November 30, 2006

Darkness in Egypt

Category: Bible - OT - Exodus :: Permalink

Last night in our Bible study, we were talking about the plagues on Egypt leading up to the Exodus.

The first nine plagues appear to come in three cycles.  In each cycle, the first plague is announced to Pharaoh early in the morning, usually by the water.  The second is also announced to Pharaoh beforehand.  The third happens with no warning at all.

In the first cycle, there’s an emphasis on the Egyptian sorcerers and at the end of that cycle they are admitting their inability: “This is the finger of God.”  The second cycle seems to emphasize the distinction between Egypt and Israel.  The third … well, that’s harder to see at first.

But what jumped out at me last night is that all three of those plagues may have something to do with darkness.  The ninth plague, of course, is darkness.  In the eighth plague, the land is darkened because of all the locusts.  But where’s the darkness in the seventh plague?  It doesn’t show up in English translations.  But it did show up in the margin of my NKJV.

In Exodus 9:32, it says “the wheat and the spelt were not struck, for they are late crops.”  But the word for late, the margin suggested, means “darkened.”  That may be true, given that the root of the word is used for darkness in Isa. 29:18 and Amos 5:20.

And yet … I note that it isn’t the same word used in Exodus 10 for darkness, nor is it obvious to me how the “darkness” (= lateness) of the wheat and spelt would be related to judgment since these were the plants that weren’t destroyed by the hail.  So it just goes to show you that what jumps out at you, even if it is in the NKJV margin, isn’t always really there.

It is interesting, though, that a word related to darkness shows up in connection with these three plagues.  And I suppose that if there was thunder and hail there were likely clouds, which would have brought darkness.  So maybe there’s something there.  But if there is, it isn’t as clear as I thought last night, looking at that marginal note.  Alas.

Any thoughts on the structure of these ten plagues?

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Posted by John Barach @ 6:33 pm | Discuss (0)
November 28, 2006

Warning: Hard Hat Required

Category: Theology - Ecclesiology :: Permalink

The latest issue of Outreach contains a helpful article about one of the dumb moves you can make as a Christian wanting to see your church grow.  It’s focusing on the church instead of on Jesus.

Now there’s a sense in which it’s right to talk about the church, of course, and I might have a higher view of the church than the author of this article does.  There are certainly things that Jesus does through the church, so that it would be wrong to distinguish Jesus and the church completely.

But that isn’t the point of the article.  Rather, the author warns against trying to attract people to your church by presenting infomercials for your church which emphasize the various programs the church offers and which make it seem as if these are the reasons for being there: “Our church is doing this and this!  I used to hate church, but since coming here, I love it!”  And so forth.

The danger, says the author, is that we present a false view of the church.  When people want to join the church, they need to hear the truth.  In particular, the author says, they need to hear two warnings.

First, “you will encounter some difficult and unpleasant people.”  There are people in church who are going to rub you the wrong way.  We welcome in people who aren’t always loving, who are sometimes abrasive, who are even just plain weird.

Second, “The church you join is not always going to be like it is today.”  You might join because you have a great time with the church’s baseball team.  But in a couple years, that team may be disbanded.  You might love the pastor’s preaching, but he may take a call to another church a year after you join the church and you might think every sermon the new guy preaches is a dud.

If our talk with people who are new to the church focuses on the church and what it’s doing and what it’s done for us and what it can do for them, we will not only open them up to disappointment when they discover the church isn’t what they thought it was; we may inadvertently encourage them to focus on the church without focusing on Christ.  We don’t want them to join because they think we’re the perfect people or because they think that our programs will meet their needs.  We want them to put their trust in Jesus, not just in us.

Again, we mustn’t fall into a false dichotomy here (“Jesus OR the church”), but there’s a lot of good, honest stuff here about the church and the dangers of marketing it.

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Posted by John Barach @ 1:50 pm | Discuss (2)
November 27, 2006

Biblical Spirituality

Category: Theology :: Permalink

There’s more that could be added to the list, of course, but Mark Horne‘s “How to Be Spiritual According to the Bible” is a good start.

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Posted by John Barach @ 3:01 pm | Discuss (0)

Frederick on Baptism

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

Last week, someone on a mailing list asked about The Confession of Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate (1577).  Schaff mentions it in The Creeds of Christendom as one of the minor German Reformed confessions.  It was the last will and testament of Elector Frederick III, the man who was responsible for having Ursinus and Olevianus write the Heidelberg Catechism, and Schaff says that “It may be regarded as an explanatory appendix to the Heidelberg Catechism” (I.563).

The only English edition is from 1577 and, of course, is not in print.  Nor is it available online yet.  Joel Garver tracked a copy down for me.  Here’s part of the section on the sacraments, including the whole section on baptism.  I’ve modernized the spelling and some of the punctuation, but for the most part I’ve left the capitalization (or lack thereof) the way it is in the original.

But to speak of the use of the Sacraments, we believe and confess that the holy Sacraments of the new Testament, as the holy Baptism and Supper of the Lord, were ordained of Christ himself to that end, that Christians should use them, hold them in great reverence, and not despise them, for that they are not only marks whereby we are known to be Christians, and of the open profession before God and man of the covenant and grace of God, but also especially & principally are true and assured tokens and witnesses of God’s grace towards us: for which cause when we shall have young children borne into this world we should not as some do suffer them to be 8, 9, or 10 years old, till they be of some reasonable discretion, and then first baptize them: But rather much more comfort ourselves with that which our Lord Christ said to his disciples, Mark 10, Let little children come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.  If then the kingdom of heaven belong unto young children (as it is undoubtedly true) why should we then doubt that they are also comprehended and concluded in the covenant which God made with Abraham and the believing fathers heretofore?  And for that cause we ought not by any means seclude or forclose them from the holy baptism.

Of the efficacy and working of the holy Baptism, we believe, that our children, seeing (as is before declared) that they be comprehended in the covenant, when they shall be baptized according to the article of our true, old and universal faith, and also afterwards be brought up in the same, they are also made partakers in the bloody death of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and all his benefits which he hath purchased unto us by his said death, in such sort that they not only receive the outward seal of the holy Sacrament, which is the elemental water upon their outward bodies, but likewise inwardly are baptized in their souls by Christ himself with his blood which was shed, and also through the working of the holy Ghost regenerated and born again to be new creatures.  For as the elemental water of the holy Sacrament in baptism is not Christ’s blood, nor the holy Ghost itself, so also the holy Ghost or blood of Christ is not in the sacrament of the elemental water.  And although the elemental water according to his property and nature can do no more than outwardly cleanse the body, and reacheth not so far as unto the soul, yet the blood of Christ cleanseth the soul inwardly to everlasting life.  And as the minister doth the one, so doth Christ the other, as Saint John the Baptist witnesseth in the third chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel: I baptize you with water to repentance or amendment of life, but he that cometh after me is stronger than I am, whose shoes I am not worthy to carry, he shall baptize you with the holy Ghost and with fire.  And like unto this is the saying of Saint Paul in the tenth Chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, that after the same sort the Israelites were baptized with the clouds and sea, as also they were fed with manna, and drank the water which proceeded out of the rock, etc.

And then, toward the end of the section on the Lord’s Supper:

And lastly if the communion of CHRIST and of all his gifts and benefits[,] righteousness and life everlasting, was not purchased unto us, than by his death on the cross, and otherwise cannot be obtained of us, but through true faith which the holy ghost worketh in our hearts, then it is certain that neither the use of the holy Sacraments nor yet any other inward or outward work ex opere operato, that is, by virtue of a work done: can make us partakers of Christ and his benefits.  But the holy Sacraments are godly tokens and seals, by which our faith is strengthened.  And they do direct and lead us to the only offering of Christ which hath been once made upon the cross for us.  And there cannot come unto us any such communion and fellowship with Christ when we only hear outwardly the visible word or promise of the Sacraments, as when inwardly we believe the word of the Gospel, which shall be heard and preached unto us.  And therefore although the visible signs may be abused by the ungodly and wicked to their condemnation, yet the invisible heavenly gifts and benefits which we apprehend only by our faith, must only be and remain proper to the faithful.

Helpful background for understanding the baptismal theology of the early Reformers, and of the Heidelberg Catechism in particular, in its historical context.

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Posted by John Barach @ 2:48 pm | Discuss (6)
November 25, 2006

Anointing with Oil

Category: Theology - Liturgical,Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

Danny Hyde, the pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church, has a helpful essay on the anointing with oil spoken of in James 5.  Unlike some in the Reformed tradition, he sees it as a continuing blessing for the church.  In this essay, he interacts helpfully with the views that this anointing is simply “medicinal” or that it was restricted to the early church, as well as with the current charismatic and Pentecostal uses of this passage.  Good stuff.

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Posted by John Barach @ 4:03 pm | Discuss (1)
November 20, 2006

Genesis 1:6-8 Sermon Notes

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Permalink

And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters.
And let it be a separator between waters and waters.
And God made the firmament and separated between the waters that were under the firmament
     and the waters that were above the firmament.
And it was so.
And God called the firmament “Heavens.”
And it was dusk and it was dawn: second day.

The second day is probably the strangest of all the seven days of creation. What happens on the other days makes more sense to us.

We compare the way God created the world with the way the world is now and it’s pretty obvious to us what had to change to get from the one to the other. It was dark and so God created light and had it come from stars. It was covered with water and so God made dry land appear. It was empty and so God created plants and fish and birds and animals and people.

That seems obvious to us because of the way the world is now. And it’s also obvious that we’d need air to breathe and we might think that’s what Day 2 is all about. It’s about God creating the atmosphere above the earth and giving us air to breathe.

But Genesis 1 doesn’t say anything about air here. Instead, it talks about something that separates waters above and waters below. And that isn’t immediately obvious to us. It isn’t immediately obvious as we look at our universe that there are waters up above us. Rain? Yes. Clouds and water vapor? Yes. But not a great sea of waters like there is on earth.

Day 2 is hard to figure out. But it’s worth thinking about. In Proverbs 25:2 we hear this: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.”

God conceals things. That’s part of His glory. He doesn’t make everything obvious. But the glory of kings is to search out what God has hidden, to figure things out. And so we need to act like kings and search out what God is telling us here in Genesis 1 about these waters above and these waters below and the firmament that separates them.


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Posted by John Barach @ 2:27 pm | Discuss (4)
November 18, 2006

Genesis 1:2-5 Sermon Notes

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Permalink

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was unstructured and empty and darkness was on the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light.”
And there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good.
And God separated between the light and the darkness.
And God called the light “Day” and the darkness he called “Night.”
And it was dusk and it was dawn: one day (Genesis 1:1-5).

The Bible is all about development and maturation and progress. God created the heavens and the earth and from then on the heavens serve as the blueprint for earth as God works progressively, through history, so that His name is hallowed, His kingdom comes, and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

The first day started with God creating heaven first and then earth. But it continues as God takes hold of the world by His Word and Spirit and begins to work with it to make it more like heaven. The first day starts with the brightness of heaven and the darkness of earth. But it moves from darkness to light.

And that first day is foundational for all the other days. It sets the pattern of what a day is. And this day sheds light on our days and the meaning of the constant cycle of day and night, night and day, in which we live.These verses are foundational, not just for this chapter but for the whole of history, for the whole of our lives. They’re foundational for our understanding of the world and of God’s work in it. What is God doing in history? He’s doing what He did on this first day. He’s moving things from darkness to light by His Word and Spirit.


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Posted by John Barach @ 2:08 pm | Discuss (0)
November 17, 2006

Noisy Outlaws….

Category: Literature :: Permalink

Noisy Outlaws....I came across the title of this book the other day, while flipping through the pages of Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things, and loved it.  Here it is in full:

Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren’t as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn’t Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out.

Of course, I haven’t read the book myself.  But the title is fun.




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Posted by John Barach @ 5:52 pm | Discuss (0)
November 7, 2006

Genesis 1:1 Sermon Notes

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Permalink

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis is the book of beginnings.  It’s all about beginnings and what develops out of them.  And so we hear again and again about “the generations of” various people, that is, about what came from those people.  But before all the other beginnings, we hear about the beginning of the whole of creation: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

That first verse is like the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: “Dah dah dah DUM.”  Those notes in that particular rhythm jump out at you at the very beginning of the symphony, and that’s all most people know of the symphony.  But if you listen further, you’ll hear those notes or that rhythm again and again as Beethoven works out that theme in various ways.  That’s how it is with this verse.  Already in this verse, we encounter themes that are going to be worked out and developed and unpacked in the rest of the symphony, in the rest of God’s Word, in the rest of history.


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Posted by John Barach @ 5:15 pm | Discuss (3)
November 6, 2006


Category: Family :: Permalink

C. S. Lewis writes:

There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God.  God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature.  That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us.  We may think this rather crude and unspiritual.  God does not: He invented eating.  He likes matter.  He invented it….  I know some muddle-headed Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure, were bad in themselves.  But they were wrong.  Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body — which believes that matter is God, that God Himself once took on a human body, and that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, and our energy (Mere Christianity, pp. 65, 92).

Yesterday’s sermon was on Genesis 1:1.  As I introduced the liturgy, I borrowed from these quotations from Lewis and spoke about God’s delight in matter.  The Lord’s Supper is a great “No” to gnosticism.  Contrary to some theologians who seem to think that the Supper is just an aid to our memories and that the real benefits of the Supper come through the ideas in our minds, Jesus tells us simply to do this ritual as His memorial.  And when we do it together, when we eat this physical bread and drink this physical wine together with our physical brothers and sisters, God uses that meal to nourish us on Christ’s real body and blood so that we share together in His life.

So enjoy it, I told the congregation.  Don’t shut your eyes and concentrate on trying to generate the right ideas in your minds.  Taste the bread.  Feel the burn of the wine on your tongue.  Look at the people around you.  Enjoy this meal.  And in this physical way, God will give you the life of Christ.

I gave thanks for the bread, broke it, and was just getting ready to distribute it, when a voice came from the back of the church — the voice of my daughter, in fact, — and it said: “Mmm… yummy!”

“Yes, Aletheia,” I said.  “You’re right.  “It is yummy.”  And then I passed the bread and we ate together. 

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Posted by John Barach @ 4:41 pm | Discuss (2)
November 4, 2006

Happy Birthday, Moriah!

Category: Family :: Permalink

On the third day, after God separated the seas and the dry land, the earth was bare.  But God spoke and caused green grain plants and fruit trees to grow to glorify the earth.  On the sixth day, God formed out of the ground a man.  But it was not good that the man should be alone.  So God put him to sleep, removed a rib, and built it into a woman.  The man was the ground and the woman was the glorious fruit tree that grew out of him to be his glory.

For two and a half years, you have been my glory, a fruitful vine in my house, and you are growing more glorious every year.  Happy 26th birthday, Moriah, my wife.

Oh, and Dr. de Blegny has some healthful suggestions for celebrating your birthday, found in this 17th century tome.  Eat, drink, enjoy, and be preserved from all des maladies:


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Posted by John Barach @ 1:09 pm | Discuss (3)
November 3, 2006


Category: Literature,Miscellaneous :: Permalink

St. Ives had always felt at home in Captain Powers’ shop, although he would have been in a hard way to say just how.  His own home — the home of his childhood — hadn’t resembled it in the slightest.  His parents had prided themselves in being modern, and would brook no tobacco or liquor.  His father had written a treatise on palsy, linking the disease to the consumption of meat, and for three years no meat crossed the threshold.  It was a poison, an abomination, carrion — like eating broiled dirt, said his father.  And tobacco: his father wuold shudder at the mention of the word.  St. Ives could remember him standing atop a crate beneath a leafless oak, he couldn’t say just where — St. James Park, perhaps — shouting at an indifferent croud about the evils of general intemperance.

His theories had declined from the scientific to the mystical and then into gibberish, and now he wrote papers still, sometimes in verse, from the confines of a comfortable, barred cellar in north Kent.  St. Ives had decided by the time he was twelve that intemperance in the pleasures of the senses was, in the main, less ruinous than was intemperance along more abstract lines.  Nothing, it seemed to him, was worth losing your sense of proportion and humor over, least of all a steak pie, a pint of ale, and a pipe of latakia (James P. Blaylock, Homunculus, pp. 22-23).

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Posted by John Barach @ 2:23 am | Discuss (0)