Friday, December 31, 2010

The Perpetual Virginity of the Church

Matthew says that the birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of Matthew’s prophecy of the virgin giving birth to a son whose name will be Immanuel. In the context of Isaiah, the birth of Immanuel is given as a sign to King Ahaz that the military plots against Judah will not stand. If Ahaz fears that the two kings are going to conquer Jerusalem and depose him, he must be assured by God’s word that the city will continue to stand in stability because a son will be born to a young woman in safety. But when Matthew quotes this passage at the birth of Jesus, only verses later we learn that there is a king plotting against this son. Herod wants to track this Child King down and destroy Him, and before it’s all over, a great slaughter of sons has occurred in Bethlehem. Bethlehem has become an Egypt and Herod is Pharaoh killing the male children perceived as a threat to his kingdom. And ironically, Joseph is hiding with his wife and newborn son in Egypt.

While God’s word to Ahaz was ‘stand still, be quiet, and do nothing,’ God’s word to Joseph is to get his family out of Judah and to run. So then, how is the virgin birth comforting? How is the birth of Immanuel a sign of safety if the holy family is immediately on the run? But let me connect these questions to baptism as well. If the Church is the virgin bride of Christ, the pure and chaste bride betrothed to Jesus, her husband, then there is some sense in which every conversion, every baptism is a virgin birth. Of course none are quite so spectacular as God born in human flesh, but something very similar is always happening. When a man, woman, or child is born again into the family of Jesus, it is the pure and undefiled virgin Church giving birth by the power of the Holy Spirit, and what is born is not born of blood or flesh or the will of man but the new life that is conceived here in the womb of the Church is of the Holy Spirit. No conversion makes human sense. No rebirth into the life of the Trinity is humanly possible. In this sense, as Protestants, we would deny the perpetual virginity of Mary, but we might be willing to speak of the perpetual virginity of the Church or at least the temporary, perpetual virginity of the Church: the chastity and purity of the Church as she awaits the consummation, the final Marriage Supper of the Lamb, when we finally are fully and completely united to the Lord Jesus Christ. But in the mean time, every new birth in the Church is the sign of Immanuel, the sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power to make God with Us, to be God with Us.

But this means that every baptism is the sign of Ahaz. Every baptism is the sign of Immanuel. Every baptism echoes the birth of God in the manger. Every baptism is a miniature Christmas. But how are we to be comforted with this sign in the face of threats? How are we to be comforted with this sign when the first virgin birth was followed by a slaughter of babies and a family on the run? Let me only suggest one possible answer: We might notice that after Joseph’s family is scattered, the disciples are scatted when Jesus is arrested in the garden and later crucified, then later, after Stephen’s stoning, the disciples are scattered again. But each time, the scattered ones have grown in numbers and responsibility. A remnant is always preserved, a seed is always saved. Whenever the word is scattered it brings forth a harvest. Our comfort and trust is always in the word of God, our safety is in His provision, but it is His wisdom to establish His kingdom through weakness and death. For unless a seed goes into the ground and dies, it will bear no fruit, and here is the seed of the Spirit, the miraculous conception of the life of God in human flesh.

So the charge for you, Jayson and Hannah, is to place your hope and trust in the Word of God, the Word of God made flesh, the Word of God in a manger in Bethlehem. The Word of God is the seed of the Spirit sown in our hearts for the life of the world. Teach your son to love this Word, teach your son to eat this Word, to be comforted by this Word, but ultimately teach him to die like this Word. Teach him to become seed that goes down into the ground and dies so that by the power of the Spirit his life might be scattered abroad and bring forth a great harvest of 30, 60, and 100 fold.

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Who Carry the Terms of Surrender

Really like Jamie Soles' paraphrase of the Beatitudes found on his album Weight of Glory:

Blessed
(Matthew 5:2-11)

Blessed are the poor in spirit
Those who recognize their poverty
Those who know that they have nothing to bring
The kingdom of heaven is theirs
Blessed are the ones that mourn
Those who grieve for their iniquity
Those who demonstrate repentance and faith
Their comforter is the Lord

Blessed are the humble
Who believe their God in everything
Who obey His Word unquestioning
For they shall inherit the earth
Blessed are the hungry
And the thirsty after righteousness
Who are satisfied with nothing less
Their hunger and thirst shall be filled

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God
And blessed are the ones who make peace
Who carry the terms of surrender
They publish the gospel of peace and are called sons of God

Blessed are the ones that suffer
Evil deeds and scorn in Jesus' name
The poor in spirit are one and the same
The kingdom of heaven is yours
Blessed are the persecuted
Oh rejoice and be exceeding glad
For such treatment all the prophets had
And great is your waiting reward

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Song is Love Unknown

I posted this a while back. It was my homily from our Good Friday service last year, but it seems fitting for Christmas as well.

The text is also available here at the Credenda site.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cycle of Generations

In his new book The Four, Peter Leithart notes that the gospel of Matthew begins with a number of similarities to Genesis. Matthew begins with a "book of generations" which is one of the organizing principles of the book of Genesis (cf. 2:4, 5:1, etc.). He also notes some resemblances between Matthew's gospel and the epistle of James.

One similarity, which he doesn't explicitly mention (but which I suspect he's alluding to), is the fact that the word "generations" is used only five times in the NT, twice in Matthew and twice in James (once in Luke).

Both of the uses in James need some elucidating, but just on the surface, Js. 3:6 is one of the instances and James is warning particularly about the dangers of the tongue (see my earlier post). James says that the tongue is set among our members so that it can defile the whole body and set "on fire the whole course of nature." Literally, James says that it can set on fire the "cycle of generations." With the emphasis at the beginning of the chapter on "teachers," it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to see James addressing specifically generational challenges. He seems to be warning teachers in particular about the use of their tongues and the kind of impact it has on their students, children, congregations, etc. Their words have the potential to send their hearers to hell. Jesus has similar warnings for people who cause little ones to stumble.

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An Evangelist

"An evangelist is a man who, by speaking of Jesus, changes his own mind; by being in process, he leads others into the same process."

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Fruit of the Lips, 22-23.

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Reformission Rev. Review Pt. 1: Prayer and Calling

Another book review for you. I just recently read Mark Driscoll's Confessions of a Reformission Rev. And it was really good. There are some obvious areas in theology and church life that we differ on, but Driscoll's passion to love and obey Jesus through planting and leading a church is a fun and encouraging story to read. This particular book is just that, a sort of autobiography of his life planting Mars Hill in Seattle. Driscoll is an engaging writer, story teller, and thoughtful theologian.

Over the next few days, I'll post some of what I found to be the highlights of the book:

Part 1

At some point in the early days of church planting, Driscoll realized that he needed to submit to the will of Jesus for Mars Hill. And this meant that he (Driscoll) needed to find out what Jesus wanted Mars Hill to be, to do, etc. Driscoll recounts how he began spending extended periods of time in prayer and bible study on the one hand and then lots of time hanging out in coffee shops and various public places in Seattle, trying to get to know the people, and their needs and interests. Through this process, Driscoll became convinced that Mars Hill needed to grow up from a graduated high school youth group meeting into a full-fledged church that would make a significant impact on the city of Seattle. I really appreciated Driscoll's realization that he needed to spend a lot of time studying the Bible and praying. He notes somewhere in there, that this is still a regular part of his schedule, and this is something that pastors have to come to peace with. An important part of the pastoral call is *praying*. Hours should be spent each week *praying*. And this is different than preparing for a Bible studies, sermon preparation, reading theological journals, or blogging. Praying is talking to Jesus about what He wants from you, from your people, and what He wants for your city. If Jesus is Lord of His Church, and King of every one of our cities, then we need to speak to Him and hear from Him. While Driscoll has been called to minister to many different sectors of Seattle society, he began with and continues to focus on young men and the college/young singles crowd (though the church has grown up to include families of all ages). When pastors pray for direction from the Spirit of Christ, they should not expect to know already where they will be sent. Some need to be sent to the trailer parks, some need to be sent to India, some need to be sent to the homeless shelter, and some need to be sent to the coffee shops. But it's awfully easy to think that Jesus wants all the hip, young seminary graduates hanging out at Starbucks and listening to Sufjan Stevens. But we need to listen to our Heavenly General very carefully, and this means spending lots of time in prayer every week.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

God is a Dragon

My closing charge to the congregation yesterday at Trinity keyed off of the image Peter Leithart used in his sermon of Isaiah as a "fire-breather" (Is. 6). Having touched his lips with a coal from the altar, Isaiah became like one of the seraphim, one of the fire breathers of God who is commissioned to bring the fire of God's judgment on Jerusalem, so that they might be consumed and refined. And this imagery certainly seems to be taken up at Pentecost, coals of fire for every believer, and suddenly everyone is speaking in tongues, declaring the mighty works of God.

But as I was meditating on the "fire-breather" imagery it struck me that James picks up this picture as well only as a warning (Js. 3:5-6). The tongue is able to kindle great fires with only a few little sparks. This means that as image bearers and renewed image bearers, there is some sense in which our mouths are always on fire, we always breathe fire. This goes back to the idea that words are always magical and powerful.

The only question is: Whose fire are we breathing? Whose magic are we speaking? The Devil is a dragon who breathes the fire of division and deception and bitterness, but God is a Dragon who breathes the life-giving fire of the Spirit. Our prayer must be to be filled with that fire, that Spirit of life.

My charge (which was much more succinct than this post!) reminded the congregation that with Christmastime upon us, we will be spending a good bit of time with our families and friends, and there will be many words in the air, we will have much to say to one another. And the charge was to speak the fire of the Spirit, specifically I reminded them of the words of Peter, the original fire-breather at Pentecost:

"Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing." (1 Pet. 3:8-9)

May our words for our children, our wives and husbands, the neighbors, the grocery clerks, the TSA officials, our cranky and absurd relatives, may our words be seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6) and be filled with the fire of love (Song 8:6).

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Now That Your Mouth Is On Fire...

Every Lord’s Day we confess that as we gather together in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, this Triune God ushers us into His presence. We confess that we are gathered at this very moment in the Most Holy presence of the King of the Universe, and as Pastor Leithart has reminded us, that is why having entered this presence we sing “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts…” We join the choirs of angels, the seraphim shouting praises in this new temple of the Church, and our prayers arise like smoke and incense before the throne. And the King thunders His Word through the Scriptures and by the mighty working of His Spirit. Our worship participates in and enters into the heavenly worship that is always occurring. In this sense, our worship is always an Advent of the Lord, a coming of the King. When we gather together in His name, He comes as the great and high King, as the storm of His presence to commune with us. And just as Isaiah was cleansed and commissioned by the coal from the altar so too we are cleansed and commissioned by the burning life of God from this altar. Only now, our altar is the cross of Jesus, and He gives us His Spirit-filled life through these gifts of bread and wine as we share them together in faith. The Spirit-fire of God inhabits this meal, and as we eat this bread and drink this wine, our lips are cleansed and we are commissioned to be His servants in the world. And this means at least two things: first, this meal means that you are forgiven, you are cleansed, you are purged. Your sins are covered through the blood of the Lamb. But God is never satisfied with merely forgiving. As soon as He cleanses, He sends. As soon as He forgives, He commissions. And so as you take up these coals upon your lips believe the word of God: you are forgiven. And then search your hearts, who have you been called to speak to? Who must you take the word of God to? Your wife? Your children? Your neighbors? Your coworkers? To strangers in another land? At Pentecost the altar in heaven tipped over, and the Spirit-fire poured down on the Church, coals for every believer. And this means as you take this bread and wine upon your lips, the Lord is asking once again, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ As you eat and drink, the response of faith is always, ‘Here am I. Send me.’

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The Jesus Fund

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt. 6:24)
This next week we will celebrate Christmas, and while Mammon would always compete for your affection and service, he rears his ugly head at this time of year with particular enthusiasm. Jesus goes on to explain that serving God means a lack of worry. Those who love God and despise Mammon do not worry about what they will eat, what they will wear, what they will drink. Those who place their hope and trust in God do not worry. But Mammon drives his slaves with the whip of worry and fear. And this worry manifests itself in countless nagging questions: Have we spent too much? Have we been generous enough? Have we saved enough? Isn’t that too expensive? How will we ever afford that? How can we spend this much when others do not have any at all? But these fears and worries are satanic. Jesus said, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.” Instead, Jesus says, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Seeking first the kingdom means loving God with all that you are: mind, body, soul, strength. It means that all that we have belongs to Jesus. Every cent in our bank accounts, all of our assets, all of our abilities, all of our talents, they all belong to King Jesus, and we lay them all at His feet. And then, because we love Jesus and hate Mammon, we open our hands and we give. We give generously and extravagantly. We give gifts and presents as though we have an endless supply; because we do. Because our King owns everything; He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He doesn’t need a single cent from us, but He loves it when we live like He is the Extravagant Father that He is. So it’s almost Christmas time, and we should want our homes overflowing with presents, and our neighbors should know that we have enormous bank accounts by the generous gifts we give them. It’s not our money, of course, we should explain to their astonished faces, Jesus has a fund that has no end, no limits. Of course, don’t spend money like a slave; don’t spend and grasp like the Gentiles who charge up their credit cards as though we are storing up treasure under the tree. No, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. But when your treasure is in heaven, it is in a bank account that will never run out. So give to the poor, give to missions, give to your children, give to your wife. Give because you love Jesus. Give because everything belongs to Him. Give because God gave His Son, and in Him we have an inheritance that cannot fade away.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Driscoll on Men and Marriage


This sermon is listed on the Resurgence website as the single most watched sermon by Mark Driscoll. It really is quite good. It's a sermon directed at men, and I think most men would do well to check it out. The sermon actually begins at about 6.5 minutes into the video.

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Defying Mammon

Here are some overlapping and complementary thoughts to my previous post on Francis Chan and Crazy Love, just in time for Christmas:

This is the opening to a recent article in Credenda:

"Idols are not kind. Idols are cruel and satanic. The root meaning of the word "satan" is accuser. Satan, the Devil, was the chief accuser of God's people (Job 1, Rev. 12:10), but every idol, every demon is some offspring of the Devil, accusers and manipulators all. Idols manipulate through guilt; they accuse their slaves and then gleefully watch them twist and cower in the wind.

Mammon is one such idol. Mammon brow beats his victims with accusations. And Mammon rears his ugly head at holidays and feasts and all occasions for buying and gift giving. Of course the frontal assault is the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Don't you wish your breasts looked like this? Don't you wish your car looked like this? Don't you wish you were as cool as that guy on his iPhone? Shouldn't you have a Roth IRA with thousands of dollars in diversified mutual funds? And people envy and lust and charge up their credit cards vainly pursuing happiness with green paper and plastic and megabytes, ripping off their wives and children and grandchildren and the poor. And Jesus roundly condemns such slavery. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. Don't build bigger barns. Damn the American Dream. Tonight your life may be required of you. Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. And where your treasure is, your heart will be also."

Read the rest here.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Classical Education Meets Classic Rock

"Logos School turns 30 this year, and we have events planned throughout, culminating with this amazing concert gala in the spring. The Logos 30th Birthday Benefit Concert will be a dazzling evening of classic rock and blues featuring Douglas Wilson's Jenny Geddes Band with many other special guests.

This fundraising event will be web cast LIVE for supporters and alumni around the country to enjoy!

Although Logos is the oldest classical and Christian school, it is not immune to the current financial downturn. We pray this event will help insure continued growth and stability - all to the glory of God."

See a video and read more about it here.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

The Wisdom of Love

Jesus our King is both an exalted, mighty Judge and the Lamb that was slain. And it is this Christ in both of these realities that loves His people. This is a wedding feast, a love feast in which this Christ as both sacrificial victim and righteous judge offers Himself to His people. This is your husband, your God, your King. And this means that both of these realities are offered in the love of Christ. As we grow in the love of Christ, we ought to grow up into both slaves who die and kings who reign. We have been made priests and kings to God our Father. And we really must hold both of these together. The temptation is always to veer in one direction or the other. In our flesh everyone wants authority and power and judgment, but without the cross, we quickly turn authority into oppression and tyranny. When God gave Israel the wine of His love, they repeatedly abused it. Rather than receiving His love and loving Him in return, they got drunk and worshiped other gods and made themselves into gods who oppressed the poor and the needy. The other temptation is to see the human tendency to mess this up, and veer off into defeatists. We are poor, homely slaves who screw everything up, and we wallow around in our weakness and inability. But Jesus didn’t become a servant so that He could lose. He humbled Himself so that He might be exalted. He died so that He might be raised. He became a slave so that He might become the King. And so the point is that if we would judge rightly, if we would execute justice for the orphan and the widow. If we would discipline our children in righteousness and love our spouses rightly, we must hold these two realities together. But how can we do that? The answer is love. And that can sound trite and shallow and canned. Everybody says all you need is love. But God says that the single greatest thing that we can do is love Him with all that we are and love our neighbors as ourselves. Faith and hope are really important but the greatest of these is love. Not touchy-feely fuzzies, whatever-makes-me-feel-good love, but death and resurrection love. The love for our Savior crucified for our sins. The love that dies for the ungodly, the weak, the poor, the undeserving. Love that becomes a servant of all for the glory of the Lord of all. Love as fierce as death. In that love, which we celebrate here, Christ is manifested as both servant and king, slave and lord, and when we embrace that love, when we respond to that love, that love teaches us wisdom, and we grow up into priests and kings. But that’s the key, putting down all your excuses, all your distractions, all your theological categories, all your virtues, all your sins, everything, and crying out with the psalmist: "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you." And so here you are, and your Lord gives Himself to you. He loves you, and welcomes you now.

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We Are Not Good

One of the most important things that we confess every week is that we are not good. We are not even a little bit good. We love to compare ourselves to other people; we love to excuse our evil by pointing at other people who we think are worse than ourselves. Well, I’m not as bad as him; I’m not as bad as her. But we are not good. We are backbiters and liars; we are full of jealousies and hatreds. We are quick to take offense; we are slow to forgive. And despite all of this, God is the faithful Lover who prepares this world for us every day. He draws the sun into the sky; He spins the earth in its orbit. He winds up our bodies while we sleep. He puts food in our refrigerators and piles it on our tables. He blows air into our lungs and walks beside us, holding us up, defending us from harm and evil. He runs before us in this world, preparing good things. He sends us warmth and comfort; He sends us friends and gifts. He sent us His Son. He smiles at us day after day, and He speaks to us in His Word, writing us letters, assuring us that He loves us and that we are His and that we are forgiven. And He does this day after day like a faithful Husband, like a faithful Lover. And so often, we hardly even notice. We are so easily distracted. God piles up gifts all around us, and we whine because some of them are not as big as we wanted. We have bad attitudes when there are only 4000 presents, and we think we’re getting ripped off when something doesn’t go our way.

Why do we do this? Why do we snap our children? Why do we get impatient with our spouses? Why do tell lies to our friends? Why do we look the other way when someone is in need? Because we are not good. We are not good. We are evil. We are perverse. We love sin. We love injustice. We are covered in filth. “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are like filthy rags…” (Is. 54:6) And it is only from this position of complete desperation, only from the position of absolute need that we have any hope. It is only when you have come to the very end of yourself. When you see and you are utterly convinced that there is nothing good in you, when you have no hope, when you have no alternative, when you have nowhere else to turn. When you are powerless, when you are disgusted with your sin, when you absolutely hate yourself, it is only then that there is hope. But because we are evil, we do not want to admit that we are evil. And this is one of the most dangerous and challenging aspects of growing up and being in the Church. It’s so perilously easy to believe that being in the Church means that you are good or that you are at least trying to be good. But it is only when we admit completely and whole heartedly that we are not good, it is only when we call out to Jesus in desperation that we can have hope because He only came for people who are not good.

“But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." (Mt. 9:13)

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent Traditions

This is a repost from a couple of years ago. While we've been playing catch up this year, since we were out of town for the first Sunday in Advent, we have finally caught up as of this afternoon.

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It's been our tradition for a number of years now to celebrate Advent by decorating our tree in stages, a little at a time. We do other fun stuff with the kids throughout the week, but each Sunday in Advent is marked by new decorations on the tree.

We get our Christmas tree on the first Sunday of Advent and begin by decorating the tree with all sorts of fruit. We have apples, grapes, strings of cranberries (or berry-looking beads), and the like. We often have a fruit-themed dinner and/or breakfast for the first Sunday in Advent as well. All of this reminds us of the Garden of Eden, the sin of Adam and Eve, and the fruit of the Tree of Life that has been restored to us in Jesus.

On the Second Sunday of Advent we add salt dough ornaments to the tree along with a variety of different star ornaments. The salt dough and stars remind us of exile, being in a foreign land, and the promise of God to bring the gentiles into Israel. It was of course a star that brought the wisemen from the East to worship Jesus, and that itself is a great reversal of the exile. Instead of Israel being led by foreign kings into the east away from the presence of God (Like Adam and Eve and later the whole nation of Israel), at the birth of Christ we have foreign kings coming west into the presence of God to submit themselves to the King of Israel. Since we're remembering exile during this week, we turn off music for this week (Ps. 137:1-4).

On the Third Sunday of Advent we put up lights. Lots of lights. Actually, we've recently decided to put the lights on the tree on the First Sunday of Advent, but we only turn them on on Sunday. Starting on the Third Sunday of Advent, we put more lights, and keep the lights turned on all day, every day. Jesus is the light of the world who comes to shine in our darkness, so we have a party with the lights, inside and outside.

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent we break out all the gifts, the bows, the ribbons, the stockings, and any of the other snow men or santas or whathaveyous that haven't made it onto the tree or shelves yet. God has given himself to us in the incarnation, and so it seems fitting to make a big deal about presents and gift giving and bows and ribbons and wrapping paper and stockings.

Part of the point of this sort of tradition is to make Advent fun, but also to add more elements of expection to our celebration. Advent is about remembering that God has come to the aid of His people in the past, remembering that God is faithful to remember his promises and come and save His own. Cheifly this means remembering that our God has come for us in Jesus. And that means that this same God will be faithful to remember us and come for us in our day. He promises to meet us as we gather for worship. He promises to hear our prayers and come to our aid in our distress. And He promises to come at the end of the world and raise us up from the dead and renew all things. But here in the middle of the story, it is important to learn the virtue of joyful expectation, hopeful patience. And our Advent tradition is just one way to practice that.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Chan and Crazy Love

Just finished Francis Chan's book Crazy Love, and I really thought it was overwhelmingly another great call to faithful discipleship. However, like Radical by David Platt, I thought it also raised a number of questions.

I agree with these men that it is far too easy for the "American Dream" to become equated with discipleship. Chan asks what would be substantively different about our lifestyles if we suddenly stopped believing. And for so many, very little would change. Agreed. And I think Chan walks a really careful line of insisting on the grace and love of God while challenging Christians to really examine their commitments. He's startling and disconcerting in good ways. Everyone recognizes that discipleship must include sacrifices in time and energy, relationships and evangelism, mercy and prayer, and one of the big issues is money. But Chan is good about seeking to ground that sacrifice in grateful, overflowing love.

Here are several questions for these guys and others raising similar concerns:

1. First, to their credit, these brothers are being careful about not laying out many specific guidelines or rules. Searching the Scriptures, searching our hearts, praying eagerly for direction and opportunities, seeking counsel, and then looking for ways to bless -- all of these things will combine together in God's providence to lead God's people in faithfulness. But this means that it will necessarily look different for different people. It's easy to point to Zacchaeus who gave away half of his income and restored all that he had stolen, or to point to the rich young ruler who is asked to sell everything and follow Jesus. But is there room in these visions of radical sacrifice and radical discipleship for radical obedience that includes large houses, several cars, large tracks of property, and big savings accounts (for some)? We know that there were some in the early church who provided for Christ and the apostles and the early church out of their abundance. They shared money, food, and houses with the needs of the saints. And this means that they didn't give it all away at once. Every disciple must lose their life if they ever want to find them, but not every disciple is called to lose their life in the same way. Everyone must give away everything ultimately, the only questions are when, how, and to whom.

2. Another way to ask the previous question but in a different direction: How does the Dominion Mandate given to Adam and Eve and the gospel's intention to renew all of life and creation fit into "radical discipleship"? While evangelism is obviously central to the Great Commission, so is "discipling" the nations. And presumably, this includes teaching new believers the entire Bible, which includes instructions to pursue artistic endeavors, musical vocations, scientific and medical investigations, etc. In other words, radical discipleship for some will/ought to include going to college and studying hard and spending lots of money to become an excellent doctor and for someone else it might mean becoming a cellist, and for someone else it might mean foregoing college and going on the mission field. The point, similar to the previous one, is that the love of Christ drives the body of Christ into a wonderful diversity of callings and vocations that can and must be used for the building up of the Kingdom. Some people should not send all their money to starving children in the third world; some people should take up their cross and study horticulture at the local university. And other people should send large portions of their income to missionaries or go on the mission field themselves. Crazy love is as broad and diverse as Christ's Kingdom and God's world.

3. What about those who wrongly object to extravagance in the name of mercy? Judas objected to pouring a jar of expensive perfume on Jesus' feet because it might have been given to the poor. In other words, Paul says that there may be some who give their bodies to be burned or give all their belongings away in order to feed the poor, but without love God is not pleased with their actions. Here is where Chan is exactly right in insisting on love, but I do wonder about some who will read his book and start downsizing because they are insecure instead of out of love. And this can result in false assurance. What they really need to do is get right with the Lord, but now they're living off half their incomes and telling themselves that they are obeying.

4. This is an extension of the previous question, but what about the Ananiases of the world? Peter says that for some people who are getting caught up in a radical discipleship movement, it would be better for them not to sell off a bunch of their stocks and bonds and put it in the offering on Sunday. It would have been better for Ananias and Sapphira not to sell that field. It would have been better for them to have studied their hearts and motives and looked to Christ and His word and His Spirit for direction in all honesty. Or in a similar vein: the generous widow who gave her last mite in the temple treasury appears to have been a great saint full of love for God, but Jesus had just finished talking about the way the scribes were devouring widows' houses. When Jesus sees this widow's house devoured, He leaves the temple and orders its demolition. God may be pleased with some peoples' sacrifice, and at the same time He may be very displeased with the fellow who convinced them to give it all away.

5. This is all another way saying that "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" applies to the people turning mercy into sacrifice as much as it applies to people who think God actually prefers sacrifice. Mercy is grace, lovingkindness, joyful love. These are the people who think they need to give more to missions because they think God will be more pleased with them if they have less to spend on themselves. These are the people who volunteer to lead various ministries because they think God will be pleased with their sacrifice of time and energy. We even use the phrase "labor of love" sometimes to describe people who do jobs that they would really rather not do. Of course sometimes we have a duty that we must perform (obedience), and we need to pray for the grace to do it well, do it cheerfully. But if you're heading up the Sunday School program because it's just the right thing to do (*snarl*), and if you don't do it no one else will (*growl*), then you need to tender your cheerful resignation at the earliest opportunity.

6. Do these brothers adequately account for the faithful and radical sacrifice that occurs daily in godly, Christian families? I described this to a friend recently as something of an individualistic streak in some of these conversations which (ironically) are concerned with unity and love in the body of Christ. For example, I was watching a video clip the other day of an interview with Shane Claiborne who was describing his life in the inner city living in a communal house with all sorts of different people from different backgrounds with different priorities, and he was describing the blessing of sanctification that occurs in that context. But then it dawned on me that I experience something very similar to what he's talking about every day. There are four (soon to be five!) other people living in my house with me, and they are all very different from me. Another way of getting at this is pointing out that a faithful, sacrificial disciple of Christ may be giving a good bit of his income away by providing a Christian education for his kids, not to mention food and clothing and a warm house.

Now I fully grant that some Christians hide behind these clarifying statements. Some Christians refuse to take up their crosses to follow Jesus, and they make excuses about their comfort, about what is reasonable, and how they could never do something like that. And Jesus says that such cowardice will be judged. Jesus didn't call us to comfort; He called us to resurrection life. He didn't call us to a comfortable middle class lifestyle; He called us to give up our lives for the sake of the gospel.

But the point here is simply that some people run away from their duties to their families in the name of discipleship and missions. But when the Spirit is at work, when the George Muellers and Jim Elliots and Dietrich Bonhoeffers of the world lay their lives down, it's still crazy and insane, but it's full of crazy love.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Sacramental Efficacy of Oral Sex

When it comes to dating/courting relationships, men and women ought to be high church sacramentalists. By this I mean, they must not believe the lie of the "mere memorialists" who claim that the meaning of the sacrament is only supplied by those who faithfully "remember" the death and resurrection of Christ for their sins. On this view, if a little kid thinks its only a snack in the middle of church, for them, it is only a snack in the middle of church. The efficacy of the sacrament is wholly dependent upon the active, conscious application of the sacrament by the person eating the bread and drinking the wine. And it's pretty much the same with the water of baptism. On this view, you need to clench your fists, hold your breath, and close your eyes tight and *really* believe while you get dunked in the tub or else you just got all wet in front of a bunch of people in church.

But our culture has imbibed this understanding of sacraments and applied it dutifully to all gestures and rituals. The world has taken notes from our play book and has faithfully applied our unbelief to symbols and sacraments in every area of life. And this shows up particularly strong in the physical, sexual realm. Holding hands, kissing, embracing, oral sex, intercourse, and everything in between is gesture and ritual and symbol and sacrament in human relations. And what the world wants you to believe is that it only means what you want it to mean. It only means what you think it means. It can be for you whatever you want it to be. If it only means "having a good time" or "a little fling" or "a committed, non-marital relationship" then that's all well and good.

And because we have this subjective, mere memorialist position on sex, it doesn't matter if you're having sex with your wife, "a committed partner," or your neighbor's Dachshund. It means whatever you want it to mean. It means whatever seems right to you.

But this is nonsense because God made the world, and the world is infused with His glory, His meaning, and this means that everything has an objective, God ordained significance and power. In other words, all of life is sacramental in this broad sense, and this means that kissing and oral sex have meaning apart from what is going on in the participants' minds. Just as Baptism and the Lord's Supper have objective meaning and significance apart from what people may or may not be thinking while celebrating the sacraments. The same thing applies to the Word of God read and preached. God's Word is God's Word whether you are listening or not, whether you are paying attention or not.

And these sacraments are powerful means of grace, power lines of the Spirit that are meant to communicate life and health and strength and mercy when received in faith. But when they are trifled with, when they are belittled, ignored, or abused, they short circuit and explode (to extend the analogy), and for this reason many have ended up sick, maimed, and dead (1 Cor. 11:27-30).

In other words, God's guidelines for life, for sexual morality, for marital faithfulness are not just random rules. His guidelines are not arbitrary. The reason why God wants His people to guard their sexuality is because it is holy and potent. It is holy because God's people are holy and the Spirit dwells in them (1 Cor. 6:18-19). The marriage bed is honorable, and we are to honor it and protect it from being defiled because it has the power to give life or destroy it (Heb. 13:4).

Obviously, this is an argument against fooling around before marriage, but more importantly, the point is to explain why physical affection is so potent and powerful. People who swing through relationships, sleeping with multiple sex partners are going to have some major scarring. You can't go through life sucking on electrical outlets and expect to have a beautiful face. But even the more commonly accepted "Christian" practice of randomly and casually kissing various people in dating or courting relationships is asking for trouble, playing with fire. Why? Because gestures and rituals are sacramental; because kissing has a deep meaning of committed love. Now, of course kissing someone and then deciding they are not "the one" for you is way different than sleeping with them. I've touched live wires in my house on occasion, and that sharp vibration is a lot smaller than the electrical explosions that sometimes blow peoples' bodies apart. I'm not trying to equate kissing and sex. But kissing is sexual, and so is holding hands and embracing. And just to fend off the accusations, this isn't an argument against holding hands or kissing before marriage.

The point is that we should want our actions to match reality. We want our actions (and what they mean) to be consistent with what we mean. We want outlets that can handle the voltage. If she is a Christian sister who you might want to marry, there are signs and symbols for interest and care and low level affection. This might be brief hugs, sitting close to one another, perhaps holding hands. If you mean, I love you and I want you to be my wife, then there are physical signs and symbols for that reality. This might be kissing and embracing. And when you say "I do," and she is your wife, then there are signs and symbols for *that* reality. And in the context of Christian marriage, God expects His people to get naked and have a good time.

And I know couples who have courted for a few weeks and then got married, and I've known others that stretched it out over a year or two. But this requires some wisdom in pacing the momentum of the relationship. There's no biblically mandated time period for dating and marriage, but it is biblically mandated that we honor the marriage bed and that means honoring the highly charged sexuality of male/female relationships. If the marriage bed has an objective, sacramental meaning, then so do all the steps we take to get there. Foreplay is a liturgy that is going somewhere and it means that.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

The God of No Shortages

As we have meditated this morning on Isaiah’s prophecy, we have noted the sacrificial and priestly themes in the text. When God strips Zion bare, He removes her skin, washes her, sprinkles blood, and then lights her on fire with the glory of the Spirit. These are the actions of the priest in offering a sacrifice. God is promising to turn Israel into a living sacrifice, and as we have just noted, this is what happens at Pentecost. In Romans 12, Paul famously says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” And I want to point out two things: First, notice that Paul beseeches the Romans by the mercies of God. The word here for mercies is “oiktirmos” which means compassion, mercy, or pity, but the “oik” prefix is usually found on words that have to do with a house or a household. The word for house is “oikos.” Perhaps another way to translate this would be “provision” or “storehouse.” Paul exhorts the Romans to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice because of, or on the basis of God’s great provisions for them. He will go on to exhort them to love one another, to use their various gifts in the body, to show hospitality, to bless those who persecute them, and to feed their enemies when they are hungry. The basis for living sacrificially is the provision of God, the storehouse of God’s mercy. In God’s house, there are no shortages. But secondly, notice that Paul urges them to offer their bodies (plural) as a living sacrifice (singular). And it is evident that this is on purpose since Paul goes on to say that although there are many members in the one body, we being many are one body, and individually members of one another. And this begins to explain how it is not insane to live with sacrificial abandon. It is because we are part of a family, a house over which God rules, in which the Spirit works His gifts and mercies according to His wisdom. And the source of this grace and mercy, the one sacrifice in which all are made one, is this meal, our crucified King, our Savior, our Lord, our Husband. This meal means not only that your sins are forgiven, but that you are part of a family, a house, and the Lord of this house is the King of the world and all that we need is ours through Him. So as you offer the bread and wine to one another, consider the bread and the wine our salvation in Christ, but also consider how that salvation is mediated through the Church, through the body of Christ. Consider these gifts of bread and wine to prefigure the gifts that you are going to give one another at Christmas, the bills you might help one another pay when things are hard, the countless ways we must give to one another in this family, in this house, so that we can be the provisions of God to and for another, so that we might all together and with all the saints become that one living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God in Christ. And this means joyful generosity overflowing in love. So come to the feast.

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Joyful and Sober

Advent is a season full of joyful expectation, but it is also a season of sober preparation. And we really do need to work hard at holding these two things together. Our two greatest dangers are either going along with the cultural flow of shopping and parties and excitement, which when done rightly is basically jumping up and down on the joyful expectation side of things. And this can be wonderful and good. But our other danger is overreacting to imbalance in this area, and veering off into gloomy, cranky austerity, sneering and humbugging all the overindulgence and joyfoppery. But Advent is a season of joyful expectation and sober preparation. It should be joyful and sobering to consider the coming of our King.

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast in which a King invites his friends to the wedding of his son. Many of the intended guests spurn the invitation and kill the servants delivering the invitations, so they are destroyed and the invitation goes out to the highways and all are invited, good and bad alike until the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king comes to see the guests he found a man who did not have a wedding garment on, and the king had his servants bind the man and cast him out into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. This parable comes just shortly after the parable of the two sons, in which the first son said that he would not obey his father but later went and obeyed, while the second son said he would obey but then did not.

Jesus’ parables are warnings in two different directions. He warns against those who are disobedient and in high handed rebellion, those who refuse His commands, those who reject Him openly and explicitly, but Jesus is also warning against those who say they will obey, who say they will come to the wedding, but who then in fact do not obey, who do not prepare for the wedding. This is the second Sunday in Advent, but every Sunday is an Advent Sunday. Every Sunday the King comes to see the wedding guests. And ultimately every one of us will meet the King face to face.

And this is the point: Do not use Advent to merely get ready for Christmas. Use Advent as a time to prepare to meet your King. None of us knows the day or hour when we will meet Him. Our lives are frail and fragile, and our God holds the breath of every living creature in His wise hands. Whether Christ returns or we are taken from this life to be with Christ, we will appear before the King. The King will come, and every one of us will stand before Him and give an account for our lives. Are you clinging to Christ? Are all your hopes bound up in Him? Have you already died, and is your life hidden with God in Christ? Then by the grace of God, to live is Christ and to die is gain, and this is cause for joyful expectation.

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Jude Carnahan

“And it shall come to pass that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy – everyone who is recorded among the living in Jerusalem. When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning, then the Lord will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering.” (Is. 3:3-5)

Pastor Leithart has already described how God is coming to strip away all the pseudo-priestly ornaments and costumes of idolatrous Israel, and the result is that they will be restored to holiness, washed clean, sprinkled with blood, and the Spirit will hover over them in the cloud and the fire. This is all priestly language: the sons of Aaron were set apart as holy to God, they were washed in water and blood was placed on their ears, thumbs, and big toes, and they were anointed with oil that made them glow like the fire of the Spirit. In other words, God is planning to judge Israel, and in the judgment He will restore them, He will remake them and re-establish them as a true priesthood.

And we see that this is exactly what happens at Pentecost. At Pentecost the Spirit is poured out on the apostles who have been washed in baptism and cleansed by faith in the blood of Christ, and then flames of fire appear over them. They become priests, anointed by the oil of the Spirit, living sacrifices for the world. And this is described in short hand by Peter when the crowds ask, ‘What shall we do?’ And Peter says, “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39). What Isaiah promised began to occur at Pentecost, and it continues to happen at every baptism.

It’s no accident that in the early church, baptisms were frequently performed with the person stripping completely naked before being sprinkled with water. Just as Isaiah foretold, God strips us bare and then invites us to be washed and cleansed and purged and then anoints us with His Spirit, and His Spirit is our covering. But this should also remind us of the Garden of Eden. When God strips us bare and calls us holy and cleanses us and covers us with the glory of His Spirit, this means that we are being ushered back into the Garden of Eden. We are laid bare before God, and we are unashamed because His Glory-Spirit is our covering. The righteousness of Christ is our clothing.

But we quickly over-spiritualize this frequently, and we forget Christ’s very concrete commands about trusting God to provide for all of our needs. Being a priest in the Old Covenant meant that you had no inheritance in the Promised Land. The tabernacle and the worship of God was the provision of the Levites, it was their inheritance. In the Garden of Eden, it was the same: to be under the covering of the Glory-Spirit is for God to be our Husband, the one who provides our food and clothing. To be anointed as priests in the New Covenant is to be married to God, who promises to cover us, to provide for all our needs, He promises to be our inheritance.

Today, Jude is being ordained into this priesthood. He is being stripped bare of all the accoutrements of the world, all the ways in which Mammon seeks to provide for us, like a sleazy man trying to woo us away from our husband. Today, Jude is joined to the Bride and married to Christ, and this means that God promises to cover Jude with His Glory-Spirit. God promises to provide for Jude and protect Him. But this provision and protection is not a bare minimum. God does not promise to get Jude by. He promises a rich inheritance, the inheritance of Eden, the inheritance of a thousand Promised Lands, all the riches of the world and more. But if this is true, then Jude and every baptized Christian is called to live generously and frivolously. Your Father in heaven owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and He will never run out.

So Ben and Abra as you raise your son, teach him not to worry about what he will eat or wear. Teach him instead that he is a priest, an Adam in a garden full of food and the Spirit is His clothing, His covering. Teach him and model for him how to live like this is true: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, befriend the lonely, give yourselves away to one another and to those around you, and teach him to do the same because he has an inheritance that will never run out, grace that will never dry up.

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My Brothers

This is a short clip my brother Andy filmed and edited and submitted to a film fest, starring my youngest brother, Jeremy.

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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Cute Piggy Banks

Saving for retirement, saving up an inheritance for our grandchildren, saving up for the disaster that might hit is like little kids putting their nickels and dimes and pennies in a piggy bank. This is good practice; there is wisdom here (Pr. 13:22). But it's also kind of cute because we have a Father in heaven who provides us with all that we need (Mt. 6:25-34).

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Glory and Provision

One other thought on the Spirit as a glory and covering:

In both Genesis and in Isaiah, at least part of the point has to do with provision and protection. A husband provides for his bride, and this is exactly what Yahweh did in the Garden of Eden and what Yahweh promises to do for His people in Isaiah. He insists upon being the one who clothes them and feeds them. That is the sign that He is in fact their Husband. Feeding themselves and clothing themselves or allowing others to feed and clothe them are acts of infidelity and adultery.

And surely this is what Jesus has in mind when He urges His disciples not to worry about what they will eat or drink or what they will wear (Mt. 6:25). When Jesus says that we cannot serve two masters/lords, perhaps another fitting translation would be no one can serve two "husbands." No bride can have two husbands; you cannot be married to both God and mammon.

Therefore, Jesus say, if God is your husband/lord/master, then trust Him to provide for all of your needs. Be a faithful bride, and do not worry, do not fear. God has the entire world at His disposal; He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He still has all of the treasures of Eden at His fingertips. His provision and abundance is His glory to cover us with.

It is His glory to multiply our flour and oil, to multiply the loaves and the fish, to pay our bills, to provide for all our needs according to His riches in glory.

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Bridal Glory

I see that Peter Leithart has also commented on this "covering" language, and He noted that it can also refer to bridal chambers (cf. Ps. 19:6, Joel 2:16).

And this fits with the Edenic imagery. Eden was the original trysting place, where God was married to His people, where the bride was naked and unashamed, and where Yahweh covered His bride with His glory.

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Covering for Shame or Glory

In Isaiah 3:16-4:6, Yahweh says that He will strip the daughters of Zion bare, but then in their nakedness, He says that they will be beautiful fruit (4:2), holy (4:3), cleansed/purged (4:3), and glorious (4:4). And over all the glory will be a "covering," a "tabernacle," a place of refuge from the sun and the rain (4:5-6).

For Israel to be stripped bare is for Israel to be returned to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed and where they had free access to God. In that state, God's own glory and Spirit was the "covering" for Adam and Eve.

But after Adam and Eve sin they see their own nakedness and are ashamed. So they sew fig leaves together to cover their nakedness, but later God provides clothes for them. God wanted to be their covering; He wanted His glory to be their shelter. He gave them food and shelter in the garden, but they rebelled and sought to clothe themselves and feed themselves. They sought their own food and glory. This, Isaiah says, will still be the instinct of some even after Yahweh has stripped the daughters of Zion bare. They will plead with a man to give them his name but they will insist upon providing their own food and clothing (Is. 4:1).
Type your summary here
While it's not the same word for "covering" in Genesis, the word is used in a few contexts that are similar. David flees Jerusalem in shame, "covering" his head and crying (2 Sam. 15:30). Haman's head is "covered" in shame (Est. 6:12, 7:8). In Jeremiah people "cover" their heads in shame (14:3-4).

There will always be a covering, the question will always be which covering, whose glory will cover us? And in Isaiah, Yahweh says He will strip Jerusalem bare so that she might come back into the garden and be covered in the glory of the Spirit.

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Proverbs 30:13-15

Prov. 30:13 There is a generation -- oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up.

This proverb links to the previous one with the word “eyes.” “These generation” cannot see themselves, and therefore they cannot see others around them either. They cannot see the fact that they are covered in their own excrement, and this is because they are proud and greedy.

Here, the pride is underlined. As we have noted many times, eyes are the organs of judgment, and when people only do what is right in their own eyes, they set themselves up as the standard and the judge and are sure to quickly fall into folly. The reason people cannot see their own sins is frequently not because of pure ignorance but because of vigorous systems of self-justification, lowering the bar and reformulating the standards to make ourselves fit. We frequently do this through comparisons: well, I’m not as bad as so and so. But the standard is always Christ. The law is the law of love.

Jesus warns against “evil eyes” and “bad eyes” (Mt. 6:22-23, Mk. 7:22, Lk. 11:34) which according to the law is refusing to be generous to the poor (Dt. 15:9) and the flip side of this is greed (Prov. 28:22). The parable of the laborers in the vineyard uses this expression in the same way (Mt. 20:15). But the difference between good eyes and bad eyes is the difference between wisdom and folly (Eccl. 2:14).

Eyes can be lifted up to the Lord in faithfulness (Ps. 121:1, 123:1, Is. 40:26, etc.). But lifted up eyes are also idolatrous and this is connected with injustice and oppression of the poor (Ez. 18:6, 12, 15, 23:27, 33:25). This contrast suggests some sense of dependence, hope, refuge sought in wherever the eyes are lifted toward. And anything other than God and His provision is clearly arrogant and proud.

But this also adds another dimension to the healing of blind eyes. To open eyes and restore sight is to restore the ability to see our own sin and poverty and the ability to see the needs around us. To open the eyes of the blind is to transform graspers into givers (Is. 42:7). When our eyes are lifted to the God of heaven, we see His provision and inheritance which is far more than we need and this makes us generous (Acts 28:16). But John says that greed and pride has a spiral effect: hating a brother is itself darkness and a blinding of the eyes (1 Jn. 2:11). And hatred is not merely active assault. Hatred is the lack of active love and mercy in actions and deeds and in truth (1 Jn. 2:16-18).

Prov. 30: 14 There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, and whose fangs are like knives, To devour the poor from off the earth, And the needy from among men.

And just in case we did not catch what Agur meant by “lifted up eyes,” it becomes more explicit in this next proverb where the oppression of the poor is central.

This proverb hinges on the main verb “devour/eat” which makes the swords and butcher knives more graphic. This generation feasts on the poor and the needy, and this generation chews them with their teeth and fangs. The language of cutting and chopping with fangs and teeth is beastly and savage. Literally, they consume the needy from Adam which underlines the image of God in these human beings. This generation devours the poor like beasts, but they are like predators of human beings. They are like beasts hunting and devouring people. In other words, the poor are more human than the rich and powerful (cf. Dt. 32:24).

We noted in back in 30:12 the sacrificial/ceremonial connotations of this generation considering themselves “pure.” They are covered in shit, but they think they are ceremonially clean and appropriate for worship. They justify themselves and lift up their eyes in prayer and worship, and here they are ironically offering sacrifice as well.

Throughout the sacrificial system, worship of Yahweh with sacrifice included meals, eating before God, and even the fire of the offering “consumes” the pieces of the animal symbolizing God’s own “consumption” of His people. But here, this arrogant generation is feasting on the poor and the needy. They are dismembering the poor and the needy and eating them up.

This is why David prays that God would break the teeth of the wicked (Ps. 3:7, 58:6), and this is why God broke Israel’s teeth in the exile, making her harmless to the poor and needy that she was devouring (Lam. 3:16). Micah suggests that when people are chewing up the poor, they do not do it with diabolical laughter, but they are frequently talking about peace and listening to the preachers and prophets (Mic. 3:5).

These generation’s greed and selfishness is aptly summarized by the following verse:

Prov. 30:15: The leech has two daughters – Give and Give!

The leech is a bloodsucker that is never satisfied. This is what “this generation” is like, and it flows out of the “three things that are never satisfied, four that never say ‘enough!’” Waltke says that this is probably a reference to the “horse leech” which has two sucking organs, one to attach itself to its host and the other to suck blood with. The leech is a parasite; it lives off the life of others. And this is exactly the opposite of love. This is hatred of neighbors, living without care or concern for how our actions may affect others.

This underlines the greed of the “this generation” again. And it may be more helpful to think of “this generation” as a culture, a culture that trusts the provision of Yahweh, or a culture that demands to be its own god, its own provider. Think of Israel in the wilderness. The beastly empires that Daniel seas in his vision have “huge iron teeth” to devour everything in their way (Dan. 7:5, 7, 19, cf. Joel 1:6). Thus, "generation" is not merely people born in particular century or decade, but in this context "generation" is a way of life, a culture, an empire.

This kind of arrogant greed starts with dishonoring parents because parents are one of God’s first provisions of us. Long before we "woke up" in this world, God was generously providing for all of our needs through our parents, but rejection of parents’ provision and wisdom occurs because of pride and selfishness, and this necessarily results in the oppression of the poor and defenseless.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Having Two Legs

Ok, one more:

“When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?”—G. K. Chesterton

Chesterton makes something of the same point from a different angle in his short novel Manalive, and now you know where the name of this blog comes from.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Grace before Everything

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”—G. K. Chesterton

HT: Justin Taylor @between2worlds

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Could You be Satisfied?

John Piper writes in God is the Gospel:

The critical question for our generation - and for every generation - is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?


[citied by Francis Chan in Crazy Love, 100-101]

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Advent Readings

A friend and fellow CREC pastor, Randy Booth, has put together a collection of daily scripture readings and devotionals for the season of Advent and the 12 days of Christmas. He is posting those daily over on his blog, and you can sign up to have them sent to you directly through email.

You can find the readings here.

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The Lord Fights for You

“Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” (Ex. 14:13-14)

This meal is a weekly reminder that God fights for you, but God not only fights for you. He wants you to let Him fight for you. Now of course God is sovereign and omnipotent, and He is not really bound by our stubborn resistance to His will. But there is a vast difference between the stiff necks of Israel in the wilderness and David, the Psalmist who learns to wait on the Lord. There is a difference between Peter lashing out wildly with a sword, cutting of the ear of the High Priest’s servant in complete panic and the simple, confident answers of our Lord while insults and lies are flying through the air like so many missiles. What is going on here? You are being fed with bread from heaven. You are being fed with heavenly food. God has prepared a table for you, in the midst of your enemies, in the wilderness, wherever. God has led you to this point. You are not here by accident. You are here because God has summonsed you here. And God calls you here as your King, and you are His armies, His hosts. This means that you are called to go out of here in a few minutes as God’s conquering army. This means evangelism, this means missions, this means carrying out your vocations with excellence and joy. This means loving your wife and doing everything you can to serve her. This means loving your husband and doing all that you can to serve him. This means loving your children, spending time with, playing with them, reading to them, wrestling with them. This means inviting your neighbors over for dinner. This means giving sacrificially of your time and resources. This means living like this world belongs to King Jesus. Because it does. That may all sound daunting. That may seem impossible. You may look up and only see enemies charging down at you, but the Word of the Lord is to stand still and hold your peace. This doesn’t mean stand still and be useless. This means relax and do your job. Quit panicking and acting like everything is going to fall apart any minute. You are at the table of the King of the Universe, and when He commissions His servants, He knows what He’s doing. He says hold your peace, trust Me. And in minute you’re going to taste His peace and swallow His peace, His shalom. And then you are called to walk in that peace. Because His peace is your shield, your high tower, your chariot, and He fights for you.

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God is not a Scrooge

As we consider the story of the Exodus and the highly ambiguous record of the Israelites in Egypt and even after coming out of Egypt, and God’s great acts of deliverance throughout the story, we can only conclude that we serve a God of overwhelming grace and mercy. We serve a God who loves to forgive, who loves to cleanse, who loves to heal, who loves to set free. If God is anything, He is the indulgent Grandfather, the dismissive Judge, the generous Fool. God is merciful and gracious and longsuffering and keeps mercy and forgives sins for thousands of generations; and He only remembers sins for 3 or 4 generations. He remembers mercy, He remembers forgiveness, He remembers grace, and God loves to forget about sin. He can only remember back a few minutes and everything else is love and grace and mercy. In 1 Jn. 1:9, the apostle famously reminds us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And I don’t think we usually hear carefully what John is saying that God does. John is not saying that as we confess our sins one by one, God will then forgive us our sins one by one, as though He has a ledger in heaven with all your sins listed and a box next to each one in which He checks off whenever you remember to confess one. God is not a Scrooge. God is not counting yours sins. God has no ledger. The promise from the apostle is that when we confess our sins, whatever ones we can remember, whatever ones the Spirit shows us, when we confess those, God washes us completely clean. He promises to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. When we confess our one or two or three sins, whether they are big or small or medium, God forgives us those and everything else. It’s like asking for three dollars off a billion dollar debt and having the whole thing cancelled. It’s as though we come to God having played out in a big mud puddle covered head to toe in filth and grime, and we ask God if He could please wash our hands, we think they might have gotten a little dirty, and God in His mercy, smiles and joyfully washes everything clean. But it’s even better than that. If anyone sins, the apostle says, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. Not only does He wash us clean, but God the Son is our constant representative in heaven. And that means that when God looks at your record, He only sees Jesus. He only sees the Righteous One, He only sees His Beloved Son crucified for sin. God only hears Jesus saying, he’s with me, she’s with me. They’re with me. And this means that we serve a God of overwhelming grace and mercy. We serve a God who loves to forgive, who looks for excuses to show mercy and grace. And this means that we must be this way with one another, with our children, and with our enemies.

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Exodus 14:1-31: Mighty Deeds for a Mighty God

Introduction
The crossing of the Red Sea is the climax of the Exodus from Egypt. It is the death and resurrection of Israel, the triumphant overthrow of all her enemies, and the revelation that Yahweh is God, and He fights for His people.

Yahweh’s Armies
Israel is going up out of Egypt in military formation, as the armies of Yahweh (12:37, 41, 51, 13:18). This means that Pharaoh’s “camp” is coming up against Yahweh’s “camp” (Ex. 14:19-20). It looks like Pharaoh’s 600 chariots are coming down on a defenseless refugee camp, but God thinks of it much differently: Israel is Yahweh’s victorious army (having just plundered the Egyptians), and now Yahweh is planning to ambush them and finish them off (14:3-4). It’s the Angel of God that is leading them; Yahweh is in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (13:21, 14:19). The cloud is shade in the hot, desert wilderness by day and warmth and protection by night. And this glory cloud is a shield for Israel (14:19-20).

It’s worth noting how many times the words chariots (12) and horsemen (7) appear in this story (in Ex. 14-15). Chariots were like the ancient world’s version of a tank. But God’s glory cloud is also associated with chariots in Scripture (Ez. 1, 10). Remember the horses and chariots of fire that take Elijah up into heaven (2 Kgs. 2:11) and the chariots that surround Elisha in the city when the Arameans attack (2 Kgs. 6:14-17, cf. 2 Kgs. 7:6). God is the chariot of Israel. It was the Angel of Yahweh who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and it is the Angel of the Lord who is associated elsewhere with the captain of Yahweh’s hosts (Josh. 5:13ff).

Not only is Israel Yahweh’s army, not only are His angels His army, but Yahweh is the hero of the army of Israel and fights for them (14:14, 25). Even though Israel’s response is initially unbelief and fear (14:10-13), Yahweh chooses carefully which battles to lead his people into (13:17, 14:3-4). And God is setting an ambush for Pharaoh (14:3-4, 17-18). Psalm 77 describes Yahweh’s glory cloud as a mighty thunderstorm (77:16-20), and Moses says that God took off their chariot wheels (14:24-25). And this is how the Lord overthrew the entire Egyptian army (14:27-28) and saved Israel (14:29-31).

God Chooses our Battles
God always chooses our battles. Sometimes this is plain and obvious with severe sickness or disease, and sometimes it is less obvious with making plans for the future. As much as possible, we should make sure that this is where God wants us, and then we should dig in with faith.

The Lord Fights for You
It would not have been more faithful for one of the Israelites to charge the Egyptian chariots with a pitchfork. Faith means watching God fight for us, and it means watching God fight for us when it looks like He might not. And our nation does not know how to do this because we have not shown them.

Mighty Deeds for a Mighty God
TRC exists as a collection of sinner-saints in Moscow, Idaho who have been delivered from bondage to sin, death, and Satan and brought out through the waters of baptism into the freedom of the Triune God in His body, the Church (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-7, Col. 2:8-16). The God who saved Israel in the first Exodus is the same God who raised Jesus from the dead in the second Exodus, and when Jesus sends us to serve and love the city of Moscow, He does so as the commander of the armies of God. He sends us with His full authority and power (Mt. 28:18-20). Our job is to see the mighty works, fear the God of heaven, and believe Him and His Word (Ex. 14:31).

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Top Five Reasons I Can't Get into Chuck

At the recommendation of several friends, I have watched half of the first season of the hit television sitcom Chuck, starring Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski.

Now I certainly grant at least two possibilities that might undermine what follows. Those two possibilities are: 1. My sample size is much too small and creates an inaccurate picture of the series as a whole. 2. I'm just getting old and cranky.

But I just can't get into Chuck, and in fact, thus far, all I can do is cheerfully object to it's popularity. And here are my top five reasons:

5. It's annoying not to know what general genre of television sitcom I am in. Is this a comedy, an action thriller, a soap opera, a mystery, or what? Do I take you seriously when you say there is a bomb or are you going to make a joke about it and take off all your clothes in order to change before going back to your hot dog stand? Was I supposed to care?

4. There are two reasons for doing a little bit of everything (comedy, romance, action-adventure-mystery, documentary): one reason is that you have a good story to tell, and good stories do frequently include elements of every genre. Another reason is that you don't have a good story to tell and you are trying to cover that up with explosions and undressing women and cheap one-liners. As you can tell, I tend to feel that there is more of the latter going on than the former.

3. I resent shows that try to manipulate me. I want a good story, character development, intelligent humor, whatever to win me, but I do not like feeling manipulated. And I feel utterly manipulated when I watch Chuck. Some goofy jokes, a few explosions, a little hand to hand combat, sexy ninja girls fighting each other and fending off the bad guys, a little bit of romantic suspense to up the sexual frustration of the hero, and viola, you have Chuck. There are hooks for everyone. But I don't feel the love, I feel used.

2. And this leads more specifically to a particularly annoying manipulation ploy. I understand that living in modern day America there will be a certain amount of skin that just comes with the territory. And I have no patience for the prudish fanaticism of some who would prefer all women to go around in burlap sacks. But there is a big difference between a bit of Jane Austen cleavage and the moving scenery down at Hooters. Faithful guys rule their minds and eyes, give God thanks for beautiful women, love their wives, and spend goodish amounts of time counting clouds, looking at the ground or finding nondescript bits of the forehead to talk to. It's what good guys do, and it's cool. Even though we could wish for a safer world, we're guys and we fight dragons. But I just can't get into a show trying to cross Jack Bauer with Baywatch. And frankly, I wonder how many Christian husbands are getting little, subtle jollies from the spectacle, while insisting all along that it's just a funny-suspense-action-adventure-fantasy-scifi-thriller-drama-documentary-horror-comedy show.

1. OK, so really most of these objections blur together, and this is probably a summary statement more than anything, but the number one reason why I just can't get into Chuck is because I don't believe in Chuck. I don't believe the characters; I don't believe they really care. I don't believe the world they're in. Now, don't get me wrong, I realize that there is a fantasy/scifi element to the story. The title character Chuck has a microchip thingy in his brain that is filled with all the CIA records and when he sees certain people or objects it causes him to "flash" through all the archives and help the two *real* CIA agents solve the mysteries. Maybe that's even a cool idea for a show. But I don't believe the writers of the show are really intelligent enough to make that story fly. I suspect that they have had a few good ideas that they are now busy trying to decorate and repackage a few hundred times with short skirts and explosions and one-liners.

Again, I fully admit that this analysis may be severely inadequate given my limited sampling of the show. In fact, given the show's popularity, I hope I'm wrong. But at this point I don't plan to keep watching. I admit that I have laughed a number of times at some of the antics that take place between Chuck and his short, oblivious, sex infatuated co-worker, Morgan. But where a few points are scored with the humor, I'm unable to care or believe the rest of the story going on. And when the producers quickly flash to another female chest after a particularly choppy bit of dialogue, I can only feel manipulated, conned, and consequently nonplussed.

For all their weaknesses, I'm still more impressed with The Office and The Simpsons.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Porn as a Public Health Menace

Here are a couple of articles from last spring collaborating with a recent report from the Witherspoon Institute's recent study on the social effects of pornography.

An anonymous woman writes about her own experience in the National Review Online:

"Imagine a drug so powerful it can destroy a family simply by distorting a man’s perception of his wife. Picture an addiction so lethal it has the potential to render an entire generation incapable of forming lasting marriages and so widespread that it produces more annual revenue — $97 billion worldwide in 2006 — than all of the leading technology companies combined. Consider a narcotic so insidious that it evades serious scientific study and legislative action for decades, thriving instead under the ever-expanding banner of the First Amendment."


You can read the rest of her piece here.

While she will conclude with suggestions for government studies and health care provisions for this "drug abuse," which I'm skeptical of, the overall thrust is a broad ranging acknowledgment of what the Bible has said all along.

You can't have a society of men acting like beasts and that not have enormous ramifications for the society. Proverbs says that lusting after the seductress reduces a man to a crust of bread, it burns him, and it will ultimately kill him.

"Do not lust after the her beauty in your heart, nor let her allure you with her eyelids. For by means of a harlot a man is reduced to a crust of bread; and an adulteress will prey upon his precious life. Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot colas, and his feet not be seared?" (Prov. 6:25-28)

"Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths; for she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death." (Prov. 7:25-27)

Katherine Kersten also has an article summarizing a number of the broad effects of porn on our society:

"Pornography is seeping into our society at every level. It plays a role in many divorces, according to a recent survey of family lawyers. It has spilled into popular culture through songs, movies and music videos. The number of TV sex scenes nearly doubled between 1998 and 2005. Porn may even have influenced rogue American soldiers' abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The acts they perpetrated included weird elements of sexual humiliation."


You can read the rest of her article here.

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Women of the Reformation or Here's Hoping My Wife Will Open a Brewery

There's a cool post here on some of the influential women of the Reformation including this on Katherine von Bora, Martin Luther's wife:

Katherine von Bora was a former nun who married Martin Luther. They were married for 21 years and had six children. Her quick tongue, humor, and stubbornness matched Martin’s—no small feat. She managed their home (which was frequently full of students), had a large garden and livestock, fished and farmed, and ran a brewery. She also managed their money and took care of their extended household. Martin called her “My Lord Katie.”


You can read the rest here.

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Slavery breeds Captivity

Michael Walzer again:

While Israel entered the promised land, much of their experience in that land was a return to Egypt. Walzer explains: "So the land of Canaan did not exactly flow with milk and honey, but there was milk and honey and flesh to fill the pots. The extended meaning of the promise -- the end of oppression -- that was more problematic. Pharaoh reappeared in Moabite and Philistine form and then in Israelite form... The textual explanation for the new oppression is simple and straightforward: 'The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.'... The prophets make a larger argument: the oppression of Israelites by foreigners finds its deepest cause in the oppression of Israelites by one another. The argument is briefly and sharply put in the first chapter of Lamentations: 'Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude.' (1:3)

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Is it a sin to vote?

David Brewer, a justice of the US Supreme Court delivered a lecture to students at Yale University in 1902 which included this explanation of the sanctity of democracy in America:

"[The voting booth] is the temple of American institutions. No single tribe or family is chosen to watch the sacred fires... Each of us is a priest. To each is given the care of the ark of the covenant. Each one ministers at its altars."

(Cited by Michael Walzer in Exodus and Revolution, 113)

And if this religious fervor has done anything in the last century, it has only grown. Which means of course that conscientious Christians must be asking themselves, 'Which deity is being served at this temple?' And then very quickly after that, we ought to wonder if it is a sin to vote and if not yet, when?

What would it take to make casting a ballot in the general election on par with tossing a pinch of incense onto the altar before the emperor? At what point should Christians politely refuse to say the Pledge or sing the National Anthem or God Bless America at the ballgames?

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Christians, War, and Violence

In 1970, John Howard Yoder described the need for an open and vigorous discussion between the views he calls "chastened pacifism" and "chastened non-pacifism."

He describes "chastened pacifism" as a pacifism "which differs from the 'classical humanistic' pacifism... in its awareness of the problems of sin and the state." "Chastened non-pacifism" on the other hand is the "position of those Christian thinkers who, although they advocate, at least as a possibility, an eventual Christian participation in war, concede an element of truth in Christian pacifism." (14-15)

Yoder further summarizes Barth:

"Barth begins with a resounding insistence that there is no realm in which the Christian duty to return good for evil, to turn the other cheek, to go a second mile, does not apply... Both Jesus (Mt. 5:38-42) and Paul (1 Cor. 6; Rom. 12) speak of the conscious and intentional abandon of one's legitimate rights and of self out of love. Barth says, 'These Gospel words belong to those of which it is said that they shall not pass away. They express precisely not just a well-intentioned exaggeration of some sort of humaneness or a special rule for good and especially good Christians. They express rather the command of God which is relevant and binding for all men, in the basic sense of that command and in the sense which until further notice must be taken as final.' (CD 430)"

(Karl Barth and the Problem of War, John Howard Yoder, 33)

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David Hart on Tolkien and Politics

David Hart quotes from a letter Tolkien wrote to his son:


My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning the abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs)—or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate real of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could go back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so to refer to people. . . .


And Hart continues with similar sentiments:

If one were to devise a political system from scratch, knowing something of history and a great deal about human nature, the sort of person that one would chiefly want, if possible, to exclude from power would be the sort of person who most desires it, and who is most willing to make a great effort to acquire it. By all means, drag a reluctant Cincinnatus from his fields when the Volscians are at the gates, but then permit him to retreat again to his arable exile when the crisis has passed; for God’s sake, though, never surrender the fasces to anyone who eagerly reaches out his hand to take them.

Yet our system obliges us to elevate to office precisely those persons who have the ego-besotted effrontery to ask us to do so; it is rather like being compelled to cede the steering wheel to the drunkard in the back seat loudly proclaiming that he knows how to get us there in half the time. More to the point, since our perpetual electoral cycle is now largely a matter of product recognition, advertising, and marketing strategies, we must be content often to vote for persons willing to lie to us with some regularity or, if not that, at least to speak to us evasively and insincerely. In a better, purer world—the world that cannot be—ambition would be an absolute disqualification for political authority.


You can read the rest here.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Elfin Knight

The good folks over at Canon Press have published this new version of Book II of Edmund Spenser's Fairy Queen that I did some work on a few years ago.

Hopefully this will be a helpful aid for lots of folks. You can find a link to the book on the Canon Press website on the sidebar.

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Achan as a Type of the False Gosel

In responding to a question in the previous post on the word "anathema" it occurred to me that Paul may have the Jericho/Achan story in mind when he applies the word to those who preach a false gospel.

Three things:

1. As I note in my reply in the comments, the story is interesting for how the word "devoted" (anathema) is used. The city of Jericho is wholly devoted to the Lord (Josh. 6:17) which means it is to be utterly destroyed. However, the gold and silver and utensils are "devoted" to the Lord and this means that they are to be put into His treasury (Josh. 6:18-19). Of course Achan steals the "devoted" treasures and thus becomes "devoted" (Josh. 7:12-13), and he and his family are completely destroyed (like Jericho).

2. Given the fact that the word is not terribly common in the OT (used only 23 times) and it is used prominently in the story of Achan (eleven times in Joshua 6-7) and twice more in the OT to refer to Achan's sin (Josh. 22:20, 1 Chr. 2:7), it would not be difficult to hear the story of Achan in the word "anathema."

3. While it does seem to mean something like "cursed" in a more generic sense in some contexts in the NT, there may be some parallels between Galatians 1 and the Achan story that suggest Paul may have had this in mind. The "false gospel" being preached in Galatia is the Judaizing heresy, that Christians must become Jews, but Jesus has already declared the destruction of the temple, the complete destruction of Jerusalem. And God is building a new temple, a new Jerusalem out of His people where His Spirit now dwells. In this new temple, the people of God are the plunder, the devoted treasures that are to be taken into His treasury. But the Judaizers are trying to steal that plunder for themselves. They are acting like the original inhabitants of Jericho, defying the Lord God of Israel and greedily hording the treasures that rightfully belong to Jesus. Thus, Paul could see the preachers of this false gospel as acting like Achan, bringing sin into the camp, acting like the Jews/temple which are already "devoted" to destruction, and Paul therefore rightfully calls upon God to "devote" these false preachers to destruction. If they want to horde the people of God like the Jewish leaders, then they will be destroyed like the Jewish leaders.

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