A Bridegroom of Blood

BAR (see earlier posts) is chock full of good stuff!

An article on circumcision points out that Israel wasn't the only nation practicing it, and that others did so usually in a puberty rite, declaring a man prepared for marriage, manhood, or both. This goes a long way to explain Genesis 34:14-17; 1 Samuel 18:25 and Exodus 4:25-26.

Also, other nations did the deed a bit differently than Israel (the article gets uncomfortably clear!). But the payoff is worth it; it helps explain Joshua 5:2 and Exodus 4:25-26. Although Moses and the Israelites may have been circumcised in an Egyptian style, it wasn't a religious commitment sufficient for God, nor, frankly, had enough been cut off. Have we shed all the world's corruptions, as God's people redeemed from Egypt, preparing to enter the Promised Land? Or is God calling you to greater obedience? Don't be conformed to the world...

Reformed folk believe baptism is the new covenant, more-inclusive and bloodless sacrament, replacing circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12). In that light, these words from the article were interesting to carry into my baptism:

"For the Israelites, circumcision... was the principl sign of Israel's covenant relationship with Yahweh.... The purpose... was to remind the Israelite male of his covenant with God... a sign for the individual Israelite, reminding him of his covenantal obligations; it is not a sign identifying Israelites to the outside world."

True, not a sign FOR the outside world, perhaps, but it does distinguish whether you are part God's covenant or not.


The Dome of the Rock

Great article about the Dome of the Rock in the current BAR (Biblical Archaeology Review). It was built shortly after Islam took Jerusalem, anno Domini, 638, with the express purpose of challenging Christian claims.

"Many Arabs believed the Dome of the Rock was originally built to compete in beauty with the splendor of the churches, especially the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This... would prevent Muslims from being enchanted by the Christian holy places."

The dome itself is made of wood, painted (not plated) with gold. The rock it enshrines is believed to be the same spot over which Solomon built his temple, and from which Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Something new I learned in the article: the Muslims forged ties with Jews as they took over the city. They allowed them in the city (Byzantine Christianity had not) and had them perform some quasi-temple rites in the newly dedicated Dome of the Rock. Jews before Byzantium had lamented the temple's fall, in front of the Rock. This was quite a successful political bit of triangulation against the Christians.

Most striking are some inscriptions found on some gates going in to the Dome:
"The Unity of God and the Prophecy of Muhammad are true."
"The Sonship of Jesus and the Trinity are false."

And then inside:
"The Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, is indeed a messenger of God. So believe in God and all the messengers, and stop talking about a Trinity. Cease in your own best interests! Verily God is the God of unity.... It is not fitting that God should beget or father a child."

I found myself throughout the article musing whether or not Islam is a candidate for the antichrist. He sets himself in the temple [where it was]. He conspires with others who have rejected the true Messiah [Jews]. I'll have to look into this one...

Oh, the English language

When you write copy you have the right to copyright the copy you write, if the copy is right. If however, your copy falls over, you must right your copy. If you write religious services you write rite, and have the right to copyright the rite you write. Very conservative people write right copy, and have the right to copyright the right copy they write. A right wing cleric would write right rite, and has the right to copyright the right rite he has the right to write. His editor has the job of making the right rite copy right before the copyright can be right. Should Jim Wright decide to write right rite, then Wright would write right rite, which Wright has the right to copyright. Duplicating that rite would copy Wright right rite, and violate copyright, which Wright would have the right to right. Right?

Best book ever?

Okay, an overstatement, but I found myself telling Sara this as I finished it up last night.

Not an overstatement: this is the best "worldview" book I've ever read.

"To assert that truth is real, and objectively so, is to state a dogma that is contrary to the dominant position of our age. But the biblical writers commonly took positions that were contrary to the accepted wisdom of their ages. When the apostle Paul said that the wisdom of his age was rubbish (1 Cor 2), he provided a model we should take more seriously than we are accustomed." (pg 300).

"Christians must learn to recognize when idolatry dons the guise of the Christian virtues. They must stop lauding the evil impulses of envy and hatred that often lurk behind such benign phrases as 'social justice.' Inevitably, this raises throny issues that cause practical people to doubt whether stopping idolatry is feasible, There are always practical reasons to stay with whatever idol seems to bring results. If we no longer sacrifice children to Molech, what will that do to the unemploymnet rate in a few years?.... Once it is accepted that idolatry can be defended on practical grounds, there is no hope." (pg 308).

"[Christians] now living in a post-Christian world... [are] subversives in an alien culture.... The repeated New Testament call for separation demands that we refuse to think and act like those around us.... The drive for respectability, the concern not to be thought odd, makes us vulnerable to the errors of fashion, of snobbery, of servility, of hypocrisy." (Pg 309-10).

"The appropriate response to the dominant culture, then, is to refuse subservience to it, to reject the domination of its norms, to withdraw support selectively from all institutions that base their activities on the idolatries that control American life. In short, to rebel." (Pg 311).

"The old delusion that poverty is a sign of immoral living and wealth of moral worth is being replaced by one that says the opposite.... [but] the amount of wealth was of little importance in assessing a person.... poverty and wealth are morally neutral: neither one is an evil to be ashamed of nor a sign of special worth or transcending glory." (pg 313-4)

"An association [church] that merely occupies its members for a few hours a week reinforces the fragmentation of the individual's life among numerous loyalties and makes it virtually impossible to build genuine community." (pg 321).

Okay, I'll stop, and just say, GET THIS BOOK.

Actual church bulletin announcements

Thursday at 5pm there will be a meeting of the Little Mothers Club. All ladies wishing to be "Little Mothers" will meet with the Pastor in his study.

At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be "What is Hell?"
Come early and listen to our choir practice.

The eighth graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the church basement on Friday at 7pm. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.

During the absence of our pastor we enjoyed the rare privilege of hearing a good sermon when J.F. Scubbs supplied our pulpit.

Currently reading...

on the magazine front:

1. The latest Credenda (not online yet) on Flannery O'Connor
Picture is of the second to last issue; quote is from the newest:

"...to gather a bunch of the saints together and preach like renegade thunder against all the sins that are being committed elsewhere in the nation... the entertainment value is high, but that's it.... One of the great failures in the modern evangelical pulpit is a failure at just this point. Ministers are not the courageous heralds of truth that they ought to be. If they preached against the sins that are prevalent in their own congregations, it could have all kinds of negative consequences. Suppose the sin in question is committed by the biggest tither? Or by a retired minister who might foment a church split? Or by a couple of the elders? A godly preacher should expect to get into trouble. He should resolve to preach it, straight up the middle, and without apology. He should pray regularly for grace so that when the day of trouble arrives, he will not turn aside to the right or to the left."

2. Biblical Archaeology Review

Excavations in Biblical Edom have turned up interesting results:

"Did King David do battle with the Edomites? The Bible says he did. It would be unlikely, however, if Edom was not yet a sufficiently complex society to organize and field an army... Until recently, many scholars took this position... those scholars... insisted that ancient Israel likewise did not develop into a state until a century or more after David's time.... We have discovered a degree of social complexity in the land of Edom that demonstrates the weak reed on the basis of which a nuber of scholars have scoffed at the idea of a state or complex chiefdom in Edom at this early period - and, by extension, a state in Judah.... Edom was a complex society centuries earlier [than thought previously], as reflected in the Bible."


Actual church bulletin announcements

The rosebud on the altar this morning is to announce the birth of David Alan Belzer, the sin of Rev. and Mrs. Julius Belzer.

This afternoon there will be a meeting in the South and North ends of the church.
Children will be baptized at both ends.

Tuesday at 4pm there will be an ice cream social.
All ladies giving milk will please come early.

Poor Oliver

Whaddabook! Grand, sweeping themes of poetic justice, redemption, compassion and hypocrisy, lived out in characters brilliantly sketched by Dickins. Mr. Brownlow, the well-to-do sponsor of poor Oliver, depicts our Redeemer, or our Judge, who has the means to save Oliver from adversity and to pull all the strands of the story together and bring all to justice. Mr. Bumble is the hypocrite who lords his "compassion" over the orphans in his charge. Fagin is the devilish plotter who traps and holds unwitting youths in his bidding via blackmail and extortion, who comes to a devilish end. Nancy totters on the verge of redemption, but returns to the only "protection" she knows in Sikes, winding up murdered by him. Great stuff as far as showing the justice that will out, from various moral positions.

I did detect a strong note of sentimentalism, which was discouraging to see. You know - poor, poor Oliver, and all that. The poor kid didn't do anything to deserve it all, did he? A tacit rejection of original sin. Not so bad, but also applied to God Himself, on the last page during the moral of the tale: "without strong affection, and humanity of heart, and gratitude to that Being whose code is Mercy, and whose great attribute is Benevolence to all things that breathe, true happiness can never be attained." Okay, but where was His benevolence toward Fagin? Dickens takes it a bit far, though of course, a mountainpeak requirement in the Old Testament is to "love mercy" (Micah 6:8). He also deals well with the theme of being too naive or too cynical in seeking mercy for the oppressed.

Nevertheless, a great tale! Happy reading!

Actual church bulletin announcements

Don't let worry kill you - let the church help.

Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It is a good chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.

1 Corinthians 15

What a rich, deep chapter!

Jesus rose from death back to life. Scripture foretold it. It makes no sense to reject it and still say there is life after death for others. Paul flatly says that all his preaching of Messiah Jesus bringing us the righteousness of God is a fraud and useless if there is no resurrection.

A glorious look at the relationship on the last day between the Father, Son and creation. I have several post-millenial friends, whom I greatly respect, that rely on vss 24-26 for their view that all other enemies, except death, will be destroyed by the last day. I can see how they make the inference, but don't see it as such a tight or necessary inference as they do. I think Paul's description also allows for destroying other enemies besides death, as He returns, a la Rev 19-20. What do you think? In any case, Jesus will return to His Father a fully restored and redeemed world, with everything set in its proper order.

Striking how similar this is to Romans 5:12-21 - the first and second Adam.
We are born and die as offspring of the first, earthly Adam. But our new life as seed of Jesus Christ has already begun (before our old one has died), and will continue more glorious at the resurrection on the last day.

Death's sting has already been taken away, though it is not completely conquered. But knowing that death WILL be no more, we can plow in hope, knowing our labor will have eternal reward, carrying over from this life to the next. What we do in this life truly echoes in eternity.

(25 references to the Old Testament found in 1 Corinthians 15)

Judges 3

"Thus the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites.... And they took their adughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons; and they served their gods" Judges 3:5-6.

God left some Canaanites among Israel, to test them (vss 1-4), and Israel fails the test quickly. Note HOW they fail, though. By exchanging intimate covenants (weddings) with them.

The language "they took and gave daughters" reminds me that in marriage, sons take and daughters are given by fathers.

I know (satire alert), this sounds so old-fashioned it could be in the Bible (oh, wait... it is...), but if you can bear with and tolerate the Bible through this post, kudos. (Satire siren, off)

What in heaven's name is Israel doing receiving idol-worshipping daughters for their sons to spend the rest of their lives with, and giving up their own daughters to live with idol-worshipping husbands? "Well, what can we do? They're young and in love, and God will work it out." (Oops: satire button is stuck on.)

I suppose if you're going to live together, Israel and Canaan, you'd better get along as best you can, which includes respecting each other's beliefs, learning to love the sinner and hate the sin, trading goods and children for marriage. Hmmm... A line was crossed there somewhere.

What would it have looked like for Israel to pass the test at this point? How would they have had to live, to not fall into idolatry? TOTAL isolation isn't an option - they are your neighbors; you pass them on the road and are curious about their different clothes and products. But giving daughters to them in marriage also wasn't an option. At Israelite dinner tables, fathers should have been saying, "Johnny, I know what you saw them doing today on their playground, but God has told us we may not do that." Instead, dad was whispering to mom after the kids were in bed, "Let's go to their worship service tomorrow and learn what they think; it looks pretty neat. Maybe I'll get some new ideas to throw past our elders to liven up our worship."

A line must be drawn somewhere between the believing community and the world at large. Where is it?

"You can enjoy popular culture without compromising Biblical principles as long as you are not dominated by the sensibility of popular culture, as long as you are not captivated by its idols." [Kenneth Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), p. 180]. From here.

"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?"
- 2 Corinthians 6:14-16

RCA woes

See here for my own denominations struggles.

PCUSA woes

See here for how this denomination's liberals have successfully maneuvered to get homosexual practice tolerated, even though their constitution does not tolerate it, I don't think.


The Hanging Gardens of ... Hemmeke

Ok, maybe it's not quite the gardens of Babylon, but I'm pretty excited about my garden this year. Mostly because everything is growing so well and those nasty rabbits haven't broken through my fence (yet).

Last year I planted everything in plain old boring rows.

But this year.... ah, I was inspired by a drive through Amish country in northern Indiana where I spotted a garden planted in a V-shape. Amish gardens are always so lovely and perfectly kept, take time to drive slowly by if you happen through that area.

Being a graphic designer I decided to take my garden to the next level - at least make it nice to look at in case my veggies all flop! So I mixed in flowers with the veggies and came up with a diamond shape which actually makes good use of our teeny garden.

Oh, but that fence! Chicken wire, no less. Ugh. Not pretty. (But thank you Steve for building it.) I received a gift of flowering vine seed packets, and voila! Why not use vertical as well as horizontal space!? I already had a climbing rose... hang a basket of wave petunias off the corner of the shed and it's a complete visual feast!

The most exciting part? All those little seeds I planted are finally growing and establishing themselves. There's nothing more exciting than watching little things grow, and getting dirt under your fingernails in the process (gardening gloves are for wimps). Reminds me of motherhood....

Judges 2

Once Israel conquers the Canaanites, they fall into idolatry for two reasons, it appears. One is that they have no moral leadership after Joshua and Caleb die. The other is that they don't get rid of all the evil as they conquer. Some nations are too strong for them, and so Israel lives next door to idolatry, day after day.

How about you? Do you have solid mentors you can look to for inspiration and accountability, to avoid falling into sin? Are you living too close to sin? Is there something you can do today to remove yourself from it, or change it?

(2 references to the New Testament in Judges 1-2.)

What "Born Again" really means

Put John 3:3 and Galatians 4:26 together with Psalm 87, especially verses 4-6, to get the idea:

Being born in Zion = having God write down your name as a citizen there, regardless what nation you are from.

Reminds me of the Matrix, where some are born in Zion naturally, and others are brought in, freed from the machines. Both have been set free and have Zion as their home. Some are natural branches, others were grafted in (Romans 11:16ff), but all are born from above.

(2 references to the New Testament in Psalm 87.)

Speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14

Just read this chapter and found anew in verse 28, that uninterpreted tongue-speaking ought not be in public worship, but for times of private devotion with God. Interpreted tongue-speaking ought to be allowed, though (vs 39). I can't say I've seen this done in a worship service. Charismatics seem specifically to need to hear this one chapter of the Bible that speaks most of the gift by which they distinguish themselves.

The broader issue for charismatics is that they associate the Spirit with sensational and super-natural happenings. This is a false/partial association. The Spirit produces "everyday" virtues and spotlights Jesus, not Himself. He typically brings about signs and wonders and super-natural events when He points to new revelation from God, as given at the Exodus, with prophets, Jesus, and the early church, to assure believers of this new revelation and to edify the body.

This is not to limit God's supernatural activity today. I believe he does heal by supernatural means. But has he given the spiritual gift of healing to Benny Hinn, or any other specific person today? I don't think so. But he gives healing and "mystic, sweet communion" with Him as He will, even now. And to go one step further, never having been on the mission field, He may give such supernatural signs through missionaries to a society in the grip of demons, to release those demons' hold on a people and let them see a stronger spiritual power than the spirits or the medicine men. The missionaries I've talked to say it's an act of faith for animist natives to take western medicine for illness. It is renouncing their belief in the local gods or medicine man. So conversion to God in such settings can also happen without "supernatural" signs and wonders, if the Spirit changes hearts within.

(11 references to the Old Testament in 1 Cor 14)

Actual church bulletin announcements

Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles, and other items to be recycled.
Proceeds will be used to cripple children.

Low Self-Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7pm.
Please use the back door.

For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

What's the big deal?

Question: What is it that some Christians find so problematic about The DaVinci Code?

Answer: If Jesus was not fully divine from the beginning, sent by His Father with that status, then He could not have born our sins upon Himself on the cross. Speaking of development of Christian thoughts (below), this is something Anselm around 1000 AD realized as he put together 2 Corinthians 5:21 with Colossians 1:19-20 or Hebrews 1:3. The Christian faith is a historically-based faith, not ideological. "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Corinthians 15:14). If certain events didn't happen, I will no longer be a Christian.

The visceral reaction from Christians shouldn't be hard to understand. "What's the big deal?" is the in-vogue reaction to the book. But Christians say Jesus means more to them than anything. So if someone starts telling lies about him, we get mad. This is natural. How would you react if someone slandered your wife in the local paper? You don't say, "I trust my wife enough to be unfazed by critiques leveled against her." No, you are in a relationship with her. It's personal. You're angry that people are telling lies about her, whether or not you believe them. Same with Christians. It's not just "our faith," or ideas. It's deeply personal.

Dan Brown claims that Jesus was not divine, but that His divinity was made up 300 years later. If we are to believe his version of history, or the Gnostic gospels over the Biblical ones on that point (which they don't all claim homogenously, anyway), then we might as well throw out other Biblical claims, too. Brown subtly claims he's not rejecting anything, only adding to our understanding of Jesus (like a good post-modernist, in my humble opinion), but he really is rejecting the New Testament view of Jesus for a Gnostic and neo-pagan view. Not all views of Jesus are compatible.

Brown's own story isn't at all consistent, either. He bases much on Gnostic gospels, but those same writings reject his feminist approach. The same piece where Jesus supposedly kisses Mary and the disciples get jealous, which Brown uses as significant evidence, later has Jesus saying that Mary will become a man so that she can be saved (i.e. - women can't be saved because they are inferior). He selectively draws from these writings to make up something relatively new about Jesus. It's akin to identity theft.


Joseph and Jesus

I read part of the Joseph story to Grace lately, and was struck at the number of Christ connections. He (both Joseph and Jesus) is mistreated by his brothers, which, along with his own faithfulness in resisting temptation, lands him in prison/Hell. While there, he preaches to those in prison (1 Peter 3:19). Some of them are released and ascend to life again. Others despair and die. When Joseph is released he ascends all the way to the right hand of the throne, where all authority in Egypt is given to him.

Joshua 15

While reading through the list of cities in Judah that Joshua conquered, I discovered a nugget of truth.

Ziklag is one of these cities Joshua took, where David later headquartered after fleeing from Saul. It was controlled by the Philistines in David's day, though God had given it to Israel. And David was the rightful occupant of Israel's throne, though Saul controlled THAT. It has always been this way with God's people - Abraham worshipped at Shechem, in the land God had promised him, but the Canaanites were in the land (Gen 12:6). We, too, are promised we will inherit the earth, but the Philistines are still in control. Sometimes this even applies in the church - God had to remind Elijah that he wasn't the only faithful one left - 7,000 others in Israel hadn't bowed the knee yet.

So take courage. God's promises of multiplying His faithful ones will come to fruition, regardless of how hopeless it may appear now. Remember David at Ziklag, the rightful king of the city, run over roughshod by the Philistines. But he acted with wisdom, diplomacy, godliness and patience, waiting for God's timing and vindication. Read Psalm 73, and be comforted.


Jesus, the Vine, in the Old Testament

Psalm 80
This Psalm struck me as especially rich in Messianic themes, while sitting at the airport, waiting for a flight. The shepherd of Israel (vs 1) is Jesus (John 10:3-4). His face shone (vs 3, 7, 19) on the mount of transfiguration. He speaks often of God planting a vine, but it doesn’t prosper (vs 8-13; Lk 20:9; Matt 21:33ff; Mk 12:1ff; Lk 13:6). Jesus Himself is the vine (Jn 15:1). The prayer at the end asks God to make strong the son of man of His right hand (vs 80:17). Jesus calls Himself “Son of Man” more often than any other name.

Our Dragonslayer

Poem by Johnny Hart, in his B.C. cartoon:

The State of Ship

An evil from the bowels of hell
Has seized our ship of state,
And broke upon its weary bow
The cruel champagne of hate.
They christened it
With sinful accusations born of rage,
Then shook their fists in history’s face
And wrote a brand-new page.
God called a youthful man of force
And placed him at the helm,
Whom we endorsed to steer a course
That evil cannot whelm.
A superhuman task
Is laid before our dragon slayer,
So let’s lift up our shining knight-
With all our might – through prayer!

Of Berries and Babies (Sara)

Summer is officially here: it's strawberry pickin' time! While Steve was away, I took my three kids, along with Grandma and my 9 year old niece to the local strawberry patch. In under an hour we easily picked 16 quarts of the reddest, sweetest berries I've had in a long time! I knew all those little fingers would be good at picking! And there wasn't one green one that made it into our baskets.

After a hot hour in the sun picking the berries, we tried our hand at canning jam. I usually do freezer jam, but since I'm short on space decided to can this year. Anyone else ever do this? Are the berries supposed to rise to the top, leaving the jelly part at the bottom? Two batches of canned jam and one of freezer jam are done - leaving a bit of room in my cupboards for raspberries! Can't wait!

Now that summer is here, I can really start preparing for baby's arrival. Only six weeks to go! We've decided on a name for this little guy (no hints!) and just need to dig out the baby boy clothes. The kids are excited, and I am definitely ready to be done with this pregnancy. Feeling quite large lately and a bit tired, but I won't let it slow down my berry and garden exploits. There's nothing like dirt under your nails to make you hum like a bee. And I think the neighbors enjoy watching this pregnant mama wield a hoe.


Home again

And now I'm home again. No more posting for a while, as I catch up on sermons to preach and minister to families. Visited in the hospital for a surgery, exactly 12 hours after I touched down at Grand Rapids airport!

General Synod - Day 6 - Finances and Communion

Last half day of Synod in the morning was finances and assessments (church taxes). GS is financed by a per-member amount paid by congregations, through classis, to GS. Lots of assertions made that raising the assessment would only be half a can of pop, but when you multiply by members, it adds up to tens of thousands. Easy to raise taxes when it's spread out over 170,000 members.

After synod closed and we gave General Secretary Wes a talking Charlie (Chocolate Factory) for his birthday tomorrow, and sang to him, we went to a final worship service, with communion. After all the discussion and debate and disagreement with them, there was something surreal about having the president of General Synod saying, "This is the body of Christ," the General Secretary saying "This is the blood of Christ, drink and live," dipping the bread in the wine, spilling a little on my fingers, then spiritually partaking with Jesus' body.

General Synod - Day 5 - supervising Kansfield

The General Synod recommended delegating supervision of Norm Kansfield to Orange Classis. He was deposed from office of General Synod professor and suspended from pastoral office in 2005. Orange classis responded with a letter that they were not included in this discussion! Many conservatives have suspected a move to get the trial undone by this move; that the liberal classis will restore him without true repentance or change of views. This opinion changed, talking with Orange classis people at synod, who say that's not likely - that the classis is either fairly conservative itself, or will at least respect past GS judgments and positions.

So GS did decide by a wide margin to delegate this to Orange classis.


General Synod - Day 5 - Synod decisions

After much debate, synod responded to the committee's recommendation against the overture to end dialogue. They agreed with the committee to continue dialogue by a 120-98 vote.

Then the overture to amend the purpose of dialogue came up. Informal discussions before this with like-minded men led us to coordinate our efforts on this one as the most feasible. Committee had recommended against this overture, but synod rejected it! In other words, they were open to the overture, saying we aren't reconsidering the righteousness of homosexual practice. Vote was 118-99.

In our polity, this did NOT mean that the overture was accepted, but that NOTHING was now on the floor. The overture's author then got up and immediately moved a similar motion, but with slightly less strong wording, to get the most votes possible, he told me later. I wanted him to simply move the whole overture, but it turned out he was right. It was defeated 102-116. This meant the synod didn't want to reject or accept the overture. Seems contradictory, or they just didn't want to deal with it (leave it to the dialogue process?).

Lots of other committee business I'll report later...

General Synod - Day 5 - What to say on the floor?

Here were some thoughts I put down to say.

I got up to the microphone twice, but both times someone else called the question and I didn't get to speak at all. I didn't mind, too much, as many others articulated my position quite well.

How can we be part of a dialogue that is open to the option of endorsing sin? If you believe Scripture syas homosexual acts are sin, then you cannot reject this overture, because to do so tolerates something which Scripture does not. We say Jesus is Lord. If we believe that, and if our Lord tells us not to go down this road, we do not have the option to go, out of our feelings for others. What do we do when our feelings conflict with our Lord's commands?

With controversy roiling the church, the General Synod got together in Acts 15, talked it over, took a decision, and wrote to the churches, saying in Acts 15:28 that it "seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us." The controversy wasn't settled for years, but the Spirit had led them into truth, and the church knew the direction in which to minister to Gentiles (welcome them in, but teach them to refrain from certain things, sexual immorality being one). I would suggest we (RCA today) follow the Acts 15 pattern by carefully considering the issue, as we have done well for the past 30 years, and now taking a decision and then continuing discussion and ministry guided by that decision. Our dialogue is not currently guided by our past decisions, as the Acts 15 church's ministry to Gentiles was.

General Synod - Day 4 - international day

Worship in Pella, Iowa in the morning.
Lunch with the other delegates from my classis. We update each other on what happened in committee, before it is discussed on the floor. I shared what happened in our committee. They shared my unhappiness, but noted that the committee often doesn't reflect the synod floor's opinion, and that it may be reversed.

Then on to synod business - on the Lord's Day! This is atrocious. First year they are doing it, they tell me, to come home a day early. The post title is my own, not official, by the way. Mostly there were reports from other committees with little major decision needed from the synod. Most interesting was an overture asking for an official letter from RCA to President Bush against USA's endorsement of the "One-China" policy. Overture came from Taiwanese members of the RCA, oppressed by China. This was defeated, as passing it may cause problems for RCA missionaries in China.

A Kurd Christian spoke well. Said they are basically an unreached people with no nation of their own. 5% fo USA missionaries go to Muslim countries. Suggested sending to Turkey, where most Kurds reside, and which is currently seeking EU relations, and so would be open to such western influence.

Words of Hope report - great organization! In Iran they fund and train house leaders who leave the country, ostensibly on vacation! A house leader they trained had been arrested for suspected worship. The next day of synod (June 12) it was announced that he was released!

Had a fancy ecumenical dinner at night, with a Latino speaking on the benefits of the Belhar, though it was more a survey of Christianity in Southern and Northern America. Quite interesting! Lots of stats on how South America is overwhelmingly charismatic. The conservative part of the RCA leans charismatic, too, or at least pietistic (where feelings of spirituality and guidance direct one more than the Word).

General Synod - Day 3 - Worship and Theology committee

I'm posting this late because I got so busy. This came right before McLaren's speech.

Overture to allow close, live-in relatives to bring a child for baptism, in place of parents:
referred to theology commission (standing committee that meets throughout the year)for study, as this needed more time.

Overture to end dialogue over homosexuality:
I was the only delegate from the classis that sent this to synod, and so had to speak to it. Did the best I could to say the open-ended nature of the dialogue leaves open the possibility of our current biblical position being weakened, that such an official dialogue will drain resources and energy from other areas of ministry, and that we aren't suggesting gag orders for everyone (keep it hush hush; too embarrassing) - just no denomination-wide program.
Sent to synod floor recommending against, only 3 votes dissenting, of 23.

Overture to amend the stated purpose of the dialogue to make clear we aren't reconsidering the righteousness of homosexual practice:
More discussion. Winning argument was that this would tie the hands of the committee facilitating dialogue and certain voices would be intimidated if this passed. Dialogue has to stay neutral to be effective.
Sent to synod floor, recommending against, 13-10.

Marriage and sexuality paper, studying the broader theological context of marriage:
This was a good paper, relying heavily on Augustine's ideas on the purposes of marriage (procreation, fidelity, and sacramental bond). Relates this to possible homosexual marriage, noting that such marriage would weaken these purposes, not strengthen them, and that some of these purposes, maybe all, cannot be fulfilled by homosexual unions.
It was sent to the synod floor.

Overtures to write into our church order discipline against church officers teaching the moral acceptability of homosexual practice, or engaging in such.
Little discussion, as it had already been done.
Sent to synod recommending against.

This discussion was an eye opener for me. Sitting around my table were 2 advocates for homosexual practice, and 2 moderates who didn't want to offend unnecessarily. That's my interpretation, though they may not have seen their remarks that way. I tried to get across that this is not a minor issue over which we can agree to disagree, but no one wants to hear that when the alternative is division. I asked what we do when we each respect each other and think intentions are good to understand Scripture, but each think the other's interpretation is wrong. Basic response: just live together - we found a way to do so with women's ordination a while back. I didn't respond to that, but was thinking, "Precisely. And I don't want the same process to happen again."

Very exhausting, depressing time. Then off to Brian McLaren!


General Synod - Day 3 - Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren speaks at General Synod

Reading his notes off his Apple laptop, here's a synopsis of what he said.

A hurricane dropped 100 inches of rain in Honduras in 5 days, moving river beds. Picture shown of a bridge that was now useless - over dry land, into the water. World changes and our old structures no longer serve. Old maps don't describe the world. Cathedrals are visited by 1000s, but only 10 or 15 worship there. Chruch isn't keeping up with change.

1 Peter 3:15-16: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."

Always be prepared means you can't be prepared once for all. There are new questions. Sometimes we don't have answers right away. We reject and disdain those asking questions about faith that we don't like. Think of those you know who don't know Jesus or are asking questions.

Inquirer at his book-release party: "do you really believe all that stuff, or are you just making it sound good? You're the only one I think I can talk to about religion." This means she is looking for a conversation partner - someone she can talk to. World doesn't need a prepared spiel. We're afraid of being mistaken for this, so we don't talk much at all. We need to give people permission to talk naturally. Conversation is when you can disagree and and still be friends. Unhindered conversation. Most people feel frustrated and angry at religion. Need to feel safe, so she tests by saying, "Do you really believe it?" She wants to see if you're defensive or offended.

Christian college group moving his son into college, moves him in well, left an ad with jargon. Unbelievers have questions about our jargon we don't realize.
- Great Commission - is that what comes after a great sale?
- study the word - what's the word: abracadabra?

Unbelievers 10 years ago had a negative experience in church; today they have had little experience in church at all.

If you win an argument on religion today, you are judged argumentative. Forcefulness of making the point makes others nervous. Apologetics should not adopt a conquest mentality. Jesus defined it as news.

Unbelievers are looking for God, but don't want the church baggage - they think it'll make them worse people.

Ask a good question, then shut up and listen: "Tell me where you're at with God."

"My sister was always annoying, but when she got saved no one could stand her."
"So you don't want to be like her, but want to be saved?"
They don't stay away because they love evil, but because they don't want hypocrisy.

Unbelievers wonder about genocide in the Bible, and how Christians treat other people.

What if unbelievers want to help others through the church? Many churches would stop them, for not believing. But today people want to belong someplace before they feel comfortable asking questions there. Some stay away from church so they can talk about God with someone! They need to see our weaknesses and see us acknowledge them.

Our churches unintentionally become ingrown country clubs.

Evangelism is not argument, conquest or sales, but a dance.

Belonging precedes believing.

These days, peopel have to find God in other places, like Alcoholics Anonymous; churches are exclusive cell groups.

Evangelism is part of the evangelizer's discipleship, too.

Contemporary evangelism is about self, then church, then the world. Instead it should be reversed. Start out in the world, then church, then self. God loves the world.

You are more ready than you realize to have conversations with seekers. Don't stay inside the church so long you forget what it is like outside.

Steve gets Press coverage!

Click on this link to read how the Grand Rapids Press reports the activity at the RCA General Synod.

Our very own Steve was interviewed and is quoted in it.

I'm still trying to figure out the "red herring" thing - if anyone has a clue, please fill me in.


General Synod - Day 2 - General-Secretary report

A conversation with Wes, our General Secretary.

Actually it's a selection from his report tonight with a few [responses of mine] thrown in...

Where are we going as the RCA? Commitment to follow Jesus can change everything. When the church gets settled and seeks to preserve the status quo, vitality is lost and life is boring.

Our confessions are dated.
[WRONG - we just won't listen to them.]

Election often produces closed communities that don't evangelize.
[This is an unnecessary distortion of good doctrine].

But positively, relationships are revelatory.
[what does THAT mean? In a secondary sense, yes, we can learn things from others about God's will, but never over the revelation of Scripture].

We must be reformed and missional. This is the vision; we need the strategy of Our Call (10-year plan for growth: 2003-2013). Pastor networks are the best denominational development of Wes' 12 years as general secretary. Congregational revival begins with ministerial revival. Are our structures impeding our mission?
[Does this include presbyterian polity? Already we are moving to table discussions as more missional and cooperative than Robert's Rules of Order (too debate/decide/argue oriented). I don't like this direction.]

Rejecting racism isn't a politically correct agenda, but faithfulness to Jesus' Lordship.
[Why can't he see that declaring homosexual behavior sinful, with Scripture, also is faithful to Jesus' Lordship?]

Congregations are focusing on local mission to the detriment of global connectedness and mission.
[Amen to that.]

There is a new reformed presence in Myanmar (Burma) after they visited our website and then our seminaries. Global links are fragile, due to many options for mission dollars. RCA congregations give twice as much to non-RCA missions as to RCA missions.
[This is likely due to a suspicion that the liberal leadership is producing an equally liberal social gospel mission identity. Whether it is or not I'm not very qualified to say. Not in some cases, like Words of Hope.]

Congregations get easily wrapped up in themselves: their vision is bigger and better parking, better choir or better church dinners.
[Again, Amen to this! He who seeks to save his life/congregation/denomination will lose it.]

We are not about the institutional survival of the RCA. We are about meeting needs outside our walls.
[Then why did the homosexual dialogue facilitator say that the goal is to keep us together? This doesn't jive.]

God has given each of us unique gifts and skills, but also purposes in our hearts that line up with His mission. Line up your skills and purpose with God's mission.

Neal Plantinga (Calvin Seminary president): God's mission is about affections of the heart more than ideas of the head.
[This is dangerous ground: putting feelings above truth.]

Well, that's my conversation. More tomorrow.

General Synod - Day 2 - homosexual dialogue forum

Just back from the forum on the homosexual dialogue. I am deflated, and not because I'm exhausted. My roommate, says he's crawling out of his skin, and it was hard for him to remain seated and in the room. This post is co-written with him.

The dialogue facilitator is a licensed psychologist. He is designing the process with the perspective of conflict mediation, where the goal is that two parties disagreeing on this issue co-exist, neither coming to agreement and both finding a way to minister to the homosexual out of their own perspective. He said the goal of the process is to create a language that can keep us together. This makes unity a higher value than truth (interpreting Scripture rightly).

We have two opposing views. One brings the Gospel (good news) of being free to act on homosexual tendencies, the other brings the Gospel of freedom from homosexual behavior. How can we be united in mission, when the missions are diametrically oppoosed?

There was no presence of Scripture as a guiding force. They confined the Spirit's work to guiding us in our conflict and emotions, ignoring His message in the Word which convicts of sin. Indeed, sin was entirely absent from the discussion.

Our only hope then is for a course correction to this process, which will assume the sinfulness of homosexual behavior as revealed in Scripture. There are overtures heading this way. We'll keep you informed!

Our reverend General-Secretary gives his report tonight.

General Synod - Day 2 - President's report

President Irving Rivera - synopsis of his "report." It was actually a sermon.

I'm a preacher. Church is experiencing exciting times. Churchill: "This was their finest hour." Yes, we have conflicts, but so did NT church, and they grew during and through it. We are declining, but also transforming. Planting and revitalizing churches isn't the most important thing; the presence of God is. Exodus 33-34. God says, "I'm not going with you." Moses says, "No deal. We aren't going either, then." God says, "Okay, I'll go, but if they continue in sin, I'll kill them all." And He did! 2 Chronicles 7:11; Isaiah 57:15. Don't find yourself resisting God. God dwells with the obedient. And with worshippers. Both of these must be defined and conformed to the Word of God. Worship sets us free - Acts 16:25. When you have God's presence, you don't need "special gimmicks." Worship brings fruitfulness - Isa 54:1. No worship brings barrenness. Spurgeon: a church without the Spirit is a curse, not a blessing, standing in someone else's way."

Those are the best highlights.

Afternoon was devoted to a report for our 10-year goal to start x number of churches and revitilize x number of churches by 2013.

Now off to a forum on the homosexuality dialogue. Yay!

General Synod - Day 2 - Getting started

An interesting morning.

Prayer at 6am for Synod, with 5 guys, including the RCA's Minister of Prayer Jonathan Brownson.
Breakfast at 7
Synod at 8:15. About 2 hours of introductions, welcomes and orientation. Yikes, that's gotta change. Too much administration not needed. I didn't need the orientation, and I'm a first time delegate!
2 items of new business reported.
1 - commending a military chaplain for his service - he was promoted to Rear Admiral (Lower Half).
2 - a statement was presented to be read, but deferred to later in the proceedings, probably Monday. This is a statement on the homosexuality issue, and can be found here. There are over 800 names now!

Then Synod President Irving Rivera spoke. Quite good! I'll post the details of that later tonight. Lunch is now over and I'm almost late back.

General Synod - Day 1 - Opening worship

We had worship last night at 1st Reformed Pella, Iowa. A good time.
Organ prelude. The Church's One Foundation with hundreds of voices, mostly male, was powerful. Message from Mark 1:1-14 - "The Ripped Church" - We are ripped together as a church, just as the heavens were ripped when the Spirit came upon Jesus at His baptism. We are united in the ripping and descending of the Spirit upon us, and invited into the Trinitarian fellowship dance (into fellowship with God because of Christ's work). Communion followed.


General Synod - sightings of a first-time delegate

I'm flying out in 2 hours, and blogger is back up in time for me to say that I will have blogging capabilities at General Synod, so stay tuned.

This is the Reformed Church in America's highest assembly, akin to the presbyterian "General Assembly," or in legal parlance, the Supreme Court. There are something like 200 delegates total, some from each classis (prebytery) in the denomination across the country. We are meeting in Pella, Iowa, at the RCA's Central College.

I am on a committee examining a 15-page paper on marriage and sexuality, and that will be fun to be in on that discussion.

Anyway, more tonight, maybe.


Vacation pictures

Here is what we found on the road on our vacation up north! First, here's your basic scenery...

Yes, this is a real road, and we actually drove on it, with our little Toyota Corolla!

Then some wildlife, literally ON the road!
We'll inflict more pictures on you later....

Been Farmin' Long?

Here's some of the Hemmeke men replanting corn on Memorial Day in mid-80 degree heat. We found Steve's brother Cal in the field and *had* to get tractor rides for the kids.

Owen contemplating farm life.

Grace learned about "field potties." Cal learned not to start planting with no water or food along. I learned that if you stand looking at a tractor passing farmers will stop and assume you know everything about the ongoing field work.



Trip Recap

We're back from our jaunt "up north" - 2 nights in a lovely cabin set in the woods of northern Michigan. We enjoyed many adventures together:
  • camera-hunting: captured on film (up close!) sandhill cranes, a whitetail deer, and several rare and protected wildflowers
  • book stores (many books were brought home)
  • antique shops (more books found their way into our car)
  • Steve bought his first pair of sandals. Ever. It was like giving a kid his first piece of candy. His verdict: he felt very "first century"
  • Sara found the northernmost yarn shop in the lower penninsula - and brought home a nice souvenir
  • Sara scrambling up an 80-degree slope covered in wet leaves while wearing flip flops and a skirt... all to get a close up photo of a rare lady's slipper flower in bloom!
  • a strange phenomemon: several places of business closed on Wednesdays

It was a great time of relaxation and rejuvenation for the two of us - and the kids really enjoyed their time with the grandparents.

I will try to restrain Steve from posting more doodles of mine - perhaps I can coax him to post one of his own! THAT would be something (Steve is the only person on the planet I know of who designed and built an entire staircase on our deck without making one single diagram... all numbers and words... so left brained)