Blog hiatus

Our family is on vacation for the next week, so you won't hear much from us.
I hope our vast readership isn't too disappointed. Ha!

A question

This is a question I would ask of many in our classis and denomination right now, with the same tone and context and "apology."

Preach at 'em...

"One of the first rules of preaching is that you must never use the pulpit to settle personal scores. But another rule of preaching, just as important, is that you must never squander your time in the pulpit by thundering away at sins that never make their appearance in the lives of those gathered in front of you." - Doug Wilson


Positively Medieval

Subtitled, more thoughts on art from the right brain of the family.

So I finally finished this one.

The Discarded Image, by CS Lewis. An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature.

This was one of the last books Lewis wrote, and few people know he was a literary critic by trade, not a theologian.

I didn't understand 80% of the literary references to Medieval works, because I'm not all that well-read in the stuff. But I could usually infer the main points. Here are a couple highlights:

"If you had asked... Chaucer 'Why do you not make up a brand-new story of your own?' I think they might have replied (in effect) 'Surely we are not yet reduced to that?' Spin something out of one's own head when the world teems with so many noble deeds, wholesome examples, pitiful tragedies, strange adventures, and merry jests which have never yet been set forth quite so well as they deserve?... Why make things for oneself... when there [are] riches all about you to be had for the taking? The modern artist often does not think the riches [are] there" (pg 211).

"Between Chaucer's time and [Alexander Pope's] the arts had become conscious of what is now regarded as their true status. Since his time they have become even more so. One almost foresees the day when they may be conscious of little else.... A chef, a surgeon, or a scholar, may be proud, even to arrogance, of his skill; but his skill is confessedly the means to an end beyond itself, and the status of the skill depends wholly on the dignity or necessity of that end... Literature exists to teach what is useful, to honour what deserves honour, to appreciate what is delightful."


Egg Head

I've had chicken on the brain a lot lately - mostly hens and chicks, but nothing cute and fuzzy. More like a really ticked off hen ready to peck out some eyes, like a duck's eyes. What does an angry chicken look like? Can a chicken be fierce if, in fact, it is "chicken?" Do steroid-pumped chickens have any role in this?

I started thinking about all the other chicken related things our culture has cooked up- movies like "Chicken Little" and "Chicken Run," Kenny Roger's Roasters and Kramer yelling "Baaaaad chicken! Mess you up!" on Seinfeld, the country singing group Dixie Chicks, Foghorn Leghorn, the term "chicks" as applied to female humans, even knitting (!) - "chix with stix". I even bought a whole chicken to cook, a first for me.

All this is stewing in my brain with the intention of visual creative output. I'll post the results in a couple of weeks... until then I'm going to have some really odd dreams!


Jesus and Gentiles

Matthew 15:21-31 confuses me.

Jesus says He isn't sent to any people except Israel (vs 24).
But then He goes to the Decapolis, a pre-dominantly Gentile region (vs 29) and heals many there.


My best guess is that Jesus was testing the woman in vss 22-26, to see just how "poor in spirit" she really was. After all, God says it's too small a thing to just go to Israel - He's going to send His Messiah to be a light to the Gentiles, too (Isa 49:6).

But the woman apparently knows Israel's history quite well and places herself within it, as an outcast not deserving grace (2 Samuel 9:8-10).

Paul seems to be following his Master when he says salvation is to the Jew first and also for the Greek (Rom 1:16-17). Jesus doesn't gloss over that salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22). He is the Jew we Gentiles cling to for salvation (Zech 8:23).

Living with unbelievers

Genesis 26 has some good teaching on this.

1. Our relationship with others is always through God-colored glasses. God makes promises to Isaac to obtain this land, as he moves in with the Philistines.
2. We can try to help those promises along in unhelpful ways, through less-than-honest dealings with unbelievers. This doesn't work. Isaac gets in trouble - is even convicted by the Philistines for what he does.

3. It is God's material blessing that makes a big difference. The first reaction of the unbelievers is envy and harassment. They stop up the wells he digs and evict him from their land. Like Aquila and Priscilla and the others Jews evicted from Rome at one point. Like the Jews' businesses repressed and then looted.

4. Isaac's response is forbearance. He doesn't appeal to a higher civil authority (if there was one). He doesn't go to war, even though he is mightier than they. He keeps working, letting them take advantage of him until they leave him alone.

5. The second response of unbelievers is acknowledgement of Isaac's right to be there. They come to make an alliance with him, so he won't hurt them! And he agrees.

The promise has begun to come true. The Philistines who own the land have acknowledged Abraham's son's right to be there.

This is a goldmine for how we should be relating to the world, contrasted with how evangelical Christians often actually do so. More on that another time perhaps.


Clear pastors wanted

With a classis meeting coming up to decide what to do about homosexuality and the RCA's response to it, and after talking with a friend from here about it last night, I thought I'd lay all my cards on the table ahead of time, even if it gets some of my pastor friends hopping mad. Here's what I think, perhaps not going quite as far as this author does on the end point of all this...

Sermon in process

From Zechariah 7

You’re feeling bad because they’re trying to take the 10 commandments off of court buildings? You should feel worse about the disobedience of the last 50 or 100 years that has led to that mindset. Deal with the mindset in people’s hearts; then you won’t have to fight it out in Congress and in court.

People were asking Zechariah if they should still be fasting for the destruction of the temple when they were building a new one. The response: you should be bemoaning the disobedience of your fathers that led to the temple's destruction.

It's sort of like treating your kids disrespectfully and hypocritically for 15 years and then weeping and wailing when they don't respect you. What did you expect?

Or, like our 1-year old who angrily throws his food on the floor and then cries that he doesn't have any food. Like God, parents don't have much respect for that kind of wailing.

China's government goons

This just in from Voice of the Martyrs:

"Gao Zhisheng, a prominent lawyer who had his legal license suspended by Chinese authorities for representing religious rights, faced an attempt on his life January 17th. China Aid Association reported Gao was traveling in Beijing when a vehicle with an obscured license plate suddenly stopped in front of him. He narrowly missed hitting the vehicle, stopped and got out to investigate. The driver of the other car then attempted to run down Gao, but he was able to dodge out of the path of the vehicle. As the car sped away, the newspaper covering the license plate blew away and the plate number was reported. It is believed the driver was a security agent of the Chinese government. Throughout the incident, a military vehicle was observing nearby."


History and heart

Quick, who was the first President of the United States? Nope. You're wrong.

I listened to an excellent talk by George Grant last night on education.
He laments having been educated so poorly that he didn't even know who the 1st President of the United States was. Everybody knows it was Peyton Randolph, right? Huh? I didn't know, either. I didn't know MOST of the names of the next 14 presidents, from 1774 to 1789.

As Grant recounted some of their amazing stories (Henry Middleton, John Hancock, Henry Laurens, John Jay, Samuel HUntington, Thomas McKeene, John Hanson, Thomas Miflin, Richard Henry Lee, Arthur St. Clair, and others), I realized that nobody ever got around to telling me this stuff. These aren't just the Declaration signers who had their property, family and lives on the line during the war. These are the guys who plunged into the war, and slugged it out against the world superpower, trying to coordinate a dozen independent colonies into some semblance of an army to support their determination to be rid of the tyranny of King George.

Okay, to be fair, George Washington is the 1st President, under our current Constitution. But wasn't the country born in 1776? What happened in those 13 years before our Constitution was adopted, anyway?

If your curiosity is piqued, the Grant link above will take you to his blog. The Jan 23, 2006 entry will describe for you the man George Washington called the father of our country.


Boring preachers

Internet Monk:

"First... the Biblical story is going to be boring to those who are not spiritually enlivened to its truth. This is expected. It is a given. Second, as proclaimers of the Gospel, we should use legitimate measures and means to make message as interesting as possible without obscuring either the Biblical message or rejecting the Biblical method.

"In other words, while the Gospel isn’t entertainment, a boring preacher is probably a lazy preacher or a stubborn preacher. It may be unavoidable to bore the audience in some measure, but it is not something that should be accepted without doing all we can to make what we do say clear, urgent, genuine, personal and real. Work at not being boring, but don’t go off the deep end trying to avoid it....

"The entertainment culture in which we live cannot become the standard for what is good preaching. Jesus was a master communicator, but he didn’t try to outdo the theater productions at Sepphoris. In the same way, we should refuse to compete with the secular entertainment media for the attention of people. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” “If they refuse to hear you, shake the dust off your feet and move on.” These are the words of Jesus....

"We live in a culture that finds everything boring eventually. The Gospel is timeless, not entertaining. It is true, not trendy. It has depth, not just overnight ratings. It is God’s word to all of us, told in the story of Jesus. While sermons will always be boring to someone, we dare not find that God has been bored with our attempts to become entertainers rather than heralds and proclaimers."


Hollywood bias

World Magazine reports on the movie world, that compared to Narnia's $264M gross, it was Brokeback's $33M-gross that took 4 Golden Globes this week.

Now, I'm willing to grant, not having seen Brokeback, that its cinematography is probably better quality. Narnia's wasn't stellar, but did dress the story well.

My concern is the ideology fueling the world's award system.

All the Difference

Studying to preach on the Beatitudes, I went to D. Martin Lloyd-Jones and found a goldmine. Matthew 5:1-12 shows up the stark contrast between the follower of Jesus and the rest of the world.

"As I see things at the present time [1950s], the first need in the Church is a clear understanding of this essential difference. It has become blurred; the world has come into the Church and the Church has become worldly....

"We have been told that we have to make the Church attractive to the man outside, and the idea is to become as much like him as we can.... Some people thought that, as a result... men would be crowding into the churches. Yet it did not happen, and it never has happened that way. The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely differnt from the world, she invariably attracts it....

"It should not be our ambition to be as much like everybody else as we can, though we happen to be Christian, but rather to be as different from everybody who is not a Christian as we can possibly be. Our ambition should be to be like Christ... and the more like Him we become, the more we shall be unlike everybody who is not a Christian."


Sin in the Church

Sorry for the many quotes... couldn't resist this one.

"All communities have to deal with the reality of sin -- and for churches this would include the sins that might occur anywhere, whether sin in the leadership, sin in the congregation, sin in the choir, or sin in the youth group. This would include sins of browbeating and tyranny from the leadership and backbiting and false accusation against the leadership. Things can go wrong anywhere. Because of this, Christian communities have been given the tools to deal with sin. When a body does not have the means of fighting off sin (moral infection) that particular body has AIDS. The immune system is shot. This was why discipline was so important to the Reformers."

He said/she said games

Doug Wilson's pastoral writings are some of his best. Here's a recent blog:

"Now suppose I as an individual know of someone's guilt, but am not in a position to prove it. What then? I may know that he is guilty, but if I can't prove it, what should my judicial stance toward him be? I may not make a public charge that I cannot substantiate under cross-examination. So suppose I see someone commit an egregious sin with my own two eyes. I go to him privately and confront him, and he says something like, "Yeah, I know that you saw me come out of that motel room with that woman, but I also know that you are the only one who saw me. Ha, ha! And if you come around with your busybody two and three witnesses, I will deny everything. Period. Your word against mine." Now suppose this person is a member of my church, and I am looking forward to serving him the Lord's Supper in two days. Do I offer him the bread and wine? You bet. I have no business taking any judicial action against him unless my charges can be independently verified and established. If [they] are true, but cannot be established, then he should have a far greater problem coming to the Supper than I should have with him coming to the Supper. He is the one with the problem, not the rest of the church. Scripture has a much greater problem with innocent people being kept away than with guilty people coming. And the guilty people who are eating and drinking condemnation are not eating and drinking someone else's condemnation. They are doing it to themselves. So in this sense, we don't need to fence the Table; the Table fences us."

As a pastor, I have been in the situation described at the beginning of the paragraph, and have had several people come to me in this situation seeking help. The main way to go here, is to Scripture. The Psalms of vindication are very helpful: the Psalmist calling on God to vindicate, leaving vengeance with Him (Psalm 7, 10, 55-59). (Note that these can get a little violent at times; there are two ways God will destroy the wicked: 1. Hell. 2. Forgiveness - God destroys the wicked within them and saves them; we ought to pray these Psalms in this second fashion.)

Then one must deal with bitterness as well, before the Lord, when there is a lingering complaint (Hebrews 12:15). Whenever you feel the resentment swelling, stop, pray, repent of YOUR sin of bitterness. Ask God for grace to drain the hatred from your heart.

Complaints against others must drown in the ocean of grace we've received from God.

Freedom of speech

Here's an 8-page newsletter I like: Imprimis, from Hillsdale College.

Politically libertarian, religiously big-tent, it's the best of the modern Enlightenment school of thought. As such, it's got its problems, but there is much good to glean, too. Here's a quote:

"Suppose the English government had told Tom Paine that he could go ahead and publish all he liked—but only if at the back of his pamphlets he also printed the Royal Governor’s views. That command, far from an implementation of free speech, would have been just the opposite. It’s a restriction of speech if, in order to be allowed to express your own views, [the government demands] you also have to present those of someone arguing on the other side."

Of course, writers and speakers should try to be fair to opponents, even if they aren't there to defend themselves. That's objectivity, addressed in this same issue by David Brooks.

(Check it out here)

PS - the Brooks article is only here for a short time, so hurry!

Homosexual judges

Genesis 19:9 - "And [the Sodomites] said, 'Stand back!' Then they said, 'This one [Lot] came in to stay here, and he keeps acting as a judge; now we will deal worse with you than with them.'"

Huh. Some things don't change much.
- When Lot asks them not to practice their lifestyle on his guests, they get ticked off: "Who are YOU to judge?"
- When homosexuals today meet with moral resistance or just natural repugnance, they ask the same question: "Who are YOU to judge?"

- Then the Sodomites, contradicting their own "don't judge" rule, take judgment into their own hands: "we'll deal with you."
- Today, the politically active homosexual lobby has the same attitude: our way will win the day. You fundamentalists will be isolated and despised.

Somebody's going to judge. Someone's moral world will carry the day. Someone's morality gets imposed. Let's have it be the right One.


Satan and Pharisees

[Picture: 4th century synagogue at Capernaum]

The Pharisees get a bad rap. Jesus condemned them for their hypocrisy, and rightly of course.

But scholarship these days shows that of all Jewish groups in His day, Jesus had most in common theologically and culturally with the Pharisees. They rejected violence as the answer, against the Zealots. They rejected moral compromise with the culture, against the Sadduccees. And they rejected isolation from the culture, against the Essenes. They said you have to fight evil by obeying God's Word in the midst of society. The 2 greatest commandments for the Pharisee were loving God with all your heart, and loving your neighbor as yourself. Note Jesus' agreement with this in Mark 12:28-34.

The definition of a hypocrite is to SAY the right thing and DO the wrong thing. Do we remember often enough that the Pharisees were often saying all the right things? Even Jesus says to do what they SAY (Matthew 23:2-3).

Travelling in Israel, I learned that a primary center of Pharisaism (again, the GOOD kind as well as the bad) was Capernaum. A major school, big synagogue and population on a main road with lots of cultural interaction. Like Wheaton College in our day, you could say.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, this is all a setup. Now read Matthew 11:23.
"And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades..." because they didn't repent at the coming of Jesus.

Now for the shocker. My cross-references pointed me to Isaiah 14:13-15.
"You have said in your heart:
‘I will ascend into heaven,...
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,...
Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,
To the lowest depths of the Pit.'"

This is a judgment against Babylon, from which the Pharisees came out of exile, and also a reference to Satan's fall from heaven. Hmmm...

They say knowledge puffs up. It's needed to do the right thing in our lives. But it doesn't save us, either. For all their knowledge and understanding of how things should be, the Pharisees of Capernaum and other places didn't give allegiance to the King of Israel. They didn't acknowledge their sin before God. They didn't turn to the provided Savior. And in that, they are no better than (rather they are much like) Lucifer himself, who was once exalted, but through his pride in seeking to go higher, has been brought down to the Pit.

After all, even the demons "believe." The question is, which side are you on? Christians and demons both know the same, true story. But am I Frodo or Boromir? Peter or Edmund (early on)? Who am I working for?

Hosea 11:12 word study

Had a question from church on Hosea 11:12. Different versions translate it the exact opposite in meaning. What's going on? So I looked into it, and here's what I found.

NKJV - Ephraim has encircled Me with lies,
And the house of Israel with deceit;
But Judah still walks with God,
Even with the Holy One who is faithful.

NIV - Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
the house of Israel with deceit.
And Judah is unruly against God,
even against the faithful Holy One.

Yikes, that does look tricky. The different translations come from several ambiguous Hebrew words in a row. Here they are one at a time, starting with the "But Judah" second half of vs 12, and using the NKJV as a basis, comparing to the NIV.

"But" - this can be translated either "and", as in continuing the same thought before, or "but" as in contrasting the thought before. Which one depends on context. Not too much help so far!

"Judah" - no controversy there.

"still" - this is an adverb that can mean "yet", "still", "even", those kinds of words. It doesn't clear up the "but" or "and" question above, because either can make sense of this word. If it's "but", then the idea is that although Ephraim sins, STILL Judah remains faithful. If it's "and," then the idea is that Ephraim sins, and EVEN Judah sins against God.

"walks" - this word gives the clearest indication of any word here. My Hebrew dictionary gives the options as "wander restlessly," "roam." In another form it shows up as "lacks knowledge." All the options seem to be negative. I'm not sure where the NIV gets "unruly" from, but it's better than "walks," I guess, if the negative sense is really that strong...

"with" - same story here as with "still" above. This word can mean "against" if the context is negative or adversarial.

A quick glance at the book of Hosea doesn't give me much reason to contrast Judah and Israel - they are both condemned by God equally. So I'd go more with the NIV here.

The next line, just to mop up:
"Even" is the same word as "still" above - same dilemma.
"With" is the same as with in the line above - same dilemma.
"the Holy One" is plural, yet every translation refers it to God. It's not the plural name for God (Elohim), so that confuses me. It can also refer to angels or saints (holy ones), but no translation goes with that. Only the NKJV puts that in a footnote.
"Faithful" refers to God, either way you read the verse, so there's no controversy there.


Related to absolutely nothing - Sara

I was just researching castle cakes online for my 3 year old's birthday party, and came across the picture I referenced over 7 years ago for our wedding cake!

photo from www.crumbs-of-pairs.com

I have long lost that picture, and our actual cake turned out a little bit different (the baker said she couldn't make lopsided cakes, now come on, even I can do that!). Everyone enjoyed the cake and I'm sure there are more than a few that still remember it.



I just finished this great, quick-read book. I highly recommend it to anyone reading this! It's readable by anyone - short, each chapter is only 4-5 pages, and it's quality stuff by many of my favorite authors: RC Sproul, RC Sproul, Jr., Edna Gerstner, Elisabeth Elliot, Judy Rogers, Doug and Nancy Wilson, Jim Jordan, Gary Ezzo, etc.

Here are some highlights:

Sproul, Jr.: "Christians have manned the barricades in defense of the nuclear family.... we joined the battle too late. If we in the church can keep husband and wife together, and give them a child or two, we think we're doing well. Only a few generations ago, such was not a family at all, but a poor and lonely band of an almost family. We looked at families in terms of several branches.... Now we are rootless." pg 3.

Sproul, Jr.: "The covenants of God, even what some call the covenant of works with Adam, are filled with grace. But... we must remember that He has every right to impose this covenant on us." pg 9.

Sproul, Jr.: "John Knox was persecuted and had to flee to Geneva. When he returned to Scotland, the first man he ordained was my direct ancestor, Robert C. Sproul." pg 11.

Sproul, Jr.: "The family exists to fulfill the dominion mandate first given to our Father Adam and Mother Eve [Gen 1:26-28].... Did God create Eve to alleviate Adam's loneliness? Did God create Eve as a sort of playmate for Adam? God created Eve to help Adam exercise dominion over creation.... Marriage is not first for the romance, passion, and intimacy, though it can serve all these. Marriage is about dominion." pg 15.

Beates: "I am haunted by the comments of James Alexander, who, nearly 150 years ago, wrote: 'Our church cannot compare [regarding domestic worship] with that of the seventeenth century. Along with the Sabbath observance, and the catechizing of children, Family-Worship has lost ground. There are many heads of families, communicants in our churches, and... some ruling elders and deacons, who maintain no stated daily service of God in their dwelling.'... Do you know any heads of families who faithfully conduct daily worship in the home?" pg 31-32.

Beates: "J.I. Packer (in A Quest for Godliness) wrote, 'The Puritan pastor, unlike his modern counterpart, did not scheme to reach the men through the women and children, but vice versa.' For the Puritans, he said, the husband was the family pastor." pg 33-34.

Elliot: "When speaking to a group of pastors' wives, I learned that 80% of them worked full time outside the home. I was shocked.... If we look carefully at the scriptural lists of womanly responsibilities (1 Tim 5:9-10 and Titus 2:3-5), we may ask wheter there is time to do those things that are clearly the will of God when we have set for ourselves so ambitious an agenda." pg 59.

Sproul Jr.: "Our current problem is certainly not overbearing parents who refuse to recognize a change in their authority after the leaving and cleaving. Our problem is parents who refuse to counsel and advise, not meddlesome curmudgeons who demand their own way. Our problem is not tyranny, but abdication.... We need young men who are not ashamed to ask for help... We need patriarchs, men who will at once recognize the sovereignty of households, yet be quick with wise counsel to those of us still learning." pg 85.

Wilson: "A visitor to our church commented on something that struck him as uncommon, or at least more rare than it should be. 'The men pray...' he said. Too often the picture of men at church is that of the hapless drone, maneuvered through the doors by a pious wife. He is not exactly spiritual, but he is docile, and that is reckoned to be close enough." pg 87.

Sorry to go on so long, you can tell I liked it, AND that it's not exactly mainstream stuff. I think it's on the mark though, to restore Biblical living in families, as men, women and children of God.


Alito hearings

2 brief points here.

For #1 you'll have to go here for a great illustration of the absurd by being absurd. Why is going against moral principles in public office such a great sin, again?

#2 Several senators have been hammering away at the fact that Roe v Wade is settled. It would be unthinkable to even think about changing Roe.

Well if that's true, what's this about a living, changing-with-the-times Constitution? Hmmm?


The Cross reveals true discipleship

"If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we c annot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life. We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering.... But this notion has ceased to be intelligible to a Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary human life and a life committed to Christ."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - "The Cost of Discipleship"

I'm afraid for many people the Gospel is simply emotional uplift and encouragement. And then where is the cross, besides natural tragedies and diseases that occur? What do I suffer, solely because I follow Jesus? Anything? And if I do, do I quickly draw back, willing to be ashamed of Him in this world?

Republicans - bad

(Continued from last post below)

Problem - my Congressman's office says they're going to send a written response to my home address. While there is a box to check asking if you want a reply, I figured they would save a stamp if I emailed, by emailing back. Maybe not "secure" enough.

Anyway, that's not the only item on the "evil Republican" front today. Here's the other one:

"While the Republicans captured the House of Representatives in 1994 following a popular backlash against perceived corruption in the Democratic party, the party’s conservative critics say it has now fallen prey to the same Washington culture. A group of more than 100 members organised as the Republican Study Committee is hoping to use the leadership race to rein in what they see as runaway government spending championed by Mr DeLay and his allies.

"At the top of the conservative reform agenda is an end to the practice of earmarking, in which members can secretly insert into huge spending bills billions of dollars in projects for favoured companies or other constituents – many of whom in turn donate to the lawmakers’ re-election funds. While the practice is not new, it has mushroomed since Republicans captured Congress. Last year 15,000 earmarks were added into various spending bills."

It's like a cop going undercover to bust prostitutes and instead giving them your business...

This is the weakness of the 2 party system. People like me (usually more conservative than mainstream Republicans) have no avenue to hold these guys accountable to what they promised. They know I'm not going Democrat, and there is no viable more-conservative option. Is there?

Of course, to be more optimistic, perhaps the accountability is happening right under my nose: DeLay's ouster and this new coalition. Bravo and success to them...

Republicans - good

I just sent my first ever communication to my congressman, thanking him for his work on the intelligence committee he chairs.

Never thought I'd write my congressman, but when I realized it would probably be really easy by email, I gave it a try. Took about 2 minutes.


A jealous God

Why the second commandment against carved images (idols, in context)?

Exodus 20:5 - "For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God."

Our women's Bible study at church had a question on this jealousy of God, after I mentioned it in a sermon from Zechariah 1:14-15. One person with strong Dutch roots, and a Dutch Bible firmly in the mind, remembers the Dutch translating this phrase "I am an ambitious God."

This sent me to my Hebrew lexicon. The Hebrew "kana" means ardour, zeal or jealousy, always in the provoked sense - due to a rival lover or enemy.

So the 1st 2 commandments (also Joshua 24.19) are making the point that we must love God only, and whole-heartedly, as a husband asks the same of his wife. If the guy sees his wife making eyes at somebody else, he is provoked. He is jealous. How often do we "make eyes" at, or flirt with the world, God's rival for our love, devotion and worhsip? Far more often than we realize, I'd bet, since God puts it first on his list of 10 Commandments, and as the Greatest Commandment: "Love Yahweh your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength."

Or, turn this around for even more impact today: the point was to not keep pictures and statues of other gods around - they might tempt you away from Me. How often do pictures on the internet, in movies, or in glossy magazines by grocery checkouts tempt MEN away from their wives? Safe to say virtually all wives or husbands have had this "provoked to jealousy" feeling at one point. We already know what we're doing to God when we sin. So God says, don't make that stuff. Don't look at it. Look at, love, serve, worship Me.

As for the original Dutch version (!) I have no explanation. It's a bit off the mark according to the Hebrew, although it does get across the idea of God being roused and taking seriously our loyalty to Him. I'm sadly ignorant of the translation of my native Dutch Bibles...

Given the amazing literary resources for Bible study we have now, relative to what Erasmus and Luther had during the Reformation 500 years ago, I also have no explanation for why we aren't experiencing a much greater Reformation today. (The Spirit of course, revives, but He used the printing press and Luther's Bible, in part.) But perhaps I'm speaking too soon; it may be under way...

Abraham's faith

Genesis 12:6-7 - "And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then Yahweh appeared to Abram and said, 'To your descendants I will give this land.'"

What faith this must have taken to believe this! Abraham moves into a foreign country as one household (a big one, I grant, but only one!) and expects his descendants to own the land.

What multi-generational, expansive, visionary faith to which God called Abraham!

How is it that modern people have a hard time with the first step of faith, as described in Hebrews 11:3,6? ("The worlds were framed by the word of God.... he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.")

China and North Korea: good buddies

My concern over China continues to be higher than others in my circle.
This news story didn't help.

"North Korea and China, both communist countries, have traditionally had close ties" it says, in part. Well, that clears up an awful lot in my book.

So someone tell me why we didn't take our current approach with China with the Soviet Union 50 years ago. If the response is the Iron Curtain - that the USSR forcibly kept people in its country - I would point to Taiwan as an similar issue that points to a national attitude of equal magnitude: "they belong to us, whether they want to or not." As China becomes more important to us, they are expecting us to view Taiwan as an ant next to an elephant. Will we? Do the political and religious rights of a group depend on the economic clout of that group? One day the test will come for America.

So why didn't we think of the USSR in 1955: "that's a really big country. Think of all the people, the revenue, that could be brought into our world economy. Let's send them some business." Perhaps then we took moral and religious issues more seriously than economic ones. Of course, a practical answer would also include having plenty economic growth from our own GIs coming home in the 50s, whereas now we're looking for some extra fuel. And a third reason: China is more astute at the propaganda war with us. Opening up a bit makes them look malleable. While we're thinking they're going to change, I'm afraid there are some very hard lines under those smiling faces above.


Poems from perusing

Skimming some new (to me) blogs today, I found this gem at


"A Hymn to God the Father"

"Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still: though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

"Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin? and, made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year, or two: but wallowed in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

"I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, Thou hast done,
I fear no more."

-John Donne

Prayer to remove spiritual self-deception

"Preserve me from a false esimate of the whole or a part of my character; may I pay regard to my principles as well as my conduct, my motives as well as my actions. Help me never to mistake the excitement of my passions for the renewing of the Holy Spirit, never to judge my religion by occasional impressions and impulses, but by my constant and prevailing disposition."

from Valley of Vision, pg 65.


Good stuff on the place of modern Israel in Biblical prophecy here

Goes along with my post below on the tabernacle, refuting some assumptions that group has.


Saxon Braid Scarf DONE

The saxon braid scarf is finally complete! It is a lovely off white and measures in at 6"x62" plus fringe. This is a detail of the cable pattern I used from the Samus cardigan on knitty.com. No digital camera means no swank shots of my scarf.

While Celtic knots are supposed to be perfect in every crossing, my background which is not Celtic and full of original sin has made my scarf a bit more, uh, unique. Not noticeable from a prancy pony, however. I think there's only one or two crossings that went the wrong way, but perhaps the Book of Kells or the Lindesfarne Gospels have some errors yet to be discovered as well....

This pattern was a cable party - multiple crossings on nearly every row, some up to seven back to back! I don't like the U-shaped cable needles very much and prefer my own homemade shish-ka-bob skewer sharpened on both ends in the pencil sharpener. Get out the rough spots with an emery board, and voila! You've just saved a couple bucks! I should've learned how to do cables without a cable needle, but never seemed motivated enough to learn that one yet.

With this done, there is only one project left on the needles - the Shetland Tea Shawl. I'm about 80% done with the main part, and the edging after that. Here's the photo from the "Gathering of Lace" book:

I hope to finish it this month (started in September!). But that might not happen as I've started up another graphic design job from home doing a fun logo.


The Sun!!

We saw a few rays of sunshine today after 13 days in a row of complete cloud cover. No wonder Michigan is 2nd for the number of people getting weather-related depression!

I'm dancing - even though it lasted about 7 minutes.


Judas and U2

"Until the End of the World" - from Achtung Baby album.

"Last time we met it was a low-lit room
We were as close together as bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
Except you
You were talking about the end of the world.

"I took the money, I spiked your drink
You miss too much these days if you stop to think
You led me on with those innocent eyes
And you know I love the element of surprise
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You, you were acting like it was the end of the world.

"In waves of regret, waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You, you said you'd wait until the end of the world."

I left out a couple lines - anybody want to explain the last 3 lines for me?
Bono's poetry makes very clear for me the distinction between prose as declarative and poetry as allusive. Poetry alludes to things, and sometimes it doesn't quite get you there...

Harry Potter supplement

Internet Monk, a high school English teacher, among other things, posted this just after I posted on Potter below:

"our students read Shakespeare in all four high school grades. This includes the witches and murderers in Macbeth, the ghosts in Julius Caesar and Hamlet, and the violence and mature themes in all of Shakespeare’s plays. If Shakespeare were to be confiscated for these elements, I would have to consider whether OBI [his school]could maintain its reputation as a “real” school with a curriculum comparable to other private schools.

"Yet Harry Potter is sometimes confiscated for the same elements, even though any reader of both will tell you that Rowling is far more clearly, teachably, “moral” in her story-telling than Shakespeare is in his plays.

"Why is the wizard Gandalf in Lord of the Rings legal, but the wizardry in Harry Potter illegal? Why is the “magic” in the Narnia stories legal, but the magic in Potter illegal? The same question could be asked of Merlin the Magician or even of the Witch at Endor in the Bible."

Again, don't take this as blanket endorsement of Potter, on my behalf. I've only read part of the first book and wasn't very impressed. I may give them a second chance in the future. I'm just trying to get us past knee-jerk negative reactions to the portrayal of the supernatural in pop culture stories...


A different sort of preaching...

Doug Wilson:

"We see that Christ was appointed by GOd to be the heir of all things. When Christ sent out His apostles to disciple the nations, it was based upon this inheritance, already established. He owns it all already. Understanding this makes a great difference in preaching -- are we begging or declaring? We are commissioned to declare to the world an accomplished fact. Christ is King. This is not a campaign to get everyone to vote for Him so that He might become president at some future date. This is a word spoken from heaven. All authority in heaven and on earth is in the palm of Jesus Christ."

We need to balance with this Paul's "we persuade men," I think. But the main point is that God will sovereignly accomplish His purpose, and it is a grand end. Preach with that end in mind!

"Pride & Prejudice" - Movie Review

I went out last night with another Jane Austen fan and saw the adaptation of her book "Pride and Prejudice." The rags-to-riches type story of sisters Jane and Elizabeth Bennet who overcome their own prejudices and vanity to secure two of the wealthiest suitors to ever visit their rural town is a jewel on the bookshelf. A pure delight to read over and over. There's love, wit, humor, a psycho-mom and a laxidaisical dad, a loud-mouthed sister who drags the family name through the mud, dashing gentlemen, a meddling old rich lady, a bumbling rector, and lots and lots of long-lost etiquette and social decorum. Who wouldn't love this semi-modern fairy tale?

The producers of this movie loved it enough to try to condense the rich plot into a 2 hour film. And they made a valiant effort. Lots of great lines were dropped in the effort, and a few not-so-great lines added to help the viewer along. Breathtaking views of England's countryside were played against the daily semi-rustic life of the Bennet family. The visual comparison of the "haves" to the "wish they hads" was superb.

I say all this comparing it to the 6 hour film put out by A&E some years ago. That was a stellar production of Austen's story. It's nearly verbatim to her novel. So everything from here out compares the two films.

A&E did a great job of making the characters into comedic sketches of their personalities. The current film made them seem like very real people you would encounter. I don't think that was Austen's intent. The new film downplayed the evil nature of Mr. Wickham, dropped one of Bingley's sisters and lost the great effect of playing the two snobs off one another, and loosened up much of the 18th century social mores to our current standards. Mr. Bingley actually walked into Jane's bedchamber (uninvited or announced!) while she was sick in bed and had a very casual (and dorky) conversation with her. Austen is rolling over in her grave at such informality; both Bingley and Jane would have been disgraced! The biggest disappointment was how the theme of pride and prejudice was greatly subjugated to the whole falling in love aspect of the story. Another proof that we Americans would rather feel emotions than think about something.

So what was good? The actress who played Jane was wonderful. A&E picked a real doe-eyed actress who made Jane seem to be a real air head. Mr. Darcy seemed to be a bit more human and approachable - within the proper social circles, of course - than A&E's version. But overall I was disappointed with the interpretation of the characters: Mrs. Bennet wasn't scheming and fruity enough, Mr. Collins the rector wasn't nearly as doofy as Austen paints him, and I had a hard time seeing Lady deBourgh as anyone other than "M" from the James Bond films. I kept waiting for her incredibly huge wig to disclose some high-tech gadget. And Keira Knightley, who plays Elizabeth Bennet, well, she's cute, but looked too 21st century to fit in with the time frame. What's up with the dark circles under her eyes? And why would she be the only flat-chested one in the whole town while every other girl used corsets to their fullest capability?

Overall, read the book, then wait for this one to come out in the video stores. It's fun to watch. My friend cried at the end (sorry, I'm hard to move to tears when it comes to chick flicks - only "Sabrina" can do that). If you're in any way romantic at heart, you'll enjoy it.


Media Rush

Confession time. I occasionally listen to Rush Limbaugh when I'm in the car and he's on. I was introduced to him almost 15 years ago and have had a love-hate relationship with him ever since. He's the epitome of the "unrestrained capitalist" conservative that liberal Christians think conservative Christians are duped by.

He was on a roll today talking about the mainstream media - an area I generally agree with him about. Why do the press impugn military enlistees as uneducated hicks with no other hope for a career (b/c America is such a rotten place), and then when they start dying overseas they suddenly care about them and want to do something about it?

Anyway, I've been thinking of doing some more extensive writing lately, and think I hit upon an idea. The Way Things Ought to Be, was Rush's first book. Maybe a series of essays with this title - a manifesto, but not political - more a Christian view of the world. Stay tuned...

Tabernacle and Jesus

This is great stuff. Much of seeing Jesus in the Tabernacle is solid stuff, that helps us remember that God put His Gospel in pictures, images and furniture, for His people to enact and live into. People smelled, saw, and walked around signs of God's presence, day by day.

An interesting example: the holy of holies was a perfect cube - about 15 feet high, deep and wide. But the dimensions are never given - they are deduced by the dimensions of the rooms and spaces surrounding. This is like the Trinity (3-dimensional?) and nature of God Himself. We often define Him by what He is not (immortal, invisible, etc.). An interesting "incarnation" of God's nature.

Zechariah 2:14: "Shout and be glad, Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will tabernacle [live] among you."
John 1:14: "The Word became flesh and tabernacled [dwelt] among us."

Some problems lurk: this is a group that is not quite my style. They read a bit much into each detail, perhaps, it's a bit low budget, and their views on Israel today are a little out there, I think. Nevertheless, their theology has resulted in a good look at the Old Testament, from which we can learn.

Liberal Christianity

Good stuff here by fellow pastor Scott, arguing that liberal Christianity is wallowing and doesn't even know it.
Thanks for this, sir. God creates us with questions; He gives us the answers in His Book.

The other Scott has some good stuff on a liberalism fighter here.

Peace or war?

Finding New Testament links while studying Genesis 3, I ran into Romans 16:20.

"The God of peace will crush Satan under you feet shortly."

How could a God of peace, crush anyone? It doesn't make sense to the peace-nik, Yoder-reading crowd. But for the faithful, wars do not cease until our death, until the seed of the woman crushes the serpent's seed (Rev 19:19-21). Until then, it's war (Rev 12:13-17).

Of course, not a war in the modern militaristic sense, with worldly weapons (Eph 6:12), but a war with enemies, weapons, strategems, destruction nonetheless.

I'll leave for another time, discussion of the state and force in this spiritual war - tricky business, but a navigable discussion.

Onward Christian soldiers!

Working out salvation

I got this book from a hometown neighbor, whose granddaughter is mentioned occasionally therein. Strange introduction to a book, but the content was decent, too.

Thesis: as an Episcopalian Christian, converted from Judaism, the author believes Jews do some spiritual practices better than Christians, and we Christians could learn a thing or two from them.

Going through chapters like Sabbath, Fasting, Candles, Prayer, Aging and Weddings, I quickly picked up on the main motif: Jews have solid, long-lasting, external practices to bolster their faith; Christians don't do as much of this.

Now this is something I've been pondering for a while - the chicken vs the egg: do external practices foster internal faith or just pride? Does inner faith always result in outward action? I've regained an appreciation for the external practices over the years, which is probably why I didn't put down this trendy, blud-state kind of book right away, but stuck with it.

Trendy, blue-state? you ask, as the eyebrows raise... Yes, when the author states that the most important thing to her groom about their wedding was "somehow creating community at the wedding," that's a pretty good clue. To speak of creating community is an oxymoron, but some are so self-consciously fixated on this they end up saying strange things. Anyway, that's off the point.

Is dependence on externals hazardous to your faith? It can be. "According to the Talmud, the Jew who wears phylacteries on his arm and fringed tzitzit on his garments and affixes a mezuzah to his door, 'is sure not to sin because he has so many reminders of God...'" This is jsut a naive misunderstanding of the depths to which sin can penetrate our souls. So this can be overdone to a fault.

But there IS something resulting from external practices that Christians need. I think the two areas of deepest need are boldness and accountability. And the author hits both very well at the end, talking about mezuzahs (read the book, if you don't know). Her friend Molly encourages her to hang a quote from Psalm 121 on her front door. She hesitates out of shame, and becomes righteously ashamed of her shame.

And the sign invites accountability - something many Christians don't even seem to comprehend. The sign, "tells you that I am... trying to be a Christian, and in telling that yo you, I am inviting ou to hold me to it." This is great. Total opposite of the guy who told me once, in an anti-Catholic vein, that Christians don't need to - and shouldn't - confess their sins to each other (see James 5:16). Accountability also shows up only where there is trust: we need to hear and say more often in conversations with other Christians, "I'm not sure I agree with that." Or, "but what about..." and trust the other won't get offended, walk away, or put up walls in the relationship indefinitely.


What Churches Want

Here's one of my prized possessions, I've been listening to in the car again. The only published recording of CS Lewis I know of, giving lectures on "The 4 Loves." Great stuff. He speaks in quite the monotone, and way too fast for the depth of the material to sink in!

On agape, he notes that when it comes to receiving love, agape is different from the other 3 natural laws. While we want the first 3 (storge - natural affections; philia - brotherly and friendship; eros - erotic), we usually don't want to receive agape. We're too prideful to receive a love that doesn't depend in some way on us. Lewis says: "Our necessities and our desires are in conflict."

Hmmm. Imagine that. Our felt needs (desires) and our actual needs aren't always the same. A basic concern I have is that when the church gets in the business of meeting felt needs by playing the bait and switch with people (draw them in with this, then give them what they really need), then people can get the wrong message (it justifies the felt need as the real issue), and the church can be attracted to the glamour of the outward activity going on, when the real, non-glamorous, spiritual advance is happening underneath or elsewhere.

Anyway, get this great resource here!


Prime of life

Finishing this one up, and found a gem: 30 years of age is considered the "prime of physical vigour." Heh, and I thought I was way past that...

This book was a bit disappointing. Awful lot of works righteousness around these parts, though mixed with a strong commitment to study of the Text, which is great.

Harry Potter

Also from the Sunday School Guide, another RCA pastor and Potter fan:

"One supposed critique of the series claimed that the first novel states there is no such thing as good and evil, and therefore teaches relativism. The novel does have a character saying that, but the character is a villain who is trying to trick Harry! In Harry's world, there is... ultimate good and ultimate evil, and characters must choose which to follow.... actions have consequences.... lessons are learned, such as: sacrificial love defeats evil; it's not the abilities one has, but the choices one makes which determine his or her value in life... one might not understnad everything, but when a supreme spiritual authority gives instructions, one had better pay attention and obey... fame and fortune aren't the important things in life... the weak things of this world can often confound the strong."

This is great. I applaud this moral worldview.

"Rowling also uses magical abilities as analogies for coming-of-age experiences, warfare and the interactions - positive and negative - between human beings."

I've only read part of the first book, and soon after it came out, so it's been a while. But I got the sense that magic was not used in Potter in the more redemptive way that Lewis or Tolkien did. But neither is the use of magic in fiction itself inherently evil. There's probably a mix of bad, harmless and good uses of magic here.

"Even when the culture does feed us truly bad things as entertainment, why should this surprise, shock and horrify us? Isn't that what we should expect from the world? Is God calling us to point our finger at the world and repeat over and over again how bad it is?... [The Bible's] main concern is not that those things exist in the world, but that they often exist in the church. The people of God are called to purify themselves, not to engage in an endlessly frustrating quest to purify everybody else."

OK, but I wouldn't want to demean the prophetic voice to the world, either. God is not willing that ANY should perish. I buy the main point, only when modified with the "point the finger" and "over and over" phrases. He then points to 1 Cor 5:9-13, which I think evangelical Christians need to read daily, in our current condition, where we often find ourselves fighting the wrong battles.

Have fun

Dave Landegent, fellow RCA pastor and great writer for our Sunday School Guide:

"People today live very purpose-driven lives - and that purpose is fun, pleasure and enjoyment.... Fun has become the standard by which all things can be judged....
"Congregations [can] get caught up in this because if the church doesn't offer high-spirited worship, peppy music, sermons laced with humor and good-time fellowship, then the consistory knows that members might go check out the fun-loving church down the street"

Right - o. When is cultural adaptation harmlessly living in the world, and when is it desperately trying to retain church "market share" while compromising the integrity and nature of worship?