December 2012

Fighting sin with hyperbole...

Several weeks ago I preached on Jesus' call to cut off the hand and throw away the eye that leads to sin in order to avoid the fires of Hell.

In my sermon I mentioned that many commentators suggest that Jesus is speaking hyperbolically, exaggerating to make a point. But this is wrong, I said, there's nothing hyperbolic in Christ's call to fight sin and the fires of Hell. If there's a rhetorical device in Jesus' words, the device is metaphor rather than hyperbole.

Hyperbole inflates, making things larger than they actually are. Metaphor, in contrast, helps us see by speaking analogically. The truth behind hyperbole is always smaller than the rhetorical device. The truth behind metaphor is often larger.

But yesterday, preaching on the rich young ruler, I said that we often assume Jesus is winking when He says challenging things, that His actual meaning is less dramatic than what He actually says, and I illustrated this by ticking off a list of Christ's statements in the chapters surrounding Mark 10: His call to cut off the hand and pluck out the eye that cause sin, His statements about marriage and divorce, His warning about the camel going through the eye of a needle more easily than a rich man enters the Kingdom of Heaven. In the course of preaching I urged that we approach Scripture with believing eyes and hearts. This is what it means to receive the Kingdom of Heaven like little children, I said.

Children don't read footnotes...

Children, while great observers, are poor interpreters. Literalists rather than ironists, they grasp what they see but fare poorly when it comes to reading between lines.

This means that the character of many fathers is misread by their children. Or, more accurately, read with greater clarity than most fathers would like.

The man who thinks that the love he buries beneath a gruff exterior is all the more sweet to his children for its crusty shell is a fabulist. Children don't read love when the text is hardness. They don't intuit affection from winks and nods. Though later in life they may grasp that there was affection beneath the brusque exterior, as children they see only a hard man whose fleeting acts of tenderness, like crocuses in spring, peep out rarely and briefly.

Most men think otherwise, believing that the message they deliver the majority of the time to their children can be countered by short bursts of qualitatively different interaction: twenty hours of stoicism overturned by ten minutes of light-heartedness; eleven months of gruffness undone by a week of frivolity at the beach.

Studiously avoiding the slaughter of the innocents...

Public expressions of anguish over the Newtown, Connecticut, murder of twenty little children are telling in what they include, but more in what they omit. Take Ravi Zacharias, for instance: when he diagnoses the problem and its causes, there's no mention of how the slaughter of a million and a half babies a year contributed to this crime. Does the man think about or shed tears for these little ones whose murders dwarf Newtown every single day! It's hard to imagine how any man could cry over wanted children who are murdered without shedding even more tears over unwanted children who are murdered. Which has more pathos?

At times like this, we come to see how culturally aware and what sort of Christian discernment our leaders actually have--not how much they market themselves as having. Note that Mr. Zacharias features divisive political rhetoric as a principal culprit...

The happy family...

Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum allows the free download of Dutch Masters, so I thought we'd end the year with one or two. This is Jan Steen's The Happy Family.

Used book stores: great deals and misplaced volumes...

One of my favourite places to go is a good used book store. Dad used to say you could take the "intellectual temperature" of a city by examining it's used book stores. We used to love to go to them together. 

Maybe some of our readers can write and share great used book stores and deals they have gotten around and about. Any used book store stories will work. Here's my latest.

Bloomington just got a Half-Price Book Outlet on the west side of town. I've been there twice already and it's great.

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What is God (part 1); Playing dress up...

God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. WSC Q4 (emphasis mine)

That's how the Shorter Catechism answers "What is God?" The Westminster Confession has more to say but the focus is the same: a description of what amounts to "attributes" concluding with the Western formulation of the Trinity. None of these descriptions are wrong. I affirm them wholeheartedly. But should we start with attributes?

What are we describing when we begin with the "attributes of God"? Let me rephrase that: Who are we describing? 

At first it's difficult to answer the question. If "what" is in view, we're probably describing God's "essence", His "substance" or "nature." It's of no small consequence that the possessive "his" or "God's" precedes this "what." But even so, we're left with "Who?"

Detectives do their best to determine whose body they've found before turning it over to the coroner for an autopsy. But here we are, giddy as we pick apart the parts of God long before we've stopped to consider Who God is...

Engaged at last...

Last night Niek and Therese Schreuder hosted a party in celebration of the engagement of their daughter, Réze (pronounced reesa), to our son Taylor. What Christmas joy!

In Calvin's Geneva, couples were banished if their engagement lasted longer than six weeks. We held a family council some years back and decided the Bayly limit would be six months. A summer wedding is planned.

From the mouths of babes...

Earlier today, this exchange between a child and his mother...

The need for pastors in our pulpits and session meetings...

Someone commented under the previous post, "Pastors and their sinecures...," that the Reformed church today needs reform in the area of restoring Calvin and Luther's teaching on birth control. To which I respond:

The problem with the Reformed church today isn't our failure to teach or preach on this or that issue—even the refusal of the people of God to propagate for their Lord a godly seed—so much as it is an almost complete betrayal of the pastoral office. And this is true in our session meetings as much as the pastor's office and the pulpit. Sadly, it's true of our marriages and families, too. Men don't take responsibility for the souls God has placed under our care and we aren't vigilant in protecting the honor of our offices because we don't exercise our offices. Which is to say that our churches have no fathers. They have readers and debaters and curators and featherbedders and teachers, but no fathers.

Abortion and feminism are simply the best labs to observe how vacuous we have made the pastoral office today. Take abortion, for instance: lots and lots of loud condemnations within the Reformed world and church with not a word of...

Innocent pleasures in East LA...

Without question, this is a delightful video and you can't help wishing you were next-door neighbors of this father and son. I'm thinking about moving to East LA. (Thanks, Heather.)

Pastors and their sinecures...

SI'NECURE, n. [L. sine, without, and cura, cure, care.] An office which has revenue without employment; in church affairs, a benefice without cure of souls. [This is the original and proper sense of the word.] - Websters Dictionary, 1828 edition

And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” - Acts 19:15

Whenever you read Luther and Calvin, you find them relentless in their attacks on the principal wickedness of their day. Whatever doctrine they're expounding, whatever text they're preaching, their swords are wielded against Rome. Their language is unseemly, their accusations strident, their metaphors make you blush, their condemnations unequivocal, and each attack very, very personal.

Church officers who miss it do so because their preference for calm and security has reduced their ministry to a Reformed curatorship. The director of a museum wants bloody reform on exhibit. Museums don't allow guns, let alone live ammunition. Such things would threaten their patrons' sense of security so it's perfectly understandable that curators are the sworn enemies of reform.

They fawn over each other's procurement of dead men's works. They're Christian scrapbookers pawing through manuscripts and photos of the deceased. They have the sort of character that finds theses unseemly. With tastes running in the direction of the patrician, they don't write theses; and if they ever chose to do so, they'd only produce two or three and it's inconceivable they would nail them to any door.

So I repeat myself: the Reformers are the sworn enemies of Rome. They never stopped fighting and they gave themselves to the battle with nothing held in reserve. They had not the slightest doubt where their age's breach in the wall was nor whose hands were bloody.

The wicked, godless, fat, corrupt, hellish, whorish, beast-like, arrogant, demonic wolf was Rome...

Violence in the land...

A few days ago, a brother in law school wrote:

As the enormity and wickedness of this morning’s school shooting begins to sink in, we see everywhere grief and righteous indignation. Our president’s statement well expresses that sentiment: “Beautiful little kids . . . [they] had their entire lives ahead of them. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.”

We recognize that murder is the worst sort of theft, especially with the young and innocent.

So how is it that our moral sentiments are so clear and without qualification? How is it that we can mourn these murders, yet turn a blind eye to...

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