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


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]


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.


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.


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.


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

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).


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.


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.


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.


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)


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?


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)


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.


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.


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.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010


In the Septuagint, "anathema/cursed" is used to describe those cities/people/objects which are wholly devoted to the Lord. And frequently, they are devoted to complete destruction (e.g. Num. 21:3, Dt. 7:26, 13:16, 20:17, Josh. 6:17-18, 7:1-13).

Paul uses this word when he says that he wishes he could be "cursed" from Christ for the sake of the Jews (Rom. 9:3) and then later with regard to those who do not love the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 16:22, cf. 1 Cor. 12:3). The only other use of the word seems to be in Galatians 1 where Paul is describing those who preach another gospel (Gal. 1:8-9).



The Hebrew verb "SHAQAT" is rather fascinating.

It makes it's OT debut in Genesis 6 describing the earth which has become corrupt (Gen. 6:11-12). And then God immediately uses it to describe what He is going to do to the world. He's going to "destroy" all flesh (6:13, 17). And eventually, He vows never to "destroy" all flesh again (Gen. 9:11, 15).

Later, it is used eight times, to describe the destroying of Sodom and Gomorrah, both in Abraham's discussion with Yahweh and in the events that follow (Gen. 18-19).

It is used to describe Onan's insolent behavior toward his brother's wife, Tamar. Literally, he "destroys" his seed on the ground so that his brother has no offspring (Gen. 38:9). And for this wickedness, the Lord killed him (38:10).

While the plague of frogs is said to have "destroyed" the land of Egypt (Ex. 8:20), it is this same word that describes the "Destroyer" who comes on the night of Passover as the tenth plague on Egypt, to kill the firstborn (12:23).

When Israel turns to idolatry at the foot of Sinai, God tells Moses to go back down to the people because they have "destroyed" themselves (Ex. 32:7, cf. Dt. 9:12). Of course it is typically translated "corrupted," but this word seems to call for stronger language. We brush off corruption as a purely 'spiritual' or 'ceremonial' infelicity. But God says that Israel is doing to themselves what He has previously done to the whole world in the flood and what he did to Sodom and Gomorrah.

This is consistent with Deuteronomy's description of idolatry as well: making carved images is an act of suicide, self destruction (Dt. 4:16, 25, 9:12, 31:29). And this continues in Judges as well where Israel's wickedness is described as "corruption/destruction" (Jdg. 2:19). The Midianites come in such great numbers they "destroy" the land (Jdg. 6:4-5), and ultimately the civil waring between the tribes of Israel brings great "destruction" (Jdg. 20:21, 25, 35, 42).

The nearer relative to Ruth who decides not to marry Ruth and redeem her land does not do it because he would "destroy" his own inheritance (Ruth. 4:6). He is an Onan refusing his obligation to his brother.

In Hebrew poetry, SHAQAT becomes a noun which is frequently translated as "the pit" which is a euphemism for death/hades/the place of destruction.

Much of this indicates that God's destruction of people is frequently merely finishing off what they started themselves. Their acts of evil and idolatry are acts of suicide, self-destruction, and when God brings destruction, it is merely more of the same.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Plunder and Leaven: What's that Bling?

On the one hand, Yahweh tells Israel to get rid of all the leaven of Egypt. Get rid of Egyptian culture, Egyptian wisdom, Egyptian strength. God promises to give Israel a new identity, a new culture, His wisdom, He will be their strength.

On the other hand, Yahweh tells Israel to ask their neighbors for gold and clothing and jewelry. And when Israel goes marching out of Egypt, they do so having plundered the Egyptians.

So Israel is supposed to plunder Egypt but leave the leaven behind.

What's the difference between plunder and leaven? Why is plunder OK but leaven is not?

Later in Exodus, the Israelites will use some of this plunder to make a golden calf. Later still, they will use it to build the tabernacle. If leaven means influence and strength and growth, then the golden calf incident indicates that Israel didn't leave all the leaven behind. The leaven of Egypt wants to use gold and clothing and jewelry to mess with the worship of God's people. The leaven of Egypt is ultimately displayed in worshiping idols. But the plunder is for building Yahweh's house; the plunder is for adorning the worship of God.

The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees is the same (Mt. 16:6-12). It is corrupting the worship of God's people; but the plunder of Jesus is the people of God with which He is building a new tabernacle.

And the same principle would seem to apply to clothing, jewelry, and gold today. What are you using it for? Is it being used to build the Church, building up the people of God? Or are you using that bling for a golden calf in your life? Is that dress for the edification of the people of God? What about that house, that car, that haircut, that music you're listening to? Is that plunder that you're hauling off to build the tabernacle with or have you just gotten bored waiting for Moses up on that mountain?


Monday, November 08, 2010

Feasting without Leaven

The Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread are bookended by specific feast days. There is a “holy convocation” on the first day of Unleavened Bread (the night of Passover, 12:8), and there is another “holy convocation” on the seventh day of Unleavened Bread (12:16). These “holy convocation” days are feast days:, the Passover feast on the first day (12:14) and another feast on the seventh day of Unleavened Bread (13:6). If part of the point of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is God’s insistence that He will give them bread, He will be their leaven, this is indicated by the feasts on either end of the week of Unleavened Bread. There is plenty to eat when they first get rid of the leaven, and there is still food at the end of the week without leaven.


Nose Piercing

So a little girl recently asked her mother, are ladies that have nose rings Christians?

Now on the one hand this might seem like a silly question. Are ladies who wear jeans Christians? Are ladies who drive Subarus Christians?

And as it happens, we have a number of godly, Christian women in our community with a nose piercing. So the question is not an irrelevant one.

So what should a conscientious mother or father say to such a question?

First, it is manifestly obvious that there is nothing sinful in itself with a Christian woman having a ring in her nose. Abraham's servant brought just such a gift for Rebekah (Gen. 24:22). And God Himself says that He put a jewel in the nose of Israel when He married her at Sinai (Ez. 16:12). Clearly, a nose piercing can be a most lovely thing, a sign of Christian love and affection, particularly for a married woman. In the context of these particular passages, like earrings, a nose piercing seems to symbolize the beauty of a Christian woman submitting to her husband. And three cheers for lovely Christian women.

Second, like most good things, the world likes to take them and twist them and turn them into signs of their rebellion and hatred toward God. And this has clearly happened in the case of nose piercings. In other cultures (like India and Nepal), nose piercing has remained relatively normal, though apparently somewhat through the influence of certain Hindu beliefs. But in the modern West, it is universally recognized that the resurgence of nose piercing has come about in conjunction with widespread rebellion. Which in itself is fairly ironic since in the biblical texts, as we noted, piercing is frequently associated with the beauty of Christian submission. So the question becomes how do Christians both cling to the Word of God as their standard for aesthetics and refuse to take part in the rebellion of the culture around them?

Paul seems to have something fairly similar going on in his day with meat offered to idols. He knows that idols are nothing, and that meat offered to Zeus isn't unclean when Christians receive it with thankful hearts to the true God of heaven. But Paul says that he'd rather be a vegetarian than offend anyone for the sake of a wonderful, slab of meaty goodness.

And I think this parallel actually works quite well. Paul is up against Judaizers who are busy insisting that faith in Jesus is not sufficient for salvation, that believing Gentiles must also keep the holiness code of the Old Testament and on the other hand there are the freshly converted pagans who just minutes ago were sleeping with temple prostitutes and eating medium rare steaks as acts of worship to Athena. On the one hand Paul might be tempted to give the Judaizers the finger and tell everyone to order up the steaks. And he has some pretty harsh words for Judaizers elsewhere. You can't really accuse Paul of being a softy on them. On the other hand, Paul knew that the freshly converted pagans were the young believers, the ones with weak consciences. So he says it's worth being very careful. Which means that Paul ran the risk of looking or sounding like a Judaizer for encouraging people not to eat meat not because it was unclean but for the sake of weak consciences. And Paul's conclusion is, "... if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love..." (Rom. 14:15).

When it comes to certain cultural practices that are not required by God's word, we should be glad to defer to love. Our calling is to love one another and to defer to one another. We are called to look for ways to be a blessing and an encouragement in the faith to one another. We are conspiring to bless. Which means having a keen awareness of the sorts of things that are sure to bless, sure to encourage faith and joy and good works, and being aware of those things that might be a blessing to some but not to others (though they may be perfectly moral in themselves).

If I bring home dessert to my wife and it is not loaded with dark chocolate, I am a failure as a husband. Anyone who knows my wife knows that God has designed her to be sanctified through dark chocolate. This is a deep mystery, but I am speaking of Christ and the Church. And actually I am. Christ comes looking to save, looking to heal, looking to set free, looking to redeem many captives from slavery. His aim was not: 'How much can I get away with and still be the Son of God?' His aim was Life, abundant life, high octane liberty which was found ultimately in laying His life down, giving up His rights, becoming a servant to all and for all.

But we live in a world that is not interested in this kind of wisdom. We live in a world full of people in high rebellion to our Lord Jesus. And that rebellion is expressed in countless ways, and if that were not already complicated enough, we have the responsibility of training up our children to recognize the difference between darkness and light, the difference between godly freedom and satanic slavery. And part of that training includes recognizing uniforms and costumes. Of course we cannot see the heart, and of course mature, godly wisdom does not function on superficial, legalistic dress codes. And a faithful, evangelistic Church is going to be full of people who look like they have been saved from the world. Because as it turns out that's what Jesus is doing.

But when my son looks out the window as we drive by the local high school and casually points out a group of hoodlums to his friend in the backseat and says, "those kids don't love Jesus," I do not freak out thinking that my son has suddenly become a legalistic fundamentalist. I smile and thank God that he is beginning to recognize differences in the world. He's beginning to recognize the uniforms. Of course biblical wisdom can't stop there, and recognizing the uniforms must be married to a robust, evangelistic love for the lost, but our children need to be taught that rebellion *looks* a certain way. And frequently for the last several decades, nose piercings have been part of the getup.

And this isn't meant as any kind of backhanded insult to anyone. I have friends who are lovely, Christian women who have nose piercings. And personally, I do not find their piercings offensive in the slightest. But here would be the one cautionary question: Are there any in the broader Christian community who might be offended by your freedom? What do your mothers and your grandmothers think? What do they *really* think? And if they told you it wasn't their favorite, would that offend you? If another Christian woman asked whether it was really a good idea, would there be a gracious, quiet spirit replying or would there be a defensive attitude?

If you and your husband grew up in homes where nose piercing was just part of the normal, godly, feminine routine, then God bless you and I pray that your daughters grow up to be just like you. If your parents and grandparents and the wives of your elders and pastors all think it's just the greatest thing in the world, then that's wonderful and I'm not worried about a thing.

But the little girl who asked her mother whether ladies with nose rings are Christians or not was a real girl and she was asking a pretty reasonable question. And a wise mother or father needs of course to tell her that there are godly women who have nose piercings. And at the same time, some of those parents may want to also explain why their family doesn't. And it wouldn't be because it's a sin to put a jewel in your nose. Of course not. But the answer would be something like, 'But sweetie, we don't have time for that. There are so many other wonderful things that the Lord has given us to bless one another with.' It's like trying to make it to the big city for a concert or a professional sporting event in time and someone suggesting you take "the back way" or a "short cut." Of course if everyone agrees the "short cut" is really the way to go, then by all means, take the short cut. But if you're really in a hurry and you decide to take the "road less traveled," you must also recognize that you run the risk of showing up late. When you've got places to go, there's no time to worry about giving offense accidentally. There's already enough opportunity for that. And we've got plenty of work to do as the Church: people to love, people to serve, blessing to bestow, and life to live.

And of course perhaps postmillenially speaking, all the faithful, godly women will wear nose rings in a few hundred years. And if that's the case, praise God for that. But the way we will get there is not by pushing the limits and then telling the older women who object to cool their jets and chill out. The way we will get to a Christian civilization full of godly, nose-jeweled women (if that is indeed where we are headed) is through glad deference and joyful submission.

In other words, fighting for the symbol must begin by embodying the symbol. If we want to reclaim this particular symbol, if we want to take it back from the world, it will only happen as we take back what the nose ring actually means. And as we do that as communities and more broadly as the Church, God will bestow His beauty upon His people, and we can be sure that Christian women throughout the world will be like the daughters of Job.

And just to anticipate at least one specific question: what am I suggesting Christian women do who already have a nose piercing? I'm encouraging them to embody the symbol. Do whatever it takes to embody that lovely, Christian submission which the Scriptures call you to, remembering the "incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" (1 Pet. 3:4). All jewelry, all adornment ought to always be merely a compliment to what is already there in the heart. For some Christian women, this may mean that they recognize some element of an unsubmissive spirit revealed in their adornment, and they ought to talk to their husbands and may need to rethink some things. If it was all love, all grace, all blessing to get the piercing, I have no concerns. But if there was any hint of 'I'm getting this piercing because I can and you can't tell me otherwise...' then your spirit doesn't match the symbol and the symbol may be communicating some of that spirit.

But the exhortation goes the other way as well. As Paul says in Romans, let every man be convinced in his own mind: if your wife has a nose piercing then do it to the Lord and if she does not, do that unto the Lord. But we do not live to ourselves, we live unto the Lord (Rom. 14:5-6). Walk in faith, love one another, and do everything you can to provoke one another to love and good works.


Birth and Rebirth

People are always born. People always have mothers. There is always blood and water.

Likewise, if people are to be re-born, they must have a new mother, and there must be blood and water.

Without a mother, without blood and water, there is no rebirth.

Or, outside the Church there is no salvation.


My Boy Augustine, Sons of God, Nephilim, etc.

It's been a while since I read Augustine's City of God, but I recently read a few selections in preparation for a class and came across his discussion of Genesis 6 and the sons of God and the giants that were on the earth in those days. And not too long ago, I had a fun little chat with some friends who disagreed with my view of Genesis 6, and lo and behold, I find Augustine saying the same thing as I said.

Augustine asks: "Are we to believe that angels mated with women, and that the giants resulted from these unions?" (Bk. XV, ch. 23)

Augustine basically says maybe they have but that's not what Genesis 6 is talking about.

Augustine grants that biblically speaking it is certainly true that angels can appear in the form of men and so could perhaps go so far as to lust and "mate" with a woman. (And the opposite is at least suggested in the story of Lot in Gen. 18.) And Augustine references extra biblical mythology which gives us far more information on that sort of thing than we need.

Nevertheless, Augustine is not persuaded that that is what is going on in Genesis 6. First, he notes that he doesn't think this story is what Peter is referring to in 2 Peter 2. Rather, he says Peter is referring to the fall of the angels before or at the creation of the world, the same fall in which the devil fell and began tempting Adam and Eve to sin.

Augustine also points out that the description "sons of God" certainly can and does refer to men in the Bible, but realizes that the stumbling block for this view seems to be the fact that the text says that there were "giants" in the earth in those days. But Augustine says that the text seems to indicate that there were giants before and after the intermarriage between the sons of God and the daughters of men. And besides, Augustine notes, there have been giants born throughout human history at various points and this does not require angelic/human sexual unions every time a giant is born.

We know that the sons of Anak and the Rephaim in the days of the conquest were giants (Num. 13:22-33, Dt. 2:11), and David eventually killed Goliath, and David's mighty men struck down others, apparently descendants of the same giants (Dt. 3:11, 2 Sam. 21:16-22). But we have no biblical basis for blaming fallen angels for these big men.

Furthermore, the linguistic connection between the giants in Canaan and the giants in Genesis 6 is the word "nephilim" used only in Gen. 6:6 and Num. 13:33. But this actually proves too much since the "nephilim" of Genesis 6 were apparently destroyed in the flood. If we want "nephilim" to be a technical term for the half-breed offspring of angelic/human intermarriage, then we have to insist that it happened again after the flood, in spite of the fact that there is no mention of it.

The strongest case in my view for not viewing the "sons of God" as angels in Genesis 6 is that it simply doesn't fit the story. The story for the first 5 chapters of Genesis is all about Adam and Adam's family. And we know that Adam was the first "son of God" because he was made in God's image and likeness. Sons look like their fathers. And if you don't believe me, ask Luke (Lk. 3:38). Luke says that Adam was the "son of God" and implies that his genealogy is the genealogy of the sons of God because Jesus too is the "son of God" (Lk. 4:3). But Luke is getting this from Moses.

Moses said that Seth was born in the image and likeness of Adam who was made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 5:1-3). This means that Seth was a son of God just like Adam who was a son of God. And then Moses proceeds to tell us the genealogy of this family, these "sons of God" (Gen. 5). When the story picks up in Genesis 6 it makes no sense to think of anyone else other than this line of Seth as the "sons of God." Furthermore, it makes no sense for God to be angry with people if it was unruly angels who screwed this world up. God sent the flood to destroy all flesh because human beings sinned, because the descendants of Seth, the sons of God who had begun to call on the name of the Lord, fell into sin like their father Adam. And so God judged them and destroyed them.

Of course some modernist types deny the possibility of angelic/human unions because they don't believe in angels, fairies, magic, or dragons to begin with. And they are well on their way to doubting the virgin birth and the resurrection. And I have no interest in bowing to their small imaginations. But neither would a man like Augustine who was willing to speculate on a whole host of issues.

All that to say, like Augustine, I grant the possibility of some occurrence of a weird angelic/human union, and the abundance of such stories in the mythologies at least invites that sort of speculation. But I don't see it in Genesis 6 and neither does my boy Augustine.


Exodus 12:29-51: New Bread for a New People

Last time, we considered the feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread. Removing leaven from the houses of Israel was a sort of corporate circumcision of Israel, a cutting off of Egyptian influence and strength (cf. Mt. 16:12). Yahweh will provide new bread/new life for His new people.

The Exodus
The down payment of God’s provision for His people is the tenth plague which strikes all of the firstborn of Egypt (12:29-30). Yahweh cuts off the strength of Egypt and shows the gods of Egypt to be nothing (cf. 12:12). Now there is a “great cry” in Egypt like there was in Israel (12:30, cf. 3:7, 9). And Pharaoh orders Israel to go and serve Yahweh (12:31). If the confusion and mixing of Egypt and Israel is indicated by the arrival of a pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” (1:8), then Pharaoh’s request that Moses “bless” him is a return to the relationship that the previous pharaoh had with Joseph (Gen. 47:7). The Egyptians urge the Israelites to leave with a mixture of fear and favor (12:33, 35-36).

That Very Night
Some six hundred thousand “feet of men” went out of Egypt (12:37). This description is probably a military designation, like “foot soldiers” (cf. Num. 11:21, Jdg. 20:2). A “mixed multitude” went up with them from Egypt which means that Egyptians went with them, and they ate the unleavened bread on their journey in obedience and haste (12:34, 38-39). They left Egypt after 430 years, to the very day (12:40). Remember Paul indicates that this period of time began with the covenant made with Abraham in Canaan (Gal. 3:17, Gen. 15:13-16). It was on that very day that all the “armies of Yahweh” went out of Egypt (12:41, 51). Therefore this is a “night of watching/guarding” for Yahweh (12:42).

No Foreigners
Finally, a last regulation is mentioned regarding the Passover meal: only covenant members are to eat it (12:43-45). This may be a regulation that applies to all subsequent celebrations. And this assumes that this would be an issue, that is, there would continue to be foreigners, strangers, and other uncircumcised people in this “mixed multitude” of Israel. Yahweh says that there is to be one law for the native-born and the stranger who dwells with Israel (12:49), if they want to eat the feast all the males of their household must be circumcised (12:44, 48). This final restriction on Passover is the basis for our practice of inviting individuals to participate in the Eucharist after they have been baptized.

Applications & Conclusions: There is One House
The point of these final restrictions seems to be at the center of the passage: there Passover is to be eaten in “one house” and “all the congregation of Israel shall keep it” (12:46-47, cf. 12:6). This is the birth of Israel as a nation, and all those who join in this birth/re-birth must come into the house, must come under the blood. This is not exclusion so much as it is an invitation to unity. This is the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that all the nations would be blessed in his seed (Gen. 22:18), and this is fulfilled in the New Covenant (Gal. 3:8). The gospel is good news for all nations, all peoples, all families: in the Exodus of Christ there is a new family, a new house, a new way of being human. And it is all centered on a meal, a meal that unites and equips, a meal that remakes slaves into armies.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Exodus and the Cross

On the mount of transfiguration Moses and Elijah appear and speak with Jesus about the coming "Exodus" that He will accomplish at Jerusalem (Lk. 9:31). While this is commonly translated "decease" (e.g. NKJV), the word in the Greek is "exodus" which, incidentally, means "exodus." The word is used throughout the Septuagint to mean "going out" or "going forth" beginning with the Exodus from Egypt (e.g. Ex. 19:1, Num. 33:38).

Interestingly, the word is only used in two other places in the New Testament: first, in Hebrews 11 where Joseph is remembered as prophesying the coming Exodus of Israel out of Egypt, and secondly, it is used in 2 Pet. 1:15 where Peter does seem to be speaking about his coming death. But even there, this reference comes immediately after him speaking about his "tent" that he will soon be putting off. Obviously "tent" is used elsewhere to refer to the body (e.g. Jn. 1:14, 2 Cor. 5:1-4), but a form of the same word is also used for the tabernacle. The Exodus story moves from one house to another, from the house of bondage to the tent of Yahweh. Similarly, later in Israelite history, they will be freed from the tent in Shiloh under Eli's wicked sons and David will construct his tent on Mt. Zion. Still later, Ezekiel will see the entire exile story as an exodus, freeing Israel from the bondage in Jerusalem and the Solomonic temple and bringing them to a new, heavenly temple.

Thus, the death and resurrection of a human is this exodus story. We put off the old tent of the body, the body that is in bondage to sin and death, and we go into the "wilderness" in the heavenly presence of Christ until we are re-clothed with a new, heavenly house in the resurrection of the body (2 Cor. 5:1-8). In this sense, Israel "died" in the Passover/Unleavened Bread/tenth plague. They were putting off the "tent" of Egypt so that they could put on a new, heavenly tent, a new resurrection body in the tabernacle. They "went to heaven" in the presence of God at Mt. Sinai, and they were finally "re-clothed" in the body of the tabernacle.

And this makes sense of Christ's description of His own death and resurrection as an Exodus. His death is the great Passover/Unleavened Bread/tenth plague all wrapped up into one. And His body is the temple, the old tent of Israel, which is being destroyed so that it can be rebuilt in three days. In His body on the tree, Jesus became the old Israel in the tent of bondage, the tent of Egypt, so that He could free us from that tent, free us from that house of death, and re-clothe us with a new heavenly tent, a new body, a new temple in Him.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Real Exodus, Real Freedom

Reading the original Exodus story has all kinds of implications for the coming of the Gospel in Jesus. When we read the Exodus story as a purely physical bondage, a bunch of Hebrews got held up by the Egyptian thug, Pharaoh, in a dark alley, and God came and laid the smack down and delivered His people. Then, when Jesus comes on the scene and starts acting like Moses and the gospel writers are weaving Exodus imagery through their narratives, we say something like: "O that's neat imagery!" And we think Jesus was doing something highly metaphorical, a "spiritual" version of the Exodus. He's *like* Moses, we say.

But if Israelite culture was shot through with idolatry, compromises with Egyptian culture, then the situation that emerges is far more complicated and far more similar to all the other exodus events in Scripture. If the original Exodus was an extraction of God's people out of relationships, social customs and forms, cultural norms, economic forces, etc., then the only thing partially metaphorical about Christ's Exodus event is the geographical movement. Jesus is not literally leading a new Israel out of the land of Egypt into the land of Canaan.

Again, if Egyptian slavery was something more complex than we often imagine, then the Exodus is something more complex and deeper than we frequently imagine. What emerges is something suggesting that the geographical concerns of the first Exodus are actually the metaphor. Leaving Egypt and going through the wilderness to the land of Canaan is actually the metaphor for the real leaving and cleaving which must take place in the hearts of the Israelites. And in that sense, the first Exodus was a failure because that Israel never really left Egypt. The rest of Israelite history bears this out with Yahweh repeatedly trying to convince Israel to leave Egypt behind. Thus, when Jesus comes to strike the final blow to Egypt/Pharaoh in His death and resurrection, He comes to bring the real exodus, and therefore real freedom.

The Israelites are neck deep in slavery to Egyptian movies, Egyptian politics, Egyptian economics, Egyptian poetry, Egyptian colleges, Egyptian health care, all the Egyptian gods, and Yahweh has come to set them free, despite their protests to the contrary. And when we describe the liberation of Israel in such terms, it becomes far more clear why Christ came as the Greater Moses to free His new Israel from every Egypt, all the gods, all the plagues, every manifestation of sin and death. The real Exodus always was about beginning life over again, forming a new community in Israel, a new calendar, a new economy, a new family, a new culture, new patterns of worship, etc. And the Christian Church is that new Israel, that new way of being human, that new way of being community, a new way of doing politics and economics and art.


After the First 30,000 Years

What would you do if you could live forever?

I asked some of my students this question this morning, and it was striking to see how quickly the question was broken in half.

Do you mean eternal life or earthly life?

One student immediately recognized that we will live forever, so it's not a hypothetical question. But, he went on, if it's talking about living forever here on earth, it might eventually get kind of boring.

But students quickly reassure me that living forever "in heaven" will be great. What will we do there? Praise God forever, of course. Will that get boring? Of course not...

In some ways it's grand to long for eternal life with God, and recognizing that worship is the end for which God created us is absolutely true and wonderful. But having these "default" settings without thoughtfully digging into some of our presuppositions can actually obscure what God is up to.

For instance: God created this world, this universe, with billions of stars and galaxies, with jellyfish and rainbows, volcanoes and dragons, oceans and pineapples, and God created Adam and Eve and intended for them to live forever in this world. And apparently God loaded this world with enough treasures to last forever. God didn't give Adam a job that would get boring after the first 30,000 years.

And this world is piled so high with treasures that Adam was going to need lots of kids and grandkids to help him with the project. Billions of people living forever in this world was part of the plan, digging into the ground, exploring the depths of the seas, and figuring out how to sling shot our grandchildren into other galaxies.

And of course we've done our best to screw that up, and slow the project down. We got old and cranky in our sin and told God it couldn't be done. But God came to make us young again, young like Adam and Eve, young like children who see the universe as their sandbox, young and fearless and creative.

In Christ, God did not come up with the Great Escape Plan. The New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven in Revelation is not a Flying Saucer come to beam up all the good guys and then fly away into some other dimension, some other existence. The New Jerusalem is coming down out of heave to earth. And John hears a voice saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God" (Rev. 21:3).

The promise is that in Christ, God has come to be with us, and the hope of the Gospel is that God's Life, His Kingdom will come here on earth as it is in heaven. The promise is that God will come wipe away every tear; He isn't going to wipe away the entire creation and start from scratch. There will be no more pain, but God isn't busy trying to make this world go away. God has come in Christ to heal this world, renew this world, refashion this world.

So the question is not what would you do if you could live forever. The question is what are you doing since you're going to live forever? Death for Christians is a nap time. It's a wonderful, Sunday afternoon nap, dreaming with Christ. Only we won't wake up groggy or grumpy or still tired. The resurrection will wake us up with the energy of little kids and the wisdom of the mind of Christ. We will wake up refreshed, ready to get back to work. We will wake up healed of our diseases, our afflictions, our hurts, our pain, and our sin will be no more.

And then what will we do? There will be mountains to jump, oceans to walk, magic to learn, volcanoes to swim, stars to explore, and dragons to tame. And of course people, billions of interesting, intelligent, funny, strange people.

If in our old age of sin and death we have fumbled about in the dark and come up with antibiotics and iPhones and space shuttles, what might we find if we could actually open our eyes?

And of course, living forever is all about worshiping the Brilliant Creator of this mind blowing project, but I wonder if it won't be a bit more active and vigorous than we sometimes think. If Jesus made this world, He is far more into it than we are. He'll be leading the comet riding ventures and the solar surface tours.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Slave Populations

Sarna again:

"Modern scholars cautiously estimate a population of between four and five million in the ancient period [in Egypt]. The point is that the Israelites would have constitued an extraordinary high percentage of the population of Egypt. Such, indeed, is the impression conveyed by the above-cited biblical passages. But then the question may be posed as to how a minority of such considerable proportions could have allowed itself to have been enslaved and to have remained in that condition for so long. In this case however, the history of slavery belies the implication of the query. At the end of the fifth century B.C.E. in Athens, slaves constituted 30 percent of the populatation, and in Italy at the of the Republic the proportion of slaves was 35 percent. In 1860 the slaves comprised 33 percent of the population of the southern states of the U.S.A."

Exploring Exodus, 97.


Where the Word "Passover" Came From

Nahum Sarna writes:

"In brief, the verb p-s-h has been understood in three different ways: "to protect," "to have compassion," and "to pass over." It was through the influence of the Latin Vulgate version that "pass over" became the predominant English rendering, even though it seems to be the least likely of the three possibilities."

Exploring Exodus, 87.


Monday, November 01, 2010

Pastoral Prayer for Reformation Sunday and All Saints' Day

Almighty God, Father, Son, and Spirit, Creator of the heavens and the earth, You spoke this universe by the Word of Your power, and You continually uphold it all by that same Word, and by the mighty working of Your Spirit.

And therefore we praise You and we worship You, as the only God, the only true God. You are Holy and Mighty and Gracious and Just and all Glorious. And we know this because this world and its story is full of Your glory. You framed the heavens and the earth and filled them with treasures, and when we disdained that gift and reached for our own glory, You sent us out into the world. But your grace has followed us down through the ages. And in the seed of the woman you have told and are telling an amazing story.

We give you thanks for righteous Abel who offered worship to you in faith though His brother hated him and spilled his blood on the earth. We praise you for faithful Enoch who walked with you and for Noah who was a preacher of righteousness and the judgment to come. We praise you for Abram who left his father’s house and went to a foreign land on the basis of Your promises. Thank you for the faith of Sarah who laughed when you promised her a son in her old age. Thank you for Rebekah who believed the promise of God and tricked her husband into obeying you. Thank you for the faith of Jacob who blessed his rebellious sons and trusted Your promises despite all appearances. Thank you for Joseph who did not compromise with his master’s wife to stay out of trouble. Thank you for the faith of the midwives who disobeyed the king’s wicked order to kill the Hebrew boys. Thank you for the faithfulness of Moses though Israel was stubborn and hard-hearted. We praise you for Rahab who hid the spies and lied to the soldiers who were looking for them. Thank you for her grace and cunning. Thank you for Joshua who taught the people how to destroy cities with trumpets. And for Gideon who knew that every battle belongs to You. And we worship you for Deborah and Barak and Jael, and we praise you for Siserah’s head crushed by a tent peg. Thank you for David who was a man after Your own heart; thank you for his faith and courage and for his sling and for the songs that he sang. Thank you for Jeremiah and Ezekiel; thank you for Micah and Jonah and Malachi, prophets who declared Your word fearlessly despite the consequences, despite the shame, despite their inadequacies.

Thank you for Matthew who wrote his gospel by faith. Thank you for the Apostle Paul and Timothy and Titus his disciples who were also faithful pastors and evangelists. Thank you for Phoebe who was a faithful servant of Paul and the church in Cenchrea. We don’t know much about her, but she reminds us of how there were so many faithful saints in those early days of the church who suffered and sacrificed and served gladly for the sake of the Kingdom. We thank you for St. Stephen the first Christian martyr who saw our Lord Jesus in the sky and did not flinch when they stoned him to death. Thank you for Ignatius who was devoured by lions because of his love for you. Thank you for Eustachius and Germanicus and Polycarp and Justin and Irenaeus and Hippolitus and Lawrence and Alban and Sebastian, and the countless thousands of others who gave their lives willingly for the sake of Christ, who did not consider their lives more valuable than the salvation You have won for us. We praise you for mothers who watched their children burned at the stake, and we praise you for children who were faithful even to death.

We thank you for Constantine who loved you and ended the persecution of Your people. We thank you for Athanasius and Augustine and Ambrose and Leo and Gregory. Thank you for Boniface and Bede; and for all those nameless scribes who copied out the Scriptures faithfully over the centuries so that we might have them today in our hands. Thank you for Thomas Acquinas and John Huss and Wycliffe and Calvin and Bucer and Luther. And thank you for Luther’s wife, Katie. We praise you for Cranmer and Hooper and Latimer and the many faithful Huguenots who were slaughtered for their love of the cross. We give you thanks for John Bunyan and John Foxe and William Carey and George Whitefield and John Wesley for their faithful proclamations of the gospel. We praise you for Hudson Taylor, Gresham Machen, Jim Eliot, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Alexander Schmemann, Bessie Wilson, and Betty Appel.

We praise you for all Christian wives and mothers who have offered their daily labors to their husbands and children with cheerful love of Christ. Thank you for how they have given of themselves in so many small ways rising early, staying up late, making meals, doing laundry, teaching lessons, disciplining, and loving, pouring themselves out, serving gladly, offering their bodies as living sacrifices to you. And we bless them now before Your throne and we give you thanks and praise for them. Thank you for faithful children down through the ages who image what we must become to enter the Kingdom. Thank you for peanut butter and jelly smears on their faces. Thank you for their prayers and their lessons. Thank you for their exuberance. Thank you for the gift of faith you have bestowed upon them. And thank you for the millions of little ones that we have not yet met but who rejoice around Your throne in glory. Thank you for the poor, the sick, the outcasts, the mentally and physically disabled. We thank you for your people who make us laugh, thank you for those who tell stories, thank you for those who remember and help us remember. Thank you for all honorable occupations. Thank you for hard, honest work. Thank you for secretaries and auto mechanics, thank you for writers and missionaries, thank you for doctors and nurses and accountants and artists. Thank you for teachers and deacons, thank you for coaches and architects and pilots and janitors and senators. We praise you for your people in China and Russia and Egypt and Ivory Coast and Columbia and Mexico and Finland and Italy and France and Iraq and Afghanistan and Myanmar. We thank you and we praise you for all your saints, all your faithful down through the centuries, and we praise you for those who are still yet to come, that innumerable company of saints yet to play their part on the stage. We thank you that in the gift of the Spirit you have rushed us up into the heavenly places and that by Your mighty working we are united to all your saints throughout time and space and that in a mystery we are bound together in Christ.

Our gracious God and Father, we are undone by your goodness, we are glad, and we are deeply grateful to you. But we are most deeply thankful for our Lord Jesus Christ who is the Holy One of Israel, the One who has been anointed with the fullness of Your Holy Spirit, the One in Whom all saints find their rest. We praise you for our Lord Jesus Christ who is the only begotten Son of God and who is the seed of the woman come to crush the serpent’s head. And we give thanks to You for all Your people chiefly because in them we have seen Christ manifested. For You have poured out His Spirit on all flesh, and You have begun to remake this world by Your wonderful grace and love.

And so we worship You now, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for You are worthy of all glory and praise, unto ages of ages. Amen!