Granted, not Grasped

Philippians 2:4-8
"Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."

Jesus Christ was tempted to steal. Satan tempted Jesus to take glory from the Father for Himself. But Jesus worked faithfully, fulfilling His calling, taking good care of the sheep the Father gave Him. We are those sheep. Our salvation depended on His keeping this command. And here at His table we get a regular reminder that Jesus is generous and giving, not a greedy grasper. He emptied Himself and laid down His life. Every table you set at home shows a father’s provision and a mother’s preparation. This table shows the same. A Father’s plan of grace. A Son’s life of humble sacrifice. A church’s sins forgiven, redeemed to receive. This is not stolen bread. God gives it. He wants you to receive the living bread which has come down from heaven.


Give, don't gouge

We will be considering the 8th commandment against stealing in our sermon this morning. When Jesus comes to Jerusalem the week of His death, He finds thieves in the temple. Worse than food prices in airports, the price-gouging priests took advantage of the faithful people seeking to fulfill the law in bringing right sacrifices at God’s appointed times. Ezekiel condemned shepherds who fleeced the sheep, instead of feeding them. They made it hard for Gentiles to worship, next to the clamor of marketing goods. They provoked resentment in worshipers trying to approach God. Instead of being good stewards of God’s house, they became tyrants sucking every coin they could from their fellow servants. This is a warning to every church leader, but also to each individual: do not take and grasp for yourself. Give to your neighbor and trust God for your own provision.


Ovid, meet Paul

Here is an interesting article on a Greek myth connected with my sermon text from Acts 14 this Sunday. The Scripture is even mentioned in the article.


Review: The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My son got interested in this, after seeing a friend drawing pictures of the Martian invasion. So I gave it another look.

Wells is a master of pacing and suspense. You know what's coming but he takes his time getting there, exploring human fear and shock along the way.

There's a little evolutionary worldview pushed gently on the reader, mainly of the "we're just animals" variety. He also takes a swipe at religion. The curate madly rambles about God's judgment, in contrast to calm triumph of reason in the main character.

Written in 1898, mainstream science fiction today continues to be marked by these same themes.

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Review: The Flint Heart

The Flint Heart
The Flint Heart by Katherine Paterson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Has an Alice in Wonderland feel to it. Rewritten from 1910, but the premise is very "Lord of the Rings." An object which when possessed, possesses the owner and turns his heart to evil. The main characters have to work together to deal with it.

A decent story, great for 7-12 years old, though not very compelling writing.

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Review: Thinking Straight in a Crooked World

Thinking Straight in a Crooked World
Thinking Straight in a Crooked World by Gary DeMar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gary DeMar makes a solid apologetic survey and cultural critique in this book. A popularizer of Cornelius Van Til's pre-suppositional apologetic approach, DeMar spends most of his time debunking unChristian views and asserting that the Bible can be the only solid starting point for truth.

The first half, the apologetic survey, is much better than the second, which describes in detail the cultural degeneration from the 60s. This last half got tedious, too detailed, and he didn't clarify where he was going with it. From knowing my Van Til, I think the point was to show how a society can't hold together, how any error rushes in to fill the worldview vacuum when Christianity is rejected. This could have been more obvious, with less gruesome detail of horror and slasher films. He puts more into this than the far more important postmodern way of thinking, which only gets 5 pages at the very end.

But the first half of the book is excellent. DeMar explains what worldview means, how there is no objective neutrality in our thought, that reason has limits, and exposes the assumptions everyone must make in coming to worldview conclusions.

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Review: The Institutes of Biblical Law

The Institutes of Biblical Law
The Institutes of Biblical Law by R.J. Rushdoony

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was quite taken aback to begin reading the introduction to the Institutes of Biblical Law and find Calvin’s view of the law dubbed “heretical nonsense” (9). Rushdoony pulls no punches.

Surveying the 10 commandments for 650 pages, and then turning to the use of the law throughout Scripture for another 200, Rushdoony is an insightful cultural critic and decent exegete, but his theological view of the law within the entire scope of Scripture is off kilter.

There is a wealth of information on the Ten Commandments, applied throughout Scripture and today. He helpfully explains the principle behind obscure and bizarre (sounding to moderns) laws. The danger of doing getting so specific is inferring too much from the law, and Rushdoony falls into this plenty often, I think. Deuteronomy 22:5 says, “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment.” This leads to transvestites, but starts with confusing gender roles. So, men shouldn’t do “woman’s work” (437), for example. It’s good to apply every Word of God specifically, and in every legitimate way possible, but we may not infer too much from a text. Scripture must interpret Scripture. In this example, we note the Proverbs 31 woman makes forays into “man’s work,” but it isn’t her primary activity. A man can help his wife with the dishes without violating Scripture!

Theologically, everything leads back to the paramount law for Rushdoony, whether it is grace, communion, baptism, etc. An example: “The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is the renewal of the covenant so that the sacrament itself re-establishes the law" (7). That's just a strange way to put things. Love and covenant relationship is the point, more than the law. The sacraments re-affirm the ongoing relationship IN SPITE of our law breaking. They are sacraments of the covenant of grace. This phrase gives me a queer feeling that for Rushdoony the law is the end all and be all of religion. This often feels like Judaizing, and contrary to Paul’s letters and the book of Hebrews, to which he seldom refers. It feels like it, but it is not. His view of grace cancelling the punishments of the law appears to be orthodox elsewhere, though he places much more emphasis on the use of the law in society. He hammers away at Romans 8:4, that the righteous requirement of the law is meant to be fulfilled in us, and this is needed in our day. He just does it in a way that makes you think the law is the end-all and be-all of Christianity, which it isn’t.

He denies any place for common grace: that the unregenerate can come to some wisdom in governing men and nations. A society is either founded on the Law-Word of God and faithful, or it is looking to the wisdom of man and it is apostate. This is certainly clear, but too either-or. What if states are free to apply the “general equity” of God’s law, as Westminster and Calvin taught? He is quick to throw out the charge of antinomianism, and the church HAS fallen into sin by claiming to be under grace. But Rushdoony charges the mainstream Reformed position that the state is not held to enforce the whole of Biblical law as antinomian.

Rushdoony is very influential in my circles. He gives you a clear place to stand (or a way to fight) in a morally degenerating culture: the law. As the church finds herself increasingly in a “bread and circuses” culture, she is more susceptible to over-responding into the Donatist and ascetic heresies. I’m not calling Rushdoony a Donatist or heretic in any other way. But he does make some grandiose claims for how the law can preserve and save a society. I would like to interact positively with his views, especially asking which laws are binding on individuals and on the state today (without the charge of antinomianism being applied for even asking the question), while toning down the “silver bullet” expectations that just going back to the law will solve our problems. The law is a real piece of the solution, as is the Church, and especially the Spirit working repentance and grace in the heart.

There is too much for a short review. Insightful exegesis is mixed with off balance theology. This continues in the appendices by Gary North. John Frame sums it up best: “Yes, we must not substitute love for law; but we had better not substitute law for love either. Yes, love may be defined in terms of law; but the requirement of the law is also summarized and defined in the love-commandment…. A bit more “sympathy” with people and a bit less preoccupation with legal rights would greatly improve his treatment of these matters…. Rushdoony has been so preoccupied with the question of the authority of the law that he has missed some very weighty elements of biblical teaching…. he tends to set himself off so sharply from other Reformed thinkers that he is not in a very good position to benefit from their counsel. Nor are they in a good position to benefit from his.”

See here for my previous thoughts on Rushdoony

See here for John Frame’s excellent and more indepth review of this book.

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Magic as metaphor, not menace

Time once again for a brief defense of fictional magic!

From time to time I encounter the view that any use of magic in a story is unedifying or wicked. Especially if it’s the good guys doing magic. Magic is inherently evil. The Christians in Ephesus burned their magic books when they converted to Christ (Acts 19:19). We should not imagine a world where evil (magic) is good and good is evil. This position leads to abstaining from the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, books by Christian authors (Inklings C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien), as well as any other fantasy books with spells, etc. Why would we mess around in our stories and in our minds with the idea that magic COULD be okay?

Good question. Here is the answer.

Definition and context matters
How magic is used in a story makes a lot of difference. There is some equivocation in the definition of magic in the above position. Considering just Narnia for a moment, magic is used differently in various places by C.S. Lewis. It plays the role of the supernatural - Aslan calling children into another world. It describes the moral laws of the universe embedded by the Creator - the Emperor’s deeper magic from before the dawn of time. And there is sorcery and conjuring (Jadis vaporizes a closed door with a spell). These are different uses and they cannot all be rejected with one broad stroke, just because the WORD magic is used for them. When the children try conjuring Aslan it is rejected – Aslan wouldn’t like it. Good authors will put Biblical bounds around how magic is used in their worlds. Using the word magic to teach children about moral law embedded in the universe, is like Paul using the statue to the unknown god to point to the Almighty God. You start with what they know and move to the truth.

Suspension of disbelief is okay
It is okay to get caught up in a story. Younger children are not yet capable of consciously setting aside reality: “This is just a story.” So we need to be extra careful what books and movies they take in. There is nothing wrong with imagining a world with creatures God didn’t make. There IS a problem with reveling in a morally opposite universe, where good is evil and evil is good.

We need to train discernment into ourselves, not by steeling ourselves against getting gripped by a story, but by understanding how good writing leads to gripping you, and then reflecting on your emotions and the ideas asserted afterward. There is a real power to rhetoric and story-telling, that can suck you in and influence you to believe something you didn’t before (some have called this power the Muse). God uses this power to convict David of his sin through Nathan’s story. Jesus told many parables, using this same influence. Stories are used to explore moral dilemmas. A bad example is the Hunger Games. A Biblical example is the story of Rahab. It is good to explore such ethical questions, and bad to let the emotion of a movie (or sympathy for a fictional character) decide your ethics for you.

Love the weaker brother
Paul tells us to not set meat before a brother whose conscience tells him he shouldn’t eat it (1 Corinthians 8:7-10). The same would apply to alcohol consumption or how to evaluate Narnia and Middle Earth. These are secondary issues where practicing love for the brethren is called for. Adult converts to Christ coming out of the occult or alcoholism are going to connect the use of wine or magic with heathen rebellion against God. It may take them awhile to distinguish, to realize one could enjoy Narnia or a Merlot, without sinning. Maybe they never will. Like with the weaker brother, those with knowledge of the truth should not press either one on them before they are convinced. At the same time, we teach the truth of what is allowed (1 Cor 10:25; Rom 14:14). To paraphrase Romans 14:3, “Let not the one who reads Tolkien despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains from Narnia pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.”

The argument will be raised that the use of magic is not this kind of issue. It is clear-cut wrong in Scripture (2 Chron. 33:6; Galatians 5:20)! Yes, but see “Definition and Context” above. Just because there is meat on the table that was sacrificed to an idol doesn’t mean the sin of idolatry is happening in the Christian eater. Just because there is alcohol present at the table doesn’t mean the sin of drunkenness is also present. Just because a book uses magic themes doesn’t mean the sin of sorcery is present. Back to Corinth: eating meat sacrificed to an idol was wrong as a pagan god worshiper. Now as a Corinthian Christian it was okay, because they realize those gods aren’t real? Paul says, Yes! (1 Cor. 8:4-6) But it sure FELT wrong to eat meat, yet. That is what it is like for the occult dabbler or alcoholic when they come to know the Lord. That weakness needs to be honored and dealt carefully with, not trampled, despised or mocked. It’s easy to throw labels at each other. The anti-magic position is legalistic. The pro-Narnia camp is compromising and letting the devil have a foothold. I realize I may have applied a different label - weaker brother. But let us speak the truth in love AND refrain from passing judgment on each other, while making our case with grace and clarity from the Scriptures.

For further reading
What I Learned in Narnia, Doug Wilson - book

The Meaning of Magic, by Jared Miller - article

The Use of magic in Literature – 8:00 video - Doug and N.D. Wilson


His Faithful Attention to the Bride

Sermon on the seventh commandment:

Jesus Christ is the faithful husband. Having communion every week reminds us that Jesus comes to His bride in affection and love, with provision and attention, and he does so frequently and regularly. He sets a table, like the wise woman of Proverbs 8, and we would be wise to come. Not like the foolish woman of Proverbs 5-7, 9. Christ’s grace and love are greater than our sin. Strong feelings of guilt and shame result from this sin, and we need to know that forgiveness is real and complete at the cross. We can be washed in the blood of Christ. But we cannot wash ourselves on the inside. So we apply the medicine, drink the potion, to cleanse the inside of the cup, only by the Holy Spirit giving us faith to believe Jesus really does save.


Come and Die

The Greeks wanted to see Jesus. We do not know why. It may have been a sincere desire to see and believe in Him. It may have been the novelty of asking for his autograph. We do not come to God in worship, or in our devotions, for the novelty of it. We are not here to see what miracle He might do this week, or what the preacher might say about the 7th commandment. We are here to see Jesus, and when we come that way, He directs us to His sacrifice, giving up His life, and how we are to follow that pattern. As Bonhoffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This is the point in our worship service where we die. We lay ourselves down on the altar, we submit to God’s work - cutting away and killing our sinful nature. We confess our sins. We do not cling to our life, to our desires, or to our sins, but bury them. Then God raises our new life as He wants it, with us forgiven and ready to be fruitful.


A Beethoven "Flashmob"

Check this out!


Baptizing babies, really?

Romans 4:11 – “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.”

"If circumcision was for Abraham a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith, then we cannot say the cutting away of the flesh was simply an ethnic identity marker or a sign of mere physical import. Circumcision was a seal of the deepest spiritual realities, a visible sign of the forgiveness of sins and justification by faith. Just like baptism would be centuries later.

"And if this spiritual sign—a seal of the righteousness that comes by faith—was administered to Abraham and his infant sons, then we cannot say that the thing signified must always be present before the sign is administered. Isaac was circumcised, and so was Ishmael—both being given the seal of justification by faith before the exercise of faith. Just like infant baptism.

"So whether infant baptism makes sense to you or not—and I deeply respect my non-paedo friends in my church and in the broader church—shouldn’t we at least agree that the basic spiritual import of circumcision and baptism is the same and that there is biblical precedence for administering a spiritual sign without the immediate presence of the thing signified?

"Makes sense to me."

Discerning the Body of Christ

1 Cor 11:20-29
"Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying,  “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.  27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body."

We are the body of Christ. The body helps its members. We do not disregard each other and each do our own thing. We must discern the body and act as one body. When we do this, we proclaim the Lord’s death. We show the world what it looks like to die to self, to live for Christ. To love God and to love our neighbor. To really be for the lives of others. So this Communion ritual acts out this regard for one another, as we serve each other and wait for each other. This meal also points to the ultimate act of sacrifice, the ultimate pro-life act, which was ironically a crucifixion. Discerning and serving the body, loving our neighbor is far more painful than we often think at first, but we have Christ’s example set before us here. His blood, shed for you. When you serve others, you collapse like a puddle afterward, poured out like water. But God will raise you up, even from death, as He did our Lord Christ.


Taking Correction

Proverbs 3:11-12
"My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, 
          Nor detest His correction; 
    12      For whom the LORD loves He corrects, 
          Just as a father the son in whom he delights."

In our sinful nature we do not like correction or chastening. Children, you assume your parents must be against you when they correct or punish you. But they are not. They chasten b/c they love you.
Parents, notice verse 12 again… it can be easy to lose delight in your children when they need so much correction. when we have to correct, we can get sinfully against our children instead of being for them in love. This requires confession to our children.
Finally, God chastens and corrects grown-ups, too, in His providence. When we go through a hard time, we should ask if God might be correcting or teaching us. Not to condemn, but to grow in wisdom. You have a loving Father who does not withhold consequences when we sin, but who also lovingly forgives and sides with you.



A Fly in the Halls of Thomas Nelson

Responding to the David Barton-Thomas Nelson controversy, Doug Phillips suggests there's dirty work afoot.

Why does something else (secular pressure, evil motives or a conspiracy) have to be going on, besides a publisher retracting a history book it deems historically inaccurate?

Phillips asks why Thos. Nelson doesn’t just fix the mistakes and reissue the book. The simple answer is that Barton is asserting inaccuracies, and (as I understand it) sticking by them when called on it by the historical, academic - Christian, not liberal revisionist - community. Thomas Nelson would be thoroughly discredited to keep in print a book that asserts known inaccuracies.

I share Doug Phillips’ concern about Thomas Nelson’s decisions following buyout by a secular company. But there’s no reason to connect that to the Barton case, when the Christian community (mainly World magazine) is applying all the pressure, “policing its own,” so to speak.


Loved Children

1 John 3:1-2
"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is."

We are all children of God, who must receive mercy from our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, our son. Fathers provide for their children, and fathers receive their children in love. The glory of the gospel is that as we receive mercy from God the Father, we become like Him, and we more and more provide His love, discipline and mercy to our own children. We cannot provide this in our own resources, but when we first receive from our Father in heaven, we can then give the right things to our children. We can then receive them with love and mercy.

This table shows all this. Your Father’s mercy is spread open before you, as the Prodigal Son saw his father running toward him, arms open wide to receive Him. Turn your heart to your father. The cost of that mercy was high, and we are to measure the cost of this sacrifice. Receiving sinners in mercy is difficult, taxing, and Jesus did the heavy lifting on the cross. We proclaim His death in this Supper. Return to Your Father and receive His mercy. Then turn to your children or your spouse, to your earthly parents, and extend mercy.


Honor in deed

Proverbs 3:9-10
"Honor the LORD with your wealth, And with the firstfruits of all your produce; Then your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will be bursting with wine."

In these proverbs we are reminded that honoring God is something we do outwardly, not just a heart matter. Honor begins in the heart, of course, but becomes visible in what you say and do. We must honor God with our income, giving Him the firstfruits of it. Our sinful hearts want to keep all our stuff to ourselves, just like we want to accumulate honor and glory for ourselves. But our heavenly Father has shown us a different way. He is a generous giver, not even avoiding the deep shame of public crucifixion to give us pardon for our sins. So get back to what you were made for: honoring God, instead of self.



Sabbath and Supper

Sermon on 4th Commandment - keeping the Sabbath day holy

Sabbath is about past, present and future. This Supper is also about past, present and future. Past: Sabbath looks back to the creation of the world. This Supper also looks back to God giving His people food in the Garden at a tree of life. Christ’s cross and resurrection are in view, to which we also look back. Present: Sabbath is a day to worship and rest, as this Supper is time in the present to commune with Christ. Future: Sabbath is a sign of coming complete rest, as this Supper is a sign of the coming complete feast and fellowship with Christ.


Proud Wise Guy

Proverbs 3:7-8
    "Do not be wise in your own eyes; 
          Fear the LORD and depart from evil. 
    8      It will be health to your flesh, 
          And strength to your bones."

God calls us to not be wise in our own eyes. Now, everyone thinks they are right about whatever opinion it may be. The point isn’t to think you are probably wrong, but to not think of yourself more highly than you ought. To consider others above yourself. There is a way of being unteachable, not willing to consider or seek the counsel of others – "that wouldn’t be worth it, they aren’t as wise as me," is what we’re thinking deep down. This is an evil before God, and we must depart from evil. Humility brings health. Submission brings strength.


God Doesn't Care

God doesn't care what you eat.

Jesus purified all foods in Mark 7:14-23. God has no list of food (or restaurants) that bring His frown or condemnation.

But won't this lead to not caring about nutrition? Won't people just eat all the junk they want, then? That presumption CAN accompany the truth that God is not angry with me for having a soda now and then. But presumption isn't part and parcel to it.

Of course, if we use the truth that there is no religiously forbidden food for us, to trash and abuse our bodies with nothing but junk, or too much junk, then we are being bad stewards of our bodies. This is like Romans 6:1-2. Just because there isn't any sin that can keep you from God forever doesn't mean we should go ahead and sin. Just because there is no list of forbidden foods doesn't mean we can binge carelessly on junk. But neither are we required by God to find the most nutritious food and only eat that.

The range of food we can enjoy without guilt is very large. The latest articles we've read on nutrition insist that those foods are out and these are in, but God doesn't care. He is pleased when we give Him thanks, even if our body has to work a little harder to digest and process that particular dish. Ecclesiastes 7:16: "Do not be overly righteous, Nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself?" AND (other side of the coin), if you're having heart trouble and your doctor says to cut out the fat, etc., you're being a bad steward, tempting God, and endangering your life to eat more bacon. "Do not be overly wicked, Nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time?"

I write all this having watched the documentary "Supersize Me" lately. It does well to point out the nutritional dangers of fast food. Its weakness is the logical fallacy that this will happen to anyone who eats at McDonald's occasionally. Yes, of course in lab experiments rats died when they were given 50 grams of caffeine... because that's 30% of their body weight!

Let's be sane about what we eat, and give thanks to God for it all (1 Timothy 4:1-3).

Review: It’s (Not That) Complicated: How to Relate to Guys in a Healthy, Sane, and Biblical Way

It’s (Not That) Complicated: How to Relate to Guys in a Healthy, Sane, and Biblical Way
It’s (Not That) Complicated: How to Relate to Guys in a Healthy, Sane, and Biblical Way by Anna Sofia Botkin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Botkin daughters, unmarried and in their mid-20s, write to young ladies on how to relate to guys. I haven’t read their prior work, like Return of the Daughters and So Much More, judging the concept touted in the marketing material to be extra-Biblical. But I gave “It’s Not that Complicated” a try, and was pleasantly surprised.

Girls tend to have unrealistic expectations about boys. They think that every boy will converse like a pro. They set up an idealized gold standard. Just like guys expect girls to look like supermodels (more physical and visually oriented), girls expect guys to be emotive, very sensitive to feelings, highly verbal, etc. I liked their encouragement to girls to love their brothers in Christ, instead of maintaining impossibly high standards and being brutal in their thoughts with every boy who doesn’t meet those standards. Instead, take some modest initiative in conversation with boys. This is okay. Girls can be so deathly afraid of flirting or being forward that they are in a cocoon.

Guarding your own purity isn’t the main thing. Loving others is. Without giving away the store into immodest behavior, the Botkins deal realistically with how positively to relate to guys. Relationships with guys are expected, just not central; dangerous, but not to be denied. Don’t get romantically attached. This is said in a variety of helpful ways: “It is fully possible to have an interest in a young man’s life and future without feeling like you’re “buying personal shares in it.” A guy and girl “can have pure, honest affection and esteem for each other… without being inordinately affected by the ‘possibility’ possibility.” Flirting with and shunning boys both stem from “thinking of them [boys] only as romantic objects or marriage material.”

There were a couple sidepoints I quibble with. They quote Rushdoony on imagination being the essence of sin (pg 38). This ignores and denies Song of Solomon’s essential role of the poetic and the imaginative in romance. If the Botkins’ point is to keep your imagination from running wild about a potential relationship, though, the point is well put.

A bigger disagreement: they say not to communicate distance in interacting with guys, or you can crush them. This gives guys more credit than they need. Guys need to learn to take some knocks, including from girls, especially if they are flirting with them. Sometimes guys need to be repulsed by a cold shoulder when they cross the line. Then again, I’ve seen some harsh snubbing of someone deemed flirtatious that approached condemnation. Responding to one sin (flirting) with another (dismissive judgment) is no way to go. I’m a strong believer that young ladies should cultivate the art of communicating distance without judging or repelling an overly forward young man. When the guy is dense it’s virtually impossible to pull off, and the fault is all with the guy, but the girl should at least know ahead of time what she’s trying to accomplish and how, in that situation.

All in all a very helpful book for young people that avoids the two ditches of worldly compromise and over-scrupulous distance from the opposite sex.

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Jesus, Promise Keeper

Sermon on 3rd commandment, keeping your vows

Psalm 116:12-14
    What shall I render to the LORD 
          For all His benefits toward me? 
    13      I will take up the cup of salvation, 
          And call upon the name of the LORD. 
    14      I will pay my vows to the LORD 
          Now in the presence of all His people. 

Jesus kept His vows to His Father. He covenanted with His Father before the foundation of the world to lay down His life for His sheep, and He carried through with it. He kept His promise, much to His own hurt (Psalm 15:4). Let us follow His example. Pursue lofty goals of love and service to others. Endure through obstacles and temptations. Remain reverent, rejoicing, abiding and resting in Jesus Christ. Take some time now to consider Him, express gratitude to Him for His work for you, renew vows you have made to Him.


Trust the foundation

Proverbs 3:5-6

    Trust in the LORD with all your heart, 
          And lean not on your own understanding; 
    6      In all your ways acknowledge Him, 
          And He shall direct your paths. 

Trust God with all your heart. Jesus mildly chastises His disciples for having such little faith, but He helps them. We cannot attain perfection this side of eternity. As Sproul is fond of saying, no one other than Jesus has ever loved God with all his heart for 5 minutes. The same is true of trusting God with all your heart. Sin wants to hold something back, to save a couple habits where we ignore and betray God, to trust self when we get down to the core, to lean on our own understanding. We want to use Bible verses as decoration instead of foundation. This famous proverb calls us to acknowledge God’s presence, love and rule every moment of our lives, in all our ways. Then we will reverence His name and never take it in vain.



Cultural Shifts

With all the ChickfilA/homosexuality hubbub, I read a Wall Street Journal article saying the company probably made a tactical mistake coming out on one side of the cultural war, when they are trying to expand out of their Bible belt region, where homosexuality is less opposed. Whatever you think of that, a stat was given that 15 years ago 65% of the public opposed gay marriage, but now that has gone down to 44%, with 47% in favor.


Here is a short and helpful statement, which my denomination has adopted as our position.

The Phoenix Declaration

God's approved images for worship

Sermon on the 2nd commandment - no graven images

The Father made us in His image. When we defaced it with sin, He regave the image, in His Son, the second Adam. At the end of Christ’s ministry, He gave us pictures to continue the restoration project. Sacraments are the outward images God has given us to relate to Him as a people. Not to bow down to or reverence in themselves, but for us to see and ponder what God has already done for us, and what we are to do for each other. God has cleansed, forgiven and fed us in Christ. We are to include and forgive, feed one another.


They will die like men

Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, and Psalm 82 is a fitting call to confession. God stands among the gods, or the mighty ones, the ones with power. He judges the powerful leaders for judging unjustly, for letting the wicked consume the poor and defenseless, the fatherless and the afflicted. Abortion fits this description. It is so abhorrent, all the foundations of the earth are unstable. God acknowledges the power our leaders have – He gave it to them. But they have overstepped their bounds and think they can give people rights that God does not give them. God is judging us as a nation for our sin by confounding the wise and pulling us to moral and legal decay. We deprive the unborn of life, so God is depriving us of spiritual vitality. We are strong as a nation, but we will die like men. God alone (His Son and Christ, actually) will judge the earth, and inherit the nations.


Psalm 82
    "God stands in the congregation of the mighty; 
          He judges among the gods. 
    2      How long will you judge unjustly, 
          And show partiality to the wicked?       Selah
    3      Defend the poor and fatherless; 
          Do justice to the afflicted and needy. 
    4      Deliver the poor and needy; 
          Free them from the hand of the wicked. 

    5      They do not know, nor do they understand; 
          They walk about in darkness; 
          All the foundations of the earth are unstable. 

    6      I said, “You are gods, 
          And all of you are children of the Most High. 
    7      But you shall die like men, 
          And fall like one of the princes.” 

    8      Arise, O God, judge the earth; 
          For You shall inherit all nations."


Calling David Barton fans...

Please read this article with an open mind. The authors are NOT liberals trying to revise our country's history. Consider that there is a real danger of over-stating things, when you set out to defend the truth. This damages the cause more than helping it.


Don't Wander Off

Proverbs 3:1-4
"    My son, do not forget my law, 
          But let your heart keep my commands; 
    2      For length of days and long life 
          And peace they will add to you. 
    3      Let not mercy and truth forsake you; 
          Bind them around your neck, 
          Write them on the tablet of your heart, 
    4      And so find favor and high esteem 
          In the sight of God and man."

This is a rather strange way of telling us to stay faithful to God. Poetic, really. As if mercy and truth were like sheep or pets that could wander off and leave you. You don’t want that to happen. You need mercy and truth as close companions in your life, so keep them close, and take the trouble to make sure they stay close. In our sinful nature, we actually keep driving mercy and truth away from us. We get hard-edged toward people after a while. We continually deceive ourselves about the truth of our situation. Without truth we minimize our sin. And without mercy we magnify the sin of others. So bind them around your neck. The only other thing Scripture tells us to bind around our neck is God’s Word. This is because God’s Word defines mercy and truth. Write them on the tablet of your heart, like God wrote the 10 Words on tablets. Set these down firmly in your heart. As you do, you will find favor and esteem before God and man. That is something we deeply need: God to accept and love us. Mercy and truth is the pathway, leading past the cross of Christ, where we accept the truth of God’s law and our sinfulness. Where we accept the mercy of Christ and extend it to others.



Wedding meditation

Our world is starved for love. We talk about love, sing about it, watch movies about it, we are obsessed with love. But we are still starved for it, because we usually deal in cheap imitations of love. People are friendly to us, have children our age, everything fits us just right, so then we hang out. They invite us out, so we invite them out. We share the same hobbies and schedules, so we must love them. But Jesus said, do not even the tax collectors do the same? Our world is starved for love. Or we are caught up with our own feelings. We mistake the feeling we get when we are with someone for true love. Getting pleasure isn’t the same as getting love, or loving someone. Our world is starved for love. We are dealing with imitations most of the time, so we hardly recognize the real thing.

What is love? Nathaniel loves Christa. Christa loves Nathaniel. That’s why we are here today. What is love? Of course, we should go to God’s Word, the Bible to answer this. And there are many places we could go. Song of Solomon is very appropriate on this day, and often overlooked in the Biblical description of love. “Your love is better than wine.” “You are beautiful, my love.” “I am sick with love.” “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.” “Love is strong as death.” “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.” “You have ravished my heart With one look of your eyes, With one link of your necklace.” Part of real love is a flood of emotions. We tend to say that love isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice and a sacrifice. That’s partly true, but too simplistic. The feelings are right there in Song of Solomon, put on display and celebrated. Now, feelings can be put to selfish uses. We can sin against God and hurt others pursuing our own feelings and pleasure. But the feelings aren’t the problem, the selfishness is. Sex isn’t the problem in our culture. Selfish hedonism is the problem. And the song of Solomon shows us how to channel feelings in ways that encourage and admire the one we love. So, according to the Bible, love is desire for the one loved.

We can go other places in the Bible to know about love. One more before our text.  John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This is a Christian wedding. Not so much because we sang a hymn, or because we are in a church, not even because Nathaniel and Christa are Christians, or because a Christian minister is officiating. This is a Christian wedding because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is present and proclaimed. And here it is. The good news is that God so loved us, that He sent Jesus to us, to die to remove God’s wrath against our sins, to rise to glory and reward, so that whoever believes He did that for them will live, forgiven forever. If you want to know what love is, you’re going to have to meet Jesus. He is the paragon of love. What He did and does for us is the defining act of love. He came to destroy our destroyer, rob the robber, take us from the tyrant’s dungeon. That was love. He washes us with living water, heals us with power, feeds us with living bread, makes us fruitful in His vine, brings us to the Father. This is love. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends. And that is what Jesus did. God shows His love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Why did God love us like this? He didn’t have to, you know. His grace and love were freely given, not owed to us. He loved us, back to the first point, because this was His desire. Jesus tells us what His heart’s desire was, when He prayed to the Father in John 17, “I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am.” This is the desire of all lovers, to be together. So the strong desire of the Song of Solomon led to the sacrifice of the cross for the beloved, for the church, those given to Jesus by the Father.

Now we come to 1 Cor 13. Scripture says “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts,” and we see that love described in 1 Cor 13.  The Corinthians were proud of their spiritual gifts, but they didn’t love each other. That’s a waste. If you offer the duty of love without the heart, you’re missing it. If you repent with sacrifices but your spirit remains stubborn, it’s worthless. If you work yourself to exhaustion, but hold it over someone’s head to get what you want, it is the opposite of love. And we’ve seen where that love comes from, from God giving us Jesus. We need to be receiving God’s love if we are going to be able to love like 1 Cor 13 says. We don’t just work harder to get this love. We have to surrender and accept mercy from Jesus Christ.

So, where does love take us? What does it do? Here we come to those well known words: love is patient, kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, resentful, or wrong-loving. It rejoices in truth. Love bears all, believes all, hopes all, endures all. Notice that these are not virtues we practice in isolation, to improve our own character without regard to other people. No, love requires a beloved. Love does all this for the sake of the one loved. We aren’t patient just to be better people. We are patient because we love the one trying our patience. Nathaniel will have to be patient with Christa. And he will, b/c he loves her. Christa will have to endures things with Nathaniel. And she will, b/c she loves him. Love does these things, or avoids these things, for the sake of the one loved. The one in the list that sums them all up, Love does not seek its own. Nathaniel’s love seeks Christa’s best interests.  Jesus stayed on the cross because He gave up what He wanted and sought our best interest.  He loved His Father, and He loved His bride, the church, so He stayed on the cross to the end. Love seeks not its own, and so we give sacrificially, it will lead to crosses and losses, for the one we love.

God has set it up so men and women in marriage love a bit differently. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, and gave Himself for her. So Nathaniel will lead and represent Christa, as a head does for the whole person. Christa receives his love with respect, submission and gratitude, and gives it back, multiplied into fruitful beauty, whether it’s groceries, a paycheck, or children. Notice I’m not telling you to do this, I’m just saying it’s going to happen. Nathaniel will lead and set the tone, even if he isn’t trying at all. People get all worked up about wives submitting to husbands these days. Today I’ll leave Shakespeare to do the talking about submission. Portia, the wise and noble widow loves Bassanio and accepts his offer of marriage like this as she speaks of herself:

You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand, / Happy in this, she is not yet so old / But she may learn;…. Happiest of all is that her gentle spirit / Commits itself to yours to be directed,
As from her lord, her governor, her king. / Myself and what is mine to you and yours
Is now converted.

Here is a beautiful thing: glad and complete submission of all of you, to another. Jesus submits to the Father. The church does to Jesus. Christa does to Nathaniel. Each of us does to each other. Love does not seek its own.

Nathaniel, search out Christa’s heart. Pursue and cherish her, body, mind and soul. What is Christa thinking? What is she desiring and pursuing? Make sure her concerns are dealt with completely. Your life slogan might be, “What could go wrong?” Well, Christa may have a list for you. Your call is to love Christa by providing for her and protecting her. But those are general abstract ideas. Does she need protection from distraction, or from anxiety?  If you are going to fulfill your wedding vows, you need to study Christa. What does Christa need?

Christa, find your main calling in Nathaniel’s calling. God gave Adam the job of tending and keeping the garden, filling and subduing the earth. Then God gave Eve to Adam to help him. Work alongside your husband. Keep his agenda in mind, as you help and advise him. Talk it out with him. God hears us when we pray, and He wants us to pray to Him. Your relationship with your husband is supposed to be like that.  We listen to our spouse, and we want them to talk to us. Sin can get in the way of both of those, but This is what 1 Cor 13 love looks like.

And last: Where this love is headed. I read to the end of 1 Cor 13 because marriage should be shaped by the future more than by the past. We know in part here. At the great consummation of all things we will know fully. In this life, the heart of others is a deep mystery – you don’t and can’t know your partner completely. There’s potential danger in that. And there’s a great deal of delight, too. When things go haywire in your marriage, as they will from time to time, one way to bear all things is to remember that we know each other only partly here, and to embrace that limitation, that mystery.

But at the consummation faith and hope will not be needed. They will fade away. We will know as we are already fully known. Marriage itself will be left behind for some unknown greater delight. But love will remain. We will be glorified, we will be like Christ. God gives you this Marriage for that goal. To help you grow into Christ-like-ness. There is more to marriage than getting to be together by yourselves all the time. Marriage is a school of sanctification, leading you to glory. You stand before God now. And when you stand before Him in glory, God will have used your marriage to make you more like Christ than you are now.

Jesus Christ’s love is a desire for His bride to be with Him, a desire for her to see His glory, a desire for her to be without spot. Desire led to sacrifice, and so He loved us all the way to death on the cross. God so loved us that He gave His Son, and by His death we have everlasting life. Let us follow Him to the cross and so find life in Him, loving one another sacrificially, not insisting on our own way or seeking our own, but seeking the glory of God and the good of those we love. In the name of the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Redemption into Covenant Relationship

Exodus 24:1-12

When God redeemed Israel from Egypt He established a covenant with them, inviting their elders to eat and drink with Him through His mediator Moses. When Jesus redeemed His Church from their sins He established a better covenant with them, inviting His apostles to eat and drink with Him, the better mediator. You are brought into that covenant through faith in Him. Covenants have promises and obligations attached to them. Promises to believe and obligations to perform. They are all summarized in God’s Word which He has magnified. Seek the Lord Jesus in the ways He has set up: His Word, His sacraments, His people. Commune with Christ now.


Remember the Signs

An exhortation for the children especially from these two proverbs, these 4 lines: first line: my son, do not forget my law. God teaches us, kids, where we most need it. We easily forget our duties. Your parents give you a task and you find something fun to do on the way and forget all about it. Part of growing is learning what things to call to mind regularly. In the Silver Chair, Aslan warned Jill to remember the signs, but she still forgot. Second line: let your heart keep my commands. It is very easy when given rules or jobs we don’t like, to obey on the outside, but grump and resist inside. Pouting and sulking while you clean your room is not really obeying from the heart, and that is what God looks at. You may have a perfect room, neat school papers, but a horrible mess of sin in your heart. A girl was told to sit in her chair when she wanted to stand. She sighed, sat down, and said, “I’m sitting on the outside, but I’m standing inside.” Children, pay attention to your heart and make sure you are doing the right thing on the inside.
Third line: long life and peace they will bring. You may think now, kids, that a long life is as natural as the sun coming up every day. No, great blessings come with remembering and obeying God’s laws. Remember in the Silver Chair how much harder things went, when Jill forgot the signs.

To all those who grieve and repent of their sins, striving for a new obedience, I declare as a minister of the Gospel the total forgiveness of all your sins, for Jesus has paid for them all on the cross. We know His account had sufficient funds, and His check cleared the bank, b/c we have heard of the resurrection of Jesus to new life. So in the power of that new life, your sins are forgiven through Christ.


On Head Coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

This came up in conversation recently, and I thought I’d address it systematically.

1. Paul is dealing in 1 Corinthians 11 with the church’s conduct in corporate worship being orderly. Part of this involves living out the distinctions between male and female, which even nature shows us.

2. One argument put forth by James Jordan is that the prophesying going on among women, predicted by Joel 2:32, ceased with the passing of the apostolic age (around the time of the destruction of the temple). So this whole discussion is not directly relevant. This is partially convincing. Women (or men!) spontaneously prophesying in church was unique to the apostolic age, in my view. But this assumes a position on a separate controversial issue I don’t have time for! And it doesn’t really deal with women praying in church, or how the natural distinction applies today. The context seems to be more than just prophecy. (Check out the Jordan article for other good thoughts, though.)

3. So the passage is relevant to us, and cannot be explained away with the old “that was their culture” line. We need to figure out how to obey this text. But as we do, cultural custom does come into play.

4. Can women obey this passage by wearing their hair long, as verse 15 seems to say? I believe so. There is no other explanation of verse 15 that makes sense. Its meaning is plain and a principle, along with verses 3, 7, and 10.

Objection 1: long hair and a covering seem to be different things in verses 6-14. A woman with long hair could pray uncovered, it seems.
Response: this is because of the cultural practice in Corinth (all of Greco-Roman world, really) of women wearing a veil or shawl of some sort at a religious service. Verse 15 actually gives more freedom to the church from that cultural practice, while maintaining the gender distinction principle.

Objection 2: This position makes verse 6 a tautology. Verse 6 says if she won’t cover her head she might as well (and should) have short hair. If long hair IS the covering, this would be a given, not a command.
Response: Paul’s point is that a woman uncovered in dress or behavior should be shown such by cutting her hair short. If she is speaking, praying, or prophesying in a way that shows lack of submission to her husband, she might as well dress unsubmissively, too.

Objection 2: what about older women who cannot or do not grow their hair long?
Response: as long as a distinction from men is being made in her dress and behavior, there isn’t a real problem. Length of hair is a factor in this principle, but not the only one. Verses 3 and 10 are broader and more controlling than verses 14-15.

Objection 3: there is really no way to disobey this text, if a woman simply needs to wear her hair in a feminine way.
Response: yes there is. For one thing, Sinead O’Connor comes to mind. And a woman can do her hair with a mind to being sexy and catching a man. Even at church. Hm… The principle is that a wife should do something to her hair (or other apparel?) to show she is bound to her husband. Culturally, we don’t have a category for how specifically to do this today, besides wedding rings. Almost all other cultures did. This is where the confusion comes in. I’m uncertain that the hair itself must be adjusted, if the rest of her dress and behavior is ordered. The hair requirement might be a culturally adjustable thing, here, but the principle of maintaining gender distinctions in corporate worship is not. Each family can work through this themselves and come up with something. It is an area for future Christian culture building.

James Jordan

Ben Merkle

Daniel Wallace


Review: Two Williams

Two Williams
Two Williams by Douglas Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Solid historical fiction treatment of revolutionary war.
The first chapter takes place in a Jamestown loyalist tavern, and in a few short clear paragraphs, he gives the argument for why fighting against the crown was legitimate. Wilson also considers the two contradictory sorts of revolution sought on the same American side. I especially liked the argument that one need not be either a hothead extremist or a compromiser. A well-thought through position leads to confident fighting on your side, but also realizing there are honorable opponents. Many politically engaged people today need to learn this lesson.

Besides this great history lesson, it is a descriptive portrayal of military action on land and sea, and a primer on how to fight honorably, treat a lady, and choose your loyalties. Covers a lot in 120 small pages.

There is some violence. A lot of military action happens and twice it gets specific and gruesome, but only briefly. Probably best for 10-12 years old and up, given that and the issues covered above.

View all my reviews


Kicking against Goads - huh?

I preached on the conversion of Saul last Sunday.

Chris Schlect* points out the phrase, "kick against the goads" has a Greek literature reference. Prometheus was punished by Zeus for giving man fire. He was bound to a rock and an eagle tore out his liver, and every night it would grow back, and be torn out again the next day.

Prometheus does not repent, and is rebuked by Oceanus: "Thou hast not learned humility... Take me for thy teacher, and kick not against the goads, for there rules in heaven an austere monarch who is responsible to none.

Interesting to consider that the well-educated Saul could well have known this story, and that Jesus may have used it to make this point.

*Credenda/Agenda, Vol 7, No. 6, pg. 27


Faithful in Gibeon

I have a correction to make. I have several times over the years taught that Solomon was worshiping out of accord with God's Word the day before he asks for wisdom.

1 Kings 3:2-4
"Meanwhile the people sacrificed at the high places, because there was no house built for the name of the LORD until those days. 3 And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places. 4 Now the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place: Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar."

Well, it turns out that the tabernacle was there (see earlier post on Joshua 9), so it made sense to worship God there. David had established worship there, so it seems it was the approved place at the time.

So I've had this wrong, I think. What's tricky is how other passages (even 1 Kings 3:1!) show Solomon compromising. But in this matter, Solomon was right where he was supposed to be.

Set THAT down, and drink THIS

2 Peter 3:8-9
"But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

Jesus means for this Table to bring us to repentance. He patiently waits for thousands of years, for the world to come to repentance. This is not stalling for time, like He is scrambling trying to keep His promise against such an evil world. God has no power struggle with the world at all. Men either come to Him in repentance or they don’t. This Table is meant to bring about repentance. We celebrate this Lord’s Supper every week, and every week we are to do so in a worthy manner, not clinging to any sin, but confessing. Resolving conflicts weekly, putting besetting sins away weekly.

The woman at the well put down her water jar and went to tell her town about Jesus. You are now at the well. You have experienced the convicting and forgiving power of Christ. It is time to set your sins down, and go tell your town about Him. But first, let us drink of the living water, turned to the wine of joy.


Confessing together

Our order of worship is meant to include all the many facets of our relationship with God. Adoring worship, reading the Bible, praying to God, times of silent meditation. And at this point, repentance and broken-heartedness over our sin. Corporate worship where we all do these things together, needs to be mindful of one another. When we are alone and repenting, we may sob, shout, cry and take a long time crying out to God.

In this corporate worship service, we don’t do the same individual things only all in the same room. We can’t call up intense emotions on the spot, and we don’t need to. This doesn’t mean we aren’t turning to God with all our heart, fasting and weeping. It means we can’t all be emotional at the same time together. This has the illusion of looking cold and formal, but what’s really going on is that we are trying to repent and worship together as the church, not just individuals who happen to be in the same room. That said, repentance before God does need to be heart-rending, not outward only. We say words and go through motions of repenting every week, and every week you are here you do this with us. But it is up you to rend your heart and grieve for your sins. This morning we will take a moment of silent confession first, and then sing our prayer of confession from Psalter 51 D.