Discussing magic, music, and more!

I've been delinquent in referring you to a great blog, which is really just a stage-setter for our monthly discussion group. We are discussing Harry Potter this week, and it was Christian music last month, so you can tell we like to keep things interesting. Check it out here, or on the sidebar as Calvin and Hops.

I'm especially fond (on the sidebar at CLURT) of Rule of Engagement #6...


Just finished this, my first Sabatini novel, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Entertaining, but not mentally vacuous. Themes of sincerity v hypocrisy, ideology v personal loyalty, class distinction v advancement by merit, and all set in the beginnings of the French Revolution.

Can't say more; Sara is still reading it...



I finished Luther's Bondage of the Will a bit ago, but revisited this passage, in light of the ongoing Federal Vision controversy, of which, more later:

"There is a deeper reason why the doctrine of merit, in all its shapes and forms, must be rejected. The idea of a meritorious act is an idea of an independent act which is in no way necessitated by God for man or performed by God in man, but is carried out by man acting in some sense apart from God. And there is no such action as this in God's universe.... the fact that it is God who works all man's works in him means that human action can never be independent of God in the sense required for it to acquire merit..." (page 51)

Now, Luther is rejecting here the idea of sinful man meriting favor with God, which most Protestants reject along with him (though too many would see faith in Christ as wholly our own doing, meriting salvation from God).

But I am wondering if Luther's thought can also be applied to Jesus Christ's obedience. It seems to me, to speak of Jesus meriting the Father's favor introduces a separation between the two that violates the Trinitarian reality of deep unity and love. I'm not saying Jesus didn't offer a perfect, innocent, blameless life as a sacrifice to pay for our sins. God imputes the active obedience (righteousness) of Christ to our account. But is it helpful to define that as something Christ merited from the Father, like their relationship was all business and contract? I don't think so, especially when we affirm that it takes faith to be truly obedient, and faith and merit are nigh unto mutually exclusive. If we emphasize a meritorious righteous obedience given us, we start to lose a faithful obedience given us, which we truly need before God.


Jedi Pasttimes

This is what Princess Leia does in her spare time, making toddler-friendly light sabers and Yoda ears. What better way to practice using the force without actually inflicting bodily harm?

Wow. This is knitting gone too far! The kid's face says it all.

And for all the guys at CHRF who'll be in on the SW-a-thon: I'm getting busy already! My stash of lime green yarn finally found a good use!

(for more really geeky yarn creations, visit this site)

Reading log

Biblical Archaeology Review
1. Interviews with scholars who have worked first hand with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many scholars were afraid that if they published, they'd be out of a job, so they procrastinated! The scrolls were in Jordanian control for about 35 years before Israeli scholars were allowed to view them. Some scholars point to differences in the order of the text of Jeremiah, or that Qumran considered the books of Enoch and Jubilees to be authoritative, to claim that there was "no Bible as such - no list of canonical (authoritative) books." Hmmm. Right.

2. Review of an elaborate, Greek-style tomb for the Maccabees, who rebelled against foreign Greek rule of Israel. You read that right. Those who wanted to drive out the Greeks politically and militarily became like the culturally, tolerating and/or admiring the pagan Greco-Roman mythology. Those Maccabees were the ancestors of the Sadduccees in Jesus' day. By then they were in bed with Rome culturally, financially, and sometimes physically...

Luther's Bondage of the Will
Luther argues against free will from Romans 1:18; 3:9, 19, 21-26; 4:2-3.
If we are justified apart from works of the law, if God's righteousness comes to us apart from the law, then what good is our will in bringing us into favor with God? The answer is, none. God does it all FOR us.


Persecution today

"House-Church Leader Assaulted by Police“
China Aid Association

On May 15, 2007, Liu Fenngang, a house-church leader in Beijing, was assaulted and detained by police, while he was going to a birthday celebration. According to China Aid Association (CAA), Liu's family was threatened and told not to draw public attention to his unlawful arrest. Liu told CAA, "It was at 7:15 a.m., and I was stopped by a plain clothed police man while walking down stairs. After a bit of shoving, I managed to work my way to the bottom of the stairs. Then, more policemen confronted me, saying they had no good reason or legal basis to arrest me, but they simply couldn't allow me to leave the building." CAA adds that some police officers told Liu they knew arresting him was illegal, but said if they let him go, they would lose their jobs. Pray Liu Fenngang and his family remain strong in their faith. Pray his health will not be affected by the assault.
Isaiah 38:16, Acts 4:29-30

Voice of the Martyrs


Erasmus' moderation

After finishing the main chunk of this book, I took a break to read the historical introduction, and was fascinated to find Desiderius Erasmus speaking so favorably of Luther early on (1515-1522). There is a great anecdote told of the German prince, Elector Frederick, who protected Luther from Rome, being summoned by Rome to hand Luther over. Before answering and while traveling, Frederick had a personal meeting with Erasmus to get the latter's take on Luther. Erasmus defended him! Frederick asked for a written summary of his opinion. Erasmus gave him one, but asked for it back before they would part ways for good. He wrote that the pope was out of line excommunicating Luther; that Luther had good intentions and the pope had evil intentions; etc. Erasmus turned down repeated requests/bribes from Rome to write against Luther publicly.

But as the conflict wore on, Erasmus was increasingly marginalized for not repudiating Luther. Lines were drawn, and people had to find the line and move to where they wanted to be.

Of course, this says nothing of his theological arguments, where Luther soundly refutes Erasmus in the area of free will. The book is actually a little confusing: like starting in on an online discussion halfway through, with the original and then a response, back to the original, which original is itself Erasmus' response to Luther's writings!

Here is a sampling at the end of chapter 4, where Luther wraps up his refutation of Erasmus' objections to Luther's exposition of the bondage of the will, based on various scripture texts (John 15:5; Proverbs 16:1; 21:1; Jer 10:23; Gen 8:21; 6:5; hardening of Pharoah; potter and clay; Mal 1:2-3; Rom 9:15):

"But listen to your conclusions! 'The Scripture commends God's grace; therefore, it proves 'free-will.' By what logic did you learn these inferences?... To what end is grace given? Is it that grace may be, as it were, the fancy dress in which 'free-will', proud and self-sufficient in its strength, blithely disports itself on May-days?.... grace is needed, and the help of grace is given, because 'free-will' of itself can do nothing... it cannot will any good. Therefore when grace is commended... the impotence of 'free-will' is thereby declared.

"Erasmus repeats... that 'if my view stands, all the precepts, threats and promises [of Scripture] are in vain.... Erasmus recommends to me... to allow a very little to 'free-will', so that the contradictions of Scripture and the aforementioned inconveniences may be more easily removed.' [end Erasmus quote; back to Luther] Unless you attribute all and everything to 'free-will', in the way that the Pelagians do, the contradictions in the Scripture still remain.... we have to go to extremes, deny 'free-will' altogether, and ascribe everything to God!"
(pages 270-271).


(Second) Poem of the Day

The Destruction Of Sennacherib
by George Gordon, Lord Byron.

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he pass'd,
And the eyes of the sleepers wax'd deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there roll'd not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpets unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

Poem of the Day

The Day Is Done
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
That my soul cannot resist:

A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.

For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
And to-night I long for rest.

Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.


Live the hope

I'm listening to some John Piper sermons lately, and he has a great take on 1 Peter 3:15. It is one thing to have an answer ready for the hope that is within us. It is another to live the hope within us, bringing about a lifestyle different enough that produces the question.

If your lifestyle isn't much different from the world around, it may indicate that your hope is in the same place as the world around.


Communion exhortation - 6/10/07

Text: 1 Samuel 21, when David flees from Saul to the cave, receiving bread from the priest on the way.

When Israel fled from Pharoah and entered the wilderness, God gave them water, bread and meat, from the rock, and from heaven. How thirsty they must have been after 3 days with little to drink. How hungry they must have been after a month and a half with little to eat. God nourished them with bread and water, on their way to the promised land.

When Elijah fled from Ahab and Jezebel into the wilderness, God sent an angel with bread and water for his 40-day journey to Sinai. It was much needed nourishment. There he heard God’s voice calling Elijah to begin restoring Israel as a nation

When the woman of Rev 12 is persecuted by the serpent, she fled “into the wilderness… where she is nourished,” until the time the Bridegroom returns to claim His Bride and usher her to the Wedding Banquet and into paradise.

When Jesus was led into the wilderness, He was tempted to make the bread for Himself instead of rely on His Father. He was on His way to glory, too, but it led through the cross first.

Do you recognize the true King, as the men of Gath did? It isn’t Saul, but the Son of David. If you do, are you working against Him, as the men of Gath did, or are you ready to go with Him to the cave of death? Are you gathering to Him, distressed and discontent with the state of things in your own soul and family first, and with your nation also? Do you gather to Him here because you think Jesus can do something about it? He can. What He gives here is life-giving nourishment. You need this.
Hold out your hand. Notice, there is nothing in your hand, just as David’s hand was empty. Ahimelech’s hands, though, were full, and he was gracious. How much more so the Son of David, the Bread of life, who multiplied 5 loaves of bread to feed thousands? Receive Him now.

Poem of the Day

I liked this one, because it occasionally actually happens in our home.

The Children's Hour
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as the Children's Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, o blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!


Communion Exhortation - 6/3/07

When God graciously covenanted with Abraham in Gen 17:10, he says, “This is My covenant which you shall keep, b/t Me and you and your descendats after you: every male child among you shall be circumcised.” When God pours out His Spirit in a new way at Pentecost, reconstituting Israel as the Church, He reissues the covenant promises: “Repent and be baptized… for the remission of sins… the promise is for you and your children and for those far off, as many as God will call.”

This is our protection from the accuser, and from God’s wrath.

When God directed Israel to sacrifice a lamb and display its blood before Him, He said in Ex 24:8: “This is the blood of the covenant which God has made with you.” This was their protection from the angel of death at Passover, from God’s just anger against our sin.

When Jesus Christ offered Himself as the innocent sacrifice for us all, He reconstitutes Israel’s 12 tribes as the Church’s 12 apostles; He held the cup and reissued the covenant promises, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

This protects us from the judgment of God.

Notice both baptism and this Supper are given to us as signs of the covenant, for the remission of our sins.

Speaking of sin, are you careful like Jonathan, not to eat of the table of those who revile or ridicule JC? When you see sin around you or within you, are you angry about it? Do you get up from the table of evil, and leave in disgust? Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. Commune with Christ and taste of His benefits, both now and all week. Do not switch tables, and sample the world’s dainties between Sundays, or you will soon find this table boring and empty, you will soon find Christ to be empty, and you will find your faith washed away by the world in the end. To abide in Christ means to hate sin. To abide in Christ means to eat the bread – His body; to drink the wine – His blood.

Christian America? Nope

While 40% of Americans say they go to church, Justin Taylor has discovered that only 19% of Americans actually DO go to church. And only 9% of those are evangelicals.

See here for details.


"Frank the Meat-eater"

Owen, 4 years old
Meat-eating dinosaur swallows spiked-tailed Triceratops.


Poem of the Day

The Best Thing In The World
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

What's the best thing in the world?
June-rose, by May-dew impearled;
Sweet south-wind, that means no rain;
Truth, not cruel to a friend;
Pleasure, not in haste to end;
Beauty, not self-decked and curled
Till its pride is over-plain;
Love, when, so, you're loved again.
What's the best thing in the world?
--Something out of it, I think.


Faith or works?

"Teach me good judgment and knowledge,
For I believe Your commandments" (Psalm 119:66).

What gives? Believing commandments? Aren't you supposed to obey commands? How can you believe a command?

I am uncomfortable pressing too far the distinction between law and gospel, belief and obedience - precisely because of verses like this. Of course, if we are talking about how we are saved, fine, it is only through faith in Christ's work. Our obedience does not contribute to our salvation.

But our obedience certainly "comes along for the ride," and if it doesn't, we have to go back to square one and start asking, "Where's the root of faith that should be bearing fruit here?" And not only that, but as the Psalmist points out above, you have to believe in the law-giver before you can obey the law. When it comes to pleasing God, there is no "kept the letter of the law" position. You either believe Him and His Word, and so you do His Word, or you don't believe and so you don't obey. True obedience is always faithful, never just raw effort, guts, merit, didn't-really-want-to-but-stuck-with-it.

Now, to those without faith, there is no obedience before God, even if they are the nicest people in the world, because they don't believe God's commandments, which are your life.

But to some God has given faith, and living out that faith is our current struggle. We believe, but need help with our unbelieving actions. God blesses the smallest amount of faith. But this is an inconsistent, temporary irregularity in our lives, having faith, but not always living faithfully (obediently). We often believe, but don't DO what we should (Romans 7). But over time, they come together. If you don't believe in God's existence, justice, law, or grace, sinful works will prevail. If you believe in God's justice and grace, sin quails. In the end, belief and action fit together. You are what you do. You act on what you believe.

Faith and works are supposed to go together. "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:26). To always separate them, myopically asserting that we are saved by faith alone (which I believe), loses sight of their organic unity in our lives. If we do a good work, it is because we first had faith (which God gave us - it is all of God). If we believe Him, we will follow Him.

Museum or map for ministry?

Douglas Wilson on current reformation of the church:

"The problem is this: when men build the tombs of the prophets there is a large measure of self-deception going on. They tell themselves that they are the true heirs of the prophets when their actions betray them (to the wise) as heirs of those who opposed the prophets. Christ took just one glance and told them what they were doing. The curators of the Reformation Museum want everyone to stay behind the velvet ropes, to leave the old books on their shelves, and coo over the wax reproduction of John Knox confronting Mary Queen of Scots. Then everyone is given a brochure reminding everyone to not try this at home."