Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fourth Sunday in Lent: Ephesians 6:1-4: Children and Parents as Priests

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you that you have called us to be priests and kings. We thank you that you have given us your Word to teach us wisdom, to equip us for ministry to one another. We ask that you would empower your Spirit now that your people might be built up, and that our families in particular would be glorious testimonies of your gospel, through Christ our Lord, Amen!

As we meditate on the way of the cross, following Jesus to Jerusalem during these weeks leading up to Easter, we have particularly considered our calling to be priests in our families. Today, we apply this to the relationship between children and parents. Paul’s instructions are first to children and then to fathers: Children honor; fathers nurture. These are priestly callings and ministries.

To Children of the Covenant:
Paul begins by exhorting children to obey. For support he cites Deuteronomy 5:16, where Moses has re-given the law and given a promise with it. The promises are long life and a good life in the land. Notice that Paul equates honor and obedience. Children are to obey by honoring and honor by obeying. We know from Scripture that first born sons received a double portion of their father’s inheritance because that “honor” would later become support for their parents (cf. Mk. 7:11-13). This establishes the principle that honor is always required but it can and does look differently throughout a lifetime. Children must grow up understanding this; and parents must not put obstacles in the way of children fulfilling this calling. And Paul says that this obedience is “right/just/righteous.”

The second promise is a good life in the land that God is giving us. This promise is empty if you do not believe that we are being given this land or if you don’t think the land is worth inheriting. This is directly related to eschatology, your expectations of what the world is going to come to look like over the next centuries and millennia. And this entails recognizing the emptiness of much of modern culture. Covenant children, we are being given this land (Mt. 28:18-20, Rom 4:13-16, 1 Cor. 15:24-25). That is why we gather here for worship. That is why we celebrate the Eucharist; that is why you were baptized. We truly believe that we are being brought through another great Exodus in Jesus Christ.

To Parents:
Paul exhorts fathers in particular here not because mothers do not have an important role to play in the raising of faithful children but because fathers are held responsible for their families. This means that fathers must recognize this responsibility. This does not mean that fathers are held liable for the guilt of their children’s sin, but it does mean that father’s are held responsible for it (Ez. 18:20, Ex. 34:6-7). This means that fathers must be sin confessing warriors. You must confess your own sins and the sins of your household. You must do this not as nit-picking cranks, but as honest, faithful fathers and husbands following the example of faithful Job (cf. Job 1:5).

Further, you are called to raise your children up not provoking them or making them angry, but in the nurture/culture/lifestyle and instruction/warning/admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). This means that you must raise your children up in the spoken and unspoken ways of the faith. You must show them and tell them. Proverbs 22:6 says that the training of a child stays with him even when he is old. The proverb is intentionally ambiguous referring both to the specific “instruction” and the “way”. But the point is that there is a “way of life” and a “way of the mouth” that make up the training.

Application & Conclusion
Fathers, rather than angering your children, imitate God the Father in delighting in your children (e.g. Mk. 1:11, 9:7). This means that you must imitate the Father by saying this out loud. And teach them how to honor by how you honor their mother.

In our text, the word Paul uses for “bring up” or “raise” primarily means to “feed” or “nourish” (e.g. Eph. 5:29, Rev. 12:6). Are you feeding your children with the nurture and admonition of the Lord or are you starving them? Are you feeding them or are you stuffing it down their throats?

Covenant children, you are called to be priests too. Regardless of how your parents are doing or will do, your calling is to joyful obedience in the Lord that you might inherit the land and take possession of the spoils of our King.

And I want to close by tying all of this together: all of us have crosses to bear, difficulties to endure, hardships to suffer. And this is why God has given us his spirit and called us to priestly ministry to one another. Because remember, you cannot love as a priest until you have been loved by the Priest. And the love of our High Priest is to offer us as sacrifices. As we are sacrificed through sufferings, hardships, and pain, we are equipped to love as Christ. But the goal of all of this is to turn our stories of suffering and pain and hardship into stories of grace and salvation and victory. And the command of the gospel is repent and believe. God has determined to turn our crosses into glory, and the proof of that is in the cross of Christ. And it’s the resurrection that makes all the difference. And it’s our promised resurrection that makes all the difference for us. And this is our priestly calling one to another, to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, and our ministries of grace to one another are the means by which God begins to reveal how he will turn our crosses into glory.

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

Closing Prayer: Our great God and Father, your grace is boundless and free. Your goodness is infinite and your mercy is steadfast and immoveable. We praise you, we worship you, and we bow before you. We give you all thanks and praise. We love you, and we commit ourselves once again to believing you and believing your promises for us. Give us grace to drop our unbelief, and pour out your Spirit that we might know you more and know the power of the resurrection. Through Jesus Christ our Lord who was crucified but has been raised from the death, who taught us to pray, singing…


Monday, March 30, 2009


5. Christianity and Liberalism by Machen
6. The Old Man and the Sea by Hemmingway
7. The Hobbit by Tolkien


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Proverbs 26:7

26:7 Like the legs of the lame that hang limp Is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

Notice that this connects back with the previous verse, likening the effect a fool can have on someone’s legs. The word here for legs is different, but there’s still a parallel in play. Like wise words in the mouth of a foolish messenger, their effect is lost. And if a simple message by the hand of a fool is like inflicting violence on yourself, it doesn’t make matters better if you put a really good message in his hands. It doesn’t help if it’s a wise saying even. Your legs (ie. message) are still worthless and lame. It cannot accomplish what it is meant to accomplish. And this may even be suggesting a chronological order of sorts: i.e. after you have cut off your own feet with a foolish messenger, even putting a proverb in his mouth won’t help things.

The imagery also suggests that the fool is some sort of predator. He’s like a wolf with a chewed off elk leg hanging limp from his jaws. The proverb is in his mouth as a message, as wisdom, but the image is that it is a limp/lame leg hanging from his mouth. The suggestion is that wisdom in the mouth of fools is actually more dangerous. Fools going around with a proverb or a wise saying or more than likely going around making trouble, comparable to our saying, “I know just enough to be dangerous.” Or we might refer to the various kinds of “cage stages” in maturity and education.

The word for proverb is MASHAL, and its verb form means “to rule” (e.g. Gen. 1:18, 3:16, 45:8, etc.). But the noun form is a “dark saying, a riddle, a proverb” (Pr. 1:1, 6, 10:1) and can also refer to “prophesying” (e.g. Num. 23:7, Job 27:1, Ez. 17:2, 24:3). In the curses of Deuteronomy, God promises to bring all sorts of horrors upon Israel if they are not faithful, and one those curses is for things to go so badly with them that they become a “proverb” among all the nations in their exile (Dt. 28:37). Israel will become an object lesson for the nations, a riddle. The verb and noun meanings converge in Ecclesiastes where Solomon says that the words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shout of a ruler among fools (Eccl. 9:17).

The word for legs here is the one used frequently in conjunction with sacrificial instructions. It’s frequently translated “thigh.” This portion of the sacrifice is a fat, meaty part, and it was the portion given to the priests (Ex. 29:27, 7:32-34, Num. 6:20, 18:18). Interestingly, Samuel sets aside this portion of a sacrifice for Saul when he is being chosen to be king (1 Sam. 9:24).

Being “lame” restricted men in the priestly line from serving as priests (Lev. 21:18), and animals that were lame could not be offered as sacrifices (Dt. 15:24, Mal. 1:8-13). The point seems to be that a proverb, words of wisdom, ought to be a priestly and sacrificial ministry. It ought to be the fatty meat that is the portion of priests. But in the mouth of fools, even proverbs become unclean and unfit for sacrifice. You can’t take wise words and put them in the mouth of a fool and expect them to be spoken as wisdom. Wise words in the mouth of a fool still come out as foolish words. This is a great reminder of reputations and the time it takes to make and break them.

The word for “lame” is “PESAYACH,” and it is very close to the word for Passover “PESACH.” If anything, this pun may be suggesting a reverse Passover; they are images of the covenant broken.

Elijah says that people of Israel are “lame” between two options when they cannot choose between Yahweh and Baal (1 Kgs. 18:21). This reveals a kind of ambiguity or double-mindedness in the word. It is untrustworthy. A proverb in the mouth of fools is not trustworthy and may be twisted in various directions.

Christ’s ministry includes the healing of many lame (Mt. 15:31, 21:14, Lk. 7:22). From the perspective of this proverb, the implication is that Jesus is not only restoring the bodies of Israel, but he is restoring wisdom. He is restoring proverbs and wise sayings. But beyond that we can say that he is restoring the ability of his people to speak and be heralds and messengers (26:6). Jesus is giving Israel her reputation back. His people are called to be ministers of grace and this always includes being witnesses of the resurrection. The resurrection is the great proverb, the riddle, the wise saying that transforms lives. This action of sharing the good news is a priestly calling, it is our fatty portion. And when we invite others to this feast, we are inviting them to be priests with us. But it is also a kingly and prophetic function. When we explain the wisdom of the gospel, we are ruling/prophesying to the nations. And it is the fact that we have been healed in numerous ways that converts us from fools to wise, and makes the proverb of the gospel real wisdom in our mouths.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Guarding by Giving Thanks

We’ve talked about house building and house guarding today, focusing on how wives are to be the guardians and rulers of the house. And we have said that it must all begin and end in thankfulness: gratitude from first to last, over and over. It should come as no surprise that this is exactly how Christ has told us, His bride, to keep and guard His house. He has given us this meal, the Eucharist, the Great and High Thanksgiving Meal which we celebrate week by week together, offering our thankful hearts back up to God for the body and blood of Christ which is our life and salvation. This is how we guard and rule the house of God, right here, sitting down as Kings and Queens, princes and princess of the royal priesthood of God, singing His praises with thankful hearts. So come eat and drink; God is building us up into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Come eat and drink and worship the Lord with thanksgiving.


Third Sunday in Lent: Tit. 2:3-5: Wife as Priest II

We considered Peter’s instructions to wives last week to be priests to their husbands, to pursue incorruptibility in order to minister grace to them effectively. We look at Paul’s instructions to Titus today regarding older women and younger women.

House Guardians
Paul is writing to Titus who has been left by Paul on the island of Crete as a pastor to appoint qualified elders in every city and to address the various pastoral concerns in those churches (1:5ff). Paul tells Titus here that he needs to start a long sermon series on the Christian household (2:1-10ff). Our particular interest today is with Paul’s instructions regarding what older wives are to teach the younger wives, particularly with the duty of being “house guardians” (2:5). This is one word in Greek, a compound word with “house” and “ouros” which means guardian, keeper or warden. The word in other contexts can mean “boundary” or even the canal by which a ship would be launched into the sea. There are a couple of root verbs that this word comes from one which has to do with “seeing” and one that has to do with showing “care or concern”. Interestingly, it’s also related to a word for time from which we get the word “hour.”

The Garden Sanctuary
Eden was the first house that God prepared for His people. There are many lessons to learn from this first house for God’s bride. But one of the most significant is the idea of progress. Every day creation is pronounced good, but every day God comes back and does more. Therefore Christians must have this as their standard of excellence: from glory to glory, from good to good. Finally, God created humanity to be his bride, to continue the work that He began in the world: ruling, glorifying, filling, and guarding (1:26-28, 2:15). This is the task of all of humanity still, but by analogy it is the task of wives who image the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:24-27). Notice that the only other “creature” given the task of ruling are the sun, moon, and stars; we are enthroned in Christ in the heavenly places like the rulers of heaven. Wives, you are the heavenly ruler of your house.

The Tabernacle Sanctuary
This Garden House was lost through sin, and the tabernacle images that original house having three spheres representing heaven, earth, and the seas (ie. Most Holy Place, Holy Place, and Courtyard). The furniture and decorations also mirror that original house having cherubim guarding the sanctuary, a stylized tree with the heavenly lights, a table with the produce of the ground, and a glorified humanity guarding and keeping the house (e.g. Aaron’s garments) (Num. 3:32). Notice two things about this house: there is continuity and there is glorification from the previous house. As God matures his people, the house matures. This principle is really the same as the progress we saw in the Creation week, but it applies to our homes too. Homes with young children will look and function differently than homes of grandparents. Secondly, the Tabernacle and the Mosaic/Levitical system were very concerned with distinctions. Clean and unclean, holy and profane, holy places and outside the camp were central to keeping God’s house pure and clean. Christian wives are free to organize their homes to suit their needs and gifts best (in consultation with their husbands), but the character of God shows us that His bride must learn this discipline. Homes that have no organization proclaim a disorganized Church, and declare a chaotic bride of Christ. If God’s people must approach him with discipline, orderliness and joy, why would we think that a Christian home would be different? But this is a glory that God calls us to grow in.

The Temple Sanctuary
Finally, we should notice that the Solomonic Temple is the pinnacle of the Old Covenant house motif. Again we see all of the elements of the Garden and the Tabernacle but with more glory and now more permanence. It is made of wood; it is in one place, and it is heavy, grounded. The word glory means “heavy”—one of the glories of the temple is its heaviness and stability. It is also glorious in its richness. Consider two things: the Temple is awe inspiring for the nations; it welcomes seekers from afar. The Christian home should be such a glory, not in a gaudy, competitive, or trendy way. It should be glorious for its stability, its discipline, the obvious care and labor put into it. And it should be welcoming to the world (ie. neighbors and friends), not a museum that everyone is afraid to touch, but a warm, welcoming home. Secondly, remember that God left the temple and it was destroyed. The house of God was glorious and beautiful, but for all of that, God’s people filled it with wickedness and God left. Christ called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs, and that wasn’t a compliment. “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.” (Pr. 15:17)

Application and Conclusion: Your Home
The two extremes are either to forget about the externals to the neglect of the internals or vice versa. The wedding ceremony is a fitting metaphor for the home. The wedding is both glorious and beautiful inside and out. There is no false dichotomy here.

But the last temptation is to take these points and start applying them to others or comparing yourself to others. But you are a Christian wife, and as such, you answer to your husband and ultimately to God himself. Use care with your words, guard your hearts; these principles will look different, and different families will need to work on different things.

And do not despair or be overwhelmed with your task: Begin with giving thanks for what you have already been given. Romans says that the fundamental difference between unbelievers and Christians is thankful hearts. Cultivate gratitude this week, a deep relentless thankfulness for your husband, your kids, your house, your furniture, your colors, your dishes: just keep going down the list and when you’re done, start over again. This is the most effective way of guarding your house, because thankfulness sees it all as a gift.

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


Confession and the Lenten Life

At the beginning of our service, we confess our sins every week, but this is not an invitation to save up all your sins for Sunday. If you come here with a pile of sins to confess then you really must confess all of those sins and the sin of waiting until now to confess them all. This confession in this service is a reminder to you to always be confessing your sins immediately as you are confronted with them. And in the off chance that you walked in here this morning huffing and puffing about something or another make it right now. And if you snapped at your husband or wife or one of the kids at the soonest opportunity ask their forgiveness. Confession of sin does not happen only once in the Christian life. There is not just one cataclysmic conversion with tears and long laundry list of sins to confess and viola! You’re a Christian and everything is bright and shiny from then on. Sometimes God does confront people like Saul in a sudden mid-life sort of way which presents the need for a great mountain of confession at that point. But the entire Christian life, which normally lasts from your baptism when you were a newborn baby to your last dying breath in old age is an entire life of conversion, an entire life of confession and repentance. Saving sins up for Sunday is a miniature version of revivalism, the heresy that thinks it can put the Spirit of God in a bottle only to be unleashed on Wednesday nights from 7 to 9pm. And we must not be so dull as to think that that cannot happen with a season like Lent. It is important to take regular and scheduled opportunities to reflect and take inventories of our lives, and make proper confession and repentance as needed. And that is what our weekly confession is for; that is what Lent is for. But it most certainly does not mean that you are off the hook the rest of the week or the rest of the year. We do this as regular reminder, even a profession of faith, that we are sin confessing people. So don’t come here and go through the motions of confessing your sins and go out there and live like a hypocrite. If you confess your sins here, you must go right on confessing them as you leave here today and as you get up tomorrow morning. You are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Do not quench the Spirit by saving sin up, and thereby cluttering up your Temple. Confess your sins regularly, constantly, continually offering the sacrifices of God.


Monday, March 09, 2009

Second Sunday in Lent: 1 Pet. 3:1-6: Wife as Priest

We’ve now looked at the priestly calling of a husband to be a ministry of grace to his wife. We turn to the wife today and her priestly role toward her husband.

Without a Word Like Jesus
Peter begins by saying “likewise,” and that’s important because he has just come off several verses about Christ’s suffering and submission (2:21-25). He was sinless and had every reason to defend himself and didn’t (2:22). He returned not a word to his persecutors (2:23), but committed himself to God who judges righteously (2:23). But this example also includes a ministry of healing and reconciliation (2:24-25). Wives are called to this ministry toward their husbands. Wives should behave in such a way that even if they have a husband who does “not obey the word,” he should be won over without a word in imitation of Christ (3:1). Instead of words, Peter calls the Christian woman to embrace a beautiful conduct that is “incorruptible” and winsome.

Incorruptible Beauty
The language of “incorruptible” and “corruptible” has been used frequently in 1 Peter. Peter opens his epistle tying our “incorruptible inheritance” to the resurrection of Jesus (1:3). It is the reality of that incorruptible inheritance that is being revealed (1:5). And the proof of that inheritance is seen in faith that withstands trials, revealing our faith to be more “precious than gold.” Therefore Peter calls us to holiness (1:13-17) because we were not redeemed with “corruptible things” like silver or gold but with the “precious blood of Christ” (1:18-19). Jesus is our reason for faith and hope in God because he has been raised from the dead (1:21). And therefore we know that our new life in him is just as “incorruptible” as his word (1:23ff). Therefore, we are being built up into a house that cannot be destroyed, a house of living stones that are “precious” to God (2:4). And therefore, wives are to adorn themselves as “living stones,” as members of the new temple of God. Gold is perishable (3:3), but a gentle and quiet spirit is “incorruptible” and it is “precious” before God (3:4). The point is not an internal/external dichotomy; the point is that the Spirit always makes or breaks a house of God.

Holy Women
Peter points to the “holy women” who “hoped in God” in the Old Testament, and therefore they submitted to their own husbands. Sarah obeyed Abraham, and Peter calls Christian women to the freedom of “doing good” and not fearing “any terror” (3:6). Like Paul in Gal. 4:22, Peter says we need to see Sarah’s submission and obedience as the way of freedom. But this takes wisdom; it takes the Holy Spirit to enable us to be that royal priesthood, to make us “precious” and “incorruptible,” to make Christian wives virtuous and excellent (Pr. 3:15, 8:11, 31:10). And this consists in hoping in God, doing good, and banishing fear (3:5-6). As Paul insists, wives are called to picture the Church, revealing her glory and beauty (Eph. 5:24). You are a picture of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:2), and this means that you must first love and fear your first Husband.

Conclusions & Applications
Two extremes are refusing to see weaknesses and only seeing weaknesses. Neither are faithful, and both ignore the opportunity to serve and bestow grace. You are one of the key ministries of grace and healing to him.

Bestowing honor and respect, calling him ‘lord’ is a ministry of grace and healing, and God calls wives to this specific ministry. You are his wife; you have been called to this. And giving is the means to receiving. If you want to find your life, you must lose it.

The point is always Jesus. Submission and faith in the Lord, means hoping in the God of the resurrection, the God who makes everything right. That means believing that God has begun something incorruptible in you and believing that he will see it to completion.

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


Job and the Intersession of the Dead - OR - Till We Have Faces

Early on, Job wants to die. It was the advice of his wife to "curse God and die," and while Job seems a little reluctant to go to this extreme, when he takes up his complaint to his three companions, he comes close to taking his wife's advice.

Job says he wants to die. Death would be better than life. But as we following the dialogues, we find that his death wish is not pure despair. Job is not suicidal in the traditional sense at all. Job's death wish is bound up with his desire to speak with God, to question him, to contend with him. As it has been pointed out in previous posts on Job, the trajectory of the narrative goes from the Accuser - the Satan speaking with Yahweh, to Job eventually speaking with Yahweh, and the Accuser is no where to be found. And instead of there being an Accuser in the presence of Yahweh, there is now an Advocate, Job, who intercedes for his friends.

But this intercession, this standing with Yahweh, the ability to speak in the council of Yahweh is part of Job's desire to die. But nowhere does he assume that having died, he will have an out-of-body experience in which he will come face to face with God. In fact that would be somewhat nonsensical. After Job dies, he will not have a face to "face" God with. The only way Job will have a face to face encounter with Yahweh is through the resurrection. And that is Job's hope:

"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth: And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold, and not another... there is a judgment." (19:25-27, 29)

Job has concluded that there is no earthly possibility of arranging a meeting with God in the present. But he hopes that one day God will summons him out of the ground, and Job will answer the call (14:7-15). And then Job will see Yahweh face to face in his flesh and speak to God as a man speaks to his neighbor (16:21). Of course by the grace of God, Job is granted this before actually dying. He is invited into the whirlwind and given permission to speak on behalf of his friends who have sinned. Job is granted the authority and ability to intercede for his friends, but he prays for his friends firmly situated in a body.

This is yet another way of asking where the biblical support for the intersession of the dead in Christ is. That the dead in Christ are kept with Christ and are in his kindly care is one thing, but all the weight of the biblical evidence points to the resurrection. Job did not hope to speak with God in a meaningful way until the resurrection. Of course we have been given the down payment of the resurrection now in the gift of the Holy Spirit. But our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and therefore we look for the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.

And in the meantime it is our great High Priest who has been raised from the dead and who has ascended into the heavens who now intercedes for us. He is ever before the face of God, and He speaks to God as a friend, as a prophet for us.


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Job Wants You to Argue

Another way of thinking about the book of Job that fits with some of the observations I've posted here recently:

Job goes through a maturing process arguing with his companions. Eventually, as he argues and pleads his case in faith, he is welcomed by God into the whirlwind, to speak in his presence, and God promises to hear his prayers.

But not only must Job argue, but the reader is expected argue. A good seventy-five percent of the book of Job is bad advice. God says at the end that Eliphaz and his two buddies were wrong and Job was right. This means that there is a good bit of sifting and arguing for the reader to do. Part of the point of Job is for the reader (or hearer) to emerge more mature, to emerge in dust and ashes like Job, and emerge from the arguments better prepared to intercede for others.

And perhaps this points to the mystery of Elihu. There is no mention of Elihu in Yahweh's judgment. He is not judged to be right or wrong, and Job does not even respond to him. This leaves an argument for the reader to take up. The implicit invitation of the book of Job is an invitation to argue with the book, to argue and ask questions of Elihu, to plead with God for an answer, to ask for wisdom and grace and understanding.

The book of Job not only narrates the process of a man becoming a prophet who stands and pleads with God, the book of Job continues to be an invitation to all who read it to that same maturity and glory. It is an invitation to walk through the shadow of death with Job into the light of the presence, the light of resurrection life, where prophets see God and intercede for the world.


More on Proverbs 26:6

A few more thoughts generated by the study this morning:

First, the application of the message, messenger principle for today goes in a number of directions. Part of the point of the proverb is that the messenger is an extension of the sender. If the messenger is foolish, the sender is marred by that reputation. The messenger is the "feet" of the sender, and if the messenger is unfaithful, the "feet" of the sender are cut off.

This applies to families. Wisdom is justified by her children, but the reverse is also true. The folly of wayward children damns their parents. This is why the standards for office in the church are high. A man who cannot rule his house well is not qualified to rule the church. Children are the "feet" of their parents. If children are foolish, the "feet" of their parents are cut off. A minister who tries to tell his flock how love a wife or raise children has no "feet" to stand on if his own house is a wreck.

This introduces covenantal language to the whole picture. The messenger is the "feet" of the sender; he is part of his body. Paul says that we are all related to one another. If one member suffers, we all suffer. We are members of one another in Christ, and this means that we have responsibility for one another. Sending a fool on an errand may seem like one fairly isolated sort of thing: dumb but isolated. But the effects can be disastrous and violent. Likewise, our communications, how we send our words to one another (via email, text messaging, voice mail, phone calls, etc.) are all modern day messengers. Our words are part of us, and they have the ability to take on lives of their own. They have the ability to cut off our reputation. They can make or break us.

Last, it should not be forgotten that God the Father is the great "word sender." He sent his Son, the Logos, the Word, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God sent the perfect representative, the Word who is Wisdom incarnate to reveal himself to us, to declare the good news of the gospel, forgiveness, peace, and justice. Of course part of that message is embodied in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Sender revealed his message in the death and resurrection of the Messenger. And this could go several ways: First, this connection confirms the generational nature of words. It was noted in the previous post that "feet" are sometimes euphemisms for the male sexual organ and reproduction. Of course Jesus is the eternal Son, eternally begotten of his Father, and therefore the perfect Word of the Father.

Second, notice that Jesus drinks the violence. He drinks the cup of God's wrath on the cross. Rather than creating violence and strife and turmoil, Jesus takes that violence into himself. He absorbs the wrath in his own flesh on the tree.

Third, even though Jesus is pierced and killed, the Word does not stay dead. The resurrection is the proof that we cannot break the Word of God. In fact, in the crucifixion, soldiers go to break the legs of Jesus, and they do not need to because he is already dead. Not a bone was broken. While the foolish messenger cuts off the feet of the sender, Jesus is the Wisdom of God, the Message that cannot be broken. And therefore, the feet of the Sender are secure and established.

And that leads to the last part of this: The Messenger reveals the Sender. A foolish Messenger proclaims that his Sender is foolish. But the converse is also true and better. A wise Messenger is the glory of his Sender. How beautiful are the feet of him who brings good new. Jesus the glory of the Father, the wise Messenger whose feet are beautiful because he reveals the even greater glory and beauty of his Sender, His Father. If He's the Messenger, how much more the Sender.


Proverbs 26:6-7

26:1-12 is a section dealing with “fools,” and nearly every verse mentions a “fool” or “folly” of some sort or another.

26:6 He who sends a message by the hand of a fool Cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.

On the surface, this seems pretty extreme. Literally, it’s “sending words by a hand of a fool.” On the other hand, it’s also meant to emphasize the absurdity of foolish messengers. Having a foolish messenger is about as dumb as cutting off your own feet and drinking violence.

Messengers are meant to be extra sets of legs, carrying messages on your behalf. A foolish messenger is worse than not having an extra set of legs. You will not only fail to have the message delivered, your own ability to deliver the message will be severely hampered. The word for “feet” is sometimes used euphemistically to the sexual organs (e.g Jdg. 3:24). This adds another layer to the self inflicted pain of a foolish messenger. Carrying words to someone else is a way of reproducing yourself. A good messenger carries the words well, and re-presents the master to the other part. A fool cuts off your ability to reproduce.

Surely this is part of what is meant by “poisoning the well.” After a fool has delivered the words, you are no longer in a position to deliver them yourself. No matter your standing or the wisdom of the words, the fool has damaged the goods.

After Rechab and Baanah bring news that they have killed Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, David has them executed and their hands and feet cut off. This is probably related to what they have done. Their hands shed blood, and their feet were used to bring this news to David (2 Sam. 4:8-12).

Contrast this with Isaiah: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Is. 52:7)

Jesus famously exhorts his followers to cut off their hand or foot if it causes them to sin (Mt. 18:8, Mk. 9:45). The application here would be to cut any feet that make your words cause others to stumble. Your messenger would be included in your feet. Cut those off before you end up having your own removed.

“Drinking violence” was used back in 4:17: “ For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.” This was in the context of describing the path of the wicked and the way evil. The evil and the wicked celebrate violence like a sacrament (e.g. Job 15:16).

The sacramental character of words is perhaps in play here. Part of the message the gospel is a call to the feast of the Lord’s Supper. The cup of wine is a cup of violence, but it is violence to end all violence. Yet, Paul says that if we eat and drink in an unworthy manner, not receiving the words of God rightly, we will be “guilty of the body and the blood.” The violence of the cup will become ours.

Perhaps “drinking violence” is meant to emphasize the folly of the one sending the messenger. And if the one sending the messenger is not a fool, he must be trying to pick a fight.

26:7 Like the legs of the lame that hang limp Is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

Notice that this connects back with the previous verse, likening the effect a fool can have on someone’s legs. The word here for legs is different, but there’s still a parallel in play. Like wise words in the mouth of a foolish messenger, their effect is lost. And if a simple message by the hand of a fool is like inflicting violence on yourself, it doesn’t make matters better if you put a really good message in his hands. It doesn’t help if it’s a wise saying even. Your legs (ie. message) are still worthless and lame. It cannot accomplish what it is meant to accomplish.

The imagery also suggests that the fool is some sort of predator. He’s like a wolf with a chewed off elk leg hanging limp from his jaws.

The word for legs here is the one used frequently in conjunction with sacrificial instructions. It’s frequently translated “thigh.” This portion of the sacrifice is a fat, meaty part, and it was the portion given to the priests (Ex. 29:27, 7:32-34, Num. 6:20, 18:18). Interestingly, Samuel sets aside this portion of a sacrifice for Saul when he is being chosen to be king (1 Sam. 9:24).

Being “lame” restricted men in the priestly line from serving as priests (Lev. 21:18), and animals that were lame could not be offered as sacrifices (Dt. 15:24). The point seems to be that a proverb, words of wisdom, ought to be a priestly and sacrificial ministry. It ought to be the fatty meat that is the portion of priests. But in the mouth of fools, even proverbs become unclean and unfit for sacrifice. You can’t take wise words and put them in the mouth of a fool and expect them to be spoken as wisdom. Wise words in the mouth of a fool still come out as foolish words. This is a great reminder of reputations and the time it takes to make and break them.

The word for “lame” is “PESAYACH,” and it is very close to the word for Passover “PESACH.” James Jordan has pointed out that the strange incident in Exodus 4 is a proleptic Passover. In that incident when God comes to kill Moses, Zipporah circumcises their son, and smears the blood on his legs. This appears to be a mini-passover event where the blood is displayed like at Passover, and the angel of death passes over. Thus, in the actual Passover, the door posts are to be seen like legs that are being covered with blood, and that would remind Israel of circumcision, the sign of the covenant and the promised seed. Again this goes back to the “feet” of the previous verse. Feet that are “limp” and “lame” and “cut off” are images of castration, barrenness, and death. They are images of the covenant broken.


A Toast to Facial Hair

Good stuff here.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Art and Sin

Machen writes in 1923 that "a remarkable change has come about within the last seventy-five years. The change is nothing less than the substitution of paganism for Christianity as the dominant view of life." (65) That observation is interesting in itself, but he goes on to explain his point: "Paganism is that view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties." This is very different from the Christian ideal, which Machen says is the "religion of the broken heart."

What Machen means is not that Christianity is an attitude of "continual beating on the breast," rather Christianity is the religion that faces sin once and for all. Whereas paganism must seek to cover over sin, Christianity actually deals with it. Machen says of ancient paganism, as for example in ancient Greece: "There was always something to be covered up; the enthusiasm of the architect was maintained only by ignoring the disturbing fact of sin." (66) In other words, the drive to make the world beautiful, the drive of pagan architecture, art, drama, and poetry is the guilt and ugliness of unforgiven sin. The haunting of sin is the crucible of pagan art, and the drive to cover over that ugliness produces amazing and glorious works.

But Machen insists that sin "faced squarely once for all," allows Christians to "develop joyously every faculty that God has given him. Such is the higher Christian humanism - a humanism founded not upon human pride but upon divine grace."

Sometimes it's wondered where all the Christian artists are. Behind all the great modern artists are stories of tragedy, father hunger, abuse, addiction. It seems like all the greatest modern artists match Machen's hypothesis of paganism. If you get enough ugliness in life, enough guilt haunting you, that will drive you to fight back in music, in art, in drama, with beauty.

And then from a Protestant point of view, there is sometimes the question about why many of the great Christian artists tend to come out of Roman Catholic or at least high church traditions. Where are all the evangelical Protestant artists? Why is the best we can do frequently a cheap knock off of pagan art? But if there is a connection between art and sin, a relationship between a live, personal knowledge of guilt and the drive to make beauty, the passion for the lovely, one might point to the tendency in higher church traditions and Roman Catholics in particular to spend more time dwelling on the horror of sin, the sufferings of Christ, and the present struggle that every Christian continues to face prior to the resurrection. And even if we want to keep insisting on the need for a robust Protestant doctrine of justification by faith, is there at least some validity to the RC critique that we've overstated our case, or at least presented the biblical teaching in an unbalanced way? Or conversely, we might also wonder if Machen's definition of "pagan" may in someways apply in some Roman Catholic traditions where the indefinite nature of forgiveness is stressed and Limbo becomes the overarching metaphor for life.

Maybe Machen's suggestion is worth considering. Maybe our lack of aesthetics, our lack of drive to create beauty points to an overarching superficiality in our faith. Maybe we have just enough "grace" sprinkled into our worship and life that mitigates our feelings of guilt, but not nearly enough to actually come face to face with sin, the cross, and forgiveness. And maybe, just maybe a robust Reformed celebration of Lent is one of the ways that we can begin to address that lack. Without letting go of any of the "once for all" nature of the atonement and justification, an annual reminder of what that was all about seems entirely fitting. Not an annual drubbing of guilt and fear, but an annual reminder of the cross, an annual reminder of the horror of sin, and an annual reminder of the freedom and joy won for us at the cross. And of course in an important sense, this should not be merely an annual thing, but a daily thing, a weekly thing, a monthly thing. We are always called to take up our cross and follow Jesus daily.

And certainly, regardless of Lenten practice, if Machen's point is correct, it would seem that the evidence suggests that we as Protestant Christians have an anemic view of sin and the atonement. If the horror of sin and the cross and the joy of resurrection and salvation are far more potent motivators for producing beauty, then it would seem we need to revisit our preaching of sin, the cross, and salvation. And on the flip side, it would suggest that the few evangelical Protestant Christian artists who are actually producing real works of art, in addition to simply being gifted by the Spirit, have also come face to face with sin and come to understand real forgiveness, real grace.

Of course in real life there really is tragedy, sin, guilt, and in Christ, forgiveness and mercy. But there is also more "normal" Christian life growing up in the covenant, living faithfully and joyfully before the Lord. It should not be a prerequisite for Christian artists, that they must first go out and be unfaithful for a while. Of course there are always trials, temptations, and even death and sickness rears its head, but we don't need an exotic testimony to know sin and forgiveness because at the center of every Christian life is the cross of Jesus, our own personal tragedy, our own personal horror story, our guilt, our sin, and most importantly, our triumph, our victory, our glory, our joy in Christ. Knowing Christ and him crucified is the wisdom and glory of God in us. And in that sense, Christianity surely is "the religion of the broken heart."


Machen: Christianity and Liberalism

I've been reading and thoroughly enjoying Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I've never read it before, and perhaps even more embarrassed to admit that I have been a little surprised by how thoroughly I've been enjoying it. First, as might be more obvious the subject matter is thoughtfully presented, winsomely argued, and intelligently persuasive. He certainly doesn't answer every question, and I think there is room for minor, friendly critique. Yet, beyond that, perhaps one of the most surprising elements has been how readable Machen is. I suppose I was expecting something a good deal more stodgy and stuffy, more academic and intellectual. But Machen reads with the kind of erudite, conversational fluidity that occasionally reminds me of C.S. Lewis. Intelligence, thoughtfulness, and friendliness wound together and tackling very significant and difficult subject matters. Perhaps the reminiscence of Lewis reveals something similar in the air of the believing protestant world of the early 20th century, or perhaps its just something about being a highly gifted, intelligent man with a lively love for God and neighbor. At any rate, good stuff, and you ought to put this book a little higher on your reading list, if you haven't already made a pass.


Monday, March 02, 2009

First Sunday in Lent: 1 Pet. 3:7: Husband as Priest

Opening Prayer: Gracious God and Father, you have called us by name. You have claimed us and established us as your royal priesthood. You have anointed us with your Spirit and called us to guard your house, to offer sacrifices of praise, and to bring glory to your name. Teach us to do that in our families, and this morning particularly as husbands. Through Jesus Christ our Lord who died that we might live, Amen!

Last week we considered the ministry of a husband as a priestly calling, the duty to be a living sacrifice and to minister to his wife such that she becomes a living sacrifice too. Today we meditate on the role of husbands again, focusing on Peter’s teaching, and we should note that the context for Peter’s teaching is like Paul’s (1 Pet. 2:4-10).

According to Knowledge
The apostle exhorts husbands to dwell with their wives “according to knowledge.” “Dwelling with” is used several times in the Old Testament and means to be married and includes sexual love (Gen. 20:3, Dt. 22:13, 24:1, Is. 62:5). Dwelling “according to knowledge” is also reminiscent of the way sexual love is described elsewhere (Gen. 4:1, 17, 25, 1 Sam. 1:19). Knowledge is not just in your head. Knowledge is closely related to wisdom in Scripture (Pr. 2:6, 8:12), and wisdom is a skill particularly associated with building the house of God (e.g. Ex. 28:3, 36:1). It’s not an accident that the love of God is evidenced in his “dwelling with” his people in the tabernacle and temple. Knowledge is also associated with being a priest of God (Hos. 4:6-9, Mal. 2:7-8). In the New Testament, knowledge is frequently associated with salvation and knowing Christ (Lk. 1:77, 2 Cor. 4:6, Eph. 3:19, Phil. 3:8, 2 Pet. 3:18). This is the knowledge that a husband is to have toward his wife, a priestly love that builds and guards the house of God.

As a Weaker Vessel
The exhortation here is to bestow honor on the “weaker vessel.” The word for “weak” is frequently used to describe those in need of God’s grace and help: David prays for God’s mercy because he is weak (Ps. 6:2). Jesus sent his disciples out to heal the weak (Lk. 10:9). When we were weak, Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6). “Vessels” in the Old Testament are the furniture and utensils found in the house of God (e.g. Ex. 25:9, 39, 1 Kgs. 7:45). Paul picks up on this when he tells Timothy that there are different sorts of vessels in the house of God (2 Tim. 2:20-21). Peter insists that a husband is to bestow honor upon this vessel, and this is because God has chosen the weak things of this world to put to shame the things which are mighty (1 Cor. 1:27).

Heirs Together For Prayer
The reasons given for this exhortation are twofold. First, Peter reminds husbands that they are co-heirs with their wives. Paul uses this description insisting that as many as have been given the Spirit are “sons of God” and therefore heirs and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:14-17). While some modern translations want to flatten out the language of “sons,” this is a serious mistake. Finally, Peter warns that mistreatment of a wife can cause prayers to be hindered. This is the same teaching of Jesus who said that unless we forgive others we will not be forgiven (Mt. 6:15), unless we minister to those in need he will turn us away (Mt. 25:43), if a brother has something against us we ought to leave our gift at the altar and be reconciled first (Mt. 5:23-24). Our love of God is directly related to our love of neighbors (1 Jn. 4:20).

Conclusions & Applications
Marriage (and family) is designed by God to be a place of ministry. Husbands are called to minister grace to their wives. Are you ministering the “grace of life?”

Jesus says that when we love and care for the “weak,” we love and care for him (Mt. 25:43). And this applies to your wife and children as much as anyone else. How many husbands will hear those terrible words, ‘depart from me,’ on account of their treatment of their wife and children. Husbands, love your wives, as though you were loving Jesus. Because you are.

God rejoices over his bride (Is. 62:5), and therefore husbands must rejoice over theirs. Dwelling with them according to knowledge means recognizing the kind of gift and grace they are to you. That is a sanctifying grace.

Jesus went to the cross for the joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2), and that joy includes his bride.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty God, give us grace to repent of our sins. Give us grace to look in faith to you, the author and perfecter of our faith. Give us grace to know you, and the power of your grace, that we may face every obstacle with joy and assurance. Grant that our marriages would be stunning pictures of the gospel. That your glory may be known in all the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord who taught us to pray, singing…