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.