God is Joy

God rejoices in the creation and in people....
It is refreshing to know that joy is a divine attribute and that when the Spirit plants joy in us (Gal 5:22), we are becoming more like God.  We should not think of God, or the ideal Christian, as constantly disapproving or dour.

John Frame, Systematic Theology, pg. 253.

God's Love

John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 12

We move now from knowing God by His acts, to knowing Him by His attributes.  Scripture explicitly tells us what God is like.

We can classify attributes of God in several ways.
Defining attributes are those that would describe God if He never made the world.  Infinity, for example.
Relative attributes relate Him to the world.  Lord, for instance.

Communicable attributes are those that His creatures can share.  Holiness, e.g.
In communicable attributes we cannot share.  His simplicity (no parts or wavering passions as we have)

This is a broad category, but we usually mean moral good, like righteous.  God is good and merciful to all, Ps 145:9, even unbelievers (Matt 5:45).  No one can accuse God of unfairness.

Language - it's better to study the Bible than the Greek lexicon to understand God's love.  Turret in speaks of God's benevolence willing good to us, His beneficence doing good to us, and His complacency enjoying us.

Extent of love - John 3:16 shows that God loved the whole world, though not all are saved by Christ's coming.  We can and should appeal to all people to believe on the Lord Jesus, because God has shown us all His love.

Saving love - saving sinners by the cross of Christ.  The atonement epitomizes God's love for us.  Rom 5:8; John 15:13-14.

Love as lordship - God's love create a new heart in us, changing our desires to be for Him.  He does more than persuade, but less than coerce, us.

Means favor, a positive attitude toward a person.  When God shows favor to men, it is never based on our goodness meriting it, only on His sovereign choice.  Grace is personal and covenantal: He chooses a people to bear His name.  This results in their faith (Acts 11:23; 18:27).  The Jerusalem council clarifies that this comes apart from keeping the law or relying on our own goodness (Acts 15:10-11).  Greetings and benedictions in Paul's letters stress grace upon us.

Common grace
God restrains sin in people, restrains His own wrath, gives rain on just and unjust.  Unsaved people do good, know truth, and experience blessing by the Holy Spirit (Num 22-24; 1 Sam 10:9-11; Heb 6:4-6).  It may be better to call this goodness, rather than grace, since the Bible doesn't use the word grace in this category.  But scripture often speaks of grace without using the word (prodigal son, e.g.).

This is the Hebrew word for God's covenant keeping love.  Ps 136; 1 Chron 16:34; Deut 7:9, 12.  He made promises to Adam, Abraham, Israel, etc., and He will keep them.  David and Jonathan's loyalty to each other, and the institution of marriage are examples.  This differs from love (ahava in Hebrew) that creates covenant or initiates grace.  Hesed keeps and fulfills it, sometimes in response to our repentance or faithfulness.

An attitude, even emotion, of love and concern expressed.  Ex 34:6: Matt 9:6: 1 Pet 3:8.

Other forms of Gods goodness
Gentleness in power that serves, beauty, joy, peace, blessed, satisfied - these all describe God.

Courting in Geneva

Peter Jones, pastor in West Virginia, has done some excellent work culling historical research on courtship and marriage in Calvin's Geneva.

Geneva had a very developed system, assuming parental authority and guidance in match-making, but also forbidding setting up children against their will and other heavy handed parental practices.  Parents couldn't refuse to give their daughter a dowry if she married against dad's wishes, for instance.

One of the ugliest aspects (rare, too) of modern courtship is painting it as such a blessing when a father interviews a young man extensively without the daughter knowing it, and then presents him to his daughter with high expectations.  Her refusal of that man would be ingratitude and rebellion.  Father has provided for daughter; she's supposed to submit to them both, after all!  Calvin's Geneva would have forbidden this, if the daughter didn't want to marry him.

Sometimes we react against recent history, but find help in less recent history.

Peace at the Table

God calls us to peace with Him.  He shows us this at the Lords supper, the New Testament peace offering, where God gives us back part of the sacrificed offering for us to eat in his presence.  Jesus is the fulfillment of this sacrifice.  He made for us our peace with God, and we receive Jesus Himself in this communion.

Let us be careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.  At the family table, you can find all kinds of things to fuss at others about.  But we put aside contention and selfishness.  We do the hard work, the Gospel driven work, the spirit enabling work, of abiding, remaining, staying in the presence of Christ. And in the presence of one another.

Receive and rest on Christ alone today.

Hiding from God with Mountain-Top Experience

Isaiah 1:13-14, 18
      Bring no more vain offerings; 
      incense is an abomination to me. 
                  New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— 
      I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. 
             Your new moons and your appointed feasts 
      my soul hates; 
                  they have become a burden to me; 
      I am weary of bearing them. 

      “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: 
                  though your sins are like scarlet, 
      they shall be as white as snow; 
                  though they are red like crimson, 
      they shall become like wool. 

This campout has an annual appointed feast for us.  We look forward to it, it’s once a year and unique.  We have fond memories of past campouts.  There is real blessing in this, and some opportunity for sin, as with every good gift from God that sinners receive.  One danger is we have another tool for self-deception.  The nostalgia and joy and sentimental feelings we have about campouts can cast a curtain over sin we aren’t dealing with.  Yes, that’s still stubbornly sitting there, but it can’t be that bad – I mean, look at the great time we’re having this weekend!  And the very thing God means for our joy and good – an annual feast – we turn into a way to hide from Him.

Let us confess the many ways we hide from God and avoid dealing with our sins against Him.

Outdoor Worship - Opening Prayer

Lord, we are considering the heavens and the work of your hands this weekend.    You do care for us, though we seem so insignificant in the vast scale of your creation.  The trees, grass, clouds, rain and sun all praise You.  In the heat and the cold, we remember we are creatures who need your care.  A few degrees up or down and we cry out for care.  Lord, we cry out to you this morning.  For physical needs, yes, but also for forgiveness and favor, mercy and strength.  Hear our cry.  Let it be one of faith, love, trusting a father who is good and kind and compassionate. 



God's Decrees

John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 11

God acts in miracles, providence and creation, all with a purpose.  That purpose can be described as His decrees - what He ordains to bring to happen.  Though the word "decree" doesn't appear in Scripture often, these words do:  plan, counsel, purpose, will, pleasure, etc.

God's decrees covering all things shows His Lordship over everything, that He intends everything for a reason.  His interpretation of the facts precedes the facts (Van Til).  In other words, everything is as it is by His design and decree.

God elects a people historical sense and in an eternal sense.
Historically, Israel was and the church is God's people.  This choice was by God's grace, not their merit (Deut 7:7-8).  But people can forsake God and be removed from this historically elect group by their unfaithfulness (Saul, Judas, excommunication, etc.).  We don't have to say they were never elect in the historical sense, as we do in the eternal sense (1 John 2:19).  Not all of this group are eternally elect.  This category is alive and well in the NT, too (Acts 5; Heb 6:4-6; Rev 2-3).  Jesus is the ultimate elect of Israel, the faithful remnant and branch (Jeremiah 23).

Eternally God forgives the sins and writes His law on the hearts of His eternally elect (Jer 31:31-34; Rom 8:29-39).  This does not depend on our ongoing faithfulness, for God keeps these faithful.

These two senses are meant to go together.  We see historical election, and so have a "limited knowledge" of eternal election.

Eternal election implies reprobation.  God choose not to save some. Romans 9 shows this, especially verse 22.  This doesn't mean we aren't responsible and guilty when we reject God ourselves. It doesn't mean we need not offer the Gospel to all men.  It doesn't take away from our assurance, which should come from looking to Christ's promises, not eternal decrees.

The order of God's decrees has prompted lots of debate.  Did God elect His people from their fallen state, or before they were created?  Supralapsarian says "before the Fall."  Infra-lapsarian says "after the Fall."  Frame says we shouldn't take sides, as Scripture doesn't let us into God's priorities and thought processes this minutely.  The infras are right that God chose us out of sin, so the Fall is in view.  The supras are right that God has a plan for His people beyond the Fall and created history.  In my view Ephesians 1:4 answers this question very decisively on the supra side, but the infra concern about the sin context should not be dismissed.


Exodus 33:18-23
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

When Moses asked God to go with Israel and to show him God’s glory, God said yes to both.  Moses couldn’t look God in the face, but God did go with them, and He did show Himself to Moses.

We have this experience even more fully in the Lord Jesus.  God has shone the light of His salvation in our hearts, in the face of Jesus Christ.  He has put us in a place by Him.  We stand on solid ground.  He covers us with His hand so we are safe from the glory that could consume us.  Instead we are brought into fellowship with a gracious God.


The Old Paths

Jeremiah 6:16
"      Thus says the LORD: 
                  “Stand by the roads, and look, 
      and ask for the ancient paths, 
                  where the good way is; and walk in it, 
      and find rest for your souls. 
                  But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

God calls us to stand at the crossroads and compare the paths.  Consider your options.  You could walk in the old paths, the way God designed for us from the beginning.  The way of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Or we can choose new ways the world offers: hatred, contention, lewdness, jealousy, selfishness, envy and revelry.  One of these ways offers rest for your soul; the other does not.  And yet, we often deliberately choose the way of satisfying the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life.  Let us turn back from turning our back on God.



Review: RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes

RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes
RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes by Benedict of Nursia

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Benedict (d. 547) was a monk who codified life as a community of monks in a monastery. This rule has had broad appeal in monasteries for 1500 years.

Abbot - the supreme leader in charge of all things.
Authority - the main rule is submission to the authority of the abbot and senior ranking monks. A detailed pecking order based on length of time there and virtue was determined by the abbot.
Discipline - removal of meal privileges, corporal punishment and excommunication
Rations - a pound of bread and half a bottle of wine per day for each monk, along with side dishes at the evening meal. Clothing prescribed, down to the underwear.
Outside - a dangerous place - be sure to report everything you experience to the abbot!
Property - absolutely no private property is allowed. Anything found hidden in your bed brings severe punishment.

Worship - seven times a day, the community prays and chants Scripture together. Tardiness or error in recitation means punishment. All 150 Psalms are sung every week. "Monks who in a week's time say less than the full psalter... betray extreme indolence and lack of devotion in their service. We read, after all, that our holy Father, energetic as they were, did all this in a single day."

Spiritual leadership of the abbot -
- help the monks, not yourself
- hate faults but love the brothers
- don't crush bruised reeds
- "strive to be loved rather than feared"
- "arrange everything that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from."

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To Imbibe or Not?

While discussing food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8, and who the weaker brother is, we got into the discussion of alcohol usage.  Again!

Some history.
Many doubt the ancients could prevent fermentation of grapes, but I’ve seen quotes from Pliny, Plutarch and such that imply it was done.  I grant the point, and assume there was wine and "grape juice" and some variants of wine diluted with water around.

Some Bible word study.
The argument goes from the original word meanings that new wine was unfermented and the Bible means this when it speaks of blessing in regard to wine.  It talks of mixed wine (or other varieties of fermented drink) as a curse.  The facts don't bear this distinction out at all.  Some examples: Hosea 4:11 refers to new wine as dangerous, too.  Isaiah 25:6 and Psalm 104.15 describe yayin and aged wine as blessings.

Temperance folks argue that "fruit of the vine" means it could be non-alcoholic.  This is possible.  But Herodotus also refers to alcoholic wine with this phrase (Histories, I: 211-212).  When Jesus uses it at Passover to institute the Lord's Supper, some argue that the lack of leaven anywhere in the house means there wouldn't have been yeast in the wine, either.  This is not a logical inference.  There's a difference between ferment and leaven.

The argument is also made that Jesus or the apostles would not have partaken of alcohol at all, two points of biblical data argue against it:  Jesus was accused of being a winebibber in Luke 7:34, which wouldn't make sense if He didn't drink at all.  Paul warned the Corinthians against getting drunk at the Lord's Supper, which wouldn't make sense if they were bringing unfermented drink - 1 Cor. 11:21.

Finally - most controversially - it isn't a good argument that the person who has had trouble with alcohol in the past will fall back into it with just a thimble sized communion cup, or even the smell of wine.  This denies personal responsibility.  I don't deny it is harder for a recovering alcoholic to resist falling back into trouble.  But he has the ability to resist (1 Cor 10:13).  This is not a modern problem that just began since we diagnosed alcoholism as a "disease."  It's been just as hard for some folks, going all the way back to Noah (Genesis 9).  That didn't stop God from inviting us to feast before Him with "strong drink" (Deut 14:26).  It's ironic that evangelicals most insistent on personal responsibility in morals and accepting salvation, also functionally deny that responsibility when it comes to this issue.

What God gives us for a blessing, we turn into a curse by our sin.  The response shouldn't be to remove the blessing, but train ourselves and hold each other accountable in proper usage of the blessing.  It's fine to choose not to drink for the taste, the expense or any number of reasons.  But to lump the substance in with a boozing mentality is a generalization Scripture doesn't allow.  I don't write this to cling to my booze, for instance, but to make sure we don't go beyond Scripture in forbidding what it doesn't forbid (1 Tim 4:1-3; Col 2:16).

I do think until people understand and accept this, it's fine for churches to offer grape juice at Communion to those unconvinced.  They are the weaker brother of 1 Cor 8 and Rom 14.  They are not thus to be despised or considered second class, but neither should the church cater completely to their position.

Paul is directly warning ME in 1 Cor 8:7-13 (Romans 14:21 is actually more relevant to this issue) to be careful not to lead a brother into sin by what I drink.  This is different than them being bothered knowing I drink alcohol.  Scripture does not demand I not drink at all because I know they are bothered by it (they think it is wrong), but to not drink if it will cause them to fall into that sin themselves.

The best book on this subject is "God Gave Wine" by Ken Gentry.

Halloween Gospel


Review: The Path of the King

The Path of the King
The Path of the King by John Buchan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well done.

I'd heard of Buchan years ago (39 Steps), but never came across a copy until recently. The author, an English nobleman, wrote this in 1929. It is a series of short vignettes tracing the descendants of a Viking king down to 1861. Forest Gump-style, each descendant has close relations to a significant historical figure or event (Joan of Arc, St Bartholomew Massacre, Abe Lincoln, etc.) You really have to know your history for it to make sense, though.

This would go well for high schoolers studying Western European history, into the New World.

The theme is really fascinating - kingly traits rise and fall in a lineage over time, sometimes falling into the gutter, other times peaking in a significant person who shapes history.

There is a strong anti-democracy point at the end - that nations and men need leadership from kings. They need leadership, not just a public servant to carry out the will of the people. The last couple chapters culminate in a historical figure I didn't expect - worth the read!

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Review: Duel in the Wilderness

Duel in the Wilderness
Duel in the Wilderness by Karin Clafford Farley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent read for kids or adults on background of George Washington's first significant enterprise that gained him notoriety.

Good writing that conveys the complicated politics and dealings between French, Indian and English with simple prose and dialogue. Also shows the brutality, diplomacy and values of each people. Well worth the read.

There's a mild swear word once or twice, and one description of brutality. Maybe best for 11-14 age range, studying French-Indian War and/or American Revolution background.

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Prayer on Beginning to Worship God

Almighty God, assist us to walk prudently and to fear You, as we assemble before You now.  Order our thoughts and hearts to give You the attention, honor and worship You are due.

We are a distracted people, flitting from one thing to the next.  
Fix our eyes on You, we pray.
We are a multi-tasking people, trying to spin 7 plates in the air at the same time.  
Give us single-hearted devotion to You.

As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, so our eyes look to You, Yahweh, our God.

You are the King; command us.
You are the Savior; forgive us.
You are the Shepherd; guide us.
You are the Father; feed us.

Holy God, we draw near to You through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, who lives and reigns with You, 1 God from age to age - Amen.