Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Regeneration: A Blog

In various ways and various times past, I have spoken to you on this blog under the shadow forms of blogger and in the hues of orange and white. But in these last days, I will speak to you in a new form at

Hope to see you there.




Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Loving Children

"If we loved children, we would have a few. If we had them, we would want them as children, and would love the wonder with which they behold the world, and would hope that some of it might open our own eyes a little. We would love their games, and would want to play them once in a while, stirring in ourselves those memories of play that no one regrets, and that are almost the only things an old man can look back on with complete satisfaction. We would want our children tagging along after us, or if not, then only because we would understand that they had better things to do."

Anthony Esolen, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, xii.


Monday, March 21, 2011

The Gospel of Lent

There are plenty of legitimate concerns with a season like Lent. Some people can only smell oppressive Roman Catholicism, works righteousness, legalistic burdens, scoring brownie points with God, competing for holiness, superficial-hypocritical spirituality, pharisaism, washing the outside of the cup, white-washed tombs, making a show of piety, and why would forgiven saints want to wallow in their sins for forty days anyway?

And in so far as people take up a Lenten observance with any of that in mind or in their hearts, I say to hell with Lent. God hates all of that.

But consider me an optimistic hold out for the benefits of reclaiming a joyful, faithful Lent.

Lent comes from the old English which means "lengthening," and it originally referred to the fact that the days were getting longer. It means Springtime. And I can't think of a better way of getting geared up for Easter.

In other words, Lent is the season that celebrates Postmillenialism. Postmillenialism is the name for the view of eschatology that says the story of this world is the story of God remaking this world into the garden-city it was always meant to be. Rather than planet earth bursting into flames and the rapture occurring just in time to medivac the last few faithful survivors into another dimension, the Bible teaches that the death and resurrection of Jesus was the down payment for the glorification of this world, this planet, this universe. The Spirit was poured out at Pentecost in order to re-create this broken paradise, and postmillenialism is one theological name to describe the basic gospel proclamation that Jesus wins and everyone might as well come along cheerfully. Whether it takes another few hundred years or thirty-thousand more years, the history of this planet will be the story of salvation, the victory of grace, and the vast majority of humanity will be saved. Hell will be a small, dark speck populated with a tiny band of gollums making love to their darkness.

In other words, the story of history is an enormous Springtime. It is the story of Lent, the story of days getting longer, the world getting lighter.

The darkest night in the history of the world was the night before Jesus was born, the night before the Light was born into this world. That night was the winter solstice of all human history. In Adam the world could only grow darker, but when the Light of the World burst into the world, it began to get lighter. And the last two thousand years are the story of this world getting lighter, the days getting longer, the nights getting shorter.

Lent means it's getting lighter. The Sun is risen, and the Light of the World is growing.

And this means that Lent is always a call to walk in the light as He is in the light. It is a call to cast away all the works of darkness, to cast away the shadows and to come into the light. Lent is a call to join the mission of this Kingdom of Light, the mission of being light and bringing light to this dark world. Lent celebrates God's victory over darkness and rejoices in the shadows fleeing away.

So far as people try to cover up their guilt with false pietistic fasting, they are only hiding in the shadows. In so far as people try to make a show of their piety through pharisaical fasting from Facebook and coffee, God is not impressed.

But in so far as Lent is a wonderful annual reminder that the Sun is up, and it is getting lighter, Lent is a call to come into the light, a call to hope, a call to struggle against sin, the flesh, and the devil. And in so far as faithful believers take up their crosses and cry out to God with tears and fasting and prayer, God will see in heaven and answer the cries of the weak and the broken. In so far as Lent is a cry of defiant hope, a battle cry that insists against all odds, against what seems impossible, against the patterns and habits and powers of this dark world, in so far as Lent insists that it is getting lighter, and that nothing can stop the Light, in so far as that is what we celebrate and renew year after year, that is good news. That is the wonderful gospel of Lent.

Lent means it is getting lighter. Lent means that the Sun is risen, and it will continue to rise until it bursts out at the last great Easter, when the saints rise up in glory like the Son.


How God Responds to our Sin

We have considered this morning how the good news of Jesus is the declaration that God is light, and that this Light has begun to shine in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and continues to shine in our life in the church for the world. And this light is getting brighter. This table is central to our declaration of this light and life. At this table, we hear the words of Life as we speak them to one another, we see this Word of Life in one another as we partake together, our hands handle this Life as we pass bread and wine to one another. This meal is a central way that God continues to manifest this Life in this world, and as we partake together, we are that fellowship, that joy, that Light for the world. But there countless churches that celebrate this sacrament who effectively cover the light by the inconsistency in their lives. And this is not the inconsistency of sin, this is the refusal to believe the gospel about that sin. One way to run a litmus test on this is to ask how you respond to sin. What do you do when the three year old throws a fit? What do you do when your wife makes a biting comment? What do you do when your husband is late coming home from work and the kids have run you ragged? What do you do when your coworker insults you in front of everyone? How do you respond when you are passed over for a promotion? Or you don’t get the bid? How do you respond to sin, to friction, to correction, to hardship? How do you respond? Walking in the light means refusing to freak out, refusing to be frazzled, refusing to be shaken, refusing to think that the world is crashing down. Walking in the light means remembering that Jesus is King, you are His beloved son or daughter, and there is absolutely nothing that can change that. But in that context, we can offer the other cheek, we can forgive again, we can let love cover it, we are free not to respond with evil. God knows our weakness and failures, and He is not worried. He invites us to dinner. We sin against Him, and He says, I love you. My life for yours. Go and do likewise.


Second Sunday in Lent: Repentance for Life 1 Jn. 1-2:2

John begins his first epistle insisting that life has entered the world, and that life means fellowship and joy and light (1 Jn. 1:1-5). Confessing sin is the life breath of Christian life. When you begin to live the Christian life, you repent and believe, and the only way to keep breathing is to repent and believe. And if you stop breathing, there is only darkness and death and separation.

Repentance unto Life
Repentance is preaching the gospel to yourself every day in every situation: the good news that Jesus is the Christ, our King who has come to set us free from sin, death, and Satan. And in the death and resurrection of Jesus, those powers were thrown down, we were forgiven, cleansed, and set free. We have been adopted as beloved sons and daughters, and therefore are united to Christ by His Spirit and share in His glory and righteousness and power. Repentance means turning away, turning around. Repentance means that if you were going left, you go right. If you were going upstairs, you go downstairs. If you were lying, you tell the truth (Eph. 4:25). If you were stealing, you cease, get a job, and save to have extra to give to those in need (Eph. 4:28). If there were corrupt and bitter words coming out of your mouth, you begin to speak words of kindness and edification and forgiveness (Eph. 4:29-32). Repentance means hating your sin from the bottom of your heart. If you are constantly apologizing for the same things with no measurable improvement, you are not repenting, you are just feeling sorry for yourself in front of other people. Godly sorrow is desperate for freedom and leads to salvation and joy (2 Cor. 7:9-11). People who are forgiven are set free. To go from darkness to light is to go from dead to alive. This is miraculous and it fills people with joy (1 Jn. 1:4). And if you’re going through the actions of repenting and asking forgiveness, and that is not resulting in fullness of joy, then you are not repenting. You are lying to yourself and others. And people who know the power of forgiveness are quick to extend that love and forgiveness to others (1 Jn. 2:2).

Lenten Joy
This is why a season like Lent should be both a profoundly joyful season and naturally evangelistic. If you are fasting in order to cover up your guilt, you are lying to God, and God hates your fasting. If your soul is hallow, and you are not walking in the joy of the Holy Spirit and you think giving up Facebook or Coke is going to help you, you are liar. Propitiation is a big word that means covering; it was the place where the blood was sprinkled once a year in the Most Holy Place. When we confess our sins, the promise of God is that our sins are forgiven and covered by the blood of Jesus (1 Jn. 1:7-9). And it is God’s faithfulness and justice that does this cleansing, and this necessarily results in profound freedom and fearlessness and relief. Worrying about whether you will fall again or whether this will really work is another sign that you don’t really want out. Forgiveness makes you say crazy things like the Apostle John: “these things I write to you, so that you may not sin” (1 Jn. 2:1). Forgiveness and repentance is a turning away from darkness and guilt and confusion toward light and fellowship and joy. Your days should be growing lighter, your fellowship should be growing tighter, and your joy should be filling up not draining out. If that is not happening, then you are walking in darkness and that is because you are not really confessing your sins, including the sin of not believing the promise of forgiveness. Confessing sin is how we wage war with the world, the flesh, and the devil. When people cease to confess their sins, they are refusing to fight. Being nice to sin is to already admit defeat.

The Fellowship of Repentance
The end of confession is fellowship. But fellowship doesn’t make all differences evaporate. Some differences can be worked out rather quickly (days or weeks), others can take longer (years, resurrection), and still others are not necessarily bad. In fact the body of Christ is full of glorious differences. But without fellowship, differences will collide and clash. But when our differences are woven together in love, they create a harmony instead of a dissonance.

Our great temptation in a sermon like this is to hope that someone else is listening carefully. But Jesus calls that hypocrisy. You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Mt. 7:3-5). The principle is that if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. But the flesh loves to blame shift and try to insist that the other guy walk in the light first. Confessing our own sins first, removing the log from our own eye first means taking responsibility, bearing the shame, claiming the fault. This shouldn’t be a fake show of piety, but Christ-like love and compassion, gladly suffering for the sake of others.

Taking responsibility for our own sins and weakness teaches us humility and compassion for the weaknesses and sins of others. When you know how unlovely your own heart is, you can love the unlovely around you, even those closest to you in all of their weakness and shame. This is what the body of Christ is supposed to do more broadly anyway (1 Cor. 12:23). This means helping one another obey, supporting one another where we are weak. Individualism teaches us to hold back and let our brothers crash and burn, but love teaches us to reach out and gently bring our brothers in for a safe landing. Because we have an Advocate, we can be advocates (1 Jn. 2:1); He is the propitiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2).


Why We Believe in the Miraculous

This morning’s sermon is on confession of sin and the true freedom and joy of forgiveness. One way to frame what we believe as Christians about the cross and sin and forgiveness is that Christians are and must be firm believers in miracles. Sometimes Reformed types have thrown around the word “cessation” to describe how certain miracles may have been peculiar to the first century Apostles. While all orthodox Christians believe that the New Testament canon was a unique first century event (there are no new Scriptures being written), the word “cessation” certainly carries with it a ton of extra freight that does not do justice to the New Testament apostles themselves or with the testimony of the vast majority of the history of the Church. But even more importantly than that is the central proclamation and insistence of the New Testament that in the life of the Church, through the powerful working of the Spirit in the lives of men and women and children, through the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen, and the love and fellowship and gifts of the Spirit in the saints, God changes lives. God turns bitter wives into thankful, joyful wives. God turns disobedient and rebellious children into obedient and respectful children. God turns angry and unfaithful husbands into loving, faithful husbands. God raises up the lowly, God gives grace to the failures, God raises the dead. And we gather here every Lord’s Day to testify that this is true. Jesus died so that this might be true, and He was raised to accomplish it. So here at the beginning of our gathering, put away your unbelief. Put away your doubts, your fear, whatever impossibility you are nurturing in your heart. The original impossibility was creation itself, but light burst out of the darkness. So put to death your unbelief.

“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 Jn. 1:5)


Friday, March 11, 2011

Live Web Cast of the Logos Benefit Concert

Tonight is the big Logos School Benefit Concert. If you aren't in town, the event will be web cast live this evening on the Logos 30th Birthday Benefit Concert Website.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Few Thoughts on the Church Calendar

Reformation is exciting. Recovering the treasures of our fathers and grandfathers in the faith is encouraging and heartening. And one of those great treasures is the Church Year.

Many believers in many different denominations and traditions are recovering the Church Year. While there remains a good deal of caution among Protestants regarding the lingering connotations of abuses from medieval Roman Catholicism with the Church Calendar, Presbyterians are celebrating Advent. Baptists are describing the richness of Lent. Christmas and Easter, the two "High Holy Days" of American Christianity are receiving even more thoughtful and robust celebration.

And while I would want to be counted among those who share some concerns, I am also supportive of the overall project. On the fourth day of creation, God created the sun, moon, and stars to rule time, keeping track of days, months, seasons, and years. In the New Covenant, we are not under those rulers any more. This is because we have been seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. In Christ and by the working of His Holy Spirit, the promise that was made to Abraham that his descendants would by like the "stars of the heavens" has been fulfilled. In other words, we are no longer under the sun, moon, and stars because we have been enthroned with Jesus in the new heavens of the Church. We have been made kings and priests to our God. In Christ, we are the new rulers of time.

And keeping time is inevitable. There will be rhythms, there will be names, there will be holy days. The only question is what will they be? Will our "high holy days" be 4th of July, Super Bowl Sunday, and Memorial Day? Or will our lives be tuned by the life of Christ and the work of the Spirit in history?

Christians are free to celebrate any of these civil or cultural holidays, but our freedom is most fully realized in grateful worship and praise. The church calendar, understood rightly, is just a way of organizing our worship, a liturgy for time. Just as it is permissible, even necessary for pastors or worship leaders to decide which hymns to sing at which point in the service, when to confess sins, when to remind people of their forgiveness, etc., so too the church calendar is a way of organizing our prayers and songs and praise.

While I might throw out any number of provisos, let me just mention one here: If you are new to the church calendar and you think it's a good idea, your temptation is to jump into the deep end with your clothes on without taking swimming lessons. Or to change the metaphor, there tends to be a "cage stage" for most new ideas. The new idea is your brand new hammer and everything looks like a nail. So the encouragement is to wade in from the shallow end. So for example, if you just realized that we just began Lent, good for you. But don't freak out and swear off the next three days of meals in an effort to "get caught up" or make your kids give up cookies and candy for the next six weeks so they can suffer with you. That only teaches your kids that you are erratic and headstrong, and it will probably frustrate and confuse them more than anything. Maybe just start with reading through an entire gospel with your family over the next six weeks. Find some hymns and psalms that focus on the coming of the Messiah and His sufferings and death on the cross. Read a biography of a saint, a martyr, or a missionary, and think, pray, and discuss what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

We've encouraged our folks to consider various avenues of ministry or evangelism. Spend some time befriending some folks at a local nursing home, invite your neighbors over for dinner, look for an opportunity to share the gospel with an unbeliever. Start small, start genuine. Don't stress about the details. And as you use these days and weeks and months and years to celebrate the forgiveness and freedom you have in Christ, your traditions will grow up like glorious memorials. And that's really what we want: we want the life of Christ plastered all of our lives.

And here are some resources for thinking through the church calendar as well as Lent in particular:

Christ Church and Trinity Reformed Church Joint Statement on Holy Days

Is the Church Year Biblical? By Jeff Meyers

The Season of Lent Guide by Elliot Grudem & Bruce Benedict

Church Fathers Lenten Reading Plan

Lenten Meditations by Randy Booth

Several of these and more are available here at Cardiphonia.


Monday, March 07, 2011

Ninth Sunday after Epiphany: Exodus 19: A Mountain on Fire with Love

The arrival at Mt. Sinai is the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promises. Given the challenges that Israel has faced, it is also a sign of God’s great grace and favor.

The Wedding
This scene portrays this covenant renewal scene as a wedding: Moses is the “minister” going between Yahweh and Israel, His bride (19:3, 8, 20). This covenant renewal is the renewal of the covenant made previously with Abraham (Gen. 15). The basis for the covenant relationship is the fact that Yahweh has destroyed Egypt and kept His promises (19:3-4). He has brought Israel to Himself on eagles’ wings (19:4, cf. Dt. 32:11). Though foreign armies will later be described as eagles (e.g. Dt. 28:49, Jer. 4:13, Ez. 17:3ff, Hos. 8:1), in this instance it refers to Yahweh’s host, His glory cloud army of men and angels (13:18-22, cf. Ez. 1:3-14). This Exodus-Salvation is the basis for the “Therefore if…” (19:5). This is the way real love works and is displayed in a wedding. No bride or groom suspects the other of legalism for taking vows. Nor does anyone think anyone is earning anything when they take or keep their vows. That’s just what love looks like.

Precious Treasure and Kingdom of Priests
If Israel obeys Yahweh and guards the covenant, Israel will be His “precious treasure” (19:5), and this is repeated when the covenant is renewed (Dt. 7:6, 14:2, 26:18, cf. Ps. 135:4, Mal. 3:17). This call to “guard” the covenant reminds us of Yahweh’s call for Adam to “guard” the garden. The covenant is not something earned; the covenant is the gift of God’s love, the gift of a holy fellowship, a marriage bed (Dt. 32:11). David and Solomon both refer to their “precious treasures of kings” (1 Chr. 29:3, Eccl. 2:8). Israel is Yahweh’s treasure, His royal plunder, His inheritance. In the Septuagint, this word is translated as “elect,” and the NT writers pick up this language: Christians are God’s elect, His chosen ones, “holy and beloved” of God (Col. 3:12). Our English translations get closest to this where Paul says that Christ gave Himself for us to “redeem” us and to “purify” us for Himself, His own “special people” (Tit. 2:14), and Peter does this as well (1 Pet. 1:2, 2:4, 2:6, 2:9). In the immediate context of the Old Testament, Melchizedek and Jethro form the most concrete examples of priests: both are foreigners who bring the blessing of God and share bread with God’s people. And a kingdom of priests is to be a “holy nation” (19:6, cf. 19:10, 14, 22), and this means to be in a safe place, in a secure relationship to their God, one another, and the nations around them: plenty of bread and blessing for all.

The Mountain
The scene itself seems so surreal and strange: a mountain covered in a thick cloud of smoke and fire (19:18), thunder and lightening (19:16), the threat of death to those who cross the boundaries (19:12-13), the long winding of a horn (19:13, 16, 19). It feels intense, overwhelming, even confusing (19:20-25). But this seems to be the point: Israel is not dealing with a distant deity in the far reaches of the universe; Yahweh is God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer, and therefore Lord of Israel. It is His great compassion and love and mercy that redeemed and saved His people, but it is a fierce mercy, a terrifying love, a deep, black darkness of compassion. This is not to imply that God is fickle or schizophrenic. It means that God is high and lifted up. But God is also putting Himself on the line, bestowing all that He is, and calling Israel into His love, into His glory, into His fellowship. And the only reasonable response is fear and love and glad obedience. To obey is to walk in that glory, in that love.

In the New Covenant all of this is heightened: But this time the fire of God has fallen not on a mountain that can be touched but on God’s people at Pentecost (Acts 2). We have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, and the warnings are just as fierce: see that you do not refuse Him who speaks for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:18-29). But this is not a menacing threat from a distance. This isn’t a command to keep a bunch of impersonal rules. This is because our Kinsman-Redeemer has come for us and delivered us from Egypt and every Pharaoh; Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant has brought us to Himself on eagles’ wings: He has “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father…” (Rev. 1:5-6). Which is proof once again that God keeps His promises (e.g. Is. 40).

“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!" Says your God. Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the LORD's hand Double for all her sins. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth; The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken…

O Zion, You who bring good tidings, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God! Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand, And His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young…

To whom then will you liken Me, Or to whom shall I be equal?" says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, And see who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, By the greatness of His might And the strength of His power; Not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, And speak, O Israel: "My way is hidden from the LORD, And my just claim is passed over by my God"? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”

This coming week we begin Lent. During Lent we don’t pretend to be lost and unsaved or despair of our salvation. Lent is an annual reminder of what is always true of the Christian life. It is an annual reminder that we must press on. Because of the wonderful gift of Christmas and because of the first Easter in Christ, we must press on toward our own Easter. Because we have been born again by the Spirit in our own Christmas-covenant, our own Exodus-salvation, we must fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. We must not doubt in the dark what was true in the light. Remember who you are, remember the glory of the Lord, remember God’s love and grace. Remember God’s promises. Because God has not forgotten.


NSA Exhortation: The Humility of God: Phil. 2:1-13

We have met our God most directly, most clearly in Jesus Christ. Who is God? Who is the Triune God? Who is our God? Our God is the One who was born of Mary, anointed with Spirit, crucified on a Roman cross, and resurrected on the third day. Our God is the God who does not consider it robbery to be God, but freely gives that status away (Phil. 2:6). Calvin and other Reformers sometimes referred to this as God “accommodating” Himself to us, lisping for our frail human souls, but John says that the Word which was from the beginning was the true and glorious revelation of God, that which was seen and heard and touched (1 Jn. 1:1-3). But this means that we serve a radically humble God. But what does it mean that God is humble?

Humility & Unity
Paul’s central exhortation is to let the same mind which was in Christ be in us (Phil. 2:5). What is that mind? It is the mind that gladly gives up what is rightfully yours. The text is wonderfully chiastic:

A. Form of God (2:6)
B. Likeness of man (2:7)
C. Humbled himself; obedient to death (2:8a)
D. Death on a cross (2:8b)
C’. God exalted Him; God gave Him a name (2:9)
B’. Every knee will bow (2:10)
A’. Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (2:11)

Humility is Confident and Brave
Notice two things: First, Jesus did not give up His deity. He did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. It was not lie for Jesus to claim to be God. It was not grand theft for Him to claim that title. But notice secondly, that it is because it is His that He can make Himself of no reputation. In other words, it is the certainty that Jesus has that He is God that allows Him to freely take on the likeness of man. It is God security in Himself as Lord that allows Him to take on the form of a servant. Or from the other way around, it is great insecurity that refuses to risk reputation. It is uncertainty that refuses to serve. The humility of God rightly reckons what is true, what it would not be robbery to consider as true, and in that security and certainty gladly takes risks for the sake of others. In other words, humility is confident and brave.

Humility is Obedient
Notice that central to humility is obedience (Phil 2:8). Humility is not wishy-washy. Humility is not apathetic. Jesus humbled Himself and obeyed. Humility reckons what is true, and then gladly accepts orders. Jesus was so certain of who He was and what was to come that He could obey even to the point of death and even to the point of a cursed death on a cross. Humility is confident, and humility is obedient. This means that humility doesn’t give in to easier routes; humility isn’t a push over. When Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem, that was humility not a stubborn streak.

Humility loves Glory
Hebrews say that Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame of it for the joy that was set before Him (Heb. 12:2). That joy was the glory of sitting at the right hand of the throne of God. That was the joy of being exalted and given the name above every name. But this isn’t merely a means to an end. The humility of God on display in the incarnation was not a onetime exception to the rule. The humility of God revealed in Jesus was a display of God’s eternal humility: God’s eternal confidence, God’s eternal obedience and sacrificial love, God’s eternal glory. In other words, even though the incarnation and death and resurrection were a onetime historical accomplishment, those events reveal the kind of God we serve, the God who humbles Himself for the sake of others. God “esteems others better than Himself” (Phil. 2:3). In other words, God’s glory is His humility. It’s the glory of God to be a God who gives up reputation, who serves, etc. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is a lamb that was slain on the throne.

And notice how Christ’s humility is related to the goal of unity and mission. It is that confident, obedient humility that is glorious and is glorified.

Humility in this community:
1. Differences of background, personality, gifts, etc. : Humility is confident, secure, obedient, sacrificial, and revels in the glory. Roommates, Exams, Grades, Finances, Beauty, Intelligence, etc.

2. Differences in the churches, teaching style, emphases: Humility is confident, secure, obedient, sacrificial, and revels in the glory.

Humility at home:
1. Some of you will be going home: Humility is confident, secure, obedient, sacrificial, and revels in the glory at home, with your parents, with old friends, at your home church, in the challenges.

Humility on Spring Break:
1. Humility is confident and secure. You know who you are in Christ, and what He has called you to.
2. Humility is obedient and sacrificial. It is the height of arrogance to disobey the King.
3. Humility sees the glory in the cross.


Proverbs 30:21-23

Agur’s proverbs continue here in sets of four. He comes as a climax to the book of Proverbs which frequently lays out wisdom in the black and white, sin and righteousness, wisdom and folly. Agus says he’s a fool and stupid, he second guesses himself. He agrees with the rest of Proverbs but encourages us to allow for exceptions.

30:21: For three things the earth is perturbed, yes, for four it cannot bear up

The word for “perturbed” may mean quarrel or trouble (Gen. 45:24, Job 3:26); it may also refer to trembling and fear (Ex. 15:14, Dt. 2:25). This same trembling is promised to Israel if they break covenant with the Lord (Dt. 28:65). This is the panic of a war camp under a surprise attack (1 Sam. 14:15, 28:15). It can also refer to an earth quake (2 Sam. 22:8, Job 9:6, Ps. 18:8, 77:18). The command to “be angry and do not sin” is the command to be “perturbed” but do not sin (Ps. 4:5). The word is only used one other time in Proverbs to refer to the “ragings” of a fool (Pr. 29:9).

The earth is not able to “bear up” because of this trouble, quaking, raging. The word for “bear up” is related to a very common word that means “lift up.” This form can mean “acceptable, bearable, or swelling.” Given the fact that the image here is of the “earth,” the translation “bear up” seems right. The image is of the earth on the verge of collapse. Given that these four things are people, the point is that these kinds of “ragings” have enormous consequences are not minor or little. These are acts of folly that can cause great trouble in the world.

30:22: For a servant when he reigns, a fool when he is filled with food.

Here the servant is probably a member of the king’s cabinet, another subordinate official who has usurped the crown (Gen. 24:2, 1 Sam. 27:12). If the king is supposed to be a rock, a steady leader for the stability of his people, a revolt causes great tumult in the earth. The seizing of glory and power is rarely a good sign, and rarely are those who do so prepared for the task. Frequently, rebels who oust tyrants merely establish more tyranny or worse. People who are not ready to rule, who are suddenly given great power and authority frequently abuse it.

A fool filled with bread is parallel to the first “trouble” in the sense that there is a situation that does not seem natural, does not seem just, or safe. Just as it is frequently unwise to allow hot headed captains to become the next king, a fool with a full belly is like a drunk with a full tank of gas. Instead of nourishing wisdom, instead of being a blessing (Pr. 3:10, 12:11, 14, 20:13), fullness here is a curse. Recall that previously Agur has referred to the curse of “fullness” (30:9, 15-16).
30:23: A hateful woman when she is married, and a maidservant who succeeds her mistress.

The theme of usurpation and events that are unsafe continues here with a “hated woman” when she becomes a “lady.” The masculine form for the word for “married” means “husband” or “lord” and can refer both to marriage and to rule or authority. And it seems likely that both are in view here. A hated woman is an unloved woman, and love exactly what she wants and needs. This is the opposite of a “virtuous woman” who is a crown to her husband (Pr. 12:4).

A maidservant succeeds her mistress by becoming one of the king’s concubines. This is the scene in Gen. 16 where it seemed like a good idea initially for Abram to conceive a child through Hagar, but Sarai knows that this is a mistake after Hagar has his child (Gen. 16:4). Whether intentionally or not, the crossing of loyalty and trust and intentions is too complicated to avoid even the appearance of usurpation. A more devious maidservant may seduce a husband in hopes of displacing the wife. And if that wife is the queen, the maidservant is not only grasping for security but also power (cf. 1 Kgs. 11:19, 2 Kgs. 10:13).

In all four of these instances there is a breach, some break with the usual process, order, etc. And they seem chiastically arranged:

A. A servant who reigns
B. A fool filled with bread
B’. A hated woman married
A’. A maid who becomes queen

In the first and last, power and authority are taken up by those without power and authority, and in the middle two, physical and emotional satisfaction is provided. The first and last perhaps represent psychological desire whereas the middle ones represent physical desires.

The earth is shaken when these things occur, and it seems safe to say that is usually a bad thing. However, it is striking how the gospel accomplishes all of these things. In the gospel, God has become a servant so that He might become Lord over all, and in Him all of His servants reign. In the gospel, fools are filled with bread. The church was a hated and scorned woman who has been loved by a faithful husband, and the maidservant has become a queen. And it is this gospel that has “turned the whole world upside down” (Acts 17:6). While these reversals can be terrifying and create great upheaval, by the working of the Spirit they can be for the blessing of the world.

In the context of Proverbs, Agur’s wisdom is perhaps a warning, a cautionary tale (e.g. watch out for servants, fools, hated women, and ambitious maid servants), but it may also be the wisdom of the gospel that recognizes how God works: “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has given help to His servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy. As He spoke to our fathers, Abraham and to his seed forever” (Lk. 1:52-55). Or Paul puts it this way: “If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor. 3:18-19). And this seems to be what Jesus is calling His disciples to in the gospel: “You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:26).

In other words, grasping for power and authority and satisfaction is always dangerous and tumultuous, whether by kings or slaves, but God loves to show His glory and wisdom and power in the weak and foolish and unlikely.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

I don't believe the sky

I don’t even believe the sky tonight. Like I haven’t seen those fake blues and whites swirled and streaked on some impressionist’s canvass before. It’s a little too obvious. The colors are childish. The blues are too happy and sparkly, and the white is bright, and the grays and blacks came straight out of a carton of Crayola crayons. In fact the whole thing looks colored for a Hallmark card. These clouds are stock clouds from a children’s coloring book, puffy in the middle, complete with silver linings, stretching out in completely predictable patterns.

If you ask me, it actually looks like someone scraped the ceiling of the sky. The whole world tried to drive into a parking garage and the sign clearly said Clearance 8’ and whoever was at the wheel just kept on driving and peeled parts of the roof off and now there are stars peeking through the brand new skylights. Where there is still a bit of roof left, it crumpled, leaving uneven strips of cloud metal running warped toward the horizon. Obviously these clouds really were lined with some sort of silver, and now pieces of that are poking through like a set of old, bald tires.

But it’s getting dark now, and the light is falling. And I can’t really remember what I saw. Just fading images of a blue field plowed up with tiny, shining seeds here and there as though a careless farmer had a hole in his pocket. Or maybe it was a blue beach dotted with sand crystals while foaming tides like searching hands try to pull the earth into the deep. But I can’t remember now, and it was all so fabricated and unbelievable and childish.

Which is why I will be just as surprised and incredulous tomorrow night and every night.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Parenting according to Jethro

Parents, your job in the first instance is to be judges who set free, who deliver, who point out the wonders of God, and call your children to freedom. Discipline is not a jail sentence; discipline is not prison time. Discipline is a jail break. Discipline is an Exodus. Sin is the jail. Rebellion is the prison. And all godly discipline results in freedom. But this freedom is a freedom that rules. God breaks Israel out of jail and immediately tells them to start judging one another. They must set one another free. This will involve pointing out sin and there will be consequences for sin, but the idea is to give that authority and responsibility away. And we want to do the same thing with our children. Parenting is not an 18 year long game of ‘wack ‘em’ at Chuck E. Cheese. Parenting is doing what Jethro told Moses to do: teach your children the statues, the laws, and show them the way to Canaan, so that they can join you, so that they can stand with you, so that they may sit with you in the gates. And this is the pattern for discipleship for everyone in the church. This is the training program of grace. You are free to rule. And godly rule always sets people free.


Eighth Sunday after Epiphany: Exodus 18

Epiphany means manifestation. When God was born as a man, God was revealed to the world. The same Spirit who bore Jesus into the world and empowered His ministry, was poured out in the Church to continue that same revelation. Last week, we saw that God is revealed in our support for one another. The victory is given to Israel when Moses' arms are supported, holding up the serpent-rod in his hands. God continues to train Israel to be His son in this chapter, and here, this training continues in the organization of Israel through the gift of teachers, rulers, and judges. As Israel is organized by judges and wisdom, they reveal their Father.

Moses’ father-in-law is the priest of Midian (18:1). In many ways, Jethro reminds us of Melchizedek (Gen. 14): Moses greets his father in-law with great respect (18:7ff), they share bread together (18:12), and both priests give blessings to God’s people (18:10). While many commentators puzzle over whether Jethro worshipped the God of Israel, it seems very plain that he did. First, the parallel with Melchizedek is striking. Second, Moses married his daughter. Thirdly, the Midianites were distant relatives, descended from Abraham from his second wife Keturah (Gen. 25:2). Fourth, if in the off chance, Jethro really was not yet a worshipper of the true God, after this story, he surely is (18:10-11).

We know that Moses had brought his family back to Egypt with him prior to the Exodus (4:20), but apparently he had sent them back to his father in-law at some point during the Exodus because they return to him now (18:2-5). Notice how Jethro is a striking contrast to Amalek (also a distant relative of Israel, a descendent of Esau) (cf. 15:14ff). Jethro offers offerings and sacrifices to God, and Aaron and the elders of Israel eat bread together before God and worship before (at the mountain) just as God had promised (18:12, 3:12).

Moses and the Judges
The next day Moses went about his daily task of sitting before Israel morning till evening to hear the disputes between the people (18:13-16). Notice that this overturns the reluctance of Israel to have Moses as their judge early on (2:14). We imagine petty lawsuits were not unusual for a people with such complaining as we have seen. Jethro says that this is not good, and it is too heavy for both Moses and the people (18:17-18). Instead of sitting before the people all day, Jethro says that Moses ought to stand before God for the people (18:19). Besides judging, Jethro says the new judges will need teaching so that they can teach the people (18:20). The designation of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens fits with the fact that Israel is an army (e.g. Num. 31:14ff, Dt. 20:9, 2 Sam. 18:1). There were already “elders” in Israel (18:12, cf. 3:16, 12:21, and 17:5-6), and later the “elders” and “judges” will be spoken of as coexisting (e.g. Dt. 21:2, Josh. 8:33, 23:2). Likewise, seventy of the elders will be appointed who will be given some of the Spirit that is upon Moses, and Moses will pray that God would make all of Israel prophets (Num. 11:16-30). Here, Moses appoints “rulers” who will “judge” (18:25-26). This is likely the office of “judge” found in the book of Judges (cf. Ruth 1:1). This judging continues the Exodus, extending the great deliverance of Yahweh (Ex. 6:6, 7:4, 12:12). God delivers His people to become deliverers. In the multitude of counselors there is safety (Pr. 11:14, 24:6).

Body Life
In the New Covenant there three important parallels with what we find in Exodus 18. First, wisdom and leadership are always disciplines of imitation. Jethro teaches Moses to do what he does, so that Moses can teach other judges to do what he does. Paul tells the Corinthians to imitate him just as he imitates Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Jesus is our Moses, who stands before the Father, ever interceding out behalf. Jesus is our High Priest, according to the order of Melchizedek. He is our hope, our guarantee, and He ever lives for us.

But Paul says that Christ has given gifts of leadership to the Church so that the saints may be equipped for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). When the Spirit of Christ was poured out at Pentecost on all flesh, Moses’ prayer that all of Israel would prophesy began to be fulfilled. And this means that God doesn’t just delegate authority. It’s not like Jesus actually gets tired of hearing from us; it isn’t too heavy for Him. But salvation is God’s sharing of His life and wisdom and authority with us. By the working of the Spirit, God is growing up a nation of prophets and judges in the Church. And the pattern is the same: just as Moses was teach Israel how to teach and judge, so the leaders of the church are to train the saints for the work of ministry: judging and teaching. And this is the pattern in the Church: Pastors, elders, deacons are called to give what they have been given away.

It’s worth remember that Jethro was a gentile who advised Moses, and it is the Spirit who knits the nations together and equips the body with gifts (1 Cor. 12). In addition to our sin and rebellion, we tend to despise people different from ourselves. Moses had all kinds of reasons for being prickly toward Jethro or doubting Jethro’s plan, and there are numerous ways it could have backfired. But leadership comes through serving. If you want to be great, you must become a slave. Moses gave authority away, and he actually gained more. If you want to find your life, you must lose it for the sake of Jesus. The Spirit teaches us to have hope, and to see the potential in people who seem like serious projects.

The Fifth Commandment
We practice this pattern in the family. We should not miss the fact that this organization of Israel comes from Moses’ father in-law. The honor of father and mother is a central type of honor and authority and organization in the world, which is why it has such enormous implications (Eph. 6:1-3). But the responsibility goes both ways, and fathers must not provoke their children but rather bring them up in the nurture of the Lord (Eph. 6:4) which means being judges who teach the way of freedom.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Fathers and Judges

In a very helpful conversation with CJ Bowen and Joshua Appel, they pointed out how Jethro acts as a father and a judge in Exodus 18, and this is a type of Yahweh.

Yahweh is the Father and Deliverer-Judge of Israel; He has brought Israel out of slavery and bondage to a false father-judge (Pharaoh). That false father set taskmasters over them and worked them with rigor, but their True Father frees them and exalts them, giving them responsibility and authority. This continues through the counsel of Jethro who comes as a father (literally, a father-in-law), and he sees the state of Moses judging the people and judges this "not good."

Jethro urges Moses to give authority to the people, setting up rulers who judge the people. And this involves Moses replicating himself. Though it is only Moses who is initially judging and teaching (18:16), after Moses has selected the rulers/judges, they are trained/taught (18:20) so that they can teach and judge the people (18:26).

This intent is even more explicit in the parallel passage that occurs some time later in Israel's history in Numbers 11. There it is explicitly the Spirit that is upon Moses that God takes and puts on the seventy men of the elders of Israel (Num. 11:16-17). As a result of the Spirit coming upon the seventy men of the elders, they prophesy, and though some where concerned about the charismatic outbreak, Moses prays that all of the Lord's people would be prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them (Num. 11:29).

Some commentators puzzle over why God speaks through Jethro when up to this point He has usually just spoken directly to Moses. But the fact that God is speaking through Jethro exemplifies the whole point Jethro is making. Yahweh has blessed and equipped Moses, but the point is to share that blessing with others. God will bring the people to their place in peace as they are led and shepherded and taught by many faithful rulers. The goal is to make all of God's people "priests and kings," judging and teaching in righteousness.


Bread before Fire

Peter Enns points out that Jethro eats bread with Moses just before Yahweh speaks with Moses in the burning bush at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 2:20, ch. 3), and later, Jethro shows up to eat bread with Moses and the elders just before Yahweh speaks with Moses and Israel at Mt. Sinai (18:12). And whereas only a bush was on fire the first time, the second time the whole mountain is in flames (Ex. 19:18).

Seems to me that this is a preview of the New Covenant Meal. First comes the bread, then comes the fire-wine. First comes the Bread of Life, then comes the Fire of the Spirit.


Not Good to be Alone

In the beginning, God saw that it was "not good" for man to be alone, and He created woman to be man's helper.

After the birth/re-creation of Israel out of Egypt, Jethro saw that it was "not good" for Moses to judge Israel all alone, and he counseled him to create a number of helpers.


Kingdom of Priests

In Exodus 19:6, Yahweh says that He is making Israel a "kingdom of priests." In the context of Scripture to this point in the story, we only have three examples of "priests": Melchizedek priest of Salem, Potiphera priest of On in Egypt, and Jethro priest of Midian.

This creates a striking picture of "priests." So far priests are all gentiles, outsiders, God-fearers from a distance. And all three are instrumental in providing rest for the people of God. Melchizedek provides a feast of bread and wine and blesses Abraham after his battle with the five kings. Potiphera gives his daughter in marriage to Joseph, and the priests of Egypt are at least in the background of Joseph's care for his family and the rest of the nation of Egypt (cf. Gen. 46-47). Finally, Jethro (like Potiphera) gives his daughter in marriage to God's appointed deliverer, Moses (like Joseph), and it is Jethro who shows up after the battles with Pharaoh and Amalek to eat bread with Moses and the elders of Israel (like Melchizedek). And Jethro gives Moses counsel for organizing the people so that they might "go to their place in rest" (Ex. 18:23).

If we consider Joseph a sort of extension of the ministry of the priests of Egypt, all three are significant for the bread they share with the people of God, for the rest they give during hard times.

When Yahweh says that He is making Israel a kingdom of priests, He means that He is making Israel a nation of Jethros, a kingdom of Melchizedeks, a family of Josephs who have bread and sabbath for the world.

[Insert typological significance for Christ as priest according to order of Melchizedek.]


Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Revelation 11:8 aligns Sodom and Egypt "where also our Lord was crucified" which is of course Jerusalem.

Sodom is a type of Egypt which is a type of unbelieving Jerusalem.

In Sodom, God's people were vexed and mistreated, and the messengers of God were persecuted. And ultimately, Sodom was destroyed.

In Egypt, God's people were enslaved and mistreated, and the messengers of God were rejected. And ultimately, Egypt was destroyed.

In Jerusalem, God's people were oppressed and enslaved, and the messengers of God were rejected and killed. And ultimately, Jerusalem was destroyed.


The Church and War

"If the church as a matter of habit tolerates the use of force and planning for warfare on the part of the state, then she will not even know when the exceptional time has come when it would be justified for her to say a Christian 'yes.'"

John Howard Yoder, summarizing Karl Barth's views, Karl Barth and the Problem of War, 39.


Atonement Theories

"Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed to Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." (Heb. 2:14-17)

Seems like this is a key atonement passage. Here, we have shades of substitution, Christus Victor, and the exemplary theories of the atonement.


Monday, February 21, 2011

New Music

So tell me...

If I were to download one new song today... what should it be?

What if I downloaded two?


Seventh Sunday after Epiphany: Exodus 17:8-16

Amalek is another Pharaoh. When the nations around Egypt heard that Yahweh had thrown down Pharaoh, they trembled and were afraid (e.g. Ex. 15:14). But like Pharaoh who hardened his heart at the sight of Yahweh’s might, Amalek is undeterred. And like Pharaoh, he goes after the weakest members of the congregation when they are at their weakest at Rephidim (17:1, 8, Dt. 25:18).

The Text: Amalek was one of the descendents of Esau (Gen. 36:12), and down through the centuries the Amalekites are cruel and vicious enemies of Israel (e.g. Dt. 25:18, Jdg. 6:3, 1 Sam. 30:3, 2 Sam. 1:10-13, Est. 3:1, 9:24). The rod of Moses is once more highlighted: the same rod that was turned into a serpent, struck the Nile, parted the Red Sea, and has just struck the rock (17:5-6) is now lifted up for battle with the Amalekites (17:9-11). Several new characters are introduced into the story by name that we only know from later in the story: Hur and Joshua (17:10). While the congregation has repeatedly been called the “armies” of God before (Ex. 6:26, 7:4, 12:17, 41, 51), this is the first battle in the traditional sense of the word, except the narrative puts much of the focus on Moses on the hill with his hands and rod (17:11-12). After Amalek has been defeated, the Lord instructs Moses to write this story in the book as a memorial (17:14), and then Moses builds an altar which seems to be a sort of visual/active memorial, describing the whole scene as “Yahweh is My Banner” (17:15). The same word for “banner” is used to describe the ensign/pole that held the bronze serpent aloft for Israel’s healing (Num. 21:8-9). Recalling the staff in Moses’ hand as the one turned into a serpent, it is striking that this sign – Moses holding that staff aloft – is described as Yahweh is My Banner. Ultimately, Isaiah says that this is what will arise from the root of Jesse (Is. 11:10-12). And when the Lord restores Israel, she will become a banner, an ensign for the peoples (Is. 49:22, 62:10).

God Remembers; God Fights
The fact that this conflict with Amalek continues from “generation to generation” during the time of the judges (Jdg. 6-7), the reign of Saul (1 Sam. 15) and David (1 Sam. 30, 2 Sam. 1), and even down to Esther (Est. 3:1ff) is a reminder of the covenant promises of God. God keeps His covenant and defends His people (Ex. 17:15-16). Jesus is the captain of the armies of God, and He came not to bring peace but a sword (Mt. 10:34, Rev. 1:16, Rev. 19:15, cf. Lk. 22:36). Therefore, when Christ our God leads us into battle, we must not grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9, 2 Thess. 2:13). He does not lead us into battles we cannot win (1 Cor. 10:13, Js. 1:13).

Yahweh Our Banner
What is particularly striking about the battle scene described as “Yahweh is My Banner” is that the “Banner” is an old man whose arms grow weary. It is only after he is seated and his arms are supported by Hur and Aaron that the outcome of the battle is certain (17:12). This previews the next chapter where Moses appoints a number of men to assist him (Ex. 18). Just as Jethro will say that the load of judging is too heavy for Moses alone (18:18), so here, holding the serpent-rod aloft is too heavy for Moses alone. It is an altar of worship that stands as a memorial of this fact, just as our worship is a weekly reminder that we cannot stand alone either. It is only as we support one another that we become an ensign to the people, the Banner of God for the world, and every Pharaoh is defeated.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Sixth Sunday in Epiphany: Ex. 17:1-7: God With Us

The wilderness is a training program for Israel, teaching them to grow up into maturity as a son. This means lots of testing (15:25, 16:4, Dt. 8:2). Although Israel is born out of Egypt, it is ultimately not until Israel is born again as a new generation that they are ready to enter the land.

The Text: This is the third in a series of complaints from the Israelites since they have left Egypt behind (15:24, 16:2-3, 17:2-3). We have gone from bitter water to no food to no water. In addition to the Exodus itself, the generous grace of God has responded in both previous cases with overwhelming provision: sweet waters, an oasis, magic bread, and a steady supply of meat for dinner. This episode sticks in the memory of Yahweh and Israel and becomes something of a short hand for the Israelite sojourn in the wilderness (e.g. Ps. 81:7, 95:8, 106:32). Part of this significance is that they return to this place later, and the people respond the same way again, and this time even Moses falls into sin (Num. 20:1-13).

The Lord has been leading this expedition from the beginning (13:17-18), and continues to do so here (17:1). They haven’t accidentally stumbled into the wilderness. One of the running patterns is the Israelites’ complaining directed at Moses (15:24) or Moses and Aaron (16:2), and here they are “contending” with Moses and complaining against him (17:2-3). This contention can refer to a physical fight or struggle (21:18) or a lawsuit (23:3). It should be recognized that this complaining and strife is as much between the Israelites as it is between God and the Israelites. The people once again object to the whole Exodus project (17:3), and apparently the complaints were verging on physical harm to Moses (17:4). The instructions of God highlight the rod which struck the waters, again explicitly insisting that the same God is still performing the same Exodus (17:5). This miracle occurs at Horeb, the mountain of the Lord, also known as Sinai (17:6, cf. 3:1, Dt. 5:2). It is the place of God’s holiness where living water flows. The place is named for the contention and testing of Israel because their actions and words denied God’s presence with them (17:7).

God With Us
The gospel of God with us in Jesus is the good news of renewed community and loving provision. God’s forty year training program was meant to teach Israel that man does not live by bread alone (Dt. 8:3), and this is because God is with us.

The Lord Tests His Sons
We are not our own fathers. This means that we are neither smart enough nor qualified to design our own curriculum. We have one Teacher, one Father, one Lord. He chastens those He loves (Heb. 12:3-11).

You Must be Born Again
Israel was born again in the wilderness, and Jesus says that unless we are born again, we will not see the Kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3). This is not merely an instantaneous, internal change; this is a total reformation of body and soul, habits and beliefs which usually occurs in fits and starts over a lifetime. Or you might say that we have been born again to a life of being born again. And this is because our faith is in the Son who was born again from the dead.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Pharisees as Pharaohs

When the Pharisees and the Jews ask for a sign from Jesus, they are acting like Pharaoh.

"When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, 'Show a miracle for yourselves,' then you shall say to Aaron, 'Take your rod and cast it before Pharaoh, and let it become a serpent.'" (Ex. 7:9)


Wednesday, February 09, 2011

1 Million Martyrs in the Last 10 Years

Over at First Things, George Weigel reports on the latest findings of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research.

Some of the statistics are provocative, particularly those related to the number of martyrs:

"The provocation in the 2011 report involves martyrdom. For purposes of research, the report defines “martyrs” as “believers in Christ who have lost their lives, prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility.” The report estimates that there were, on average, 270 new Christian martyrs every 24 hours over the past decade, such that “the number of martyrs [in the period 2000-2010] was approximately 1 million.” Compare this to an estimated 34,000 Christian martyrs in 1900."

This is stunning and seems unbelievable, and one wonders how well we (western Christians) really are mourning with those who mourn. Are we really bearing the burdens of our brothers and sisters suffering for the sake of the gospel? How can we stand with them?

Meanwhile, we continue to splinter: Weigel writes, "As for the quest for Christian unity: There were 1,600 Christian denominations in 1900; there were 18,800 in 1970; and there are 42,000 today."

But as God frequently does, for all the dividing there is growth. The report suggests an overall, worldwide growth in Christianity, but the growth of Christianity in Africa is the most astonishing:

"Africa has been the most stunning area of Christian growth over the past century. There were 8.7 million African Christians in 1900 (primarily in Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa); there are 475 million African Christians today and their numbers are projected to reach 670 million by 2025."

You can read the whole article here.


Monday, February 07, 2011

Holiness is a Community

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany: Exodus 15:22-16:36

Before all worlds, God was a community. God was a family. God was a society. God was Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And while our God was completely satisfied in His own fellowship, in His own communion, in His own society, He created this world. And while this was completely unnecessary in one sense: He did not need this universe, He did not need creation. Nevertheless, it was not merely arbitrary either, it was not thoughtless or meaningless. God created because He wanted to, because of Who He is, because of how He is. In other words, God created because He is a community, because He is a family, a society.

Many societies fear change. Sometimes friends feel threatened when new friends join the fellowship. Communities seem fragile, and change is sometimes seems like the great enemy. We fear new things, new people, new obstacles, and we naturally tend to cling to what is familiar, what we’re used to, the old ways. When things get dangerous, uncertain, unpredictable, we long to go back, back home, back to familiar faces, back to the way things used to be, back to the good old days. It seems safer, more reasonable, less dangerous.

But the sheer fact of creation flies in the face of this sentiment. Or it at least questions whether safer, reasonable, and less dangerous is to be preferred. If the old ways really were better, then it would have been better for God not to create. But God sets the standard of what is preferable. His goals and mission and preferences are the best goals, mission, and preferences. And for all the perfection of His existence before creation, for all of its security and glory and perfection, He still chose to do something else, to do something new, to create the universe. But rather than see God’s perfection and security and freedom as at odds with His decision to create, we ought to see God’s perfection and security and glory and freedom as the reason why He created. And the categories of safety and security really are helpful ways to think about this: God was so eternally satisfied and glorified, so secure, so safe, so at peace with His own being, His community, His fellowship, that creation could only be more glory, more delight, more perfection. In other words, it was God’s community, His fellowship, the unity of the persons of the Trinity which, at least in part, drove His desire to create, to do something new. It is the community of God’s being that aims and drives for a future.

Creation itself bears some of this pattern out: The days of creation witness a God who creates new things day after day and relentlessly breaks His creations apart, rearranges, and reunites. We noted last week, that God created a world that seems dangerous and wild, but while man is in fellowship with the Creator God, man is safe and secure and may enter the Sabbath rest of God on the seventh day. God’s declaring the seventh day holy and resting from His work is an embodiment of God’s declaration that all of creation is very good. For God to rest and enjoy His work is for God to delight in all the newness, all the change, all the future that God has brought into being. For God to invite Adam and Eve into that rest is for Him to share that delight, that safety, that security, that holiness with them. For however long that perfection lasted, that fellowship of God and man and creation was a sanctuary, a safe and holy place. In that holiness, in that sanctuary, that community, Adam and Eve were like children in a nursery. All their food was provided, they were safe and secure.

The Passover and the crossing of the Red Sea are something like the birth of the nation of Israel. Israel is an infant in the wilderness, and like all babies, Israel cries because he is hungry and thirsty. And as God frequently does, He provides nourishment for infants magically.

The Text: We are looking at two episodes shortly after the crossing of the Red Sea. First, Israel comes to the bitter waters of Marah and the subsequent provision of an oasis in Elim (15:22-27), and second, Israel comes to the barren Wilderness of Sin and the subsequent provision of Manna (16:1-21). Finally, God continues to teach Israel about what it means to be a holy Sabbath people (16:22-36). A number of elements in these stories point back to the Exodus explicitly and implicitly. The explicit references refer to Yahweh’s deliverance from Egypt and the wonders He did in Egypt (15:26, 16:12, 16:32). The miracle at the water reminds us of the first and last ‘wonders’ performed by Moses in Egypt, and the “tree” reminds us of Moses’ rod (15:23-27). The time stamp reminds us that this is exactly one month since the Passover (16:1, cf. 12:1-6), and the instructions for collecting the Manna remind us of some of the instructions for the Passover: every man is to gather according to each one’s need, according to the number of persons (16:16, cf. 12:4) and they are not to leave any leftovers for morning (16:19, cf. 12:10). The complaining of Israel explicitly references life in Egypt (16:3), and Yahweh’s provision is therefore a direct answer to that complaint: they had “meat” and “bread” in Egypt and now Yahweh provides “meat” and “bread” in the wilderness (16:12). Like little kids, at least some of the Israelites do the very things that Yahweh says not to do, saving some of the food for the next morning (16:20), going out to gather manna on the Sabbath (16:27). These commands, these laws (16:4, 28) require Israel to live in freedom. Slaves must horde and worry about whether there will be another meal, but Israel must learn to live like kings. This means gathering only what they need each day, this means trusting God to provide for all their needs, and this means spending a full day resting in His provision every week. Holy people have access to the holy God, and this means living in safety, security, and peace. But perhaps the Passover/Exodus allusions imply that this holiness means learning to be open to God’s future (Dt. 8:1-5).

Ruling Well & Gratitude: The cancer of sin is a bestial tendency, leaving only a remnant of humanity at the mercy of instincts and passions. But freedom means reckoning ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Rom. 6:8-14). Complaining is one such sin and a lack of faith. Complaining is always sin against the grace of God, and complaining is ingratitude. And ingratitude is blind and believes lies (16:3).

Living Sabbath: This means living like children. We need to ditch childish fear and embrace childish faith in the Father (Mt. 6:25-34). Historically, the Christian Church has delighted in the Lord’s Day as a weekly Sabbath day, a day to rest and celebrate the Lord’s provision for His people, but if our entire lives are not marked by that kind of faith and joy and carelessness, we’re just pretending. Holiness is a community (Ex. 16:16). This holiness includes a code of conduct, but more fundamentally, it is loyalty to a people, a family, a society: Jesus is God with us. It is in the safety and security of that community that we are freed to pursue the future, open to whatever God does next, but also fearless and bold to pray for and enact the future. This means that our membership vows and baptisms mean far more than we like each other and ‘everybody loves Jesus.’ Our loyalty to Christ and to one another has implications for education, employment, health insurance, food, housing, everything. This cannot become a separatist colony since if this truly is the community of the Trinity, then it is ever open to the future and ever open to the world.


Parents and Elders

"... since what we teach in catechism is the Scriptures and the confessions, that should properly be considered the official teaching ministry of the church of Jesus Christ. Parents entrusted with the spiritual education of their children fulfill their responsibility under the care and guidance of the church's elders.

. . .

'Two parties,' said Matthew Henry, 'parents in their families and... ministers in more public assembles, are necessary, and do mutually assist each other, and neither will excuse the want of the other.'

We have to take care that the elders do not usurp the role of parents. In God's covenantal structuring of the church he has never set elders or catechism teachers between parents and children or in place of parents. Elders, therefore, may not shove parents aside, nor may parents vacate their position in favor of elders. Instead, by administering a good catechism program, the elders fulfill their role by insisting and ensuring that the parents of the church obey God's command to instruct their children in his ways (Dt. 6:6-9, Eph. 6:4)."

-Donald Van Dyken, Rediscoving Catechism, 91, 101.


Friday, February 04, 2011

Justification as Openness to God's Future

More from Jenson still on the theme of God's future:

"... it is in the situation attributed to the patriarchs that faith, 'the assurance of things hoped for ... and not seen,' emerges the decisive relation to God. Genesis' story of Abraham is the story of a man living by promises. He is called to go he knows not where, to become an unspecified blessing to unidentified future nations. In response to this dubious prospect, 'he believed the Lord,' and the Lord certified such drastic future-openness as 'righteousness,' that is, as the right relationship to himself and the human community. At the climax of Abraham's story, the Lord proposes to take from him even the historical possibility of the promise's fulfillment, so that he may live by faith and nothing else."

-Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology Vol. 1, 68.


The Dangerous God of the Future

"The biblical God is not eternally himself in that he persistently instantiates a beginning in which he already is all that he ever will be; he is eternally himself in that he unrestrictedly anticipates an end in which he will be all he ever could be.

. . .

Thus the revelatory content of the Exodus was not mere escape from the Egyptian past but the future that the escape opened: 'You have seen ... how I ... brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be ...' And this was a true, that is, risky, future: in Israel's memory, Exodus was inseparable from forty years' wandering in the desert, in which the Lord figures as the dangerous leader of a journey whose final end was geographically chancy and temporally unknown, and whose possibility depended every morning on the Lord's new mercy.

. . .

Gods who identity lies in the persistence of a beginning are cultivated because in them we are secure against the threatening future. The gods of the nations are guarantors of continuity and return, against the daily threat to fragile established order; indeed, they are Continuity and Return. The Lord's meaning for Israel is the opposite: the archetypically established order of Egypt was the very damnation from which the Lord released her into being, and what she thereby entered was the insecurity of the desert. Her God is not salvific because he defends against the future but because he poses it."

-Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology Vol. 1, 66-67.


Thursday, February 03, 2011

First the victory, then comes the Fight

In Revelation 15, John hears and sees the new Israel standing on the sea of glass with harps singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty!” Notice that the new Israel is standing on the sea of glass. In the Old Covenant, God parted the sea so that Israel might walk on dry land, but in the New Covenant, our Greater Moses, the Lord Jesus walked on the sea as though it was dry land. And in Christ, the new Israel learns to walk on the sea as though it were covered in a sheet of glass. This new Israel is walking across the sea, over the tops of sea monsters, and the wind and waves cannot harm them. No storm can shake them because their eyes are fixed on Jesus.

But the story seems a little backwards in Revelation: this new Israel stands on the sea and sings the song of Moses and the Lamb, and after that, John sees seven angels going out with seven bowls full of seven plagues to pour out the wrath of God upon the earth. In other words, in this new exodus story in Revelation, the song of Moses comes first and then the plagues. First is the victory and then comes the fight.

But this is exactly right because the greatest and most marvelous work has already been done. There is nothing greater, no creative act more marvelous than the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the cross of Jesus, every pharaoh was disarmed and all their chariots were thrown into the sea. In the cross of Christ, sinners were forgiven. In the cross of Christ, Jesus was exalted and proven to be the rightful king and heir of the world. In the cross of Christ, all the rival gods were triumphed over. In the cross of Jesus, a new and living way was opened for the world, a way back into the presence of God, a way to restore peace and justice, a way to put this world back together. In the cross of Jesus, God was revealed as a warrior, a man of war. And therefore, on this side of Easter, we celebrate the victory first and then comes the fight. We stand on the sea and sing our song of victory and then comes the battle.

And this has at least two implications for our celebration of baptism. First, this is one way to explain why we baptize babies. The objection that is frequently offered, that they are too young, that we do not know if they believe, that they may not be among the elect, -- these are all objections that would have made better sense in the Old Covenant in some ways, back when the victory was still shadowy and faint and ahead of us. But now the victory has been won. First is the victory then comes the fight. So first we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus for our children and mark them with His name and in His blood, and then we teach them to join the battle.

Finally, if Paul can point back to the crossing of the Red Sea as a baptism of the old Israel, as He does in 1 Corinthians 10, then it doesn’t seem odd to imagine this new Israel in Revelation standing on the sea as another picture of baptism. In the first instance, Yahweh displayed His rule over creation, bending the sea in two for His beloved saints to pass through, but in the new Covenant He invites us to share in that rule, in that dominion over creation. And so while we sprinkle a few drops of water on the forehead of a baby, we ought to see the power of God protecting and equipping another daughter of Eve to rule this world in wisdom. All the strength of Pharaoh, all the terrors of sin, all the might of Satan – it has all been disarmed and thrown down and rendered powerless and harmless. All the ragings of the sea are but a few drops of water on a baby’s forehead because Yahweh is a man of war. And Jesus is His name.

CJ and Lisa, teach your daughter these things. Teach her that the victory comes first and then comes the battle. Teach her that she was united to that victory in her baptism, and teach her to rule over the lusts and passions that war in her flesh and to subdue all of her fears and worries. Remind her that she is called to walk on top of the sea with her eyes fixed on Jesus.


The Five Best Toys of All Time

Over at, Jonathan Liu has a list of the five best toys of all time.


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Parenting isn't a Spectator Sport

"It is true that we cannot make believers of our children and it's good to be reminded that we are but men and that the blessing of God and the power of the Holy Spirit alone change hearts and lives. That should keep us humble and prayerful. However, if we know the apostle Paul, we will be convinced that he spared no amount of laboring and striving, preaching and teaching, pleading and argument if by any means he might save some.

An analogy from farming will clarify the point. When we walk in the field we confess that the Spirit alone gives life to our corn crop. But the Holy Spirit has been pleased to bind himself to means. We do not get 180 bushels of corn to the acre by pulling out a lawn chair. Instead we pray and plow, disc, fertilize, plant, irrigate, spray, and cultivate. Ora et labora, pray and work."

-Donald Van Dyken, Rediscovering Catechism, 72.


Precocious Tribes of Pharisees

"In all of Bible teaching we must remember that we are catechizing in the Word, in the Truth. This must always be very personal, for we are not aiming to produce a tribe of precocious Pharisees who can list biblical facts and lay out the five points of Calvinism but never know their Savior. Rather, in the Word and Truth they meet and come to know the persons of their God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

-Donald Van Dyken, Rediscovering Catechism, 57.


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Reformission Rev. Review Pt. 5: The Nether Regions of Francis Turretin

Driscoll recounts at various points certain lessons he learned for preaching that I found helpful.

He says that early on in the history of Mars Hill he gave theology lectures as sermons. While he was very interested in theology, he came to realize that his sermons needed to touch down on the ground right were the people were living. He realized that his sermons needed to speak into the world of sin and darkness of the people in Seattle. Around this time, he also started preaching through books of the Bible. He found this to be a helpful way to get off his theological hobby horses, explain what a text meant in general and then apply it specifically to his people.

Driscoll also says that somewhere along the line he stopped caring how long his sermons were. He would sometimes preach for over an hour, and he still does and does so unapologetically since for many people this is the only Bible they get in a given week. People routinely have the time and patience for an hour or longer in other venues. People who complain about long sermons are either complaining because the preacher is bad or because they don't think the Word of God is as important as football or movies or concerts or stand up comedians.

And speaking of comedians, Driscoll noticed that there are very few men in the world today who can hold the attention of large audiences apart from certain musical artists and comedians. So, even while Driscoll quit worrying about how long he was going, he also started taking homiletics courses from the likes of Chris Rock. And along the way, he started preaching straight through books of the Bible.

A couple of things that really resonated with what Driscoll relates here: First, I think it's a pretty sorry state for the church to be in when people complain if the pastor preaches for much longer than a half an hour. If God invites us to His house for dinner once a week and has a word for us, I daresay we ought to listen even if its running over into lunch time.

But there are several angles to this discussion:

First, there are some in the Reformed tradition who believe that Christians are large brains with arms and legs attached for some reason. Sanctification is largely the uploading of theological data on Sunday mornings in a lengthy theological discourse that might as well be delivered as a series of ones and zeros. The worship service in these churches is a hymn sandwhich with a big, whopping piece of theological minutiea in the middle. Favorite forms of this sermonic bloat are readings from the nether regions of Francis Turretin (Lord bless him) and diagrams of the glories of supralapsarianism. These services are marked with furrowed brows, solemn tones, morbid introspection, and an occasional Holy Ghost grunt between the "we affirm the latters..." and "we deny the formers..."

Obviously if preachers are begging for twenty more minutes of slogging through five syllable words while beating the drums of damnation and hellfire, then I'd much rather the twenty minute version. Make it five minutes for that matter and be done with it.

But related to all of this is the fact that the sermon is not the only way that God ministers His grace to His people. Hymns and Psalms, Scripture readings, prayers, creeds, fellowship, and the sacraments are also significant parts of worship that God promises to bless and fill with His presence and Spirit. People were made with bodies and passions and minds and senses, and God intends to remake this fallen and broken humanity in its entirety. This means that singing and hearing music is part of the ministry of the Spirit. Eating bread and drinking wine in faith is part of the ministry of the Spirit. Hearing the Scriptures read is God's Word to His people as empowered by the Spirit.

Sermons don't need to be long as though that's the only way God speaks to His people. That's sort of like a husband insisting that his wife kiss him for twenty minutes every time. That may make for a great marriage or it might make for lots of babies, but it's not necessary because that's not the only way a husband and wife express love for one another. Talking, meals together, taking walks while holding hands, gifts, poems, and countless words and expressions display loyalty, love, and care. And God does the same thing with His people.

At the same time, a husband and wife that still like long, passionate kissing are probably still in love after all those dirty diapers and frenzied moments of childer-chaos. It's probably a sign of a healthy marriage. And my point is that a congregation that is hungry for God's Word, hungry for the Word read and explained and applied, hungry to grow in Christ, and doesn't mind the preacher going on for another fifteen or twenty minutes is probably a healthy congregation.

But secondly, there are some who are concerned that church services just not go too long. An hour long service is long enough, and an hour and a half, is extreme. And two hours is just downright unreasonable.

But I just don't get this. We'll go to the movies and watch a freaking long piece of garbage and pay twenty bucks for them to let us in. And we call that having a good time. Or we'll go to a concert and pay fifty or eighty or a hundred bucks to get into a stadium filled with screaming teenage girls for two hours. Or we'll watch a game on television for several hours and call that relaxing and fun, but if the people of God are invited to get together, to sing, to fellowship, to hear God's word to them, everybody's all of sudden watching their clocks? Do you really have something better to do? Do you really have something more important than God? Then maybe you should just leave. Maybe you shouldn't bother with the whole church thing.

Again, I appeal to the marriage analogy: what healthy marriage has a husband or wife a few minutes into making love glancing at the clock and hoping it will all be over in a few minutes? Love isn't like that. But worship is a love song between Jesus and His bride. There ought to be other occasions like Sunday School and Bible studies for in depth study of the Word, but the Word preached comes at the people of God in a unique and powerful way. And the people of God should be hungry for that kind of food. And pastors should work hard to prepare a filling feast. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He feeds His sheep in many other ways, but in so far as preachers are called to preach, they shouldn't shy away from the task.

Of course some worry about the kids. Adults can sit through a two hour service, but what about the kids? And some answer this objection by carting the little people off to special rooms where they can worship God in their own little way. But somehow that just seems wrong. When I eat dinner with my family at home, I don't send the two year old to her bedroom to eat her dinner so my wife and I can have some peace and quiet. And somehow I suspect that Jesus wouldn't do that either. In fact he probably hates the fact that so many churches do that to the little children of the kingdom.

But does that mean that sermons just need to be short and sweet and keep the services moving along so we can get in and out like a television sitcom? And what about the crying babies?

I would suggest at least three things here: First, if the pastors and elders are committed to having children in worship then that means that they must speak to them during the course of the service and invite their full participation in the service. This means that they should learn to shout their "Amens" and sing their parts of the liturgy. We should look for ways to include them in the choirs and helping in various capacities that are suited to their abilities. They should know that they have a full place at the table of Jesus, and they are quite welcome to partake of His meal. And parents need reminding and teaching on this. Secondly, It also means that we should be full of grace for their immaturity. If they fall asleep, that's OK. If they need snacks, that's OK. If they need to draw pictures, that's just grand. We obviously want to be teaching them to follow along as much as they are able, but we also remember their frames. We also bear with their squirms and giggles and squawks. And parents need to be reminded that their children do not have to leave all their childishness at the door when they come to meet with Jesus. Jesus doesn't despise them for being little. Jesus loves them, and He is glad they are there with us. And when the kids need instructing and discipline in the middle of the service, we should carry it out gladly and cheerfully, not with an embarrassed fury at the four year old for pulling his sister's hair. Of course they need teaching and correcting: they're kids. But that's nothing to be ashamed of, and it's certainly not a good reason to try to make church as short as possible. Lastly, pastors should work at preaching well. This means being conversational, straight forwardly explaining the Bible, and without being showy or sentimental, telling stories and jokes that make the points the text makes. The best preaching is always able to explain what a particular text means within the immediate context, show the congregation how it fits within the broader redemptive-historical context -- pointing to Jesus, and finally what it means for people who live in 2011 in America (or wherever).

Of course there's no magic or holy minimum or maximum with regard to time, and I'm not saying pastors should lay burdens on their people that are too heavy to bear. I'll I'm saying is that we should be growing hungry congregations, saints who are hungry for the word of God and pastors should be eager to serve up a gospel feast from the Word.

You can find the previous posts in this series here, here, here, and here.


Bible First

"We teach first the Bible and then the confessions, the Bible because it is God speaking to his people, and the confessions because they are the church speaking to God, answering his Word."

-Donald Van Dyken, Rediscovering Catechism, 56.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Sound Down

"The word 'catechism' derives from the Greek word katecheo which is found in several places in Scripture. The most familiar is Luke 1:4, where Luke explains why he wrote his Gospel: 'that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed [catechichized].' Like many Greek words katecheo is put together from two words, in this case kata, meaning 'down toward,' and echeo, meaning 'to sound.' Katecheo is 'sound down.'"

-Donald Van Dyken, Rediscovering Catechism, 12-13.


Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: Exodus 15:1-21 The Song at the Sea

In the beginning God created a sanctuary; He created the universe and blessed it. And on the seventh day, He rested from His work named it holy. His work was completed, His work was to be enjoyed, and His work was to be shared.

The Text:
We can divide the song into three parts: First, celebrating the immediate deliverance (15:1-10), second, celebrating Yahweh’s superiority and the people’s identification with Him (15:11-13), and finally, the broader impact of this victory in the world (15:14-18). This song should be seen as the continuation of the Exodus. Yahweh has come to make Himself known, and in doing so, make Himself present in and with His people for the world. Holiness is completion and communion, and God comes to bring His holiness to Israel (Ex. 3:5, 12:16, 13:2, cf. Lev. 20:7-8). This is referenced later as the reason why Israel must be holy: Yahweh brought them out of Egypt (e.g. Lev. 11:44-45). The Exodus is a display of Yahweh’s holiness. His holiness is His free determination to bring creation to fulfillment and to share its glory. This is why Israel rejoices in Yahweh’s glorious “holiness” in the Exodus, having done “wonders” – great and marvelous works (15:11, cf. 3:20, Gen. 18:14). This song stands as part of that display and accomplishment of Yahweh’s holiness, and this fits with the creation sequence in the text (Ex. 14:19-14:31). This song is the “Sabbath” of a new creation, the remaking of Israel as a new Adam to be enthroned with God in his “holy habitation” (15:13). Miriam and the other women are a new Eve, like Deborah, Hannah, and Mary, and types of the bride of Christ. But even this mini-Sabbath looks forward to a firm dwelling, a “holy place” which is established forever (15:17-18). The entire song celebrates Yahweh’s military victory over His enemies: He is a man of war (15:3), and His right hand has done mighty things (15:6). But His Wind-Spirit, the battle-storm of His presence wields violence with a surgeon’s creative wisdom. Yahweh’s mighty arm will continue this conquest by making the surrounding nations silent like a “stone” like the Egyptians (15:16, 15:5). But one of the central ways that God’s arm will continue this battle is through this song. The song extends the Exodus by repeating the story, repeating the gospel of Yahweh’s victory so that their enemies will hear and be afraid (e.g. Josh. 2:9-14).

Dead People Don’t Sing
The Song at the Sea is a striking reminder that praise and worship and song is what always bursts out of people who have been rescued and remade. When a body is resuscitated, it suddenly starts breathing, and when people are brought back to life, they suddenly start singing. It is far too easy to make fun of the enthusiasm of some of our charismatic brothers, but frequently this is merely a cover for our own lack of faith (14:31). Has God saved you? Has God triumphed over your enemies? Then how can you not sing? This is why our worship is so full of song, this is why our choir plays an important role in leading us in song, and this is why our homes should be full of singing and music and praise. When people know that the Lord is a man of war, nothing can keep them from singing. This means singing loud, this means singing with joy, and this means that choir directors should never have to go recruiting. Love always bursts out in song and dance and praise, and it begins here and spills out into the world. This is the Song of the Lamb, our war song, and with it we bring the justice of God to the world (Rev. 15).


Top 20 Christian College Professors

College Crunch ranks the top 20 Christian college professors. Not sure what all the criteria were for this. But still interesting to see who is considered particularly influential and important in the academic world.

Ben Carson, Robert P. George, Alister McGrath, Al Mohler, Alvin Plantinga, Marilynne Robinson, and N.T. Wright make the list.

You can find the entire post here.


Legalists & Antinomians

Douglas Wilson adds this bit to a recent flurry of blog posts and articles:

"For many among the contemporary Reformed, a legalist is someone who loves Jesus more than they do, and an antinomian is one who appears to enjoy loving Jesus like that. And if this ever happens on a large scale, it will be a great revival and reformation, recognized as such by the museum curators of the future."

There a couple of layers of cheerful irony there as you can see for yourself if you read the rest of the post here.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Grace of the Law

"By reclaiming Luther's grand discovery of justification by faith, Christians again embrace the law with David, Paul, and James. The law leads to Christ, plainly outlines the extent of Christ's payment, defines his righteousness, protects believers from sinning against God's love, and enables them to give concrete expression to their love for God by deeds of obedience."

Donald Van Dyken, Rediscovering Catechism, 6.


The Good Old Days are Now

"... if we must go through what seems the worst of times, we are held in the best of all hands, inseparable from the best of all loves (Rom. 8:38-39)"

Donald Van Dyken, Rediscovering Catechism, 2.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Time, Space, and Holiness

All the days of creation are concerned with the creation of matter in various states: light, land, plants, animals, etc. And the days "stack" up on top of each other. The first day is the creation of light and darkness: Day and Night. And that is necessarily the beginning of the "evening and morning" cycle. But every day after the first day stacks up on top of the first day, experiencing an "evening and morning." The rest of creation does the same. While it is not explicitly mentioned in every detail, later days assume the presence of the former days.

Waters are gathered together in one place on day 3 from the ones that were separated to form the firmament on day 2. Stars and lights are set in the firmament on day 4, and birds fly across the face of the firmament on day 5. The earth that God formed on day 3 is used for the forming of the animals and man on day 6 and so on. The days stack up.

This has implications for our understanding of time. The past penetrates into the present and the future. Time stacks up.

But what the first six days indicate is that time is a kind of space. There is "room" in a day for a certain amount of work, a certain amount of *stuff*, but God builds, plants, forms, separates, and names within the "space" of a creation day.

But then God does something radically different on the seventh day. On the seventh day God stops working, He stops creating, and He sanctifies, makes holy the seventh day because He rested from all of His work which He had created.

In one space of time, God planted a garden. In another space of time, God formed the oceans. In another space of time, God painted the birds and invented fish.

But when God stops working, the "space" is filled not with "nothing" since the nothingness has been displaced by creation. Rather, the "space" of the seventh day continues to be filled by "all His work which God had created and made."

To sanctify that, to bless the seventh day is to pronounce a benediction on the whole week, all of the work, all of creation. In other words, for God to call the seventh day "holy" is for God to name the creation a holy place. The seventh day is a sanctuary, a space in time which extends in all directions spatially, claiming all of creation as holy space.

But this naming also extends backwards in time. In God's blessing of the seventh day, the previous days are blessed and pronounced holy. This is true by virtue of those artifacts which persist in time -- all the *stuff* that God made is still there when He blesses everything on the seventh day. But there also seems to be a sense in which sanctification, calling something/someone "holy" penetrates into the past. Events stack up on top of one another, but they are and remain permeable to holiness.

In the beginning, God created a sanctuary, a holy place: the universe.