… faithfulness to the Word of God requires the humility to trust that what God says in his Scripture is more important for a congregation to hear than what the preacher thinks the congregation needs to hear.
Phillip D. Jensen, “Preaching That Changes the Church,” When God’s Voice Is Heard, p. 142.
Just in time for Easter, Paul Buckley of the Dallas Morning News has posted an article on the resurrection entitled “‘Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum’: Sure about that?” by Joel Garver. Here’s a snippet:
… Jesus’ resurrection on Easter morning was not simply an assurance that there is life after death or that Christ is still with us. Rather it is an announcement that God’s plan to renew the world is now under way through Jesus. There will indeed be a renewed created world and a renewed, embodied humanity. That is what Christian hope is all about.
In a grave they laid you, O my Life and my Christ;
and the armies of the angels were sore amazed
as they sang the praise of your submissive love.
Right it is indeed, life-bestowing Lord, to magnify You;
for upon the Cross were Your most-pure hands outspread,
and the strength of our dread foe have You destroyed.
John Tavener, Lamentations and Praises.
This evening, after teaching a couple of catechism classes, I read C. Trimp’s “The Promise of the Covenant,” in Unity in Diversity: Studies Presented to Prof. Dr. Jelle Faber On the Occasion of His Retirement. Trimp starts his short essay this way:
There is something unusual about the word “promise.” In our daily conversations “promise” usually means the pledge to do something in the future. But for the reformers of the 16th century the word had a different meaning. For them, the expression “God promises” did not primarily point to a future act. Rather, they understood it to mean God speaking in the present: God proclaims the good tiding, the gospel of the acquittal in Jesus Christ. God’s proclaiming is a speaking with a promise…. At the moment of this address the salvation of Christ comes to us, yes, God Himself comes to us with salvation. Hence our custom of speaking about “salvation in the form of promise”…. By this we do not mean that we obtain salvation in the future only. What we do mean is that the salvation of God reaches our heart and life by means of God speaking to us.
Trimp then spends some time on Luther’s view of the promise before moving to the Heidelberg Catechism. In Q&A 22 of the Catechism, we say that a Christian must believe “all that God promises us in the gospel,” which is summarized in the Apostles’ Creed. Trimp writes:
It is evident that these articles speak about the deeds God performed in the past and performs in the present. Nevertheless, the articles summarize the “promises of the gospel.” For each of the twelve articles discusses the love of God towards His people. In this case “promise” comprises the meaning of the history of redemption in light of the salutary significance for the congregation and its members. The fact that Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary may rightly be called the fulfilment of many promises (cf. also answer 19). Yet this fact is in turn a “promise” for the congregation, and question 36 deals with this promise.
So too the Catechism’s discussion of baptism speaks about God’s promises in connection with what God has done, is doing, and will do.
Trimp makes an important point: when we speak about the covenant promise, we aren’t speaking strictly of something God will do in the future. God pledges that past events too are for us. He gives us all Christ’s riches in the form of promises which He wants preached to His people: not “this will be yours someday if…” but “this is what God has done in Christ for you.” It’s too bad that his discussion is so brief!
I was glancing through the entries in Arts and Letters Daily and came across this article by P. J. O’Rourke. The article is a review of several new books on etiquette, none of which are as good as Emily Post’s (at least, before other people started editing Post’s books). One, The Fabulous Girl’s Guide to Decorum, is particularly abysmal, it seems, marred by a pretty complete lack of manners or morals. The authors encourage bragging, lying on resumes, affairs with your boss, and (if you want to be traditional) waiting at least two dates before sleeping with a guy. O’Rourke’s analysis is great:
”The Fabulous Girl’s Guide” is to social climbing what Dante’s ”Inferno” would be to salvation if Dante had chosen Petronius instead of Virgil as his docent in Hades: ”The eighth circle is tough to get into. We’re talking hypocrites and evil counselors and I mean major players, not run-of-the-mill Sunday talk-show pundits. Fortunately, I got our names on the list.”
Which reminds me that I need to read Dante sometime….
And you have to admire the single-mindedness of purpose in the last words of French grammarian Dominique Bouhours: “I am about to — or I am going to — die; either expression is used.”
In honour of the 317th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday (thanks, Duane, for drawing our attention to this!)…. On the weekend, I picked up Morimur, which includes Bach’s Partita D Minor for solo violin, a number of chorales sung by the Hilliard Ensemble, and Ciaccona for solo violin and four voices. I gather from the booklet included and from the reviews at Amazon that the theory that undergirds this piece of music is a bit controversial, not to say weird. I knew nothing about those theories when I bought the disc, nor does one need to think about them in order to appreciate the music. I simply saw that it was the Hilliard Ensemble doing Bach. I’ve enjoyed several of their other recordings. I’ve listened to the whole of this one only once so far. Anyone else heard it?
All in all, a frustrating day with little accomplished. Yesterday morning, as I was sitting at my desk, I developed pain in the muscles between my spine and right shoulder. A massage yesterday helped a bit, as did a hot shower, but the pain is still there and the muscles in my neck are tensing up as a result.
All of that led to me being very close to a headache yesterday and today, which left me tired and draggy. I managed to slog my way through the introduction and first point of my Luke 23 sermon, but the whole thing feels a bit clunky to me right now. Mind you, when I look at it again tomorrow, it might not be as bad as I think. I’ve had that happen before.
I gave up on the sermon around 7:30 and then headed out for a late supper. Over an 8-ounce sirloin and a pint of stout at Brewsters, I read Jim Jordan‘s Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future. It’s a short book (46 pages), but it covers a lot of turf, tracing the patterns of history in terms of the Father, Son (Brother), and Spirit. I read quickly, trying to grasp the big picture. Someday (perhaps when I’m a little less draggy and muddle-headed) I’ll have to think it through more carefully. A couple of quotations:
God is in the business of changing humanity into a fit Bride, and so God breaks down all attempts to freeze history (p. 20).
Today, the bonds that used to hold our society together are starting to break and a “neo-tribalism” is developing. In that connection, Jordan writes,
… people today do not live in a fear of God, as people did at the time of the Reformation. People today live in isolation, rootlessness, anomie, loneliness, and with suicidal tendencies. They seek psychiatrists and read books trying to find individual “inner peace” by themselves, alone. The Hollywood movie What About Bob? points to this phenomenon. Bob’s psychiatrist deals with Bob as an individual, but what Bob really needs is to become part of a family (p. 35).
Jordan urges the church to respond to these developments by having the community gather around the communion table and by recovering enthusiastic singing and “a sense of place”:
Protestant churches are ideological; we drive past twenty churches to get to the one we agree with. This cannot change overnight, of course, but more and more the churches need to reach out into the communities right around them and become centers for the lonely and lost in their midst.
Jordan also calls for “total Bible saturation,” so that our common sense is shaped by Scripture, so that we live by the imperatives, lyrics, evaluations, facts, and symbolism of Scripture. The church ought to be tribal:
a community of enthusiastic singers gathered by real elders (old men) at a table. Such a local church must have a vision for the local community, not be constantly harping on national ills. Such a church must be planted in a place, and reach out with a vision of the New Community of God to all the lonely, isolated, and despairing people round about, people who are experiencing the many forms of death. Such a church must have something to offer in the way of a new community, and to do this she must know her songs, be feasting at her Lord’s table, and have elders who can provide her with a real government. The modern conservative church too often has nothing to offer but doctrine, cold ideas. The church must offer wholistic life to wholistic people (pp. 45-46).
I thought a bit about the church having a sense of place on Tuesday when I was in Calgary. I stopped for lunch in Mackenzie Towne, a development on the south end of the city. When you enter the development, you come to a traffic circle, and on the circle sits a church. It’s not right in the centre of town at this point, but the town may grow up around it so that it is eventually in the centre. It’s simply called Mackenzie Towne Church. I have no idea if it’s tied to any denomination and given our current state of doctrinal fragmentation in the church I’d probably end up driving past it to go elsewhere if I lived in Mackenzie Towne myself. But the idea is very attractive: this is the church for this area and for these people. The church’s mission isn’t necessarily to reach the whole city but to reach this particular community (first). As it is, many people live a long distance from the church they attend and that is bound to affect the nature of our community/communion.
Home again! On Friday, I drove about five hours north to Leduc. Our church order requires each church to be visited by a minister and an elder (or by two ministers) at least once every couple of years; the visitors inquire about how the officebearers are doing their work and about the congregation’s health. If requested, they also sometimes meet with members of the congregation. Lethbridge was appointed to visit Leduc, though in this case Leduc requested two ministers. Ed Marcusse, the pastor of Bethel United Reformed Church in Calgary made the visit with me.
I spent Friday night with Mike Mazereeuw, a recently married friend in Edmonton, who took me book shopping on Saturday morning. Book Outlet sells seconded books, books that haven’t sold in other book stores, at discounted prices. I got quite a haul before setting out for Grande Prairie, another five hours northwest of Edmonton. I preached there Sunday and visited a number of friends, including Bill DeJong and Tim Gallant.
On Monday, I drove south as far as Red Deer, where I stayed overnight with my parents before heading to Lethbridge on Tuesday.
This week, I’m working on a sermon on Luke 23:1-12. I’ve discovered that most commentaries do very little with Jesus’ trial before Herod. Why was Jesus tried not only by Pilate but also by Herod? Why was that trial part of God’s plan? How did it contribute to Jesus’ work? Only Luke tells us about it. Why does he mention it? How does it fit with the rest of what he’s saying? Most commentators, it seems, don’t ever ask those questions. They simply say what happened (Jesus was sent to Herod, etc.) without ever digging into the significance of it.
My thoughts? Well, the text presents Herod as a king of the Jews from Galilee who is confronting (and being confronted by) Jesus, the king of the Jews from Galilee. That has to be significant! Acts 4 also links this trial and the resulting friendship between Pilate and Herod with Isaiah 53 (God’s holy servant) and with Psalm 2. The whole world, including the Jewish king Herod, is united against God’s anointed king.
Add to that the fact that Herod, though a Jew now, is of Edomite background and is now joining the world power (Rome, this time) in attacking the true Israel in the person of Israel’s representative king. In their zeal to get rid of Jesus, the Jewish leaders have aligned themselves with Pilate, the representative of Rome, the foreign ruler over God’s people, and with Herod, the Edomite-turned-king-of-the-Jews, and they’ve become spiritual Edomites themselves, Esaus jealous of Jacob and out for his blood.
The glorious thing is that precisely by being rejected by His people and mocked by Herod, Jesus is entering into His victory. The nations rage, but God will set His king on His throne and give Him a rod of iron.with which to judge the nations. Don’t mistake His suffering for failure! Kiss the Son lest He be angry and you perish.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.
Another new blog to check out: Tolle, Blogge. It belongs to Russ Reeves, who’s Associate Professor of History at Trinity Christian College. He quotes a great passage from Herman Bavinck’s In the Beginning, in which Bavinck speaks about God’s grace before the Fall and denies that it was possible for Adam to merit anything from God. One of these days, I’m gonna have to read Bavinck myself!
I’ve been reading through N. T. Wright’s Reflecting the Glory, a collection of “Meditations for Living Christ’s Life in the World,” as the subtitle says. The meditation I read today contained this beautiful passage, as part of Wright’s discussion of 2 Cor. 5:6-10 (“… we make it our aim to please Him”):
Many young people in the modern Western world find it, or at least believe it to be, very difficult to please their parents. Whatever we do just doesn’t quite reach the high standard expected. Many continue through their whole adult life, even after their parents have died, still trying somehow to please them or at least appease them. Such people find the idea of pleasing God almost laughable. It seems quite impossible that God, being all-knowing and all-wise, could actually be pleased with them. You’d have to be an absolutely superb person on all fronts (they think) to please God. The chances are that God would look down on their best efforts and say, “Well, it’s only nine out of ten, I’m afraid; that’s not good enough.”Clearly Paul does not look at the matter like that at all. For Paul, God is pleased when he sees his image being reproduced in his human creatures by the Spirit. The slightest steps they take toward him, the slightest movements of faith and hope, and particularly of love, give God enormous delight. However difficult we may find this to believe, not least because of our own upbringing, it is a truth that Paul repeats quite often. Who we are in Christ, what we do in the Spirit, is pleasing to God; God delights in us, and, like a parent, he is thrilled when we, his children, take even the first small baby-steps towards the full Christian adulthood he has in store for us….
For Paul, if we are genuinely living in and by the Spirit of Jesus, then day by day, often without our even realizing it, we will have done many things that will give God pleasure — the smallest act of forgiveness, a great act of justice of mercy, a wonderful act of creativity enriching God’s world. As a result of all these many things God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” When he says that, of course, we will rightly say, “Our competence, our sufficiency, comes from God.” We never escape the wonderful circle of grace, gratitude and glory. None the less, it really will be us whom God thanks, us whom he praises.
Although in these days of feeble relativism it is important to stress that God is indeed the judge who cares passionately about good and evil, and that he is a just God who will not allow sin for ever to flourish unchecked, we must remember that the warning of final judgment should not make Christians gloomy or anxious. We are not supposed to drag ourselves through our lives thinking, “Have I made it? Will I be all right?” We have assurance in the gospel that because Jesus died for us and rose again, we are completely forgiven and accepted in him. This assurance is matched by the delight we can and should take in the work of the Spirit. Through the Spirit we are enabled to do many things by God’s grace so that, when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ, we will find we have pleased him in countless ways that for now we can only guess at (pp. 45-46).