Thoughts on Deborah and Barak

Judges 4-5 is about deliverance from an unexpected source.

Culturally, Israel didn't expect women to lead.  Deborah is judging Israel but wants Barak to lead the army.  He won't unless she goes, too.  In other words, he makes her lead, when he should.

Judges 5:2 is the main message.  Israel needs leaders, and they need to follow their leaders.  But God can deliver even when the "first-string" leaders don't step forward.  Esther 4:14 may relate.  The rest of Judges is littered with flawed or unexpected leaders that God uses anyway.

The same theme of deliverance from an unexpected place is in the Jael section.  Somehow Sisera slips away from the army, but God can see to the downfall (or exaltation) of anyone, regardless of earthly, political or military maneuvers.  In this case, He uses Jael.  It's a great statement that God's people can "break the mold" sometimes.  A woman doesn't always have to have a "gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Peter 3:4) apparently.  Unless it's a trick to crush the bad guy!

This relates to Jesus since He is also a deliverer from an unexpected place: Galilee.  See the end of John 7.  More generally, who'd expect the savior of the world to come from obscure Israel, which was not a major player on the world political stage at any point?  Interesting that Zebulun and Naphtali are mentioned in Judges 4:10, and in Isaiah 9:1 when speaking of where Messiah will come from....

The decisive blow of Jael, and Deborah's summoning of the army in Barak's name (4:9), both point to action needed by the leader.  Philippians 2:5-11 is very relevant.  Hebrews 2:14.  Strong language: destroy.  I just read a great chapter in "Dragon's Tooth" by N.D. Wilson about this very thing (chpt 15, "An End").  The main character had to kill the bad guy, and it's described graphically - a stab to the temple, actually, now that I think of it...

The glory goes to the one who leads (Judges 4:9-10) - the one who sacrifices.  Jesus was in the position to do this, and He does it.  Leadership to a T!  Earthly leaders are really poor at this - we compromise and we waffle - which is why Judges is so compelling.


No Indispensable Nation

Doug Wilson:
"The future plans that God has for this planet do not require the United States. We are not the essential nation; we are, like every great power, the superfluous nation. If God restores us and uses us wonderfully, it is nothing but His great mercy. If God sets us aside, and accomplishes His purposes through others"...

Reminds me of Esther 4: relief and deliverance for God's people will come from somewhere else, if you don't act in the moment God gives you.


He Shall Come to Judge the Quick and the Dead

Thanksgiving comes providentially at the end of the liturgical church year, which outlines the work of Christ for our redemption.  Beginning with His birth (Christmas) and ministry (Lent), then death and resurrection (Easter), giving of the Spirit (Pentecost), it concludes with a recognition of All Saints’ Day on November 1, noting the Church triumphant that has gone on to glory.

Thanksgiving is an ideal stand-in for the final work of Christ for our redemption: His return to judge the quick and the dead. This follows the death of the saints.  Consider the last verses of a classic hymn at Thanksgiving time.

All the world is God's own field,
fruit as praise to God we yield;
wheat and tares together sown
are to joy or sorrow grown;
first the blade and then the ear,
then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we
wholesome grain and pure may be. 

3 For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day
all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store
in the garner evermore. 

4 Even so, Lord, quickly come,
bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified,
in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come,
raise the glorious harvest home.

We are the harvest that the Lord reaps for His barns.  The denomination in which I was raised has a communion liturgy that points us forward to this:  “As this grain was gathered from many fields into one loaf, and these grapes were gathered from many hills into one cup, grant, O Lord, that Your whole Church may soon be gathered from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom.”

So, while the rest of the world rushes to the stores today, Christians would do well to meditate on the spiritual harvest still to come, when our Lord shall come and gather us home.  Jesus was the first-fruits of the resurrection harvest to come, when all the dead in Christ will rise.

The abundance and feasting we experience at Thanksgiving looks ahead to the joyful marriage supper of the Lamb in glory.  Then petition will give way to eternal thanksgiving, “How long?” will resolve to “How great!” and cries for vindication from under the altar will turn to “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” (Rev. 5-6).


Thanksgiving 2016

This Thanksgiving Day I have a particular thing for which to give the Lord thanks.

We decided to try to find a worship service to attend, either Wednesday night or Thursday morning, and discovered a Christian Reformed congregation just 30 minutes away that was holding an actual, increasingly rare, Thursday morning Thanksgiving service.  (As an aside, I’m now sitting down to a juicy turkey, at 1pm, in a house with no time bake oven – this is do-able, people!)

On the way I told the kids I wasn’t sure what to expect.  My wife was raised in the CRC, and while we are thankful for their heritage, plenty of liberalism has creeped in lately.  I was hoping for a traditional service with hymns, confession of sin and an expository sermon, but that was a long shot.  More likely we’d get an open mic time and songs we didn’t know.

The long shot came through, and I was pleasantly surprised and blessed by the Lord.  Not only was the service reverent and edifying, but the people were warm and friendly, the music was a discrete blend of hymns and the best thanksgiving choruses, the pastor referred to my seminary alma mater, and the sermon was Christ-exalting and edifying.  Instead of taking an offering they had a card to write a few things you were thankful for, and come up and put them in the offering plate.  My kids took part from the heart and with no prompting.  The church is almost done preaching through the Heidelberg Catechism in a year, and they hold a weekly evening service.

Over the last year one thing the Lord has shown me is how easily discouraged I can get.  The message this morning was on Psalm 13 and seemed tailor-made for me.  In a time of crying out, “How long, O Lord?” He intervened this morning, feeding, comforting, and strengthening my spirit.  I have often felt this receiving the ministry of the Word while sitting in the pew in my own church, too, but it just seemed especially strong on this holiday, when it was less expected.

So, I am thankful to know of another faithful congregation near me, its connections familiar from my childhood and professional education, and to be fed by them on this Thanksgiving Day.

One other thing I noticed was the music.  With just a piano player, one song leader, and a screen, ordinary people faithfully praised their God.  It struck me how the Christian music industry out of Nashville has (probably inadvertently) grossly distorted the normal church-goer’s expectations of what to expect from church music.  If believers (or church musicians?) can just set aside their radio and concert experience, expecting a level of professional that ordinary people can’t meet; or their nostalgia of music from their childhood, or their pet peeves against screens - then when we come before God in worship one more obstacle to pure worship would fall.  I experienced that this morning.  Of course, it didn’t hurt for me that the old blue Psalter was in the pew, though we didn’t use it.

I could be all upset about how they don’t share some of my theological distinctives, and prideful about how we’re the only church in the area to do and believe x, leading me to dismiss and ignore such a church.  But that would not be an appropriate act of thanksgiving to God on this day.  So, thank You, Lord, for your faithful remnant in every city and nation, who look in faith to Your Son Jesus Christ.

Psalm 13
    How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
    How long will You hide Your face from me?
    2      How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
    Having sorrow in my heart daily?
    How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

    3      Consider and hear me, O LORD my God;
    Enlighten my eyes,
    Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
    4      Lest my enemy say,
    “I have prevailed against him”;
    Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.

    5      But I have trusted in Your mercy;
    My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
    6      I will sing to the LORD,
    Because He has dealt bountifully with me.


Pence at Hamilton // Praying Parents

Mike Pence reacted well to an attempt to publicly shame him at the "Hamilton" play.
Who are the real intolerant ones, anyway?

Greg Harris gives lots of ideas on praying for your children.


What Do We Want? Discipleship! When Do We Want It? Now!

A bit ago, Doug Wilson responded to Russell Moore's Washington Post article pronouncing the death of the Religious Right.

Among the good things he said was this false trichotomy, most annoying to the present writer, who teeters between a-millennial and post-millennial thought:

"We can either abandon culture, accommodate ourselves in some way to culture, or successfully teach our culture what obedience to Jesus looks like. Moore believes in cultural engagement so the first option is out. He is not a theocratic postmillennialist, so the third option is out. That leaves the second option."

Wait, if we don't successfully disciple the nations we are compromising?  What if, in God's sovereignty, He determines only to save some of a certain tribe and nation, instead of seeing it overwhelmingly discipled to Christ?  I assume this has already happened in history.  Attila's Huns or the Ming dynasty and empire, so far as we know, did not convert completely to the God of Israel.  We may be moving in history toward a time when the Chinese and Mongols and all the rest will do so.  I do hold to such a post-millennial hope.

But to claim that if successful discipleship isn't happening now, then the church is compromising, is as dangerous spiritually as the name-it-and-claim-it charismatic view of healing or prayer.  I guess if America doesn't return to Christ, then the church just didn't work hard enough, pray hard enough, embrace the right eschatology, or back the right candidate.  We must have compromised somewhere.

Tell that to Tyndale, burning at the stake saying, "Lord, open the King of England's eyes."  There is a pragmatism lurking here that works against Wilson's purposes.  He wants us to take our Bibles to the political debate, and not just use natural law or common sense.  I agree.  But let's not argue for that by saying we would win if we did so, and we are losing because we aren't.  Sometimes you wind up in prison for the Word of God, too (Rev. 1:9-10).

I don't mind Wilson's call to base our political advocacy firmly on the Bible.  I don't mind an expectation that the nations will eventually flow into Jerusalem to worship the Son.  But let's beware an impatience for that, that is quick to assume compromise when results aren't as immediate as we'd like them to be.

The Gospel of John 1-4 - Boice Commentary review

The Gospel of John Volume 1: The Coming of the Light (John 1-4)The Gospel of John Volume 1: The Coming of the Light by James Montgomery Boice

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Boice is theological gold, and this collection of sermons differs only in addressing Scripture even more directly to the normal lives of God’s people in the pew. With a natural blend of exposition and application, Boice draws instruction from every ounce of every verse.

As an example, in writing on the Incarnation from John 1:1, 14 (a 5-page chapter/sermon on just these two verses), he applies the truth that Jesus became a man this way:

“By becoming man Jesus has also provided us with an example of how the life that is fully pleasing to the Father should be lived…. I often have been asked by people who are concerned with the state of the church today why it is that so many of the young men who go to seminary (even a good seminary, for that matter) come out of it without much of a message and without much of an ability to lead the churches they eventually serve. This is good questioning. As I have thought about it, I have come to feel that one of the main reasons is that they lack an adequate example of what the Christian ministry can be. They have never had contact with a strong church or with an intelligent preaching ministry that is Bible-centered and faithful to the great themes of the gospel. SO, lacking an example, they wander about in their approach and fail to provide strong leadership…. Thus, Jesus became man in order to go through all sorts of situations with all sorts of people in order that we might be provided with a pattern upon which our Christian life can be constructed.”

He goes on to describe Jesus as a needlework sampler that we look to as we live our life and do our work. Excellent illustration and application of biblical themes.

My one quibble would be that he goes a little too slow through the text, sometimes drawing in lots of other biblical texts and themes only tangentially related to the text. I think he does so to increase biblical literacy, which is good. But it obscures the main point occasionally.

View all my reviews

Pastors Have Authority?? // Young-Earth Vindication // Seminary Work

Kevin DeYoung offers a decent and basic description of pastors and elders in the presbyterian or reformed church setting.

Scientist finds soft tissue in dinosaur bones, gets sued by his university, then is legally vindicated.
Great story, here!!

I enjoyed Tabletalk's interview with Ligon Duncan on leading a seminary, and raising up and supporting pastors in the local church.


Division in the Church?

A friend passed on this quote from Peter Leithart's "End of Protestantism."
My thoughts are below.

“This amounts to a call for the end of Protestantism. Insofar as opposition to Catholicism is constitutive of Protestant identity; insofar as Protestants, whatever their theology, have acted as if they are members of a different church from Roman Catholics and Orthodox; insofar as Protestants define themselves over against other Protestants, as Lutherans are not-Reformed and Baptists are not-Methodist—in all these respects, Jesus bids Protestantism to come and die” (p. 6).

I think it's good to consider ourselves mere Christians, in CS Lewis' language.

But we need to stay clear about how to interpret Scripture and live the Christian life.  Until Rome stops insisting on submission to its bishop, Protestants have a duty to oppose Rome on that level.

We ought to be more cordial across denominational lines, and seek wisdom there to correct ourselves.  I think that is partly Leithart's point, and I agree.  But that doesn't mean being naive about their errors.  Maybe Leithart is just rightly focusing on correcting himself (Protestants) more than others (Rome), but he often comes across as minimizing their errors.  There is not a moral (doctrinal?) equivalence between Protestants and Catholics and Orthodox.  None has it all right, either, of course, but an attitude of "everybody has their problems, so why are we divided?" is dangerous in this area.

As an example, for a Protestant Christian to marry an Orthodox or Catholic is a bad idea.  Some divisions are warranted in the present situation.  When a church insists on ordaining women to church office, or asserting Mariolatry, those who find such actions unbiblical are warranted to separate from the error if they cannot correct it.

I think a lot of evangelicals are enticed away from maintaining such boundaries when they first encounter Catholics as friends or close co-workers.  It's kind of like caving on homosexuality when your child comes out as gay.  Responding well to your daughter in that situation might look from the outside to hard-line conservatives like caving, but it isn't.  So with Leithart, here, perhaps.

So those are some qualifications to the quote.  It's true there will be no Protestantism in Heaven, and that should impact our ethics here.  But Leithart is over-realizing his eschatology.