"It is a weighty thing, weighty and dangerous, to be created in the image of God."

- Michael Horton
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From internetmonk.com
Holy Week 2015: The Yes or No (Michael Spencer)

The Washing of the Feet, Howard

The Washing of the Feet, Howard

Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”Simon Peter *said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.”

• John 13:5-9 (NASB)

• • •

John’s account of the washing of the disciples’ feet is an important part of the Christian celebration of Holy Week. No more beautiful picture of the Gospel can be found anywhere in the Bible. Jesus acts out the profound truths of Philippians 2, where God becomes a servant, even to death on a cross.

No one disputes that the washing of the disciples’ feet is a picture of the work of God in Christ. Here is the forgiveness of God, the justification of sinful human beings, regeneration by the work of the Holy Spirit and sanctification by grace.

Prominent in this passage is Peter’s “No.” No- you will not wash my feet. And Jesus’ reply that if Peter does not consent to such a washing, he has no part in him.

What a stark reminder that we add nothing and contribute nothing to our salvation or to the work of God that accomplishes it, but there is still a “yes” or a “no” from Peter. Scripture does not hide or obscure that “yes” or “no,” but places it where any hearer will know that the same choice is before every person to whom Jesus offers himself as gracious savior.

If Christ offers Peter all, even to wash his feet while Peter does nothing, why is Peter struggling to say “yes,” rather than a prideful “no?” There is something about human beings that does not want to admit the need for being saved or to admit the kind of God who would offer to save us completely through his own gracious power and provision. Peter’s “No” echoes every “no” said to a condescending, kind and patient God throughout history.

Peter is showing that part of every person that strangely wants to say “Leave me alone,” rather than say “Yes, love me, wash me, save me, make me your own.” It is the moment of autonomy; the moment when self sees the conqueror coming to vanquish and runs into its fortress.

Of course, Jesus is persistent, not in weakly “knocking on the heart’s door,” but in speaking the Gospel. The Kingdom is here, and all that is required is your surrender. Calvinism or Arminianism aside, it is a very real, very personal surrender that the King demands, even in the form of a slave. “Yes,” and the servant King’s salvation baptizes you into those who belong to him. “No,” and you have no part in him, or his kingdom.

C.S. Lewis and Timothy Keller make it plain in their respective expositions of hell that, in the end, hell is full of people who prefer to be left alone. Hell is the extension of Peter’s “No, you will never wash me.” Hell is the place where the older brother withdraws in resentment over the kind of grace that would wash a prodigal of his mud and receive him back into the family.

The Washing of the Feet, Howard

There is that momentary, illusory pleasure of autonomy, and then the alone-ness. Some of us know it already and know it well. It is the ultimate drug of a fallen race.

For some years, my theology took away from me this “yes” and “no” that is such an important part of the Gospel. Speculations on sovereignty and predestination brought every discussion around to all the reasons why we can’t “make a decision.” An over-emphasis on total depravity erased the Biblical emphasis on what it means to be human before God.

Yet the simplicity of “yes” or “no” to the offer of Jesus with the basin and trowel cannot be hidden behind a stack of theology rhetoric. Jesus still says “Come to me and drink,” and we say “yes” or “no.” Speculations on causation are not on the agenda in this passage. Peter’s real, personal, completely authentic “yes” or “no” is, and we should be careful to never lose it.

In many ways, Jesus’ offer to Peter raises as many questions as it resolves, especially for a person who believes that the salvation we have in Jesus is sacramental and not a transaction. I don’t know the answer to those dilemmas. What I do know is that Jesus kneels before his disciples, with the shadow of the cross appearing on the horizon. He says he loves us and we will one day understand something of how much, but for now, he does all and is all for our salvation. Such a salvation is perfect in the mediator, and we give nothing for it nor do we prompt its completion. But our “yes” or “no” are present, real and essential to our humanity. To eliminate Peter’s “Yes” or “No” is to do enormous damage to what matters deeply in our relationship with God.

We say “Here I am. Wash all of me,” or we say “No. Not me. Not now. Not this way.” No amount of theology or interpretation can take away that moment when the basin and the towel come to us, and Jesus himself says “If I do not wash you….” There is no extensive footnote explaining how Jesus is making an offer that we are unable to accept. The basin, the towel and the question: these remain before us this Holy Week.

From internetmonk.com
Saturday Ramblings, March 28, 2015

Hello, imonks, and welcome to the weekend.

52 Wagon

52 Wagon

Our good friends at Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Sexual Culture [they of the queering agriculture fame] have finally updated their seminar offerings.  First up is a study what a couple of video games say about Native American culture.

Close-reading Assassin’s Creed 3 and Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, this paper will consider how American Indian and Indigenous studies might intersect with videogame studies, especially at the sites of narrative, racial representations, and history. Examining how settler colonialism is reimagined through digital space, the paper will discuss how indigeneity might disrupt the historicities of code and play.

The date for that is April 7.  Mark your calendar.  After that, the next seminar is Queering Neural Citizenship: Lessons from autism and neurodiveristy.  Alas, no description yet available, and, silly me, I have no idea what neural citizenship is, let alone how to queer it. Maybe the graphic associated with the event will help:

Maybe not...

Maybe not…

The Journal of Computational Mathematics published a paper this week, titled, A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians.  What’s interesting is not the content (I found it to be far too simplistic, ya know?) but the author: John Urschel, an offensive lineman for the NFL Baltimore Ravens.

"Criticize my proposed cascadic multigrid algorithm one more time..."

“Criticize my proposed cascadic multigrid algorithm one more time…”

Senator Ted Cruz made the news this week as the first major player to announce for the 2016 presidential election.  The venue for the announcement: Liberty University. Cruz riffed on the theme, Imagine, because why not channel John Lennon when you’re at the largest evangelical school in the land?

Imagine, instead of economic stagnation, booming economic growth,” Cruz said. “Imagine young people coming out of school with four, five, six job offers. … Imagine in 2017 a new President signing legislation repealing every word of Obamacare. … Imagine a simple flat tax that lets every American fill out his or her taxes on a postcard. … Imagine abolishing the I.R.S. … Imagine a federal government that works to defend the sanctity of human life and to uphold the sacrament of marriage. … Imagine a federal government that protects the right to keep and bear arms of all law-abiding Americans.

The next day, Cruz announced he would sign up for Obamacare. His wife took leave from her job – and benefits – to help Ted “run for President,” so faced with the choice of the crushing cost of COBRA, the high price of buying health insurance on the open insurance market, or enrolling under an Affordable Care Act plan, they naturally chose the least expensive, most comprehensive one for their family. Got a problem with that?

Henry Etton says Cruz has no shot of winning: “Cruz is more conservative than every recent nominee, every other candidate who mounted a serious bid in 2012 and every plausible candidate running or potentially running in 2016.”  This is the analysis he uses to back up that claim:

But Cruz is still to the left of....well, I can't think of anyone, actually

But Cruz is still to the left of….well, I can’t think of anyone, actually.

And Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, announced he will not run for re-election in 2016. New York Senator Chuck Schumer seems to be the favorite for his leadership spot.

Potholes bad this spring in your area?  Heavy rains and flooding in northern Brazil have left some doozies.  One tourist bus got stuck on one. Fortunately, they got everyone out before this happened:


I checked to see if this was from the Onion, but no, it’s legit:

Though I self-identify as a Christian and I am an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)…my personal beliefs don’t align with those of most Presbyterians.
For example, I believe that:

  • Religion is a human construct
  • Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend
  • God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force
  • The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being
  • Human consciousness is the result of natural selection, so there’s no afterlife

And yet, even though I hold those beliefs, I am still a proud minister. But I don’t appreciate being told that I’m not truly a Christian.

Pastor Shuck talks about how his church practices belief-less Christianity (as if the five points above are not beliefs):

Belief-less Christianity is thriving right now, even as other forms of the faith are falling away rapidly. Many liberal or progressive Christians have already let go or de-emphasized belief in Heaven, that the Bible is literally true, that Jesus is supernatural, and that Christianity is the only way.

But what about belief in God? Can a belief-less Christianity really survive if God isn’t in the picture? Can you even call that Christianity anymore? In theory, yes…..

Someone quipped that my congregation is BYOG: Bring Your Own God. I use that and invite people to “bring their own God” — or none at all. While the symbol “God” is part of our cultural tradition, you can take it or leave it or redefine it to your liking. That permission to be theological do-it-yourselfers is at the heart of belief-less Christianity.

Pastor Shuck then goes on to wonder, “Why is that so many people think my affirmations are antithetical to Christianity?” I go on to wonder what, exactly, it takes to have one’s ordination revoked in the PCUSA?

You know the old meme of firefighters being called because a cat got stuck in a tree?  Yeah, so that totally happened in India last week.  When the firefighters arrived, here’s what they found:

"here, kitty, kitty..."

here, kitty, kitty…

Joseph Amorese, of Easton, Pennsylvania, had just undergone hernia surgery, so his father sent him a get-well-soon card.  With a lottery ticket in it, because why not? A lottery ticket that proved to be worth 7 million dollars.  “I had surgery so I didn’t jump up and down, but in my mind I was jumping up and down.” Hopefully he at least will take Dad out to Red Lobster or something.

Vincenzo Aiello is an Italian artist who really doesn’t like the idea of circumcision.  In fact, he is starting a Kickstarter campaign to protest the practice through art. And, lucky you, if you donate $1,000 to the campaign, you will be rewarded with a framed replica foreskin made from silicon resin. Kinda pricey, but Grandma would love to get this for Christmas.

Did you know the left loves Sharia law?  So claims the Reverend Pat Robertson:

You know folks, what’s happening is the so called left, the liberals want to rebel against the established order and the established order of western civilization is basically Christian. It is based on the gospel, it is based on the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and so if somebody wants to rebel against that then anything else goes.

So here comes an ideology out of Saudi Arabia, for the 7th Century, Saudi Arabia, talking about persecution of women, cutting off hands, decapitating people, butchering whole populations because they happen to share a different faith and the so-called Left is saying, ‘Oh, this is the ideology we want.’


Another Robertson (Phil, you know, the duck guy) also took flack this week for his take on atheists.

Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot ‘em and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’

Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’

If it happened to them, they probably would say, ‘Something about this just ain’t right.’

Yeah, Phil….ummm…are you okay? Can we talk?  See, I’m on your team. And I understand the point you are trying to make.  You are meaning to imply that ethics without a transcendent basis are ethics without a foundation, that unless there is an inherent meaning and purpose to the universe then any meaning or purpose we give it is just whistling in the dark, and that atheism accentuates the fact/value problem, since you can’t get ‘ought’ from ‘is’.  I get it.  But talking about raping and murdering and decapitating and castration…I just don’t think that’s going to open minds here. Quite the contrary, actually.  Can we tone it down, please?  Or stick to talking about duck calls? Or camo?  I hear you’re all about camo. We are thinking about some using some camo here at the imonastery, and would love your opinion.

Really, Phil, we would love your opinion on this.  Over the top?

Over the top?

Finally, there is now a campaign to kick Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill and put a woman in his place. Very cool idea.  I have a really hard time taking seriously any campaign that lists the racist and eugenicist Margaret Sanger as one of the candidates, but I love the idea of Sojourner Truth or Harriet Tubman. Click here to see the proposed list.  What woman, O wise imonkers, do you think should be the first one on our bills? o-SOJOURNER-TRUTH-900


From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: March 28, 2015

“I really demand a lot; sometimes, I think, too much. But I don’t want to waste time on a bad book. A bad book is any book you don’t like. A good book is any book you like.” ~Nancy Pearl


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Difficult to Speak Out

Jackie Robinson said, "Virtually every time the black stands up like a man to make a protest or tell a truth as he sees it..." Read the full quote through the link. I share this because I believe it, and as a white man, I don't feel entirely free to share thoughts like this. The politics on this issue are too ugly and complicated to hold my confidence. I suppose this is fertile ground for humility.

MORE: Piper writes from his own experience on reasons white people don't like to talk about race. One reason is some people's habit of hamstringing the conversation by trying to kill honest words.

From Gospel Driven Church
Thoughts on Note-Taking During Sermons

p1020571I originally wrote this a few years ago. I still agree with it, more or less.

Ray Ortlund recently excerpted the Doctor on note-taking during sermons:

“I have often discouraged the taking of notes while I am preaching. . . . The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently. . . . While you are writing your notes, you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (Edinburgh, 1987), page 360.

Ray adds:

Hearing a sermon is not like hearing a lecture. It is your meeting with the living Christ. It is you seeing his glory, so that you can feel it and be changed by it. Let’s pay attention to him and what he means a sermon to be, lest we miss him.

Some thoughts of my own:

1. I began rethinking what preaching is about the time I began growing disillusioned with the “6 Steps to Successful Yada Yada Yada” I had been fed in church for nearly 15 years. At that time, we didn’t often have to take notes, as a fill-in-the-blank notesheet was usually provided. This many of us would dutifully complete, filling in the missing alliterations, then when the service was over, fold in half, stuff in our pockets, and later find converted back to pulp when the laundry was done.

2. It is difficult for people accustomed to 6 handy steps with accompanying Bible verses to transition to proclamational preaching. I learned this first when preaching this way in a young adult service hosted by an attractional church that preached the other way. There was category confusion. The sermons didn’t seem bullet-pointy, so there was difficulty sensing the narrative. And, honestly, I really stunk at easing the transition.

3. I first began thinking about note-taking in relation to what preaching is when I heard Tim Keller, echoing Lloyd-Jones, say in a sermon, “I don’t mind if you take notes at the beginning of a message, but if you’re still taking notes at the end, I feel like I haven’t brought it home.” I thought to myself then, “Hmmm.” It resonated with me and how I both was experiencing the kind of preaching I found to exalt Christ and the kind of preaching I was trying to get better at.

4. I began discouraging note-taking (not forbidding it) and relieving my church from the duty of note taking (meaning, saying they didn’t have to) because I want them to see preaching in the worship service not as a lecture or as primarily an educational transmission to their minds, but as prophetic proclamation and as primarily aimed at their hearts.

5. Some people have said they process what they hear better when they write things down, and that’s cool. Some people have said being told they shouldn’t take notes if they don’t need to was a huge relief. They now hear better. People are different. I would say if taking notes helps you hear, take notes. If taking notes is simply for memory afterwards, I would recommend not doing so. There is always the sermon audio to refer to, and I provide my manuscript (which usually includes the lines people most want to remember) to anyone who asks for it.

6. My view of preaching is that it is an act of worship for both the preacher and the congregation. The aim of preaching is to proclaim and exalt Christ by proclaiming and exulting in the Scriptures. For this reason, I dissuade note-takers, the same way I dissuade a similar approach to the music time. In worship music, we respond to the gospel by exalting God verbally. In the preaching time, a congregation may not be exalting verbally (although “Amen”s are appreciated, and the occasional awe-inspired gasp is gold :-), but they are not passive in their silence.

7. The preacher ought to do his best on each sermon and preach his guts out in an act of audience-of-One worship, but it is best not to trust one sermon for specific results. Instead, we trust a pattern of and persistence in preaching to have a cumulative effect on the hearts of individuals and in the shaping of a local body. Note-taking is a one sermon act of trust. Just listening and exulting in proclamation trusts that it’s okay to miss some good lines or good points, because it trusts the Holy Spirit to be shaping your heart through the preaching of God’s Word.

8. Ditching the note-taking preaching ethos both elevates sermons and properly diminishes them. It treats a sermon as proclamation aided by the Spirit, which gives the sermon a supernatural weight. On the other hand, by treating all words in a sermon as expendable to memory, it puts the preacher’s words in the right place compared to the Scripture’s words. It diminishes the impact of a well-turned phrase and magnifies real revelation.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
'U-Turn' Paints Conflicted Picture of America

Throckmorton describes an odd conflict of research in a recent book by George Barna and David Barton, U-Turn: Restoring America to the Strength of its Roots. "U-Turn examines current cultural trends and historical patterns," the publisher states, "to reveal that America cannot sustain its strength if it remains on its current path. Combining current research with the authors' trademark insight and analysis, the book gives readers a unique view of the moral and spiritual condition of Americans and provides specific insights into how we can turn our nation around."

Apparently the research isn't current enough, because the group that still bears Barna's name refutes some of it. "Barna in 2011 rebuts the Barna of 2014 (which is really an amplification of Barna of 2006)," Throckmorton explains. "The 2014 Barna says '61 percent of Christian youth who attend college abandon their faith as a result.' The 2011 Barna said that statement contains two myths." Read on to learn about those myths.

From Gospel Driven Church
Change and Grace in Marriage

Marriage-Jo-Christian-Oterhals-enhancedA precursor to bringing grace to our spouses is understanding them.

Mary Kassian gets this, I think, in a very grace-driven approach to the issue of female beauty (and of wives “letting themselves go”).

Not unrelated is understanding the expectations that take place as a marriage grows. Speaking generally, women marry men they love “just as they are,” yet with the expectation that they will progress, become more “domesticated,” grow in areas of interest and emotion, etc. They expect that the marriage relationship will help their husbands change. Men, on the other hand, generally want the women to stay just as they are. Husbands usually want their wives to resemble twenty years into the marriage the women they were on day one.

Some of the deepest frustrations I’ve witnessed among married couples occurs when the wife can’t believe her husband is essentially the same man he was on the wedding day — in fact, the things she found appealing or even cute then have now become annoying and sources of hurt — or when the husband has no idea where this woman who used to be his wife came from.

Men tend to be* hard changers. Women tend to be* constantly changing and growing.

Spouses need to understand this if they’re going to be able to bring grace to the husband who hasn’t outgrown his love for college basketball or the wife who once only wanted 1 child but now wants to adopt 20. We are wired differently, and in our cursed-ness this is a recipe for enmity and disaster. But in our gospel blessedness, it is an opportunity for the real love of 1 Corinthians 13.

* Your mileage may vary, of course.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
We'll Learn Ya

"Whiplash" - teaching success the old fashioned way, through humiliation, with hurling cymbals.

How to remember everything with or without a mind palace.

Yeats steered Ireland away from science, beginning in 1889: "There are two boats going to sea. In which shall we sail? There is the little boat of science. Every century a new little boat of science starts and is shipwrecked; and yet again another puts forth, gaily laughing at its predecessors. Then there is the great galleon of tradition, and on board it travel the great poets and dreamers of the past."

From internetmonk.com
The Curse of Knowledge – Part 2

churchrowLast week I listed off some of theological beliefs that I had come to over the years, and described how that made if difficult for me to find a church. This week I wanted to respond to a number of the insightful comments that I received and carry on the conversation.  As usual my Fridays are busy, so be nice to each other!

The most perceptive comment (in my mind) came from Flatrocker:


Mike, In thinking and praying about this, my thoughts keep coming back to “so what if you find a new home?” What happens when the inevitable feelings of longing and shortfall return? What then? I know you are praying on this but in your search to find a home, what are you really – in your deepest heart – searching for? Beyond the reasons you gave above which feel so intellectual – and sterile and safe. What is it?

This is my greatest fear when it comes to finding a church. My father has a history of becoming unhappy in any church he goes to after just a few years. I am my Father’s son, and recognize the same trait in myself. That is one reason why I took as long to leave as I did. That thought is also reflected in my previous Pastor’s comment: “If we are not a good ‘fit’ for you, I wonder where you would ‘fit’.” What am I looking for? I am looking for a church that is active and visible in my community, or at the very least active and visible in a neighboring community. I am looking for a church that has a vision and a plan for reaching the community. I am looking for a church that loves to sing. I am looking for a church that reaches out to the margins of society. I am looking for a church where I could bring a friend and he would feel welcome.

That brings me to Dave Denis’ questions:

I would ask you to consider this question: why do I require from a church complete consonance with every single conviction I might hold regarding doctrine and praxis?

Am I perhaps in danger of being a bit of a spiritual princess, being kept awake nights by a pea beneath my bed?

To answer the second question first. No I am not in danger of being a spiritual princess. I have already arrived. I do suffer a bit from a mild anxiety, and conflict of any source, spiritual or otherwise, will keep me awake at night.

As for the first question: I don’t require complete consonance. I am looking for a church that is heading in the same general direction as the road that I am on. The bigger question involves leadership. To quote my previous Pastor again, “I regard you as a gifted potential leader in God’s Kingdom, and pray that you will be able to exercise that gift somewhere.” My spiritual gifts involve leadership. Leadership, or even membership, in most churches involves affirming their statement of faith. I am quite happy to worship with those who believe differently. If churches are willing to exclude me from membership or leadership because of what I believe, then those churches are rather non-starters for me.

Do I have to go to an Arminian church? No, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable in one that was anti-Arminian. Do I need to go to a Charismatic church. No, but I probably wouldn’t attend an anti-charismatic one. Do my church leaders have to be theistic evolutionists? No, but I wouldn’t go to one that loudly espoused Young Earth Creationism (It goes back to the earlier statement of being able to invite a friend.) Must I go to an Egalitarian Church. Yes, or at least the church needs to be headed in that direction. This is what I would consider to be a gospel issue. (And I know some here will disagree with me.) Cermak_cd has pointed out that if the churches she were exposed to were egalitarian, she might still be a Christian. I have a desire to introduce people to Jesus, and quite frankly complementarianism gets in the way of that.

The church Fathers are important because I think churches need to have a sense of the fact that they are part of a much bigger picture, and that they follow in a long history of Christian belief. If is for similar reasons that I don’t have a lot of appreciation for independent churches and their lack of oversight. Think of course brings me to Stephen’s point.

Everyone is forgetting the one tried and true solution; the recourse of dissenters universal since the original Easter morning…

Start your own church.

Calvin Cuban chimed in:

Mike, have you considered starting your own house church? With your particular strongly held belief set, coupled by what appears to be your limited mobility, it seems unlikely that you will find something to your liking. And with your knowledge and experience in ecclesiastical matters, you would probably be successful at it.

I have been involved in a number of church plants in the past, helping out in Associated Gospel (think Baptist without the emphasis on Baptism), Christian and Missionary Alliance, and Pentecostal Church Plants. Starting a church is hard work. Michael Spencer tried it. Most of us here would have loved it. But ultimately it did not continue. I currently do not have the energy or time that such a commitment would entail. The thing that I miss most about my previous church is the small group that we led. We invited friends and neighbors and had as many as 50 (adults and kids) out to some of our gatherings. Typically we would have about half that number with about half of those being kids. I would want to tie into a small group ministry at any future church. While a small group is not a church per se, it can have many of the hallmarks of one. Trying to do something on my own without a larger church backing me up does not appeal strongly to me at all.

So what options do I have?

Miguel asked:

Would you be open to churches that aren’t necessarily “formal liturgical,” but DO integrate assorted liturgical elements lightly? Maybe the Lord’s prayer, Apostle’s creed, and a reading or two from scripture?

If your answer is yes, if you can thrive in the middle ground between super high formalism and formless revivalism, then you have a few options in the US. I have no idea how this plays out in Canada…

Miguel, absolutely. I would actually really appreciate those elements the service on a regular basis.

I was interested to see that the majority of the suggestions centered around churches in the “Holiness Tradition”. These were:

  • Methodist
  • Wesleyan
  • Christian and Missionary Alliance
  • Nazarene
  • Brethren in Christ

I will first discuss these and go on to some of the other ones mentioned that have Canadian parallels.

When I left the Plymouth Brethren in Ottawa in 1987 as I recounted earlier, I started looking around for Churches that would be a good fit.  The top three on my list for visiting were “Arlington Woods Free Methodist”, “Sunnyside Wesleyan”, and East Gate Alliance.  I eventually settled on East Gate Alliance where I met my wife.  I was there for three years before heading off to Seminary.  I have to say that those were three of the best years of my life.  All three would be options now except for the reasons listed below.  (As an interesting side note, Klasie Kraalogies mentioned that the Prime Minister of Canada is an Alliance member. East Gate Alliance is where the Prime Minister of Canada occasionally hangs his hat, so we have a few mutual acquaintances!)

1.  The Methodist Church:  In 1925 the Methodist Church of Canada, the Congregational Church of Canada, and 70% of the churches of the Presbyterian Church of Canada merged to form the United Church of Canada.  By 1960 they had one million members.  They have been in dramatic decline ever since.  Along the way they also took a sharp left turn.  There are a number of Free Methodist churches around the Province.  The closest is about 20 minutes away, and not really part of the community in which we live.

2.  The Wesleyan Church: The closest Wesleyan church is an hour away.

3.  The Christian and Missionary Alliance:  I have helped close two Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches in the area.  They are much stronger in Western Canada, but the ones in Eastern Canada are a little less conservative and a little more to my liking.  I have several friends who are, or have been leaders in the denomination.  There is a church plant about 12 minutes away that started up about a year ago that meets on Sunday evenings in an Anglican Hall.  I am facebook friends with the Pastor and he seems to be a kindred spirit with a real desire to serve his community (both church and neighborhood).  I would not be surprised if I ended up there.

4.  Church of the Nazarene: I have a short history with the Nazarene church.  When living in Africa we rented the Nazarene manse, and I attended their youth group.  In Canada they have joined forces with the Alliance for theological training.  In my city they are little over 20 minutes away, and so not high on my list for visiting.

5.  Brethren in Christ: I have a long history with the Brethren in Christ.  My Great-Grandfather was a missionary to Rhodesia with the Brethren in Christ.  As mentioned in an earlier post my Grandmother was shunned (excommunicated) by the Brethren in Christ when she married my Grandfather.  That being said, they have a large presence in my area, and it is where I have attended for 3 of the last five Sundays.  “The Meeting House” is a multi-site church that meets primarily in movie theatres.  They are doing a lot of good things, including service to the poor.  They  attract people by being a “church for people who aren’t into church”, and their primary teacher, Bruxy Cavey communicates the good news of Jesus very well.  Not sure that my wife and I fit into the church “byline” very well, but I don’t think we have ruled it out as a church.  If you are the sort of person who is interested in listening or watching sermons online, Bruxy’s sermons are certainly worth listening to.  Theologically they are the best fit as far as I can discern.

Some quick thoughts on some of the others mentioned:

6.  Mennonite: I had an invitation from Will F to attend a local Mennonite church.  It had already been next on our list to visit.  I went last Sunday.  Apparently Will didn’t  (Or if he did he didn’t introduce himself.)  It was a lovely service, with a lot of creative thought and preparation put into it.  We already know a few families there (though one is moving) and will consider going back and trying it out some more.

7. Vineyard: We visited one when our first Alliance Church in the area closed.  I have some strong Vineyard connections in Western Canada and Ottawa.  The local church was going through some significant conflict at the time of our visit, and so we decided against going back.  Probably not high on our list of churches to try again.

8. American Baptist: The Canadian equivalent would be the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec.  There is one just a couple blocks from my house.  When the second Alliance Church in the area closed we tried attending there for a few months.  Let just say that no one bent over backwards to make us feel welcome.  In the end it just felt like we didn’t belong.

9. North American Baptist: E.G. suggested this one.  This just happens to be the church that we left.  As I have said it has lot of positive things going for it.  However their statement of faith holds to inerrancy, and it insists on baptism by immersion. In spite of those things, after a lot of soul seeking, we decided to become members. My wife had to be re-baptized as she had only been sprinkled when she came to faith.  As time went on, other items continue to pop up and it got to the point where it seemed impossible to continue.

10. Baptist General Conference: Our church home for two years when attending seminary in Western Canada.  Does not exist in Eastern Canada.

11.Episcopal/Anglican: There is a local church.  I am willing to give it a try, but I am guessing it will feel too liturgical.

12.  Anglican Church in North America: There are two congregations in my city, but both over 20 minutes away.  I am probably moving in the opposite direction in terms of the Christian response to homosexuality.

13.  Lutheran:   I am a strong believer in open communion.  So those Lutheran churches that practice closed communion would not work.  My Arminian beliefs would also not make a good fit.

A couple of final thoughts.

Jeremiah extended an invite to his church in Brantford.  At 30 minutes away it is a little far for a regular church home, but I will certainly try to come by and visit some day.

Finally, Tom asked me how my wife was doing in all of this.  My choosing to leave was difficult for my wife.  I would have left much earlier had it not been for her.  That being said, we are visiting these churches together, and we will look to find a destination that works for both of us.

As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome.

From Gospel Driven Church
The Power of the Gospel’s “Already” and “Not Yet” for Right Now

Start-Living-In-The-NowMalachi 1:1-5:

1The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob 3but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 4If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.'” 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”

There is past tense and then future tense. There is “I have loved you” and there is “Your own eyes shall see . . .”

God through Malachi is addressing a half-hearted, spiritually corrupt covenant community. They have predicated their polluted religion on all that God is not presently doing. They are struggling financially and politically. They are muddling through while their enemies seem to prosper.

And God doesn’t say, “Hey, look around. Everything’s great!” He knows “looking around” is their problem. He beckons them to look back and to look forward.

This is a great reminder to us about how the gospel empowers us for daily living, even when we are in a bind or grind. When our world appears to be falling apart. When we can’t see our way out of the predicament or the grief we are in. The gospel bids us look back to what God has done in Christ on the cross and out of the tomb for his own glory and for us. “I have loved you” this says to troubled souls. And he bids us in the gospel to look forward to the blessed hope of Christ’s glorious return, our gathering together to him, our resurrection, our placement in an eternal wonderland where there are no more problems.

This is the already and the not yet of the gospel. This is the fantastic remembrance of what God has really done in history to save us and the fantastic anticipation of what God will really do in history to save us.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.
— 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

From Gospel Driven Church
Revival Is Always Christ-Centered

pentecostHe will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
— John 16:14

“In all companies, on other days, on whatever occasions persons met together, Christ was to be heard of, and seen in the midst of them. Our young people, when they met, were wont to spend the time in talking of the excellency and dying love of JESUS CHRIST, the glory of the way of salvation, the wonderful, free, and sovereign grace of God, his glorious work in the conversion of a soul, the truth and certainty of the great things of God’s word, the sweetness of the views of his perfections, &c.”

— Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions

It is the Spirit’s raison d’etre to shine the light on Christ. The Spirit is often called the “shy” Person of the Trinity because of this. He is content — no, zealous — to minister to the Church the Father’s blessings in the gospel of Jesus. He quickens us to desire Christ, illuminates the Scripture’s revelation of Christ, empowers us to receive Christ, and imparts Christ to us even in his own indwelling. For this reason, then, any church or movement’s claim of revival better have exaltation of Christ at its center, or it is not genuine revival.

At the front end of Paul’s excursus to the Corinthians on the sign-gift charismata, he reminds us: “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

What we often see in false revivals is the exaltation of particular figures or the worship of a worship experience itself. You can turn on nearly any religious television programming and see this work in action. Christ is given lip service but exhilaration, personal revelation, warm fuzzies, and spectacular manifestations are the real objects of worship. Charlatans are at the helm, and they purport to wield the Holy Spirit as if He were pixie dust. In these cases and others, it is not the Spirit stirring, but the spirit of the antichrist.

Edwards writes elsewhere:

When the operation is such as to raise their esteem of that Jesus who was born of the Virgin, and was crucified without the gates of Jerusalem; and seems more to confirm and establish their minds in the truth of what the gospel declares to us of his being the Son of God, and the Saviour of men; is a sure sign that it is from the Spirit of God.

Revival given of the Spirit of the living God, places Christ always and ever at the center.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
— John 4:2-3

From Semicolon
Happy Birthday Mr. Houseman and Mr. Frost

I am taking a blog break for Lent, but I thought I’d share some of my old posts from years gone by. I’ve been blogging at Semicolon since October, 2003, more than eleven years. This post is copied and edited from March 26, 2010.

A.E. Houseman, b.1859.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry

Robert Frost, b.1874.
The Door in the Dark
Fire and Ice
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
A Time to Talk
A Prayer in Spring

From internetmonk.com
Merton on Humility


Lord, You have taught us to love humility, but we have not learned. We have learned only to love the outward surface of it — the humility that makes a person charming and attractive. We sometimes pause to think about these qualities, and we often pretend that we possess them, and that we have gained them by “practicing humility.”

If we were really humble, we would know to what an extent we are liars!

Teach me to bear a humility which shows me, without ceasing, that I am a liar and a fraud and that, even though this is so, I have an obligation to strive after truth, to be as true as I can, even though I will inevitably find all my truth half poisoned with deceit. This is the terrible thing about humility: that it is never fully successful. If it were only possible to be completely humble on this earth. But no, that is the trouble: You, Lord, were humble. But our humility consists in being proud and knowing all about it, and being crushed by the unbearable weight of it, and to be able to do so little about it.

• Thomas Merton
Thoughts In Solitude

From Gospel Driven Church
God Never Has to Go Looking for Your Righteousness

200px-GraceAbounding“One day as I was passing into the field, this sentence fell upon my soul: ‘Thy righteousness is in heaven.’ And with the eyes of my soul I saw Jesus at the Father’s right hand. ‘There,’ I said, ‘is my righteousness!’ So that wherever I was or whatever I was doing, God could not say to me, ‘Where is your righteousness?’ For it is always right before him.

“I saw that it is not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness is Christ. Now my chains fell off indeed. My temptations fled away, and I lived sweetly at peace with God.

“Now I could look from myself to him and could reckon that all my character was like the coins a rich man carries in his pocket when all his gold is safe in a trunk at home. Oh I saw that my gold was indeed in a trunk at home, in Christ my Lord. Now Christ was all: my righteousness, sanctification, redemption.”

– John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Lifeway Pulls Heaven Tourism Books

Last year, the Southern Baptist Convention resolved that the Bible tells us enough about the afterlife and that experiential claims can't trump it. In light of recent bestsellers and movies, their influence on even biblically literate believers, and Scripture refusal to tell us personal experiences with the afterlife, SBC messengers "reaffirm the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential explanations to guide one's understanding of the truth about heaven and hell."

Yesterday, Lifeway softly announced it would follow suit, saying it is taking a new direction. A spokesman said, "We decided these experiential testimonies about heaven would not be a part of our new direction, so we stopped re-ordering them for our stores last summer."

I hope the business tactics used to obtain the Malarkey family book will not be part of this new direction as well.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Talking Hymns with Kevin Twit

Kevin Twit of Indelible Grace, at Cathedral Church of the Advent, Birmingham, Alabama, with Matt Schneider.

From Gospel Driven Church
Why Not Rather Be Cheated?

why not blog imageIt is because of Jesus and his cross that Paul writes in Colossians 3:8, “But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.”

Wrath belongs to God, not to us. For this reason, we must keep a close eye on our anger and dwell in the truth of God’s Word daily to provide fertile ground in our hearts for the Spirit to produce the fruit of gentleness, peace, and self-control in us.

When we become eager to enact God’s wrath through personal vengeance, it’s often because we distrust God’s ability to deal with injustice Himself. Or we distrust Him to do it in a way that satisfies us. When we lash out, fight back, take up zealous causes, angrily pontificate, feud on Facebook, tsk-tsk on Twitter, and berate on blogs, aren’t we, in essence, saying God needs us to set people straight? All too often what we’re really protecting isn’t God’s honor, but our reputation or influence.

Jesus’ approach to personal wrongs would have us conquer the injustice by embracing its satisfaction at the cross. So instead of attacking the guy who takes our shirt, we offer him our coat, too. I’ll admit that Paul’s questions in 1 Corinthians 6:7 sting a bit: “Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather be cheated?”

If the cross is true, if God is sovereign — why not?

“Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

The reality is that whatever wrath remains to dispense after the satisfaction of the cross will be dispensed by Jesus Himself upon His return. The Book of Revelation doesn’t portray a passive, excuse-tolerating King who gives everybody a hall pass whether they love Him or not. Instead, He arrives on a white horse with a sword, vanquishing His enemies. But He does this, not us. So if we will truly trust that vengeance is His, that he will repay, we have all the power in the Spirit to let it go.

And honestly, that’s what some of us really need to do right now: Let. It. Go.* Because God won’t leave any loose ends.

adapted from my Seven Daily Sins: How the Gospel Redeems Our Deepest Desires (Nashville: Threads, 2012), 112-113.

(Apologies if you’re singing the Frozen soundtrack now.)

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Still Arguing Over Saul Bellow

Lee Seigel describes the influence Saul Bellow had on him and a new biography of this important 20th century author who has been somewhat forgotten.

This spring, on the centennial of his birth and the tenth anniversary of his death, Bellow will burst from posthumous detention. A volume of his collected nonfiction is being published, as well as the fourth and last installment of the Library of America edition of his work. But the main event will be Zachary Leader's biography The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, coming out in May, which portrays Bellow up to 1964. Orchestrated by Bellow's literary executor, literary superagent Andrew Wylie (who replaced Wasserman), this massive life by Leader, also Wylie's client, is transparently meant as a corrective to the authorized biography published by Atlas in 2000, which presented Bellow as a racist and a woman-hater, among other things, and accelerated Bellow's fall from literary grace.

You can feel the lines being drawn and the gloves going up as you read Leader's book. Leader very deliberately presents Bellow's life in a way meant to rebut charges of Bellow's racism and misogyny one by one. And where Atlas meanly dwells on Bellow's minor failures - a short-lived literary magazine, several unsuccessful plays - Leader rightly celebrates his triumphs. Where Atlas resentfully interprets Bellow's characters as reflections of their author's narcissism, Leader gratifyingly shows how Bellow transformed his personal limitations into liberating art.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
The Importance of Being Bernstein

"One of the keys to interpreting Bernstein's career thus seems to involve the importance of music education-not just playing band in high school, or hearing a few minutes of Bach on the radio as you drive home from school, but actually studying the mechanics of music and appreciating its fruitful historical unveiling."

Bernstein drew many people into his music and helped them appreciate higher arts in general.

From internetmonk.com
A Desperate Measure?


Note from CM: We didn’t have enough strong opinions expressed yesterday(!), so I thought I’d start a discussion on something that’s happening here in the heart of the great Midwest. I don’t normally devote much space to political debates, but since this one is specifically “Christian” in origin and intent, why not? No, I’m not spoiling for a fight. Just anticipating that one might break out. Be careful, please.

• • •

The legislature in state in which I live, Indiana, is sending a “Religious Freedom Bill” to the governor’s desk for signature. Yesterday the Senate passed the bill 40-10, following the House’s action on Monday by which it approved the measure 63-31. The governor says he’ll sign it.

You can read the entire bill HERE. This is the official summary:

Religious freedom restoration. Prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the governmental entity can demonstrate that the burden: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest. Provides a procedure for remedying a violation. Specifies that the religious freedom law applies to the implementation or application of a law regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity or official is a party to a proceeding implementing or applying the law. Prohibits an applicant, employee, or former employee from pursuing certain causes of action against a private employer.

The legislation was fashioned after a federal law called the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993, signed by President Clinton. Passing such laws in various states around the country is now a focus of many conservative groups in response to recent rulings that have legalized same-sex marriage.

145970946-e1426604521182Why do supporters say we need this law?

Our governor says the bill “is about respecting and reassuring Hoosiers that their religious freedoms are intact.”

One of the bill’s authors stated his underlying concern: “You don’t have to look too far to find a growing hostility toward people of faith.”

A state representative said, “It’s important that we allow our citizens to hold religious beliefs, maybe even those we might be appalled by, and to be able to express those.”

USA Today cites another who supported the bill: “Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, spoke about an anesthesiologist who didn’t want to anesthetize a woman in preparation for an abortion. Borders said he believes the Bible’s command to ‘do all things as unto the Lord’ means religious believers need to be protected not just in church, but in their workplaces as well.”

Another supporter called it a “good, tested, protective shield for all faiths.”

However, it is clear that this bill was passed in a specific cultural context and was designed to allow businesses such as bakeries, florists, photographers and caterers who don’t want to provide services for gay couples to act in ways they deem compatible with their religious faith and without government intrusion.

religious-freedom1The bill’s critics, on the other hand, call it a “religious discrimination law.”

One representative charged, “”It basically says to a group of people you’re second rate, you don’t matter, and if you walk into my store, I don’t have to serve you.”

A similar bill in Arizona was vetoed by then-Republican Governor Jan Brewer, who gave this reasoning in her press conference:

Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences. After weighing all of the arguments, I vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago.

To the supporters of the legislation, I want you to know that I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before. Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes. However, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want. Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value, so is non-discrimination.

One of the interesting implications for politics with a bill like this is that it threatens to divide social conservatives and economic conservatives, and this could become an even more serious problem than it is now for the Republicans.

Business interests in Indiana certainly don’t like the law. The Chamber of Commerce, as well as several major Indiana corporations, spoke out against the bill, warning that it could seriously affect the state’s business climate. They are concerned about being able to attract the best employees to a state which appears not to welcome all. As the Chamber remarked, “this legislation threatens to undo years of progress we have made in positioning Indianapolis as a welcoming community.” They also expressed concern about the potential costs of litigation.

Others have warned that the state’s sports and convention business could take a big hit. Already GenCon, who brought 56,000 visitors to their convention in Indy last year, has petitioned the governor to veto the bill, suggesting they might seek accommodations elsewhere if it becomes law. A local sports columnist quoted a leader in Indianapolis’s hospitality industry:

“We came out against the bill about two weeks ago, joined several other organizations who are fighting this bill,” said Chris Gahl of VisitIndy. “We feel like anything that could be viewed as making Indy inhospitable or unwelcoming could impact our ability to book future business. We’ve been fielding calls all day from potential visitors and convention people who are concerned about this. We’re not in the business of being a political organization, but anything that impacts our ability to draw conventions and events to our city is an issue for us. We want to be as hospitable a place as possible for all our visitors.”

IMG_3616In response to this legislation, so far more than 500 businesses have signed up for the “Open for Service” campaign to communicate their position of non-discrimination.

• • •

In a nutshell, here’s my reaction.

  • Desperate times apparently call for desperate measures. This is a transparently desperate measure by those who feel they’re losing a “culture war.”
  • The main originators, sponsors, and spokespersons for Indiana’s bill have spoken from a “Christian” perspective. I’m sorry, but I missed the “love your neighbor” part of the law, which I thought was the summary and central focus of God’s Law. I can’t think of anything much more Christ-like than humbling yourself and setting aside your personal objections to serve a neighbor with grace while keeping your opinions to yourself.
  • The law is so vague and open to interpretation that one might posit a number of outrageous scenarios. Could a Protestant baker, for example, refuse to make a wedding cake for a Catholic wedding? Or could a photographer refuse to take pictures of an interracial couple?
  • It is also entirely possible that, if signed, this law won’t amount to much at all. Perhaps what one Indiana legislator said is the real story: “This is a made-up issue. It is made up for the purpose of going in front of a few Indiana citizens and thumping your chest for social causes.”

From Gospel Driven Church
“May I Go In There?”

image007This is taken from an illustration in John Phillips’ Exploring Hebrews commentary that has always moved me.

Imagine with me a Moabite of old gazing down upon the Tabernacle of Israel from some lofty hillside. This Moabite is attracted to what he sees so he descends the hill and makes his way toward the Tabernacle.

He walks around this high wall of dazzling linen until he comes to a gate and at the gate, he sees a man. “May I go in there?” he asks, pointing to the gate where all the bustle of activity in the Tabernacle’s outer court can be seen.

“Who are You?” demands the man suspiciously.

“I’m from Moab,” the stranger replies.

“Well, I’m very sorry, but you can’t go in there. You see, it’s not for you. The Law of Moses has barred the Moabite from any part in the worship of Israel until his tenth generation.”

The Moabite looks so sad and said, “Well, what would I have to do to go in there?”

“You would have to be born again,” the gatekeeper replies. “You would have to be born an Israelite, of the tribe of Judah, or of the tribe of Benjamin or Dan.”

“Oh, I wish I had been born an Israelite,” the Moabite says and as he looks again, he sees one of the priests, having offered a sacrifice at the brazen altar and the priest cleansed himself at the brazen laver and then the Moabite sees the priest enter the Tabernacle’s interior. “What’s in there?” asks the Moabite. “Inside the main building, I mean.”

“Oh,” the gatekeeper says, “That’s the Tabernacle itself. Inside it contains a lampstand, a table, and an altar of gold. The man you saw was a priest. He will trim the lamp, eat of the bread upon the table and burn incense to the living god upon the golden altar.”

“Ah,” sighs the Moabite, “I wish I were an Israelite so that I could do that. I would so love to worship God in there and help to trim the lamp and offer Him incense and eat bread at that table.”

“Oh, no, the gatekeeper hastens to say, “even I could not do that. To worship in the holy place one must not only be born an Israelite, one must be born of the tribe of Levi and of the family of Aaron.”

The man from Moab sighs again, “I wish that I had been born of Israel of the tribe of Levi of the family of Aaron,” and then, as he gazes wistfully at the closed Tabernacle door, he says, “What else is in there?”

“Oh, there’s a veil. It’s a beautiful veil I’m told and it divides the Tabernacle in two. Beyond the veil is what we call ‘the Most Holy Place’… ‘the Holy of Holies.'”

“What’s in the Holy of Holies?” the Moabite asks.

“Well, there’s the sacred chest in there and it’s called the Ark of the Covenant. It contains holy memorials of our past. Its top is gold and we call that the mercy seat because God sits there between the golden cherubim. Do you see that pillar of cloud hovering over the Tabernacle? That’s the Shekinah glory cloud. It rests on the mercy,” said the gatekeeper.

Again, a look of longing comes over the face of the Moabite man. “Oh,” he said, “if only I were a priest! How I would love to go into the Holy of Holies and gaze upon the glory of God and worship Him there in the beauty of His holiness!’

“Oh no!” said the man at the gate. “You couldn’t do that even if you were a priest! Only the high priest can enter the Most Holy Place. Only he can go in there. Nobody else!”

The heart of the man from Moab yearns once more. “Oh,” he cried, “If only I had been born an Israelite, of the tribe of Levi, of the family of Aaron. If only I had been born a high priest! I would go in there every day! I would go in there three times a day! I would worship continually in the Holy of Holies!”

The gatekeeper looked at the man from Moab again and once more shook his head. “Oh now,” he said, “you couldn’t do that! Even the high priest of Israel can go in there only once a year, and then only after the most elaborate preparations and even then only for a little while.”

Sadly, the Moabite turned away. He had no hope in all the world of ever entering there!

. . . Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Here it is, a tremendous word of welcome, extended to Jew and Gentile alike, to come on in and worship, not in the holiest place of the human tabernacle, but into the Holy of Holies in heaven itself “by the blood of Jesus.”

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Spurgeon on Reading

More from Spurgeon on 2 Timothy 4:13, in which Paul asks for someone to bring him his books.

Even an apostle must read. Some of our very ultra Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men's brains-oh! that is the preacher.

How rebuked are they by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!

The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, "Give thyself unto reading." The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master's service.

From Gospel Driven Church
The Word of Christ Dwells Richly

1362438014Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
— Colossians 3:16

What does it mean that the word of Christ dwells richly?

The word of Christ is rich with Christ’s graces, according to John 1:16. To have the word of Christ is to be rich toward God, because Christ is the all-surpassing treasure.

The word of Christ is rich in substance, because his Scriptures are Spirit-breathed, a match for every need, leaving no need of man lacking (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There is “all wisdom” in the word of Christ.

The word of Christ is rich in its effects, since it results in an abundance of myriad goodnesses, from teaching to admonishing to singing to an overflow of thanksgiving, and to more not mentioned here.

The word of Christ is rich with life, since it affords us eternity.

So let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Not meagerly or momentarily. Don’t just sip; drink deep. Taste and savor.

John Gill writes:

His meaning is, that not one part of the Scripture only should be regarded and attended to but the whole of it, every truth and doctrine in it, even the whole counsel of God; which as it is to be declared and preached in its utmost compass, so all and every part of it is to be received in the love of it, and to be abode in and by; there is a fulness in the Scriptures, an abundance of truth in the Gospel, a large affluence of it; it is a rich treasure, an invaluable mine of precious truths; all which should have a place to their full extent, in both preacher and hearer: and that in all wisdom; or, “unto all wisdom”; in order to attain to all wisdom; not natural wisdom, which is not the design of the Scriptures, nor of the Gospel of Christ; but spiritual wisdom, or wisdom in spiritual things, in things relating to salvation; and which is, and may be arrived unto through attendance to the word of Christ, reading and hearing of it, meditating on it; and especially when accompanied with the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, and which is to be desired and prayed for.

From internetmonk.com
Damaris Zehner: Some Thoughts on Artificial Birth Control


This is such a divisive topic.  I’ve tried for years to write about it and haven’t found the courage or the focus.  Here’s my claim:  I don’t like artificial birth control.  I think it is spiritually, physically, and socially harmful.  However, I don’t want to write a diatribe against it or try to persuade people with confrontational arguments.  I’d just like to explain myself well enough that those who commented on my last post can understand my “bass-ackward” and “troubling” point of view.


By artificial birth control, I mean hormonal treatments such as pills, injections, and implants; physical barriers such as the diaphragm and condom; withdrawal; chemical spermicides; irritants and abortifacients like the IUD and morning-after pill; surgical sterilization; and abortion.

There are three main options to the use of artificial birth control.

The first is celibacy, either temporary or permanent.  It is one hundred percent effective.  It may have some long-term health impacts – women who have never given birth, for example, seem to be at slightly higher risk for certain types of cancer, and several male sailors I’ve known described a painful condition called “blue balls,” which I will leave to the imagination of the reader.  Opinion is divided over the psychological impacts of celibacy.  Some claim it leads to madness, while others praise the focus and opportunities of the celibate life.  Permanent celibacy is always going to be a minority practice, though, so we’ll move on to the next.

The second is the – well, let’s call it the bunny option.  Some religious groups have made unrestrained breeding a holy activity.  There have even been people – I hope in the past, but nuttiness springs eternal – who disapproved of breast feeding because it delayed the mother’s ability to conceive again.  These groups hope to outbreed their ideological competition.  May I say, as firmly as possible without hitting Caps Lock, that these bunny breeders do not represent most people who have objections to artificial birth control.  God has asked us to restrain all of our primal appetites for our own good and the good of others, and our appetite to procreate is no exception.  Children are not weapons in an ideological war.

The third option is natural family planning (NFP).  The term is often greeted with scorn because of the failure of “the rhythm method.”  This was a primitive attempt to understand a woman’s natural cycles so as to avoid sex during fertile times if the couple didn’t want children.  It relied on counting days, but there is too much variation in cycles for that to be accurate.  So far as I know, no one still uses the rhythm method exclusively any more than bleeding, cupping, or phrenology.  (Okay, yes, sometimes modern medicine still bleeds patients, but my larger point stands.)  Modern natural family planning is an entirely different thing.


I won’t go into detail about how NFP works, but you can read more if you follow the links below.  Tracking fertility by using a variety of symptoms, NFP can achieve effectiveness rates between 99% (as claimed by advocacy groups) and 75% (as claimed by the US government).   Be aware that the government fact sheet lumps together all types of natural family planning, including the rhythm method.  The first document’s numbers only reflect the most effective combination of techniques and exclude the rhythm method, so these two rates are not as far apart as they seem.  The government document does state that tracking a variety of symptoms leads to higher effectiveness rates.  No method except abstinence prevents 100% of pregnancies or live births, but my experience over the course of the more than two decades I used NFP was that I never conceived when I wasn’t trying to conceive.

People who have gotten this far in the research about NFP point out that it is only effective when properly used.  Well, that’s true of all methods of birth control.  (Unless you are willing to discuss forcible sterilization and abortion – and those only work when leaders can find all the women.  Let’s not even go there.)  For NFP to work, both partners have to respect each other, know each other, be committed to each other, show self-restraint toward each other – in other words, be loving and responsible.  I could make the point that no one should be having sex with someone who isn’t responsible and loving; however, I can see the reality of dysfunctional and casual relationships all around me.  But when large numbers of people in a society have sex with people who aren’t loving and responsible, that society has bigger problems than just birth control – whether we’re talking about the rape of child brides in Yemen or the crazy rates of teenage pregnancy I see in my job.  There are caring people who try to reduce the effects of the societal problems by pushing artificial birth control.  When I consider my teenage community-college students who are struggling to get anywhere while caring for a toddler, I can understand why.  I have to say, however, that most of my students have access to birth control and choose not to use it for complex personal and social reasons.  Should America then forcibly require implants or other long-term methods of preventing pregnancy?  Should the government make contraception a requirement for receiving social benefits, as some have claimed?  These are not benign claims.  There are other aspects of artificial birth control we need to consider.


Artificial birth control has been implicated in many health problems.  It’s a tangled issue, so I’m not sure who to believe when I read studies and statistics, but artificial birth control has at minimum caused allergic reactions, high blood pressure, infection, urinary tract problems, hormone imbalances, infertility, and possibly cancer.  These problems overwhelmingly affect women, not men.

NFP uses no hormones, spermicides, surgery, or latex; it does not break the skin or insert anything into the body beyond the occasional thermometer.  Once couples get the original training, they don’t need to make regular visits to a health care provider.  Not only does NFP do no harm, it also promotes health.  Couples who use NFP are quicker to notice changes in the woman’s cycle that can indicate health problems.  They tend to be more in touch with their health and understand it better.

NFP, unlike condoms, does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, and that can be considered a point against it.  However, STDs are one of those bigger problems I mentioned above and need to be addressed more holistically than just handing out condoms.  If NFP promotes loving and responsible sex, it will necessarily reduce the chances of STDs.


Depending on how it’s done, NFP costs little or nothing.  There are virtually no ongoing costs.  That independence is a good feeling in America; it’s essential in poorer countries.  Women who have little or no income can, with brief education for themselves and their husbands, avoid the costs of supplies, travel, and treatment for the secondary effects common to artificial birth control.  I’ve trained couples in a developing country in NFP.  They were desperate for an alternative to hormone injections or abortions, the two methods of birth control offered where we were.  Even to get the injections or abortions, they had to pay to travel to a larger town, find somewhere to stay, and feed themselves during the trip.  In many cases village women did not have the money to do that.

Another plus is that people using NFP are not supporting multinational pharmaceutical companies by buying monthly supplies of pills or condoms – it’s the ultimate local, sustainable technology.  I don’t want to vilify pharmaceutical companies unjustly, but even if their motivations for providing birth control are entirely charitable (which they aren’t), they still cannot know and care about individual women.  Village health educators, mentors, and support groups can.

natural-family-planningWomen’s Rights

Reproductive choice is accepted around the world now as a basic human right.  Those countries that deny women reproductive choice are unattractive ones – poor, violent, and repressive.  It’s good that we in developed countries care about women’s rights to have children or not to have children as they see fit.  But as far as reproductive rights affect us here in the West, let’s be honest – what we want is the right to have sex whenever we want, with whomever we want, and not get pregnant.  And even that is complicated.  In our current environment of sexual freedom, most women at least occasionally have sex not because they really want to but because they think they have to – to be liberated, to avoid seeming clingy or old-fashioned, to keep the affections of a man who could find sex somewhere else, or just because everyone’s doing it.

Artificial birth control is profoundly anti-woman.  Now that it is widely available, no one, man or woman, sees the need to understand the unique qualities of female physiology.  One could say – and many do – that ignoring feminine uniqueness and having sex as if we could never get pregnant is liberation.  Almost every movie and television show takes for granted that sex on demand is liberating and fulfilling for women.  On the contrary; by ignoring feminine difference we are treating women like commodities or slaves – they are to be available for sex at any time, however costly it is to their bodies and psyches to do so, and any “failure” of women to be just like men, in other words to get pregnant, has to be paid for by the woman.  And by the child, of course.  (Abortion is even costly for men, although not all realize it.)

NFP starts with the conviction that fertility, both male and female, is a natural, healthy thing.  It also accepts that there are times when pregnancy is not a good option.  NFP asks men and women to respect themselves enough to practice abstinence for a few days when they have both agreed to delay pregnancy.  Both pay the cost of restraint.  Both participate in the monthly discussion of whether to allow for pregnancy or not.  In this relationship, women are equal to men and have a voice in how they are treated, given their own unique nature; they are shown true love by being respected for who they are.

Population and Resource Balance

I hope by now I don’t even have to make the case that NFP is not an irresponsible approach to the larger environmental issues.  All of us, when we wonder if our species can sustain our current lifestyle, set moral limits on what we’re willing to do to control our population.  For example, nuclear weapons are a very efficient means of population control, but we aren’t willing to consider nuking the world.   Artificial birth control is not the only option for finding balance.  NFP is as effective as artificial birth control and, unlike nuclear holocaust or artificial birth control, respects individual choice and dignity.  It does no harm to its participants, isn’t financially burdensome, and requires cooperation and not coercion so it can’t be forced by repressive governments.

If you are concerned about a sustainable lifestyle, artificial birth control is a useless band-aid.  It has not in itself prevented the world population from increasing from 4.4 billion in 1980 to 7.1 billion today, despite its legality and availability in most countries during those years.  It has nothing to do with the increasing per capita consumption of the richest citizens of the world.  Offering birth control to people who can’t restrain their appetites, who judge their worth by their fertility, or who force themselves on others doesn’t do anything to address the root problems of our sinful nature.  Our goals should be justice for men and women, rich and poor; temperance in our impulses; unselfish love for those around us; and a respect for a variety of lifestyles, including celibacy.  These are what the Bible calls for.  That’s hopelessly idealistic, you might say – it’ll never work.  Well, no, it won’t work.  None of our own efforts will work to save us or our world.  A better question than “Will it work?” would be “Is it right?”


Until 1930 all churches believed that artificial birth control was wrong.   The Catholic Church still does.   I don’t want to present their arguments here, but those who are interested can read more about the topic in The Catechism of the Catholic Church (which is available on line here or in St. John Paul II’s The Theology of the Body (which can be read here). While these are Catholic documents, they express a view that was more or less universally Christian until recently.   Just because people did something for a long time doesn’t make it right, of course, but it’s worth looking into their reasons for thinking what they did.

I’ve tried to address the most common criticisms of alternative family planning methods – that they don’t work and that those who espouse them think that women should be kept barefoot and pregnant.  I don’t want to imply that those are the only issues to consider, though.  NFP isn’t just a more benign form of contraception, although it can be used as such.  What sells it to me is that, unlike artificial birth control, its undergirding philosophy supports the revolutionary, even bass-akward, Christian ideals of justice, love, and self-sacrifice.

From Gospel Driven Church
Piper on Emotional Blackmail in the Church

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 10.02.24 AMI’ve seen it a lot too. Piper:

“Not feeling loved and not being loved are not the same. Jesus loved all people well. And many did not like the way he loved them. Was David’s zeal for the Lord imbalanced because his wife Michal despised him for it? Was Job’s devotion to the Lord inordinate because his wife urged him to curse God and die? Would Gomer be a reliable witness to Hosea’s devotion? . . . I have seen so much emotional blackmail in my ministry I am jealous to raise a warning against it. Emotional blackmail happens when a person equates his or her emotional pain with another person’s failure to love. They aren’t the same. A person may love well and the beloved still feel hurt, and use the hurt to blackmail the lover into admitting guilt he or she does not have. Emotional blackmail says, ‘If I feel hurt by you, you are guilty.’ There is no defense. The hurt person has become God. His emotion has become judge and jury. Truth does not matter. All that matters is the sovereign suffering of the aggrieved. It is above question. This emotional device is a great evil. I have seen it often in my three decades of ministry and I am eager to defend people who are being wrongly indicted by it.”

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
The Magnificent Creation of the Almighty

Are there not things which our short-sightedness would call trifles in the volume of creation around us? What is the peculiar value of the daisy upon the lawn, or the buttercup in the meadow? Compared with the rolling sea, or the eternal hills, how inconsiderable they seem! Why has the humming bird a plumage so wondrously bejewelled, and why is so much marvellous skill expended upon the wing of a butterfly? Why such curious machinery in the foot of a fly, or such a matchless optical arrangement in the eye of a spider? Because to most men these are trifles, are they to be left out of nature's plans? No; because greatness of divine skill is as apparent in the minute as in the magnificent.
(from C.H. Spurgeon)

From Gospel Driven Church
For The Church Conference 2015

I hope you’ll make plans to join us in Kansas City on Aug. 31 – Sep. 1 for the 2nd annual For The Church Conference. This year’s theme is “The Church & Truth,” and speakers will include Darrin Patrick, David Platt, Russell Moore, H.B. Charles, Jason Allen, and myself. Come help us enjoy the heart of God in the heartland!

And in the meantime, you can join the exulting on Twitter by following @forthechurch


From internetmonk.com
Music Monday: There are years and there are Years (part 2: 2015)


In 2015, I’m looking forward to a great year in music.

As I said last week, it would be hard to overestimate how much music means to me and how the songs and albums I listen to each year accompany and shape my life. Michael Spencer loved music and wrote about it or spoke about it on his podcast regularly. When Jeff and I began writing together five years ago, it became clear that we were kindred spirits with Michael in this area, and so we began regularly sharing the music we were enjoying with you. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever . . . .

Now, let’s talk about a few of the audio treats that have already been released in 2015, the concerts I’m anticipating, and a couple of albums that I’m eagerly awaiting.

2015 started off on a high note for me with the release of the Decemberists’ record, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World. By the way, a perfect title for Internet Monk.

Led by Colin Meloy, the Decemberists have been known for literate, story-telling songs, with a twist of geekiness, darkness and obscurity thrown in for good measure. There is a bit of that on What a Terrible World, but for the most part, this album presents a straightforward melodic and refreshing folk-rock-pop sound and sensibility that is at times exuberant, at times just pretty.

The opening song, “The Singer Addresses His Audience,” suggests that a change is coming with tongue firmly in cheek. And then, with some of the catchiest horn hooks since Chicago, the band launches into the exuberant “Cavalry Captain.” It’s a sign of good things to come. As Autumn de Wilde says in her brief Rolling Stone review, on this Decemberists record, heart usually emerges more prominent over head, but the end result is a pleasing balance of both. Highly recommended.

Here is an in-studio performance of “Make You Better”:

• • •

How about something new? Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors were unknown to me until earlier this year, but I am liking them a lot. The band is from Nashville, has several connections with Christian artists (Holcomb and his wife are involved in Nashville Young Life), and have toured mostly in the southeastern U.S.

For the most part, Holcomb and his group present lovely singer-songwriter ballads on their new album, Medicine. But then there’s my favorite song on the record, “Here We Go,” a honky-tonk romp that lifts my spirits every time I hear it.

Bonus: it comes with one of the funniest videos I’ve seen in awhile — a fever dream that ends up looking a bit like a Fellini flash mob:


• • •

Speaking of fun, it would be hard to find music that is more smile-inducing than the western swing played by Asleep at the Wheel.

Over the years they have devoted themselves, among their other projects, to keeping the music of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys alive. On their latest effort, Still the King, they bring artists from a whole new generation into the fold, including Amos Lee, the Avett Brothers, Kat Edmondson, Pokey LaFarge, Elizabeth Cook, Katie Shore, and others.

Here is a video feature of Elizabeth Cook and her “Betty Boop” voice, singing her rendition of “I Had Someone Else Before I Had You.”

When things get heavy, this music is the perfect stress-buster.

• • •

Ah, here’s one I’ve been waiting for. Mark Knopfler’s latest release, Tracker, came out last week, filling my car with MK’s tasteful narrative textures. “Quietly riveting,” Rolling Stone opines, and I agree.

Listening to Knopfler is like sharing a few pints around a table with the local storyteller at a pub. I could sit there and listen and ask questions for hours, soaking in the characters and plots and atmosphere for all its worth, eager to come back the next day for more. There’s a laugh or two, a lot of wry winks, and a few turns of phrase that fairly break your heart. This is organic music, wise and well-observed, literate and always generous in spirit.

And one of the best pieces of news I’ve received so far this year is that Mark Knopfler is coming to Indianapolis in the fall, and I can’t wait to enjoy him in person.

Rather than just put up a video of a Knopfler song, here is a behind-the-scenes look at the songwriting and recording process behind Tracker.

• • •

acl3712wilco396273v1Finally, here is a list of some more music I’m looking forward to in the months ahead:

The event I’m looking forward to most is coming up in May, when Wilco plays here in Indy.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Personal update

Good afternoon, and thank you for your patience.

As you've noticed if you're a regular reader, my blog posting has been light for more than a year now. You may also be aware that I've been keeping dog's hours (is that a real saying? Sounds right, but most dogs I know generally sleep when they like and work very little) studying online for my Master's in Library and Information Science.

This, of course, explains my frequent absences. I'm stuffing my head full of high-falutin' book-larnin' notions, and now figure I'm too good for simple folk like you.

No, no, no, of course not. The sooner I can get away from academics, the happier I'll be. I'm a pin-headed Middle American yahoo, and the stress of trying to blend in with my classmates (even online) may kill me before I get through to graduation.

But I'm doing OK. Generally good grades, especially on my papers.

This week was spring break. I didn't actually relax much because the Norwegian publisher I've been translating for, with exquisite timing, dropped some more work on me. I'll get the translation back to them later today, so that worked out. The book, by the way, is supposed to be titled The Viking Legacy now, and seems to be coming late spring or in the summer. I'll keep you posted.

In other news, my bad hip continues to improve under a regimen of stationary bike riding and mobility exercises.

So life could be worse. Thanks for your interest.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Psalm 23

I'm trying to get my Sunday School class to "get" the importance of Scripture - bringing their Bible to class and memorizing God's Word.

Our March "Sword Passage" is Psalm 23 - which I learned in KJV.  This is a really good illustration about how what you learn when you're young stays with you!  My commitment is that whatever I'm asking them to learn, I'll come to class ready to recite.

Re-learning Psalm 23 in ESV is harder than I thought it would be...

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Philippians 2

I was reciting the chapter today and stopped short.

"even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering..."

I've heard it many times...but today something more...drink offering upon WHAT?

the altar?  no, although that's what I'd always been taught, but it's really, really obvious.

Memorizing the whole book has taught me a lot about the "therefores."  Paul adds on to the add-ons, building on the previous part to make a point.

I had been taught that Paul was referring to becoming a martyr, being tortured and burned for the gospel.

But *offerings* are made by the religious adherents *to* God.  If somebody else sacrifices *you*, it's hardly your offering!

the "drink offering" was not poured on the altar.  It was poured on the sacrifice!

Throughout this letter, Paul has been referring to the fact that he is currently imprisoned for the gospel, and he has been urging the Philippians to act out their faith...  The people that he is writing to are sacrificing themselves for the faith of the gospel.

Jews would have been familiar with the offering system.  The animal sacrifice was made, and burned - a symbol looking forward to Jesus' final sacrifice.  Then, a specific amount of wine (the drink offering) was poured over the burning meat, symbolizing the blood of Christ.  (This is important:) the drink offering was only offered to God after His people entered into their promised land.

Paul knew that he would be killed for his faith; so put the drink offering in the context of that.

His beloved students were given Christ as an example who was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross...therefore, his students should also obey.  As their obedience becomes their sacrifice Paul himself would be the drink offering adorning that sacrifice.

The drink offering was not poured on the altar.

for me to live is Christ and to die is gain...my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better...

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering up the sacrificial offering of your faith..."

You also should be glad and rejoice with me...

Paul was ready to die.  As his students laid their faith down, Paul's life would be the libation that adorned their faith.  And he was glad.

And they should rejoice with him.



From fingerpost

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses, whereas grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
A Note To Women

In a total change of pace, I thought I’d give a little relationship advice to our women readers. I know, I know, in the modern day and age, we’re supposed to recognize that no woman can ever be at fault for any misfortune in her own life, nor can she be expected to act in such a way as to avoid misfortune (modern feminism is the belief that women have zero agency whatsoever). It’s all the fault of the whitecisheteropatriarchy. But bear with me. Let’s just imagine that women have the ability to make choices that influence their own lives.

If you’re a normal woman, you probably like to give your man a little crap to see how he’ll respond or maybe get what you want. You know, you sort of act disinterested in him in order to see what he’ll do or maybe so he’ll do something nice for you in order to win your affection again. Or maybe you go a little more active and say something a little nasty, or denigrate the value of your relationship, or something along those lines. Or maybe you just like to act like you’ve always got something better to do than give any attention to your relationship. Whatever. This is normal. You like to give us crap, we like boobs. It’s give-and-take.

But ladies, I’m here to tell you that you can take it too far. The man in your life may actually become truly, deep in his soul, 100% convinced that you really don’t love him and in fact are completely incapable of love. If you push it to that point, it will be nearly impossible to win him back. When you treat someone who loves you like he’s an afterthought, it doesn’t make you funny, cute, or clever. It makes you stupid and cruel.

I’ve seen more than one marriage collapse in part because the wife took a strange satisfaction in making her husband grovel, and in every case, she was absolutely shocked and wept her eyes out when she pushed it too far and he left.

If you don’t want your husband to think you hate him, don’t treat him like you hate him.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

You’re missing my point. I’m not talking about normal usage. I’m talking about people who leave their loaded, chambered gun in their purse within reach of their toddler.

Leaving aside the fact that many handguns can’t be “unchambered,” what *I* am talking about is the fact that such people are a statistically marginal minority, proportionately much smaller than people who don’t pay attention when they drive or leave unsecured household chemicals within reach of children.

And because this minority is so tiny, I really can’t be bothered to get exercised about it at all.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me

From time to time I run again across this minor prophet in the Old Testament.

Once more reading Amos reminds me that God uses who He wills, including mere shepherds.  Amos was in the fields when God spoke through Him.

This time through, I looked at what God judged these nations for.

"threshing" (we would call it "trashing") Gilead, kidnapping into slavery a whole people, fighting among brothers, targeting the weak (pregnant women,) desecrating the dead...

Then Israel and Judah:

Rejecting the Law of the LORD, and exploiting the poor.

Sexual immorality and idolatry.

And this:

“But you made the Nazirites drink wine,
    and commanded the prophets,
    saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’

Nazirites were bound by conscience and by oath to certain behavior (abstaining from alcohol, for one) and the state of Israel had forced Nazirites to violate their conscience and break their vow.

Knowing that prophets were the ones who warned the people that they were sinning and God's judgment was on the way, they were told to "shut up"

This impacted me on this day, we live in a state where people of faith are being told by the state that they must violate their conscience, and those who would speak up are being told (in an attempt to shame or scare into silence) to "shut up."

Food for thought...

From The Boar's Head Tavern

You’re missing my point. I’m not talking about normal usage. I’m talking about people who leave their loaded, chambered gun in their purse within reach of their toddler. (that was the context of my car analogy) I’m not anti-handgun. I’m not advocating banning handguns. Let me repeat myself since that’s what we’re doing. I’m anti-people who are so fearful (or stupid) they don’t take reasonable precautions and end up creating a hazard with the thing they think is keeping them safe. That includes people who keep a loaded rifle or shotgun in their house that are not behind lock and key. I’ve heard a woman talk about getting a gun for her nature walks because she’s worried about coyotes. I think fine, go take a hunter safety course, shoot about 200 rounds, and then go get a gun. And learn to recognize what a coyote looks like.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

I think a closer analogy, would be for someone to leave a child in a car with the engine running and the transmission in drive.

No, that’s a terrible analogy. In normal usage, a carried firearm is safely tucked away and not doing anything. In normal usage, an automobile is hurtling down the road with enough kinetic energy to kill a large animal outright.

In physical terms, an automobile driver driving down the road is more analogous to someone walking down the road and firing a weapon every 30 seconds or so than to someone merely carrying a firearm.

Let’s repeat it once more:

150 million households with guns. 600 accidental gun deaths a year.
196 million drivers’ licenses in the USA. 33,000 accidental car deaths a year.

It’s pretty obvious from the facts that guns are not a big danger to Americans. By the way, about a hundred of those accidental gun deaths are hunting accidents. Perhaps it would make more sense to ban sport hunting than to take away people’s CCW permits. It’s pretty clear sport hunters are a safety menace, and besides, you can get your meat at the deli.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

More dangerous for the people in the car.

I think a closer analogy, would be for someone to leave a child in a car with the engine running and the transmission in drive.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

I feel the same way about people who recklessly and carelessly drive their cars. Those sorts are a far greater danger to me on a far more regular basis.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
On Lent and the practicing thereof

A couple of weeks ago I heard a sermon that surrounded "tradition."

There is a tendency in "Modern Evangelicalism" to reject all things "tradition" because...well...tradition.  (NOT saying that's what this sermon said, just making a starting place for this post.)

At the same time, I read a few posts about how practicing Lent might was well mean going back to Rome because...well...tradition.

What both positions mean is "legalism" - by making "tradition" into "Law" we miss the point of both.

Law holds us to a standard.

Tradition (at its best) gives us the platform by which to connect  with 2,000 years of Christians who have gone before us.  Tradition connects us.The "anti-Lent" folks needed to treat all practice of Lent into "law."  That is a straw man that leaves no room for the right use of the practice.Lent, as a spiritual discipline that prepares us for "Holy Week" (including Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Resurrection Day) is a good thing.The "anti-Lent" folks also needed to make a poke at feast days, etc., tying them to the Law, therefore saying that to use a church calendar is crucifying Christ all over again.  Again, a straw man.God have us seasons, and he gave us time.  Life moves in cycles, and it's okay if we use those cycles as periods to mark spiritual time.I don't practice Lent every year.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.  Sometimes I fast from something, sometimes I add something, other years I don't.  Sometimes I simply use a Lenten devotional to refresh my spiritual memory of the last days of Christ.  Some years I do that same devotional at other times of the year!Bottom line:  I'm not going to jettison Lent because...tradition; I'm not going to practice Lent because...tradition.For clarity, this year I had every intention of going through a devotional, and it fell apart...after about 2 days.  But, since it's not Law or tradition, I can pick it up anew!

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Ken: Yeah, that makes sense. Sounds like no one is going to end up accidentally shooting themselves or someone else with your handguns. My beef is with people so fearful or careless that rather than making themselves safer they are actually a danger to themselves and others.

I’m still interested in the pigs. I’ve read about places down south they are as numerous as rabbits and they cause a lot of destruction. Some farmers just shoot them and leave them in the ditch.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Bill – there is no safety on a revolver. My Ruger has the transfer safety bar, which means I can keep all six chambers loaded. If I accidently drop the weapon, the transfer safety bar keeps the hammer and firing pin from striking the cartridge.

I have an older 38 special that does not have a safety bar. If I carry it into the woods, I keep the chamber beneath the hammer empty. A tap on the hammer could accidently fire a shell in the chamber.

I don’t hunt the wild hogs. We see them infrequently, but I don’t want to walk up a sow and her piglets unarmed.

If I don’t anticipate crossing or walking public roads, I might carry my 9mm carbine instead of a revolver.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Ken: It isn’t the loaded part that makes me wonder. It doesn’t make sense to carry around an unloaded pistol. When I hunt I obviously carry a loaded gun. But I don’t hunt with the safety off. If someone practices with whatever gun they use, then flipping the safety off is as natural as shouldering the gun and firing. In fact, I usually rack another shell without realizing it.

Do you hunt the wild hogs? I’d love to do that sometime. A little extra pork is always welcome.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Bill: I only carry while on my own property (approx. 60 acres) because of wild hogs and wild dogs. My 357 magnum revolver is a Ruger GP100, which has the transfer SAFETY bar. So yes, I carry it fully loaded. The weapon, not me. LOL.

FTR, remember, I live in rural (cue banjo music) Arkansas. Seeing someone carrying a gun in my neck of the woods is fairly normal, and generally raises no alarms/

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Orange Jumpsuits

So, I lost the "blog every day" bug (yeah, it happens every February, but this year I want it back  ;-)

This is going to be sort of "stream of consciousness" sort of post, but this is something I want to articulate and I'm not sure how to do it.

I read in one place that the writer would never be able to read Hebrews 11 without seeing orange jumpsuits...

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth...


of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

And in the midst of this, I read in other places that "Coptic 'Christians' are not saved, since they don't get the nature of Christ right."

The Coptic church is the one that the apostle Mark founded when they was sent out to evangelize the world - it's not like they made up their own religion.

The split happened later on, when Arius was preaching his heresy.  Arius taught that Jesus was not God.  Jesus (Arius taught) was a created being, and thus, he denied the Trinity.

There was a big church council, and Arius was declared a heretic.  Here's where I'm a little fuzzy, but I think I have the basics.

All of the "streams" - Alexandria (Coptic) and Constantinople (Orthodox) and Rome (well...Rome) agreed that Arius was wrong.  They all affirm the Divinity of Christ, they all affirm the doctrine of the Trinity.  They all affirm salvation by faith.  They all affirm the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin.

If a person is going to judge the salvation of Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Copts, Arminians, and pretty much everybody other than the "truly Reformed" because of the works debate, I cannot go there.

Even if I don't understand the role of works, is it Jesus Christ who saves me through faith?

Do I hold Christ through my faith, or does He hold me?

How right does my doctrine need to be before Romans 10 is found to be valid?

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Is it "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead *AND you get the hypostatic union right...you will be saved?"

Is it "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead *AND you get the relationship between works and faith right you will be saved?


Is it "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead *AND you get TULIP right, you will be saved?

Is it "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead *AND** you can quote from the Catechisms and Confessions, you will be saved?

How big is your asterisk?


From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
The Rock

layersThere was something about THIS rock that caught my eye.

the layer that separates the flat layers from the tilted layers, the pebbles in the water...

This was taken in Utah on our honeymoon, walking through a "slot canyon" - the swooping of the canyon walls.  I don't make a secret that I lean "old earth creationist" - but no matter the age of the earth I am sure of this.

God is everlasting.  God created.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Stir, Skim, Dig

Okay, at the beginning of yesterday's sermon, the pastor showed a PowerPoint slide of a yogurt foil label.

I took that visual in a different direction than I think the pastor intended.

Stirrers, skimmers, diggers...We have all of these types in the Christian body.


Those who stir, those who skim, and those who dig.  The beauty is that each of us shows all of these tendencies at some point or another.

When you hear "stir" - what do you think of?  Is it the negative "stir up bottom muck?"

Or do you think positive?

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, (Hebrews 10:24 ESV)

As believers, do we stir up one another to look more like Christ?  How does this work?  For me, getting into the fringes of something, then finding another person, taking that "something" and running with it...with that other person, pulling more and more people into this "something."

Or simply encouraging another into a deeper walk.



I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, (1 Peter 1:13)

what was Peter "stirring?"  The list begins... faith, virtue, knowledge.

I see (rightly or wrongly) a lot of anti-intellectualism in a lot of people.  "Knowledge" is third on Peter's list and knowledge is what leads to self-control,  steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, love.

They're in this order for a reason, and each acts a foundation for the next.

How do we stir our spiritual siblings to greater faith, virtue, knowledge?



Merriam-Websters has one definition:

to look over or read (something) quickly especially to find the main ideas

Yeah, okay.  That works.   Why would a Christian "skim?"

We may skim a chapter of Scripture, then settle on the "main idea" and go for a deeper study of that idea that the Holy Spirit is laying on our heart and mind.

We may skim the church bulletin and rest our eyes on something that intrigues us.

We may skim community groups until we find one that we really click with.

Somebody may ask a question and we skim material looking for information.

These can show good fruit.  I know a little bit about a lot of different things.  Enough so that if somebody asks me a question, I can point them to good resources.  A lot of these things I have not dug into deeply.

I pass over a lot of ministry opportunities that are not in my range of interest...

Waiting to find the right place is good.

but...you if you stay in that "skim" place, or if ALL of your places are skim place, that shows a shallowness that does not show good fruit.

You have to


I can skim Philippians, then land on "I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,"

What does the Bible say about persecution?  Start digging...

I can skim the church bulletin, then land on one opportunity that screams at me...start digging.

But we don't exist in a vacuum.  Help others dig!

So, in some things, I'm a skimmer, others places a digger.  In still other places, I can stir up others to do their own skimming and digging.

And...that's where I took that PowerPoint slide...

From The Living Room
all things new.

I had a dream maybe a month ago–one of those where you’re sort of half-awake. I was married to a man created by my imagination, and in my dream he confessed to me: “I cheated on you.” Dream-me was understandably upset, and so was my husband, and I had to walk away for a while and cry it out, but then I came back and told him: “I still love you. I’m not leaving. If you want to leave, go ahead, but I want to make this work.”

And then I woke up crying, because even as I said that in my dream, the voice of God said in words beyond words: “And that is exactly how I feel about you. Come back.”

* * * *
It’s been a completely crazy first five weeks of the year–in the course of 38 days I’ve signed a lease on an apartment, totaled my car, started a new job, and accumulated all kinds of things to do. I’ve been tired and anxious and freaked out, and I must confess that in my attempt to escape I frequently turn to things to distract or numb myself. I’ve been cranky and frustrated and irritable and I find myself wanting to control other people. And as a result I feel like I’ve only caught occasional glimpses of God–even though I know He’s still there, and He is still faithful, my emotions haven’t quite caught up.

I keep circling back to the fact that despite the fact that I currently feel crazy and tired and a long way from God, He objectively sustains and loves and continues to stick around, despite my frequent infidelity. My stress and busyness and forgetfulness become tools in His hands to make me more like Jesus. That is a wonder and a beauty.

* * * *
What else is going on? Lots of things at church. I’m reading Gilead in preparation to tackle its sequels Home and Lila, and also Karen Swallow Prior’s rightfully praised biography Fierce Convictions. I’m also looking for a new car (see above re: totaling my old one–long story I don’t want to tell here). Trying to write more and maybe plan a vacation for later. Rocking out to Sojourn Church’s new album, which I stole the title of this post from. Looking to the future, always.

What’s new with you, friends?

From The Wilsonian Institute
The Day The Music Died: 02.03.59

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
lunes linkage – 2/2/2015

Wow, a month into 2015 already!   I've got a few links this week, so...

"From bombings to bubblehead income: The diversity of persecution in new testament perspective"

According to the New Testament, persecution occurs in various forms — from beatings (Acts 5:40), stonings (Acts 7), and imprisonment (Acts 16) to insults (Matthew 5:11), slander (Acts 14:2), and lies (Luke 26:59). The New Testament does not define persecution by the kind of action taken against Christians. Rather, the New Testament defines persecution by the nature of the hostility. Simply put, the New Testament labels any hostile action against Christ or his righteousness a form of persecution.


I follow a ministry called "Trash Mountain" - and they're starting an aquaponics project!  (I have a mini aquaponics set on my desk, where I grow peace lilies and green onions, and where the "four horsemen of the aquapocalypse" live.)

“Teaching people how to provide food for their community is sustainable poverty alleviation,” Gibson said. “It brings dignity and hope to the community. To modify an old adage, if you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day, but if you teach him to run aquaponics, he can feed his entire community.”


LGBT groups says "No compromise."

This "compromise" is a poison pill that the LGBT civil rights movement must never accept. We can never allow "because Jesus" to become a legally protected excuse to discriminate against LGBT folks in the public square.

Liberty for me, but not for thee...AKA "you will celebrate the gay."


"Save the Earth, Don't Give Birth"