Tuesday, August 31, 2010

CRF Talk: Dealing with Weirdos Or Unity and Diversity in the Body

One of the glorious facts about living in God’s world is that He likes it messy. He likes it complicated, complex, and hard to understand. God thinks that’s a good idea. And we know this because He invented the Church. Knowing how different we all are, knowing how weird we all are, and knowing that we are sinners and fools on top of that, He called us all together into the body of Christ. And He thought that was a good idea. But how do we begin to live faithfully in such challenging circumstances?

Loyalty & Thankfulness
First, you must know what kind of weirdo you are. What kind of weirdos do you come from? The difference between pride and double-mindedness is thankfulness. Pride and arrogance pretends to be a self-made god. The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. He is so humble it comes out the other side with a strange self-abasing pride. And this is why the difference is thankfulness. Thankfulness receives gifts without losing sight of the Giver. But thankfulness also instills loyalty. Friends and family give gifts. Pride (of both variations) can produce rivalry and envy, but thankfulness and love pours out. But thankfulness also protects the gifts and the relationship with the Giver. That thankfulness which protects is called loyalty, and it should be fierce. So who are you? What are the great gifts that God has poured on your head, through your family, your church family, your friends, your people?

What Kind of Weirdo Are You?
God pours out gifts, but He also (wisely) gives us challenges to overcome, battles to fight. Pride either ignores the challenges or pride allows challenges to swallow up the gifts. But thankfulness receives them all in faith and confidence. Augustine is remembered as saying, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” What are the essentials? Those doctrines and practices which are either explicitly required by Scripture or so implicitly required that without them, the Scriptures would be broken: The Trinity, Incarnation, Substitutionary Atonement, Authority of Scripture, Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, etc. What are non-essentials? Those doctrines and practices that are not explicitly required or forbidden in Scripture and which do not undermine those things which are essentials: Exact forms of worship, methods of evangelism, church polity, and country western music. And of course the messiest situations come when there is disagreement over whether something is “essential” or not. But we walk by faith, love the brothers, search the Scriptures, and look to Christ.

Tradition and Progress
Every generation faces the dual responsibility of honoring their parents and guarding the deposit handed down from them and the duty of obedience and growing in understanding and faithfulness. What is frequently missed is the fact the two are actually connected. The way to have a long life of blessing in the land is through honoring parents. This is the long, patient way of progress, but it’s also the successful way. Thankfulness for what has been given is the ground upon which you will be called to stand and begin building the next phase of the project. But without that scaffold, you will end up taking out a supporting wall that your dad built.

But What About Those Guys?
And if cross-generational relationships were not hard enough, we still have all of our peers both near and far who are different and weird. What about pastors who don’t wear clerical collars? What about guys who get tattoos? What about Baptists who don’t baptize babies? What about that girl with a nose stud? What about Presbyterians who won’t allow young children to partake of the Lord’s Supper? What about “passing the peace”? What about the sign of the cross? What about those guys with a rock band leading worship? What about those guys? Well, the answers to those questions will vary. This doesn’t mean that the answers don’t matter or that it’s all relative. But the way to the answer is found through the path of thankfulness. What kind of weirdo are you? What kind of weirdo is your dad? What are the gifts you have been given?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Living in community means that other families are necessarily different than yours. And God thinks that’s a good idea. He likes us being different from each other. But He wants us to love one another and honor one another. This can only happen through deep and abiding thankfulness, and this is thankfulness that destroys self-aggrandizing pride and self-deprecating pride. Thankfulness sees gifts, challenges, and the Good Giver and cheerfully gets to work.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Driscoll, Chan, and Harris

Here's an interesting conversation between Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, and Joshua Harris.

I think Mark Driscoll's questions are on the money, particularly his question at about the 8:50 mark, and the conversation that follows is the sort of conversation that many of us are having in various contexts.

HT: Justin Taylor


NSA Disputatio Exhortation: Proving Your Liberty: Just How Free Are You?

What is liberty? What is freedom?

First, we begin with the assertion that God is perfect freedom. Whatever freedom is, God is most supremely free. Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17).

We might be tempted to condense this talk into a sentence and just say be like God, be free. But what does it mean for God to be free? Was God ever enslaved? Is God’s freedom, merely His prerogative to do whatever He wants?

We frequently describe freedom in relative terms, greater or lesser degrees of freedom. But while this might seem sensible for describing humans, does that really makes sense when it comes to God?

We confess that God is infinite and eternal, and His wisdom and being is oceans deeper than our biggest and brightest thought about Him. Nevertheless, we have the Word of God, the Scriptures which tell us true information about our God. The Bible does not exhaust God’s pursuits, but it describes God truly. And what we find is a God who is strangely preoccupied with us.

Doesn’t God have something better to do? Doesn’t He get tired of our stupidity? Our shallowness? Our sin? Isn’t it annoying to hang out with finite, mortal beings?

But somehow it isn’t, and this is tied to the notion of freedom.

Martin Luther and a number of others noted during the Reformation that freedom is bound up with the notion of nature. A bird is free to fly, but a man is not (unless he invents an airplane). A fish is free to breathe underwater, but a man is not (unless he pipes oxygen down or crams it into steel bottle). And most importantly, a sinful man is not free to become righteous in any meaningful sense.

But before we go all moral and Calvinistic on this point, we should not leave the “nature” notion behind.

Absolute freedom means that God is not bound by nature; rather, His nature is boundless. His nature is one of infinite possibilities.

But infinite, eternal possibility always requires at least one characteristic to have any meaning: It must be alive. Infinite, eternal possibility means infinite, eternal life that constantly overflows and spills out to new horizons, new glory.

This means that if we are to speak of “boundaries” or “limits” to God’s nature in any sense, we merely mean that He is bound to be alive.

How does God use His freedom?

He creates. God is not bound by His deity or infinity from creating a finite world to relate to. He is free to remain both transcendent over and above it and yet He may also freely penetrate and fill it with His presence, and free to interact with it as He pleases.

He saves and delivers. “The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises those who are bowed down…” (Psalms)

The Exodus is the great slavery to freedom story. But the trajectory is not freedom from Pharaoh in order to party at the golden calf. Their “Yahweh worldview” did not absolve them from guilt. It just made their rebellion more awful. But the freedom that Yahweh tried to bestow upon Israel was the freedom of sons, serving in His house (the tabernacle). But was Israel ever really ever “free” (Ps. 95)?

Supremely, Jesus is the revelation of the freedom of God. Jesus is the freedom of God in the incarnation. Skeptics wonder how God can become a man. Is that possible? But this is a question of freedom. Is God free to overcome that barrier between Creator and creature? Is God free to enter His creation and become a person within the human race He made?

But more than that, Jesus’ ministry is a ministry of freedom: "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD." Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Jesus’ death is the supreme demonstration of His freedom. The freedom of God is seen in His overcoming every between Him and life, between others and His life. Creation, rescue, incarnation, and ultimately death and resurrection are the grand displays of God’s freedom, His boundless love and life that constantly overflows. God’s freedom is His unexplainable persistence in pursuing us. Mere humans in all our frailty and mortality and finitude, and then mere humans in all of our wretched sin and folly. And God’s freedom is His persistent, patient love by which He pursues His people again and again and again. God is free to come for His people because He has chosen us in His love and mercy.

We know from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that the Spirit of the Lord is the Spirit of liberty (2 Cor. 3:17). Where the Spirit is, there is liberty. Christ has been given the Spirit to overcome every barrier, everything that holds us back from His life and fellowship.

Freedom breaks boundaries and bridges every distance for the sake of righteousness and life. The Jerusalem above is “free” which is the mother of us all, and this means that the barren rejoice because they have mothers (Gal. 4:26-27). And we are children of the free woman (Gal. 4:31). Therefore stand fast in the freedom by which Christ has made us free (Gal. 5:1).

Conclusions & Applications
Freedom is alive, and it creates, heals, saves, and redeems. And Jesus came to bestow this freedom upon us so that we might use it and exercise it for the blessing and salvation of others.

“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, 'You will be made free'?" Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. "And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (Jn. 8:31-36)

We have been raised from the dead with Christ and freed from all sin (Rom. 6). Liberty is not for the flesh; liberty is for love and service (Gal. 5:13). And this is why James calls the law the “perfect law of liberty” (Js. 1:25, 2:12). Likewise, Peter exhorts his audience to use their liberty as slaves of God to honor all people, love the brothers, and display the fear of God (1 Pet. 2:16-17). In his second letter, Peter warns against being entangled and enslaved again by the pollutions of this world after being set free from the bondage of sin (2 Pet. 2:19-20).


1. Use your freedom to honor your mother and father. Your parents were set free from bondage and slavery to sin, and you honor them by loving that freedom. Freedom overcome distance and every barrier to communion. How free are you? How can you honor your mother and father?

2. Use your freedom to honor the fathers and mothers of this community. This includes pastors, elders, teachers, older men and women, grandparents. Honor is not merely the lack of disrespect. Honor bestows, honor piles up, honor looks for ways to speak highly of them. How free are you?

3. Freedom from Egypt doesn’t mean playing video games, drinking beer, and smoking cigarettes. Freedom from Egypt doesn’t mean spending all your time sizing up the members of the opposite sex.

4. Use your freedom to give life, to encourage, to build up, to serve, to die. Look for a barrier, a distance that needs bridging and prove your freedom. You have particular gifts as members of the body of Christ, particular talents. Do not bury them, do not short change the rest of the body by staying up late watching stupid movies.

How free are you? Prove it.


This Meal Means You Are Needed

One of the glorious transitions from the Old to New Covenant is the pouring out of the Spirit on all of God’s people, anointing all of God’s people as priests and kings and prophets in Jesus Christ. While access to the presence of God was strictly guarded in the Old Covenant and only certain people had limited access on various occasions, in the New Covenant, all those who have been anointed in the waters of baptism and walk in obedience to the call of Jesus, all of you are called into the presence of God. And here you are welcome to sit in His presence to hear His Word to you, to respond in thankful hymns as well as petitions and prayers, and finally to sit here to share a meal in His presence.

But this means that by sharing in this meal week after week, we are confessing to God and one another that all of us are ministers in this house. All of us are priests in this temple. Paul uses the image of a body: we are all members of the same body, and the body needs all of the members to function properly. By sharing this meal every Lord’s Day, we confess that we are all in this together and that we need one another. The Spirit has been poured on all of you with particular gifts, strengths, talents, and this meal is regular reminder to use them. And this means that if you have particular interests, gifts, concerns, in so far as they are for the edification and building up of the body, you are called upon to use them, do them. Pastors and Elders and Deacons are a few of many of the gifts in the body, but the Body doesn’t run on just those three gifts.

The wonderful thing is that many of you are constantly seeing opportunities for hospitality, service, and ministry, and you jump in faithfully, and so this is just an encouragement to do so more and more. And this meal is not only your authorization to use your gifts in the body of Christ, but here Christ promises to nourish you by the working of the Spirit, perfecting your gifts, strengthening you for ministry, equipping you to love your little ones, honor and bless one another, and look for those who are hurting and needy to befriend and care for. This meal is for the kings and priests and prophets of the Triune God; you are those kings and priests and prophets. You belong here. You are loved, and you are needed. So come and give thanks.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

No Salvation Apart from Others

Love your neighbor as yourself. Bless those who persecute you. Do good to all men. Be hospitable. Be kind and compassionate. These are all well known commands that describe our duty toward others, all applications of the command to love our neighbors. But what we sometimes miss is how tightly God considers our love and treatment of others with our love and treatment of Him. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God who he has not seen?” In other words, our salvation is not reducible to a mere snap shot of “me and God.” Of course, there must be a “me and God,” but that salvation necessarily always includes others. But these Scriptures require us to say this stronger. It is not merely that as a Christian you must be nice to other people, as though salvation were a float in a parade on its way to heaven, and loving your neighbor meant waving and smiling all the way down the street. No, Jesus says that He is bound so closely to His own people and to all those who suffer injustice and oppression, that when we neglect them, we have neglected Him. When Saul is confronted on the road to Damascus, Jesus demands to know why Saul is persecuting Him. True religion, James says, is caring for orphans and widows in their distress. In other words, God has determined not to be God without us. God has determined to be God with us and God for us. And if we have joined this God and His mission for this world, this means that there is no salvation for us apart from the salvation of those around us. Of course some will reject the gospel, but Jesus requires us to live as though our own salvation depended on the salvation of everyone around us. It is terrifyingly easy to turn this into some kind of merit mongering, like inviting friends to sign up for some service so that you can get kickbacks and rewards on your membership. But that’s not the only option. The other option is the way of love. You have been loved, you have been forgiven, you have been shown mercy, and when that reality pours down over us, how can we not overflow in grateful love, forgiveness, and mercy.


Faith, Dads, and Children

Some thoughts on parenting over at Credenda (and hopefully some encouragement):

Faith, Dads, and Children


Monday, August 23, 2010

Gold receiving Gold

Guroian citing Chrysostom again:

"How do they become one flesh? As if she were gold receiving purest gold, the woman receives the man's seed with rich pleasure, and within her it is nourished, cherished, and refined. It is mingled with her own substance and she then returns it as a child!"


Portraits of the King

Vigen Guroian cites John Chrysostom on parenting:

"Let us bring them [our children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Great will be the reward in store for us, for if artists who make statues and paint portraits of kings are held in high esteem, will not God bless ten thousand times more those who reveal and beautify His royal image (for man is the image of God)? When we teach our children to be good, to be gentle, to be forgiving (all these are attributes of God), to be generous, to love their fellow men, to regard this present age as nothing, we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them."


Mark 3: From the House of Bondage to the House of God

Jesus ministry is focused on rebuilding the house of Israel. And this project is bringing the history of Israel to a radical head. Faithful Israel must follow Jesus as their Bridegroom (2:19) or else be swept away like the temple so many years before.

A Withered Hand
1 Kings 13 records the story of King Jereboam’s withered hand. If the stories are parallels, the presence of a man with a withered hand is an indication of not only uncleanness and deformity in Israel but also of grave liturgical error and compromise (cf. Jeroboam). The synagogue has become a house of demons (1:23, 39) and therefore the rulers of the synagogues are inviting them by their actions. This is proven by their hypocrisy: Jesus asks whether it is right to do good or evil, save life or kill (3:4). And their responses (silence and plotting to destroy Him) indicate that they prefer the latter options (3:6). In this sense, they are far worse than Jeroboam. Given this answer and what follows we can liken this old Israel to Pharaoh and Egypt; it has become a “house of bondage.”

From the Sea to the Mountain to the House
The word translated “withdrew” would probably be better translated “fled” (3:7). Notice the geography of this flight: to the sea, where he is nearly crowed into the sea (3:7, 9), and then to the mountain where the twelve are appointed (3:13-14) and finally into a house (3:19). This should remind us of the Exodus where Israel went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, fleeing from Pharaoh and his armies to the sea. After crossing the Red Sea, Moses leads the people to Mt. Sinai where God claims the twelve tribes of Israel as his own and gives them instructions for how they are to live (Ex. 19-24) and how to build and keep His house (Ex. 25-40). Jesus is reconstituting Israel, remaking His special people.

The scribes who accuse Jesus, assert that He has “Beelzebub” or “Beelzebul” explaining that he is “the ruler of the demons.” (3:22). If there is a connection or perhaps an allusion or pun on “Beelzebub” then we’re being invited to remember the god of Ekron in 2 Kings 1, where Ahaziah rejected the prophet of Yahweh (Elijah) in favor of another god and is judged severely. His punishment for Baal worship is also a greater judgment on the idolatry of the house of Ahab. Baal-zebub means “lord of the flies.” Beelzebul, however would translate as “lord of loftiness” or “lord of an exalted dwelling” related to the name of Leah’s sixth son to Jacob, Zebulun (Gen. 30:20, cf. Ps. 49:15, Is. 63:15). Regardless, we know this accusation is false because at Christ’s baptism he received the Holy Spirit. But furthermore, with a little help from Luke’s version of this parable (Lk. 11:21-22), we know that the one who binds the strong man must be stronger (cf. Mk. 1:7). Jesus is the one who has entered the strong man’s house and bound him (1:13). Jesus’ ministry of casting out demons is his plundering of the strongman’s house (Israel/Egypt).

A Divided House
The last fifteen verses form what is sometimes called a “sandwich story”. “His own people” (v. 21) and “His brothers and His mother” (v. 31ff) appear to be the same people. At the center of the story of Jesus’ family is a parable about the family of Israel. But if it is wrong to assert that Jesus is dividing the family of Israel, he is at least plundering it (3:27). And this gives some explanation of Jesus’ reaction to His family. He is founding a new family, a family that is tighter than blood. We have already seen this displayed briefly in the fact that Jesus has been going around asking people to follow him. He’s playing the part of a father, giving new occupations (1:17) and giving new names (3:16-18).

Conclusions & Applications
If Jesus came to bring Israel out of bondage, leading them to a new mountain and to a new house, it can be no surprise that this same pattern holds as the gospel progresses in history. The family of God supersedes the family of Adam, and every house will be plundered. The only question is whether you will be a willing house or not. The history of Israel is the story of the failure of the family. Blood is the problem. But in Jesus Christ, the bloodguilt has been paid. This is your family here, and only here are families put back together.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Proverbs 29:11-13

“A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.”
This proverb can be illustrated by its six word structure:

All of his wind
Goes out
A fool
A wise one
Stills it

The “it” suffix of the final word is feminine singular and refers back to “wind.” Thus, the proverb begins with wind blowing – a storm. And the proverb ends with the storm being stilled.

All of the wind goes out of a fool. Like the “scoffer” who blows on his city (29:8), the fool blows wind as well. This is one of the ways a wise man turns away wrath (29:8): he holds back his temper. Actually, it is all of his “spirit” that goes out in the case of a fool.

As we noted lasted time, there is something of a reverse negative of the fool with God. God pours out His Spirit in creation and re-creation (e.g. Ps. 104:30, Jn. 14:26, 15:26).

Literally, the wise man holds/soothes his spirit. This is like God who stills the noise of the seas (Ps. 65:8, 89:10).

Dr. Leithart previously suggested that the difference between the wisdom of God who sends forth His Spirit and the fool who lets it all out is perhaps the difference between timing. Perhaps another difference is control. God sends forth His Spirit and His Spirit goes forth in perfect obedience and love, whereas the spirit of the fool goes forth as a sort of chaotic release valve.

The other obvious difference would be one of result. If 29:11 is a further explanation of 29:8, the destruction of cities is different than the establishment and renewal of cities. The Spirit of God renews and creates while the spirit of a fool destroys and tears down.

At the same time, we should not miss the similarities. There is something wild and reckless in the Spirit of God that comes upon Samson for instance. And when the Spirit came upon Jesus they said that He was out of His mind (Mk. 3:21). The ministry of the apostles also tended to stir up trouble in cities (e.g. Acts 17:5, etc.).
Literally, the proverb says that wise one stills the wind “back” or stills it “behind.” Perhaps this is a play on words giving the picture of a wise man holding his spirit behind himself. But regardless, the point is that the wise one rules his spirit, rules the wind and tames it, holding it back at his command.
This reminds us of Jesus of course who is the Wisdom of God and the one who calms the storm, who speaks to the wind and waves and they obey Him.

“If a ruler pays attention to lies, all his servants become wicked.”

Listens/pays attention
To the word of falsehood
All his ministers

This proverb intentionally suggests two readings, one emphasizing result, one emphasizing present reality. The ruler who listens to falsehood will end up with a court full of wicked servants because they will be necessarily included in the deception. But where is the ruler hearing words of falsehood? From his ministers of course, and therefore this proverb is also a statement of fact.

And if his ministers are wicked, the ruler is wicked – either as a result or again as a statement of fact.

“Words” of falsehood could be translated “speech, saying, charge, story, advice, counsel…” and this gives the proverb a fairly wide range of warning. This could include false charges, false reporting, false ideology, etc. This is the same word used in Ex. 20:16 in the ninth commandment.

Literally, this is describing the ruler who “gives attention” to words of falsehood which could be several sorts of things: This could describe a relatively good king who gives falsehood the time of day. In this scenario, the proverb warns against falsehood slowly gaining credibility through repetition. Perhaps another scenario would have a ruler who does not adequately judge against falsehood and allows his servants/ministers to believe and become wrapped up with lies. Finally, the statement of fact scenario suggests that a ruler who does not drive falsehood far from his kingdom is already in some way compromised.

Waltke notes the various ways this might play out in live political scenario: “words of falsehood” could very well be false testimonies, either in court resulting in exonerations or convictions of the wrong sorts of people or the ministers of the king merely give those judgments and pursue those policies they thing the king most desires (regardless of truth and justice).

“The poor man and the oppressor have this in common: The Lord gives light to the eyes of both.”

We should note that this proverb is sandwiched between two proverbs explicitly describing kings (29:12, 14).

And the man of oppressors
Meet together
Lighting the eyes
Of both

At the very least you have Yahweh as the Great Light Giver, the Creator, giving light and life to all men (cf. Prov. 22:2)

But this seeming obvious/simple fact also has implications for both the “poor” and the “oppressors.” If God gives life to both, this means that He is sovereign. Oppressors should beware lest their oppressing be judged and the “light of their eyes” is taken away. Conversely, the poor should not grow weary or bitter because it is Yahweh who continues to preserve them (however difficult their circumstances) and they can hope in Yahweh as the deliverer or the poor (Ps. 14:6, 22:26, 34:6, etc.).
Literally, it says “man of oppressors” which may also imply a kind of fellowship among the oppressors over against the singular “poor.” It may also describe social pressures to capitulate to the oppressive ways of some rather than to defend the poor.

The word for “meet together” is frequently used in highly emotionally charged situations: Jacob meeting Esau (Gen. 32:18, 33:8), Yahweh trying to kill Moses/his son (Ex. 4:24), David meeting Abigail (1 Sam. 25:20), meeting a she-bear robbed of cubs (Prov. 17:12). This may suggest that the proverb is insisting that both parties recognize the sovereignty of God in the moment of oppression. At the moment of conflict and oppression, both need to remember Yahwheh.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Real Humanity in Deepest Hell

Algis Valiunas writes in an article entitled "Starlight in Hell" in First Things:

"In the Gulag archipelago, souls are made or saved, as well as broken or lost. Solzhenitsyn remembers a group of intellectuals at the Samarka camp in 1946, dying of hunger, cold, and exhaustion from relentless labor:

Foreseeing the approach of death in days rather than weeks, here is how they spent their last sleepless leisure, sitting up against the wall: Timofeyev-Ressovsky gathered them into a 'seminar,' and they hastened to share with one another what one of them knew and the others did not - they delivered their last lectures to each other. Father Savely - spoke of 'unshameful death,' a priest academician - about patristics, one of the Uniate fathers - about something in the area of dogmatics and canonical writings, an electrical engineer - on the principles of the energetics of the future, and a Leningrad economist - on how the effort to create principles of Soviet economics had failed for lack of new ideas.

Death took some of the participants from one session to the next, but the vocation for learning could not be extinguished - and enforced suffering made better men of those whom it did not ravage utterly: 'Formerly you never forgave anyone. You judged people without mercy. And you praised people with equal lack of moderation. And now an understanding mildness has become the basis of your uncategorical judgments. You have come to realize your own weakness - and you can therefore understand the weakness of others. And be astonished at another's strength. And wish to possess it yourself. The stones rustle beneath our feet. We are ascending.' Humanity - real, individual humanity - glimmers in the deepest hell."


A Prayer for Russia

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Our Father All-Merciful!
Don't abandon your own long-suffering Russia
In her present daze,
In her woundedness,
And confusion of spirit.
Lord Omnipotent!
Don't let, don't let her be cut short,
To no longer be.
So many forthright hearts
And so many talents
You have lodged among Russians.
Do not let them perish or sink into darkness
Without having served in Your name.
Out of the depths of Calamity
Save your disordered people.


Free Spirited Levites and the Conquest

In the book of Judges, the overwhelming unfaithfulness of Israel is on display along with the long suffering mercy and faithfulness of God. Israel's unfaithfulness is evidenced by the blatant idolatries and anarchic behavior (e.g. "there was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes"). But this is also evidenced in clues that suggest Israel's rebellion and disobedience are like a reverse conquest.

In the conquest, Israel was commanded to tear down the shrines to the baals and asherahs and to utterly destroy those cities that refused to repent and submit to Israel and her God. By the time of the Judges, instead of tearing down the shrines, we have the story of Micah who is hiring a free spirited Levite to lead the praise band at his personal shrine (Judges 18). Not only is this a bad deal, but the times are so bad that an armed band of Danites shows up later and steals the Levite, the shrine, and on their way to build a new city come upon Laish, strike its inhabitants with the edge of the sword and burn it to the ground. Instead of destroying idolatrous cities and establishing faithful worship of the true God, Israel is establishing syncretistic worship and destroying cities of their people (apparently) to make room for their cult. This was the Old Testament reading for morning prayer this morning.

The New Testament reading was from Acts 8 where the Apostles are beginning the conquest of the New World remade through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the new and greater Joshua. And as in the old conquest, there is almost immediately those who want to turn the ship around. Achan saw the treasures in Jericho and hid them in his tent, and later its Micah and Danites buying and stealing Levites and idolatrous shrines. And as the Apostles go north into Samaria, Simon the Sorceror shows up, sees the power of the Holy Spirit in the Apostles and immediately he offers to buy this power with gold. Simon is an Achan in the new conquest of the Great Commission.

But the Micah connection also implies that the Achan/Simon instinct is ultimately a counter-conquest. It's not merely disobedience, not merely greed and lust, it's ultimately treason and treachery, a reverse conquest that has no logical end except erecting idolatrous shrines and burning cities to the ground, which as it turns out, is exactly what happens to Jerusalem in A.D. 70.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Solzhenitsyn on Conservatism

"Western thinking as become conservative: the world situation should stay as it is at any cost, there should be no changes. This debilitating dream of a status quo is the symptom of a society which has come to the end of its development. But one must be blind in order not to see that oceans no longer belong to the West, while land under its domination keeps shrinking. The two so-called world wars (they were by far not on a world scale, not yet) have meant internal self-destruction of the small, progressive West which has thus prepared its own end. The next war (which does not have to be an atomic one and I do not believe it will) may well bury Western civilization forever."


Sozhenitsyn's Criticisms of the West

Also from his 1978 Harvard address:

Solzhenitsyn criticizes the West's blindness to its own weaknesses: "But the blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present day Western systems which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity or incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction... The real picture of our planets development is quite different."

"A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations...And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists. Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?"

"But should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive... A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human beings in the West while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger. Six decades for our people and three decades for the people of Easter Europe; during that time we have been through a spiritual training for in advance of Wester experience. Life's complexity and mortal weight have produced stronger, deeper and more interesting characters than those produced by standardized Western well-being. Therefore if our society were transformed into yours, it would mean an improvement in certain aspects, but also a change for the worse on some particularly significant scores."


Solzhenitsyn: the Great Split and the Real Disease

From Alexander Solzhenitsyn's 1978 Harvard address:

"The split in today's world is perceptible even to a hasty glance. Any of our contemporaries readily identifies two world powers, each of them already capable of entirely destroying the other. However, understanding of the split often is limited to this political conception... The truth is that the split is a much profounder and more alienating one, that the rifts a are more than one can see at first glance. This deep manifold split bears the danger of manifold disaster for all of us, in accordance with the ancient truth that a Kingdom -- in this case, our Earth -- divided against itself cannot stand."

Solzhenitsyn goes on to show that the fundamental divide is between humanistic materialism found in both East and West and virtuous self government in submission to God. In this sense, communism, socialism, and humanism are all near relatives and tend to feed off one another. Solzhenitsyn quotes Marx who said: 'communism is naturalized humanism.'

He concludes: "The interrelationship is such, too, that the current of materialism which is most to the left always ends up by being stronger, more attractive and victorious, because it is more consistent. Humanism without its Christian heritage cannot resist such competition... I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness. To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating everything on earth. Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects... We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections."


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Twelfth Sunday in Trinity: Exodus 8:1-32

Exodus is the story of God coming for His son, Israel and remaking a world for him (4:22-23), but God created the universe for Adam His first son, and ever after, God recreates the world for His sons to rule and glorify.

Creation and De-creation

Genesis 1
Day 1: Light/Darkness
Day 2: Heaven/Firmament
Day 3: Dry land
Day 4: Sun, Moon, and Stars
Day 5: Birds/Fish
Day 6: Animals/Man

Plague 1: Nile to Blood (in the morning, 7:15)
Plague 2: Frogs (command &
confrontation, 8:1)
Plague 3: Lice (no confrontation, 8:16)

Plague 4: Flies (in the morning, 8:20)
Plague 5: Livestock diseased (command &
confrontation, 9:1)
Plague 6: Boils (no confrontation, 9:8)

Plague 7: Hail (in the morning, 9:13)
Plague 8: Locusts (command &
confrontation, 10:1-3)
Plague 9: Darkness (no confrontation,

The order and structure of the Exodus plagues reveals Yahweh systematically unmaking the Egyptian world. Moses is a righteous and faithful Adamson who is being led through a universe remodel. This is also giving Pharaoh what he wants: disobedience to the word of God is always an embrace of chaos.

A couple of transitions run through plagues 2, 3, and 4: first, the magicians go from mimicking Moses’ power (8:7) to not being able to keep up (8:18-19). This is perhaps part of the transition from making no explicit difference between the Israelites and the Egyptians to making a difference (8:22-23). Twice Pharaoh makes false promises to allow Israel to go sacrifice to Yahweh (8:8, 8:25ff). As these plagues fall, and Yahweh’s might becomes clear, Pharaoh hardens his heart (8:15, 19, 32).

Hardness, Heaviness, and Glory
One of the words used to describe the “hardness” of Pharaoh’s heart is the word kaved which means “heavy, dense, fat, glory.” It is first used in Exodus to describe the “slowness” of Moses’ mouth/words (4:10). Likewise it describes the kind of “heavy” labor placed on the Hebrews (5:9). This same word is used to describe the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart seven times in the story (7:14, 8:15, 8:32, 9:7, 9:34, 10:1, 14:40). What is striking is that the plagues are described with the same word: “heavy swarms” (8:24), “severe plague” (9:3), “heavy hail” (9:18, 24) “severe/heavy swarms” (10:14). Ultimately, Israel goes up out of the land with “dense” livestock (12:38). Thus, the whole narrative is structured by this theme which is driving toward Yahweh’s goal of being “glorified” by the Egyptians (14:17-18).

A similar thread can be traced through the use of another term: Yahweh says at the beginning of His first speech to Moses that when Moses goes to Pharaoh he will not listen except by a “mighty hand” (3:19). The word for “mighty” is khazaq and literally means “clenched” and can mean “hard, strong, severe.” Moses “seizes” the serpent with his hand (4:4) as a sign of Yahweh’s strength. But this word is also used to describe Pharaoh’s hardness of heart (4:21, 7:13, 7:22, 8:19, 9:12, 9:35, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14:4, 14:8). Ultimately the hearts of the Egyptians are hardened too (14:17). The word is used twelve times to refer to hard hearts.

Despite his refusal, Yahweh promises that Pharaoh will ultimately send Israel out of Egypt with a “strong hand” (6:1). The plagues come on Egypt because Pharaoh still “holds” Israel (9:2). Likewise the “strong” wind drives away the locusts (10:19), and ultimately the Egyptians “strongly urge” the people to go (12:33). And it is Yahweh’s strong hand that brings Israel out of the house of bondage (13:3, 13:9, 13:14, 13:16).

Conclusions & Applications
When God remakes worlds with His mighty hand, He unmakes old worlds in order to renew and refresh, driving history from glory to glory. The central question becomes how do we respond to God’s work? There is always temptation to hardness of heart, refusing to believe that God knows what He is doing, refusing to believe that this is glory. Faith receives the word of God, embraces the glory, and joins the story.

Jesus is the Mighty Hand of God, the strength and glory of God. God has triumphed over every Pharaoh and every Egypt in the cross and resurrection, and that event – as the greater Exodus – made possible and made certain that everyone who looks to Him in faith is being conformed to that glory. Whatever is heavy upon you, whatever seems to hold you, grasp at you, everything has to do with where you are looking. When we look away from Jesus, heaviness becomes hardness, but when we look to Jesus, the heaviness becomes glory.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Collecting Stamps and Drinking Hot Chocolate as Spiritual Warfare

Screwtape exhorts his nephew:

I would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong personal taste which is not actually a sin, even if it is something quite trivial such as a fondness for country cricket or collecting stamps or drinking cocoa. Such things, I grant you, have nothing of virtue in them; but there is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust. The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the "best" people, the "right" food, the "important" books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.


Monday, August 09, 2010

Defending Orphans as Christian Nurture

While I've been known to criticize Walter Brueggemann's exegesis in some cases, in his essay "Vulnerable Children, Divine Passion, and Human Obligation" in The Child in the Bible, he helpfully traces two Biblical mandates: the nurture and training of children in covenant homes and the defense and care of orphans.

And rather than pitting these responsibilities off one another, he concludes that these "are elements of the same agenda."

Specifically, "The ultimate content of family nurture in this tradition is in order that our own children in faith have front and center in their vision the protection of orphans, a concern that is defining for faith. Family nurture in this tradition cannot be a narrow little enterprise about purity and safety; rather, it concerns inculcation into the peculiar ethical patterns of our faith." And by "ethical patterns of our faith," Brueggemann means taking active steps in the defense of the fatherless.

And these two strains come together in the passover instructions for the Israelites which might be paraphrased as Brueggemann has it, When our children ask "in time to come what lentils and doorposts and stones all mean; the adult answer might properly be: 'We know, directly from God, that protection of vulnerable children outside our own family is a central requirement of faith.'"


Jesus and the Women

It's commonly noted that women are the faithful disciples in the gospels. Where the male disciples flee, deny, and abandon Jesus, the women continue to follow Him, even to the cross, and they are the first to go to His tomb on that first Easter.

Judith Gundry-Volf, in her essay "The Least and the Greatest" in The Child in Christian Thought, points out that given traditional roles of men and women in society, the prominence of women ministering to Jesus underlines Jesus' humility in the incarnation as childlike. Jesus Himself likens receiving the kingdom as receiving a child and says that those who receive children in His name receive Him and the One who sent Him. Thus, Jesus is a child, and perhaps predictably, He is abandoned by men and only the women continue to follow Him and care for Him in His greatest need.


Eleventh Sunday in Trinity: Exodus 7:8-25

Last week we saw that Yahweh’s name is who He is and what He does, and therefore He is able to use the feebleness of normal human beings and glorify it into Godlike power and authority and grace. Not only are human beings “gods” in the world, it is also clear that there are other powers at work as well.

Yahweh and the Gods
This showdown in Egypt is not only between Moses and Pharaoh and not merely Yahweh and Pharaoh either but also between Yahweh and all the gods of Egypt (Ex. 12:12). And neither do we “wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12, cf. Rom. 8:38-39, Col. 2:15, Dan. 10:12-13, 20) We know for a fact that Israel was afflicted with evil spirits by the time of Christ, and these demons have some power and authority in this world (e.g. Mk. 3:22, 5:7). At the same time we know that the prophets call the gods of the nations nothing, gods of stone and wood and precious metals (cf. 1 Cor. 8:4-6). Yahweh is not merely doing battle with clever men and their card tricks (7:11, 22, 8:7). He is doing battle with the demons of Egypt, but before Him they are nothing.

The Dragons
We’ve pointed out previously that the word for serpent here is actually dragon or sea monster (7:9-10 cf. Gen. 1:21, Is. 27:1). This first sign is a reversal of Genesis 3. It was a dragon who deceived the woman, and now Pharaoh, the seed of that dragon has risen up again to fight against the word of the Lord. Many centuries later, Pharaoh is still referred to as a dragon (Ez. 29:3, 32:2, cf. Jer. 51:34). But every dragon is ultimately a picture of the descendents of the original dragon (Rev. 12:9). And there is ample evidence that this image is based in reality (Num. 21, Job 41:19-21), and the connection appears to be related to the seraphim (Num. 21:8, Is. 6:2, 6, 14:29, 30:6). This first sign is not just a fancy magic trick. Here, Yahweh shows himself as the Lord of the Dragon, the God who rules the Serpent and all seraphim (7:12). Who is Yahweh? Yahweh is the God who promised enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent and ultimately to crush the head of the serpent.

The Bloody Nile
Scholars have pointed out that this sign and the ones that follow are similar to naturally occurring phenomena. The Nile annually floods and then recedes, and in the annual cycle, there is usually a change of color in the Nile which is reddish and bloodlike. Furthermore, generally after this there are more frogs, and when the frogs die there is an increase in lice and flies. (Not to mention the nifty “stiff serpent trick” apparently attested to some ancient records.) What are we to make of this? God made heaven and earth, and it would be silly to worry that God might use “natural” momentum to perform miraculous deeds. If these things are attested to having happened, great, but there is a slippery slope in both directions. If God is directing these events in supernatural ways, then it doesn’t much matter if historical records show increasing frog populations after the Nile floods. It doesn’t matter much that piles of dead frogs would tend to attract lice and flies. The fact is that God is directing these events down to the minute. At the same time, there’s no need to examine what kind of chemical makeup would turn the Nile a bloody color. The text says that it turned to blood and everything died (7:21). There is clearly symbolism going on: this is the same body of water where the Hebrew baby boys were thrown 40 years earlier (1:22) and the Nile was worshipped as a god. But an ordinary, naturally occurring phenomenon cannot account for all that is in the text. At the same time, it is important not to miss the fact that the symbolism is not mere symbolism. Yahweh is carrying out holy war against the gods of Egypt and the Nile god who gave them life and sustenance has been struck dead. Yahweh rules the dragon and the sea, and we should not miss the connection with the rod (7:15, 17, 19-20): God is going to use Pharaoh (like a rod) to fill the Nile with Egyptian blood.

Conclusions and Applications
First, we need to recognize that we do not live in a materialistic world. Darwin and all his ugly stepchildren were wrong. We live in the world that God made which is both material and spiritual and consists of both visible and invisible elements. This world is a fairy land, and history is a grand and true fairy tale. This means we need to recognize that actions and words are full of weight. Positively, do not underestimate beauty and blessing, and conversely do be deceived: do not believe the lie that our actions and words somehow cannot affect others, our families, and our society (e.g. Achan, bitterness).

Secondly, we need to recognize that we serve the true God, and in Christ, he has triumphed over the prince of darkness, and we cannot be harmed by him. Therefore James says, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” The power of the Devil and his angels has been broken. Jesus was lifted up and the god of this world was judged and cast out (Jn. 12:31-32).

Finally, we should see Christ and the gospel in this story. Jesus is the rod of Jesse who was hung on the pole of the cross as a serpent. He who knew no sin became sin for us that sin might be destroyed. He became the serpent in order to swallow all of the serpents. He died in order to to swallow up death. Look to the cross and be saved, be healed, and see the history of this world and your life as the story of the great dragon slayer Jesus and His armies.


Proverbs 29:8-10

29:8 “Scoffers set a city aflame, but wise men turn away wrath.”
The word translated “set aflame” ordinarily means “blow/breath” and is used a number of times in the proverbs to describe liars who “breathe lies” (Pr. 6:19, 14:5, 25, 19:5, 9). In one place it seems to refer to the opposite: breathing out the truth (Pr. 12:17) which is what God does. Likewise, at least once it describes the poor and needy longing for safety (Ps. 12:6).

The verb is causative suggesting that the scoffer is himself a small storm/coal that drives breath (maybe smoke) up out of a city, and it is used sometimes to describe judgment (Ps. 10:5, Ez. 21:36). The meaning here seems to be similar to Pr. 22:10 where the scoffer causes strife, quarreling, and abuse. In Ps. 10:5, the word seems to describe a kind of righteous derision/scoffing that Yahweh does toward his enemies. Given the parallel line “turn away wrath,” the “set aflame” in the first half seems consistent.

Interestingly, the word is used twice in Song of Songs to describe what “the day” does when the “shadows flee” which seems to suggest a poetic image perhaps like “giving up the ghost/breathing out the last” (Song 2:17, 4:6). It is used once more in the Song as the hope that the wind will “blow” upon the garden causing it’s spices/aroma to flow out. Here, the opposite is in view: a scoffer is a bad wind that cause a stench to rise up out of the city.

In one sense this proverb describes a basic cause and effect principle in a community. Scoffers/scorners have a particular effect on other people while the wise have another effect. The participle form of this verb is sometimes used more generically to mean “interpreter” (Gen. 42:23, 2 Chr. 32:31, Job 33:23). Elsewhere, a “scoffer” is described as “arrogant” and “proud” (Pr. 21:24). Back in Pr. 1:22 and Ps. 1:1, there is an implicit ranking of a “scoffer” which seems consistent with Is. 28:14 where “scoffers” are the rulers of Israel who have gotten drunk and disregarded the word of the Lord. Likewise, rulers are warned not to “scoff” in Is. 28:22,
Given the context, it is probably safe to assume that this proverb likewise has people in authority and responsibility in mind who do not receive instruction and then lead their people astray (Is. 43:27). They are like false prophets/interpreters.

29:9 “If a wise man contends with a foolish man, whether the fool rages or laughs, there is no peace.”

This proverb is clearly comparing two kinds of men. Unusually, the first line uses the noun/adjective combination twice: Literally: “man-wise enters judgment man fool.” The proverb is explicitly comparing two kinds of men.

But interestingly, where the first half is overly explicit, the second half of the proverb is rather ambiguous.

Literally, the second half of the proverb says “he rages and he laughs and there is no peace.” It is ambiguous as to exactly how the two halves relate.

Waltke suggests that the point of the proverb is comparing the two actions in the two halves. A wise man “contends” (probably in court) with a fool, but fools merely rage or laugh and there is no peace. In other words, the sign of a wise man is that he prosecutes folly in an orderly fashion. Fools cause disorder.

This might also be a parallel proverb to others that describe the response of scoffers/fools to correction, ie. what happens when you try to contend/go to court with a fool. They hate correction and will hate you for it (Pr. 9:7-8, 13:1, 15:12). A fool despises his father’s instruction and isn’t likely to receive it well from anyone else (Pr. 15:5, 16:22, 27:22).

29:10 “The bloodthirsty hate the blameless, but the upright seek his well-being.”

This proverb begins echoing 29:8 with “men of …” 29:9 Here we have “men of blood.” But the parallel may imply that the “men of scoffing” from 29:8 who bring judgment on the city are in that sense “men of blood.” These men of blood hate the blameless.

The proverb is structured:
Men of blood
Hate the blameless
His soul

And this could be taken in at least two ways: Perhaps the two halves describe a contrast: while the men of blood hate the blameless, the upright seek their own well-being (as my translation has it). Or the second half could be understood to be filling out and amplifying the first half: the men of blood who had the upright are the ones who seek the soul of the upright. This latter reading seems a little more convincing to me.

If the first reading is plausible perhaps there is something of a defense of the perfect/upright man within the broader context of shedding blood. While the upright is only seeking a good life, men of blood want them dead. If there is some continuity with the last couple of proverbs, you have scoffers who cause harm to their communities, and fools who rage and laugh and disrupt the peace, and the ultimate end of these kinds of activities is the shedding of blood. Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

“Blameless/perfect” may also have sacrificial connotations which fits with the “blood” theme of this proverb. The “blameless” are sacrificial quality, but here, the “sacrifice” is a murder. This suggests that murder is always an attempted sacrifice, but perhaps there is also the implication that God sees and values the blood of the innocent/perfect. Abel’s blood cries out.


Paul Tripp on Marriage

A number of good thoughts on marriage and love over at Justin Taylor's blog from Paul Tripp's new book on Marriage. There are also several helpful video clips.


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Playing with Dragons like Dad

I've suggested elsewhere that part of Yahweh's answer to Job regarding the Leviathan is an invitation to learn to play with Leviathan (Job 41:4). Yahweh plays with dragons, and growing up into the glory and wisdom of the sons of God means growing up to play with dragons: Like Father, like son.

The first "wonder" that Moses performs for Pharaoh is essentially the same thing. The point of the sign of Moses' staff is not primarily turning the staff into a serpent (though that is of course part of it). The real point is that Moses is able to take hold of that dragon by the tail and it submits to him (Ex. 4:4). The sign of the staff is Moses playing with/taming a dragon which is significant because Pharaoh is a dragon (cf. Ez. 29:3, 32:2), and Yahweh rules over him and can play with him. And Moses is a son who is learning to play with dragons (demons/human tyrants) like his Dad.

And ultimately this goes back to Adam in the garden. Adam failed to tame/play with the dragon and allowed it to seduce his wife. But God is a gracious Father, and He trains His sons to tame and conquer the dragons: sin, death, and every form of wickedness and evil.


Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Funerals, Feasting, and Little Ones

In Exodus 10, urged by his servants, Pharaoh offers to let Moses and Aaron and the men of Israel go worship Yahweh in the wilderness. However Moses says that old and young alike, sons and daughters, flocks and herds must go and keep the feast (10:9). Pharaoh insists that only the men go, but Moses goes out from the presence of Pharaoh and the Lord orders him to strike the land with the eighth plague of locusts.

There are a couple interesting points to make. First, the feast to Yahweh must include the children. Later in the law, the requirement specifically stipulates that it is all the males who must present themselves before the Lord three times a year (Ex. 23:17, Dt. 16:16), but it seems (based on this) like it was nevertheless the norm (or ideal) for their families and children to attend with them.

Second, there is an interesting contrast with the observance of Jacob's funeral in Genesis 50 where the text explicitly refers to "their little ones, their flocks, and their herds" that were "left in the land of Goshen." (Gen. 50:7-6). One immediate implication is that a feast to Yahweh is not a funeral. Families and children are ordinarily part of feasts but not necessary for funerals.

Clearly, little ones were part of the celebration of Passover (Ex. 13:8ff), which I believe is the feast that they are asking to celebrate. But this suggests implications for the celebration of the New Covenant passover meal, the Lord's Supper. Just on the surface, one implication would be that the presence or absence of children at the Lord's Supper is the difference between a feast and a funeral.

And, ironically for the Egyptians, it is the feast in which the children participate that becomes the means by which the Angel of Death strikes the firstborn sons of Egypt. When the children feast, the enemy is struck down.


Monday, August 02, 2010

Exile as Promised Land

"Signs and wonders" come to a nation when it is being judged and destroyed. Egypt is the great example of this. Yahweh multiplies His signs and wonders in the land of Egypt in order to destroy Egypt and bring His armies out of the land. And throughout much of the rest of the law "signs and wonders" repeatedly refer back to what God did in Egypt. However this changes under the prophets, Isaiah and Ezekiel in particular, who become "signs and wonders" in Israel (Is. 8:18, 20:3, Ez. 12:6, 12:11, 24:24, 27).

This implies that by the time of the prophets Israel has become an Egypt, and Yahweh is once again on the move to free His enslaved people. This is why obedience to Yahweh eventually means defecting to Babylon. "Staying in Israel" when the prophets call the people to submit to Nebuchadnezzar is equivalent to "staying in Egypt." The kings and priests of Israel are no better than pharoah and his magicians. Following the prophets and going with the Spirit of God into exile is the historical equivalent of going into the Promised Land. Where the Spirit of the Lord is; there is freedom.


Tight Fists or Open Hands?

Trinity's Men's Forum study resumes this Sunday evening beginning a study of Old Testament economic laws with the book Tight Fists or Open Hands? by David L. Baker. The book is available apparently in its entirety from Google books or you can order a copy from Amazon. We'll discuss the first two chapters.


The God Who Remembers

Why do we celebrate this meal week after week? First of all, we celebrate this meal in obedience to Jesus who told us to celebrate this meal. But Jesus also told us why we are to celebrate this meal. Jesus said that this meal is the new covenant in His blood, and we are to celebrate this meal as a memorial. What is frequently translated, “Do this in remembrance of Me” is really better translated, “Do this as My Memorial.” A memorial is something bigger than merely a reminder for us. It is a reminder for us, but this meal is a reminder also to the world around us and most importantly, a reminder to God Himself. Of course God does not forget like we do, but God loves to be reminded of His promises. The rainbow was placed in the sky to remind God never to flood the earth again. The blood of the Passover was a reminder to the Angel of Death not to strike the firstborn of that particular Hebrew house. The sacrifices of Israel served as memorials ascending to God, reminding of His promises of fellowship, forgiveness, and blessing.

Some of the most glorious words in Scripture, are the words that God remembered His people. When God remembers His people wonderful things happen. When God remembers His people, sins are forgiven, slaves go free, battles are won, the sick are healed, the barren give birth, leaders are born, the proud and haughty are cast down, and the humble and meek inherit the earth. When God remembers us, we have no reason to fear. When God remembers us, the only fitting response is something like glad and relieved laughter and tears. It’s all going to be alright. And that’s what this meal is. It is a reminder, a memorial, that God Himself has sworn He will never miss. He will never overlook this. When we celebrate this meal in faith and joy, God remembers. And as you eat and drink in faith and serve your neighbor with a glad heart, God remembers you. So come in faith, believing and giving thanks.


Tenth Sunday in Trinity Season: Exodus VI: Knowing Yahweh: Exodus 6:1-7:7

It is not enough to know about God. We must strive to know God, and the central means to that knowledge is in the priestly ministry of the people of God. And this ministry flows into and out of worship.

My Name Yahweh
Moses has just gotten in hot water with the elders of Israel and has brought his case before the Lord (5:20-23). God’s response is initially to remind Moses of his name (6:2-5). God is not talking about mere knowledge of his name; the patriarchs use the name “Yahweh” throughout their narratives. God means that there is some knowledge of Yahweh that will be new: the fact that He is a God who delivers his people and keeps His promises (6:1, 6-8). Yahweh is the God who redeems with “an outstretched arm.” Yahweh is the God of Exodus. God’s word does not seem to affect Israel’s view of Moses because of “shortness of breath” and “hard labor” (6:9). And Moses asks God how his words will have any effect on Pharaoh if his own countrymen aren’t moved (6:10-13).

The Family of Moses
We need to do a little bit of math here to understand the genealogy correctly. We know that God promised Abraham that his descendents would be in bondage for 400 years (Gen. 15:13). However, here in Exodus 6 we find that 400 years has not elapsed between Levi and Moses (vv. 16, 18, 20). If we add these years end to end we get 407 which some have taken to mean that this is merely a symbolic number. But the Apostle Paul gives an inspired commentary on this chronology in Galatians 3, indicating that the 400 years should be reckoned to begin from the covenant made with Abraham (Gal. 3:17). If we estimate the chronology (not being sure exactly when people were born during their father’s life) we might estimate that Israel went down into Egypt proper about half-way through the 400 or 430 years (cf. Ex. 12:40-41). We conclude that “bondage in Egypt” refers to the entire time Abraham and his descendents lived in the land as strangers under foreign domination (i.e. Egypt primarily).

Why this Here?
First, we know that this genealogy precedes the beginning of the heart of the “showdown” between Yahweh and Pharaoh. The genealogy makes sense here to introduce the main characters. Secondly, God has just declared who he is in terms of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (6:3-4, 8). The genealogy here clearly illustrates that for God to be Yahweh, the promise keeping God, the God who delivers his people, he must act now (it’s the fourth generation cf. Gen. 15). Notice also that this passage is concerned to record the “heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites” (6:25). The redemption of Israel is not coming through the oldest sons of Jacob: Reuben and Simeon. It’s coming through a younger brother (remember Joseph), and it’s coming through the liturgical tribe. It’s not the royal tribe (Judah); it’s the tribe given the task of teaching Israel and leading her in worship.

As God to Pharaoh
After the genealogy, Moses again reminds God that he was not a good public speaker (6:28-30). But Yahweh responds by saying that he has made Moses God to Pharaoh (7:1). Yahweh said something similar when Moses protested that he was not a good speaker. Yahweh told him that he would be as God to Aaron his brother who would speak on his behalf (4:16). The set up is a little different here, and Aaron is described as Moses’ “prophet” (7:1). Clearly, Moses is not becoming Yahweh, but Moses because of his interaction with and knowledge of Yahweh, is being made God to Aaron and Pharaoh. This should remind us of Adam in the garden. Adam enjoyed perfect communion and interaction with God. His communion with God was so perfect that he could be said to be God to the world (cf. Ps. 82). Moses is a picture of righteous image-bearing because he knows and speaks with Yahweh.

Conclusion & Application
Jesus is called the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15) and the “express image” of His person (Heb. 1:3). And Paul tells us that in Christ, we and the whole creation are being renewed and remade.This is what God has predestined us to: to be conformed to the image of the new Adam, the Lord Jesus (Rom. 8:29). But how are we conformed to that image? By knowing God in Christ (Jn. 17:3, 1 Cor. 2). And the NT ties this “knowing God” to imaging God (Eph. 3:19, 1 Jn. 4:7-8). Therefore we may rightly say that God has made you God to the world. This is not a call to some kind of arrogant, power-tripping lifestyle. This is actually a call to a priestly ministry of redemption which turns to God in prayer and worship and turns to the world in love. Levites lead the armies of God (6:26).


A World Where Faith is Blessed

In today’s sermon text, Moses recalls the genealogy of his family. And it’s easy for this snap shot of the history of the family of Levi from a helicopter to look overly pristine. We hear these names, these generations and they arrive at Moses and Aaron, and people can sometimes think that God just randomly picks people to serve Him. And of course, it is always God’s grace and mercy pouring over our lives, but God’s sovereign grace is not random or arbitrary. It is deep and unfathomable, but if the genealogies teach us anything, it’s that God loves the stories of generations. He loves the time it takes for little kids to grow up, he loves the story of young families growing up into older families. And he loves for his people to trust him, to rejoice in him, and to cry out to him as they walk before him. The evolutionary worldview that permeates our culture wants faithfulness and success to seem random and unexplainable. If chimpanzees sometimes turn into people then sometimes faithfulness sprouts out of hard hearts. But that’s not the way God made the world to work. God made the world such that children thrive when their fathers love them and spend lots of time with them. And He made the world such that children droop and struggle when their dads check out. He made a world in which a woman that is loved and cherished grows in beauty and glory and is the crown of her husband, and in this same world, a woman who is neglected or mistreated is a garden overgrown with weeds. God made the world such that homes are glorious and beautiful when wives and mothers rejoice in their callings to be the glory of their husbands and love the gift of little ones, and that same glory can be turn into terrible ruin when bitterness and complaining and fear and worry are served up for dinner night after night. God is sovereign and rules over all the details of every life, every story, but faith looks to the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. Don’t compare your family to the family next to you. Don’t resent what God has given you. Begin by giving thanks for your people, for your parents, for your spouse, for your children, and then look to Jesus in faith. We live in a world where faith is blessed.


The God Who Saves Us So That We Might Know Him

In our sermon text Yahweh emphasizes His name to Moses. And we noted that God’s name is all bound up with who God is and what He does. And when God makes His name known to the people of Israel, He will simultaneously rescue them from their slavery in Egypt and redeem them with His mighty outstretched arm and great judgments. And when Yahweh does this, He will take Israel as His own people and be their God, and then they will know that Yahweh their God is the one who brings them out from the bondage of Egypt.

Notice several things about this passage. First, notice that God is determined to save His people despite what they think. When Moses goes and tells the people again what God has promised to do, they do not listen to Moses. Yahweh is content to save His people despite what they think or believe. But this really isn’t surprising since the act of salvation is itself a manifestation, a display of who God is. After He rescues them, after He redeems them, then they will know that He is Yahweh their God.

Notice also the order of events. First, God is the one who keeps His promises. He remembers His covenant with the fathers, then He keeps covenant with the children in bondage, then He saves the children in bondage, and He makes them His people and He calls Himself their God. And it’s only then, after God has done all of this, that God says they will know Him. We love Him; because He first loved us. We know Him; because He first knew us. We serve a God who comes for His people even when they resist Him, even before they know Him, before they want Him to. And this is what it means for God to be Yahweh for Israel. He is God for them, the God who saves.

But all of this becomes even more glorious in the New Covenant. The God who was revealed in the Exodus has drawn even more near to His people. And there is a new name, a name that is above every name, the name Jesus which means Savior. And this Jesus came for us while were still enemies of God. This Savior always comes for His people. He remembers His promises to our fathers, to be our God, to forgive our sins, and to raise this entire world to new life.

And the pattern is still the same. God remembers the children of His people. Like the slaves in Egypt, all children are born enslaved to sin and death, but God comes to us with promises. And He says to us, I will bring your children out of bondage. I will bring your little ones out with my outstretched arm. I will redeem you with great judgments. And the only question is: do you believe this. Do we believe that the promise is to us and to our children? Dan and Amy, you are called to believe this today and all the days God gives you teaching, training, and loving Isaiah.

This God’s way: He promises and remembers us and our little ones. And then rescues us and our children, and He makes us as His people and He calls Himself our God. And the pattern is that after God has claimed us, after God has called us His people, then we come to know Him. Then we come to know His name as the God who saves, the God who rescues, the God who comes for His people. And every infant baptism is a picture of this glory. Here Isaiah is a son of Adam who needs to be rescued from the old world of sin and darkness and be joined to the life of the Kingdom of the Son. And God does this by placing His name on our children, making them part of His people, and calling Himself their God. In this baptism, God calls Himself the God of Isaiah Bakken. And as God does this, we are to look in faith to God believing that Isaiah will come to know this God who saves Him.


Beloved Sons for Battle

It's not an accident that in the gospels when God the Father declares that Jesus is His beloved Son, Jesus is immediately led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Mt. 3:17-4:1). When God loves His people, He sends them into battle.