Test-Driving Courtship

I'd suggest reading this article, if you are an advocate of courtship or parent-guided dating.

There are some healthy cautions in here, against "over-doing" the guarding-your-heart mentality.  But there is a lot to filter out as unhelpful, too.

I've read two of the three books pictured at the top of the article.  I assume they are meant to represent the beliefs critiqued by the article.  I can understand criticisms of people like Lindvall and Doug Wilson or Josh Harris for their views of how dating should go.  But Elisabeth Eliot?  Wow.

Children who grow up in overly strict homes usually have an adjustment to make.  They will tend to over-adjust by over-emphasizing (distorting, really) grace and under-emphasizing a healthy fear of falling into real sin.  Can grace really be over-emphasized?  Not the true version.  But it can be distorted, yes.  See Romans 6:1 for an example.

Teaching young people to guard their heart and stay emotionally pure before marriage is based on fear, causes shame and pride and dysfunction in future relationships, and over-emphasizes safety.  Thus says the article.

To say that guarding your heart is based on fear is a half truth.  Is the fear well founded or over-protective?  I don't leave my ipad in precarious positions high over hard floors, just to have the experience of losing something valuable, or just to avoid living in fear.  How much less am I careful who I give my heart to?  Neither do I have to put the ipad in a glass case and never open it to anyone.

It is true an overly scrupulous application of this can lead to false guilt.  Stollar calls it shame.  You feel guilty but haven't actually sinned.  If you start to like a guy, you haven't sinned.  It's what you do with that feeling that you are responsible for.  Does a person always have a piece of your heart, even if you break up and marry someone else?  That might be a little strong, but regrets do linger over romantic relationships before your marriage.  These need not be sinful, but it's always with you, and why not avoid regrets?  It's true that God redeems such experiences.  He is gracious and merciful.  But we don't go sin or act recklessly, that grace may abound, either.

Emotional purity teaching can cause pride?  Yes, it can.  But that's not an argument for or against the teaching.  Teaching any moral standard can cause pride, whether the standard is biblical, or extra-biblical.  The problem is the heart that exalts itself.  Bragging about not kissing (silly) or not saying I love you (disturbing) before the wedding does show a heart of pride.  Neither is required by the Bible.  But refraining from kissing before the wedding day does not make you a legalist or proud, either.

Emotional purity teaching makes you feel guilty for having a cross-gender friendship?  Almost every guy-girl relationship especially among young people is sexually charged, so to speak.  People should tread carefully here.  I think of Billy Graham who made it a policy never to be alone in the same room with a woman.  This is just a healthy precaution, not a proud and fearful Pharisee at work.  Of course, if your friend's spouse steps out of the room momentarily you don't have to freak out.  But a conscience sensitive to being in vulnerable situations is better than being oblivious to potential trouble.  This isn't a legalism versus grace issue.  We don't need to recreate a Victorian culture where men only talk to men and women only to women.  But social interactions should take into account that men and women are different, and not interchangeable as modern life tries to tell us.

Emotional purity over-emphasizes safety with formulas?  Yes, it can.  I've seen this attitude quite a bit.  If I just stay in God's ways I won't get hurt.  Putting this in absolute terms is a problem, but I think Proverbs does affirm anecdotally that obedience leads to life and disobedience to destruction.  Externalizing purity with outward rules alone is a problem.  But a heart of purity will lead to refraining from certain outward behavior.

One thing I learned from this article, especially at the end, is that if we haven't persuaded our children from God's Word of the rightness of how we raise them, the fruit won't get far.  The older our children get, the less we should impose extra-biblical, house-rule standards on them that they won't accept.  For clear Scriptural principles parents can  and should say, "As long as you live in my house you won't do x, y or z."  But if a teen won't accept your guidance, then parent-guided relationships aren't going to work and shouldn't be forced, no matter how much dad has bought into courtship.

Stollar calls the fruit of this movement rotten.  I would argue that that bad fruit comes from (truly damaging) over-zealous and -strict application of truly helpful Scriptural principles.

PS - I don't endorse this website, but it can be helpful in self-evaluation for homeschooling parents.

Going up the Ladder

John 1:49-51
Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”  And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Jesus promised Nathaniel that the angels would ascend and descend on him. What this means is that Jesus is the ladder connecting heaven and earth. Without him as our mediator we cannot commune with God. In him, we worship God with the angels. This union is so real, we could say that the Spirit catches us up to heaven in our worship, our communion, every Lord's Day. And this union will become more so in the great consummation. Jesus will come for His bride, take us to His Father's house, throw a wedding feast, bring us to His banqueting table, and His banner over us is love. How can a spiritual being take on flesh and be a bridegroom? This is a great mystery, but when it is Jesus, it is our salvation. Rejoice in the favor God has shown you in Christ.


Law as Grace

Never forget that the law begins with grace. Before there is law, there is grace. God gives Adam the gift of life before He commands him. God brought Israel out of Egypt before He gives them this law. Peter preaches the resurrection of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, and then reminds them they killed him and calls them to repent. The very giving of the law and conviction of our sin is a gift.

So we have no excuse to call God unfair when He gives us this law, when He convicts us of breaking these commandments. Who here has not put another idol in place of the true God? Who here doesn’t try to change God’s grace or His standards to try to fit with our sin? Who here has always rested and given rest on the Sabbath to others?

Let us confess our breaking of these commandments god has given us.



Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had seen this at the library for a while, and it fascinated me. New concept - half picture, half word story. Not really a graphic novel. 500 pages that can be "read" in a couple hours. Reading for ADD kids??

So I finally got it and got 10 pages in, and realized it is the book behind the movie "Hugo," which friends have recommended to me.

The plot was fairly compelling. Boy copes with life without dad and then without uncle. Helping and trusting others, instead of keeping secrets and stealing, is the main theme. It borrows and commends the story of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods to give to men. The movies, or more broadly human dreams and imagination, are this gift.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but probably will.

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Review: The Twelve Caesars

The Twelve Caesars
The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The decadence and audacity of some of the Roman emperors is beyond belief. How Suetonius could calmly catalogue the corruption with little more than wry critical comment on occasion amazed me.

But he was able to get to the root of the problem in few words:
“Caligula always found some cause for envy” (167).

There are several comments of interest to Bible readers.

1. “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [Christ] he expelled them from the City” (197). This makes plain that the expulsion, noted in Acts 18:2, was the result of Jewish upheaval catalogued in the book of Acts in every city to which the gospel came. Rome was no different, but Claudius’ response was heavy-handed. Minor city officials worried about mistreating Roman citizen Paul and getting in trouble with Roman officials. Meanwhile the emperor sent all the Jews away from his own city, essentially telling his empire they had to deal with the troublesome Jews because he wasn’t going to!

2. “An ancient superstition was current in the East, that out of Judaea would come the rulers of the world. This prediction, as it later proved, referred to two Roman emperors, Vespasian and his son Titus; but the rebellious Jews, who read it as referring to themselves…”
So the Messianic predictions really referred to Vespasian and Titus! There’s a neat trick of co-opting a conquered people’s sacred texts and applying their prophecies to yourself. The Romans were masters of propaganda like this – “no, we aren’t your conquerors, we’re your saviors!”

3. Queen Berenice of Acts 25:13 gets a prominent mention as a lover of Emperor Titus. Suetonius recounts her biography before and after that incident with Paul (pg 290).

4. When Titus died he said he had only one sin on his conscience, and Suetonius thinks it was his entering the Holy of Holies when he conquered Jerusalem. Bernice apparently reproached him for it.

5. Though other emperors did this more subtly, for Domitian “’Lord God’ became his regular title both in writing and conversation” (304). I’m convinced this is one manifestation of the beast in Revelation. See Christ and the Caesars by Ethelbert Stauffer for more on that.

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Strolling the Links

A Thomas Nelson Community College student recently got Virginia's restrictive free speech policy for colleges loosened, so he could present his views (a.k.a. evangelize or preach the gospel).  "Before the changes, student were required to get permission from a student organization, get permission from school officials four days in advance, and be confined to a small "free speech zone" in order to present their views." - See more here.

Joe Biden recently committed us to protecting gay rights around the world.  And of course we don't want anyone physically attacked or their civil rights impinged for their homosexual inclinations or behavior.  But will this be limited to cases of physical violence? Won't any future denial of "rights" be deemed a mode of violence, justifying the use of violence against the perceived offenders?  With current shifts, I'm not convinced that distinction is as clear as it should be.  Every major religion is close to being labelled inhumane and barbaric for their condemnation of homosexual practice as a sin against God.

Why Study Archaeology?

I subscribe to Biblical Archaeology Review, and read it fairly carefully for clues to the text.  There's a lot of liberal disbelief in the Word on its pages, but there is the occasional gem.

"To isolate the Biblical text from the world in which it emerged is to make it into something which it is not and to forgo many essential clues to its interpretation."

In traditional language, we have to interpret the Bible grammato-historically, by the grammar and the historical context.  Most exegetes and preachers spend more time on grammar, and little on the history.

Here's an example, from the same issue of BAR, written by a favorite seminary professor I had, Jeffrey Weima:

"When worshipers in the ancient world offered a sacrifice to a particular god, only a small portion of the food was burned up on the altar.  The majority of the offered food survived to be either sold by the priest in the marketplace (1 Cor 10:25) or eaten by the worshiper in a dining room located in the temple.  These dinners, therefore had a strongly religious character which transformed them from regular meals to cultic meals.  Christians were forbidden to join in these meals because their participation involved a level of intimacy with the pagan god that made believers guilty of idolatry.
"Some 20 papyrus dinner invitations asking guests to dine at such cultic meals have been discovered in Egypt.  Typical is P.Oxy. 2791 which reads: 'Diogenes invites you to dinner for the first birthday of his dauther in the Serapaeum tomorrow which is Pacon 26 from the 8th hour onward.' ... the Serapaeum - a temple devoted to the Egyptian god Serapis."

Weima goes on to describe a dining hall for such a purpose in Pergamum.  This fits Revelation 2:14 (the letter to the church in Pergamum!): "I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality."

This one was a classic of bad timing.  I read this article a day after I preached on Revelation 2!

So there is this distinction between (1) associating too closely with idolatry or sin, and (2) yes, there's a connection somewhere along the supply chain, but not worrying about it.

Quotes from BAR, Nov/Dec 2012, pgs 16, 64

Death, Judgment, No Death

This sacrament is a living rendition of Genesis 5. That chapter repeats the death of person after person. And he died, and he died. This supper proclaims the Lord’s death week after week. We come back and remember and heard it said again. He died on the cross.
We also see the prophecy in Methuselah’s name come fully true at the cross. The two words "death" and "sent" meant for Methuselah, that when he died, the judgment of flood was sent.  For Jesus, when He died, the ultimate judgment of God against all our sin fell like a flood.

This is good news for us. And His death made Enoch’s escape from death possible. By faith he pleased God. By faith we eat this bread and wine, and trust we too will escape the sting and curse of death, even as we go through it.

We are those other sons and daughters in the line of promise. Trust in the savior. Let that faith work a real difference in your life.


God's Law in Our Worship

We will be considering the law in our worship services more regularly.

Theology describes 3 uses of the Law: it restrains evil in the world, drives us to the Lord Jesus for salvation, and guides us in how to live once we believe. This means we can use the law in different ways in our worship service, too. Today we read the law before we confess our sins, so it drives us to Christ. Other times we may read the law after we confess our sins, as a guide to living, now that we believe and are forgiven.

The law takes several forms in Scripture. We usually think of the 10 commandments, or the ritual law. But there are summaries of the law in various places, and this morning we see a picture of citizens in Christ’s kingdom from the king Himself (the sermon on the mount).



Things I Never Noticed in the Bible

Judges 18:30
"And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land."
So the grandson of Moses is a priest of idolatry for the tribe of Dan, in the darkest times of the Judges.

Be diligent to teach your own children, no matter how "holy" your calling.
Moses spoke with God directly and interceded for and shepherded Israel in the wilderness.  It was exhausting, frustrating and kept him very busy.  For whatever reason, his sons seldom figure in the story at all after Exodus 18, where Jethro brings them back to Moses after the Exodus.  I assume Moses sent his wife and sons to Jethro for safety while hostilities with Pharaoh continued.  No fault there, necessarily.  But after that we hear nothing of them until this verse.  How could Gershom's son be a priest for a golden calf after the way Moses responded to Aaron's golden calf?  Negligence in training him?  Gershom himself shrugging off fidelity to the God of Israel?  Or carelessness in raising Jonathan?

Let us be diligent to teach our children God's ways, to pray for their hearts to be drawn to God in loyalty.

Where we have been faithful and humble (not perfect) before God and our children, let us not condemn ourselves when they stray from the Lord.

Marriage and Divorce, Part Two

In Matthew 19:3, the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce:
“The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’”
They are asking about Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness [literally, “indecent thing”] in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, 2 when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, 4 then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”
This text assumes a written certificate of divorce. This was a legal document, preventing rash, impulsive action, and officially ending the legal status of marriage. The point wasn’t to lay out the grounds for divorce in detail, but to restrict its abuse. Here’s an example of how it was abused: the man divorces his wife and sells/rents her to another man, who marries her for the night. In the morning she remarries the first man. It’s actually prostitution under the legal disguise of marriage. No way, God says.

The “indecent thing” or “some uncleanness” (verse 1) is vague – the same phrase refers to human waste in Deuteronomy 23. Some Pharisees used the vague definition of “unclean thing” to widen the grounds of divorce beyond all sanity. Their casuistic reasoning went like this. There are two Hebrew words: 1. sexual indecency. 2. thing, reason, cause, event, affair. (In English “indecent thing” is the clearest translation.) They took the two words of the phrase and made them two grounds. You can divorce her for some sexual infidelity, or for some other thing. In classic Pharisee style, they reverse the intent of the passage (to limit grounds to sexual infidelity) by appealing to the letter of the law. In Matthew 19:9 Jesus is NOT changing Deuteronomy 24, taking away Moses’ permission of divorce. Jesus is clarifying what the unclean thing is – sexual uncleanness. There is not this second category of “any cause.”

Seth, Not Cain, at the Table

At this table, we do what Seth’s line does (Genesis 4:17-26).
1. We grieve over the evil and sin that took Christ to the cross.
2. We step in to our place at the table, accepting the life of loyalty to Christ that it requires. We step in, thankful for the privilege it is, knowing the Abels who have gone before us in faith and knowing the Cains who have fallen away and left this table.
3. We call on the name of God in Christ here. This is what the remembering is all about. Not just a mental act, but reaffirming that Jesus is the one I need, Jesus is the one who saves me.

At the same time, the way of Cain is overcome bit by bit at this table over time.
1. We are rooted in Christ.
2. We find our rest in Him.
3. We find close communion with him and with each other.
4. And we boast only in Christ and Him crucified, only in knowing this wonderful, merciful Savior.


Don't Profane the Name

Leviticus 19:12-18

"And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.  13 ‘You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the LORD.  15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.  17 ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD."

This passage climaxes with the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. But notice verse 12.  This isn't a separate sin from the rest of the passage. Everything else connects with doing justice and mercy to your neighbor.  God doesn't throw in something extra in vs 12: "Oh, and by the way, don't swear or make false oaths, either."  No if we disobey the rest, if we fail to deal justly and mercifully with our neighbor, then we are by doing that profaning the name of God, taking His name in vain.  We call on His name and are identified by that in our way of life, our profession of faith in Christ, our baptism.  Do not profane that profession of God’s name by what you say or do.



Remembering Mr. Folkert

At a critical point in my spiritual formation, somewhere between 18-23 years old I think, the Lord led me to attend a Sunday School class with a handful of men who were all about three times my age.  It was a glorious experience I'll never forget.  I remember not talking much, just listening to the wisdom of these men, most of whom didn't have much formal education by today's standards.

One of them went to be with the Lord a couple days ago.

We spent very little time together outside of that class, but his demeanor and the way he taught showed me a love for the Lord and His Word that helped me tremendously.  I was in the grip of some judgmental immaturity at the time, in that cage stage of theology, with a sophomoric understanding of the Word.  Battling liberalism was the essence of Christian piety, I thought.  Not that that's a bad thing, but he showed me so much more - that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13), that love for the Lord Jesus shows itself in many quiet ways.

Tomorrow I'm preaching from these verses on 1 Corinthians 4:15-16:
"Though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me."

May the Lord grant Wally Folkert rest and reward in Christ.  He was a spiritual father for me at just the right time - a channel God used to give me just what God knew I needed then.

Funny how I wasn't really aware of all this until I heard of his death and thought about my time with him.  It is SO important to connect with other believers who are different from us around God's Word!


An Old Prayer for Our Land

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!