in us will not prevail. The power of the evil one has been overcome." (Ancient-Future Time, 106)
And this is true of the liturgy every Lord's Day. We greet one another as heralds of the resurrection every Sunday before gathering to the table to celebrate the Eucharist, and this further highlights the celebratory nature of the Lord's Supper. We greet one another in peace because Christ is risen, sin is conquered, and we are about to participate in the wedding feast of the Lamb brought back from the future into our present. In the Passing of the Peace, we are enacting by faith not only the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, we are also enacting the resurrection of our own bodies and the bodies of our neighbors, greeting one another in the peace of the Lord as though we had just woken up at the Last Day, that great Lord's Day.
N.T. Wright points out that in the ancient world, and even in parts of the modern world, rulers often "set up statues of themselves in prominent places, not so much in their own home territory (where everyone knew who they were and recognized that they were in charge), but in foreign or far-flung dominions... For an emperor, the point of placing an image of yourself in the subject territory was that the subjects in that country would be reminded that you were their ruler, and would conduct themselves accordingly." (Simply Christian, 37)
While clearly the instinct to set up image-reminders in foreign jurisdictions comes from God himself, the point is worth remembering. People, as icons of the God of heaven, should be constant reminders to us to conduct ourselves according to the justice of the God of heaven. The Trinity has been pleased to fill this world with living pictures, breathing images of himself in order to remind us that he is King of this world.
It's also worth pointing out that the image of God in people means that on a fundamental level, people are like God. And of course that has been distorted and bent in various ways through sin, but it's still there all the same. In some sense, every human being should remind us of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
One of the great blessings of the Church Calendar is the cumulative wisdom it brings to us in directing our prayers. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and he gave them the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father. But the apostles did not stop there. They taught their congregations to pray for all sorts of needs and situations, to give thanks in all things, to pray for those in authority, to pray without ceasing, to cast their cares upon the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. If God is our Father, as our foundational prayer teaches, then he is our Father at all times and in all places. And this apostolic wisdom has continued to grow and expand throughout the history of the church. The Calendar is training for prayer. The feasts and fasts of the Church Year are lessons in worship. During the Advent Season we are taught to pray in expectation, we remember Israel in exile awaiting the Messiah, we remember that we too await the Messiah who will come at the end of the ages to judge the living and the dead and to raise us up with new bodies when death is no more. But we not only await our King at the end, we must learn to wait on the Lord throughout our lives. We must wait and pray for many situations that are completely outside of our control. We must wait and pray for wayward children. We must wait and pray when we are afflicted with disease, when we are in pain, when we have offended someone who refuses to forgive us. We must wait and pray when finances are tight. We must wait and pray when we have lost a loved one. Sometimes sin afflicts us and no matter how hard we try, it does not seem to leave. And God does not seem to hear our cries, our pleas, our prayers. And Advent teaches us to continue to pray to our faithful Father. Advent teaches us to pray to the God who has come, to the God who will come, to the God who comes. The entire Christian Year is a tutorial in prayer. It reminds us to pray without ceasing, that prayer is the life-breath of the Church.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
When Ezekiel prophesies against the mountains of Israel (Ez. 36), the curse levied against the mountains is that they will be desolate, no one will walk on them. A sign of the reversal of the curse is cities being rebuilt on the mountains and people walking on them.
Seems like an ecological or environmental reading of Scripture would need take passages like that into consideration when developing a biblical conservationism.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
My son was sitting with Jenny and I the other evening in front of the Christmas Tree. It was quiet for a moment, and then he looked up and said, "Dad, it feels like we're in a movie, right at the end."
Not only is he cinematically aware, he's also pretty sharp looking in his school uniform as you an see here. And furthermore, the guy is well on his way to being a first class Stratego player. And in his spare time he ice skates.
Eugene Peterson says that prayer is like the middle voice.
Active and Passive voices we know fairly well. Active means the subject is doing the verb; passive means the subject is being acted upon by someone or something else. Middle voice "is that use of the verb which describes the subjects as participating in the results of the action." Peterson uses the example of "counsel." "I counsel my friend" is in the active voice. "I am counseled by my friend" is in the passive voice. "I take counsel" is the middle voice. In the middle voice the subject participates in the results of the action which is initiated by someone else.
In prayer, we are invited to join the deliberations of the heavenly assembly and particularly, we are invited to participate in the council and deliberations of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We, like Abraham, reason with God; we, like Moses, are invited to present our case before the Godhead. But we have been granted participation in God far beyond what the faithful patriarchs enjoyed. We have the status of sons; we have been given the Spirit which cries out to God, "Abba, Father!" We are joined to the Son by the Spirit and are welcome to speak with the Father about the state of our life, the state of our family, the state of our world. We are invited to participate in what God is doing in the world. We are not the primary actors or initiators, but we are expected to participate in and join in the action through pleas, through our intercession, through our cries for mercy.
Peterson explains: "Prayer and spirituality feature participation, the complex participation of God and the human, his will and our wills. We do not abandon ourselves to the stream of grace and drown in the ocean of love, losing identity. We do not pull the strings that activate God's operations in our lives, subjecting God to our assertive identity. We neither manipulate God (active voice) nor are manipulated by God (passive voice). We are involved in the action and participate in its results but do not control or define it (middle voice). Prayer takes place in the middle voice." (The Contemplative Pastor, 103-104)
Of course when we think of results we usually think about what we want to see happen or change. But participating in the results doesn't necessarily mean that what we want actually happens. Of course in the cases of Abraham and Moses we see instances where prayer does prevail with God. But if we have been granted the status of sons, and we have the Spirit of Christ, then we have to remember that much of our prayer may be like Christ's prayer. And some of the clearest glimpses of Christ's prayer life are seen in the garden just before his arrest and betrayal. Christ's prayers participated in the results of the action of God in the world, but we know from Christ's own words, he struggled through that, he argued and pleaded with his Father in his circumstances, while perfectly trusting the will of his Father. Praying like sons may mean facing similar situations as the Son in the garden, the Son before Pilate, the Son on the Cross. But of course that should come as no surprise since that same Son invited us to follow him by taking up a cross. But the hope of course is that the same result as came to the Son comes to every son. Resurrection awaits all every son of God.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
In Mark 4, Mark belabors the point that Jesus is teaching from a boat which is in the water which is facing the land which is where the people are listening to Jesus who is in the boat in the water telling parables to the people. Mark, who is normally known more for brevity, makes a big deal about the setting.
To "parable" -- if we make it verb -- is a nautical term meaning literally to throw out a sounding device, to measure depth (e.g. Acts 20:15). And of course that is precisely what the parables of Jesus are for, sounding the depth of the people. And the first parable recorded has everything to do with how deep their soil is, how deep the seed of the word is allowed to sink in and grow to produce fruit.
And it's hardly irrelevant that Jesus began his ministry calling disciples to help him fish for men. This is what it looks like. Fishing for men looks like telling stories, confusing some and intriguing others.
Monday, December 08, 2008
It's been our tradition for a number of years now to celebrate Advent by decorating our tree in stages, a little at a time. We do other fun stuff with the kids throughout the week, but each Sunday in Advent is marked by new decorations on the tree.
We get our Christmas tree on the first Sunday of Advent and begin by decorating the tree with all sorts of fruit. We have apples, grapes, strings of cranberries (or berry-looking beads), and the like. We often have a fruit-themed dinner and/or breakfast for the first Sunday in Advent as well. All of this reminds us of the Garden of Eden, the sin of Adam and Eve, and the fruit of the Tree of Life that has been restored to us in Jesus.
On the Second Sunday of Advent we add salt dough ornaments to the tree along with a variety of different star ornaments. The salt dough and stars remind us of exile, being in a foreign land, and the promise of God to bring the gentiles into Israel. It was of course a star that brought the wisemen from the East to worship Jesus, and that itself is a great reversal of the exile. Instead of Israel being led by foreign kings into the east away from the presence of God (Like Adam and Eve and later the whole nation of Israel), at the birth of Christ we have foreign kings coming west into the presence of God to submit themselves to the King of Israel. Since we're remembering exile during this week, we turn off music for this week (Ps. 137:1-4).
On the Third Sunday of Advent we put up lights. Lots of lights. Actually, we've recently decided to put the lights on the tree on the First Sunday of Advent, but we only turn them on on Sunday. Starting on the Third Sunday of Advent, we put more lights, and keep the lights turned on all day, every day. Jesus is the light of the world who comes to shine in our darkness, so we have a party with the lights, inside and outside.
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent we break out all the gifts, the bows, the ribbons, the stockings, and any of the other snow men or santas or whathaveyous that haven't made it onto the tree or shelves yet. God has given himself to us in the incarnation, and so it seems fitting to make a big deal about presents and gift giving and bows and ribbons and wrapping paper and stockings.
Part of the point of this sort of tradition is to make Advent fun, but also to add more elements of expection to our celebration. Advent is about remembering that God has come to the aid of his people in the past, remembering that God is faithful to remember his promises and come and save his own. Cheifly this means remembering that our God has come for us in Jesus. And that means that this same God will be faithful to remember us and come for us in our day. He promises to meet us as we gather for worship. He promises to hear our prayers and come to our aid in our distress. And he promises to come at the end of the world and raise us up from the dead and renew all things. But here in the middle of the story, it is important to learn the virtue of joyful expectation, hopeful patience. And our Advent tradition is just one way to practice that.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you that you are the God of Advent, the God who comes to His people. We thank you have already welcomed us into your presence this morning, and we ask that your Spirit continue your great work in us now through your word, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
Deuteronomy 6 calls upon the conquering people of God to love Him with everything they are, and for this love to be evidenced all day long, everywhere they go so that they do not forget (Dt. 6:12). This is based on the overwhelming graciousness of God (Dt. 6:10-11, 18-19, 21-23), and the calendar of Israel was designed to regularly remind Israel of that grace and to be that grace for them.
Feasts as Memorials
The foundational feast of the Israelite calendar was the Sabbath (Lev. 23:3), and central to keeping the Sabbath was “memorializing” it, remembering it (Ex. 20:8-11, Dt. 5:15). And the central things being remembered were God’s great acts of creation and redemption. Almost all of the feasts are “holy convocations” and thus “Sabbath days” and “memorials,” but they are also given to remember certain historic events. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were celebrated as the high memorial of the Exodus (Ex. 12:2, 13:3-10), and the Feast of Tabernacles memorialized the fact that God had led his people through the wilderness in tents (Lev. 23:41-43). The Feast of Weeks was to be kept so that “you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt” (Dt. 16:12). The Sabbath before the Day of Atonement included the blowing of memorial trumpets (Lev. 23:24), probably as a reminder of the Sinai covenant. Likewise the sabbatical year was a memorial (Dt. 15:15). At the center of all of these memorials is worship, which is why our high memorial is our Lord’s Day Eucharist.
Filling Life with Memorials
God didn’t stop with marking time. Along with the repeated command to “remember,” God established numerous ways to remember in the life of Israel. The daily sacrifices were acts which God used to cause his name to be remembered (Ex. 20:24). Justice to the strangers and fatherless was to be a memorial of God’s justice in redeeming Israel out of Egypt (Dt. 24:18). Likewise, harvesting regulations were meant to memorialize God’s deliverance of Israel out of slavery (Dt. 24:19-22). Even their clothing was to include reminders: the tassels on their garments were memorials (Num. 15:39). And the general command to put the law everywhere is getting at the same point (Dt. 6:1-9, 12, 20-25). And the question really comes down to thankfulness. As the priests and kings of this new world in Christ (Rev. 1:6), what will we remember to be thankful for? People will always rejoice in something, they will always remember something on their calendars, the question is not whether but which.
If thankfulness is the foundation of remembering, then church calendar keeping cannot be an opportunity for rivalry, vainglory, or crankiness. It is a matter of freedom, and freedom means living by the Spirit. All of this is about joy before the Lord; we should love excuses to give thanks and remember God’s goodness. Related to this point, is that thankfulness and joy result in obedience to God and love toward our neighbors. This leaves no room for shallow, hypocritical, and ignorant bliss on the one hand or dour, pietistic puddle-glumming on the other. And remember what this is teaching your children. Thankfulness trusts and obeys: repenting, believing, rejoicing.
And this helps to explain how a “festival calendar” can include days and seasons of joy and penitence. Fundamentally, joy and thankfulness is the foundation of true repentance (2 Cor. 7:9-11).
We must also note that the overwhelming emphasis of Israel’s calendar was celebratory. While the Day of Atonement was a day of affliction and other fasts and penitential days were introduced later in Israel’s history, and Jesus fully expects his people to fast (Mt. 6:16-16, 9:14ff), the tenor of the calendar is one of rejoicing and gratitude. As we recover the church calendar we want our memorials to be feasts, high celebrations full of joy and thanksgiving. And this means that principally we want to make a big deal about the life of Christ who is the greater Joshua.
Last, it has been noted that the memorial calendar was tied in numerous ways to the care of neighbors, strangers, widows, and orphans. One of the ways we can gauge faithfulness is by the impact it has on the people nearby. We want our celebration of the church calendar to not only be a blessing for Trinity Reformed Church, we want the city of Moscow to be thankful that we’ve recovered this ancient wisdom. This can only be the case if we love God with everything we are, and that is only possible if we remember the God of Advent, the God who loves his people and comes to their aid.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Kind Father, you have brought us into a good land, flowing with milk and honey. We have all kinds of material benefits and blessings, and we have been brought into fellowship with you through Jesus, in the power of the Spirit. We confess that we have hardly begun to fathom what all of this means, but we ask that as we celebrate the life of Jesus throughout this calendar year, we would more and more be partakers of that endless life that is yours. Through Jesus, who came to give us that abundant life and taught us to pray, singing…
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Finney explains the basic outline of the gospel he preached: "I insisted upon the voluntary moral depravity of the unconverted, and the unalterable necessity of a radical change of heart by the Holy Spirit and by means of the truth." (66)
When Charles Finney was encouraged to attend Princeton Seminary to get a deeper theological training (he was a laywer before his conversion), he declined. When someone offered to pay his way he declined again, explaining, "I plainly told them that I would not put myself under such influence as they had been under. I was confident that they had been wrongly educated and were not ministers that met my ideal of what a minister of Christ should be." (47)
Later, discussing the criticisms that many of his fellow Presbyterian ministers leveled at his ministry and preaching style, he says that he remained unconvinced of their criticisms given the fruit he saw from their ministries compared with his own. "I am still solemnly impressed with the conviction that the schools are to a great extent spoiling the ministers." (72)
He goes on: "Ministers in these days have great facilities for obtaining information on all theological questions, and are vastly more learned, so far as theological, historical, and Bible learning is concerned, than they perhaps have ever been in any age of the world. Yet with all their learning they do not know how to use it. They are, after all, to a great extent like David in Saul's armor." (73)
This last point is clearly even more true today than in his day. Given the wealth, the vast resources of the American Church, the relatively high level of education, etc., the state of our nation does not reveal a great benefit for all that.
Charles Finney (1792-1875) on experiencing justification by faith:
"I arose upon my knees in the bed and wept aloud with joy, and remained for some time too much overwhelmed with the baptism of the Spirit to do anything but pour out my soul to God... In this state I was taught the doctrine of justification by faith as a present experience. That doctrine had never taken possession of my mind. I had never viewed it distinctly as a fundamental doctrine of the Gospel... I could see that the moment I believed, while up in the woods, all sense of condemnation had entirely dropped out of my mind, and that from that moment, I could not feel a sense of guilt or condemnation by any effort I could make. My sense of guilt was gone, my sins were gone, and I do not think I felt any more sense of guilt than if I never had sinned. This was just the revelation I needed. I felt myself justified by faith, and, so far as I could see, I was in a state in which I did not sin. Instead of feeling that I was sinning all the time, my heart was so full of love that it overflowed. My cup ran over with blessing and with love. I could not feel that I was sinning against God, nor could I recover the least sense of guilt for my past sins. Of this experience of justification I said nothing to anybody at the time." (The Autobiography of Charles G. Finney, 24-25)
Without completely dismissing the tremendous emotional relief of forgiveness and reconciliation with God, it's hard to miss the foundational role of feelings, senses, experience, emotion, etc. One wonders if he ever *felt* unjustified later.
Monday, December 01, 2008
It’s been pointed out before that worship is warfare. What we do here on the Lord’s Day is not pacifism. What we do here on the Lord’s Day is not apathy to the world we live in. What we do here is not retreat. No, what we do here on the Lord’s Day is the most potent weapon to fight sin and wickedness and injustice and all the enemies of God in this world, and this is because we understand that God is our Redeemer and he does not rest while we are in peril. He does not rest while we are vulnerable. He does not leave us or forsake us. And the way this works is that God calls us here and tells us to sit down. He welcomes us into his presence, cleanses us, and seats us in his presence. He speaks to us, and we respond and sing and present our prayers, and then he feeds us and tells us to rejoice around his table. And our God says while you sit here and rejoice in faith, I am fighting all your enemies. I am dealing with your sin, and I’m working on all of your concerns. While we rest here, our God is not at rest. He is at war with all injustice, with all envy and bitterness and brokenness and death. And not only this, but he intends for us to take these weapons with us into the world. These are the weapons of song and prayer and Word and Sacrament. And of course these weapons don’t always seem very strong, very potent, but that is because they all point to the primary point which is that we are called to trust him. Is there strife in your home? Then sing the psalms. Is there division among you? Then sit down at a table and rejoice together. Are you struggling with sin? Then read the Scriptures and call out to God in prayer. We don’t do these things because they are nice religious things to do. We do these things because we are at war. And when the battle is fierce don’t forget that the main point is that God fights for us, and that is how we fight. We take up these little stones of bread and wine and joy and rest, and God our Redeemer sends them flying into the foreheads of the giants in our lives. So what should you do when you surrounded? What should you do when your enemies and sins crowd around you? You should sit down. You should sing a psalm of praise and then eat your bread and drink your wine with glad hearts. God always spreads tables for his people in the presence of their enemies. That’s so he can slay them. So come with joy, come with faith. You are seated, so rest in the care of your God. Rest, because your Redeemer God will not rest until he has done all that he has promised for you and your family.
Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we come to you now in faith, believing that this is your Word and that by the power of the Spirit it will not return to you void. Make these your words food for our souls, strengthen us, correct us, turn us to you that we might know real joy, real peace, and so may your word return to you bearing fruit. Through Jesus…
We come now to the end of Ruth, and we see the house of Elimelech restored and his name preserved in honor. This is brought about through the selfless courage of a faithful Moabite woman and Boaz the redeemer. But ultimately it is all the covenant mercy of God.
The book of Ruth opens and closes with “tens” (1:4, 4:2, 18-22). Ten is the number of “Words” of Yahweh (Ex. 34:28, Dt. 4:13), and it is the number of times Israel rebelled in the wilderness (Num. 14:22). Boaz says that Naomi is selling a portion of the field that belonged to Elimelech (4:3), and Boaz says that he wanted the near kinsman to know about this opportunity. He says literally that he wanted to “uncover his ears” just like Ruth uncovered the feet of Boaz (3:4, 7). Boaz presents the opportunity to redeem Elimelech’s inheritance in two distinct steps. First the land is offered (1:3-4) then the levirate duty to Ruth (1:5). This appears to be so that it is clear which part of the offer the near kinsman objects to. The near kinsman fears for his own inheritance (1:6). A portion of the levirate law is recorded as the near kinsman’s sandal is removed (4:8), and Boaz calls upon the elders and the people to be witnesses of the wedding (4:9-10). And the witnesses in turn bless the new bride and groom (4:11-12). The blessing of the witnesses is two-fold: that Ruth would be like Rachel and Leah and that the house of Boaz would be like the house of Perez the son of Tamar (4:11-12, cf. Gen. 38).
A Son is Born
The Lord gives Ruth conception, and she bears a son (4:13). The women speak with Naomi and bless the Lord and Naomi’s redeemer, and they call upon God to make this son a Moses who brings Exodus which restores life and be a provider for Naomi in her old age (4:15). Naomi becomes the nurse of her own grandchild which is itself miraculous, but this indicates that not only has the barrenness of Ruth been removed but so has Naomi’s (4:16). It’s the “neighbor women” who call the “son born to Naomi” Obed which means servant or worshipper (cf. Num. 3-4). The involvement of the neighbor women may have been customary, but it at least suggests that this son is born to the broader community-family. A son has been born to Israel by Ruth and Naomi. The book closes with the “generations of Perez.” Not only do the names take us back to the book of Genesis but so does the “Toldoth” formula (e.g. Gen. 2:4, 5:1, 6:9, etc.). King David, according to the Genesis allusion, will be like a Noah and an Abraham. The last paragraph reveals that the curse of God on the illegitimate birth of Perez has now been undone since David is the tenth generation and will be permitted to enter the assembly of the Lord (Dt. 23:2). This also suggests that Obed ought to be understood as meaning “worshipper.” Not only will David be a Boaz-like ruler, he will restore faithful worship to the house of Israel.
Applications & Conclusions
The book of Ruth is a gospel story: a son is born to a Mary, and the house of the dead is brought back to life (4:11-12, cf. Eph. 2:1). Notice also that this salvation is accomplished through gentile women (cf. Rom. 11:15). And this salvation is for worship.
The final blessing of the women reveals that beneath all the toil, beneath all of the restlessness (1:9, 3:1, 18), it has been Yahweh at work all the time (4:14-15). And this is all the more startling when spread over generations (4:18-22). And this is the God you serve.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Our Father, you are faithful. You always come to the rescue of your people. You always hear the humble pray. We thank you and praise you that you are at work and that you do not rest when we are hurting. You are not resting while we are confused and unsure. You do not rest while we suffer, but you are the Redeemer God, the God who acts, the God who hears, the God who plans and executes judgments, and you do this even while we grow old and die, you do this generation after generation, and you will do it until all your enemies have been put down, until the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. And therefore we praise you, we worship you, and we place our trust in you, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray, singing…
The greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are and for that love to spill out into our lives toward everyone we come in contact with. The greatest commandment is love. In the coming week, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends, and then next Sunday we will celebrating the beginning of Advent, the season that leads up to the Feast of the Incarnation: Christmas. And all of this is a grand reminder first of all of the love that God has for us. The love of God is manifested in the many blessings he pours all of over us all year long, and our Thanksgiving Feast is a very Christian way of marking that love and kindness that God has shown us. But all of those blessings are just the icing on the greater reality that God has given himself to us in Jesus. He has drawn near to us in our barrenness, in our famine, in our brokenness, in our confusion, in our sickness, in our hurt, and he has not just sent us a card wishing us well. He has not just sent flowers or sunshine or a meal (although he does that too), but in Jesus Christ God has come in person to find us, to touch us, to speak to us, to heal us, and to intervene in our lives to turn them around, to face the judgment on our sins, to stand in our place, and to win justice and mercy for us. All of this is to say that God welcomes you here and now with joy. You are his people, his favorite people. He rejoices over you, sings about you, he has given his only son for you, and there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And if this is the kind of love that has been bestowed upon you, if you have a Father who loves you and keeps on loving you, then respond in love, and let that love overflow. And the coming weeks are for that. If you do nothing else, love God with everything you are and let it overflow. Whether you cut turkey or eat pumpkin pies or put up a tree or decorate your home with lights or bake cookies or give and receive gifts. Do it with love. Do it, knowing that your God is all about you. He has come for you, and he will always come for you. You are the apple of his eye, his favorite. So come and confess your sins, your Father can hardly contain his excitement. He wants you to come, and he is smiling upon you now.