Beauty of Winter

To see some gorgeous photos of a winter wonderland, visit Val's blog.

Making Friends

I have a little girl who LOVES paper dolls. She is constantly asking me to draw her more paper dolls, clothes, castles, etc. They all live in her pencil box on our art shelf.

I found a neat website with sweet, child-looking paper dolls with printable bodies and clothes. I like these because I can print everything in black and white outlines, allowing my daughter to color and decorate them as she wishes. They are big, easy to handle and cut, and not at all the trendy grown-up Barbie-ish dolls. The best part is it's all free!! Check out the making friends paper doll website here.


Eleventh Hour Fun - children's book review

Ok, time to 'fess up. When's the last time you were so drawn in by a kid's book that you lost track of time? This one, by Graeme Base, did it for me. "The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery" is a book that I could spend hours with for several reasons:
1. Incredibly detailed and high-quality illustrations. Wow, this guy can really draw! You'll love his humorous and detail-packed images.
2. Layers and layers to discover - this book is a mystery, after all, and the reader is the detective looking for visual clues on each page to solve a theft. The best part is, that once you think you've solved it and know whodunnit, the author reveals in a clever way that there is still MORE to find in picture! What fun! I was up way past my bedtime hunting, decoding and generally feasting my eyes. Going back over each page led to many more delightful discoveries.
3. Setting: many of the illustrations are set in various rooms of a house, with each one decorated in its own historical artistic style. For example, the entrance hall is drawn based on the architecture of the high Rennaissance, the poker room has many art noveau and art deco influences, and the feasting hall is highly medieval. As an artist, I really appreciate the work and research that went into each page. As a homeschool mom, I have a fun springboard to teach my children about different artistic styles found throughout history.
While the detective work in this book was a bit over my 4 and 5 year olds' heads, they still enjoyed the rhymed verses which tell the tale of Horace's Eleventh birthday party. I think children in the 8-12 year old range would really enjoy this book; it requires logic, close attention to visual details, lots of decoding secret messages hidden within the illustrations... all wrapped up in the author's playful world of costumed animals. For the early elementary and preschooler crowd, I'd recommend Base's "At the Watering Hole". It's another superbly illustrated book centered around counting animals at a diminishing watering hole. And with the "Eleventh Hour", there is much more to see than found at first glance!

No ought in heaven

JI Packer writes beautifully (pgs 115-119) of praising God in prayer, and how it prepares us for heaven. On his deathbed, John Donne wrote this, thinking of musicians who prepared to play during a banquet feast:

"Since I am coming to that Holy room
Where, with thy Quire of Saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy Music; As I come
I tune the Instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before."

And then, from CS Lewis' "Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer"

"If we were perfected, prayer would not be a duty, it would be delight. Some day, please God, it will be. ... There is no morality in heaven. The angels never knew... the meaning of the word ought, and the blessed dead have long since gladly forgotten it. ... We can picture that world... only by the analogy of our present play and leisure."

More local college shenanigans

From "The Family Foundation of Virginia" email of today. I administered my first baptism in the congregation I pastor in this Wren Chapel, a week or two before the cross was removed.

"The President of The College of William and Mary decided in October 2006 to make its famous campus chapel less "faith specific" and more "welcoming" by getting rid of the 18-inch brass cross that had been displayed on the altar since about 1940. Perhaps the college also sought the same goal when it hosted the Sex Worker's Art Show on its campus on Feb. 12.

"The College of William and Mary was founded by a King and Queen who were the head of the Christian Church in England at the time. While current President Gene Nichol blatantly disregarded the College's heritage, he argued that displaying the cross was offensive to students who were not Christians and that keeping it on display in Wren Chapel was 'endorsing a particular religious tradition to the exclusion of others.'

"While President Nichol believes that the trappings of Christianity may be too much for the delicate sensibilities of students and staff at William and Mary, it seems prostitutes and strippers are just fine-better than fine, actually. On February 12, the College hosted The Sex Workers' Art Show, which was a cabaret-style production featuring performers in "various stages of undress" who also happened to be employees or former employees of the sex industry. The "artists" presented live art exhibition that included spoken word, burlesque and multimedia performances. Sex-related issues and awareness of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community were addressed in the show.

"Perhaps the most appalling of all is that a large number of William and Mary students were required to attend the show. Several professors required students in their classes to attend the show, and all students enrolled in Introduction to Women's Studies and Performance Art Ensemble classes were required to attend, totaling at least 100 students.

"When asked about the sex show, President Nichol said, "I don't like this kind of show and I don't like having it here, but it's not the practice and province of universities to censor or cancel performances because they are controversial."

"It appears as though President Nichol doesn't really have a problem offending people, but he does have a problem with the cross of Jesus Christ."

Leviticus 26-27

Last post on Leviticus

[insert big sigh of relief from both my readers]

Chapter 26
God describes and promises to bless His people if they obey (1-13), and to curse them if they disobey (14-43). Verse 13 is especially beautiful in the first section: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves; I have broken the bands of your yoke and made you walk upright." The whole point of saving Israel was so they would not be slaves and would not walk unrightly. God causes His people to walk uprightly, after He saves them. The million dollar word here is sanctification. Once we are saved, we try to live to please God and obey Him. This verse 13 reminds us that it is God at work in us, both to will and to act (Philippians 2:13), that makes this sanctification happen.

In the section of curses, verse 25 stood out to me: God will bring a sword that will "execute the vengeance of the covenant." Being in covenant with God brings enormous blessing for those who are faithful and obedient. But to those in covenant who do not obey faithfully, the punishment is great. The point I would have you consider is that a person can be in covenant with God and also be disobedient and punished by God.

The curses escalate until verse 39, with a refrain between each escalation, that if you still don't turn back, then something worse will happen ("if by these things you are not reformed by Me... then...." vs 23).

At verse 40, we get the promise of restoration if we repent. After generations of disobedience, if Israel repents, then God will look back to the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (vs 42; see Isaiah 51:1-3). Then He will not cast away or abhor Israel anymore (vs 44), even though He DID do these things in punishment for disobedience earlier.

Chapter 27 - redeeming gifts to God
If an Israelite gives God a gift - sets apart a person, field, animal or house for Him - they could redeem it (buy it back) to themselves in most cases, according to the law laid out in this chapter. The details here are fuzzy to me, but some things are clear. Somethings could not be bought back: tithes and things banned to destruction in war. The priest set the value of whatever was given to God. If one wanted to buy it back, they had to pay according to what the priest said. Also, the priest determined if an animal brought was clean (able to sacrifice) or not (vss 9,11). So the priest, in this moneychanging context, was in a position to fleece Israel, if his heart went astray that way, while still obeying the letter of the law. And indeed, this is what had happened in Jesus' day. It may be that this kind of activity was part of Jesus' cleansing of the temple.

Another possible connection: Jesus rebukes the practice of giving to God whatever a person should have used to support their parents. The practice (not the sinful distortion of it that Jesus rebukes) may have its roots in this chapter.


Lev 24-25 tabernacle and Jubilee

Chapter 24
1-4 - the priests (not Aaron personally, but his sons...) were to ensure the lampstand had enough oil through the night. The light was not to go out.

Here is a Psalm addressed to those priests:

Psalm 134
Behold, bless the Lord, / All you servants of the Lord, / Who by night stand in the house of the Lord! 2Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, / And bless the Lord. 3The Lord who made heaven and earth / Bless you from Zion!

5-9 - showbread
The priests were bakers! They made 12 loaves, probably representing the 12 tribes, and set them out anew each Sabbath. This bread was only for the priests to eat, yet David and his men ate it when they were in need, with Jesus' approval. Also, note here the priests "working" on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:4-5).

10-23 - someone is heard blaspheming the name of Yahweh. Everyone knows they are not to do this (Ex 20:7; 22:28), but the punishment has not been spelled out. God responds not only to the specific situation but with principles of punishment. An eye for an eye, meaning, let the punishment fit the crime. Don't be disproportionate in dealing justice. If someone insults you or hurts you, you can't go kill him, nor can the state do so.

Note the importance of words here. Blasphemy is as heinous in God's eyes as murder. We have become desensitized to this these days.

Chapter 25 - Sabbath and Jubilee years
Just as the 7th day of rest in our week reminds us that it is God's time, not ours; so the 7th year of rest for the land reminds Israel that the land is God's, not theirs. We are stewards of what God gives, not ultimate owners.

I'm not sure how to fit verses 5 and 6 together. Help, anyone? Could they eat of the land in the 7th year, or not? If Israel questioned the practicality of not planting for a whole year, God would provide while they waited 2 years for a harvest, instead of one.

After 7 Sabbath years, 49 years total, the next 50th year was a Year of Jubilee. Any land sold during that 50 years went back to its original tribal owner. God effectively forbids the permanent sale of the promised land, even between tribes of Israel. You can RENT it, but you get it back in the 50th year.

Anything you have to sell - your land, your house or yourself as a slave - you get back in the Jubilee, with the remaining debt you haven't paid forgiven. The one exception is a house in a city. This remains permanently with the one who buys it, unless the debtor can repay it within 1 year. While this was allowed, the prophets still condemned those who collected houses in excess (Isaiah 5:8). A large portion of the acreage of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus was owned by the high priestly families, who had a small number of 5000 sq ft homes while most of the population had 800 sq ft homes crammed into the lower city. (Those numbers aren't historically accurate, but designed by me to give you an idea from modern comparison of the extremes involved then.)

One may not take advantage of the poor in their need. Don't opportunistically fleece them when they have no other options. Don't raise the price when they have to buy from you. Don't charge interest for necessities. Be generous instead of selfishly opportunistic.

The issue of servitude among Israel and non-Israelites is addressed:
An Israelites cannot be a permanent slave of anyone. At the Jubilee, he goes free. This is because Israel is God's servant, and no one else's, ultimately. He CAN be a temporary servant, but may not be treated harshly. An Israelite may have a permanent, non-Israelite slave, and a non-Israelite may have a temporary Israelite slave. This is all in the context of economic debt, not stealing and selling lives, as we are accustomed to thinking of slavery in the American south. Note verse 47 for proof of that economic context: "Now if a sojourner or stranger close to you becomes rich, and one of your brethren who dwells by him becomes poor, and sells himself..." The reason this is allowed is to provide impartially for the creditor who finds himself with a debtor who has nothing with which to pay. The creditor may not unjustly be jilted, just because the debtor may have been irresponsible with his money. Such irresponsibility has consequences. And if it wasn't his fault, there are protections built in: he can't be treated harshly, and it is only temporary. This sounds horribly unjust to us today, but I have faith that, not understanding all the details of this system, God's ways are better than even our modern ways of dealing with things through banks and bankruptcy courts, etc. It seems a personal relationship with the creditor who is held accountable to be kind is better than bureaucratic hoops to jump through.

The first thing Jesus taught publicly in His ministry, was that the Jubilee had come. He proclaimed release to the captives (Luke 4:18-19). Israel went into exile because of her disobedience, partially to allow the land its Sabbaths, which Israel had denied the land (Lev 26:43; 2 Chronicles 36:21). The 70 years of exile, 1 year for each Sabbath year denied, would multiply by 7 to 490 years, plus 10 Jubilee years takes us to 500. 500 years before the exile (586BC) is about when Israel took complete control of the land (Saul and David's time), after the period where the land went back and forth during the Judges between Midianites, Ammonites, and Israel. So during all the time Israel COULD have obeyed this law, they did not.

There may be a loose connection in the numbers to Jesus' response on forgiveness: 70 times 7. The Greek word for release and forgiveness is the same word. We pray "forgive us our debts." Jesus would symbolically have said, "For as long as you live, forgive. Remember the release of the land and the people which you denied from David to exile. I've come to set them free. Now you live it out. 70 times 7. Do it right this time. Forgive."


Leviticus 23

Chapter 23 - Feasts
A favorite subject of mine: Older Testament feasts, and their fulfillment in the Newer Testament, especially in the Passion of Jesus, the Messiah.

First, what's a feast? The word means an appointed time to gather as God's people for sacred purposes.

SABBATH (verse 3) - every 7th day is a feast!

PASSOVER/UNLEAVENED BREAD (4-8) - 1st month, 14th day = Passover. The next day is the first day of Unleavened Bread, which lasts 7 days. Gathering for worship and no work on the 1st and 7th days.

Passover was from sundown Thursday of Passion week (Maundy Thursday) to sundown Friday. Jesus, our Passover Lamb. The shepherd was struck, and the sheep scattered, during the night of Passover in Gethsemane. He died during Passover. The next day, a Sabbath and a high day (John 19:31) - the 1st day of the feast Unleavened Bread) began at sundown, as Jesus was taken down from the cross and buried. This feast was given for a reason: "And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, ‘This is done because of what the Lord did for me when I came up from Egypt’" (Exodus 13:8). At the moment of the Messiah's death and burial, every faithful Jew was bringing to mind what God had done to save them from bondage. A custom had also arisen to plant some grain at the onset of this feast, and remember that it is God who brings life/bread/nourishment from the ground. WHO had just been put in the ground?

Besides bringing the first ripe grain from the field, the worshipper also brought a male lamb, grain, oil and wine.

Dating of this feast from Scripture is dicey, but the New Geneva Study Bible, and other sources I've heard, put it on the day after the first day of Unleavened Bread. We also know it was the day after the Sabbath: Sunday (11). This means it took place on the very day that Jesus rose from the dead, as the firstfruits of those who will rise from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).

50 days after firstfruits was the feast of weeks, named after counting 7 Sabbaths and a day - 50 days total. The Greek for 50 is "pente," thus Pentecost. Did you know God commanded Israel to celebrate Pentecost for 2000 years before Acts 2? This was a harvest festival. Worshipers brought baked grain, 7 lambs, 1 bull and 2 rams as a burnt offering, a goat for a sin offering, and 2 male lambs for the peace offering.

There is a concluding call to generosity (22). Don't keep all your harvest for yourself - give some to the poor and needy. When the NT church is formed in Acts 2, Luke refers to this in verses 44-45, showing that the church fulfilled the spirit of Pentecost in their generosity, as well.

TRUMPETS (23-25)
7th month, 1st day (half-year point) was trumpets, when God's people gathered and didn't work, and heard trumpets blown as a memorial to God. Somehow, the half-year has turned around today, so that this day (Rosh Hashanah) is the Jewish new year, usually in October.

Further Newer Testament parallels get speculative, but here is my take:
This feast will be fulfilled when Jesus returns to the sounding of trumpets (1 Thessalonians 4:16), and a new era/year begins.

7th month, 10th day. A day of humility and repenting. The one day of the year when the high priest enters the holy of holies.

I believe this corresponds to an event in heaven after the second coming when the righteousness of Christ's saints will be declared. Every mouth having been stopped, the books opened, the book of Life will spare those repentant (29), who are written in that book.

In one sense of course we are already saved. But Scripture also speaks of our justification taking place at an event like this in the future (note "will be justified" in Matt 12:37; Rom 2:13; 3:20).

7th month, 15th day. Another 7-day feast, with the 1st and 8th days being high. Tree fruit and branches were waved before the Lord in thanksgiving. Tents (booths) were made to remember the desert wandering. The themes are rest (tents of dwelling) and victory (palm branches).

Revelation portrays this for us, with the saints holding palm branches (7:9) and God declaring He would "live" (same word as taberacle, or tent, or booth) with His people (21:3). This is a picture of heaven: every one under his vine and fig tree, enjoying the blessing God has given, without hindrance of sin and sorrow.

Leviticus 21-22

Coming to my annual foray into Leviticus (reading through the Bible each year), I thought I would try to summarize in my own words what is written, to help me make sense of it, and maybe it will be beneficial to you, too.

Chapter 21
The priests were called to stricter rules of cleanliness and set-apart-ness:
- no touching the dead or mourning by self-bodily harm
- marriage only to a virgin.
Note the stricter calling also applied to the priest's family/children. The punishment for an adulterous daughter was burning instead of stoning (9). Things get even more strict for the high priest (10-15).

The reason for all of this is that the priest must be holy, because Yahweh is holy (8).

Priests with physical defects (broken, deformed, diseased, or abnormally large or small limbs, eunuchs) could not bring Israel's offerings to God (16-23).

I've heard it explained that the reason the priest and Levite would not help the man in the Good Samaritan parable was that they were on their way to Jerusalem to serve in the temple, and if they helped and touched the "half-dead" man, they were considered ritually unclean (tradition may have added this half-dead category). Doesn't excuse their behavior, but explains it partially. Jesus' point becomes that loving your neighbor is more important than keeping ritual law.

Chapter 22
1-16 - only priests and their household members could eat the offerings of Israel set aside for the priest. All eating them must be ritually clean when doing so.

17-25 - animals offered by Israel had to be free of deformity or blemish, though minor things like abnormally long/short limbs were okay. Malachi lets Israel have it for giving the political ruler their best in taxes, and giving God their left-over, lower quality animals (Malachi 1:8).


More on Family Worship

"Thoughts on Family Worship"
by James Alexander, 1847
Sprinkle Publications, 1981, Pages 211-216

"While few things are better than a timely, judicious exposition [of Scripture as it is read at family worship], nothing can be worse than the opposite abuse.... lest we should subject some poor family to the infliction of tedious, ignorant, erroneous, or overheated harangues, under the name of expounding Scripture, at family prayer....

"The manner of reading the Bible in the family is of great importance.... Half its meaning, and almost all its effect, are sometimes suffocated and lost, by a sleepy, monotonous, stupid, careless, inarticulate, drawling, or what is worse, an affected delivery....

"Particular care should be bestowed on a due preparation for this work by every head of a family.... reading over with great attention, in private, the chapter to which he is about to attend with his family... fully understanding the language, and deeply entering into the spirit of the passage.... [By this] we may keep ourselves from being intolerably bad....

"The modern Jews resemble the Papists in some things, but they... have never withheld the word of God from the laity. It has been read in every synagogue for centuries, and is so read to this hour: it is read in every Hebrew house every day. It is our hope, that the day will come when at least as much as this may be said of Christians all over the world. Let us send down the word of God to our descendants.... I cannot bear the thought that it should stop with me."

Leviticus 18-20

Coming to my annual foray into Leviticus (reading through the Bible each year), I thought I would try to summarize in my own words what is written, to help me make sense of it, and maybe it will be beneficial to you, too.

Chapter 18
Sexual relations with close relatives, people of the same sex, and animals is forbidden. (The ritual child sacrifice to Molech also involved highly sexual rites.) These sins are a large reason for God revoking their right to the land of Canaan. Israel, don't do what they did or the land will vomit you out, too.

Chapter 19
This chapter elaborates ways in which to love your neighbor, the principle given in verse 18. Honoring parents (3), avoiding idolatry (4), generosity (9-10), honesty, impartiality, and not exploiting the exploitable (11-16) are all elements of this. Verses 17-18 are for those who think the Old Testament was a purely external, ritual religion. No, God forbids hatred and grudges in one's heart; He commands love for our neighbor.

After verse 18, we return to some ceremonial or detailed rules, designed to set the nation of Israel apart. Don't mix livestock, seeds or types of cloth. The firstfruits of a planted tree is its fourth year of fruit, given to God. The 5th year the planter can eat of it. Don't shave your beard or tatoo your body. Don't prostitute your daughters for money. Keep the Sabbath. Honor your elders. Don't seek the future through psychics or fortune-tellers. Don't treat refugees as second-class; you used to be refugees in Egypt. Use honest currency in trade.

Chapter 20 mainly rehearses the primary sins of chapters 18-19, prescribing the death penalty for most of them. (Not much analysis here, but I do think on the basis of John 8:1-12 that these penalties are abrogated because of Christ, though the principles defining sin in these laws are still in effect.) We also see the principle explicit, that the nations in Canaan do all these things, and God wants Israel to be different (holy) and avoid those sins (22-26).


Leviticus 16-17

Coming to my annual foray into Leviticus (reading through the Bible each year), I thought I would try to summarize in my own words what is written, to help me make sense of it, and maybe it will be beneficial to you, too.

Chapter 16
God now regulates how and when the priest is to enter the Holy of Holies.

The high priest washes himself with water, puts on the holy garments, and sacrifices a bull as a sin offering for himself. Then one goat is designated by lot as a sin offering and another as a scapegoat to be released into the desert. The priest then enters behind the veil with a censer of incense in one hand and a bowl of blood in the other. He put the incense on the altar first, which produced a cloud of smoke between priest and ark, "lest he die" (vs 13). He then sprinkles the bull's blood 7 times on the east side of the ark (the side closest to him), on and before the ark.

Then the priest goes out, kills the goat, which was the sin offering for the people, and brings its blood into the holy of holies, and does the same type of sprinkling.

He then cleanses the altar of offering in the outer tabernacle by smearing bull and goat blood on the horns and sprinkling it at the base.

Next, Aaron places the sins of Israel on the live goat and sends it away in the desert.

Then, the standard worship cycle is reinstated: Aaron takes off the holy clothes, washes with water, puts the clothes back on, and offers a burnt offering. The bull and goat taken into the Holy of Holies was taken outside the camp and burned.

This was to be a once-a-year day of repentance and humility for all Israel. But Jesus Christ has put an end to such sacrifice:

Hebrews 9:24-28, 12: "Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another— 26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.... 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption."

Chapter 17
At this point in Israel's history, they are encamped around the tabernacle, and always very close to it. So the law here makes sense, that any animal killed for eating must be offered at the tabernalce as a peace offering to God. Later, in Deuteronomy 12:15, God relaxes this rule. When they enter Canaan and spread out further from the temple, they may eat meat without bringing it all the way to the temple. But any tithe or peace offering had to go there, yet.

Eating blood is forbidden, as it is the life of the animal, and it atones for souls. This passage ought to be balanced with other Scripture: "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). The OT sacrifices rather reminded Israel of their sins (Heb 10:3), but also did give real and genuine assurance that God would forgive. They pointed forward to the actual atonement in Christ.

Family worship

"The constituent parts of family worship, when fully observed, are, first, the reading of Scriptures; secondly, the singing of praise to God; and thirdly, prayer....

"The length... is worthy of attention. It was the fault of our forefathers to make it insufferably long. This goes far to destroy all good influence on the young by creating weariness and disgust.... We must not drive hard at such times as these. Religion should be prudently brought before a family. The old Dissenters wearied their families. Jacob reasoned well with Esau about the tenderness of his children, and his flocks and herds. Something gentle, quiet, moderate should be our aim.

"The manner and spirit of the service... should be solemn... silence and quiet will be enforced, even in the case of the youngest children, who thereby gain a most important lesson. The greatest simplicity should characterize every word and every petition. Those who have the greatest in the worship are often little more than babes. But we would especially recommend a holy animation as that which will arrest attention and make way for pleasant memories. [Quoting Rev. Richard Cecil:]'Tediousness will weary them. Fine language will shoot above them. Formality... in prayer they will not comprehend. Gloominess or austerity of devotion will make think it a hard service. Let them be met with smiles. Let them be met as friends. Let them be met as for the most delightful service in which they can be engaged. Let them find it short, savoury, simple, plain, tender, heavenly. I find it easy to keep the attention of a congregation compared with that of my family.'"

From Thoughts on Family Worship
by James W. Alexander, 1847


What is this stuff?

Our friends in Michigan recently posted this image of their driveway on their blog, the results of a good ol' lake-effect snowstorm:

She said this photo was taken at 4pm - AFTER she had already dug out and drove the van in the morning! Oh, to be there, skiing on all that fluff through a silent pine forest. There really is nothing quite like the silence of a snow-laden pine forest, something of which suburbia could use a good dose.

Do you notice how grey everything in the photo is? That's not due to bad photography, that's just what winter in Michigan looks like, pretty much from November to March. Hang in there friends, it'll all be over (come May). In the mean time, you can visit sunny VA! :)

Good Poems

If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking
by Emily Dickinson.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

by Ted Hughes

No, the serpent did not
Seduce Eve to the apple.
All that's simply
Corruption of the facts.

Adam ate the apple.
Eve ate Adam.
The serpent ate Eve.
This is the dark intestine.

The serpent, meanwhile,
Sleeps his meal off in Paradise -
Smiling to hear
God's querulous calling.

Communion exhortation - 2/11/07

What is going on when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? We are being fed in our souls by uniting with our Savior, Jesus Christ. We receive Christ, by faith. Although Christ’s body is in heaven, there is a real joining - a union here, accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus asks us to do this to remember Him, but more in going on here than just using some visual aids to help us remember Him, or to move us more deeply. Jesus also calls Himself the bread of God, come down from heaven. He says that unless we eat this bread – His Body – unless we drink this wine – His blood of the covenant – we have no life in us. Where there is faith, there is union with Christ. If we aren’t united to the vine we are dry and dead and cannot be saved. Eating and drinking here signifies that union, renews it, reconfirms it to us. We receive what we need for life – Jesus Christ.

Also remember that in this Supper, Jesus is feeding His own Body, the Church. Just as husbands are to nourish and cherish their wives, as their own bodies, so we see Christ nourishing us, His Body, here. So be mindful of the whole Body as you partake. This isn’t about making you as an individual more spiritual. We do this together, as one Body. Discern the Body as you partake. This means the Body of Christ you see embodied in the bodies sitting around you. Realize you are all part of the same Vine.

If you are sinning blatantly, and are callously indifferent and unrepentant about it, please refrain from this supper. It will only bring further judgement on you. But if you are grieving over your sin, painfully aware that you have dirtied the pure name of Christ in whom you were baptized, please do not stay away. Your forgiving Father welcomes home prodigal children and sets a feast before them as fully restored sons and daughters. Eat and drink with thankful hearts today.

Communion exhortation - 2/18/07

Accompanying sermon text: 1 Samuel 15

Psalm 81:10-11: “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. But My people would not heed My voice.”

We must both obey, and sacrifice. We must come to the table, and we must come in faith. God calls everyone to believe on His Son, who has died for the sins of the world. All men are to come to Him and identify with Him in this meal. His body was broken for us. We must be united with Him to share in the benefits He offers. So seal that union as you eat. Proclaim His death as you drink. As the bread is carried to every part of your body to nourish it, let Christ permeate every part of your life. Any limb or member that refuses to be nourished must eventually be cut off from the body, or it will die and spread its death. Do not refuse Him who speaks. Heed His voice. Open your mouth wide, and receive the manna, the water from the rock, receive Christ.

30-second animated history map

Check out an informative, visual, animated presentation of 3000 years of Middle Eastern history in 30 seconds here.

Leviticus 15

One of the more interesting and less-exposited chapters of the Bible :)

There are four categories given here: men losing blood irregularly (2-15), men emitting semen (16-18), women losing blood during menstruation (19-24), and women losing blood irregularly (25-30).

Typically, after an irregular discharge stops, you remain unclean for 7 days, then wash and are clean. 2 doves or pigeons are brought to the priest as a sin and burnt offering for atonement for the discharge. Exception: emission of semen resulted in uncleanliness only until evening.

In answer to the "what's this all about?" question: it seems there was a defect found in losing fluids of life (blood and semen). As a priest with a deformity couldn't minister before the Lord, so one whose body wasn't retaining fluids properly could not approach God.

The New Testament deals with this chapter in a fascinating way, in Mark 5:25-34. The woman who comes to Jesus with a flow of blood comes when everyone is "pressing against" (vs 34) Jesus. She is pushing past everyone to reach and touch him. In her uncleanness, she is making everyone around her unclean. Then Mark makes a big deal about her touching Jesus. So is HE unclean? Mark never says, but to read between the lines, Jesus IS God, and this woman approaching God is not turned away, but healed.

Leviticus 13-14

Chapter 13
Sores on the skin were to be shown to the priest, to determine whether they were leprous or not. If the sore appears more than skin deep or is spreading, it made the person unclean. Those with leprosy had to live outside the camp and cry "Unclean!" to any who approached, so no one else would come in touch with them. The same principle applied to clothing with a sort of mildew (vss47-59).

Chapter 14
Once cleansed, the priest would be notified and come out of the camp to him and cleanse him. A bird would be killed over water, and some wood, hyssop and scarlet fabric dipped in the blood and sprinkled on the person. The priest pronounces the person clean and lets the live bird fly away, presumably as a sign of the freedom regained. Then the person washes, shaves, enters the camp, but waits another 7 days before going in his house/tent. On the 7th day, he washes and shaves again. The next day 2 lambs are killed in the tabernacle: a sin and trespass offering - with some oil. The priest puts some blood and oil on the right ear, thumb and big toe of the person healed. With the rest of the oil the priest sprinkles 7 times before the altar and the rest is poured on the healed's head. The sin, burnt and grain offerings are then made, in that order. If the healed is too poor, he can bring one lamb, grain and 2 doves or pigeons, instead of 2 lambs.

Apparently, Jesus sends a leper He heals to the priest to perform this ceremony (Luke 5:14).

The law for houses plagued with mildew is similar. If the mildew appears deep and spreads, it must be taken out, and if the mildew returns, the whole house must be torn down and disposed of. If it is cleansed, the same ritual with the 2 birds, wood, hyssop and scarlet is done.


Leviticus 11-12

Chapter 11 - clean and unclean animals
Animals on land: those with split hoof and cud-chewers are clean, with some exceptions.
Animals in water: those with fins and scales are clean.
Animals in the air: no principle, but just mentioned case by case. Flying/creeping insects are mostly unclean.

Vss 24-38 discusses the ways in which unclean animal carcasses defile things/people around them, and how to deal with it.

39-40 - what happens when a clean animal dies (not killed for eating).

44-45 - Israel is to be like God: holy and set apart from the rest of the world.

Chapter 12 - after birth
1-4 - mom is unclean for 7 days. Circumcise on the 8th day. Then 33 days of uncleanliness before she can enter the tabernacle, etc. This is what Luke 2:21-22 describes concerning Mary and Jesus.

5 - mom is unclean for twice as long if the child is a girl. No explanation is given.

6-8 - after the unclean period, the woman goes to the tabernacle and offers a yearling lamb (burnt offering) and a pigeon or dove (sin offering), or if they can't afford that, two pigeons or doves (1 burnt, 1 sin). Joseph and Mary could not afford the lamb.

Ordinary means of grace

Great post by Jeff Meyers here, on how revelation and authority must be mediated to us. It is not ideal to receive these internally and individually, for our conscience and our reason distort the truth. The Spirit works through the tradition of a community, passing on the truth revealed to us in Scripture.

We cannot demean the outward means through which He works (the Church, the Word preached, Sacraments, fellowship with believers, prayer) or we are left with the subjective and unreliable prejudices of our own age, with individual personality, desires and feelings to discern the truth. This is insufficient. These outward means are not infallible, but they are useful. The cherished doctrine of sola scriptura means Scripture alone is the ultimate arbiter of truth; it does not mean it is the only source for guidance. We have outward means that help us in our interpretation and application of God's Word.

Leviticus 10

Aaron's sons offer strange fire (Exodus 30:9) and are killed and removed. Their brothers and father may not mourn and must continue ministering before God. God adds a rule against drinking wine or any intoxicant when the priests go into the tabernacle (8-11). Some suggest that this is a response to Nadab and Abihu - they were drunk when they offered strange fire.

Moses reminds the priests to eat of the sacrifices they have just offered, and notices they burned the sin offering of the people, instead of eating it. Aaron basically tells Moses, "Look we're scared to death after what happened to Nadab and Abihu." Moses gives them a break, realizing the mistake was not out of rebellion or carelessness, but being scrupulous and fearful for/of God's holiness and power.

I would see a loose connection from this to our partaking of Communion today. Partaking wrongly and sinfully can result in judgment (see 1 Corinthians 11:29-30). But we are not to stay away from the table out of fear, either, but are to come in faith and rejoice in God's blessings to us.

Leviticus 8-9

After telling them what they must do, God now tells Moses to get started. The first place to begin is ordaining the priests, Aaron and his sons, to office, so they can begin offering the sacrifices for the people.

First the priests are washed with water (baptized?). He then puts on tunic, sash, robe, turban and headpieces (source of miters in church today?), ephod and breastplate, with Urim and Thummim in it. Altar and priests were then anointed with oil.

The priests lay hands on the bull, Moses killed it and smeared some blood on the altar horns and poured the rest at the base of the altar. He burned the fat on the altar and took the rest of the body outside the camp to be burned. Again, the point here is that God gets the best of the animal (the fat).

Next a ram was offered in similar fashion, except the whole body was burned on the altar. A second ram was killed, and Moses dabs its blood on Aaron and sons' right ears, thumbs and big toes.

Now the priests take a more active role. Moses has done all the work so far, to the priests. Now Moses and Aaron work together, with Moses still leading. Moses takes the fat (God's portion) and right thigh of the ram (priests' portion), and some bread and puts them in Aaron's hands. Then Moses takes it all back and burns it on the altar.

Verse 30 is a surprise to me. In an unprecedented act (as far as I recall), Moses takes back some of the oil and blood that was already on the altar, and sprinkles the priests with it. Then the priests eat their portion of the ram and bread, and stay in the tabernacle for 7 days.

The principle here is that the relationship between Yahweh and His priests is solidified. They partake of His altar, eating His sacrifices and being sprinkled with His blood.

Chapter 9
Now the priests begin to serve the people, instructing in what sacrifices to bring and offering the animals for the people.

It begins on the eighth day, which may refer to the 7 days of creation/consecration/establishment of creation/institution of the sacrifical system. As Adam's work began on the eighth day, so Aaron's does, as well.

I believe there is significance for our worship today in the instructions Moses tells Aaron to give the people. While most aspects of this system have been abrogated, there are still principles that carry over and illumine our understanding of salvation and our worship today. Here, Aaron is to offer for the priests a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He then tells the people to bring a goat kid for a sin offering, a yearling calf and lamb as a burnt offering, and a bull and ram for a peace offering.

Notice the order and type of what is required. I believe it is a pattern for our worship today. When we come into God's presence, the first thing we do is acknowledge and confess our sin. Then we set our whole selves apart for service to God (the whole burnt offering) by hearing His word. Then we offer and receive back a peace offering, which symbolizes are fellowship with God, which we eat together with the priest (Communion today; perhaps also prayer and an offering of our gifts).

At verse 8, Aaron now becomes the primary actor/sacrificer. He sacrifices for himself first, then for the people. He does the same thing he has seen Moses do several times already: burn the fat on the altar, smear some blood on the horns of the altar, pour the rest at the base, take the rest of the body outside the camp. Burnt offering: blood sprinkled; fat, meat and other pieces all burned on altar.

Then Aaron offers the sacrifices for the people. Sin offering, then burnt offering, then peace offering. Afterward, Aaron raises his hands and blesses the people (our benediction), then comes down. The service is over. He would have used Numbers 6:22-27, presumably:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.” ’ “So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”

As happens later with Elijah on Mount Carmel, fire comes down from God to light the altar, to show that God accepts the sacrifice.

To sum up, I see a pattern of 5 C's which applies to our worship today. Notice from Hebrews 13:15 that sacrifices today, after the abrogation of these rituals, involve the fruit of our lips: our words. So instead of killing an animal before the LORD, we speak to Him, and hear Him speak.

1. Call to worship - 9:3-4
2. Confession of sin - 9:15 - the offering for sin. We use words to confess.
3. Consecration to God - 9:16-17 - here, we ourselves are represented by the animal. The Word of God is a knife that pierces our joints and marrow. As we hear God speak we are cut apart and rearranged on the altar, and ascend in smoke to God where we will commune with Him.
4. Communion with God - 9:18-21 - all the meat was returned to the worshipper, except the right thigh, to eat by the third day. Bread was also involved (7:11-14).
5. Commission - 9:22-23 - we are blessed by God through the priest.

For more on this, I highly recommend "The Lord's Service" by Jeff Meyers here.


Leviticus 4-7

Chapter 4
After free-will offerings come offerings given in response to sin. Here the blood was not simply poured or sprinkled on the side of the altar, but was smeared on the horns of the altar and sprinkled before the sanctuary veil. The fat and kidneys were burned, as in the other offerings, but the flesh was not burned or eaten there at the altar. Instead it was taken outside the camp and burned and disposed of there. In the same way, Jesus, our sin offering was taken outside the camp. It might not be a stretch to say his fat was flayed off in his flogging in the Antonia fortress, right next to the temple, close to the altar. Then his flesh was taken outside and disposed of (Hebrews 13:11-13)

If the high priest sinned, a bull was offered in this way (vss 3-12); if the whole congregation, also a bull (13-21); if a ruler, a male goat (22-26); if any person, a female goat or lamb (27-35). The body of the animal was only taken outside the camp for the first two cases (priest or congregational sin), indicating the wide scale of sin for which Jesus was sacrificed outside the camp.

Chapter 5
Here are detailed some sins which would require the sacrifices described in 4:22-35. They are largely inadvertent and rash sins.

Vss 7-13 gives new information regarding what the poor who sinned could offer: 2 turtledoves or pigeons, or 1/10 ephah of fine flour, without oil or incense. The priest would keep the flour offering, after burning a handful, as with the grain offering.

Verse 14 begins a new section, reviewing sacrifices given with restitution payments. I'm not clear on this but it appears to apply to holy things either stolen or defiled that can no longer be used in the tabernacle/temple. The defiler would then pay to replace the object, plus 1/5 penalty, and with a sin sacrifice of a ram.

Chapter 6
1-7: this is parallel with 5:14-19, only with offense to neighbor instead of to God in view. We are to love God and our neighbor, and so sins against each are dealt with in turn. Same ram, valuation by priest of what was taken, plus 1/5 is given.

Moses now turns from focus on obligations of the lay Israelite in bringing an offering, to the duties of the priests in administering the sacrifice.

8-13 - burnt offering
The fire on the altar had to burn perpetually, the ashes cleaned out and replaced with wood every morning

14-23 - grain offering
The grain offered by the people was given to the priest, except for a handful which the priest burned on the altar. Every day, 1/10 ephah of what the priests took was burned on the altar, as the priests' offering to God.

24-30 - sin offering
Apparently, though the priest's and congregation's sins resulted in a sacrifice that was not eaten, the ruler or laity's sin offering could be eaten by the priest, as regulated here. Extra measures of holiness were obligated on the vessels in which the meat was boiled, for instance.

Chapter 7
1-10 - trespass offering
Same as sin offering. Only new element here is that the priest who receives and administers the sacrifice can personally have what belongs to the priest.

11-21 - peace offering
With the animal/blood, was given unleavened grain, and leavened bread. The priest received an unleavened cake (14), and the sacrificer received his meat to eat by the third day (see peace offering notes below under Lev 1-3). THe only restriction was that the eater be ritually clean when eating (19-21).

After a brief parenthesis reminding us not to eat the fat or blood of any sacrifice or any animal, for that matter (22-27), the priest is given his portion of the peace offering (28-36): the breast and right thigh.


Leviticus 1-3

Coming to my annual foray into Leviticus (reading through the Bible each year), I thought I would try to summarize in my own words what is written, to help me make sense of it, and maybe it will be beneficial to you, too.

Chapter 1 - burnt offering
If you want to bring an animal sacrifice, you can bring a bull, ram or pigeon, depending on what you can afford, something like putting in the offering plate a $20, a $100, or a $1000 bill/check. We give according to our ability. The offerer would bring the animal to the tabernacle.

Vs 4 - the offerer puts his hand on the animal, as a symbol of the substitution - the animal dies instead of the offerer. Death is required for sin (Romans 6:23), and blood is the proof of death and atones for the soul (Lev 17:11).

Vs 4 - atonement: while it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin (Hebrews 10:4), the sacrifice pictures a real atonement that occurs, looking forward to Christ's sacrifice.

Once the animal is dead, its blood is sprinkled around the altar by the priest, and the body is skinned and rearranged and all burned on the altar, signifying a total devotion of the offerer to God.

Chapter 2 - Grain offering
Flour, oil and frankincense mixed and cooked somehow, would make a cake of some sort, which the offerer would give to the priest. The priest put a handful on the altar to be burned, and kept the rest for food for himself.

Leaven and honey were forbidden; salt was required. Interesting on the salt from the New Testament: our sacrifice today is the fruit of our lips (Heb 13:15), and our conversation is to be always seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). Paul certainly knows how to make modern-day applications from a book like Leviticus (1 Timothy 5:17-18).

The firstfruits was also a grain offering - heads straight from the stalk, still green. This was divvied up between the altar and the priest in a similar fashion.

Chapter 3 - peace offering
This didn't have to be male, and was not all burned. The fat and kidneys were burned, but the meat was taken home by the worshiper, to be eaten the same day, or the next, but not the third day (Lev 7:15-17). Is there a connection to God not allowing the sacrifice of His own Son to see corruption by remaining 3 days after His death (Psalm 16:10)?

The breast and right thigh of the meat were given to the priest and his family (Lev 7:28-34).

Other than these differences, the blood and laying on of hands is the same as with the burnt offering.

Happy Valentine's Day

from Grace, 5 years old


An inerrant Scripture?

By whose standard? That's the question. Here's food for thought on the subject:

"There is a way of being a biblical absolutist [believing everything in the Bible is true and relevant to us; no problem passages we avoid or "re-interpret"] without buying into modernity's notions of truth being limited to science or math. There is a belief in Scripture that can ask every question [that challenges the truth of Scripture], and give an intellectually honest answer.

"Superficial inerrancy wants the Bible to sit down in Mrs. Enlightenment's class for an exam, and wants the Bible to get a perfect score. But biblical absolutism says it should go the other way; we want to get Mrs. Enlightenment to enroll in Scripture's class, and take a few tests of her own. Maybe even flunk a few of them. When Scripture is studied as the absolute standard, a lot of these questions and tensions... just disappear. But when Scripture is studied as one-which-takes-tests-administered-by-others, the defenders of the faith always wind up like the nerdy kid who got a 98 percent and is trying to haggle the teacher out of two extra points."

Douglas Wilson


The devil has all the good music

When Martin Luther lamented, "The devil has all the good music," he wasn't saying what we think he was saying. We usually take this as: "all the folk music sung in bars and taverns are really catchy but the lyrics are immoral." But this isn't what he meant. Luther didn't associate the devil with taverns; Luther hung out in them himself, and not for evangelistic purposes!

Instead, Luther and the other Reformers associated the devil with Rome, the pope with the anti-Christ. Luther was afraid the beautiful music of the Roman Catholic liturgy would bring people back to Roman Catholicism. Writers like Palestrina put out some hot stuff, not of the catchy, bawdy variety, but truly great and aesthetically beautiful music.

Got this from a Jeff Meyers lecture on church music which was very good. Great stuff on how being in the Spirit means speaking and singing to one another (Eph 5:18ff), and a compelling theology of church music. Check it out.


Worship in the family

Currently reading:

Thoughts on Family Worship

by James W. Alexander
Presbyterian pastor in New York, 1847

"Family-worship... languishes and goes into decay in times when error and worldliness make inroads upon the church....

"The [spiritual] experience of the heart is the grand thing... yet it must not, and cannot, abide in the closet or the heart... Love... is too communicative in its nature to be always pent up....

"Summon a family to the worship of God, at stated hours, and you summon each one to a seriousness of reflection, of which he might have been wholly robbed, by the hurry of the day's business....

"Observation shows that families which have no household worship, are at a low ebb in spiritual things; that families where it is performed in a cold, sluggish, negligent, or hurried way, are little affected by it, and that families where God is worshipped... in a solemn and affectionate service, are blessed with increase of piety and happiness."

Pgs 28-38

Communion exhortation - 2/4/07

You have before you in this Supper the Old Testament equivalent of the peace offering, or the fellowship offering, a sacrifice given and eaten to remember, and thank God for, His blessings. Because Saul was trusting in horses and chariots and not remembering the Lord His God, he never got to the peace offerings. Samuel showed up and stopped the masquerade. The peace offering was never offered.

Don’t let this happen to you. What we do now, blessing God, breaking bread and eating it, we do by faith. It brings to God’s mind, and to our mind the once for all sacrifice of Christ. We do this by faith. We believe that Jesus Christ died to take our guilt on Himself, so that we could be restored to PEACEFUL fellowship with the Father. In that faith, come and remember the God who restores peace between us through His Son Jesus Christ.

If you know you don’t believe this, then stop the masquerade. Do not bring God sacrifices and offerings that you know are worthless in His sight. Only what is of faith pleases Him.

And if you find yourself crying out for God to help your unbelief, then remember with the Psalmist that “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Ps 34). Do not shrink back. This supper is for you. This supper not only remembers the blessing of salvation through Christ’s body and blood, it also seeks and provides the blessing of nourishment for our souls. And a weak faith needs nourishment, not to be sent to bed without supper.