10.31.2007

Iraq - food for thought

I recently signed on to Gary DeMar's American Vision email and magazine.
Here's a blurb from the first article:

"The talk from both ends of the political spectrum is that “democracy” will cure the ills of Iraq, Iran, and the surrounding Muslim nations. What if the “liberated” people of Iraq, with their newly acquired right to vote, decide they want a Taliban-style social and political system whose goal is to defeat the infidel West and impose Sharia law on Muslims and non-Muslims? Democracy in the hands of wild-eyed fanatics is perilous. They will use the democratic process to deny the democratic process once they gain power through the democratic process.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. There are democratic elements in our constitutional system, but these are balanced with courts and elected representatives. Moreover, western-style democratic principles are built on the remnants of a Christian moral order. Self-government under God’s ultimate government tempered the potential harmful effects of a pure democracy that could be manipulated by evil men. Attempts to export our political form without the worldview that gives it its heart will lead to unintended consequences. Democracy in the Mideast will only lead to the imposition of the prevailing worldview which is anti-Christian."

10.30.2007

Prepare to Worship Sunday

"We need to come prepared [for worship]. Because we have not spent any time glorying in the presence of God, our affections are unstirred. We come with cold hearts, depending on the social activity of corporate worship to warm our hearts and to make us ready, whereas, we ought to approach worship like a racehorse, straining, longing to begin the race. We should come to worship having been already in God's presence through meditation and prayerful preparation." - page 162.

Opening Prayer - 10/28/07

Heavenly Father, for the past week, we have been seeking to serve You in Your world and in Your kingdom. We now return once again to the source, from whom all blessings flow. You gather us in to rejuvenate, recreate, cleanse and sanctify us, transforming us for continued and greater service in Your Kingdom. We come here to worship You in faith. We believe You will do these things to us. This is Your service to us – blessing, strengthening, granting rest. Give us receptive hearts that are able to stop our clamoring frenzy for a moment, in order to receive from You, Your gifts for us: words of life, bread and wine to nourish, fellowship to encourage, prayer to cast down burdens. We ask You to be present now as we worship You. We believe You are here, for You promise to be in Your word. We pray now through the living Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, who sits at Your right hand, living and reigning with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, without beginning or end. Amen.

Call to confession - 10/28/07

We gather to worship our God, and prepare now to confess our sins to Him. God wants us to bring our whole selves before Him – our heart, mind, music, money, words, troubles, cares – everything. But our sin we must drop here at the door, and leave behind. We do this not by stoically working up spiritual feelings of perfection, but by repenting of them.

We must be sure to confess the sin of pride. Probably, it was the slippery serpent’s first sin, and it remains subtle and slippery for us. Just when we think we’ve ginned up our humility adequately again, we take satisfaction in our ginning it up. As we raise our children, we compare with the world or the church, and approve ourselves, instead of confessing our sins.

We must learn to repent of what we think we are doing right. We must repent for taking pride in our strengths, as a cover for not obeying God elsewhere.

Communion exhortation - 10/28/07

When Jesus took bread and broke it, He said, This is My Body. His Body was dis-membered, as muscles were punctured, and skin flogged off. And He calls us to RE-member Him. When Adam fell asleep in the Garden, he was dis-membered, as God opened his side and made Eve from his bone. Then he rejoiced to be re-joined with his bride.
Our sin has torn us apart from fellowship and membership with our Creator. But God in Christ has made a way to re-member us, to reincorporate us into the Triune fellowship of joy and love. It meant the disjointing, ripping crucifixion, but it resulted in rejoining and healing for us. We deserve God’s judgment for our sin against Him, and we can only receive His favor if we stand in Him, with His righteousness covering us, as a member of His Body. We must be one loaf with Him. So let us act out that membership as we pass the one loaf, ripping our part in Christ, and remembering Him, as He is symbolically reunited with us. Do this in remembrance of our Lord Jesus.

Word, Water, Bread, Wine. The gifts of God, for the children of God. We invite all those who are baptized and not under the discipline of Christ’s Church, to commune with Him at His table.

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Great deal

I highly recommend this Bible, for 2 reasons:

1. The translation:
ESV (English Standard Version). Most accurate and literate version based on the modern critical texts, in my opinion.

2. The study and theological notes:
If you're a study Bible person at all, then of all the study Bibles out there (and I used to be an expert salesman at the local Christian book-gift store) I think this one most closely reflects a proper understanding of Scripture.

10.29.2007

Opening prayer - 10/15/07

Heavenly Father, on this Sunday, this Lord’s Day, we hail Your Son’s sacrificial, rising from death and conquering death and hell. We give our Lord Christ all glory, laud and honor, as they did when He entered Jerusalem triumphantly. We sing hosanna to the son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Our children also sing joyfully and out of the mouths of babes You have ordained praise to confound the wicked. Let the praise of Your children be acceptable in Your sight today, because we come to You through Your Son our Savior, Amen.

Call to confession - 10/15/07

Our call to confession this morning is directed toward our children, but applies to all of us in a broad way. Children, when you are here, think about those around you, and not just yourselves. Respect everyone here as a member of the body of Christ. Remember that we are not here so you can talk with your friends. We are not here so you can have a certain book or toy for a while. We are here to worship God together. We are selfish, and so it can be hard to think of others. But remember how Jesus thought of us selflessly. Be kind to those around you. Don’t fidget or whisper and distract them from the Lord’s service. Don’t look for excuses to go to the back room. Pay attention to what God is saying to you, and notice that He is speaking to all of us. You are part of this group, this church, the Body of Chirst. So respect that body. Teens, this applies to you as well. Don’t spend your fellowship time here only with those of your age, seeking your own friendship enhancement. Not that you can’t do that, but leave time to also serve those who are younger than you, and learn from those who are older. Discern the body of Christ gathered on this day.

Communion exhortation - 10/15/07

Our communion exhortation today is Psalm 128, as applied to Jesus.
How blessed the man who fears the Lord. This man is Jesus, who fully obeyed God, and so is fully blessed, and the one through whom we are blessed. He has eaten the labor of His hands and is satisfied. His wife, the Bride, the Church is a fruitful vine in the midst of His house, bearing fruit, bearing children to the Lord of the house. We are those children, gathered like olive plants around the Lord’s Table. This is how the Father blesses His Son. This is how we see ourselves in God’s story. God’s adopted children, given a place at His table. Out of Christ’s obedient labor and sacrifice He provides for His children. When we are young and immature, we aren’t even aware of the sacrifice that goes into this. As we mature, we learn more about the cross: the physical pain, the injustice, the Son being forsaken by His Father. We hear these words, and have some idea, but part of maturity is knowing that we remain children, not yet fully understanding the full labor that made this Supper possible.

Word, Water, Bread, Wine. The gifts of God, for the children of God. We invite all those who are baptized and not under the discipline of Christ’s Church, to commune with Him at His table.

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10.25.2007

Another cool analogy

If the Church is the Body of Christ, with marks that define its vitality...

"Word is a mark of life like breathing is. Sacraments are a mark of life like heart beats are. Discipline is a mark of life the way an immune system is. This last one is different than the first two -- in this way. If a man stops breathing, he dies right then. If his heart stops, he dies right then. If his immune system goes, he dies sometime sooner or later, probably sooner."

Douglas Wilson

Communion exhortation

As we come to this Table, week by week, we are reminded that our heavenly Father has chosen to feed us through His Son Jesus Christ. If we do not partake of Him, we have no life in us. So I want to parse the simple sentence: Jesus feeds us.

The object of this Supper is Christ. We can only truly partake here when we believe Him. The object of our faith is Jesus. We proclaim that He is what we need, and in this Supper, and this whole service, God gives Him to us.

Jesus feeds. What do we DO with Jesus, when He is given to us? We let Him nourish us. He is the heavenly manna, given to us daily, to sustain us through the wilderness. We will become like Jesus, in paradise, and God is beginning that process here. We are what we eat, after all, and we want to be like Him. So let Jesus feed you with His own Body and blood.

Jesus feeds us. Not just you, but us. This is not a time for the lights to go down and fade out everyone around you. This is a time to see how God’s Kingdom works, leavening the WHOLE lump of dough, not just your piece of it. Discern the Body, so that you can glorify God rightly, and serve Him more effectively in the Body.

Jesus feeds us now through His appointed representatives. But keep your focus on Him, and His Body.

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Exhortation

Our call to confession this morning is a reminder that we are gathered on the mountain of the Lord, and that on this mountain, the Lord sets a feast for us. You have assembled to meet with God. Since this is what you have done, it should also have been your intention to do it. Take care that You do not sit down at Hist table with Your appetite already ruined by the dainties of this world. If you have been eating where you should not, nibbling on various lusts, snacking on resentments, gorging on covetousness, you are in no condition to enjoy what has been prepared for you.

Take care also that You do not reject the table set by God in the name of some higher holiness. Many reject the goodness and beauty of creation in the name of true spirituality. No one can be holier than Jesus Christ, though many fools have tried it.

At the right hand of God are pleasures forevermore, and we worship Him in the name of the One who sits at that right hand. The people of God, when they understand, are a glad people.

Opening Prayer

Heavenly Father, we have gathered together in response to Your call to worship You. Your Word has formed and shaped us into one holy nation, a kingdom of priests. As Your Spirit gathers us up to heaven, the 4 living creatures cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” Around them the 24 elders fall down before You from their thrones to worship You, casting their crowns before You, because You are worthy to receive all glory, because You created all things. They have harps to sing your praises, in tune with our piano. They have gathered up our prayers in their bowls of incense, tuning them to Your will, and the coming of Your Kingdom to earth. As we fall down before the Lamb, may our worship be pleasing in Your sight, Yahweh of Israel, for we approach You washed and redeemed in His blood, by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

10.22.2007

Long Life & Success to the Farmer

Let the Wealthy & Great
Roll in Splendor and State
I envy then not I declare it
I eat my own Lamb,My Chickens & Ham
I shear my own fleece & I wear it
I have Lawns, I have Bowers
I have Fruits, I have Flowers
The Lark is my morning alarmer
so jolly boys now
Here's God Speed the Plough
Long Life & Success to the Farmer.

English Verse circa 1890

Fiber for the Whole Family

Some have called me a "Fiber Freak" - although I do not really deserve the title. I only knit and sometimes crochet. True freaks card, spin, and dye their own fiber. I've dabbled in spinning on a homemade drop spindle, but I digress.


The real fiber freaks gathered this weekend at a huge fiber festival - the New York Sheep & Wool Festival, commonly called Rhinebeck. There's a lot of buzz in blogland about it, but I'd like to share this photo I found to defend myself on how knitting can truly be a family pasttime:

from www.masondixonknitting.com

Do you see this?! Mom and Dad are knitting, while junior happily hangs out in the backpack. Of course, I'm assuming he's knitting too. And *what* are they knitting? They're adding onto a charity blanket, a group project started by the gals over at mason-dixon knitting. You can see a lot of other great fiber festival photos there, including a dude wearing tights while riding two percheron horses.

See, these events are never boring! :) Too bad we have to wait for spring for the next season of festivals.


10.19.2007

Undone

Sometimes in order to go forwards, you really need to go backwards first. I've been experiencing this in a few of my pasttimes lately, namely knitting.

I've been working on a lace scarf/stole and am FINALLY attaching the final edging. I got 1/3 done and realized I messed up the spacing of it in proportion to the scarf body. Sigh. So it was promptly ripped out (no looking back!). Backwards by mistake, backwards by necessity.

My next project is a more exciting, PURPOSEFUL kind of moving backwards. Oh, hang on for this! I picked up a sweater at a thrift store that'sa trifle too small in the arms, so I am in the process of removing the sleeves (there was a tidy crochet seam that easily unzipped the sleeves from the body). Then I will unravel the sleeves and wind up the yarn, reusing some of it to knit an edging around the armholes. It'll be a fun challenge to match the guage and style of the sweater. There's a zipper down the front 1/4 of the sweater, but I'm considering steeking the front to make it a full zip-up vest. Please pause to consider the thrill of steeking: you stabilize the knitting with a machine sewn line up both sides of where you'll cut, then (deep breath) SNIP THROUGH THE SWEATER, cutting it in two. The stitching will hold the knit stitches from unraveling (in theory), allowing me to pick up and knit a new zipper band on each side with the yarn from the sleeves. If it all fails miserably, I'm out a few bucks and gain about 800 yds of fine cotton yarn.

Hmmm, what else can I destroy and then "fix up"?

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Poem of the Day

The Seraph and Poet
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The seraph sings before the manifest
God-One, and in the burning of the Seven,
And with the full life of consummate
Heaving beneath him like a mother's
Warm with her first-born's slumber in that
The poet sings upon the earth grave-riven,
Before the naughty world, soon self-forgiven
For wronging him, - and in the darkness prest
From his own soul by worldly weights.
Even so,
Sing, seraph with the glory! heaven is high;
Sing, poet with the sorrow! earth is low:
The universe's inward voices cry
'Amen' to either song of joy and woe:
Sing, seraph, - poet, - sing on equally!

10.11.2007

Poem of the day

She Was a Phantom of Delight
by William Wordsworth

She was a phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A lovely Apparition, sent
To be a moment's ornament;
Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;
Like Twilight's, too, her dusky hair;
But all things else about her drawn
From May-time and the cheerful Dawn;
A dancing Shape, an Image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and way-lay.

I saw her upon a nearer view,
A Spirit, yet a Woman too!
Her household motions light and free,
And steps of virgin liberty;
A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;
A Creature not too bright or good
For human nature's daily food;
For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears and smiles.

And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A Being breathing thoughtful breath,
A Traveler between life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warm, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright,
With something of angelic light.

10.03.2007

Eternal covenant; almost eternal debate

I just finished Ralph's book, Eternal Covenant, and enjoyed it. I think I largely agree with it.

Smith's main point is that the covenant of works is an extension of the eternal covenant of love within the Trinity. Instead of viewing the covenant as Adam earning God's favor meritoriously, we ought to view it as God creating Adam IN His favor, with the blessing of life, Eden, etc. Adam was required to keep covenant by obeying God, but categories of merit are unnecessary to this view.

(Quick glossary:
FV = Federal Vision
TR = Truly Reformed, who think FV is not Reformed, that it denies justification by faith alone, etc)


Well the TR crowd is all over this one. Here is a long article by Richard Phillips critiquing Smith and his FV cronies. My take on the Phillips article:

1. Phillips dismisses as unworthy of attention Smith's argument that the elements of a covenant imply an actual covenant (Ps 2:7-9; Jn 17:1-5, 20-23) when speaking of the inner-Trinitarian covenant, yet Phillips uses that exact same argument to confirm a covenant of works from John Murray's writings.

2. Covenant does not inherently require unequals, as Phillips insists (Gen 21:32). Historically, the term can be used for agreements and relationships with lords-vassals or between equals. This opens the way to see the Trinity as in covenant.

3. I disagree that Smith is headed for tri-theism with covenantal understanding of it. We speak of husband and wife as becoming one flesh, though two persons. The mystery is the same. Philips is underestimating what covenantal unity is. One could as easily accuse Philips of modalism.

4. While Phillips sees Smith's covenant as relationship as denigrating covenant, I found Smith's argument compelling. Phillips prefers to see covenant as our means to relationship with God, nothing more, and certainly not the relationship itself. If this is so, Smith asks, then is covenant jettisoned once we get to heaven? It would have to be if covenant is only soteriological, and not ontological, too. But do we not remain in covenant with God there? Do we not renew covenant with God in worship? Does our covenantal union with Christ go away once we are with Him directly? How else are we as the Church to be one as the Trinity is one (John 17)?

5. Smith may not be as big a leap for me since I'm not as steeped in the Westminster side of things, with its explicit covenant of works. I'm more familiar with the Dutch guys, Kuyper et al, who Smith relies on...

Phillips is very unfair to Smith in saying that "Instead of the classically identified elements of a covenant - the parties involved, the condition, the promised blessing, and the threatened sanction - all that now is involved is a mutual commitment to relationship". He must have missed Smith's argument that the classical elements of a covenant imply a covenant. Smith is not doing away with these elements at all, but saying there is a more relational backdrop to those legal elements.

When Phillips says the biblical structure of covenants collapses, he is just asserting what Smith denies: that the covenant of works should be foundational in defining all the other covenants. Reading works into the Trinity is all right to a point (John 17:4), but those works are motivated by love (John 17:23) and grounded in faith (Hebrews 5:7; also, did Jesus merit God's favor, or have it from the beginning? See Luke 2:40). Smith's point, with which I agree, is that the works required in God's covenant of works with Adam also had to be motivated by love and grounded in faith. Smith DOES differentiate faith and works clearly, but he asserts that they function equally in cov of works and cov of grace, which I agree with. The difference is whose faith and works are the basis for righteousness - Adam's own in first; Jesus' for us in second. (If this is the distinction TRs want to keep in keeping the cov of works language, I'm all for it.) Phillips' repeated accusation that FV "merges faith and works" is unfair.

Phillips makes me angry when he says Smith describes a covenant we have to stay in by works. I just read the book, and Smith says no such thing. Smith DOES say Adam was created in covenant and the test was to stay in, but he had to do so by faith, resulting in good works, in standard "faith alone, but not faith that is alone" categories. Adam's faith - in God's Word and to His covenant - was the sole instrument justifying him, keeping him in covenant obedience to God before the fall. After the fall, it is our faith - in Christ's obedience and death for our faithlessness - that is the sole instrument justifying us before God.

Then Phillips critiques Peter Leithart - but I don't think Leithart would say "our relationship with God is derivative from our relationship in the church" as Phillips has him saying. I WOULD want to make the church more central to our identity, as Leithart does, though.

He mis-interprets Wilson's objective covenant: "This means I can know objectively I am right with God because I am in the church." This is patently false. Wilson would say no such thing. You can know you are in covenant with God if you are in the church, and that brings real blessings (or curses).

Anyway, it degenerates from there, and I'd better stop. Phillips is on the other side from me of a widening chasm on these issues. In my humble opinion, his side comes close to denying James 2's living faith, while FV has found a way to hold justification by faith alone, undiluted, AND James 2. (I probably ought to read a TR's exposition of James 2 to figure out their position better on that.)


Smith has several compelling points in the book:
1. The tree of life was not forbidden Adam from the start. Thus he was in the covenant of life from the moment he existed, by fiat of creation in the image of God.

2. Assuming a covenant of works as the foundation makes the whole system man-centered. The center of Gen 1-2 isn't the prohibition of the fruit, but God saying "Let Us make man in Our image." Smith retains this God centered orientation, while not vitiating the first covenant with Adam, either.

3. Bavinck, AA Hodge and Dabney all spoke of God's graciousness in the covenant of works, long before Doug Wilson or Ralph Smith did. Smith's question is pertinent: "Has Bavinck denied the Gospel?"


If you are worried about Smith's orthodoxy, see page 82-83 of Eternal Covenant:
"The facts that we are involved in Adam's sin, that our sins were laid upon Christ, and that we are counted as righteous because of His faithfulness to the covenant (Kline's revised view of merit) cannot be denied without denying the gospel. But to affirm these truths, one does not have to agree with Kline's particular formulation of the covenant of works or any other view of the covenant of works.... Was Adam required to be faithful to the covenant in order to be blessed? Yes. Was it such that even one infraction of the covenant meant death? Yes. Was Christ required to be faithful to the covenant in order to be blessed? Yes. Was it such that even one infraction of the covenant would have meant death? Yes."

"What the Bible - and also the Westminster Confession - requires in the way of a parallel between Adam and Christ, then, is not denied on a trinitarian covenant of love approach. None of the essentials - not federal headship, nor the importance of Jesus' active obedience to the demands of the covenant, nor righteousness, nor law, nor imputation - are diminished... nor does it undermine the doctrine of justification by faith. On the contrary, the system of doctrine which finds its genius in the fact that it is wholly theocentric is allowed to attain a mature form, leaving behind the medieval merit system and a doctrine of the covenant that makes the trinitarian covenant subordinate to the covenant of works."


Here is a statement of Ralph Smith's to evaluate:
"When merit has been redefined as covenant faithfulness and we understand that both Adam and Christ are promised blessings upon the basis of being faithful to the covenant, there seems to be very little lost if we drop the redefined and now unnecessary word 'merit.'... life was not a blessing to be won by merit. Life was essential to the original condition of the covenant."

I would say that most TRs equate merit with active obedience. If that is the case, I agree with them. But FV is pointing out that the medieval debate saw merit as either (1)strict justice, genuinely earned merit, which is condign merit; or as (2)merit God defines in covenant, even if it isn't strictly worth the reward given, which is congruent merit. FV makes the point that the Reformed rightly reject the first, adopts the second, but that that second option, congruent merit, isn't what we think of as merit at all. Grace was there from the start. God sustains our lives while we "earn" His reward, given before fully/truly earned. This is not merit. The picture is often given of a parent telling a child they can have their allowance if they clean their room. The allowance isn't a strict worth reward for cleaning the room. They should have cleaned it anyway! But the parent condescends. This is all true, but as the child in relationship to God, doesn't it glorify Him more for me to remember the condescension as I obey? Isn't the relationship in that covenant of works as much about the gracious condescension as it is about the strict obedience of meritorious work?

Now, when it comes to Christ, He fully satisfied God's justice by complete obedience. But He didn't have to work into this favor. He had it from early childhood (Luke 2:40) and at His baptism (Luke 3:22). The hard part for Jesus and for us is to hold faithfully all the blessings and grace that our Father loads upon us.

Anyway, it would be interesting to read the FV statement at the FV link at the top of this post, in conjunction with this critique, as it would highlight many unfair characterizations, I think. I'll leave that for you to do someday....

10.01.2007

Two great poems

Sonnet 14
by John Donne

Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.




Past And Future
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

My future will not copy fair my past
On any leaf but Heaven's. Be fully done
Supernal Will! I would not fain be one
Who, satisfying thirst and breaking fast,
Upon the fulness of the heart at last
Says no grace after meat. My wine has run
Indeed out of my cup, and there is none
To gather up the bread of my repast
Scattered and trampled; yet I find some good
In earth's green herbs, and streams that bubble up
Clear from the darkling ground, - content until
I sit with angels before better food: -
Dear Christ! when thy new vintage fills my cup,
This hand shall shake no more, nor that wine spill