My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"
28 October 2006
The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1-15 & The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15-31, by Bruce Waltke (New International Commentary on the Old Testament series) - These were simply outstanding and incredibly helpful. Around chapter 7 or 8 of Proverbs, I decided to bite the bullet and preach straight through the book rather than go topically through the rest of it. It was Waltke who convinced me this was possible by showing me that Proverbs isn't as haphazard as we normally think. He does a great job separating out different sections of Proverbs and getting to the meat of the matter. These are fairly scholarly books, but they are absolute musts for any pastor or teacher working through Proverbs. Waltke's Proverbs commentaries are, for me, the standard by which all others are measured.
Proverbs, by Derek Kidner - This is volume 15 of Tyndale's Old Testament Commentary series, a great set of small, paperback commentaries that manage to be immensely helpful. I've already enjoyed Kidner's writings on Genesis and Psalms, and I was not disappointed by this 180-page welterweight. Due to space limitations, Kidner obviously does not deal with every question or possible application. But somehow he manages to answer most of the questions I had about different verses. Also, the first 50 pages contain wonderful introductory material and excellent subject studies to which I referred many times over the last two years. While he deals a little with the original languages, this is one that anyone wanting to understand Proverbs deeply could benefit from.
How to Read Proverbs, by Tremper Longman III - My opinion on this book has come around since I began preaching Proverbs. Though I disagree a little with the amount of freedom that Dr. Longman takes with applying the Proverbs, this is one of the best introductions to wisdom literature I've read. Longman carefully takes the reader through everything he needs to know in order to gain the greatest benefit possible from Proverbs. He explains what proverbs are and how to read them, he explains how to find Christ in the pages of the Proverbs, and he gives a few examples of how we can use the Proverbs to find specific help for things like our money, our words, and our wives/husbands.
Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth: Studies in Proverbs, William Arnot - Arnot was a 19th century pastor in Scotland. This book of more than 100 short sermonettes through Proverbs is his lasting literary contribution to the church. Arnot does not deal with all, or even most, of Proverbs, choosing rather to focus his thoughts on one verse at a time. These sermonettes would profit any reader, but could be especially suited for family worship with teenagers (especially boys - Proverbs is their book!). Good stuff.
Proverbs: Everyday Wisdom for Everyone, by Eric Lane - To be honest, I stopped working with this commentary partway through my time in Proverbs. Though I didn't find much to disagree with, its format is not helpful for a preacher. However, it could be a great book for individual or family worship. Though Lane doesn't believe Proverbs has much discernable structure to them (contra Waltke), he organizes the book according to the chapters of Proverbs. The content of his chapters is mostly an application & sermon-style. Though I could wish he wasn't so tied to Proverbs' chapter divisions, I could see folks reading Lane profitably along with their devotions or in preparation for Bible study.
Wisdom for Today's Issues: A Topical Arrangement of Proverbs, by Steven Voorwinde - This small book is simply a rearrangement of the book of Proverbs into topical sections. So, for instance, if you'd like to know what Proverbs says about money, you could just read pages 154-160. Because I didn't preach topically, this book was only marginally helpful; obviously, though, it could be helpful for those needing quicker answers from Proverbs. But...if you're tempted to study Proverbs regarding just one subject, heed these words from Longman (above): "the first step is to read through the whole book, noting those verses that bear on the topic we are interested in...This may sound mechanical, but it isn't, at least not entirely." In other words, if you simply pull out from Proverbs all those verse that mention "money" or "wealth" or "poverty", you're going to miss other verses that don't have those words yet bear directly on the topic you're studying. To put it another way, if you choose to study Proverbs like Voorwinde's book, make sure you treat Proverbs like a whole book and not a random collection of helpful thoughts.
Proverbs, by Charles Bridges - This classic commentary is best described as Puritanical. In a good way. Mostly. Bridges deal carefully and exegetically with each verse of Proverbs, leaving the reader satisifed that he hasn't missed anything. Like many Puritans, he's apt to read too much into the text, making laws out of applications. But, studying for sermons, whenever I got stuck on a question or verse, Bridges was usually able to take care of me.
Ending Proverbs, my prayer is that God's people here in Lafayette will have a taste for how God's glory can be pursued in every corner of life, that they will have such a vision for His glory that they'll hold dearly to this book of wisdom, seeing in its pages the life of Christ in everyday situations.
27 October 2006
Here's what I came up with:
- It's all about Hosea and Gomer. Jesus loves His people despite our spiritual prostitution. Regardless of how many idols we've given ourselves to, He sings irresistibly to our souls and draws us to Himself in love. He convinces us that His love - not diamonds - is our best friend.
- No matter how hard we try to push Him away, He will freely forgive and because we are His, we will not be able to resist His song of love. Thank God.
- And Jesus is the writer of the story. No matter how much the enemy tries to mess it up and regardless how apt we are to gum up the works, it's still completely and totally His story. And at the end, He will get the girl. He's far too jealous for us; He can't just walk away.
p.s. - Much like Hosea, the movie has "adult" themes and situations, but I didn't find it offensive or out of place. The caveat's been issued.
26 October 2006
This is quality stuff. Who knew soul singers and country went so well together? Mind you, this isn't country you'll hear on Hank-FM or whatever you have floating through the airwaves. This is vintage country, tears-in-your-uh-lemonade country. Not twangy, but vintage.
Nashville's producer, Buddy Miller, found a great balance between slow ballads, hoe-downs and country rockers. He also found several incredible guests: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Patty Loveless.
If you're shopping for some new music to make you smile, tap your toes a little and sing along in your best soul singer impression, this is it.
Why did God see fit to put this book in the Bible? On the surface, so much seems so plain, pedestrian, ordinary. Even commonsensical. Well, that's kind of the point. This is ordinary and common-sense stuff - but it's here because I'm not so full of common sense or wisdom as I'd like to think. God put Proverbs in the Bible and He jammed it full of ordinary wisdom because I need it. Especially me. And especially others included in the Biblical category of young men. This is our book, but don't cheer and pat yourselves on the back. It's ours because of the inherent, automatic foolishness born and bred into us.
Sometimes, because we forget what Christ told us about the law of God, we tend to think we're doing all right. "I haven't killed anyone today and my Sabbath-keeping is above par." And here comes Proverbs, slowly and methodically revealing how the law of God can be, indeed must be, applied, pressed into every corner of life. The mere presence of this book in Scripture is humiliating. Humiliating in a good way. It gets our heads out of the theological clouds and forces us to reconcile Christ's life in us with things like sleeping and eating and speaking. We who would much rather discuss theology and culture and philosophy, Proverbs grounds us in Christ in the most practical of ways.
Other times, like the Hawkeyes looking over the helmets of the Hoosiers, we neglect to take the enemy seriously. We keep our eyes on the big temptations, we memorize the ten commandments and know answers to the false cults of our day. And foolishness slips in the door unnoticed. Proverbs is in the Bible because I need help against the temptation of foolishness. I need Jesus all the time. Proverbs tells me that.
But Proverbs, by its lonesome, isn't enough. John Bunyan said "It is possible to learn all about the mysteries of the Bible and never be affected by it in one’s soul. Great knowledge is not enough." Proverbs is part of how the Spirit masters foolishness in my mind and life. But apart from the Spirit, regardless of how many Proverbs I have in my mental rolodex, I will achieve nothing but superficial smarminess. This is why James calls real wisdom "the wisdom from above" (Jas. 3:17); it has to come from God, it has to be given because it can never be merely earned or procured by hard work.
So the presence of the book of Proverbs is humiliating. But how sweet it is to be humiliated unto Christ, to be reminded that I need Him and His Spirit to speak the right way, to vacuum a carpet the right way. And to be driven to prayer, pleading with the Father to grant the wisdom that sin has driven so far from me.
24 October 2006
#1 - Proverbs shows me that we need the whole Bible
Perhaps Proverbs itself, as a book, can serve as a metaphor. There it sits, right in the middle of our Bible. It's not the first thing you notice about Scripture. It's not the beginning or the end of our religion. Its place seems rather humble at first. But just because something's in the middle doesn't make it unimportant; to the contrary, it might make it especially important. Like my large intestine - it's right in the middle of me, but it would be hard to function without it. So the life of wisdom may not be the beginning or end of Christianity, but it makes up a whole big bunch of the meat of it.
Proverbs has good neighbors, too. It follows so many great stories of God's power for and against His people in the Old Testament, giving us good paradigms and examples for understanding wisdom. It follows the Psalms, giving us that vital balance of heart and life religion. It's followed by those perturbing prophets, keeping us grounded on this practical earth while the prophets wax divine about promises and judgments and so forth. What a better dad I would be if I could learn this from Proverbs - it's not enough just to give my kids a little snippet of wisdom or instruction here and there. They need stories to back it up - the stories of the saints, the stories of the gospels. They need the theology of Paul and the revelation of John. Without the whole Bible, Proverbs rings hollow and kids can see through it.
We might also find the value of Proverbs by asking, "What would Scripture be missing without it?" If Proverbs wasn't in this book, what would be lacking in our faith? More than anything, I believe now we would be a complete loss to see how the law of God ought to be applied to every area of life. Sure, we would have the ten commandments memorized, but would we really know how to live for God's glory when we eat and sleep and work and talk and listen? Proverbs is the meat of the Christian life. You and I don't spend most of our day contemplating theology or praying for the return of Christ. We spend it reading and thinking and laboring and talking - where to turn in Scripture for help with all that?
We could also guage the value of Proverbs by asking, "What would our religion be like if we only had Proverbs?" If we only had this book of Proverbs, we could so very easily veer into the realm of legalism and salvation by works - especially because so many proverbs connect our actions with God's blessing or curse. If we only had this book of Proverbs, we would never know the name Jesus; of course, Proverbs 8 talks about wisdom in a personal sense and we know now that it's Jesus who was with the Father at creation. But if we didn't have the apostle John telling us that Jesus was God with God in the beginning and if we didn't have Paul telling us that God made Jesus our wisdom and righteousness, would we recognize wisdom in Proverbs 8 as the Son of God? In other words, Proverbs is great, but it's not enough.
What is enough is what God's given us. The Bible is enough - or, in theological language, the Bible is sufficient. Put it all together, inject the power of the Holy Spirit, and you have everything you need for life and godliness. This means, though, that we have to treat it like a whole. I must consciously read every passage of Scripture in light of the whole, interpreting less clear passages by those that are more clear, judging doctrines and applications against all of Scripture and not just the passage in front of me.
I need the whole Bible. Each book of the Bible needs the whole Bible (ask those same questions above about any book and see what you get). And God, because He is good and great and gracious, has given us the fullness of His revelation in the Word and in the Person of Jesus Christ.
22 October 2006
Dreher seems to be the well-spoken spokesmen for conservatives who like organic carrots and apple computers and Choco sandals, those who fit the bill politically but not culturally. He seems to have struck a cord.
Eric Miller, associate professor of history at Geneva College, reviewed Dreher's book in a recent issue of Books & Culture. Miller likes the book, but doesn't think Dreher's vision is good enough. Which brings up this quote from Miller, which resonated with me and said better what I was trying to say a couple days ago ("Why I'm not a Conservative").
America would be a better place if Dreher's crunchy conservatism won out, I'm sure. But it's not good enough, and maybe not even that good for very long, in our expiring times. For both "liberalism" and "conservatism" are traditions with a shelf-life. They are time-sensitive, and their time is out. It's not that nothing of worth remains within them - quite the contrary, as Dreher's book attests. But the modern era that called these political traditions into being - and that they, indeed, helped create - has defeated them. At this late date, being "conservative" is an inadequate ideal for humans to aspire to - as is being "liberal." What our moment requires instead is a politics more deeply human, more truly radical, something both old and new, a moral vision that might teach us anew what any healthy family, church, neighborhood, or nation already knows: how to conserve and liberate at once.
Wow. That's it in a nutshell. In this country, in this cultural and social age, living and thinking like a Biblical Christian is the most radical, most necessary thing to do. Who better than the church to provide the infinite, eternal moral vision for the nations? Who better than Christ to lead this nation? For the sake of the kingdom, then, let's throw off the conservative label, let's tell the Republicans and Democrats that the church isn't something to be bought or pandered to. Let's tell the world that Christ is King and acting according to that reality (from individuals all the way up to nations) is the best thing. Really, the best.
P.s. - this doesn't mean that I don't like Republicans. Please vote for my friend, Jack Rhoda!
P.s.s. - Rod Dreher has recently switched from the Roman Catholic Church to an Eastern Orthodox church. Apparently, it's created a little stir. Anyhoo, you can read this interesting, and somewhat long, story here.
19 October 2006
We can sympathize, right? No one wants their poor behavior remembered; no one wants their "slips" and "indiscretions" to be permanently recorded in the public memory. Everyone wants to be thought well of by others.
But the tragedy is twofold: first, to separate who I am from what I do is to rip myself in half. If I am not what I do, how can I know who or what I am? The only option is to mentally construct a version of myself completely distinct from what I do, separate from the externals. ...Except the good things I do - those are me. And this is exactly what we do. Cling to the good, reject the bad - those slips and indiscretions? Those weren't really me; it was a momentary lapse in reality. Those times when I was good and you liked me? That was the real me. It's an issue of reality. How can one set of actions reflect the real me while the other set of actions is dismissed as "not the real me"?
The second part of this tragedy is what this means for individuals and Christ. If the good me is the real me and the bad me is accidental, I don't need a Savior. I don't need any help, because I'm basically good through and through, with those cleat-stomping aberrations popping up every now and then. But it's when an individual comes to ponder, "Maybe this is the real me. Maybe there is a real problem, a real issue of character that I can't overcome in and of myself" - sliding down that scary slope is the path to salvation. Doctors don't have time or patience for people who don't think they're sick and need help. Christ didn't come for folks who think they're okay, who think the "real me" is the nice one. Christ came for those who realized they were dead, that, left to themselves, they'd brawl as often as possible.
Of course, put into that light, we understand this isn't a new social phenomenon. It's the same song and dance folks have been using for a few millenia to make themselves feel better without Christ. May God continually reveal to us the depth of our depravity and our need for Christ - and may He reveal the same thing to the throngs who have lied to themselves about the "real me."
18 October 2006
It may be more accurate to say that I'm not an American conservative. It's not because I'm not "conservative" in my positions, but because the basic idea of conservatism as seen in the name (i.e., conserving something in the past) has not worked and has not gotten us anywhere. Right now, conservatives would be happy to have
Of all people, Christians are to be looking forward, anticipating real and radical change as the kingship of Christ is exerted over the entire world. And, of all people, we should realize that conserving the past is, at best, a mixed proposition: everything in the past was tainted by original sin. Plus, what was in the past is why we are where we are now. What would we gain if we took a 50-year step backward? Or if we regained the
Christ's kingdom is a harvest field to grow and reap, not a museum to preserve until He finally shows up. We don't think this way about ourselves ("I just want to stay as good as I am right now") or about the church ("remember when our church was 30 people? I wished we could go back there") - why would we think this way about the nation?
To wit, R. L. Dabney:
“[Conservatism's] history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward to perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It tends to risk nothing serious for the sake of truth.”
Perhaps my issues with conservatism are merely semantic - but I think there may be some help here for the church as she moves to shirk off her "place in the American political system" and realizes that our Savior is the same as our nation's King. As we head toward voting season, wondering how Jesus would vote, maybe it would be best to stick with being Christians and make decisions and vote votes based on how the King of the church would have us interact with His nations.
Christianity Today recently put together a list of the 50 most influential books in the evangelical world. Whether they're totally right or wrong, certainly this list is a good way to evaluate the church. You are what you read. Reading over this list, I found myself nodding my head. "Yep, that seems about right. This accurately reflects the evangelical church I know."
There's a lot of good - F. F. Bruce, Mark Noll, Operation World, Philip Johnson, John Piper, Madeleine L'Engle, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, J. I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, C. S. Lewis. There's a lot of not good - that purpose-driven fellow, those left-behind fellows, Hal Lindsay, that church growth fellow. And there's quite a bit in-between.
What's most evident, though, is what's missing. If you could force (convince, perhaps, would be nicer) the entire evangelical church to read two books, what would they be?
After a long sigh, a few things should be noted. (Have you had your sigh yet?) First, governments and parties may have a certain level of strength, but nobody's that strong. No one, no party, no power can stop, hinder, or delay the second coming of Christ. Just as sovereign as Christ was in our salvation, so God is sovereign over the return of our Lord.
Second, regardless of your position on the war - by the way, remind me to tell you sometime why I'm not a conservative - Christians must understand that Christ is King over nations as well as over the church. While He certainly can work around governments to achieve His purposes, He just as often works through them. Engaging in histrionics about what we need to do politically in order for Christ to achieve His spiritual goals is bad Christology and bad faith. (As an aside, there is comfort in this doctrine - as much as governments try to separate the church and state, they cannot separate the One who reigns powerfully over both.)
Finally, perhaps this is a good reason to do a spiritual, Biblical check-up on our eschatology. Not that they would, but if folks asked what you, as an evangelical Christian (Batman's newest foe!) thought about the end of this world, what would you say?
13 October 2006
First off, the context of this almost-discouraging chapter is the astounding promise of the Branch of the Lord (v. 5-6). It is only through the first and second comings of Christ that Israel will find safety and Judah will be saved. It is only through the confession "Yahweh Tsidkanu" (the Lord is our righteousness) that souls will find life and salvation. So from the very beginning, this isn't about you, it's about Christ. Please take note, mr. preacher-man.
Next, God really, really hates it when you mess this up. Every idle thought, time wasted in the study, every time you preach with impure or prideful motives, every time you pass your own thoughts off as God's, every time the deceit of your own heart seeps out (v. 26) He sees it. It stirs His holy hatred. Jeremiah was so shocked by the vehemence of God against those prophets that he said, "I am like a drunken man, like a man overcome by wine, because of the Lord and because of His holy words" - and he wasn't even on the receiving end! God won't (can't!) sit idly by while His preachers lead His people to forgetfulness. (v. 23) His hatred of unfaithful preaching is not because He's mean, but because He is loving. Remember that every inch and ounce of love you have for Christ's bride is a drop in an eternal ocean compared to Christ's love for her.
On top of that, God sees and takes notes. Really. He knows what is said from every pulpit, every Sunday, by every mouth purporting to be the mouthpiece of God. He fills heaven and earth (v. 24) and has heard every word you said (v. 25). More than just your words, though. "But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hand of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorroah." (v. 14) You know James' claim, that "we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (Jas. 3:1) - he probably got that here, where God promises these unfaithful prophets, "I will bring upon you everlasting reproach and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten." (v. 40) Your sin can overpower the most passionate, Biblically accurate sermon. The Lord is not just after exegetical prowess in His preachers. He's after holiness. As the church goes, so goes the nation. As the preacher walks, so walks the church.
Perhaps it's time to learn to tremble again. To look at the pulpit in holy fear. And then you'll be ready to preach, ready to remember the good and great promises of God. Remember that as much as God is against false prophets, He is with and for you (v. 23). As vicious as He is against His enemies, so powerfully loving is He for His children and their undershepherds. And you have the Word! That word that is like a fire, like a hammer pulverizing rocks (v. 29) - you don't need to add to it. Just swing it. And if you stand in the council of God and proclaim His words to His people, they will turn away from theri sin, from the evil of their deeds (v. 22) and bring much glory to our Savior.
10 October 2006
Some grad students and I had a great time meeting over lunch today. We're praying for and planning a new ministry to grad students and faculty/staff of Purdue Univeristy. For now, you can browse the inner mind-workings of this fun group at the new blog, purduegatory. Already the group seems to have a good focus on seeing how the Lordship and Kingship of Christ impacts their academic studies. Watch out, Purdue...the CORGS are coming (collegiate organization of reformed grad students. ? ? Maybe we'll keep working on the name).
We're beginning our small group tomorrow night. I'm going to be leading a series of studies based on the Nicene Creed. What do you think about creeds? Yea/nay? Like/dislike? I grew up reciting the creed in an OPC church; I'm not quite sold on reciting it in worship, but I do miss it and am glad for how God has used it in the church's history. Maybe we'll start using it in family worship.
Church planting - God met with us and blessed us Sunday night during our third worship service together. The sermon wasn't recorded, but you'll do fine if you read Colossians 1 about 30 times. ...And did I mention that we have our website?!! If you have time, check out immanuelrpc.com - I would greatly love to hear comments and suggestions: What makes a great church website? Don't slam our design too hard yet - for now it's just a template. Our uber-designer will be at working making it distinctly ours.
Sigh. I must confess that I am somewhat bummed. I am reading a book I was hoping to review for you, a book on one of the most exciting theological topics possible, covenant theology. Alas, though the information in the book is orthodox and stable, it is one of the most poorly written pieces of theology I've read. This fellow writes like Yoda speaks. Seriously I speaking am. Rather than write a whole review and bash a nice, reformed author, I'd rather just make a plea to the Christian writers and publishers: What's the point in having the right theology with the wrong words? Christ is honored, not simply when we put forth truth, but when we put forth truth well. Please don't dishonor Christ (and frustrate me) with beautiful truth dressed in literary rags.
03 October 2006
#3 in the flesh. Sometimes he looks like a cross between a great little baby and an old man.
We're still trying to figure out what color his eyes are. They look like they have some gray in them. But then again, I'm colorblind, so what do I know?
And here's the other two, just to prove they're still cute.
02 October 2006
I'll post some pictures soon.
God is very good! Infants are proof, I tell you. I do love the way their breath smells. And how well they sleep for a few days, just to give you that faint hope that they won't wake up screaming in the night later on. But they will. And it'll be okay.
p.s. - Elias is the Greek form of Elijah and Martyr means (or meant) "witness"...plus, there's a couple heroes of church history to share his second name.