Free Berkhof

Here is a GREAT resource for aspiring apologists, and reference for any theological question:

Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology, unabridged, online, free.

Justin Taylor explains, at the link, and below:

Berkhof (1873-1957) was born in the Netherlands, and his family moved to Grand Rapids when he was 9.
After graduating from Calvin Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary, he returned to Calvin and joined the faculty. For the first two decades he taught biblical studies, and then for almost two decades after that he taught systematic theology. He also became president of the seminary in 1931 and continued so until his retirement in 1944.
His Systematic Theology was published in 1932 and revised in 1938.
Wayne Grudem has said Berkhof’s Systematic Theology is “a great treasure-house of information and analysis . . . probably the most useful . . . systematic theology available from any theological perspective.” Richard Muller calls it “the best modern English-language introduction to doctrinal theology of the Reformed tradition.”
It tends a bit toward proof-texting‚ which is not to say that Scripture is regularly misused but that he does not generally show his exegetical work. Further, the book is not very original or creative. In many ways, it is an English summary of Bavinck and a compendium of mainstream Reformed theology.
But having read every word of this influential work, I have no hesitation in warmly commending it as one of the most useful ways to get an excellent summary of virtually all areas of systematic theology.

Are You Okay Being Ridiculed?

Nice article by Toby Sumpter here:

Are you practicing being ashamed for doing the right thing?


"I see piles of Christians practicing for compromise. They put their tails between their legs and cower at the first signs of misunderstanding, at the first signs of difficulty, at the thought of being anything less than hip and trendy.

"I know that there is a deep swath of mindless, God-bless-America-Republican-Christians all over this country. They punch their tickets and vote the (R) line on their ballots like sheep led to the slaughter. I lived in South Carolina for two years, and they just reelected Mark Sanford. Sweet Fancy Moses. I know there are others on the right: the obsessive political Facebooking, email forwarding, conspiracy theorizing, let’s-nuke-em Tea Party fanatics. And I confess that their gun rallies still rub me the wrong way, though I have good friends who participate. I have a really hard time imagining Jesus recommending that His disciples join the Zealots in their protest of Roman tyranny. Though we should remember that Simon was a Zealot and one of the twelve. Jesus wasn’t ashamed. At the same time, I also cringe at the arrogance of some who mock the Tea Party gun hoarders while mincing about in their hipster dress ups, listening to the latest indie band...

"The love of God always touches down, it always takes up residence in stuff, in people, in things. It eats food, wears clothes, takes a wife, bears children, has neighbors.... It doesn’t give you a new appreciation for Quentin Tarantino movies. It doesn’t make you want to buy black rimmed glasses. It doesn’t give you gluten paranoia. It doesn’t drive you to stock pile weapons in your basement.

"It takes no courage to blend into a different crowd, to put on a different uniform, to seek justification from a new set of authorities....

"How will you practice not being ashamed? How will you practice joyful courage? What are you standing against? Who are you sharing the gospel with? How are you sacrificing for the sake of the poor? Who are you giving time and energy to, hoping for nothing in return? What enemy are you loving and praying for? How are you talking to your wife?

"The bottom line is: love Jesus and love your neighbor and refuse to be ashamed of anything. But it’s easy to say it and impossible to do it apart from the blood of Jesus making us completely free."


A Post-Jabez Question

1 Chronicles 4:17-18 has me stumped.

"these were the sons of Bithiah the daughter of Pharaoh, whom Mered took."

Mered, from the tribe of Judah, married the daughter of Pharaoh? It seems to be well after the exodus.
Best I can figure Judah rose to enough prominence to warrant a political alliance with Egypt.

Is there a better answer?

Wrongly Dividing?

I came across an online conversation recently about the movie “Divided.”  (See here for a review.)
It documents the dangers of age-segregrated church programs like youth groups.

Here’s my brief take on the issue (not really the movie itself).

There’s a lot of goofiness, immaturity and unfaithfulness in church youth groups, but I am not convinced that simply separating out young people for a meeting is wrong. It is often done badly, but parents need the church to help raise children. Especially as young people grow into their teens, they need an “older brother” mentor to emulate, besides their parents. They are naturally looking beyond their family to consider their place in the world. Parents should be on the lookout for mature possible mentors for their teens, and cultivate such relationships. Young people need to see peers wrestle with the same questions they have, and be led together to good answers by parents or pastors. The trick to make a good group is for parents to remain involved, not abdicating, not relying on “fun” to disciple their kids, and making sure the influence of friends and the group generally is positive.


My Church Needs to Change. What Do I Do?

This is a really helpful article on what to do when you disagree with your church leadership.

By Kevin DeYoung

Participating, Partaking, Communing

1 Corinthians 10:16-17
"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread."

I usually say the same words right before we eat the bread and drink the wine. They turn the rhetorical questions in 1 Cor 10 into statements. The bread and wine are a communion in the body of Christ. Communion is what we usually call this part of the service. It’s become a churchy word. It also means sharing together, a participation, a being together. When we eat and drink in faith, we are truly sharing in the life of Jesus, being with Him, sharing the benefits of His death for us and His resurrected and ascended glory now. So this sacrament is a means of grace, or a means of deliverance. Here we find one of our earthly means of deliverance God has ordained to draw us to Him.


Confession, Clemency, Comfort

Genesis 50:15-21
"When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.” 16 So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, 17 ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.” ’ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 
18 Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 
19 Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. 21 Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them."

After Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers were vulnerable to the dreamer they had persecuted. And they humble themselves before Joseph, seeking forgiveness. They know all the evil they did to him. Part of real repentance is really feeling the evil-ness of what you did.

Joseph comforts them with a deep truth. When we do wrong, God can bring good out of it. He saves Egypt by getting Joseph there through His wicked brothers. He saves Paul by getting him to Rome, through the accusations and conspiracies of the Jews. He saves you by getting Jesus to the cross through the envy of the Jewish leaders.

So should we continue in sin, that good and grace may abound? No way! We should take comfort that God in His mercy often gives clemency from consequences. Children need training with consequences, but if we only ever obey to avoid bad consequences, we really aren’t learning love.

Let us take comfort, and confess selfishness that can lurk behind surface-level politeness and obedience.


Prodigal parable pointers

Reading the Prodigal Son parable this morning, and Thomas Schreiner’s article on it in Tabletalk magazine (Dec 2012, pg. 7-9), I was reminded of a few things, and learned something new.

The reminders:
1. Jesus often taught by telling stories, painting characters that reflected His audience in various ways.

2. I remain thoroughly unconvinced of the idea that parables were to tell only one point, and to avoid drawing more than one conclusion from them. Jesus tells this story with both “sinners” and self-righteous present, both prodigal and older brothers. The sinners are affirmed that they receive mercy from God even if others around won’t give it to them. At the same time, the older brother is rebuked for not extending mercy where God does.  It is true that you can’t draw out theological inferences, like the nature of the afterlife from Dives and Lazarus. In this parable, we do not get a theological basis for the father’s forgiveness of the son. But there are usually as many different applications as there are main characters in a parable.

3. The older brother was trying to maintain the custom that the younger son was really dead to the family, having left the faith. He tells his father, "He might be your son, but he isn’t my brother" (Luke 15:30). The father and older son are now at odds, because the father asserts that the prodigal returned is indeed “your brother” (Luke 15:33).

Something new:

Jesus places Himself in the story as the forgiving Father, given the context of where and when He tells the story (Luke 15:1-2). Sinners are coming to HIM - to Jesus, and the Pharisees don’t like it. So He tells a story about sinners coming to a forgiving Father, and the older brother doesn’t like it.  This fits with other Gospel stories where Jesus tells the sick that their sins are forgiven, and the Pharisees overhear and are scandalized. Embedded in this famous story is another assertion by Jesus that He is God's Messiah, prophet, and representative. We must come to Jesus for God's mercy.


A Classroom is not the Problem

This is for my zealous-to-home-school friends. Not to temper your enthusiasm, but to avoid demonizing another legitimate method of education, and to recognize benefits that your method can miss out on.

"organization in community is a mark of good discipline, not a mark of capitulation to Enlightenment categories. I have seen a goodly amount of recent chatter that equates any kind of age-segregated classroom learning with the Prussian model of education, where we make all the little children sit in straight-line rows, so that they can be made to sit still while our robotic educative arm pours knowledge into their wee heads. And seriously, the Prussians were pretty bad, while the early American education johnnies who wanted to be like them were really bad too. But God's covenant people have had classrooms since the Jews established their first schools after the Babylonian exile, and Jesus graduated from Nazareth High. Every synagogue had as one of its officers a schoolmaster --a chazzan (Luke 4:20)-- and for all these many centuries all of these covenant folks had only a passing knowledge of things Prussian...."

"There is a macro-lesson underneath all the other lessons when it comes to working inside the framework of an established school. That macro-lesson is that life is not all about you."

A good tool, used wrongly

When the church recovered the works of Aristotle in the 1100s there was a sorting out process. One of the dangers was an over-reliance on the good and needed tool of logic to deduce truth.

"The danger of Aristotle was in his method. It was bad enough that several of his conclusions contradicted revealed theology, but the problem went deeper than that. Because he had tried to generate results deductively, Aristotle made them seem logically necessary. His admirers did not just claim that he was right; they said he had to be right. God himself was bound by what Aristotle thought because medieval theologians agreed that, though omnipotent, even the Deity could not defy logic. But in reality, most of Aristotle's natural philosophy was wrong."

James Hannam, "Modern Science's Christian Sources," First Things, Oct 2011, 49-50

What We Tell Each Other

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
"Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

This is a table of love. To partake rightly of this feast there must be love in our hearts toward God and toward His people. God has been patient, kind and long-suffering with us in Christ. We must be so with one another. We put away with petty squabbles and grievances with that person in the church who irritates us. We repent to the one we have hurt. We forgive quickly, looking to Jesus who forgives more in ourselves. Love keeps no record of wrongs, doesn’t retaliate with rudeness, seeking its own, is not provoked and thinking always about how they’ve hurt you, telling others about it.

We have other things to tell to one another. How the Lord has worked in our life to glorify Himself and show us His glory. How He teach and grow us through the trials and joys of life. As the Psalm says, the Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad.


Impatience. Then Trust

Genesis 16:1-5
"Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. 3 Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. 4 So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The LORD judge between you and me.”

We see much to confess in this story. God had promised Abraham a son to inherit his estate and God’s promises. But none had come. Sarah decides they should take things into their own hands. She is impatient, and so does not do what God said.

She draws Abraham into this sin, and then hypocritically puts the blame on him when it goes sour.

Abraham learns his lesson. Later he is willing to give up his son to God, knowing he will receive Isaac back even raised from the dead so God can keep his promise. At first, Abraham thinks God needs his help to bring the promise to fruition. At the end, he knows that even death won’t stop God’s promise.


To Hell with the Devil and His Destructive Lies

I talked a bit about hatred for sin this past Sunday, and this couple paragraphs on prayer and legalism from John Piper fits right in:

"But the hard truth is that most Christians don’t pray very much. They pray at meals—unless they’re still stuck in the adolescent stage of calling good habits legalism. They whisper prayers before tough meetings. They say something brief as they crawl into bed. But very few set aside set times to pray alone—and fewer still think it is worth it to meet with others to pray. And we wonder why our faith is weak. And our hope is feeble. And our passion for Christ is small.

The Duty of Prayer

"And meanwhile the devil is whispering all over this room: “The pastor is getting legalistic now. He’s starting to use guilt now. He’s getting out the law now.” To which I say, “To hell with the devil and all of his destructive lies. Be free!” Is it true that intentional, regular, disciplined, earnest, Christ-dependent, God-glorifying, joyful prayer is a duty? Do I go to pray with many of you on Tuesday at 6:30 a.m., and Wednesday at 5:45 p.m., and Friday at 6:30 a.m., and Saturday at 4:45 p.m., and Sunday at 8:15 a.m. out of duty? Is it a discipline?
"You can call it that. It’s a duty the way it’s the duty of a scuba diver to put on his air tank before he goes underwater. It’s a duty the way pilots listen to air traffic controllers. It’s a duty the way soldiers in combat clean their rifles and load their guns. It’s a duty the way hungry people eat food. It’s a duty the way thirsty people drink water. It’s a duty the way a deaf man puts in his hearing aid. It’s a duty the way a diabetic takes his insulin. It’s a duty the way Pooh Bear looks for honey. It’s a duty the way pirates look for gold.

Means of Grace: Gift of God

"I hate the devil, and the way he is killing some of you by persuading you it is legalistic to be as regular in your prayers as you are in your eating and sleeping and Internet use. Do you not see what a sucker he his making out of you? He is laughing up his sleeve at how easy it is to deceive Christians about the importance of prayer.
"God has given us means of grace. If we do not use them to their fullest advantage, our complaints against him will not stick. If we don’t eat, we starve. If we don’t drink, we get dehydrated. If we don’t exercise a muscle, it atrophies. If we don’t breathe, we suffocate. And just as there are physical means of life, there are spiritual means of grace."

Chuck Baldwin on Romans 13

A while ago I came across this video series of talks on Romans 13 by Chuck Baldwin.

Here is a brief review.

Positively, I appreciate Baldwin's zeal for liberty and an honest government. Baldwin asserts God does not demand unlimited and absolute submission to earthly gov’t. This is very true. There is a moral law above laws of government. Christians ought not blindly take their cues for morality from what the political government legislates. Earthly government has a limited jurisdiction.

Verse one of Romans 13 calls us to submit to the governing authorities, or the "higher power," as the KJV has it. Baldwin reminds us that God is the highest power, which is true, but his qualification hints that we can nullify our obligation to submit to the earthly authorities, which Paul meant in the first place.

We don’t have to submit, just because the government is more powerful than us, Baldwin says. True, but we do have to submit to an established government. Government is not just power, it is an order set by God and by the society. That doesn't mean we have to obey any existing law or government, regardless of its injustice, as Baldwin implies of his critics. He has a strawman argument here: if you argue for more submission to government than Baldwin allows, you must advocate unlimited submission to de facto power. Wrong. I believe there is a time to resist government's authority, but Baldwin has a hair trigger on resistance, instead of patience and working against injustice within the law.

This seems to be an on-off switch, instead of a dimmer switch, for Baldwin. If the law is unjust at all, do not obey it. If the government is dishonest at all, it is not legitimate. This asks for virtual perfection, before we need to submit. It is a recipe for anarchy, honestly. He refers to Hebrews 13:17-18: submit to church leaders. Paul then says he has a clear conscience. So Baldwin infers erroneously that we only need to submit to those with a clear conscience.

Baldwin asserts the people have a right and duty to change or replace their government when it is disobedient. But the government is always disobedient, made up of sinful men. When does it get bad enough to take up arms? It seems he is saying at the first infraction we resist and take up arms. But he doesn’t get into this in the details. This must be answered convincingly if he wants to gain traction with more folks.

Baldwin makes several errors or false inferences like this.
He says Paul spent a lot of time in jail for resisting the civil authority.
Wrong: Paul was arrested when the Jews or others rioted.

He says every martyr was killed by a government hostile to the faith.
Wrong. Many are killed by vigilantes, not the government itself.

Prov 24:24 - "He who says to the wicked, “You are righteous,” him the people will curse." This is given as an observation of what will happen, but Baldwin makes it a moral obligation on us, literally screaming that we should curse the government that calls evil good. This violates Exodus 22:28; Ecclesiastes 10:20; Acts 23:5.

He reads politics into Scripture when it isn't there. Salt losing its savor is good for nothing but to be trodden underfoot, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:13). Baldwin says this refers to political tyranny, but the point is that it is useless - you are no longer doing what God meant you to do: bear witness to Him.

This gets at a lack of political perspective in Christian discipleship. I agree tyrannical government is a moral evil, but keep this in perspective. Paul counseled slaves to be content if they couldn’t gain their freedom – to live as Christians without political liberty, literally personally enslaved (1 Corinthians 7:20-24). There is a bias toward liberty, but not a grasping after it at all costs, not a rage against bondage which I see in Baldwin.

There are also examples of extreme and unhelpful rhetoric. He says things like:
- Some pastors think the founders were not right to rebel vs Britain, appealing to Rom 13. They don't have a right to celebrate July 4 or speak well of our country, Baldwin says. I disagree. Many thoughtful people today are uncertain if the War for Independence was legitimate before God. They can love our country now, without having their patriotism questioned. Baldwin implies that if you have a king or less political freedom than you should, that you're a spineless wimp and a rebel yourself. This is historically provincial.
- Locke advocates destroying unjust government like you kill a tiger or a lion. Baldwin quotes this very sympathetically.

I would advise those seeking wisdom on how to relate to a government that is less and less Christian and just, to look elsewhere than Chuck Baldwin. This would be a good start.


Review: The Fractured Church

The Fractured Church
The Fractured Church by Bill Sizemore

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sizemore argues passionately for unity in the church. The presence of denominations violates God’s command to be of one mind and think the same thing” (Phil. 2:2). I was a little slow to realize it, but this is the case for the non-denominational church. The author calls at the end for the dissolution of denominations. Pray for unity, for specific churches you go past. Don’t describe yourself as anything but mere Christian. Pray and worship together locally, not as competitors. Repent of divisions caused by the presence of denominations.

Fractured Church has many strengths. His description of what can be accomplished through unity, using the tower of Babel, is compelling. He gets across the “not how it’s supposed to be” of denominations. That there is no recognized authority in the broader church; there is a denomination for every opinion (pg. 117). He gives a good summary overview of basic divisions since the Reformation (pg. 137-40).
He passes on to us Francis Schaeffer’s challenge: Unity must be visible, not only spiritual. He points out the hindrance disunity is to evangelism on pg. 260: “we fail in our outreach to our city to the extent to which we are not connected to all of the other believers in our city.” The chapter on Rome was very good. The ideal of having elders appointed for every city, one leadership group for a local area, is a good one. His optimism that the church will mature into unity before Christ returns is attractive.

But there are many questions.

Sizemore says the whole church has to decide together controversial issues. This is his basic solution – conciliarism. Get a church council together. I agree, but how? Who will call the meeting to which every Christian group will come? Would the author himself come to a meeting summoned by a leader who is part of a denomination? By the pope? It seems doubtful, based on other comments he makes. He asserts that decision by majority at ecumenical council was adequate, for the first 500 years of the church. This is partly true, although the Arians kept disputing and dividing the church throughout those councils. A church council is no guarantee of real unity. Such a claim finds Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy attractive for its organizational unity through the magisterium.

Sizemore asserts that the mere existence of denominations is sin. “Divisions other than on a city basis were unheard of” in the early church (pg. 306). “A denomination is a division…. if a doctrine or name separates one group of believers from other Christians in the same area, it is a prohibited division” (253). Not just having a sectarian spirit, but their mere presence violates Scripture, he claims. It seems to me that denominations are a stop gap measure to deal with our differing interpretations of Scripture. Are they really dividing Christ? Many issues are deal-breakers: the ordination of women to ruling office, the acceptance of homosexual behavior. Shall we shrug and say that whatever our leaders decide is fine, on such things? We need a way to operate as the church with differing views. It is naïve to simply expect people to change their convictions to conform to the consensus. He confuses accepting our historical inability to unite, with willful rejection of /trying/ to unite. He confuses personal offense a la Matthew 18 with denominational differences (pg. 178). He assumes that denominations create divisive doctrine, but they simply summarize their interpretation of Scripture.

Naiveté is the downfall of Sizemore’s thesis. He says that since the early church got through disagreements without dividing (Acts 6 and 15), we could hold a council today to decide issues dividing us. We would have to choose humble, not proud men, but they could bring unity. I also find it naïve to consider one city church deeply connected. We cannot be complete without being connected” (pg. 309). How much of a connection must we have to satisfy Sizemore? There are limits to how many people we can meet with and know. It seems insufficient for pastors to meet with other pastors regularly, but it is naïve to dissolve all denominations and have one church in the city.

There is much inconsistency at play. He admits that the division at the Reformation was necessary (pg. 110). But following his thesis, Luther would have submitted to Rome, not continued a church apart from Rome! He says we must stop arguing about secondary issues, but also gives hinted arguments for things like the continuing office of apostle or believer’s baptism. He claims we should stay neutral until the whole church can decide, but can’t resist implying that adult rebaptism by the Anabaptist reformers was a continued reformation (many like me would see it as a novel departure from the church’s practice). Can we say nothing if all do not agree? He contradicts this by arguing positions others disagree with. He questions Augustine’s adage “in non-essentials liberty.” Only the whole church can say what the non-essentials are! But the whole church has, in the creeds. Also, we must speak on election and baptism, and other things found in Scripture; must we remain agnostic and silent if all do not agree about them? We have to DO things about which we disagree. What if the city church will not baptize my baby? Who decides what the communion service will look like, and what will be said about Communion? Do we take turns doing it the Baptist way one week and the Catholic way the next? Sizemore makes a clear distinction between essentials and non-essentials, which is good. But many non-essentials must be decided and resolved if we are to proceed to worship, send missionaries, translate a Bible, serve the poor, etc. Why not let differing groups with differing opinions proceed, instead of forcing an artificial unanimity?

Other weaknesses of the book:
- the author falls for the “Dark Ages” view of history. That the strength of the church faded from Ascension to 600 AD. Development of church government was corrupt. Constantine was a bad development, leading to nominalism and syncretism. The church was corrupt and ignorant until the Reformation.
- Sizemore is fundamentally anti-institutional: we should follow the Spirit, and not set up camp (institutions) that will resist the Spirit’s next move. But the Spirit organizes and plans, too, He doesn’t just send down fire for initial revival. The abuse of a thing (institutions corrupted) does not argue against their use or existence.
- Everyone goes to the church they agree with most. Is this inherent pride and sin? NO.
- Is it each individual’s fault that the whole church is not unified? NO
- An undiscerning view that all revivals are good, though he realizes that emotion is insufficient.

Sizemore exhorts us to not ask if it’s possible, but ask if it’s biblical. If it’s biblical it’s inevitable. In one sense I agree with him that denominations are not the way the church is supposed to be. But maturity cannot be forced through immediate and drastic action. Let us befriend and forge deep fellowship with Christians of a variety of persuasions, rather than condemn denominations. Let us practice speaking civilly to those with whom we disagree. The church IS fractured. Let us take baby steps to address it in our own backyard, before shooting for the moon.

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Review: The Lost Clue

The Lost Clue
The Lost Clue by Amy Catherine Walton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Decent story of a man with integrity who falls on hard times, but maintains his integrity and service to others, though it costs him much.

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From Rivals to Relatives

Ephesians 4:17-24
"This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. 
20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness."

Here at this table we put away rivalry and re-enter relationship. We surrender our hostility against God, our sins against Him. And we take up the cup of joy. We can’t hold on to our rivalry and rebellion and have fellowship with Jesus. Our hand has to hold this cup – the wine of relationship and communion. Or the cup we come with, of rivalry against God in our selfishness. Put away the sinful man Adam as you take on the new man Jesus. Peace with Jesus is not easy. Self-seeking rivalry keeps reasserting itself against Him in each of us. But it is worth pursuing, worth taking the trouble for, and that’s an understatement. Jesus Himself tells us, we will receive a hundredfold for all we have given up for Him in this life. This cup is a tiny token of that coming reward.


Come Prepared

When God called Abram to Canaan, praise waited for God in Zion. The first thing Abram did when he got to Canaan was set up an altar to worship and praise God. This is extremely important. Our response to God’s sovereign choosing to bless and commission us, is faith and worship. Abram puts a stake in the ground, an Ebenezer, between Bethel and Ai. Thus far God has helped us. When we come to worship God, we come prepared to confess our sins, to hear God speak, to take vows and profess our faith once again. We are children of Abram, following his faith in God, claiming God’s blessing by worshiping Him.


On Fellowship

"This word identification needs to be developed further. The Greek word koinonia is usually translated as fellowship, which is good enough, but over time the word has lost some of its texture and depth for us in the modern church. We moderns think that fellowship is the “coffee and donut time” after the main service, where we all chat each other up a bit, and then head out for the parking lot. But the word koinonia involves much more than just being friendly for twenty minutes once a week. The word, as it is used of Christians in the New Testament, involves communion, identification, union, reciprocity, and inter-dwelling. As Christians we are called to eat together, and talk, and give, and sacrifice, precisely because we are members of one another.

"God does not point to a bunch of people over there, and say, “See? Those people think similarly to you. Be nice and polite to them once a week.” Rather, He brings us all together so that we become one people. We indwell one another. We exchange life. We are members of one body. When one part of the body hurts, the entire body hurts."

The Point of Levitical Laws; on Food

Many Christians debate the meaning and point of the unclean food laws in Leviticus.
The Bible is clear about their purpose in Leviticus 20:24-26:

"I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25 You shall therefore distinguish between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. 26 And you shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine."

Notice the "therefore" at the beginning of verse 25. This makes the connection explicit. God wanted Israel to distinguish clean from unclean animals because he called a people out of an unclean humanity and cleansed them.

The notion that they were given for hygienic reasons has made quite a comeback recently, but there is no biblical basis to the idea. In fact, asserting that position you'll wind up arguing against Jesus Himself, in Mark 7:18-19:

"whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?”

Jesus was dealing with Pharisees who invested extra-Biblical food choices with religious and pietistic meaning. Using the same principle, I apply this to the organic and natural food craze today. Just because food is processed or preserved doesn't make it unbiblical or even unhealthy. I'm not arguing for poor nutritional choices, or saying that every "all-natural and organic" person is Pharisaical. But I am arguing against the censorious and conspiratorial attitude that people who eat processed food need to "unplug from the matrix" and start treating their body as the temple of the Spirit.

For further reading, try this.

On Love and Hate

Kevin deYoung, on loving your enemies.

Taxes; giving and receiving honor with humility

Some rather random reading notes:

In 1 Samuel 8:10-17, Samuel warns Israel that if they have a king, he will take their children as his servants, he will take their best produce,  "he will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves."

This is one of the clearest guidelines I've seen in Scripture for a government income tax rate. A king would do the outrageous thing of taxing the people as much as GOD does - a whole TENTH of your income! It's insane! We've grown far too accustomed to confiscatory tax rates above 10%, that really result in servitude. Whatever the government can't do without that much revenue, the constitution probably doesn't enumerate as its responsibility anyway.

Later, in chapter 9, Samuel gives Saul the choice piece of the sacrifice. This is not a contradiction with 8:17. We should honor the leaders that God anoints over us in ways like this. Fancy state dinners are not inappropriate, though Nehemiah was also wise not to use the huge budget he inherited (Neh 5:14-18).

In 1 Samuel 12:11 Samuel puts himself on par with Gideon and Barak! He knew his place in God's story and neither exaggerated it, nor diminished it incorrectly out of a false humility.


The Nones

Great article from Imprimis.

"Obama ran a values campaign last fall that gambled that the Nones (no religious affiliation) would cast the decisive votes. For the first time in American political history, the winning party deliberately attacked religion."

Reno shows how our culture is questioning why religious liberty should win out over discrimination, as defined by the secular. Yet he is also optimistic that religion endures beyond political privilege and power. The Jews outlasted the Third Reich.

"The same holds for Christianity. The Church did not need constitutional protections in order to take root in a hostile pagan culture two thousand years ago."


Review: The Eagle of the Ninth

The Eagle of the Ninth
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sutcliff wrote back in the 1950's, and makes classical history come alive for young readers.

Set in early 2nd century Roman Britain, an injury forces the young centurion Marcus to retire. But he finds a calling seeking to recover a lost Roman standard Eagle from northern Celtic tribes where it was lost.

The author uses simple literary devices without being too clunky, teaching young readers how such things work. One of the themes is treating others with respect and freedom, no matter the cultural differences at play.

Recommended reading for the 12-15 age range.

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God Still Wants the Same Thing from You

Exodus 24:1-11
"Now He said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar. 2 And Moses alone shall come near the LORD, but they shall not come near; nor shall the people go up with him.” 
3 So Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the LORD has said we will do.” 4 And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. 6 And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.” 8 And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.”
9 Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. 11 But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank."

Our covenant relationship with God is similar but better than what we read here in Exodus. It is not only a select few leaders who get to approach God, but every one of us. We do not worship from afar, we are brought near. We hear God’s words and commit to do them. But we already have a sacrifice provided to make up for our failure to obey. Christ’s blood is sprinkled on us not in resolution to obey, but as protection from punishment.

Yet He is the same God of Moses. We remain in covenant with Him through blood. God still wants His people near Him, to dwell with Him. He wants us to see Him, and to eat and drink before Him. This cup is the new covenant in Christ’s blood. It accomplishes God’s purpose to save, redeem, protect, and provide for you.


Consider your ways

Job 31
    1“I have made a covenant with my eyes; 
          Why then should I look upon a young woman? 
    4Does He not see my ways, 
          And count all my steps?
    5      “If I have walked with falsehood, 
          Or if my foot has hastened to deceit, 
    8 Then let me sow, and another eat; 
          Yes, let my harvest be rooted out. 
    13“If I have despised the cause of my male or female servant 
          When they complained against me, 
    14      What then shall I do when God rises up? 
          When He punishes, how shall I answer Him? 
    21If I have raised my hand against the fatherless, 
          When I saw I had help in the gate; 
    22      Then let my arm fall from my shoulder, 
          Let my arm be torn from the socket. 
    24“If I have made gold my hope, 
          Or said to fine gold, ‘You are my confidence’; 
    25      If I have rejoiced because my wealth was great, 
          And because my hand had gained much; 
    29“If I have rejoiced at the destruction of him who hated me, 
          Or lifted myself up when evil found him 
    33      If I have covered my transgressions as Adam, 
          By hiding my iniquity in my bosom, 
    38      “If my land cries out against me, 
          And its furrows weep together; 
    39      If I have eaten its fruit without money, 
          Or caused its owners to lose their lives; 
    40      Then let thistles grow instead of wheat, 
          And weeds instead of barley.” 

This is Job’s last speech where he maintains his righteousness. It is quite a soul-searcher, and so excellent to consider as we confess our sins. Have you looked on a woman in lust? Spoken lies or sought to deceive? Not been fair to those you could take advantage of? Held back from the poor? Chased away those who needed love? Made your money your assurance of good to come? Been happy to see one hurt who you dislike? Wronged people in land deals? Hurt the land itself? Tried to squeeze every drop of gain from people and assets while giving them little to nothing? Hiding any of this from others and from God, like Adam did? God sees all your ways and counts all your steps and every movement of your heart, towards Him or away from Him.


Review: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness
The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a booklet barely 40 pages long, Keller explains 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7 and tackles pride, ego, despair, self-esteem and the condemnation of others and ourselves.

The more I read Keller the more I see a standard format that I like: not A, and not B, but C. Where the world falls into one ditch or the other, he shows the Way.

Here, the two ditches are low self-esteem and high self-esteem. Traditional cultures have dealt with guilt and explained sin by pointing to pride. We think too highly of ourselves and so misbehave. Modern culture deals with guilt and explains sin by pointing to low self-esteem: we think too lowly of ourselves and so misbehave!

Keller says, looking to 1 Corinthians 3-4, neither is right. Not even our own clear conscience justifies us. Instead of looking to ourselves for a guilty or innocent verdict, we look to Jesus Christ who has already brought us a verdict of innocent.

So we are free to forget ourselves. This is the great insight of this booklet. We are free from judging ourselves all the time. Our ego is busy, always comparing us to someone else and concluding that we fall short or that we are better. This falls into the ditch either way. Instead we should look to Christ's performance for our judgment and work for him.

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Review: Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work by Timothy Keller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent book. Solid four and a half stars.

Classic Keller: translating a Reformed and Biblical worldview to communicate winsomely to the secularized person today.

Keller considers the nature of work, how sin messes up work, and how the Gospel of Jesus Christ relates to work. Here are some highlights:

The doctrine of common grace brings a great deal of freedom to our work. Christians often feel false guilt for not creating an explicitly Christian product or service in their work. Non-Christians can be genuine co-workers, because they are pursuing God-honoring work.

Vocation: Christians too often disconnect their work from God. Drawing on Luther's thoughts on vocation, our work is service to God, and His provision for our fellow man. Our work is one way we love our neighbor, providing him a product or service he needs.

Hope in our work: using Tolkien's "Leaf, by Niggle," story, we remember the incompleteness of our work, but also that God honors and completes us and our work at the last day.

I read this for a sermon on work and wealth, and was thankful to Richard for loaning it to me!

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Israel’s conquest of Canaan backfired after the first generation or two. The conquerors became the conquered. Israel’s adulterous idolatry led to weakness and being oppressed as a nation. We see it reflected in the judges who save them. Othniel and other judges had the Spirit of the Lord, but they were also a mixed bag of foolish vows (Jephthah), cowardice in going to battle (Barak and Gideon), cruel ambition (Abimelech), and selfish lust (Samson). God usually gives a people leaders who are like them.

This shows God’s grace to us. Even though we deserve conquest and annihilation as a nation and as individuals, God preserves us. It is not wrong to fight for preservation. But we too often strive for a greatness we’ve grown accustomed to, and act like we should be great again, no matter how much innocent blood we’ve shed.

This teaches us humility. God took Israel through a low time of being occupied, plundered and otherwise oppressed. But the key word is “through.” God will not abandon His people, but He may teach them humility when their ambition outstrips their obedience.


Living in Vanity Fair - Book of Judges

God had warned Israel as they entered and conquered Canaan, that they should not leave any survivors, that they should burn and destroy every vestige of pagan idols and religion. Else they would be tempted to worship those gods and leave their loyalty to their Lord.

This is exactly what happened.

Israel gave up fighting. They settled next to them, instead of driving them out and destroying their pagan altars, as God had said. So eventually they were worshiping their gods with them (Judges 1:27-2:13). God judges them with political, economic and military servitude (2:14-15). Even when He saved them from that servitude through the judges, they remained in their idolatry (2:16-3:4). Finally, the Israelites were willing to intermarry their children with the pagans (3:5-6). We live among them. We’ve become friends with them. We worship with them. Why discriminate again? Isn’t that racial prejudice? Giving up the fight against sin, growing comfort with the presence of idolatry around them had led to personal sin. Growing comfort with that personal sin then led to encouraging and endorsing their children to marry into pagan families that did not follow the Lord.

This is a picture of our spiritual warfare today. Even as God judges our ever more corrupt culture with political and economic servitude to foreigners, the church has grown complacent about the sin around and within. Have we given up fighting it? How do we live among and with unbelievers without tolerating godlessness, or implying by our silence or inaction that it is okay? How have we personally violated God’s Word to accommodate the situation? And how is that encouraging others (children, friends, etc.) to also compromise?

Let’s take the recent push for further acceptance of homosexuality in our culture.
We are unable to drive out this acceptance, at this point in our culture. (I’ll leave for another time whose responsibility that is.) This will lead to idols set before us, to which we are expected to bow the knee. There will be opportunities to compromise and sin personally, and lead our families that way. And there will be opportunities to shine the light of Christ for the lost to see.

That double edged-sword is always there where God’s people are called to live next to the ungodly. And living among unbelievers is not always a result of sinful compromise. “If only we were more faithful there would be no unbelievers!” This is not God’s plan, as the parable of the wheat and weeds reminds us. God means for us to be salt and light IN a rotting and dark world.

So take the warning: you can lose your saltiness and energy living in that world, like Israel did in Canaan.

Or you can bring others to the light.


Review: Tuesdays at the Castle

Tuesdays at the Castle
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A new author for me, but in the same youth fantasy genre.

An imaginative premise, with a castle that is alive and conscious.
Two sisters and one brother, caught up in castle politics, their parents assassinated, or kidnapped.

The plot line was one-dimensional, with conniving politics, which is too complex or subtle for the younger set (below 7-9 years old, maybe). There isn't much in the way of subplots to add variety. Not much character development. Dialogue writing was mediocre, I thought.

The strengths of the book are showing kids sticking together and working together, using their strengths where they are needed most, not giving up hope or courage in adversity.

A+ in moral content, but C- in quality of writing.

I have a vague speculation that the author is Mormon, based on her school and residence, and the overall moral "tameness" of the story. There is moral clarity regarding the magic present in the book, which is good.

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Epiphany for the Down and Out

Genesis 25:5-6
"And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. 6 But Abraham gave gifts to the sons of the concubines which Abraham had; and while he was still living he sent them eastward, away from Isaac his son, to the country of the east."

Abraham sends his other sons to the east with gifts. In Matthew 2, Magi come FROM the east bearing gifts for the seed of Abraham. The circle is complete. Those sent away, outside the covenant family, are again brought near. They are willing to make the trip across the sand, for God draws them. Epiphany is a time to remember that God shines on and guides outcasts to Himself. Foreigners. Those with a past. Those rejected before. But many shall come from east and west and sit down with Abraham in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus says. And here we are. We are the Gentiles coming to the light of Christ that God promised so long ago, that many have labored for.

We are part of the flock that Jesus bought with His blood on the cross. Believe Him that He has shepherded you clear of God’s wrath for your sin. Thank Him for providing You with life and forgiveness, found in Christ Himself.


Unity in the Son, in His Body

Genesis 11:1-9

At Babel, mankind sought unity and strength apart from and against God. God rejected our efforts and scattered us. But at Pentecost He undid the Babel captivity we were in, uniting languages again. He began to bring nations together again, and encouraged unity in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. But so often, we seek unity and strength apart from Christ. We seek it in visions of a family dynasty, we seek it in one nation’s strength. But God isn’t allowing it. Who knows how a son will treat his father’s inheritance? Solomon asks. The nations are a drop in the bucket, Isaiah says. God limits every human effort at dominion not rooted in His Son. This is why federalism was a genius of our founders as they reached back to the Bible. Keep power limited and local, as long as sin reigns in the world.

But God has chosen to build His church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. His church will outlast every nation, every persecution, every passing year. Because the Spirit is within her. The Spirit and the Bride say “Come.” There is the foundation of unity for mankind. In one people, professing the name of Jesus, living for Him, worshiping Him. You won’t find lasting unity at the U.N.  Lobby groups like the NRA or the Republican party offer a fake unity around only a few issues. It is the church that will be completely holy and closely unified with the Triune God. The church is not an optional luxury if we can make it.

So as you begin a new year, tie any resolutions you make to the Lord Jesus. Take them to Him daily, and they won’t fall away so quickly. Consider your church’s role in your sancitification. Don’t take vows frivolously. Do strive for a new obedience. Seek your restoration at the manger, at the foot of the cross, at the empty tomb, and in Christ’s Spirit.


Accept His sign

Isaiah 7:10-14
Moreover the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!” 13 Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. 

Here’s your sign from God, Ahaz: a baby born to a virgin. For the shepherds, the sign was a baby in a manger. Ahaz was a faithless king, fearing other nations instead of trusting God. God gave him a baby named "God’s with us," and before the baby was old enough to know right and wrong the nation he feared would no longer be a threat. Jesus fulfills this, because He came to us as a baby, and He removes all the threats that we fear. We may not be like King Ahaz, refusing to trust God when God has already given us a sign. But we all struggle to believe the good news rung out on festive days like Christmas, that a savior is born to us. This falling back into fear of threats or works righteousness, this is sin to be confessed.


The Christian challenge to liberals and conservatives

This is a pretty helpful critique of political liberalism and conservatism from a Christian view.

As for me and my house

This is a well-known verse, a real highlight for Joshua and God's people. It shows us how to lead our families and churches and nations, with the personal example of piety and declaring what our house will do.

The conversation that follows is interesting, though, and should be considered before we start making strong statements about how things are going to be in OUR house.

Israel first agrees. Yes, we will serve the Lord, too (Joshua 24:16-18).

Joshua's reply is startling: "You can't. God is jealous and won't forgive your sins if you forsake Him (19-20). Why would he say this? The answer is found in vs 23. After more back and forth with the people insisting, "No, really, we WILL serve Yahweh," Joshua says, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you!"

Realize that when you decide to follow Jesus, when you decide to lead your family to Jesus in His Word and prayer more often, realize that there are forces already present and at work in you and your family working against that, that you will have to fight and resist. Foreign gods are present among God's people, even at the most glorious periods of our history.

Revival comes not just when we decide to fight them, or make statements against them, or pray against them together at city hall, but when we consistently, persistently put the idols away and don't go back to them.

Peace and Purity

After Israel conquered the land with Joshua leading them, they had a hard time of it to stop fighting.

Two and a half tribes went back home across the Jordan and built an altar at the Jordan. The rest of Israel got hopping mad and sent their army to destroy the two and a half tribes!

Thankfully they listened before they lashed out.

The two and a half tribes had built the altar so they could prove they belonged to Israel in future generations, not so they could worship another god. Israel gives a collective, "Oh, okay," and goes home with a sigh of relief.

Notice Israel had godly intentions in their zeal to fight even their own people. If the altar was for another god, Israel would have been right to fight (see Deuteronomy 13:6-18). But even with godly intentions and a willingness to stand courageous for the truth against any who oppose it, we must be willing to lay down our swords and live at peace with those who do things a little differently but aren't abandoning the one true God.

For a detailed consideration of this in contemporary presbyterianism, I commend John Frame's article "Machen's Warrior Children," found here.

We need to pursue purity and peace among God's people, but those aren't two separate options. If you aren't pure you don't have peace. If you have contention you aren't pure. There are times to disturb a counterfeit peace to root out impurity (Jeremiah 6:13-14). There are times to disturb a counterfeit purity (conformity around minor or surface issues), so you can have truer and deeper peace, even if it's harder. Too often the church thinks pursuing purity is always right, while pursuing peace means compromise. But often pursuing purity overmuch is schismatic, while pursuing peace at the right time brings purity along with it.

So Israel goes home saying, "Maybe we wouldn't have built an altar to make their point, but we see their motive is good, and so we bless them with peace." Let us go and do likewise with our brothers and sisters in Christ.