Thursday, December 31, 2009


I have joined the masses and donned my 3D glasses. Last night, my wife and I watched Avatar on our 6th Day of Christmas Date.

Several thoughts and observations:

1. The 3D is definitely fun. I had a strange sensation a number of times where I couldn't quite remember the difference between seeing 2D and 3D on screen. My wife said she regularly pulled the glasses off to compare, but I stuck with the glasses just to enjoy it for what it was. Maybe next time, I'll compare more on the visual side of things.

2. One of the reviews I read said that Avatar is sort of a combination of a number of famous movies: Braveheart, The Matrix, King Kong, Jurassic Park, Dances with Wolves, The Lord of the Rings, and several other films. This is a very fair observation. Avatar takes some of the best elements of those films, those stories and effects and pushes them further.

3. The firsts half of the movie or so I allowed myself to be enchanted. There were a number of little hiccups along the way where the pantheism got thick, the script ached for dialog, and I wondered how certain elements fit together. But I suspended disbelief like a good member of the audience. I wasn't really bothered at all by the politics. The particular jabs taken at George W. and American foreign policy in general seemed general enough to me to work as parabolic stand-ins, representing "bad guys" as generic, greedy, cold-hearted imperialists. And in so far as America has aided or perpetrated this sort of evil in the world, we completely deserve it. But more to my point about enchantment and parable, I would add another movie to the list above: Planet Earth.

While it was clunky and cheesy in places, the thing I found fun was that I repeatedly felt like I wasn't being introduced to an alien planet and alien creatures and alien culture. No, I repeatedly thought to myself, "hey, that's just like humans, that's just like our (fill in the blank)..." In other words, I have no idea what James Cameron was going for exactly, but in so far as the movie was meant as an elaborate parable of earth, I thought it worked. The Navi were so human it was funny (and a little corny). They were obviously just natives of some newly discovered continent (probably America). But they weren't savage, inhuman natives. They were virtuous, noble savages. Maybe I should have expected this, but I guess I was expecting something more foreign, more alien, more E.T. maybe?

But back to the Planet Earth bit. All the coolest stuff on Planet Pandora is from Earth. Just watch a pile of National Geographic videos or Planet Earth or the Discovery Channel, and you'll see all the parallels. Sure, it's bigger, wilder, Hollywood stylized, and perhaps a little too tidy and symmetrical for our God. But really, it's a nice elementary attempt at imitating Creation. Plants that light up and glow in the dark, giant fan-shaped plants that collapse into tiny buds at a slight touch, giant rhinos with hammers on their heads, flying dragon-pterodactyls, jelly fish. Good work, James Cameron, you get an Excellent on your kindergarten report card for tracing creation.

So all that to say that I allowed myself to be enchanted. I enjoyed the first half of the movie a great deal. The scenes where Jake Sully and his female Navi companion are running through the forest, leaping from great heights, climbing up floating islands, and of course riding their chosen dragons, I had fun. Call this the Last of the Mohicans and Dances Wolves part of the story. Again, caveats aside, I enjoyed it. The Navi are a redeemed race; they rule creation with wisdom and understanding. They take dominion like a new race of Adam and Eve. Distorted at points sure, but that's what my imagination is for, right?

4. But the spell was broken. The spell was broken, and here come the spoilers (although if you've seen the above mentioned movies, you already know what's coming). So the bad guys come to bulldoze the giant Navi tree, it goes up in two giant pillars of smoke: Right. Was it just me or did it look momentarily like the 9/11 Trade Towers with smoke billowing out of the foundations as the roots crumble beneath the tree? But then in the gloom of this seeming defeat, Jake Sully (now fully Navi) rises up as the Aragorn/William Wallace figure and reappears on the scene having tamed the biggest, baddest dragon of them all. And with Jake's scientist friend (Sigourney Weaver) dead, we have all the elements in place for revenge and the big battle showdown. And that's where the spell was broken. These Navi are so completely human. They're not really different. We were led to believe that they were more noble (nobles savages and all that), more enlightened, more graceful. But it turns out that they can get ticked off too. They're justified of course. Their towers, er, I mean their tree just got nuked. What else is there to do but shoot back? I mean, that's what I teach my kids: if someone hits you, you hit them back. That's nobility.

And the movie intentionally draws an explicit parallel here. Watching the wicked human general calling his dufus comrades to arms against the "blue monkeys," you realize that the "blue monkeys" are just like the stupid earthlings. They are a couple of two year olds fighting. One pushes the other, the other slaps back. Next we will have 45 minutes of multi million dollar, CGI hair pulling, pinching, and screaming. The final scene in the movie depicts these Blue Toddlers as the victors, the new imperialists lined up, watching the humans walk slowly back to their ships like so many POWs. I couldn't help but think that the roles had been completely reversed. I thought this movie was critiquing greedy imperialists, but it reminded me of watching movie clips of American soldiers being escorted to prison camps by Japanese soldiers in World War II. And why is that OK? I guess because they got what they deserve. I guess retribution is OK afterall. Shock and awe and all that. I didn't get the impression that the high ideals of the Enlightened Blue People would include honorable burials for all the humans they killed in the battle either. So much for a redeemed humanity.

In the end it felt like a clunky tragedy, like an unintentional story of the Fall, a lost Eden, with Cain and Abel duking it out in God's front yard. And yes, I know Abel was an innocent victim. And that's the point. Abel's victory comes through death. Abel's blood cries out, and God vindicates. But Eywa is not the Trinity, and so we're left with a random/blind deity whose sole dedication to "balance" leaves us empty and hopeless in a world that churns away really no differently than the "evil" machines that get expelled from the planet. Eywa is just a mythological name for survival of the fittest, Darwin's tyrannical creed of might makes right.

O well, it was still a fun fireworks display. And I know that's all it was really meant to be anyway.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas for the Dying

Here are some thoughts on Christmas, children, and dying over at the Credenda site.


Eucharist as Redemption of Vocation

“The LORD has sworn by His right hand and by the arm of His strength: "Surely I will no longer give your grain as food for your enemies; and the sons of the foreigner shall not drink your new wine, for which you have labored. But those who have gathered it shall eat it, and praise the LORD; those who have brought it together shall drink it in My holy courts.” (Is. 62:8-9)

Remember after our first parents’ sinned, God cursed their various labors in the field and in childbearing. Creation would fight against them because of sin, and it did. And because of Israel’s sin, the land was given over to their enemies. But one of the great promises of Scripture is that this will not always be. God coming in the flesh of Jesus was the firstfruits of making creation fruitful again. God embracing our nature in the incarnation and bursting out of death in the resurrection is the future that all of creation has. In Jesus, God is reconciling all things to Himself. In Jesus, God is making this world fruitful again that it might display His glory, from glory to glory. And this is why the offertory is actually a very important part of our service. The offertory leads us from the elders and deacons bring your tithes and offerings down and placing them on the table and then we join our voices together in prayer in thanksgiving and praise and making supplication and requests, and then we are here at the table and God feeds us with blessing and grace. In many traditions, to make the connection even more clear, the elements of bread and wine are also brought forward during the offertory. But the point is that in the offertory and in the prayers of the people, we offer up to God all that we are: our labors, our work, our hurts, our failures, our weakness, our strength, our sickness, our trials, our victories, and we lay it before Him. And all of these things, all that we are, even our best is all so small, so puny, so insufficient. But the curse is being turned back, and so instead of laboring and toiling in this world and watching the fruit of our labors fade away, God gives it all back and then a whole lot more. Here at this table, God enacts what He is doing in the world. He is making this world a fruitful garden again, a garden where we eat of our labors. And so God takes our offerings, our tithes, our prayers, all that we are, and then in a wonderful gracious act gives them back to us. He takes us up into Himself, and then He gives Himself to us. He doesn’t give our grain to our enemies; He doesn’t give our wine to the sons of foreigners. No, the Lord graciously invites you into His courts, and invites you to eat of your labors. Here, He says, watch me turn your little, insufficient efforts into wonderful grace for you and for many, through the new covenant in the blood of Jesus.


Incarnation, Ritual, and Parenting

We have rightly emphasized over the years that the incarnation is God’s embrace of creation and the human body, and this means that part of salvation is our learning to embrace creation and our bodies in right ways. This has meant for many of us growing into deep thankfulness for food and sex, symbols and liturgy, as well as seeing human vocation and mercy ministry as part of God’s plan to renovate this world completely with His grace, turning this world into a glorified paradise. In other words, God does big things with our little bodies. God in His grace is using our tiny lives, our miniature motions and actions and words to bring about His glorious purposes in this world.

And this is why we have sought to restore a higher view of rituals and symbols. Central in this is the Lord’s Supper and the Word preached and read, but kneeling and raising hands, singing vigorously, musical instruments, clapping, hugging, and kissing would also be part of this. We do these things not only because they are commanded in Scripture, but because we know that God uses these things in ways that we do not fully understand. God uses little means toward his greater, unimaginable ends. God coming to us in the form of a baby was just the beginning of the revelation of God’s grace. If sharing bites of bread and sips of wine with one another in thankfulness is another way in which the Lord Jesus meets us through the power of the Spirit, what else might we expect the Spirit to be up to?

And let me push this in one particular direction for parents of young children. On the one hand this means that we must not underestimate all the rituals we have with our children in our homes. From conversations, to wrestling on the floor, to tone of voice, to telling jokes, to sharing food, to spanking, to hugging, to kissing, to blessing, and to teaching. If we are getting the lessons of the incarnation which we are seeking to obey here in our worship, they must also be evident in our lives together in our homes. All of those actions and words are used by the Spirit to either minister grace or not. And on the other hand the mysterious working of the Spirit is a reminder that parenting is by faith. We obey because we believe the promises of God not because we understand how God ministers His grace to the one year old in the high chair. But God was a one year old at one time, and this means He knows how to do it and we can trust Him.

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:15)


Friday, December 25, 2009

On the First Day of Christmas...

Merry Christmas and Happy First Day of Christmas for those of you just getting started.

One of my fondest memories of Christmas growing up is my dad sitting in a cozy, overstuffed chair in his pajamas. All day. While there's such great blessing in having family nearby, we rarely did growing up, and so we'd occasionally have a dinner on Christmas Eve with friends from church. But Christmas Day was wonderful and glorious because not only were there piles of presents and new toys and books and games, but Dad was home and we did nothing all day long. But it was particularly exciting to watch Dad do nothing. What a gift. This was a glorious picture to the family of Sabbath rest. Like God on the seventh day, doing nothing. Having worked hard, having piled up gifts all around his children, he sat down and rested, and that is a gift. It was all the more amazing because Dad never did that. He always got up early to work on something, frequent meetings in the evenings, and an all around busy schedule. And on Christmas, he just sat there in his chair. He'd look at books, snack on whatever little tidbits of food were making the rounds, maybe peak at a few minutes of a new movie, but just sit there mostly and probably doze off in the late afternoon sun.

We're still trying to figure out how to handle extended feasting. What should 12 days of Christmas look like all grown up? Or how about 7 weeks of Easter for that matter? In some ways, I don't think the 12 Days is so far off. Many already take a full week off from Christmas Eve through New Years which is a good start. Seems to me that a couple weeks of feasting does not require Thanksgiving style meals every single day. I have one friend who makes a list of the family's favorite foods and drinks (with input from the kids) and picks one or two things for each day. Those favorite foods and drinks are out on the table (or counter) all day long. But just resting is a kind of feasting. Sitting around enjoying friends and family, playing games, taking naps, reading together, trying out new toys, snacking on the favorite foods, singing, all of this is feasting.

Of course we might try to extend some of the gift giving. One cool benefit to doing a few more gifts after Christmas Day is the ensuing post-Christmas sales. So far, we've gone with giving one more gift on Epiphany (the 13th day after Christmas). And we've tended to theme our gifting on Epiphany. One year we did a music theme (several new CD's). The last couple of years we've done games: card games, board games, etc. The last couple of years my wife has also baked a Kings' Cake which is a traditional Epiphany activity. We go down to the bank and get a gold dollar coin and a silver half dollar and bake them in a cake. Later that night, we serve up the cake and whoever comes up with a coin in their slice gets to keep the coin. I suppose this is just a fun way of remembering the Magi and their gifts as well as the Epiphany celebration of Jesus being light to the nations and our confident hope that they will all bring their riches into the Kingdom.

I've got another friend who says they're starting a new tradition of burning the Christmas tree on Epiphany, which I must admit sounds fantastic. We have made a point to keep the tree up through Epiphany for a number of years, though the tree is dried to a crisp by that point, every slight vibration in the room causing an avalanche of needles to fall. And this is all the more compounded by the fact that we usually get our tree for the First Sunday of Advent. Some Christian needs to figure out how to make *live* trees last for 6 weeks. But at this point, I'm convinced that our Christmas Tree Fire (should we have one) would be fairly short lived.

At the very least, we've planned the next 12 days as days of rest with activities interspersed. In addition to two Lord's Days with worship, we have a couple of family get-togethers, an ice skating outing one day, bowling another day, and probably a trip to the movies somewhere in there as well. We've also got a babysitter for a date one evening. I plan to emulate my father as much as possible in between the activities, holding down one of the couches with a cup of coffee in hand and a short stack of books nearby. There will likely be small people climbing around me here and there and toys and books and food, and don't be surprised if you find me dozing off in the late afternoon sun. I've got traditions to keep.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Help Report

Well, I wanted to give a report on my recent request for music suggestions. My 15 credits ran out last Thursday sometime in the afternoon, and thus I made my choices before a few last suggestions came in (sorry, Jason and Bill).

So here's what I went with. Even though Bruce called a foul on Brendan for recommending an entire album, and Brendan never came back to suggest a few more tracks specifically, I did go with number of tracks from that album and another by the same artist: Roadside Graves, who incidentally, I really have been enjoying.

I should also note that some of your recommendations led me to (or reminded me of) others that ended up being chosen as well. There were also at least one maybe two tracks that Lala just didn't have available.

So here they are:

1. Anthony's Gate by Roadside Graves (My Son's Home)
2. No One Will Know Where You've been by Roadside Graves (No One Will Know Where You've Been)
3. Ruby by Roadside Graves (My Son's Home)
4. Heartbeats by Jose Gonzalez (Veneer) -- BTW, Josh, Lala didn't have the Flaming Lips title.
5. Family and Friends by Roadside Graves (No One Will Know...)
6. West Coast by Roadside Graves (No One Will Know...)
7. I Love You Sweet Baby by Kimya Dawson (Alphabutt) -- this is quirky but it led me to numbers 14 and 15.
8. Angel From Montgomery by Susan Tedeschi (Live from Austin TX) -- This one pushes my tastes a bit, but I promise to give it several more honest listens.
9. Far and Wide by Roadside Graves (My Son's Home)
10. Take A Train by Roadside Graves (My Son's Home)
11. Valley by Roadside Graves (My Son's Home)
12. Lucky by Colbie Caillat and Jason Mraz (We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.)
13. The Outsiders by Needtobreathe (The Outsiders)
14. Anyone Else but You by The Moldy Peaches (The Moldy Peaches)
15. All I Want Is You by Barry Louis Polisar (Juno Soundtrack) -- which reminds me that I really enjoyed the film Juno. It's quirky, offensive, and yet wonderfully simple and subversive on a number of levels.


Fourth Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 7, Rom. 1, Matt. 1

As we look forward to our celebration of the birth of Jesus, this last Sunday of Advent celebrates the faithfulness and justice of God in coming to His people as the basis for our faith today.

Immanuel: With or Without Us
Isaiah 7 has several similarities to Isaiah 36-38. In this case Ahaz is the king of Judah who is threatened by the Assyrians. This is prior to the final fall of Israel, and Pekah King of Israel has teamed up with Rezin king of Syria to threaten Judah (7:1-2). God promises deliverance (7:3-9) and says that the only requirement is for Ahaz to believe this (7:9). God asks Ahaz to ask for a sign presumably to demonstrate his faith, but Ahaz refuses (7:10-13). Recall that Hezekiah is the son of Ahaz of the line of David. Hezekiah does better than his father since when he is threatened, he repeatedly looks to Yahweh and when his life is threatened, he asks for a sign in the heavens above and is saved (38:7, cf. 2 Kgs. 20:8). Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign, and so God gives one Himself: a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel (7:14). He will eat “curds and honey” apparently because he is part of the remnant left from the Assyrian conquest (7:15-17, cf. 7:22). Notice that the name “Immanuel” is used twice more in the following verses: once apparently referring to the land of Israel/Judah (8:8) and once the reason why no counsel will stand against God’s determined purposes (8:10).

Romans: Justice by Faith
Paul begins by emphasizing what he means by the “gospel” – it is what he was separated to (1:1), what was promised (1:2), the birth of Jesus from the seed of David (1:3), the declaration that Jesus is the Son of God by the resurrection (1:4), and through all of this comes the authorization to call all nations to obedience to the faith (1:5), even the Romans (1:6), and so Paul addresses them with the grace and peace of King Jesus (1:7). Paul knows he is addressing Christians from the empire that currently runs the world, and yet it is their “faith” that is known throughout the world (1:8). And Paul prays for them (1:9-10). Paul hopes to come to them that they might be part of his harvest among all the gentiles (1:11-14). Paul says that this gospel is for all nations, and he is not ashamed of it (1:14-16). It is here that Paul gives his reason: the gospel is the display, the revelation of the justice of God (1:17).

Matthew: The Righteousness of God
Jesus is identified as the “Son of David, the Son of Abraham” and so begins Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ (1:1), recounting the 14 generations between Abraham and David, David to the Exile, and from the captivity to Christ (1:17). Matthew’s genealogy is striking for its inclusion of several women: Tamar (1:3), Rahab (1:5), and Bathsheba (1:6), all oppressed in various ways by faithless men. Joseph is a just man and unwilling to see Mary shamed, and determined to divorce her quietly (1:19). Notice that Joseph is also called “son of David” by the angel of the Lord (1:20). The prophecy of this son includes a name linking the extraordinary son with His mission (1:21), and Joseph signifies his faith by giving the name to the Son (1:25).

Conclusion & Applications
The same God who turns back armies weaves all of history together. It is the power of God to take failures and injustice and weave it into his righteous purposes. The gospel of Jesus, His Advent, is the great display of God’s justice, His justice in coming for His people, His justice in healing our diseases, atoning for our sins, and rising from the dead. Jesus is the faithful one, and God’s powerful justice is displayed in our stories as we live by faith in the sign that God gave Ahaz.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Surpassing the Love of Women

A friend came by yesterday and pointed me to 2 Samuel 1:26 as a verse that recently caught his attention and caught him off guard a bit. He said it also made for some lively family conversation.

David is lamenting the death of Saul and Jonathan, and he sings: "I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been very pleasant to me; your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women."

My friend pointed out that some people might really make hay with that sort of description. And they do. Isn't this evidence of David's homosexual proclivities? Um, no.

But it did get me thinking about the importance of male friendship and companionship for men. And I don't mean this in a sappy, sentimental, let's-all-have-a-group-hug-and-cry-on-each-others'-shoulders sort of male friendship. I don't think David and Jonathan stared into each others' eyes and nodded silently as they shared their "struggles" with one another. Gehk.

I think it means broadly that they fought next to each other. They laid down their lives for each other, and sought peace, justice, and goodness together and for one another and their families. And yes they did embrace one another, kissed one another, and laughed, cried, and suffered together and for one another. God *commands* men to exchange the kiss of peace and love with one another. So even though their friendship wasn't sappy, it was obviously warm and genuine.

But here's the point, and actually it's really a question. Sometimes I talk to men who have a particular sort of string of problems: parents, girls, and frequently theological instability. And often it's in that order. And it makes good sense to me to drawn the line back to the father-son relationship in particular but then expand that broadly to include other significant men in his life. Often, there is a significant breakdown or deficiency there and then they start having these other problems with mom, girlfriends, church life, school, etc.

And this get's back to David's lament: I wonder if David is not merely describing in a poetic way the close friendship he shared with Jonathan. I wonder if there is some sense in which the love of a brother is a foundational sort of love. Obviously, a wife becomes the most important love, the greatest duty of a man, but is there some sense in which the love of a father/brother/friend/pastor/teacher surpasses the love of women in so far as it has a particular way of training a man, grounding a man, establishing a man as a man, preparing him to be a husband?

Writing this makes me want to go back and look at Lewis's Four Loves because it sort of sounds like something he would say or talk about.

Last thought: another way of defending this idea would be to look at the Trinity. There we have the love of the Father and the Son as foundational and prior to the love of the Son for the world, the Church, His bride. The love of the Father and the Son "surpasses" in some sense the love of Christ for His bride, the Church, in so far as we mean that it was prior to it. But it was that love between the Father and the Son that flowed out into the world in creation and redemption. It was that love that enabled the Son to die for His bride.

So my thesis is that a good husband is a man who knows and has been trained by other good men, fathers and older brothers. That kind of love surpasses the love of women, but that kind of love is also the kind of love that overflows to the love of a woman, a bride.

Ultimately, this love that surpasses the love of women is the love of Christ, the Man. Men must know and love and be known and be loved by that Man in order to love their wives and children faithfully. That love most certainly does surpass the love of women, and without it there can be no faithful love of women. And it cannot come as a surprise that a man who does not know this love would also have difficulties loving all the women in his life: mom, girlfriends, wife, daughters, and the Church.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

John Frame

Here's a helpful summary and review of the new festschrift in honor of John Frame (HT: Justin Taylor). And the book can be found here.

My earliest memories of Church and worship are full of John Frame. From about six months to a little before my ninth birthday, we worshiped at New Life Presbyterian Church. It was an OPC congregation until just shortly before we left in 1989, I believe, when it moved into the PCA. During many of those years, John Frame was the worship leader on Sunday mornings. He lead from the piano, and my Dad accompanied on the guitar. One of my favorite memories is when on at least one occasion, Pastor Frame instructed us to clap during one particular hymn, and when we weren't getting the rhythm quite right, he stopped us in the middle of the song (in the middle of the service) and gave us a quick lesson on rhythm. Then when we were all clapping correctly, we continued the song and the rest of the service. I remember Dad saying that Professor Frame was very into movies as well. I seem to remember hearing that he regularly watched a number of current movies and put out reviews. I always thought that was very cool.

I remember first loving, then disagreeing with, and finally coming to an overly appreciative but still somewhat critical relationship with his books on worship. I love his biblicism, his evangelical catholicity, and his willingness to critique friends and people in his own camp. But the title of the festschrift "Speaking the Truth in Love" is obviously a very fitting summary of Frame's ministry and academic contributions.

I also remember, as I worked on my senior thesis for New St. Andrews College, contacting Frame. I asked some questions (probably fairly convoluted ones) about his perspective on a particular theology of worship I was tracing. I emailed him, and I remember fondly how he addressed his response to me: "Little Toby!" I was gratified that he remembered me as fondly as I remembered him.

Anyway, there's no doubt that God has used John Frame in extremely significant ways over the last half century, and I look forward to reading this volume in celebration of his contributions. And may God grant Professor Frame many more years of faithful service to the Body of Christ.


Monday, December 14, 2009

The Wisdom of Eating and Drinking with Sinners

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.” (Mt. 11:19)

We have said before that in one sense Advent occurs every Lord’s Day. Every Lord’s Day the Lord comes to His people in worship. One of the ways that God reminds us of this fact is through this meal. Jesus came the first time eating and drinking and fellowshipping with outcasts, and every week Jesus still comes through the power of the Spirit, eating and drinking and fellowshipping with sinners. This is how God came into the world in Jesus, and through the Spirit this is how Jesus continues His Advent among us. Our collective list of sins is very long and embarrassing. We are not respectable society.

And perhaps this gathering looks a little dangerous. A bunch of sinners and tax collectors eating and drinking together: like that’s a good idea. Or maybe it just looks really silly, a bunch of sinners gathered around drinking wine from thimbles and sharing little bits of bread. How is that potent or powerful? But wisdom is justified by her children.

Here is the feast of Wisdom, and as we eat in faith and joy, and as we live this Eucharistic thankfulness in our lives, God promises to justify this wisdom through us. We are the children of Wisdom, as we feast on Jesus, as we cling to Jesus, as He is our strength, our security, our identity, our everything. Then as the children of Jesus, the Wisdom of God is justified to the watching world. This silly feast is for us the glory of God because here we enact the justice and the mercy and the peace of God for the world. And God promises to use this little feast to draw us and all of history up to great and final Feast. So come in faith and with rejoicing.



So here I am asking for your advice, my dear readers. Having dutifully signed up for (in order to be as hip as possible), I am now notified that I have 15 song credits that will expire in 3 days. So my question to you is: what fifteen songs should I acquire with said song credits?

If you only recommend one song, that's fine. Unless you recommend something I already know I don't want, I'll take the first 15 songs recommended.

And remember I only have three days to decide.

Ready, go.



My apologies to anyone who happened into the comments section of the post on the "Menopausal Militia." A scary comment was left with an even scarier link. Since I'd like to avoid this in the future, I've set my comments to now require moderation, meaning that I'll have to manually approve the comments as they come in. Sorry if that causes any inconvenience, but you'll just have to behave yourselves that's all.

Advent Cheers!


Advent Means Diversity

In some sense, the very first Advent was the creation of the world. Father, Son, and Spirit “came out” in some way when the first “when” occurred. When history began, God had come, speaking the Word with the Spirit hovering over the waters. And this original Advent could not be construed in any way as being an act of tyranny or suppression or legalism. The original creation was perfect, but the act of singing the galaxies into existence was not legalistic. Piling up the seas into one place, and calling the grass and animals out of the dirt reveals God’s power but it’s a powerful joy, not moody tyranny. When God came that first time, He came to play, He came to sing, He came to diversify. In this sense, sin is really the great reducer. Sin lies and advertises to be different, new, exciting, but it is in fact a return to the nothingness, a return to uniformity, a return to the legalism and perfectionism and the tyranny of monism: all is one. And difference becomes heresy. But we serve the God who comes and creates, the God who comes and multiplies and divides, the God who comes and re-creates and diversifies: more color, more shapes and sizes, more glory, more life, more joy, more. And this is what Jesus came for, to re-create the worlds, to rejuvenate the diversity of creation. Our culture embraces a false version of this gospel. Be you. Be yourself. You can be anything. Celebrate diversity. Multiculturalism. Relativism, etc. But the Christian gospel is the truth which our culture only apes. But we cannot merely critique and criticize. If Advent means the glory of difference, the glory of a creation that spans butterflies, peanut butter, waterfalls, and babies – if Advent means that, it also means the glory of all men and women and children everywhere worshiping the Lord Jesus and loving one another in the differences. While we must always hate and fight sin, we ought to expect the blessing of difference because Jesus has come. But too frequently because of sin, we suspect difference and we fear those who are unlike us. Or we think that when Jesus comes again he’ll make us all exactly the same, billions of little robots that repeat the Westminster Shorter Catechism. And so we resent difference. Do you wish your husband was more like that man? Or that your wife was more like her? Or why can’t our children be like theirs? But God came and sung the galaxies into existence, and God came again in Jesus to renew this symphony of creation. God comes and meets with us week after week to renew us all into the new creation that we already are by faith in Jesus. And when God comes at the end, the whole thing will burst out like a grand fireworks display.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Dwindling of the Menopausal Militia

The article here in New York Magazine is hard to read straight through without wincing or tears. It's not really new information for us, but I'd say it's striking coming from the pro-choice camp. It's honest, terribly honest. And therefore it's also hopeful.

My favorite part is where the pro-choice movement is recognized as growing old compared to the current generation of younger Americans that the article describes as perhaps the most pro-life generation ever, due to technological advances like ultrasound. And one NARAL representative referred to the dwindling pro-choice ranks as the "menopausal militia."

HT: Albert Mohler


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

God is Killing our Children

As Douglas Wilson has pointed out from time to time, we often think that it is only sin that may have serious consequences rather than seeing sin as consequences. Sin is bad, and the consequences may be worse, but sometimes God gives us over to our sins. Sin itself is a judgment from God. In Romans 1, God gives men and women over to sexual perversity because they were sinfully confused prior to that. Sodomy is not merely a bad sin which will have horrific consequences. Sodomy is a judgment from God on a people who have turned away from Him, who have confused the creation with the Creator, who have lied and cheated and oppressed the weak and disobeyed their parents (see Rom. 1:28-32).

Similarly, adultery is a sin which God gives unfaithful husbands over to. It is not the sin of adultery that makes a man unfaithful. Adultery itself is God's judgment on a man whom God is already angry with (Pr. 22:14).

Hosea says that abortion is also the judgment of God. When God was angry with Israel for her sins, He said that He would remember all her past sins and give her miscarrying wombs and dry breasts (Hos. 9:14). But God's anger with Ephraim extends to the point that He says He will "kill the darlings of their womb." (Hos. 9:16) Abortion is not merely a great sin that will lead to the judgment of God (though that is true enough). Abortion is itself a judgment of God; He is killing our little ones because of our wickedness. He is angry with us and He is causing our sins to be visited on us and on our children.

So what shall we do? Hosea says, "Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap in mercy; break up the fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness on you." (10:12) And, "say to Him, 'Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips... [God says] 'I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for my anger has turned away from him.'" (14:2, 4)


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Second Sunday of Advent: Is. 40:1-11, Phil. 1:1-11, Lk. 3:1-18

We continue our Advent series this morning looking at our three readings, meditating on what it means that our God is the God who comes to His people.

Isaiah 40:1-11
The prophet begins by declaring God’s word to His people, crying, “comfort, comfort!” God says to “speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and cry out to her that her “armies are full” and that her “iniquity is satisfied,” and she has taken from the hand of Yahweh double for all her sins (40:1-2). This comfort is bound up in the fact that a new Exodus is coming. The voice issues a command to turn to the “way of Yahweh” and to make straight a “highway for our God” (40:3, cf. Is. 11:16). The “way” goes back to the first sin after which God guarded the “way” to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24), and the story continues in the Exodus where God led Israel in the “way” out of Egypt arrayed for battle (Ex. 13:17-18). Like the original Exodus, Isaiah foretells great upheaval: the topography of the world is going to dramatically change (40:4-5). And in the context of the Exodus we should not miss the fact that the “topography” is primarily people. The “voice” says to cry out that all flesh is grass, it fades and withers, and only the word of God stands forever (40:6-8). This reminds us of the “voice” that thundered at Sinai and how the people cowered in fear and asked that they might not hear the voice any more. But that word is a good word, good news that God Himself will come and rule in righteousness and truth (40:9-11).

Luke 3:1-18
Luke says that John fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy when he began preaching a baptism of repentance at the Jordan River. Notice the seven rulers listed in the opening verses of this passage: From Caesar to the high priests (3:1-2). But it is not to any of those seven that the “word of God” comes. The word of God comes to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness (3:2). John is the beginning of the new week, the new creation, a new conquest of the world. He is like Moses and the seven powers are set up as various sorts of Pharaohs. John is also like Moses on the far side of the Jordan promising that Joshua is coming to lead them across the Jordan into the new Canaan. John may appear to be a nobody, but the Word he has received is designed to seriously mess with the landscape (3:4-6). John calls his followers the “children of snakes” and calls them to bear fruit worthy of repentance (3:7). His baptism is also a baptism of “repentance” (3:3). Given the Exodus imagery, John is calling the multitudes to embrace the calling to be the second generation in the wilderness that went in to possess the land. The baptism for repentance is a crossing of the Jordan into Canaan. And if they are baptized, they must take the land though bearing the fruit of repentance which is justice and mercy (3:10-14). This is why they must wait for the Christ who will lead them into the land in the power of the Spirit (3:15-17, cf. Josh 3). This is the good news that Isaiah foretold.

Philippians 1:1-11
Paul and Timothy identify themselves as “slaves of King Jesus” and address the “holy ones” in Philippi with the grace and peace of God (1:1-2). They rejoice in the fellowship they share in the “good news” from the “first day,” knowing that God will complete the good work in them that He has begun. Paul may have several thoughts in mind as He writes, including the beginning of the gospel in John’s ministry as the “first day” of the new creation, the new good work that God has begun in the world and in us (1:3-6). In that sense, “the day of Jesus Christ” may refer to the coming judgment in 70 AD, and it may also look forward to the final seventh day, the final Sabbath. Paul emphasizes that fellowship by describing how the Philippians are “partakers of grace” with him in defense and confirmation of the good news (1:7). And Paul’s prayer is for this to increase and abound, that their love and knowledge may overflow with the fruits of righteousness (1:9-11).

Conclusions and Applications
One of the great messages of Advent is “repent!” And the challenge is getting this command right. God calls all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), and this still applies, whether you are an unbeliever, a new believer, or an old believer. The command is to repent because the conquest is not yet finished. And the lessons of Joshua continue to be lessons for us. That second generation was faithful in beginning the conquest, but they grew weary and relaxed as time went on. Their great failure to drive out the enemies from the land left their children to pick up the pieces (e.g. Judges). Repentance is the call to continue the work of the new creation by the Spirit, turning the old crooked world into the new heavens and new earth, and this conquest comes through the fruits of justice and mercy and love. And God gently leads us in this way by speaking comfort and grace and peace to us in Jesus, assuring us that He will complete the good work He has begun in us.


These Stones

John the Forerunner famously says that his listeners cannot claim their Abrahamic lineage as protection against judgment. John says, "... and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones." (Lk. 3:8)

What are "these stones" that Jesus is referring to?

Frequently I believe it is assumed that "these stones" is just a generic reference to the power of God. He can make sons of Abraham out of trees, rocks, geese, whatever. Don't be so arrogant, O Israel.

But remember where John is. John is at the Jordan. And all the indicators are that John is inviting his listeners to join him in a new conquest, to cross the Jordan in baptism and join the new Joshua (Jesus) in His conquest of the land.

That being so, is it possible that "these stones" are the very stones that Joshua had the people set up on the shore of the Jordan River centuries before? Or even if John isn't pointing at a literal pile of stones, could he be referring to "those stones"?

If that is the case, John's point could still be partially concerned with the arrogance of Israel and God's power, but it makes it more pointed referring to the previous Jordan crossing and conquest.

First, it's a reference to the fact that God has performed this sort of thing before. Refusal to follow the example of that second generation of Israel across the Jordan means that they are really more like the first generation in the wilderness, whose bodies were scattered in the desert.

Second, "those stones" clearly represented Israel. There were twelve of them for the twelve tribes, and therefore, perhaps the "power of God" is not so much that God can turn anything into sons but rather specifically resurrection power. God is able to raise the dead; He is able to even raise that ancient and faithful generation of Israel from the dead. If God needs an Israel with enough faith to take this Canaan, He can raise "these stones" from dead.