Peace, out.

When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword. – Rev. 6:3-4

RedHorseSin and human death are foreigners in this world. They weren’t supposed to be here, they came because of the fall. And now since the fall, peace is a alien because the other two strangers chased it off. Peace is not a normal function of the fallen order. God grants it and God removes it.

World War II was a shock to the world. Everyone assumed that World War I, the Great War was the War to End All Wars. The enlightenment of evolution that swept the West at the turn of the twentieth century was supposed to banish such barbarism as war and poverty and human suffering. Education would deliver us. Eugenics would cleanse us. Science would give us light. World War I was supposed to be the last vestiges of humanity’s past. That’s why World War II was such a shock; when it became apparent what Germany was really up to with that whole “Master Race” thing, the world’s optimism began to sag.

So here we are today, in the twenty-teens, and the Cold War is dead and, well, cold. The West and freedom’s greatest enemy is dead(ish) and where is the peace and prosperity we were promised? Right there with the jetpacks, flying cars, and a silver jumpsuits with transparent rings on the shoulders I guess.

Today’s horrific violence, events too numerous and gruesome to list, is not the stranger. Tragically, it is the norm. The nuclear-backed calm of the Cold War wasn’t really peace anyway.

This all sounds horribly pessimistic but it really isn’t. There is a day coming when the lamb and the lion will lay down together. When a child can safely play around a viper’s hole. Jesus, this world’s real king, is going to return and whistle for that red horse so he can take peace out of her saddle bags and secure it in place. The government shall be upon his shoulders and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.


Aimed at Heaven

img_20130430_161623Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more—food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else more. – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


Evil, More or Less

But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” – Gen. 20:3-7

choose_determinism_medGod prevented Abimelech from sinning. He acted to protect the promise he had made to Abraham and Sarah. God restrained Abimelech’s evil, why didn’t he do it for Sodom and Gomorrah in the previous chapter?

Why didn’t he do it for all of humanity before the flood?

Why didn’t he do it in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve before they fell?

Why doesn’t he do it today for Eric Garner and the two cops killed in Brooklyn?

If God is able to restrain evil, as he demonstrated here, and yet he doesn’t, does that mean he is wrong and at least complicit in the evil?

A few thoughts on this:

  1. We are not robots. God spoke with Abimelech and Abimelech responded. Abimelech was a free moral agent in this transaction. God didn’t make a race of robots, he made image bearers with whom he wants to have a relationship. “We are free to choose, but we are always a slave to our greatest desire.” – Jonathan Edwards
  2. When the men of Sodom saw the visiting angels, they attacked, unlike righteous Lot who sought to protect them. Noah preached righteousness as he built the ark and no one listened to him. God sent prophets to Israel and Judah and they ignored, imprisoned, and murdered them. God himself took on flesh and came to the world and Jews and Gentiles illegally nailed him to a cross. There is a measure of wickedness that can occur in the human heart which will cause a person to not listen to pleas for righteous behavior. We don’t know that level but God does.
  3. Evil came into this world through the voluntary act of Adam. God had already announced what the price of that would be: death. All of humanity is engaged in treason against him. God is not obligated to restrain evil caused by free moral agents. The situation he announced to Adam was that sin would be met with death. And yet, Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree and did not die in that day. God had mercy on them. It is mercy that God warned Abimelech or has ever warned anyone. But he did and he continues to.
  4. God is no stranger to personal injustice. Jesus Christ was the most innocent, the least deserving prisoner ever executed. God entered into our suffering and sorrow. He does not stand aloof from it and look on as an uncaring voyeur. God can restrain and sometimes does evil but Jesus came and bore it in order not to just restrain it, though he is for a while, but ultimately to destroy it. To judge it as evil. He is reconciling everything through the blood of his cross.
  5. At the same time, the Bible is clear that faith is a gift from God (Eph 2:8, Heb 12:2) and so is repentance (2 Tim 2:25). He appoints some to eternal life (Acts 13:48) and Judas was predestined to betray Jesus (Acts 1:16). God choses to grant faith and repentance to some but not all. In the end, God does deal with all sin, one way or another. Either in hell or at the cross of Christ.

So why didn’t he restrain the evil in Sodom? It appears that Lot was resented in Sodom (Gen 19:9) so God may have been restraining it to some degree through Lot’s presence. Also, God agreed to spare the entire city the punishment for their evil if there were ten righteous people found in it. But there weren’t. God is not a sadist waiting to chuck another soul into hell. But he will not nod at evil either. Bottom line: Abimelech feared God and Sodom feared nothing.

In both Sodom and Gerar, where Abimelech was king, God dealt with evil. In Sodom, he judged it, in Gerar he restrained it. He doesn’t sit idly by while evil ravages his creation and his creatures.


This Wretched Heart

PARDONING LOVE

Jer. iii. 22 Hos. xiv. 4.
by Mrs. Anne Steele

I.

How oft, alas, this wretched heart
Has wander’d from the Lord!
How oft my roving thoughts depart,
Forgetful of his word.

II.

Yet sov’reign mercy calls, Return;
Dear Lord, and may I come?
My vile ingratitude I mourn;
Oh take the wand’rer home.

III.

And canst thou, wilt thou yet forgive,
And bid my crimes remove?
And shall a pardon’d rebel live
To speak they wondrous love?

IV.

Almighty grace, thy healing pow’r
How glorious, how divine!
That can to bliss and life restore
So vile a heart as mine.

V.

They pardoning love, so free, so sweet
Dear Savious, I adore;
O keep me at thy sacred feet,
And let me rove no more.


Elihu’s Better Answer

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He loads the thick cloud with moisture;
the clouds scatter his lightning.
They turn around and around by his guidance,
to accomplish all that he commands them
on the face of the habitable world.
Whether for correction or for his land
or for love, he causes it to happen. – Job 37:11-13

In our Modern or even in our Post-Modern view of the world, we can suffer from chronological snobbery. “Early man was a primitive brute who didn’t understand the world with the complexity and sophistication we enlightened beings do. We pity them.

This mindset leads to the common notion that religion is an expression of fear early man had of the universe around him. Lightening was scary and the notion that it might be uncontrolled was terrifying so they invented a god or gods to wielded it. This meant there was purpose behind lightening strikes that set forests ablaze and that man could influence them by appeasing a particular god.

A lot of that is hogwash. This quote from the book of Job is a prime example. Elihu, the one who said the above phrase, shows that at least this ancient man, he and Job were probably contemporaries of Abraham, didn’t have an understanding of metrology that was rooted in fear or superstition. His description above is fairly accurate. Clouds are moisture and they do produce lightening. But Elihu wasn’t materialistic either. He didn’t view these things as purposeless, unguided events that were solely the product of natural causes. Elihu understood that God was sovereign over these things and that they achieved his purposes.

Don’t believe the caricature of religion that is being propagated today. Like Elihu 4,000 years ago, we aren’t afraid of or ignorant of the natural processes the universe runs on. At the same time, we don’t for a moment believe that those natural processes dismiss God by explaining him away. “Eliminate the need for a god and the god simply disappears,” so the reasoning goes. This is why materialistic atheism has such high hopes for evolution. Douglas Adams summed it up nicely in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe with the Babel fish:

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindboggingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”

“But,” says Man, “The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”

“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.

“Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo’s kidneys, but that didn’t stop Oolon Colluphid making a small fortune when he used it as the central theme of his best-selling book Well That About Wraps It Up For God.

We can and should explore the natural processes that lead to things like rain and lightening and earthquakes and solar eclipses. God made a universe that produces such things, so to understand them is to understand what God has done and what he is like. Materialism, the theory that physical matter is all that there is, is not a foregone conclusion; it is a theory about the universe that has some tremendous problems with it and a lot of explaining to do. Elihu has a better answer.


Nothing to Get Excited Over

Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the LORD, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away. – 1 Sam 21:1-6

One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:23-28

1d7bd08ee712de8472b99179512e3978Who gave David the bread, Ahimelech or Abiathar? Did Jesus get it wrong? Or did Mark? Or did the author of Samuel? Is this one of those supposedly numerous errors in the Bible?

Really, we need to slow down a bit and read what Jesus actually said before we get too excited or upset. Jesus didn’t say that Abiathar gave David the bread, he said that in the days when Abiathar was the high priest David ate the bread of the presence. That doesn’t conflict with 1 Samuel at all. Ahimelech was the priest on duty when David came looking for food. Abiathar was the high priest but that didn’t mean that he was at the tabernacle at that time. He had specific duties and at appointed times he would be there. But he wasn’t when David came.

But the panic isn’t over yet. In 1 Samuel what happened next is that Saul found out what the priest had done for David and he slaughtered them. Only Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech survived and escaped (1 Sam 22:20). But how could Abiathar be the high priest and the son of a serving priest? Actually, it could happen. It isn’t clear at this point in Israel’s history how a high priest was chosen. If you look in the Law (Exodus through Deuteronomy) you’ll find that the term “high priest” is only used a few times in Numbers. There is no biblical criteria for who would be the high priest so it could have been Ahimelech’s son. Or another priest name Abiathar. Again, not a big deal.


A Covenant of Promise

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The above quote is from an anonymous 17th century Particular Baptist. “The wha?” you say. In the 17th century there were Baptists who were Calvinists and they were referred to as “Particular Baptists” because they believed in particular redemption rather than the General Baptists who believed that Jesus died for the sins of everyone. Today, we’d call them Reformed Baptists because they believed a lot more Reformed theology than just particular redemption. This chap probably chose to be anonymous because for a while in the 17th century it was illegal to be a Baptist in England.

Anyway, this particular Particular Baptist (sorry) denied that the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17 was the Covenant of Grace. Now, as far as that goes, I’m fine with it. The two covenants are not the same. However, that doesn’t make the covenant of circumcision a covenant of works either. I would put it in the category of a covenant of promise (Eph 2:12). Here’s why:

In Galatians 3, Paul pits the law against the promise of the covenant of circumcision. You can tell that he has Genesis 17 in mind because in verses 15-18 he cites it when he says “and to your offspring” which he explains is talking about Jesus. According to verses 2, 5, 14 and 4:6 the promise is the Holy Spirit. So Paul’s understanding of the covenant of circumcision is that it promised and pictured the Holy Spirit. That makes a lot of sense biblically since in Deut 30, God promises to circumcise Israel’s heart. In Col 3:11 we are told that we have received Christian circumcision done without hands. In Romans 2:29 circumcision is called “a matter of the heart.” And Paul asked the Galatians in verse 2, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Since the promise of the covenant of circumcision is the Spirt and we receive the Spirit by faith, not works, the covenant of circumcision cannot be a works/law covenant.

What of the fact that it can be broken (Gen 17:14) which our anonymous Baptist cited in his quote? The way a child is said to have broken the covenant if he was not circumcised. This helpless infant is not relying on his own works but the faithfulness of his father. Since we receive Christian circumcision in the same way, while we were helpless and by the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father, this condition pictured God’s grace.

What of God’s command to Abram “walk before me and be blameless” (Gen 17:1)? Isn’t that a law of the covenant of circumcision? No, it isn’t. God explained why he required this of Abram, “that I may make my covenant with you” (Gen 17:2) and then immediately says “Behold, my covenant is with you.” (Gen 17:4) so Abram had already met those requirements. How? He’d met them the first time God established this covenant: “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6). This covenant of circumcision was a gracious covenant.

What of Galatians 5:3 which says that if you’re circumcised you’re under obligation to keep the entire law? That cannot be speaking of Genesis 17 since Paul has already contrasted that covenant with the law in chapter 3. Also, when Abram entered the covenant of circumcision, the law had not yet been given. Abrams couldn’t have been under obligation to keep the entire law since it would be another 500 years before God would give it. In Galatians 5, Paul is talking about the Mosaic covenant which was a law/works covenant.


Left Behind Too

Previously, I’d cited this verse to explain why it is best to be left behind:

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth – Matthew 13:41-42

This is what Jesus meant about one being take and one begin left behind in Luke 17:

I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left. – Luke 17:34-35

The context for the Luke quote is that Jesus is comparing the day when Jerusalem will be sacked in 72 A.D. with the days of Noah (see verse 26) or the days of Lot (see verse 28). The judgement will fall swiftly on that unrighteous city and when it does, the wicked will be swept away but the righteous will be spared.

Another verse comes to mind as well that gets at this point and gives it some historical context:

Therefore I am full of the wrath of the for the LORD;
I am weary of holding it in.
“Pour it out upon the children in the street,
and upon the gatherings of young men, also;
both husband and wife shall be taken,
the elderly and the very aged…” – Jeremiah 6:11

raptureJeremiah is warning Jerusalem that just as Israel had been carried away in exile, the same is coming upon Judah. Armies from the north would soon sweep down and carry away the rebellious nation. Likewise, Jesus and the Apostles preached and taught the Jews that the generation Jesus faced had never actually gone into exile, that is, they had never learned what God intended them to learn when he sent them into exile in the first place. There may have been Jews in that day who taught that that they were technically still in exile till the Davidic king, the Messiah, would come and that’s why there was a lot of expectation about the coming of the Messiah in and before Jesus’ day.

But Jesus repeatedly compared the Jews of his day to their fathers who killed the prophets (cf. Matthew 23:29-39). The point is made most strongly when they kill Jesus himself, God incarnate, and yell, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15) Jesus never compared them to the chastened Jews who waited in exile for their deliverance such as Daniel or Ezekiel. This is why Jesus used the same turn of phrase as Jeremiah. Jeremiah was condemning the god-hating, prophet-killing sinners of his day and Jesus is doing the same. I think Jesus intended that his hearers would make that same connection.

So how do you avoid being “left behind”? You reject Jesus and kill those he sends. That’s how to make sure you are taken but it is to be taken in judgement.


Implicit Baptisms or Not?

I’m not a Baptist but I am baptistic. There is no biblical support for the practice of infant baptism, no example of an infant being baptized, no necessary inference that leads to infant baptism, and church history does not support the Reformed argument for infant baptism. So when the accusation that I might implicitly be fudging on infant baptism by performing an infant dedication seemed to land too close to home, I stepped back.

“Baby dedications? Really? Why not just throw some water on the baby and call it a baptism? After all, Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’ You baptists are so inconsistent.”

I have to admit, these arguments, properly fleshed out, had me very skeptical of doing baby dedications for a long while. What got to me was the assumption that infant dedications in the Bible were support for infant baptism. Since I rejected infant baptism, it seemed that I would have to reject infant dedications.

But it is very easy to be for or against something in theory based on the arguments of those who are for or against it, but when you have to face it in real life it causes you to think much more clearly about it. That’s what’s happened to me on this issue. I’ll be doing a dedication on Sunday and that helped clarify this for me.

I finally saw that the problem with the argument Reformed infant baptizers lob against infant dedication lies is in the fact that there are infant dedications in the Bible and they are not equated with baptisms. Ever. Samuel was dedicated to the Lord by Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:21-2:11 but there is no connection to baptism anywhere. Isaiah was called from his mother’s womb in Isaiah 49:1-6 and God did the same thing with Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:5. The fact that Isaiah and Jeremiah entered their prophetic offices means that they had been dedicated to this role from birth. In Luke 1 John the Baptist is dedicated to his role as the forerunner of Christ from his inception. His parents complied with the angel’s instructions and set him aside from his birth. Baptism only enters his picture when John starts his ministry, not in his dedication to that role at his birth.

We could also speak of Moses and others but what we’re seeing in this biblical picture of infants is not baptism but dedication. There is no command to dedicate children to the Lord but it doesn’t hurt to do it and there are hints that children of covenant members (i.e. believers) are blessed and holy. Consider Matthew 18:1-4, 10-18 and 1 Corinthians 7:14. An infant dedication isn’t a form of dry baptism, it is simply recognizing what the Bible says about our children and honoring it in an official ceremony.


Please, Just Sit Down.

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This showed up in my Tumblr feed. It amounts to a flippant joke about the serious, life-ending procedure of abortion. The responses to this joke demonstrate a tragically shallow grasp of rhetoric and ignorance of reasons for opposition to abortion. I wish we’d start teaching logic in schools again; clearly this was not an argument in any meaningful way and since it ignores opposing views, it isn’t even an adequate way to describe abortion.

The assumption is that abortion is a personal choice just like having children is a personal choice. But in an abortion, someone dies. Every time. I hope I made that point in my comment at the bottom: “Or stand up comedians. But thankfully, we’re not allowed to kill them.”