As I Lay Upon a Night

Alma redemptoris mater ("Nourishing mother of the Redeemer")
Has been attributed to John Dunstable (c. 1390-1453)

Alternate Title: As I Lay Upon A Night

(Don't worry; I'm not going Catholic on you. I'm screening carefully for Mary-worship. This might be a little close to the edge for some, though...)
(Also, note the footnotes in this one to explain the middle English.)

1. As I lay upon a night,
my thought was on a burd(1) so bright
that men clepn(2) Mary, full of might,
redemptoris mater.

2. To her came Gabriel with light
And said: Hail be thou, blissful wight!3
To ben cleped4 now art thou dight5
redemptoris mater.

3. At that word that lady bright
Anon6 conceived God full of might;
Then men wist7 well that she hight8
redemptoris mater.

4. When Jesu on the rood9 was pight,10
Mary was doleful of that sight
Till she see him rise upright,
redemptoris mater.

5. Jesu that sittest in heaven light,
Grant us to comen beforn thy sight
With that burde that is so bright,
redemptoris mater.

1. burd = maiden
2. clepn = call
3. wight = person
4. cleped = called
5. dight = appointed
6. anon = straightway
7. wist = knew
8. hight = named
9. rood = cross or crucifix
10. pight = pitched


Going with the flow

"Some, I dare say, will object that I am asking what is unreasonable; that youth is not the time of life when people ought to be grave and thoughtful. I answer, there is little danger of their being too much so in the present day. Foolish talking and kidding, and joking, and excessive amusement, are only too common. I don't argue the fact that there is a time for all things; but to be always flippant and joking is anything but wise. What does the wisest of men say--"It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure" (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)....

"Few seem to have any opinions of their own, or to think for themselves. Like dead fish, they go with the stream and tide: what others think is right, they think is right; and what others call wrong, they call wrong too. There are not many original thinkers in the world. Most men are like sheep, they follow a leader. If it was the fashion of the day to be Roman Catholics, they would be Roman Catholics, if it was to be Islamic, they would be Islamic. They dread the idea of going against the current of the times. In a word, the opinion of the day becomes their reli gion, their creed, their Bible, and their God....

"Learn to say "No!" Don't let the fear of not seeming good-natured make you unable to do it. When sinners entice you, be able to say decidedly, "I will not give in to them" (Proverbs 1:10).... Never be ashamed of letting men see that you want to go to heaven..."

Section 2, paragraphs 3 and 5.

Sleepers, Awake!

words by Philipp Nicolai, 1599
arr. and harm. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Based on Matthew 25:1-13

This one fits in nicely with elements of our worship service last Sunday and this coming Sunday...

Hear the tune

1. "Sleepers, wake!" the watch cry pealeth,
while slumber deep each eyelid sealeth:
Awake, Jerusalem, awake!
Midnight's solemn hour is tolling,
and seraph-notes are onward rolling;
They call on us our part to take.
Come forth, ye virgins wise:
the Bridegroom comes, arise!
Each lamp be bright
with ready light
to grace the marriage feast tonight.

2. Zion hears the voice that singeth
with sudden joy her glad heart springeth,
at once she wakes, she stands arrayed:
her Light is come, her Star ascending,
lo, girt with truth, with mercy blending,
her Bridegroom there, so long delayed.
All hail! God's glorious Son,
all hail! our joy and crown,
The joyful call
we answer all,
and follow to the bridal hall.

3. Praise to him who goes before us!
Let men and angels join in chorus,
let harp and cymbal add their sound.
Twelve the gates, a pearl each portal:
we haste to join the choir immortal
within the Holy City's bound.
Ear ne'er heard aught like this,
nor heart conceived such bliss.
We raise the song,
we swell the throng,
to praise thee ages all along.


Jesus not for the Regulative Principle

"We are told, that our Lord was at Jerusalem at the feast of the dedication [John 10:22]... for the commemoration of the restoration of the temple and altar, after its profanation by Antiochus. Now this was certainly a mere human institution, and had no divine image, had no divine superscription upon it [God hadn't commanded in Scripture that this feast must be celebrated]; and yet I do not find that our blessed Lord and Master preached against it; I do not find that he spent his time about this; his heart was too big with superior things; and I believe when we, like him, are filled with the Holy Ghost, we shall not entertain our audiences with disputes about rites and ceremonies, but shall treat upon the essentials of the gospel..."

George Whitefield, sermon on John 10:27-28
Select Sermons, pg 184.

(If the title confuses you, the Regulative Principle is a position held by some conservative Christians, that we should only do in worship what the Scripture has commanded, not adding our own extras.)

On the propriety of Christmas trees

Somebody asked, and this was my answer:

Personally I don't see much of a 2nd commandment connection. That commandment forbids carving images/statues/idols to bow down to, as they represent (or are claimed to BE) some other god. Now, this can happen functionally with icons in Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox settings, but I'm doubting there is a danger of us inadvertently worshiping or praying to our Christmas trees ("O Christmas Tree" song, excluded - watch out for that one!).

This relates more to general cultural practice, I'd say. Can we continue a religiously ambiguous practice like Christmas trees, as a way of celebrating Christ's Incaration? I would say we can. Does the tree have pagan roots? Probably. Can we redeem the practice? Certainly. We don't have a tree this year, as we'll be gone over Christmas, but we put up our outdoor lights as a physical expression of Isaiah 9:1-2; 60:1-3; and Matt 4:15-16. The idea is to tangibly convey joy and celebration over the Light coming to our dark world. If there is a better way to do that than the trees, greenery and lights, then go for it. But history has a way of providing the means of conveying joy in practices handed down to us. There is no inherent need to fight that, unless superstition or false teaching has crept in.

Do we need to reject those means of celebration (holly, ivy, trees, etc.) in order to stay pure from the world's defilement? Not necessarily. Just don't sing "O Christmas Tree" unless you can do so giving all glory to God. And watch out for overly sentimental interpretations of our Lord's Nativity that deny the conflict into which He was born.

The world does creep in, but we need to filter, not pull the plug on the whole computer...

Shepherds! Shake off your drowsy sleep

1. Shepherds! Shake off your drowsy sleep,
Rise and leave your silly sheep;
Angels from heaven loud are singing; [1]
Tidings of great joy are bringing.

Shepherds! The chorus come and swell!
Sing Noel! Sing Noel!

2. Hark? Even now the bells ring round,
Listen to their merry sound;
Hark! How the birds new songs are making
As if the winter's chains were breaking.

3. See how the flowers all burst anew,
Thinking snow is summer dew;
See how the stars afresh are glowing,
All their brightest beams bestowing.

4. Cometh at length the age of peace,
Strife and sorrow now shall cease;
Prophets foretold the wondrous story
Of this Heaven-born Prince of Glory.

5. Shepherds! Then up and quick away,
Seek the Babe ere break of day;
He is the hope of every nation,
All in Him shall find salvation.

French carol - hear the tune


Advent and Nativity songs

This season of remembering our Lord's Incarnation, I will be posting a song a day, related to the season. There are so many rich verses - where to start?

I Wonder as I Wander

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on'ry people like you and like I...
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God's heaven a star's light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God's angels in heav'n for to sing,
He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King.

Hear the tune in MIDI


Reading log

I. Great article in World's Nov 25 issue on evangelical feminism (believing women in ministry is okay; downplaying male headship) leading to theological liberalism. Actually, author Wayne Grudem considers the former to be the first step on the road to the latter, as it places experience over Scripture (how can you deny her obvious gift?). He observes a consistent pattern of denominations sliding into liberalism:

1. Abandoning Biblical inerrancy
2. Endorsing the ordination of women as pastors
3. Abandoning the Bible's teaching on male headship in marriage
4. Excluding clergy who are opposed to women's ordination.
5. Approving homosexual conduct asw morally valid in some cases
6. Approving homosexual ordination

Well, my old denomination, the RCA mostly has done 1-3, haven't gotten 4 accomplished yet, though they've tried, and are currently seeking to accomplish #5. They ran into a snare when they tried to do 5 and 6 at the same time. Too much too fast for the "conservatives" (with tongue firmly in my cheek).

Thank the Lord for faithful men (see page 5 of the link), with whom I've recently associated in place of that craziness.

II. Darfur/Sudan article in the same World issue. There are serious issues here. China sells Sudan the fighter jets and helicopters that provide air cover for the Islamic-motivated raiding parties to do the pillaging of southern/Christian villages, while the US pulls out economically, and is isolated diplomatically. The government claims it's now trying to disarm the raiding parties, but they were still going on Nov 6 when the article was written. Gov't also claims to be providing development to its refugees (Christians in villages fleeing raids), but World Vision and UNICEF can't seem to get the gov't's help in getting ITS basic work done. A very sad situation.

III. A great piece on the role of government in higher education. There's a nice part about all the major technological advances (transistors, moon landing, etc.) being done BEFORE the government got involved or could have an effect on education.


Post-Thanksgiving Thanklessness

The ads are everywhere, luring us to be the first in line Friday morning to get the big deal. And what a big deal it is. Stores opening at pre-dawn hours with hundreds of shoppers pressing against the glass, possibly trampling each other. We have outlets near our home that will be opening at MIDNIGHT - barely time for your turkey to settle before going off to armwrestle for the latest holiday fad gadget that's 40% off.

Let's think about this: we spend an entire day with friends and family, off from work, so that we can thank God for the blessings he has given us. Then, the very next day, armed with wish lists, coupons, and high-traction sneakers, we do all we can to get more. Oh, but it's not for ourselves, it's for our loved ones. We are so thankful for our loved ones we'll buy them the very best...from Wal-Mart....at the cheapest price we can fanaggle. I'm so thankful for my family that I'll buy them the cheapest thing I can find to satisfy a line item on their wish list.

This holiday season, I challenge all of us to pause before whipping out the Visa for that impulse gift that so-and-so will "just love" (for two seconds then re-gift next year). It's when we really take the time to get to know eachother that we can best show our love and appreciation in tangible ways. And you probably will save yourself a fist fight in aisle 14 in the process. Unless of course, a square punch in the face is what you need most to wake you up from the shopping madness!

Time's winged chariot...

An evocative poem of the day on the ipod the other day. A bit long to post, but do check out just what the English language can do...

To His Coy Mistress
by Andrew Marvell


Communion Exhortation

Once a policeman went to an elementary school to take a report on some vandalism there. While he stood in the hallway, a little girl came up to him and said, “My mother told me to call the police whenever I need help, is that right?” Policeman said, “That’s right.” She stuck her foot out and said, “In that case, would you tie my shoe?” When the policeman got back to his car, where his canine unit dog was in the back seat, a little boy ran up and said, is that a dog?” “It sure is,” said the policeman. The boy thought for a minute and asked, “What did he do wrong?”
How do you respond in God’s presence? It is appropriate early on, to ask, What did I do? And repent of it. But then later, in deeper communion, we can ask God for help.

Israel was not ready to receive the presence of the living God. Are you? We have already been in God’s presence in worship for the last hour, but we have been summoned, we have confessed, and we have been set apart, all in order to commune and then be commissioned. The consecration section is when we prepare and rearrange our lives to be in God’s presence. What good does it do to prepare and cook the meal, if you don’t eat it?

In the same way, dear people, we now enjoy full fellowship, as full as possible in this life, full fellowship with God in this meal, with all sin straightened out behind us. Perhaps something came up in the sermon that you need to take care of. But the main direction of this table is not lamentation and repentance; it is fellowship – partaking. Our sinful selves died with Christ on the cross. We live and abide with Christ now. We look forward to fuller fellowship when we drink of the fruit of the vine with Him in glory.

Be careful not to get stuck on repentance. It is quite rude to go to someone’s home for dinner, and continue to repeat throughout the night, “I don’t know why you would invite me. I don’t deserve to be here.” No. God gives you permission to revel in His grace. Enjoy God’s presence. We are not engaging in a weekly funeral service to remember Good Friday with somber long faces. This meal is a feast – a foretaste of a coming feast of fellowship.

Share your life with Christ and with His Body, as it is gathered with you – all around you - today. Fellowship not only with Christ in the inner portions of your soul, face scrunched up and eyes closed. Fellowship also with the body of Christ, smiling eyes wide open in wonder that you are included among this gathering of Christ’s people.


Reformed first, or catholic first?

My side of a conversation with a pastor friend, discussing doctrinal differences being less important than differences between the church and world:

I do appreciate the dynamic of being more united as believers of different backgrounds with a secular culture around us. I think "Mere Christianity" is much needed. I think church affiliation is only important as far as it identifies how you interpret the Bible, which it does less and less today. I am a strong proponent of a truly catholic (little-c, or universal) church, but the catch is that everyone has different ideas for how to proceed! Some say pray for revival, others say get the baptism of the Spirit, others say know more theology, others say involvement in church, others say the key is how the church is set up... all these different emphases come out of a way of reading Scripture which can't be underestimated.

The group I'm with would say that husbands and fathers need to repent of abdicating leadership of their families, and need to start leading their families into worship and godliness. That believers must restore Lord's Day worship as central to life, and consider it a true delight. That we must live out in our relationships what we know in our heads. And that the way we live IS our theology - no matter how heretical, no matter the profession of our lips.

Great last quotes

On authority to influence:
"The captain derives his authority from the major... the general from the commander-in-chief, the president of the United States, the president from the government, and the government from God.... That authority may be called original which is not derived from any other man, but directly from God. Thus many would say that the authroity fo the poeple of the United States to govern themselves is original authority. But we Calvinists, who wdo not believe in absolute popular sovereignty, would correct this and cliam original authroity for the government.... again, the authroity of the parents over their children is original It is not derived from the church, nor from society, nor from the state" (Berkhof, pg 104).

Agnostics imposing their religion in the public square today...
"Our opponents maintain not only that they do not know anything about the nature of reality, but also that nobody else can possibly know anything about it" (Van Til, pg 129).

The need to influence our children from all angles:
"Our educational ideals and those of our opponents are poles apart. How impossible, then, for us to inculcate our ideals in any satisfactory way unless we have the educational influence all to ourselves" (Van Til, pg 130).


Arkansas Sam, the Beast

On Walmart sponsoring homosexual events...

Part of the homosexual agenda is to win the biggest companies in the world, since the rest follow the biggest, when it comes to endorsement and benefits policies. So they are targeting Walmart and winning. The result will be that in a decade or so almost all companies will be treating homosexually active couples as legitimately married people. If they can't win politically/legally, they will try industrial policy. Walmart's decision is an amorally, economic one, I'm sure, neither flagrant nor stupid. Their idol is not homosexuality but money.

Somebody mentioned the mark of the beast in Revelation. This is more relevant than you may realize. The original context of this was the shopping mall and stock exchange of Ephesus. To get into the market, you had to sprinkle incense to (i.e., worship) Caesar. Then you were given a ticket (mark) to show you had a right to be in the market. The point: society's expectations of everyone's priorities kept the early Christians excluded from society - they had to find a way to meet most of their needs from each other. They literally had to drop out of society sometimes, in order to keep from idolatry.

Walmart only asks for *money* to get into their stores so far :) (Everyone take out your Sam's card and repeat: "This is NOT the mark of the beast.") There are no altars there. Regardless of how they use their money, it is not immoral to buy something at Walmart at this point. If there WERE an altar to worship at to get in, your presence inside would be immoral without spending anything. Use of money is not the issue. The dollars in your wallet/purse right now were maybe handled by someone buying drugs, sex, or something less-sensationally immoral. Sin is not physically contagious, though it should repulse us on a gut level.

At the same time, we would do well to support places we know are moral, or at least places where we aren't aware of supporting immorality.

And we should be preparing ourselves to sacrifice economically, in order to stay faithful to the true God. The time may come when the culture demands our personal lip-service type of worship to their gods (like sprinkling incense on an altar). It would likely look like signing a contract these days, and refer to the "good of the people." Then we need to be willing to give up the market on which we are so dependent.

As far as food sacrificed to idols: there are two ways for someone to inform you of this. One is a weaker brother, who says, This steak was consecrated to Athena; how can you buy and eat it? This context seems to be in 1 Corinthians 8. To which Paul says, don't eat it, so as not to sear the weaker brothers' conscience. The second way is for an unbeliever to flagrantly brag to you: "THIS is ATHENA'S steak." This context seems to be in 1 Cor 10:27-28, to which again Paul says, don't eat it, so as not to give the impression that you endorse Athena. This latter pushes me toward not shopping at Walmart.

But notice that the difference is our knowledge (1 Cor 8:6-7; 10:27-28) and the glory we give (1 Cor 10:31). Believe it or not, Paul is endorsing a "don't ask, don't tell" policy here. He wants Christians to be as actively engaged in the marketplace as possible, without compromising their integrity. One way to accomplish this is by not bringing up whether a temple devoted this particular steak to an idol's glory. If you don't know, then YOU can give glory for it to the true God. If someone beats you to the punch and says, "This steak was cooked for Dagon's glory," then you need to sit it out. But notice that Paul would rather have us be proactive in the public square, glorifying God, than reactive - boycotting places for their idolatry. He doesn't want us giving ground to idols, when they claim part of creation as "theirs." Technically we are not morally constrained by others from partaking of anything in creation which God made for us to enjoy, within His law. Satan can't come in and say "Walmart's mine," and keep us out. Neither can the homosexuals.

The issue is who we give glory to, intentionally or otherwise. And the homosexual lobby is CERTAINLY pushing for society to give glory to homosexual desire and behavior these days. The answer isn't to retreat wherever they are active, but to love them, persuade them of the harm they do to themselves, and point them to a loving Father who made them for something better.

1. When you go out to eat at a restaurant, be sure to give thanks to God together out loud. Give God the glory before others. Not in a loud, "look at us" way. But also not in a cowering, "quiet so no one can hear" way.

2. If your conscience says to not go to Walmart, don't go. Paul would describe you as a weaker brother, but this doesn't make you an inferior Christian. For balance with your "stronger" brothers, read 1 Cor 8:4-6; Romans 14:14, 20, 22, remember it is God's Word, and remember that we are not called to be more "righteous" (using our own standards) than God commands. But if you aren't convinced in your conscience that Walmart is a moral option, then it is a sin for you to go, even if you know in your head it's alright. As you go elsewhere and see other Christians with Walmart bags in their homes, submit to your elders' judgment if they don't censure members for going to Walmart. There are times to engage the culture, even if it appears to others you are compromising. Just don't use "engage the culture" as a cloak to save a few bucks if there are better places to shop. (Engaging the culture by shopping at Walmart would be supporting God-glorifying products and avoiding sinful ones they sell - voting with your dollars).

3. DON'T go researching what every company you patronize is supporting. Let God deal with their idolatry. He has given you the ability to receive the fruit of their idolatry and transform it into a means of glorifying Him.


Communion exhortation

Paul speaks of tables in 1 Corinthians 10. We return often to our tables at home for nourishment at breakfast, dinner and supper, and it is the same with the Lord’s Supper. Just as our bodies require constant sustenance, dependent on God, so our souls require constant sustenance, dependent on God. And one normal way God has given us for this feeding is at this Table. And so today we begin eating at this Table every Lord’s Day, when we gather for worship, to keep us satisfied in the abundant grace of Christ. This is a great protection against the temptation to make up idols to meet our needs at other tables.

Paul speaks of two tables, maybe more. The table of the Lord, and the table of demons. And we cannot continue coming to both tables. The Philistines figure [1 Samuel 5], well the more tables the better, the more gods, the more we’re hedging our bets. But God allows none of this. We must put our trust in Him alone. Only His table sustains us, and we may not go around looking for satisfaction elsewhere. God commanded Israel in Deuteronomy 14 to bring their offerings to Him, and then eat and be satisfied. The Psalmist in 63:5 says His soul “shall be satisfied as with fat and abundance.” And so, in the way we push back the chair from a Thanksgiving feast with a contented sigh, may our souls be deeply satisfied at the Table of our Lord Jesus Christ. Your needs and desires are met by partaking of the body and blood of Jesus.


Paternal love

It took me awhile (and help from Sara) to figure out that the end refers to Joseph and Mary's flight to Egypt...

A Prayer For My Son
by William Butler Yeats.

Bid a strong ghost stand at the head
That my Michael may sleep sound,
Nor cry, nor turn in the bed
Till his morning meal come round;
And may departing twilight keep
All dread afar till morning's back.
That his mother may not lack
Her fill of sleep.
Bid the ghost have sword in fist:
Some there are, for I avow
Such devilish things exist,
Who have planned his murder, for they know
Of some most haughty deed or thought
That waits upon his future days,
And would through hatred of the bays
Bring that to nought.
Though You can fashion everything
From nothing every day, and teach
The morning stars to sing,
You have lacked articulate speech
To tell Your simplest want, and known,
Wailing upon a woman's knee,
All of that worst ignominy
Of flesh and bone;
And when through all the town there ran
The servants of Your enemy,
A woman and a man,
Unless the Holy Writings lie,
Hurried through the smooth and rough
And through the fertile and waste,
protecting, till the danger past,
With human love.


Classic Van Til Pre-supposition-alism

"We do not expect men to be reasonable unless God has once more made them so. But this does not vitiate the usefulness of reasoning with unreasonable men. Such reasoning strengthens our faith, and (who knows?) may be used by the Spirit to make men reasonable."
Page 57

"But the charge will finally come that I accept all this [the authority of Christ] because the Bible tells me.... How then shall I escape the charge of circle reasoning...? The answer is that I shall in no wise seek to escape it but boldly affirm it as the only alternative to self-destruction.... Circular reasoning is the most reasonable form of reasoning for a finite personality. No other form of reasoning is possible."
Page 61

Beach day

Just to make all our Michigan friends jealous, we went to the beach today (Virginia Beach, right around 47th Street), in low-70s weather. We got warm in our short sleeves and jeans. Sara visited some yarn shops - and got a stellar buy 1 get 1 free deal. We ingested our best lunch ever, at a local Italian joint (fettucine alfredo to die for!). And the kids got to pet crabs and turtles at the outstanding Virginia Beach aquarium, thanks to a tip from a friend. The only downers were no bookstores, and a traffic delay going through the tunnel on the way back up highway 64 (probably quite normal for the local commuters). Sara had her first experience knitting underwater (in the tunnel; no direct water contact). Zach had his first ocean-view feeding, on the sand.

And I even got in a teaching moment with Grace and Owen, explaining that the roaring of the waves (they were pretty big) was like the voice of God (Rev 1:15). This was interesting, as I explained it first to Owen, then again to Grace when she walked up, and I had Owen fill in the blanks, repeating it to her. Where I had said the many waters were like God's voice, Owen said it was like Jesus. He made that connection sub-consciously, on his own! Living up to his (John) Owen name already. What a prodigy theologian!


Too heavy!!? Take this...

A Prayer For My Daughter
by William Butler Yeats.

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory's wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind.
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.
I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And-under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.
May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.
Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-legged smith for man.
It's certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of plenty is undone.
In courtesy I'd have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty's very self, has charm made wise.
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

Politics and Theocracy

Should Christians actively seek to dominate public office?

The central focus of Reformation should be the Church and its discipling of men and families. This will have the salt-light affect in every vocation the men are called to, politics included. As the Church's discipleship extends its influence, men will come forward as viable candidates in their communities for office (Deut 18:21 directly applies). The world around may balk at their faith in Christ, but won't be able to gainsay the service they provide the community in office. Because of their integrity, they will change the system, instead of the system corrupting them. (This could take several generations from now to trickle up to national offices. Most often now, one's integrity gets one booted or squeezed out. I think starting local is key.)

Politics is a mirror reflecting society's values. We shouldn't try to change society's values through politics, like drawing a mustache on your reflection in the mirror. We should stay groomed ourselves, and then keep the mirror clean, too. Don't ignore politics as inherently corrupt or useless. Be involved to take dominion of the earth. But know that politics reflects and (at most) preserves values, it doesn't advance or create them. (This isn't to say politics is not a worthwhile vocation; it certainly is!) And also remember that we are pilgrims waiting to inherit another city (Rev 21:2). God has established that other city, and it is in conflict with the "city of man." A great resource to unpack this idea is Peter Leithart's "Against Christianity." Politically provocative, but helpful.

Should Christian theocracy be the goal of US Christians?

"A theocracy is a system of government where the religious authorities govern, either directly or through the subjection of the state to the church."

I *think* I'd agree with rejecting this definition of theocracy. Though I have trouble finding the mandate to separate civil and religious authority in Scripture. I see that that is how it was with Samuel/Saul, Israel's priests/kings, but at the points of Israel's greatest faithfulness the offices are melded: David wears the linen of the priest (1 Chronicles 15:27), as Samuel did for a time. Moses and the elders had both civil and religious authority under Torah. Even Romans 13 can be read either way - the one who bears the sword might also bear the Word without violating the passage's meaning. I believe the history of the West has led us to this practice more than Scripture. Which doesn't make it wrong, just not required by Scripture. Someone give me a clear argument that Scripture *requires* the separation of civil and religious authorities. I'm certainly open to it. I agree the separation is a legitimate interpretation of Scripture (WCF chapter 23), but am not sure it is the only legit one. This would look something like the Ayatollahs, but substitute grace for the legalism, and discipleship for the cruel punishments. The religious leaders have so much influence on the community (political life) that civil magistrates need to follow them. There can be varying degrees of this. IF I thought this was a good idea (not sure myself yet), I'd probably argue for an "indirect theocracy," where there is still a distinction between civil and religious. The civil magistrate can legally do whatever he wants, but since the Church has the influence in society it is supposed to (!), if the state officeholder starts going haywire, he'll be out of office next month.


Christian education essential

Louis Berkhof wrote this in 1953, while president of Calvin Seminary:

"We must take that which is most fundamental in the life of the child into consideration in the whole of his education.... [it is foolish to say] that the school is concerned only with the head and should limit itself to secular eduction, while the home and the church make provision for the heart by addign religious education. We should never forgget that the eucation which the child receives in the school, though divorced from religion, is nevertheless an education of the entire child and is bound to make a deep impression on the heart....

"In view of the fact that the influence of the Christian home is waning, and that the church can devote only a couple of hours a week to the religious training of its youth, the school is easily the most important educational agency of the present. Is it not the height of folly even from a purely educational point of view to let the most important agency in education ignore that which is most essential and most fundamental in the life of the child?"

Pages 32-33

In it up to my elbows

After a few comments that the presence of the Mrs. has been missed on the blog lately, I thought I better write again. Something to alleviate the heavy political and theological tones that can prevail here. Something to put a smile on your face, even though I wasn't smiling at the time!

Let me tell you about my day as a mom of 4 kids (Moms-to-be can go back to reading your "Parenting" magazines full of airbrushed photos):

Started the day off with 7 hours of very interrupted sleep, thanks to our 3 month old, Zach. A good hour was spent getting everyone changed, dressed, fed, and corralled back to the kitchen for some school time. I bounced around between the four children helping with addition, sounding out the letter "Ff", and reading books. We worked on memorizing the second stanza to Psalm 148 and the last lines of the Apostle's Creed (my kids are ages 5, 3 and 2). Pretty typical morning. A few dinosaurs popped in and out, but nothing eventful.

A nice hot lunch was prepared and set on the table, and just as hubby walked in the door to join us, I picked up the baby to have him by the table as well. This was met by my oldest son yelling "Mom, look at Zach!" I looked down, and sure enough, his diaper had exploded. Only those of you who have raised breastfed babies can fully appreciate the meaning of "explode".

This nuclear-level explosion warranted a full out bath, change of clothes for him AND ME, dismantling our excersaucer, an extra load of laundry, mopping the bathroom floor, and finally returning to eat a cold lunch after everyone else had finished. *Sigh*

Somewhere in all this I thought about the parallels of our sin and "the mess". Our sin is just as revolting to God as what I cleaned up this afternoon, even though it may come packaged in cute little bundles we want to cuddle. How humbling to compare myself to that slimy mess! And God didn't turn up his nose and daintily try to dab away some of our goo. No, He poured himself into our sinful humanity to bring us up out of the slime. Next Sunday when we get to the confession of sin part of the worship service, perhaps we won't be so flippant about it all.

And if you need a reminder, come babysit for us!

The people have spoken

I'm no politico, but here are the interesting races from my view.

1. Virginia - US Senate seat. Incumbent George Allen lost to Democrat Jim Webb by less than 8,000 votes out of 2.3 million total cast. A major disappointment - clear choice between liberal and conservative, and the former prevailed. If only more Democrats had voted 3rd party...

2. Virginia state constitutional amendment to define marriage as only between 1 man and 1 woman: passed easily - 57% to 43%. This was a delight, as I got to vote for Michigan's similar amendment there last year, and here this year.

3. Back in Michigan, liberal governor Granholm easily pasted big-money, Republican-establishment Dick Devos, 56% to 42%. I'm sure it wasn't hard to garner the liberal base against him.

4. Big picture, the house is in Democrat hands, and the Senate is a virtual stalemate. Republican establishment bewails it. Some less partisan conservatives see it as a good thing, and I tend to agree. This will mean less Republican big spending getting through. With gridlock, less government happens - a generally good thing. These days, I'd rather have less government, even if it is Republican.

The one exception to that would be the Senate when it comes time for court nominations. I'm seeing a slim chance of any more good judges getting on, with only 2 years of Bush left, and a more hostile Congress. I also predict (in a Nostradamus manner, tongue firmly in cheek) that the backlash against Republicans will continue in 2008, and a Democrat will be president.


The Heavens Declare...

Check out these amazing pictures from the Hubble telescope. Here's one to get you there...

Luther's famous quote

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”



Sorry for the library thing search, if you've tried that and been confused. It seems to search other people's libraries, but I can't get it to search my own. The folks over there have been unresponsive thus far, but here's hoping it works out...

Welch's Biblical brain potion

Blame It on the Brain?
by Ed Welch

Finishing this up, and it was excellent, well-balanced and on target Biblically.
He divides it into some ailments which are traceable to the brain, or biology, other ailments which may be biological or moral/spiritual, and a final category of ailments which cannot be relegated to the brain but certainly have moral components. For a sense of Welch's perspective, he puts in the first category Alzheimers and dementia, in the second, depression and attention deficit disorder, and in the third, homosexuality and alcholism. The ADD and homosexuality chapters were outstanding.

My only lingering question is whether Welch is related to the Welch's grape juice people, which would be interesting, as he writes well on alcoholism and the strenghts and weaknesses of Alcoholics Anonymous.

1 Samuel 4:1 and commentaries

After preaching on 1 Samuel 4 yesterday, I received a question from a church member:
Does 1 Sam 4:1a go with chapter 3, or with chapter 4. Commentaries he looked at were divided, so he wondered about the reliability of commentaries, etc. Here was my answer:

I would say putting 4:1a with the rest of chpt 4 is legit. I did not make the connection consciously from the text, I suppose because you just can't mention everything going on in the text or we'd be there all day, but I alluded to it in that God sends the trouble, He moves armies, etc.

I think both interpretations can work, side by side. 4:1a goes with 3:1, but 4:1a also connects with 4:1b, by way of contrast, if nothing else. We may be dealing here with artificial chapter breaks. With no punctuation in the original text, we only know from context where to put the period and paragraph break. At the end of 3:21, or 4:1a? Most modern Bibles do that for you at 4:1a. I note Keil & Delitzsch make the application you mention. But that only works if the paragraph ends at 3:21. Then verse 4:1 reads something like this: "And the word of Samuel came to all Israel, and Israel went out to battle against the Philistines..." Conversely, NKJV and NIV, KJV all put in a "Now" to make a sharp break.

K&D is theologically reliable. But textual scholarship may have learned some things since its writing, like this chapter break thing, that they didn't consider. I wouldn't say there are commentaries to avoid, except for Scofield's dispensational stuff. It's just good to know when and who wrote it. Commentators can read their own biases into the text, too. Puritan era writers tended to comment verse by verse, not connecting larger chunks of text as much (Henry and Calvin, e.g.), whereas today commentators do more "literary" commenting - noting how the structure of the story/text communicates. Both are legit angles and needed. See the forest and each tree.

I'm using all physical books for commentaries on Samuel, so can't help you for this series there! Though I occasionally check out K&D, too. Here's what I'm using now.
- Promise and Deliverance by DeGraaf
- A Son to Me by Leithart

Online stuff:
- Spurgeon's Treasury of David, his classic commentary on the Psalms is here

- I assume you've found John Calvin's commentaries, if you're at CCEL

- Here's something to check out, though I don't have it so can't recommend heartily.
You need to download the application, but it is free. Good stuff there includes
- Geneva Bible translation notes
- John Gill's exposition of the whole Bible
- K&D
- Matthew Henry
- Treasury of David
- Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, which is a good cross-reference system.


How to lose an institution

I know; you're wondering if I'm over going to write something of my own again.
Just know that I'm in a catch-up mode on blogs and podcasts, and that my author-self will resurface once that's over.

This one I'm directing back at the denomination I just left, though the original intent was elsewhere. I think it carries over nicely.

"Lack of discipline will kill your [denomination] -- a [denomination] without discipline has no way to fight off 'infections.' If a [denomination] is unwilling or unable to fire administrators or [pastors], [excommunicate] or suspend [members], the [denomination] will take on the mission desire by those the [denomination] refuses to let go. The troublemakers can determine, rightly, that the [denominational leadership] want to do it the troublemakers' way instead of the way set out in the founding vision of the [denomination]" (The Case for Classical Christian Education, p. 182).


The greatest & first commandment in education

The Case for Classical Christian Education, Douglas Wilson, p. 175.

"But it is impossible to make a good omelet with rotten eggs. If staff members of a Christian school are not walking in fellowship with God, then they cannot be in fellowship with one another. If we walk in the light, John says, we have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7). If the people working in the school are under the chastening hand of God, then it does not matter how many education conferences they go to. It does not matter how intelligent they are. It does not matter how many books they read. It does not matter that they adopted a classical Christian curriculum. The whole thing stinks. The enterprise is comparable to insisting on rotten eggs as ingredients and then determining to make the omelet good by improving the kitchen, firing the cook, or changing the recipe. Refusal to deal with sin is folly, pure and simple."


The Best Defense...

Laurence Windham has a great article in the latest Every Thought Captive on evolution. Excerpts:

“At some point, we began to brace ourselves against the world and in doing so allowed our defenses against evolution to define our world-view….

“The results have been disastrous: passages of Scripture such as the story of creation in Genesis 1 & 2 were transformed into polemics instead of praise… a reflection of how we are to glorify God and enjoy Him became ammunition that misfired…. We became conformed to the world of haggling about what is true instead of living out truth.”

Mr. Windham exhorts us well to think upon the good, true and beautiful, a la Philippians 4:8, and in a worry-free, Matthew 6:25-33 sort of way.

“So, instead of filling your head with reactionary-conservative talk radio, listen to a Scripture CD during your commute. Value the Psalms more than the newspaper…”

His point is well-taken. Conservatives are tempted to react against the world, and define themselves by how they are not like the world. Instead, God calls us to glorify Him by delighting in Him. There is the occasional lament in the Word over the wicked, but the focus always returns to God – “but my eyes are upon You, O God.” May we define ourselves by the kingdom coming, by the One who perfectly reflected God’s image.

The Sin of Sodom

Good Tabletalk devotional today on this:

"Many scholars friendly to the liberalization of sexual morality will say the central sin of Sodom was inhospitality and not homosexuality. WE answer them in two ways. First, the Sodomites did sin in being inhospitable, but rape is nothing if not inhospitalbe. Second, even if this text serves to emphasize the inhopitality of the Sodomites, it does not make homosexual acts any less condemnable. Scripture is clear that unrepentant homosexuals are among those who will not inhereit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10), even if the story of Sodom is ignored.

"Some of those reading this study today may struggle with homosexual compulsions or other sexual sins. If this is the case, know that there is freedom in Christ if you repent and moritfy these disires by the Spirit. The Lord has promised to provide a way out of temptation (1 Cor 10:13), and this involves running from places or situations where we are pressed to give in to sin and finding someone who can help bear our burdens and thus hold us accountable (Gal 6:2)."


A Freedom Fighter in Baghdad

From today's Wall Street Journal (A18):

"Mithal al-Alusi, a 53-year-old Sunni Arab who won a seat in parliament last December... ran on a platform of religious pluralism, human rights, free markets and a free press.... The following February assassins opened fire on Mr. al-Alusi's car as it apprached his Baghdad home. He wasn't in the vehicle, but his sons, 30-year-old Ayman and 22-year-old Gamal, were. Both were killed as their father watched. Still, Mr. al-Alusi was unbowed. 'Even if these terrorists try to kill me again, peace is the only solution,' he told reporters minutes after the attack....

"Hajim al-Hasani, a former parliament speaker... told me [the reporter] it is a misconception to view the violence in Iraq as the expression of popular will: 'The few bad apples can rotten the rest of the apples if nobody stops them.'"

[Back to al-Alusi:] "'We didn't have any kind of hope [under Saddam], and now, even with all our difficulty, we have hope.... I will be killed - if not today, tomorrow. The point is not me, but children.'.... Mithal al-Alusi could have left Iraq for a comfortable life in exile; a friend offered to help him relocate to the U.S. But he said no: 'My country needs me.' He has not given up the fight. How can we?"

Samuel's legacy

You never know what you'll find in Chronicles.

I just learned, if I'm reading 1 Chronicles 6:26-34 right, that Samuel's grandson, Heman, was a principal singer in David's temple alongside Asaph.

Interesting. Samuel's sons were so bad Israel asked for a king instead of have them judge Israel (1 Samuel 8:3-4). But the next generation was faithful.

John Knox

I prepared this for our Reformation Celebration last night at church. Stay tuned for pictures of me dressed up as Knox, full beard and all!

John Knox was born in 1515, just two years before Luther nailed his theses to the door. He was what we call a 2nd generation reformer. Luther and Tyndale’s literature was smuggled into Scotland, and received a ready hearing there, before Knox even began his career. He received a good education in the standard Medieval scholastic fashion, but had teachers who resisted the Roman church. Knox was taught early on that the pope is not supreme. He took a secretarial position in the church in 1540, then officially converted to Protestantism just 3 years later. His cardinal condemned him as a heretic and tried to have him assassinated. This was standard operating procedure at the time. The Reformation was severely persecuted in Scotland from the 1520s on.
Much the same as it happened with Luther, Knox was protected by a nobleman names Hugh Douglas. Knox tutored his children. George Wishart, a Reformed itinerant preacher and teacher stayed there, too for a time. After an attempt on Wishart’s life by a priest, while Wishart was preaching, Knox became bodyguard to Wishart, carrying a 2-handed broad sword. Later, when Wishart was arrested, he ordered Knox’s weapon from him and kept Knox from following him. “Nay, return to your bairnes, and God bless you; one is sufficient for a sacrifice.”
Knox was called to the ministry directly from the pulpit, while virtually under military siege in a castle by Catholics. He had been tutoring the older sons. Early sermons on the idolatry of the mass – synagogue of Satan, for adding corrupting practices to the worship of God. Also preached on the sins within the castle, not just against Catholicism.
He counseled the Reformation in Scotland to keep looking for more pastors. He always thought of them as in the thick of battle, as he was called that way. An Anglican priest of our time once complained that wherever Paul went there was either revival or riot; wherever HE went they served tea. John Knox did not have this problem! He prayed for faithful pastors on his deathbed: “Lord, give us men who would gladly preach their next sermon even if it meant going to the stake for it. Lord, give us men who will hate all falsehood and lies, whether in the Church or out of it. Lord, grant to your struggling church men who fear You above all.”
Back to the castle, eventually the French military came to the aid of the Catholic party in Scotland, and they took the castle. Knox was captured and enslaved on a galley ship for 19 months. Hard, physical labor with no hygiene and little sleep. Still, Knox managed to receive a treatise on justification by faith on ship, and edit it and send it back! Some prisoners back in Scotland also managed to smuggle a letter to him, asking it God would judge them if some were able to escape, knowing it might result in harsh treatment for those that did NOT get away. Knox advised that it would be all right, but only to attempt the escape if they didn’t have to kill anyone to do it.
While rowing, he gave hope to a discouraged friend with these words: “I know the Lord will deliver us. Don’t forget that Satan made Joseph go into Egypt, but God meant it for good to rescue His people. Don’t lose hope, brother. God is faithful. We will return to our homeland and God will give us the victory.”
He was released to England, and preached for a couple years. His abilities were noticed by the Anglican Reformers there – they offered him a bishopric, but he refused them, as the Anglican church had not reformed enough for him to serve with integrity. The king was the official head of the church, which was a problem. Ultimately, the minister and elders did not have the authority to keep the unrepentant from Table, if they were in the king’s favor. But Knox wasn’t a cranky isolationist, either. Served as chaplain to King Edward for a time, though Knox believed his position as head of the church was unscriptural! He knew how to work for reform in less than ideal settings, and when to separate, draw the line, and fight.
Knox fled England when Bloody Mary ascended the throne in 1553. He went to France and Geneva. He met John Calvin there, and they remained friends until Calvin died in 1564. Knox wrote that Geneva was “the most perfect school of Christ on earth since the days of the apostles.” You get a sense of Knox’s personality when Calvin writes to Knox, exhorting him to “moderate your rigor” in reforming the unneeded ceremonies going on in the church, so as not to “displease many.”
Returning to Scotland when things appeared safer, he found Bloody Mary requiring attendance at Mass on pain of persecution. Many Protestants were attending, explaining away the compromise in one way or another. Knox convinced them to not attend mass as it was idolatry, and to separate from the Roman church. Called to trial for this, he unexpectedly went (most such calls were mere intimidating threats – a signal to leave the country). When he arrived at his trial, the clergy called it off and left. Knox took the occasion to preach to the crowd gathered for the trial, twice a day for 10 days straight, in the bishop’s own house!
In 1556, Knox received a call to pastor the English congregation in Geneva, and he went. He also built up a church of Huguenots in a port city of France, where he was passing between Geneva and Scotland. His congregation in Geneva included John Fox, who wrote Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and Miles Coverdale, a famed Bible translator. This English congregation in Geneva produced a new English translation, which became known as the Geneva Bible.
Knox returned to Scotland in 1559 to political turmoil. The struggle for pre-eminence between Catholic and Protestant was at high-pitch, and Knox threw himself into it, preaching again on the idolatry of the mass. Since the protestant position was politically quite strong, Mary, Queen of Scots was in a mood to talk, though it was usually in the form of a summons to Knox to defend his words or actions to her.
Several interviews with Mary Queen of Scots ensued, off and on. Knox: “If princes exceed their bounds, and do against that wherefore they should be obeyed, there is no doubt that they may be resisted, even with power.” Another time, after a ball celebrating the persecution of Huguenots, he condemned the ball in a sermon. Mary thought he was against dancing, per se. He clarified that the offense was the extravagance and the celebration of such persecution of the saints. Another time, Mary put some protestant friends on trial, and Knox wrote other friends, asking them for support by attending the trial. Mary tried Knox for treason for this, but he was acquitted by a large majority! Major embarrassment for the Queen.
Here is a sample of the dialogue between Queen Mary and John Knox: Queen: “You are teaching the people to believe things I have not allowed. How can this be right since God commands subjects to obey their rulers?” Knox: “Madam, your subjects are not bound to follow what you feel is right, but what God’s Word declares to be true.” Queen: “How dare you speak to me like that! I have put up with you for too long. I shall be revenged.” Knox: “I must obey God. His Word commands me to speak plainly and flatter no one on the face of the earth.”
Knox was married twice. 2 boys in 1st marriage. Marjorie Bowes died early. 3 girls in 2nd marriage, who all married ministers.
Knox preached the coronation sermon of James, who would become King James I of England, of King James Version fame.
Toward end of his life when he became weak, Knox continued preaching. One observer said he carried on his exposition for half an hour in moderate temper. Helped up into the pulpit, “but before he had done with his sermon, he was so active and vigorous that he was like to strike the pulpit and fly out of it.
On his deathbed, moaning, his friends asked him what the trouble was. He replied that he used to be tempted by Satan to despair or worldliness. But now he was being tempted to believe he had “merited heaven by the faithful discharge of his ministry.” God had helped him resist this, reminding him that he had nothing that God didn’t give him first. He was not quite 60 yrs old when he died in 1572. The eulogy at his funeral was given by the man just crowned interim king: “Here lies one who neither flattered nor feared any flesh.”
John Knox’s legacy remains with us today. Only a few generations after Knox saw the Scottish Presbyterians severely repressed by King George III of England. Many Scots came to US then, in the early 1700s. So many that ¼ of the colonies’ population was Scot at the time of the War for Independence. Many back in England called that war the Presbyterian rebellion. It was those ornery Presbyterians who insisted they didn’t have to submit to a king who overstepped his bounds, as Knox insisted to Queen Mary’s face. The Tories were constantly frustrated by what they called the Black Regiment, the ministers in their black robes who gave legitimacy to the rebel cause.
Knox’s legacy here is two-fold. First that authority in government ought to be representative. The magistrate should represent the will of the people, within the bounds of God’s law. The magistrate is in covenant with the people to enforce that law.
The second legacy is the independence of Church from state – Church not established or ruled by the state. The head of the church is Jesus Christ – beside Him there is no single ruler on earth, whether pope or king, but rather leadership of several equals. The state does not have the right to mandate citizens’ attendance at any one kind of church.