Monday, December 31, 2007

Law and Gospel: Part 7 : The ‘Contradiction’ of Law in the New Testament

So, at last, we come to the New Testament. What we find there might seem to easily settle the issue of the relationship between the law and gospel.

Jesus affirms the permanency of the Law: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20). These sentiments are also echoed in the writings of the Apostle Paul: “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Romans 3:31) So, the New Testament does not seem to do away with the Law.

Yet, despite the passages we have just looked at, the New Testament also teaches that there is a sense in which we are free from the Law:

“But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:6)
“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Galatians 5:18)

So, what are we to make of the differing messages or the apparent paradoxes? Over the next four entries, we’ll attempt to sort through it and arrive at a consistent perspective on law and gospel.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Look What Was in My Stocking!

A brief break from the law and gospel discussion to show what was in my Christmas stocking. It was very exciting to receive them (the one by Tom Nettles I have known about but never read, the Michael Haykin book was completely new to me) and, I confess, I struggled to keep my nose out of them while the rest of my family were opening their presents. Perhaps in subsequent posts I'll publish reviews.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Law and Gospel: Part 6 : Between the Testaments

Over the last several postings, we’ve seen that even in the Old Testament, right standing before God was obtained, not through acts of outward obedience, but through faith and a transformed heart. These were always the main things in the Law. But, did the Israelites ever really see it that way, or did they have other interpretations of the Law and how one came to a right relationship with God?

The short answer is, no. What followed the giving of the Law, and especially during the inter-Testament period leading up to the advent of Christ (~ 400 hundred years), was a sad corruption of what the Law was and is. Instead of being considered the blessing from God which it was[1] , it was simultaneously denigrated and elevated above it’s place. That is, during the centuries following the giving of the Law, it was misunderstood and mischaracterized to the extent that by the time Jesus began His ministry, Israel was in the throes of the worst form of legalism.

George Ladd and Millard Erickson have both written on this and observed that during this period, the Law cam to be seen as the grounds for hope, salvation, justification, righteousness, life, resurrection and the means by which God’s kingdom would be established (sort of a primative theonomy). In short, “the law came to be viewed as an intermediary between God and man”. That is, in the minds of many, the law, instead of pointing towards the saviour, became the messiah instead!

In the next posting, we’ll see what Jesus and the Apostles had to say about the subject.

[1] I know there are some who are right now aggitated by that statement and would cite New Testament examples to show that the Law was a burden. To them I say, “Just wait, we’re not in the New Testament yet! Wait a couple more posts, and we'll get there!”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Law and Gospel: Part 5: The Law in the Old Testament (cont’d)

Continuing with my look at the Law in the Old Testament, my final point is:

3. Much of the Law was meant to point towards greater things than the specifics of the Law itself. As we will later see, the New Testament writings make the typological aspects of the Law abundantly clear. While is it also true that some aspects of God’s revelation of Himself through the Law and Prophets were shrouded in mystery and only revealed with the advent of Christ (Romans 16: 25-27), there are also examples in which the Old Testament text itself makes the connection explicit.

One such example is circumcision, which was initially given as a mark of the Covenant (Genesis 7:9-14), but more than just an outward and physical practice was (and is) required of those who would keep faith with God. "Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” (Deut 30:6). "Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised-- Egypt and Judah, and Edom and the sons of Ammon, and Moab and all those inhabiting the desert who clip the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart." (Jer. 9:25, 26).

The phrase “Circumcised yet uncircumcised” strikes at the heart of our problems, we so often think we possess a form of external and comely righteousness, but our hearts are far from God. In summary, in even our brief survey of a few key verses and concepts, the Old Testament makes it clear that those who are God’s People must both believe it is true, but also live like it is, by their actions and attitudes.

Next time, we’ll examine whether Israel ever understood the Law in this way.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Law and Gospel: Part 4: The Law in the Old Testament (cont’d)

Continuing with our look at the Law in the Old Testament; not only was faith, belief in God’s promises, what was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness, but we know that his faith and belief were reflected in his actions (Gen 12:5). We’ll come back to this when we consider the Law as it relates to the New Testament. However, turning to other areas of the Old Testament, we see:

2. That, despite the common idea that the Law given at Sinai was a series of actions commanded and forbidden, it is clear that the Law always was intended to govern the internal life as well. That is, it dealt with attitudes as well as actions. Two commands that illustrate this are “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5) and “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.” (Lev. 19:18). What should be clear is that no one can obey either of these two commands without a transformed heart. Both these commands deal with our attitudes and internal lives, not just external actions.

Next time, we’ll continue with the Law in the Old Testament…

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Law and Gospel: Part 3: The Law in the Old Testament

I recall as a young believer being very confused about how the Law and the Gospel related. I knew that since the resurrection of Jesus Christ we are saved by grace through faith, but laboured under the misapprehension that in Old Testament times, people were saved through following the Law and the sacrifices prescribed at Sinai. I quickly moved beyond that but have been surprised at how many Christians I meet and speak with (even ones who have walked with the Lord for a long time) who think that relationships between man and God were restored by obedience to the Law in the Old Testament, and that only in the New Testament did faith enter in to this business of salvation and atonement.

But this is not so! God’s covenantal relationship with His people always was and is the main thing in the standing of men before God. This is clear for at least three reasons:

1. Genesis 15 recounts a reaffirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant. That is, the covenant God made with Abraham whereby Abraham would be blessed, and through him, all the world would be blessed. It is important to observe that the Covenant was established at God’s initiative and by His grace (Gen 12). After God has restated His covenant, we have Abraham’s reaction: "Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness". Gen 15:6 Quite so. This was in pre-Mosaic Law days, but Abraham’s belief is what makes him righteous, not adherence to external rules. His faith and trust in what God has promised to do are the things that determine his right standing before God.

Next time, we’ll continue with the Law in the Old Testament…

Friday, December 07, 2007

Law and Gospel: Part 2: History & Cautions

As we continue our series on the relationship between law and gospel, I am very conscious of the thin ice that surrounds me. I am aware that there are many views on the subject, and of some of the historical divisions that have arisen as a result of differing interpretations. It could be argued that the fundamental basis of the Reformation was differing interpretations of the law and the gospel and how they relate to one another. It was even the cause of some splits between first and second generation Reformers (I am thinking specifically of Luther and Calvin).

Additionally, there are serious errors that can easily overtake any who begin delving in to this subject. On the one hand, there can be a slavish adherence to the letter of the law with no regard to the spirit, the worst form of legalism. On the other, there can be a total disregard for the commands of God and free-wheeling, self-centred antinomianism that can result.

So, as we go through these studies, let us do so with a spirit of humility and a prayerful desire to comprehend God’s Word fully. I pray also that addressing difficult, controversial issues will not cause unnecessary divisions, but will encourage us to think more deeply about the things of God and emphasize our reliance upon the correcting influence of Scripture to help us think rightly about our Saviour and how we should live to please Him.

So, feel free to make full use of the comments section, and next time, I’ll begin the study proper by looking at the role of the Law in the Old Testament.

Monday, December 03, 2007

All – Law and Gospel

Let my return to posting be marked by a discussion of a topic that should have been more thoroughly and explicitly dealt with earlier.

It has never been our intention with this blog to provide an exhaustive treatise on the Christian faith, not even the ten commandments. We have merely hoped to show how the ten commandments apply to our little homeschooling family. The implication and assumption being that adherence to the ten commandments was a necessarily good thing.

However, through conversations with friends and family over the past several months, I have been reminded that there are many different views of the Christian’s relationship to the Law generally, and to the ten commandments specifically. Not only so, but there seems to be a lack of clarity in the thinking about the Law on the part of many Christians. All this has caused me to re-examine my understanding of Law and Gospel and to reconfirm my beliefs on the subject. It has been a helpful study and over the next several postings I will be sharing some of the results. I pray the studies will as much a blessing to readers as preparing them has been to me.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Seven - The Dance of Marriage

My lovely wife and I celebrated eleven years of marriage with a quiet dinner last Friday evening at a local winery’s restaurant. As we reflected thankfully on God’s faithfulness to us over the years, we were also saddened to think of friends and acquaintances whose marriages have been damaged or even destroyed in the last decade. We are so grateful for God’s grace in our marriage that has helped deepen our love and commitment.

As I speak with peers, co-workers and even fellow Christians, I am surprised by how frequently people are willing to ignore teachings about proper roles in marriage and thus set themselves up for disappointment at best, frustration and grief at worst.

I have recently been quite taken with the writings of Robert Farrar Capon (whose cookbook, The Supper of the Lamb, I highly recommend). He is theologically suspect at times, but he has a clear gift for finding poetic analogies for Biblical truth. I’ll end this entry with a quotation from his 1965 book on marriage “Bed and Board” that I think gives a beautiful image of roles in marriage:

"The reason the headship of the husband is so violently objected to is that it is misunderstood…There are no second-class citizens in the New Jerusalem. It is husbands and wives that are unequal. In marriage…they enter into a relationship of superior to inferior—of head to body. And the difference there is not one of worth, ability or intelligence, but of role. It is functional, not organic. It is based on the exigencies of the Dance, not on a judgment as to talent. In the ballet, in any intricate dance, one dancer leads, the other follows. Not because one is better (he may or may not be), but because that is his part. Our mistake, here as elsewhere, is to think the equality and diversity are irreconcilable. The common notion of equality is based on the image of the march. In a parade, really unequal beings are dressed alike, given guns of identical length, trained to hold them at the same angle, and ordered to keep step with a fixed beat. But it is not the parade that is true to life; it is the dance. There you have real equals assigned unequal roles in order that each may achieve his individual perfection in the whole. Nothing is less personal than a parade; nothing more so than a dance. It is the choice image of fulfillment through function, and it comes very close to the heart of the Trinity. Marriage is a hierarchical game played by co-equal persons. Keep that paradox and you move in the freedom of the Dance; alter it, and you grow weary with marching."

May all our marriages be lived in the freedom and glory of the Dance!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Four - Sabbath Worship

I recently read the book “With Reverence and Awe” by D.G. Hart and John Muether. It is an unapologetically Reformed book on corporate worship within the church, and while I can’t unequivocally recommend it, they challenged my thinking in a number of areas, and articulated more clearly than I could have some things I have thought for a while.

One thing that I really appreciated was the chapter on “The Holy Day of Worship”. They begin by saying the rhythm of corporate worship is important; the regular observation of, and preparation for, Sunday worship is an important part of our Christian growth. They continue by saying that we often treat our corporate worship indifferently because we treat Sundays indifferently. The general thrust of their argument is this:

The decline in sabbath-keeping (Note – I prefer the term “Celebrating the Lord’s Day”) and the current unrest and confusion about worship are related. They assert there are two main reasons for this. First, as many churches have become increasingly focused on particular demographics and offered numerous programs to meet felt needs, Sunday worship services have become just one more program, instead of a centre of church life.

Second, the domination of evangelicalism by revivalism (as opposed to revival. See “Evangelicalism Divided” by the always-insightful Iain Murray for a balanced and wide-ranging look at this subject) in the past fifty years has created a thirst for “mountain top” experiences and a consequent distain for the regular cadence of celebrating Sundays by worshipping with God’s people. Without this regular, consistent feeding and nourishment, believers can become spiritually bulimic.

They devote much of the rest of the chapter to offering a Biblical defense for these views as well as how to correct the situation. I will post some more of their comments next week.

It served as a reminder to me of the importance of devoting our Sundays to the Lord, and planning ahead so that we can celebrate Sundays. We try to use Saturday to bring the week to an end and prepare spiritually and physically for Sunday.

All our lives are to be lived to the glory of God and offered as a spiritual sacrifice of worship, but let us not neglect the special and unique blessings that accrue to believers who faithfully devote themselves to keeping Sunday holy. May our Sundays be holy, “set apart”, to help our worship of our holy God be holy as well.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Two - Let Us Be Transformed

Under the Old Covenant, God laid down very specific rules about how he was to be properly worshipped and the consequences of ignoring His commands were severe (Lev. 10:3; I Chronicles 13:10,11). This was true even when the surface motives were pure.

The first commandment directs us to worship only God, and no other, while the second commands that we should worship God rightly. Aspects of what it means to worship God rightly will naturally change depending on the place in redemptive history, but one thing that is constant is the notion of sacrifice. This is obvious in the Old Testament, but the New also makes the idea of sacrifice central to right worship (Heb 13:15).

We could spend pages speaking about the Mosaic sacrificial system and how it perfectly pointed towards what Christ has done, but I will restrict my comments to this:

A sacrifice, a true sacrifice, is just that, sacrificial. It is not something that cost nothing (I Chr. 21:24). Sadly however, because our hearts are deceitful (Jer 17:9), we frequently offer what we want to offer, rather than what God requires. We often worship God in a way that is “comfortable” for us, rather than thinking and praying about what God would consider a true “sacrifice of praise”.

One corrective to this problem, with our deceitful hearts, is God’s revelation of Himself through His Word. The Bible is a primary means that God uses to change our thinking and way of living, to bring it in to fuller conformity with His will. It is worth noting that in Romans 12:1,2; Paul establishes a direct connection between worship (understood in the broadest possible sense of that word) and the transforming or renewal of our minds.

It is for this reason, that when planning services at our church, I do so with a Bible in one hand, the songbook in the other, and a prayer that my preferences will be submerged and God’s desires will be apparent.

I’ll end with an example of how God has dealt with me and transformed my view of worship over the years. When I was a young man, and a new Christian, I did not like the Psalms at all. I heard others speak about their depth and beauty, but all I saw when I read most of them was David being a whiner. It was over time that I learned the Psalms were the inspired hymn book of David’s Israel, that they were meant for public singing in the context of worship and praise, and that they were part of the liturgical renewal that occurred in Israel under David. While it is dangerous to wholesale pull Old Testament examples in to the New Covenant, a better understanding of the Psalms never the less helped expand my understanding of what subject matter was appropriate for the public worship of God.

May God be pleased to bless our obedience and desire to worship Him truthfully and spiritually by continually drawing us to a right understanding of His will.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Six - Like Oil on the Head

Psalm 133

A Song of Ascents, of David.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron's beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing--life forever.

There has been a lot of sickness at our house recently; at least one person in the family has been ill each day for the past two weeks. One of the practical results has been more impatience and frustration than is typical. As always, such is our sinfulness that inconveniences and mild discomfort makes us much more prone to sin than we normally are. So, our usually harmonious home has been scene to much disunity and even hostility.

The sixth commandment says, “You shall not kill” and while certainly things have not gotten that bad in our home, we understand that Jesus revealed the heart of this commandment to be much more than mere avoidance of physical murder. This is actually a call to reconciliation and harmonious relationships, a call away from anger and name-calling. Matthew 5:21-26 makes it very clear that we ought to strive to live peaceful lives, avoid unnecessary strife, and seek to be peacemakers.

We are concerned about the strife and argumentation and the damaged family cohesiveness that has resulted. We are therefore taking concrete, practical steps to address the problem.

We begin, as always, by understanding that underneath any sin (or lack of conformity to God’ will) is a spiritual issue that needs to be dealt with. In this case, we believe the lack of unity in our home is the result, not of a lack of focus on unity, but a lack of focus on the source of our unity. Emily and Timothy are both believers, so what unites the four of us is that we are joint-heirs of the Kingdom and have all been sealed by the Holy Spirit. So, if we want to live in harmony, we must focus on God our heavenly Father, and not on each other.

An analogy may be helpful here: if a large group of musicians wants to be in tune with each other, rather than tune to each other one by one, the quickest way is for all of them to tune to a common source, a reference note, like that produced by a tuning fork or the concert master. If they are each in tune with the reference note, they will necessarily be in tune with each other. So too, if we Christians want to be in harmony with each other (to mix the metaphor slightly), we must all be in tune with our reference note; our Father, God.

So then, we are taking the following three steps to help restore our family’s harmony, by God’s grace.

Because family unity begins with each heart being transformed, we have decided to recommit ourselves to individual prayer and growth. I confess my prayer times have been poor the past several weeks, and, where once we had quiet prayer times scheduled for our children, we have also let those slide because of the illness. We have made scheduled times of individual prayer a part of our day once again.

Because corporate worship is unifying for all true believers, we have recommitted ourselves to our regular family worship times, even in the throes of sickness. This has been ongoing and a struggle at times, but the systematic teaching of the Word and praying and singing together is central to our family life. We are always looking for ways to make this a meaningful time that benefits all of us and glorifies God, and illness just makes the logistics more challenging but not overwhelming.

Finally, because the Bible is God’s primary means of revealing himself to us, we have decided to remind ourselves of verses we have memorized (James 4:1,2 for example) and to add Psalm 133 and James 1:2-4 to the ones we have memorized.

We are praying that God will bless our family and allow this time of tribulation to help us grow in grace and patience.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Five Through Ten – Through Love, Serve One Another

Jesus taught that the final six commandments can be summarized by loving our neighbour (Matt. 22:37-39), so this entry covers commandments five through ten.

Chores (or diligence tasks) have been a part of family life for a few years now, and, just as the children continue to grow and change, so too have the chore assignments. At Emily’s suggestion, we recently changed the morning chores. Everyone in our family is encouraged to “do all things without grumbling or disputing”, so, when Emily expressed her dissatisfaction with the way some morning chores were being done, we were pleased that she mentioned it in a helpful and respectful manner.

The way things had been done, Timothy would make all the beds, while Emily and Benjamin tidied her room and the boy’s room. Unfortunately, Benjamin is still learning to tidy and often the boy’s room was quite messy, so Emily was finding she and Ben were still working long after Timothy was finished. She therefore suggested that each child should make their own bed and clean their own room.

After dinner, and as a lead-in to our worship time, we discussed the morning chores and evaluated alternatives (including Emily’s suggestion). I began by reminding everyone that one of the things we try to teach and demonstrate with our morning chores is an attitude of service to one another. Philippians 2:3, 4 reminds us we should “with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Also, the theme verse for our chores is Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”.

For this reason, none of us thought Emily’s suggestion of each child being exclusively responsible for their own bed and room was wise. Instead, after a very happy and excited conversation, we agreed that Timothy will continue to make all the beds, while Emily and Benjamin will tidy the rooms. Once Timothy is finished, he will tidy Philip’s nursery and teach Philip how to tidy up. Once a week, the jobs will rotate.

Anna and I were very pleased not only with the outcome, but with the attitude in which everyone participated in the discussion; they have a genuine desire to help and serve one another. We ended by praying, thanking God for wisdom and asking Him for humility to cheerfully serve. I also have been challenged to think more intensely about how I may serve my family and those around me.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Five – Parents Honouring Parents

As a father of four small children, I must say it’s tempting to choose as my favourite of the ten commandments the fifth:

“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” - Exodus 20:12

But, in our current culture where parents are often viewed as equal partners (with the child) in the raising of their children (I object to both the terms “partners” and “raising”), where teenage rebellion is a rite of passage and sin is considered a necessary part of coming of age, where a favourite pastime among adults is to compare stories of “foolish/irritating/sinful things my parents have done”, where parents are frequently portrayed in mass entertainment as well-meaning, but out of touch buffoons, what is a Christian parent to do?

As a father, God has placed upon me the responsibility of teaching my family the things of the Lord, of discipling my children and wife and providing a place where Christ is reflected to all those around us and God is glorified. I have been praying for God’s grace to help me fulfill these tasks, and here’s how that relates to the fifth commandment:

1. Teach them.

It’s hard for them to obey the commands of God is they have never been taught them. So, part of our pre-meal ritual is to systematically review the truths of God and the basics of living christianly: sin, redemption, the Lord’s Prayer, the 10 commandments, and worship (including prayer, discipling and the ordinances). So, when the children are disrespectful to my wife or me, it is easier to explain to them that they are not just violating a house rule; they are violating one of God’s rules.

2. Be honourable

While each one is responsible for their own sin before God, there are things we can do to help each other in obedience (Heb 10:24). In this context, it will be far easier for our children to honour us, if we are honourable people. If we live humble lives, love mercy, act justly, show the fruits of the Spirit and hold courageously to the faith once delivered, obedience to this commandment will come much more naturally to our children.

3. Model it

How often do I mock my own parents, speak ill of their choices, or make jokes at their expense? Do I spend time laughing at things they have done or do? Have I complained about their parenting in front of my own children? Conversely, how often do I exalt my parents in front of my children? Do I frequently speak of the sacrifices my parents made for me? Of the inspiring things my parents have done? Do I extol the examples of character or godliness in our family tree? If I do not consistently honour and accentuate the admirable qualities of my parents and grandparents, ought I to be surprised if my own children do not obey the fifth commandment?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Eight - It's Mine, Mine, MINE!!

I heard this on the CBC today: “Children do not steal with bad intentions. They have no concept of ownership.” She then went on to remark how we therefore ought not to discipline children for taking things that belong to others. I alas did not catch the name of the speaker. However, a quick google search will turn up hundreds of such statements. So common is this idea in certain circles that it has the ring of accepted truth. As Christians, living in a increasingly unGod-honouring culture, it is important to be vigilant about examining the "truths" of our day.

So, is it true that “Children do not steal with bad intentions? They have no concept of ownership.”? I think not. It strikes me as absurd both observationally and Biblically.

Observationally, as soon as I heard the statement on the radio, I immediately thought “They don’t have a concept of ownership? Oh yeah? Tell that to my toddler. Try taking his sippy cup full of milk, or boost his cookie and then tell me he has no concept of what is his, His, HIS!!!” Perhaps they have no concept of other people’s ownership, but that seems to me a matter of selfishness, not a lack of conceptual awareness.

Outbursts from the younger Marshlings happen pretty regularly around here, and usually they stem from possessiveness (sometimes baseless, sometimes not). A typical scenario involves disputes over favoured toys and who had what first. Often shrieks are part of the discussion, but sometimes they are just tense negotiations.

The implication of an amoral view of children, and much that I’ve read on child development, is that children are innocents who are corrupted by their surroundings or, at best, a blank slate upon which we write the mores of our culture. This does not square with what the Bible teaches. There are no age restrictions put upon the commandments of God (that is, obedience is required by all) and children were often specifically required to be present for the reading of the Law (Neh. 8:2,3; 2 Kings 23:2).

Further, we who believe in original sin understand that children are vile sinners, just like me, who stand condemned before a righteous God, who need to be taught by word, example, and enforcement what is good and what the Lord requires of them, including not taking things which are not theirs.

Having said that, may I never forget that disciplining my children is no substitute for redemption. I may be able to coerce compliance and socially acceptable behaviour, but only the Holy Spirit will address the root of the problem.

In a future post, I’ll write about how we deal specifically and practically with stealing in the Marsh home.

Friday, April 27, 2007

ONE - One True God

"You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life." - John 5:39,40

Those are strong words from Jesus and they cut me to the quick when I was reading and praying a few days ago. He was addressing a group of Jews who were seeking his death because He was claiming equality with God. He defended Himself against them by outlining the precise nature of the relationship between the Father and the Son (John 5:19-30) and then went on to show that not only does He declare His own deity, but that it was testified to by John the Baptist, His own works, God the Father and by the Scriptures.

He then went on to accuse them of having wasted their time in study, because, though they looked closely at the Scriptures, memorized them and wrote about them, they had missed the point of the Scriptures.

The Scriptures are not and end in themselves; they are a means to an end. They are intended to teach us about God so we can know Him better and what He requires of us. We must never merely study the Word, it must be applied by the Holy Spirit for it teach us and transform us. Put another way, reading and studying the Bible should make us different people than we would be otherwise. "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does." James 1:23-25

The Bible is not a book like other books, it is true in a way that other books are not and, though a physical and temporal object, it points beyond itself to the spiritual and the eternal. Such is my sinfulness however, that I so frequently confuse the means of God’s blessing with the blessing itself. Having times of worship. Going to church. Having a "witness". Tithing. Reading the Bible. How often I elevate the created thing to the level of the Creator, or mistake engaging in an activity for engaging with God. Any such attitude, or action, diminishes my view of God and undermines His sovereignty. Is God sovereign in my salvation or is the Bible? Is God sovereign in sanctifying me or are my own efforts and plans?

I encourage all Christians to have a structured approach to practicing various spiritual disciplines, but lately I have let those disciplines (that are intended by God to conform me to Himself) obscure Him. When I read the words of Christ transcribed above, I stopped reading and dropped to my knees in prayer and repentance. May I never have any gods before God, for "the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other." Deut 4:39

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Four - Sabbath Feasting

One thing that we've been trying out here recently is really making a feast of the Lord's Day (Sunday!) as a reflection of how Sunday should be our crowning day of the week - this is the day specially set apart for worship and celebration of Christ's resurrection!

While our Sunday lunches have usually been our one particular special meal of the week, we have been raising the bar of late by adding a special drink (e.g. rootbeer! fizzy grape juice!) and drinking it in our wine glasses - children too!

We're still tweaking and thinking about how to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. The children are also being taught why this is our special day of the week, and I think they are enjoying it too. It is nice to be emphasizing the positive side of this command rather than continually emphasizing the negative (don't work, don't shop, etc.).

Friday, April 13, 2007

Comments Enabled

Hi everyone!

Just a note to say will we won't be posting to this blog for about a week, and the comments are now enabled. I hadn't realized they weren't before, so I now expect to hear all sorts of erudite things from all of you.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

all - The Housekeeper Who Married the Master

I have been reading a neat commentary on Romans recently by Stuart Olyott. (Welwyn Series) In commenting on Romans 6-8 he gives this parallel:
The Law and Grace are like a housekeeper who worked for a man. She didn't do a very good job, and one day he posted a list of rules in the kitchen for her to follow. This had two effects. The first was that she realized she had been doing a poor job, and the second was to entice her to commit infractions she had never before considered (e.g. putting tea leaves down the sink). She also resented the rules. In time however, she married the master and became his wife. He took down the list of rules, but she, knowing them, delighted in still following them, because now she loved him.

It reminded me of when I was first married to David, and how I would delight to do things to please him, and now after ten years how I still try to do things to delight him - that same attitude should be present when I consider God's laws, not just a dry and legalistic carrying out of them, or worse, a disregard for them.

Sometimes we sin by ignoring the law, and sometimes by adhering in a loveless way. May God quicken our hearts through His Spirit so we may please Him by our devotion!

Nine - Broken Chocolates and Weak Churches

Lying is forbidden in the ninth commandment and as the Sermon on the Mount makes clear, this is a call not just from sin, but to unquestionable truthfulness in all our dealings.

A recent incident with my middle son, Benjamin (3), reminded me of how failure to fully obey this commandment has contributed to the crisis of leadership we are seeing in the contemporary church.
A beautiful new box of boutique chocolates I had purchased for my wife was knocked from the table, the box badly torn and many of the chocolates ruined. Benjamin, the only one near when it happened, when questioned was reluctant to answer and what answers he did give denied any role in the accident. After a more thorough questioning in my study, it became obvious that he had been trying to tear open the box and dropped them. He was disciplined not only for the original infraction, but for the subsequent lies as well.

Truthfulness has a strong connection with responsibility. Conversely, lying typically involves avoidance of responsibilities. We will lie to avoid the consequences of our actions (E.g. “Who took the cookies from the jar?” “Philip did!”) or to deceive others (and possibly ourselves) about whom we are (to deny failings or exaggerate qualities).

Biblical masculinity and leadership involves taking responsibility for others and begins by taking responsibility for ourselves. Of course, we each throw ourselves upon the mercy of God and rely upon Him, but His grace and sovereignty do not in any way negate our responsibilities.

When a boy lies about stealing cookies, or the shifts the blame, or makes excuses (as Adam did in Gen. 3) he is trying to avoid responsibility (and, he hopes, the consequences) for his choices. If left unchecked, such a boy will, I fear, grow to be a man who does the same.

Good leadership also requires honesty about who we are. A good leader will have no illusions about his sinfulness but will deal with it by repentance and the forgiveness of God and others. But this requires unflinching honesty. Similarly, a godly leader will recognize which of his skills are weak and either strive to improve or wisely delegate.

A man who constantly puffs himself up and exaggerates his character or minimizes his faults will lack the clear sightedness necessary to properly address them. May God grant us godly leaders who speak and act truthfully.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Two, Three – Trivial Worship? Part Two

Kingdom Bound is a Christian music festival held at Darien Lake in New York State each summer. We received the promotional literature about it last Friday, and as I looked through the brochure was struck by how many of the featured performers were actually ‘worship leaders’ (E.g. Chris Tomlin, Lincoln Brewster, etc.). It was striking because only fifteen years ago, the headliners at the festival were full-on, entertainment oriented rock bands. I don’t mean that in any pejorative sense, just that while previous entertainers may have had a ministry and felt a distinctive call, they did not feel that call was to lead musical worship in the way the term is currently understood (E.g. Petra, Whiteheart, Degarmo & Key).

It made me wonder again about the blurring of the distinction between worship and entertainment. When we exalt song leaders as celebrities, or groove along to “Holy is the Lord” in the same way that others have grooved to “Say It Right”, are we not in some way trivializing our worship of God? When we make “Amazing Grace” just another campfire sing-a-long, do we lessen the majesty of it, just as we might lessen the sobriety of the Lord’s Table if we used the cup to drink freshie, or reduce the impact of the Word if we were to put tidbits of it on bumper stickers and T-shirts? How to we reconcile worshiping the Almighty God with reverence and awe with the jokesy, folksy attitude prevalent in so many of our churches?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

three - Trivial Worship?

David and I had a neat discussion at breakfast this morning. David had noted that a lot of the current Christian music available was morphing closing to "worship music" and that the musicians were often known as "worship leaders". He was wondering if this was a good thing or a bad thing.

It made me think about some of the music I listen to. I received a nice set of CDs for Christmas by City on a Hill that I listen to often. Sometimes listening to their music makes me glorify God in an active way and think about Him, praise Him and worship Him. But sometimes I just have it on in the background - or just to groove to.

Is this wrong?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Declutter Bug (2) – Ten, Two

It is important for our home to glorify God in every area and clutter does nothing to help that. It seems to me that there are only two reasons for clutter in our home. Either we have too many things (and not enough places for them) which is reflective of a sinful grasping at material possessions, or we are careless with the things we have, and therefore not showing sufficient gratitude to God for the good things He has given. Both are extremes, both are sinful, and, as with most things in the Christian life, we each will tend to sin in one way or the other. For this reason, we try to encourage each member of the family who is a believer to remind and encourage the others to press on and treat material things with the balance God desires, to enjoy them, and use them for His glory.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Declutter Bug

It's that time of year again - decluttering time. It seems to hit here several times in a year - this time it started with a rearrangement of the furniture (with the help of a friend!) in the schoolroom.

Ever since we bought the house, we have been trying to make sure our use of it glorifies God. This includes how it is set up, and looks, and runs and what it is used for. When the decluttering bug hits, one primary motivation is "how would God want my schoolroom, (or closet, or under-the-sink cupboard) to look?". It was David who got us started on this tack, many years ago, and as seems to be the case with material possessions, one that needs revisiting often.

This evening, I went through the marker box, and threw out all the dry markers. It's amazing how they proliferate! The rearrangement is looking good - the main furniture pieces are in a good spot so that school can be done, but yet not take over the ENTIRE schoolroom. Now I need to attack individual bookshelves, drawers, etc. Soli Deo Gloria - in our schoolroom too!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

seven - Happy Valentine's Day

Having heard just last week of another married couple who while seemingly all together on the outside, has split apart, I am reflecting on Valentines Day and the need we have to honour and love our spouses. (Those of us with them that is!) It can be easy to take them for granted! So don't do it! Make your Valentine feel special today - and everyday! Then, neither you, nor they, will be tempted to break the seventh commandment.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

five - Love those Grandparents!

Thinking about the fifth commandment today, I thought how often we apply it to our children, but not to ourselves. Even though we may have flown the nest and are no longer bound by obedience to our parents, the command to honour them still stands.

We have been blessed this past week with visits from both sets of grandparents, visits that I think honoured them as they were able to interact with, teach and love their grandchildren. As well as being a pleasure, I hope that we were keeping the fifth commandment!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

two - "I am a Jealous God"

While studying the Vikings recently, my son became aware of a Veggie Tales video - "Lyle the Friendly Viking" - and was keen to watch it. My husband and I had a good think about that, and turned him down. Fortunately, our church library's 3-2-1 Penguins collection was a good substitute.

So what do the penguins have that Lyle doesn't - after all they are both produced by Big Ideas?

Part of the answer is in Exodus 20:4 where the Lord commands us not make idols for ourselves, for "I the Lord your God am a jealous God". Our biggest problem with the Veggies is that they take the stories from the Bible and re-tell them in an inaccurate way. In their effort to be fun, and neutralize some of the more violent parts of the Bible (murder, execution, etc.) they deform the story to be almost unrecognizable. I am not sure of my children's ability to be able to separate the wheat of the truth from the chaff of the add-ins and mutations, and so I prefer to show them a completely made-up story (like the Penguins) rather than risk their understanding of God's word.

God is jealous of his own glory and truth. I think that teaching our children to recognize his truth is a good way to honour him.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Greetings all!

This blog has been set up to examine daily and practical keeping of the Lord's commands in one household in Niagara. Hope you find it encouraging!