Wilson rocks

The quote below is another reason I like Doug Wilson, who is on a real tirade against post-modernism lately - emergent church, Brian MacLaren, all those guys - over at www.dougwils.com. This one below is on letting Jesus be Jesus.

"One of the experts in the law answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also." Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. "Woe to you . . ." (Luke 11:45, NIV).

"Jesus responds with no explanation at all... All He does is turn to the expert in the law who thought himself grieved and insulted, and say, "Oh, and that reminds me. You guys . . ." In for a penny, in for a pound.

"... There are many ways in which we have portrayed Jesus to the unbelieving world as a smarmy milksop. This trick of denying the plain teaching of Scripture is just one of them. We want a blank screen Jesus, a Jesus upon which we may project our sentimentalist fantasies. The only problem with this procedure is the text.

"Jesus is such a real character, more alive than any man who ever lived, and He had so many angular features that we can do nothing about. So we get out the platitude brush, and persist in painting our pietistic varnish in glossy layer after layer on the text of Scripture. To change the metaphor, we are trying to put sentimentalist Victorian wallpaper on top of some rough Mexican stucco. And despite our intense and prim efforts, when we are done, we still have a Jesus who damned fig trees, healed withered hands, threw furniture around in the Temple, not to mention some of the coins, forgave adulteresses and IRS men, called the tetrarch a name, went to dinner parties thrown by disreputable people, and threw consistent, unrelenting taunts at the squeaky-clean religious leaders of His day. Anyone who misses this is simply not paying attention. But Jesus commands attention.

"We let the language of holyspeak roll over us, such that we are not paying real attention any more. We like the feeling it gives us, but that is not necessarily the same thing as listening. But our attention is grabbed if an uninspired someone takes the words of Jesus, and puts them into our context, and points the gun at our Pharisees. "Jesus," we say to the new arrival, the rude guy, "could not possibly have ever done anything like that. Why, that conflicts with the traditions of the rabbis."

Famine of the Word?

Here's part of a good post by the Internet Monk:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land- not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it." Amos 8:11-12

"You see, this morning, at my Presbyterian Church, I preached to 12 people. That’s not unusual. We have a Reformed worship service that does everything we believe is important in a God-centered, God-honoring service of public worship. We are a Bible-saturated church. We read it. We sing it. We say it. We pray it. I preach it from lectionary texts and in verse by verse exposition. You’d have to drive a long way around here to find someone more committed to serious reformed worship and preaching than I am.

"We don’t have a band. We don’t anoint with oil. We don’t shout. We don’t fall over in worship. We don’t speak in tongues. We don’t clap and jump. My preaching is intelligible, organized and earnest. I apply the message. I am careful to preach the gospel. There are no strange prophecies or emotion-laden prayer groups. We worship decently and in order. We do the Christian year. We say the creeds. I teach the confession.

"I’m pretty sure that our church will die in a few years. I’m just as sure that most of the churches in our community that don’t embrace the Pentecostal-Charismatic style of worship will decline, and that many of the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Holiness churches will grow and prosper. I am certain that Biblical preaching means less and less to the average Christian every week in our community. It is a famine, and I am watching it happen in my lifetime.

"I often wonder if I should change? Should I embrace the local culture somehow and try to find a “reformed” mountain Christianity. So far, it stifles me. I cannot see where to start. Maybe it is right in front of me, and I am just afraid. Maybe I and other pastors here are carrying the light until another generation can take it up and shine it brighter in this place.
As it is, Reformation Day has come and gone, and the parking lot at the newest Pentecostal church in our county is full, while my church grows emptier.
Am I to blame? I end this Reformation Day wondering if I have furthered the famine or if I have done the best I can do to ease it. I do not know. God will have to be my judge. I dream of a church that is full, but every time we sing a reformed hymn, I am looking at faces that want to be elsewhere where the songs are recognizable and the atmosphere is familiar and informal. A few years ago a new family came with relatives to our church . They tried. I tried. We simply couldn’t keep them. I couldn’t be that mountain preacher. They couldn’t be those reformed Christians. There was a Charismatic church that suited them. It was a sad day when they left, particularly because they left me not with certainties, but with doubts.
“We long to see your churches full” wrote the hymnwriter. That is my desire, and as my time in ministry grows shorter, I want to see the Gospel loved and the Word of God hungered for among God’s people. I pray that I see a Reformation Day when there is evidence that the famine is lifting, and God’s Word is doing its work once more."

All of this seems to me (Steve, now) to flow naturally from our culture's insistence on informality, casual-ness, and not really taking anything too seriously, God included.


Galadriel in miniature

My sister Emily emailed this picture of our daughter Grace in her Cinderella costume....but don't you think there's some Galadriel-esque stuff going on here? I can almost see elves running around in the background!

Flood is Over - Sara

The "Flood" sweater is finally finished! I'm pretty excited as this is the first big project I've completed for myself... and I made it a challenge by having to recalculate the pattern to fit a different guage (which involves LOTS of math - not my cup of tea), and it actually fits! This project made me delve into the theory of knitting, removing most of the mystery from this art. Check it out:

The photo doesn't show the chunky cables on the body or sleeves very well. The pattern is "Flood" by Kim Hargreves out of the Rowan Plaid collection book. I used 9 skeins of hand spun and hand dyed Manos del Uruguay yarn (100% wool) that has a fun thick-thin texture. It's soooo warm and comfy! Here's the happy knitter:

(thanks Emily, for your photographic prowess)


Magi Weren't from the East.... (Sara)

...they look more like Midwesterners. Apparently carpooling, er, camelpooling was in vogue way back then too.

Here's our crew frantically trying to pull it all together before the camera's timer goes off... and praying the camera doesn't fall off the bridge into the creek below. Note the change in weather wear between the photos - only one month difference!


RCA dialogue: year 1 of 3...

How to discuss homosexuality as a Christian denomination?

I agree we need to judge actions, not motives. Very commendable to seek and do this.

I disagree that it's hard to know what Jesus would do here. Just substitute the adulterous woman in John 8:1-12 with a homosexual today, and you've got it. Jesus condemns those condemning homosexuals hypocritically, or to make political points. He writes their names in the dust, thinking of Jeremiah 17:13. They get it, condemn themselves and leave. Then Jesus graciously tells the homosexual that this IS sin and not to do it anymore.

But a question: what do we do once we all understand each other in 2009, and still see homosexuality differently? Insert a conscience clause into the BCO? If we decide to do nothing further than dialogue, we have chosen a theological position, not just decided to all get along.

On mission versus purity: our mission is to spread the truth of God's Word. How can we have a cohesive mission if we don't agree on what the truth of God's Word IS?


On "Jordan's Bend" - Sara

Just finished reading "Jordan's Bend" by Carolyn Williford for our church's monthly book club. I am not a fan of the Christian Fiction genre, so I picked this one up not so eagerly. But I figured since it was published before I was born, there might be some redeeming qualities to it.

It's an interesting story of a 14 year old girl living in the Tennessee River valley during the depression with her family on a generations-old family farm. Enter Roosevelt's New Deal and the TVA's plans to build a dam, resulting in a lake - yup, you guessed it, right over their family farm.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a book that was not formulaic or predictable. Neither did it offer political commentary as many modern authors would be tempted to slip in. It portrayed in a very genuine manner the struggles a teenager has with her faith, her God, and her own self when life serves up hard times. She comes to realize that the land, her beau, nor even her venerated old Granny Mandy are her supporting foundation, although she attempts to use all of these in some way as her connection to God. Many of us have tried to substitute one thing or another as a real relationship with God only to find it empty and useless.

Fire and water show up repeatedly in the book, water obviously through the river and the TVA's dam project. It is essentially the source of all problems. Contrast this with the foxfire Granny Mandy uses as an object lesson for faith in the "unnatural world" (spiritual world). {By the way, I had never heard of a foxfire before and had to get out Webster to figure out what this was. It's a luminesent glow created by rotting debris and fungus. If you've ever seen this, I'd be interested in hearing about it.} Fire also shows up in a rousing recitation of Longfellow's "Prometheus' Fire" by the main characters younger brother - which reignites the fire in the locals' hearts, reminding them of who they truly are and thus helping to rebuild some broken relationships amongst the town folks. Fire, or rather a burn, brings a character "back" from a several week spell of just sitting in her rocking chair after hearing the news her family would have to relocate due to the flooding. All these allusions to the power of water and fire reminded me of the many references in the Bible to God being an all consuming fire, going through the refiner's fire, the chaos of water/waves being swept over the Psalmist, Gen 1:1, etc.

I'm glad I read this one - except for one point. The strong Southern dialect used throughout the book seeped into my head, and I catch myself inserting the verb "be" infront of just about every other verb. So I don't "be recommending" it for it's ability to teach proper grammer. Another bonus is the fact that this book is very clean - no language, scenes, or themes that caused me to blush (something that cannot be said of many modern Christian-labelled books). So pick this one up, it's a fairly quick read, and cook up some cornbread. I think you'll find it delightful and edifying.

"The concert has won. The worship service has lost."

This one hit home, especially after being with 20,000 screaming 20 and 30-somethings, who paid $50 and up to listen to "their kind of music."

Who is willing to stand up for a 2 and a half hour worship service (the length of the concert)? Who puts $50, $100, $1000 in the offering plate for more of the same (the price of the concert)? Something has been lost between the 1950s-60s generation style of church (with all its own imperfections) and today's.

But the link is making a different point, about how the small church trying to keep up with church music trends isn't doing very well. I praise God for congregations that aren't insisting on going down this road yet. But they are heavily skewed to the aged, while the rest look like the crowd at a U2 concert. Sometimes the former group sounds like a Branson, Missouri show, while the latter sounds like Third Day. We are horribly and sinfully age-divided and entertainment driven, as a church.

Parents, elders and pastors need to talk with younger people and explain why we worship how we do. They also need to be open to young people's ideas and resources, including them in worship regularly.


RCA dialogue: year 1 of 3...

I'm fairly impressed with the RCA's official statement here, on the beginning of dialogue on this subject, given the diverse theological beliefs surrounding it. This isn't where I am personally, and I wish there weren't such theological diversity, but wishin' don't make it so...

It will be good to have a moderated discussion about this.

More prayers

The Valley of Vision book to the right is excellent. As the subtitle says, it's a collection of puritan prayers, and their spiritual depth and riches are astounding, leading me directly into God's presence on every page. Wonderful stuff. Find it here.

Rockin' Pastor

Thanks to the bad scheduling of one of my friends, and the generosity of another, I was here last night for my first ever "non-Christian" real-live rock concert.

Bad news first:
- pricey! $50 for a nosebleed seat. $2400 for front-center. Good thing for that generosity...
- a little meshing of religions. Jew, Christian and Muslim called upon to coexist and stop fighting. I can go that far, but then to say we're all sons of Abraham... well, true by tradition, but Jesus had more to say about that (John 8:31-44).

At the end of "Bullet the Blue Sky," my least favorite U2 song (anti-war and America), Bono mimed being a blinded USA veteran, sang "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again," and dedicated it to USA military personnel. He wants peace, but isn't a raging lunatic about it, and acknowledges some realities, it seems. Same with his AIDS in Africa and poverty work, it seems. I admire his efforts, because even after some of his naivete is stripped away by realism, he continues to try. Walk on.

Here are the lyrics to the last two songs (of the double encore!) sung. Both are prayers.
(By the way, no swearing by anyone on stage - or even in the crowd that I heard - all night. A very clean, well-done show.)
To save space, capital letters begin a new line...

Take these shoesClick clacking down some dead end streetTake these shoesAnd make them fitTake this shirtPolyester white trash made in nowhere Take this shirt And make it clean, cleanTake this soulStranded in some skin and bonesTake this soul And make it singYahweh, YahwehAlways pain before a child is bornYahweh, YahwehStill I’m waiting for the dawnTake these hands Teach them what to carryTake these handsDon’t make a fistTake this mouth So quick to criticiseTake this mouthGive it a kissYahweh, YahwehAlways pain before a child is bornYahewh, YahwehStill I’m waiting for the dawnStill waiting for the dawn, the sun is coming upThe sun is coming up on the oceanThis love is like a drop in the oceanThis love is like a drop in the oceanYahweh, YahwehAlways pain before a child is bornYahweh, tell me nowWhy the dark before the dawn?Take this cityA city should be shining on a hillTake this cityIf it be your willWhat no man can own, no man can takeTake this heartTake this heartTake this heart And make it break

"40" [think, Psalms]
I waited patiently for the Lord.He inclined and heard my cry.He brought me up out of the pitOut of the miry clay.I will sing, sing a new song.I will sing, sing a new song.How long to sing this song?How long to sing this song?How long, how long, how longHow long to sing this song?You set my feet upon a rockAnd made my footsteps firm.Many will see, many will see and hear.I will sing, sing a new song.I will sing, sing a new songI will sing, sing a new song.I will sing, sing a new songHow long to sing this song? How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song?

Pictures and history from Turkey

Sara does some surfing of knitting blogs and found this cool link - a knitter touring Turkey and giving some pictures and history of ruins. Very nice!


Federal Vision

If the names Doug Wilson, Federal Vision (FV), or objective covenant don't mean much to you, I'd advise skipping this one - it's pretty long! Or learning about it here or here.

Here's a letter to me from a guy not too keen on Federal Vision thought, as very briefly summarized in the above links. I responded in italics and parentheses...

Dear Steve,
I had promised you a critique of the FV, and hope to begin it now. It
is a strange thing to watch, however, how some men who had been gung ho
with the FV have begun to distance themselves from it (eg Doug Wilson
on blog
and mablog.... , etc.). The one that has begun to scare
me is .... . What I have observed among some in the FV is that
any stick will do to beat a dog. So if the dog is Westminsterian
Calvinism, the stick may well wind up being postmodernism and
linguistic deconstructionism. Note too how those guys always want to
claim their opponents are not well-educated, etc. That is, of course,
a logical fallacy.

(Yeah, ..... got pretty out there on some recent comments on his own
blog. Still, I think what was true of Jesus and the Pharisees is true
of any intramural debate. The history I’ve learned tells me that the
Pharisees were the closest Jewish group in their “theology” to Jesus in
the 1st Century AD. And Jesus was hardest on them, precisely because
they were the closest to the truth (Love God and your neighbor, eg).
Much like we spend a lot more time debating with other Reformed than
with Roman Catholics. In other words, I see this kind of debate as
quite healthy for the Reformed world, not producing confusion,
disorder, etc. We need to be questioned, to keep our positions sharp,
balanced and attuned to where the world is.)

Okay, enough screed. NOw substance. I think the most incisive
critique I have heard of the Shepherd/FV/NPP camp is simply this: they
take, and press home upon their congregations a proposition that may
not be true, and I think it is a very dangerous proposition. It is
simply this: a person who is baptized and who has not apostasized is
to be regarded as a Christian. HEnce, Doug Wilson says that "A
Christian is one who could be readily identified as such by a Muslim."
I just don't know how a man who serves in the pastorate can look out
over his congregation, and say that is true. Their view of belonging
to Christ is one of passive non-negation: if you're baptized, and don't
resist, then you are in. To my mind, it is just this objective
passivity about one's soul that is killing the CRC, just as it killed
its parent church in the Netherlands (noting, of course, the obvious
differences between Kuyper and Schilder, the presumptive
regenerationalists and the covenantal objectivists --just arguing they
end up in the same place.)

(I think you summarize Wilson well, in one part of his book, Reformed
is Not Enough. I have not read much else of FV (no Schlissel, only Face
to Face by Wilkins). Most of my FV sources are Wilson, some Leithart.
But Wilson affirms the traditional definition of “Christian” too, and
he argues vehemently against a presuming passivity. The key which you
note below is discipline. If you have effective discipline at work, it
doesn’t much matter how objectively/subjectively you view the
covenant, it will work ecclesiastically, avoiding a passive

Well, what is the problem with the above view? First, I think it turns
Biblical religion on its head. I firmly believe that belonging to
Christ is, in the first place, a matter of the heart. THus, Jesus can
say to a bunch of circumcised non-apostate covenant members in LUke 13,
"Strive to enter by the narrow door." Thus Paul can say to a bunch of
baptized non-apostate covenant members, "Examine yourselves to see if
you be in the faith. Test yourselves..." (2 Cor. 13:5) I just cannot
get around those verses in Romans where Paul explicitly says that "He
is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and whose circumcision is a
circumcision of the flesh, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and
whose circumcision is a circumcision of the heart." I have seen some
convoluted exegesis from FV guys trying to deny that this is possible
in the church, but I think that is precisely Paul's point. Whether
external Jew or external Christian, both are deceived. This goes smack
to the heart of the issue of the visible/invisible church, and the
category of nominal Christian (both of which Doug Wilson and other FV
type folk deny). And what is Arminianizing about it is that Wilson and
Wilkins argue that a person can be truly and vitally united to Christ,
with all his saving benefits (save, somehow,
perseverance/preservation), and yet be lost.

(I would affirm with you the basic meaning of the outward/inward Jew
text, and not buy convoluted exegesis to explain it away. But FV tries
to keep the “internal faith” from deteriorating to an undue,
assurance-robbing introspection (“do I believe enough?”). It’s more
about Luther’s appeal to objective things like the cross and his
baptism when Satan assails him with doubt. That very appeal to
externals IS the internal faith. Again, both are needed. On the
in/visible church, I’ve seen Wilson write that this distinction does
exist – he doesn’t deny there is an invisible church – he denies that
we can deal ecclesiastically in that realm. And we need something
objective to go on when it comes to discipline – elders sitting around
judging on the internal faith of others is dangerous. By your fruit you
will know them. On perseverance, yes, this puts the visible objective
church in the covenant blessings category of Deut 27ff and Hebrews
6:4b-5. Wilson wants to do justice to passages like Heb 6:4-6. I think
restoring the objective covenant to its proper (higher) position (still
in balance with the internal faith) accomplishes this. This is how some
trample the blood of the New Covenant. I think baptized, unbelieving
people will have a stronger judgment against them (Woe to you Korazin…
it will be worse for you…) But those with true faith aren’t in this
category; those will not fall away. Is this schizophrenic? I think it’s
just a good balance between objective and subjective).

Now, I know and empathize with what they are reacting against. And, I
think there is a partially sociological reason for it. They are
reacting against the complete subjectivism and experience orientation
of modern evangelicalism that has granted a lot of false assurance to
folks, said obedience is not necessary,promotes its own version of
passivity with decisionistic regeneration and eternal security, and
downplays the necessity of vital connection to the church. Most of
these guys come from that background. They thought they were escaping
it by coming into Reformed churches, but, lo and behold, we have the
same problems in our midst, because we have a lot of broad
evangelicals. Yet, what they fail to see is that the problem is not
with Calvinism itself, but with the fact that we tolerate those in our
midst who are Calvinists in name only. Thus, they are charging the
Reformed faith with something of which it is not guilty. ANd, what
they do not realize is that they commit the same error as the broad
evangelicals do, only in another way. In short, they give false
assurance to people that simply having a baseline level of obedience
and covenant fealty is the same thing as true and saving faith.

(I would agree that this is part of the problem, and FV’s concern, but
I don’t think it drives their distinctive ecclesiastical and
sacramental position. Their claim is that the Reformed world has
drifted too Zwinglian, as opposed to a higher, Reformed view)

The genius of the Reformed faith, in my understanding of it, is that it
holds the objective and subjective in balance. There are things that
are objectively true: like covenant promises, election, and the like.
Then, there is the necessity of my subjective response to Christ and
his command to repent and believe: namely, that I must do it as an act
of my will. I don't have to have a crisis experience, and I don't have
to name a time and date (another false slur against the
experientialists, which is again misdirected). But, I do have to have
the reality of trusting on Christ, and the change of nature upon which
it is predicated.

(I’ve been seeing the objective and subjective as balanced within each
theological “item.” Baptism objectively does something – ingrafting us
into Christ and His body (Rom 6). But it is the faith in Jesus
cleansing us, to which baptism points, that saves us. So I think there
is more than objective truth and subjective belief. There are objective
realities at work in the church and sacraments. They don’t save us, but
they point to that salvation, and nourish faith that’s already there,
and define who is in the covenant/church and who is not.)

My experience (and probably yours, too) bears this out. Having grown
up in .... , in an RCA church, I bet I can diagnose your
situation pretty well --tell me if I'm wrong here. You look out upon
a bunch of basically decent, baptized folk. Yet, you see tons of
apathy, little hunger for or understanding of the word, backbiting and
gossip, decisions made upon a business and not ministry basis, etc.
etc. And, you wonder if many of your folk are truly regenerate. You
cannot read the heart of course, and you are not called to do that.
But, you are called to press on them always the necessity of
self-examination to see if they are in the faith, and the necessity of
vital connection to Christ in faith. YOu call upon them to repent and
believe, and to make sure they have the reality of the things they
profess. YOu warn them against going through the motions. Well, it
seems to me that, if you bought wholesale into FV, you could no longer
do that. After all, these are baptized, non-apostate covenant
members. Why this is so dangerous: many baptized, non-apostate
covenant members have no vital connection to Christ, and are therefore
lost, and all the more guilty because they are members of the covenant
community, and under vows and curses because they disobey.

(You hit my experience very accurately. I believe we are called to
press on them those things you mention here, because God uses various
means, including preaching to call covenant members to faith.
Discipline is just as required with an objective view, and not avoided
simply because people are presumed to be covenant members.

Anyhow, that's a brief and very clumsy statement of my objections!
Look forward to your response.

(There are four categories: in the covenant and saved, in the covenant
and not saved, outside the covenant and not saved, outside the covenant
and saved. Being in the covenant means being baptized and partaking of
the Supper. Being saved means having faith in Christ’s sacrifice to
justify you before God. Ordinarily, God connects these two things in a
sacramental union. We believe, and are baptized. Or, we believe and so
we eat and drink. But some unbelievers eat and drink hypocritically and
some believers never get to a church. FV guys are simply raising the
importance of the covenant side of this – not to salvation level, I
don’t think.)

Jesus, the living Word

This new Bible reading method (see below) is blowing my mind.
I'm becoming convinced that pretty much everything Jesus said has some sort of Old Testament connection. Which would make sense, right? The living Word and the written Word...

Anyway, compare Luke 6:20-26 and Jeremiah 5:26-31. These are the kinds of things that don't make it into the cross-references, usually, but there is an obvious thematic connection.


Plundering and restoring Iraq's Museum

Got my latest Biblical Archaeology Review in the mail this week.
Fascinating article about the plundering immediately after Saddam's fall. Over 13,000 artifacts were stolen in just 11 days - many major finds and historically important objects. "World's oldest known" kind of stuff - just taken by looters.

The article is written by the US military colonel commissioned with restoring and recovering the museum. They had to inventory the smashed, messed up place, send pictures of important missing stuff to border patrols and law enforcement agencies internationally, conduct raids on places/people they knew had stolen stuff, and simultaneously gain the trust of the Baghdad citizens, so they would return stuff without fear of punishment.

On the last, they visited cafes without helmets, publicizing that anyone returning anything would not be charged or asked any questions. It would just be taken back. No rewards would be given for artifacts, either, except for information leading to stolen objects.

It was hard to convince the citizens of the no-punishment part, given Saddam's brutality. Once in 1999 when burglars stole a piece and were caught, they were all beheaded under Hussein's regime.

But it has worked, partially. Over 5,000 articles have been returned, including many of the most important, all without financial reimbursement. Stuff from 6,000 BC coming back in garbage bags. While the colonel was on leave in New York (!), he got a call, and met a middle man in a mid-town Manhattan cafe, recovering a 4,000 year old piece. Portable stove/furnaces used by kings in 700 BC, as well as some of their "crown jewels" - restored. The picture above is the oldest known rendering of a human face ever found (3100BC). It was recovered in a pre-dawn raid on a farm just north of Baghdad, buried a foot and a half underground.

Why loot? To resell and gain financially. Out of spite against Saddam. Ironically, to altruistically save stuff from destruction and looting.

Why inform against another? Again, to save stuff. To do justice. Mercenarily, to get a financial reward, which they did. To put rival dealers out of business (!).

On the military end, this was also an enlightening story.
When the USA invaded Baghdad, the army used the Museum as a military position, with snipers firing rocket-propelled grenades from the upper stories. The children's museum was in the same building, and also had snipers in it. Uproar came when the US tanks fired and hit the children's museum, but they only missed the snipers who had fired at them first by 1-2 feet.

After the occupation had been in place for a while, one day an older couple came in claiming the Islamic manuscript museum they were curators in was being burgled. The task force swung into action, SWAT-teaming the place, in a very vulnerable, exposed position, militarily. Nobody was there! Turns out the place had been burgled the day before, were planning on coming back for more, and this was a test, to see if the good-ole US of A would actually risk themselves for an Islamic site.

The kicker is this. Smuggling. The two biggest ticket items to smuggle in Iraq right now are weapons and antiquities. And they're smuggled together. You might have been wondering how the US military got involved in restoring an archaeology museum. Because if you follow the antiquities, you'll find weapons, and when you find smuggled weapons, you've found insurgents. People buying smuggled-out antiquities are partially and indirectly funding and supporting Iraqi insurgents against the US. This is hard to stop because it is such a profitable business. Even other nations are difficult to convince, sometimes, because they can make such a killing taking under the table bribes to let stolen merchandise over a border.


Something new for devotions

I finally couldn't stand it anymore. Reading through Isaiah 40-66 always frustrated me, because my Bible reading plan has me reading 3 chapters a day, or so. But there are SO many New Testament allusions I wanted to check out... So I caved. I'm pitching the "plan" for another method. I'm one who gets caught up in staying on schedule. I'm in recovery.

This new method is a revolution.

I have taken an old NIV graduation Bible and decided it will be my OT/NT Bible. Anytime there is a connection (quote or obvious word/meaning/phrase ref.) I highlight the verses in each testament and write in the cross-references to each.

Part of the revolution is actually writing in a Bible - something not kosher for most in my tradition. I'm getting over it quickly; I find myself more immersed while writing on the page.

This has been amazing. I would say there are, on average, between 5-7 references PER CHAPTER, in Isaiah 54-64, to the New Testament. Mostly to Revelation. John sure knew his Isaiah. That's for another time, though.

I'm using a great section in my Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament for most of my references, but also finding some others on my own.

One of the uses of this method pointed out to me (no, this wasn't my own idea - not that smart) is that when reading the OT, you can quickly reference how the NT uses the text, something not many Bible give you in detail, even in cross-references.

A Grief Observed

Hemingway-esque, at times. Short. Realistic. Relational disconnect a main theme.

C.S. Lewis' honesty throughout was refreshing, sometimes disturbing. Genesis 32 kept coming to mind - he wrestled with God, without ultimately getting bitter, running away or giving up. Instead, the struggle led him further up and further in.

The section about faith being tested was gold. Reminded me of Genesis 22 - Abraham's faith tested in a similar way. You don't really know how solid and true your faith is until He is all you have to lean on. And God often tests that by removing the next most leaned-upon thing from your life. This makes God look like a Cosmic Sadist, without the eyes of faith. But we know that God chastens those He loves, Jesus being the author and perfecter of our faith.

Very refreshing in how he gets out of himself, putting the right priorities back: God, others, self. So much writing on grief stays in the psychological self realm...


Wasted Space?

I've finally figured out what to do with that 2-3 inches of space between the tops of Steve's books and the shelf above:

use it to stash my yarn!

Think of the advantages:
  • no more complaints about yarn "tribbles" multiplying around the house
  • it will keep the dust off from the tops of the books
  • visually pleasing - organic shapes break up the linear monotony & add color
  • should our ceilings ever collapse, the yarn will add cushioning and protection
  • potential for instant color-coding of books (puritans by the reds, Wodehouse by the blues)
  • and best yet: encourages hubby to actually buy more books (thus allowing for larger yarn stash)

OK - not a lot for theological discussion here, but how to live with all these books is a creative challenge to be solved by many PW's!


New books

After getting to talk with David Bivin about rabbinic sources contemporary with Jesus, I found and am blessed by these volumes already. In the bottom one ("Aboth," or "Fathers") in the explanation of the front illustration (not even the preface, Yet!) was this blurb:

"All Israel have a portion in the world to come; as it is said, 'And thy people shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified (Isaiah 60:21).' .... The Talmud likens the vine to the Jewish people..."

Interesting to throw into the brain-pot Matthew 5:5 (Jesus talking about who inherits the earth), John 15:1 (I am the vine, you are the brances), and the idea that Jesus is the New, Righteous Israel, through whom we inherit redemption. Throw that all in the pot and let it simmer for a while!

There is a lot of works-righteousness mixed in to weed out ("Israel's efforts will bring about the Messianic redemption"), but the Scriptural imagery is very fruitful in reading the New Testament.


A Reformed Pastor

I'm taking a break between each section of Baxter's Reformed Pastor, to digest it all. Just finished chapter 2, "The Oversight of the Flock." Baxter gives the what and the why, largely, in these first two sections, saving the how for the third chapter entitled "Application." So far very inspiring, convicting, and humbling. He certainly spurs pastors on to their work.

But for now, I'm moving to C.S. Lewis', A Grief Observed. Never read it, though I've read most of Lewis' stuff...


Theonomy vs. 2 Kingdoms

This is for you way-deep-into-theology types...

Lately, I've got one theological foot in the Reconstructionist theological camp (theonomy) and the other in the more traditionally Reformed, Banner-of-Truth camp. This essay by Ligon Duncan (in the latter camp) was good for me to read. I've been looking for sound responses to Reconstructionism, and think we might finally be getting it, though I'm not completely convinced. What do you think?

Gene Veith has started a culture sub-blog, Cranach, over at www.worldmagblog.com, arguing for Luther's 2-kingdoms approach...

Family First

"The life of religion, and the welfare and glory of both the Church and the State, depend much on family government and duty... What are we like[ly] to do ourselves [ministers] to the reforming of a congregation, if all the work be cast on us alone; and masters of families neglect that necessary duty of their own.... You are not like[ly] to see any general reformation, till you procure family reformation."

Specifically, Baxter asks (1) if household heads are praying and reading Scripture with their families, (2) what books the family has to read, and (3) how families are spending the Lord's Day (he suggests going over the Catechism and talking about the sermon from church).

The Reformed Pastor - pgs 100, 102

RCA's Call and Baptists

Funny how similar the Baptists and the RCA are at the top...

"Go to a meeting of Southern Baptists and you will hear endless talk of President Bobby Welch's quest for One Million Baptisms. Telling Southern Baptists at this point in their history to get one million baptisms is to create a free-for-all. Anything that works will be praised. If a local church finds a way to use Judgement House to get 500 decision cards signed, it will be trumpeted as a move of God; a "revival" (a word that SBCers can't get enough of.) If it turns out that only 40 of those decisions ever show up for Baptism, it won't cause any pause for reflection or evaluation. It will simply give us permission to have more manipulation and decisionistic tactics next time. Evangelism in the SBC today has all the characteristics of the shallow zeal of the salesman. The theological foundation for evangelism has eroded, and the current atmosphere has allowed pragmatism to take over the driver's seat."

We all want to grow, and the pressure for more numbers pushes us to accept superficial spirituality. We wouldn't want to offend anyone, or ask too much of them - they might not like us; they might not stay. People liking us can be more important to us than God's desire for those very people. That is very dangerous to our souls.


More than just "the preacher"

Alternate titles for this one:

It ain't just preachin'
We work more than one day a week!

Moving from Bivin back to Baxter (nasty habit I have of starting and finishing a whole book while half-way through another one!):

In chapter 2 he begins talking about what oversight of the flock means, saying you have to have a small enough flock to actually watch over. This is something I think mega-churches are starting to realize - maybe.

Anyway, this section caught my eye:

"Is not government of great concernment to the good of souls, as well as preaching?... If only preaching be necessary, let us have none but mere preachers: what needs there then such a stir about government? But if discipline, in its place, be necessary too, what is it but enmity to men's salvation to exclude it?... The general that will command an army alone, may as well say, Let it be destroyed for want of command..." (pg 89).

Romans 1 on homosexuality

Here's Ann's defense of certain homosexual relationships.

This is my brief, uncomprehensive (but hopefully comprehensible), one-point reply:

Romans 1 cannot be contorted to be arguing only against a certain KIND of homosexuality.

"God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural..." 1:26 NRSV

What is against nature and degrading - and the result of God giving sinners over to judgment - is homo-eroticism itself. The Greek "gar", not translated in the NRSV before the phrase "Their women," is an explanatory gar, describing what the unnatural intercourse is: women with women. Not the natural use/intercourse of women with men, but same-sex erotic desire. The homoios at the beginning of vs 27 functions the same way, explaining what is unnatural: men with men, instead of with women. Paul doesn't discuss fidelity to one person; this isn't on his radar at all - the unnaturalness is the homoeroticism.

The passions aren't degrading because they are overly lustful or non-monogamous, but because they are same-sex.

The Bible certainly is not silent regarding homosexual, monogamous relationships.


The Heavenly Optometrist

Today was "spoil Sara" day - no I didn't spend it at a day spa, but rather at a women's conference in the morning and with long time friends in the afternoon. Sans children! The conference's keynote address called our attention to what it means to abide in God's presence. Surprisingly, no Brother Lawrence comments were made - but several great quotes from Augustine. I was challenged to remember how Adam and Eve stopped seeing God thru creation to simply focusing on His creation as an end in itself. As a result, we've inherited our parents' bad vision. God, in his infinite grace, started working on fixing our myopia right away, using pictures to do so. Our speaker pointed out that the tablernacle/sacrificial system is a picture of our standing with God - that he is holy and we are not, and there is a process for us to go through to become holy in his sight. A tabernacle gate to enter, washing, sacrifice & blood, lamps, bread, incense, and lastly a heavy curtain to pass through for us to be in his presence. And a special man was needed to assist in this, someone who wore the names of God's people on his shoulder and had "holy to the LORD" written on his forehead, just in case we forgot that we weren't.

But our speaker was quick to point out that these things were not where our vision is to stop. No, our vision is to go through these things to see the Redeemer God sent - Jesus. He is described as the gate, the living water, the lamb, the light of the world, the bread of life, a fragrant offering, and the One who tears apart the curtain allowing us to enter God's presence... he welcomes us into his home and asks us to abide there with him. We're not weekend guests.

It is here, when we show our love by obeying his commands, that our vision is corrected and we see Him in all parts of life. As the disciples couldn't recognize Jesus walking on the water because of their fear of the storm's waves, we often don't see Him through the battering waves we personally face. Circumstances will still be around us, but Christ is always there. Perhaps you have spiritual astigmatism, where you see problems doubly or quadruply, multiplying them. It's hard to get a clear picture of how to live as a Christian and abide in Christ when everything's fuzzy. Put on the lenses of loving obedience to Christ. We'll see the big uglies with better definition, but we'll also see Christ through all that.

It made me consider: How's my vision?



Come to Me...

This new book of compiled essays by David Bivin is great.
"New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus."

Couldn't find it at Amazon yet - try the En Gedi link on the right - it's published by them...

The gem so far is the Scripture related to Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28-30.
See Jeremiah 31:25; Exodus 33:14; Numbers 12:3; and Jeremiah 6:16.


Our Father Abraham

Went to a talk by David Bivin, of Israel, this morning. Rekindled some things related to the Hebraic roots of our Christian faith.

See the VanderLaan link to the right. And here's a good book by him.

Marvin Wilson's Our Father Abraham book is another great resource.

The gist: to understand Jesus, the Gospels, the Old Testament, and much of the NT letters, we have to know the Jewish context in which they were written. If God revealed His Word to eskimos, we would have to learn some things about seals, penguins, whale oil and blubber. Since He revealed Himself to Jews, we need to learn the history and culture of this people in order to plumb the depths of Scripture.

I think this approach can be overdone and stretched too far, but it IS part of standard exegesis to look at the text in its historical context.

Related texts:
Galatians 3:29 - And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Romans 1:16-17 - For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

Romans 3:1-2 - What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.

To whet your appetite further:

1. When Jesus cleanses the temple, make sure to read Isaiah 56:1-8 with it, and Jeremiah 7:1-11.

2. When you read Ezekiel 34:1-16, don't forget about Luke 15:1-7 and 19:10, and the times that Jesus feeds thousands on the hillsides of Galilee, having them sit down first (Mark 6:39 and Ezekiel 34:14-15).

3. I just read Isaiah 29:11 for devotions a few days ago, and remembered Revelation 5:1-4...

4. Several parables Jesus told were part of the story culture of Torah teachers before Jesus came to us. The standard formula was an ethical issue with a priest and a Levite getting it wrong, and a Pharisee getting it right. Jesus would substitute a Samaritan (Pharisees' worst enemies) instead of a Pharisee. This would be like us telling a moralistic story about a doctor, lawyer and minister, but then substituting prostitute for minister -- and she is the hero of the story! (See Joshua 2:1 and Matthew 1:5) Jesus did this to jolt them out of their self-righteousness and make them realize that even their worst enemies weren't beyond the grace of God.

5. This is just the tip of the iceberg. And we think we know our Bibles...



In 5 words: good for the pastor's soul.

Very convicting, too. His first point: if you're going to shepherd a flock, you've got to be able to shepherd yourself. So are you?

"Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine... lest you unsay with your lives, what you say with your tongues" (pg 63).

Mental ruts

Funny how our minds find grooves and stay in them, running the same worn thoughts and paths over and over.

I've been a one-string violin, too focused on the homosexuality issue. Time to branch out again. I'm declaring a personal moratorium on the subject for a few days, at least...

Traditional Scriptural exegesis on homosexuality

From Al Mohler again - excellent stuff - the rest of this post is him at


First, as Romans 1 makes absolutely clear, homosexuality is an act of unbelief. As Paul writes, the wrath of God is revealed against all those "who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." God has implanted all humanity with the knowledge of the Creator, and all are without excuse. As Paul continued: "For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions; for the women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error." [Romans 1:22-27]

The broader context of Paul's rejection of homosexuality is clear: Homosexuality is a rebellion against God's sovereign intention in creation, a gross perversion of God's good and perfect plan for His created order. What Paul makes clear is that homosexuality is a dramatic sign of rebellion against God and His intention. Those about whom Paul writes have worshipped the creature rather than the Creator. Thus, men and women have forfeited the natural complementarity of God's intention for heterosexual marriage and have turned to members of their own sex, burning with a desire which in itself is degrading and dishonorable.

The logical progression in Romans 1 is undeniable. Paul shifts immediately from his description of rebellion against God as Creator to an identification of homosexuality--among both men and women--as the first and most evident sign of a society upon which God has turned His judgment.

Essential to understanding this reality in theological perspective is a recognition of homosexuality as an assault upon the integrity of creation and God's intention in creating human beings in two distinct and complementary genders.

Here the confessing Church runs counter to the spirits of the age. Even to raise the issue of gender is to offend those who wish to eradicate any gender distinctions, arguing that these are merely "socially constructed realities," vestiges of patriarchal past.

Scripture will not allow this attempt to deny the structures of creation. Romans 1 must be read in light of Genesis 1 and 2. As Genesis 1:27 makes apparent, God intended from the beginning to create human beings in two genders--"male and female He created them." Both man and woman were created in the image of God. They were distinct, and yet inseparably linked by God's design. The genders were different, and the distinction transcended mere physical differences, but the man recognized in the woman "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" [Genesis 2:23].

The bond between man and woman was marriage. Immediately following the creation of man and woman come the instructive words: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed" [Genesis 2:24-25].

The text does not stop with the mere creation of woman. Rather, God's creative intention is further revealed in the cleaving of man to the woman ("his wife") and their new identity as "one flesh." This biblical assertion, which no revisionist exegesis can deconstruct, clearly places marriage and sexual relations within God's creative act and design.

Few theologians have given this critical issue its due attention. Indeed, throughout the history of the church, this pattern was seen as axiomatic and unquestioned. Only in the modern period, when social experimentation and radical protest movements have sought to push a wide-scale rejection of this pattern, has the issue come to light.

Significantly, it is Karl Barth who has most seriously addressed this biblical pattern of gender complementarity. Writing in 1928, Barth asserted: "What do we really know about the male and female except that the male could not be a man without the female nor the female without the male, that the male cannot belong to himself without also belonging to the female and vice-versa?"

The male and female only have meaning in relation to the other. Barth refers to Genesis 2:25, and suggests that the man and the woman saw each other naked and were not ashamed, "Because the maleness of the male and the femaleness of the female rightly become an object of shame….only when the male and female in their maleness and femaleness seek to belong to themselves and not to each other."

Horribly confused, Barth asserted, the sexes turn inward to an "ideal of a masculinity free from woman and a femininity free from man." This false ideal, which is a rejection of the Creator and His command, culminates in "the corrupt emotional and finally physical desire in which--in a sexual union which is not and cannot be genuine--man thinks that he must seek and can find in man, and woman in woman, a substitute for the despised partner."

Hey RCA, how do we handle conflict?

***Reposted from 9.19.05 - check out new comments!***

I just got the RCA's General synod minutes in the mail a few days ago, and our General Secretary's report was in there, which I hadn't seen yet, so I read it. When it comes to the unity and purity of the Church, I think his theological priorities are out of whack, but I think they reflect a significant number of RCA people's priorities, as well. He says he wants to deal with the issue pastorally, not judicially. But we need to do this precisely because of the classis' failure to pastorally hold a potential minister accountable in lifestyle and morality. It IS true, that the judicial route is the less preferred, though it is a legit stop-gap.

In the long run, I agree with Wes that dealing with these kinds of issues judicially is insufficient. We need to be committed to keep God's Word in our hearts, not just in our rule books.


Homosexuality acceptance = Bible rejection

Great article by Al Mohler today. Refreshing clarity and truth.
Must reading for all who are wondering about this "complex" and "controversial" issue.

Happy New Year!!

What am I talking about? Click on the link for the answer. Hint: you should know, since "if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29).

Except for a few sentences on the rapture and national Israel, this is a really good page. More on those exceptions another time!


RC Sproul, Jr.

I just got my first issue of "Every Thought Captive" in the mail (July/Aug 2005), put out by the Highlands Study Center. Good stuff. Here's from "A Culture of Crows," on the parable of the sower, seed and soil...

"The notion that we should create shallow and rocky soil to attract the lost, and then when they spring up we transplant them has been a miserable failure, just as the parable teaches. Shallow soil may create many budding plant, but death is just around the corner.

"Which means, in turn, that we must deply cultivate the ground, building His culture. We seek to build godly cutures not simply for the sake of the godly, but also for the sake of the lost, to drive away the crows."

And this from "How to Read the Good Book."

"We will only find [Jesus in the Bible] when we understand the big stories, when we admit that the Bible is full of tyupes that give us a unified story. Jesus is the second Adam. Jesus is the bread which comes down from heaven. He is the Groom, the Shepherd, the Gardener, the Door, the Word, the Image.... we are the Bride, the Sheep, the vies, the Body. We are the beloved.... The goal here isn't to escape an ordered understanding of God's Word, but to enter into it, to see that that order is three-dimensional. The Word, don't forget, took, on flesh. To put it another way, we need to read the Word of God like Trinitarians. We reject the cacophony of the many. We reject the lifelessness of the one. We embrace the beauty of the harmony. And we dance with the Groom."