Monthly Archives: August 2013

Church Calendar

Well this is a red letter date on the Church Calendar.  I know you are all wondering if I mean the Eastern or Western Church, some of you no doubt may be more partial to the Anglican, I know.  In two of these today is the celebration of John the Baptist’s beheading.  But I’m not talking about that.  No one knows about that these days.  I’m talking about the beginning of College Football.  Gosh, get with the picture, that’s what’s really important.  Not on the Church calendar you might say?  I don’t celebrate a Church calendar you might say.  I beg to differ.

Romans 14:5,6 speaks of holy days.  Basically saying it is ok for some people who want to have special days, and ok for people who don’t consider one day any more special than another.  But what about people who make special days that are not about the Church?  Because today that is certainly what we have.  And don’t think I am confusing ‘religion’ with ‘entertainment’ or sports.  The fact is that we build religious worship around all of these things.  We have a posture, a liturgy and even meditation surrounding college football.  We study every athlete and all their stats, to a degree only the most pious would study the Bible. It consumes many lives, and is one of the few cultural addendums welcome at the Grace pulpit.

Just a thought.

Beheading of John the Baptist,

Beheading of John the Baptist,

God of Which Nation?

And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.  And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” – I Kings 19:15-18

There was a question last week about this verse.  Something like “what gives a prophet of Israel the right to anoint kings from other nations?”.  I believe that most of Christendom would have been surprised that anyone would ask this question.  It’s no wonder the commentators are silent, modern comentators don’t pay this much attention to the Old Testament and those from the past would have instantly understood it.

Whether you acknowledge the one true God or not, doesn’t really matter, he is in heaven ruling.  Romans 13 makes it clear God appoints ruler, over all nations.  They are his ministers to stop evil. In our fragmented age, we like to divide everything into neat little categories.  There are the church things and the state things.  There is this nation and that nation.  You have your god and I have mine, who are you to tell me anything?  Well that’s just buying into the world’s philosophy of humanism.  We like to think we are in control of most of our lives and that we give God some time here and there.  But in reality it is all his.  Setting aside a day for him, is like a firsfruits offering, just a statement that it is all his.  God set up his kingly line in David, it was established under Solomon.  The kings of the nations came to Solomon to pay homage to him.  One notable example was the queen of Sheba, I Kings 10. They submitted to him.  This was a picture of what is really going on.  Every knee shall bow.

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, Edward John Poynter

There are many instances of God’s prophets speaking to other nations.  Often predicting destruction if there was no repentance.  The story of Jonah is the most obvious. After refusing Jonah was finally sent and the people of that nation were saved.  Just as saved as those who believe by faith today.  Just as saved as those faithful Jews. Isaiah 13-23 contains oracles to many nations.  I think part of the confusion has to do with authority, we can get a picture from Daniel in Babylon or Joseph in Egypt.  A problem would arise and the ‘authorities’ were consulted.  They had the positions as counsel to the king, they were ‘sorcerers’ or ‘wise men’ but when it came down to it they had no authority.  They couldn’t get the job done, they were impotent.  Authority comes from God, it was given to Joseph and to Daniel.  And so they were really efficacious.  They really could interpret the dreams, or explain strange phoenomena.  Now the world is in darkness, it is difficult for them to tell the difference between real God-given authority and those just parading.  But we as the Church have the Light of the World, we should be able to sort it out.

I think there is also some confusion about the role of God’s people in the Old Testament.  Their job was not to have an elite club in the middle of the world showing off a God that no one else could have.  Their purpose was to minister to the world.  This is why Jesus was so angry as he overturned the tables set up in the court of the Gentiles.  The people had failed at their mission to take the grace of God to all the nations.  They often had to be forced as with Jonah.  Though, as usual, he did use them to accomplish this purpose anyway.  They preserved the scriptures for us.  Jesus was a Jew who saved his people in this by saving the whole world.  The verses are countless here are a few; “And in thy [Abraham] seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;” Genesis 22:18 “Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” Deuteronomy 4:6 “That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations.” Psalm 67:2 “The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and allthe ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” Isaiah 52:10 and on and on it goes.

In addition there is a literary reason in these verses.  Things in the Old Testament are often grouped in threes.  These are understood as definitive or ultimate.  Here you have a group of three appointed instrument of God’s wrath; Hazael, Jehu and Elisha.  At the beginning it mentions the word ‘wilderness’.  This is an image very common the the people of Israel.  They were taken to Egypt, passed through the water of the Red Sea, wandered in the wilderness 40 years, and then conquered the land.  This image was repeated with Christ, he fled to egypt, was baptized by John, went to the wilderness of Judea and then came back and started turning over tables. Here you have the same idea.  The prophet was to go to the wilderness, then the prophets of Baal in the land would all be conquered. But, as always there would be a remnant, a complete remnant, as the number 7 reminds us.  It is generally used as a symbol of completeness.

Further Study:  N.T. Wright Lectures




Godiva Covered

No, it’s not about chocolate.  Though this will explain the logo of a certain company.  It seems there is a bit of chatter going on about the issue of head coverings.  There is a website that apparently goes to a movement, that is trying to bring back the idea that women should have their heads covered.  I suppose there is no harm in this.  Sure let’s follow all the outright commands as well as those that can be shady from the New Testament.  Why not? I don’t really see the harm,  I suppose at some point it could be a hardship or offend a brother but that should be worked out as Paul works out the meat sacrificed to idols later in I Corinthians. But what is Paul saying in I Corinthians 11?    I think it is important to think it out, as with anything.

First of all, Paul is clearly addressing the issue of head covering in a congregational worship setting.  Which means, first that we should have congregational worship settings, second that there should be rules for them, and third that the rules are different for women and men.  The next thing that is clear from history is that this was a response to a cultural issue.  The temple prostitutes of the day had shaved heads.  So, you wouldn’t want to associate yourself with them.  But just how did prostitution become connected with a shaved head?  Is that an unnatural connection?  I don’t think so, more on that later.  Another issue is, concerning the nature of the covering.  Is it just hair or something additional?  I believe it is hair.  It makes sense in the form of the argument from vs. 6; if you are going to chop off your hair you might as well chop it all the way off.  This reminds me of another chopping passage, with a similar argument, something to do with circumcision, but I digress.  Later he appeals to nature, and speaks of hair as a covering given by God.  Of course for women to have long hair in a worship service they must have it all the time.

So, what about us today.  Well any arguments to nature still apply.  All cultures and all people are under nature.  Which brings us to Lady Godiva.  The myth, tells us a story about a woman who felt compassion for the servants that were under her husband’s authority.  She begged him to release them from the heavy taxes.  He sarcastically said “If you take off all your clothes and ride naked down the street then I will.”  So she did.  She instructed all the people to stay inside and close their doors and windows.  Then she rode, covered only by her hair.  The image is striking.  It brings to mind the idiom of “to uncover her nakedness” from the Old Testament.  It was an idiom for ravishment or rape or even incest.  It is a serious thing and so nature an nature’s God has seen fit to cover her with long hair.

Lady Godiva by John Collier

The appeal to nature is strong even today.  I feel it, do you feel it?  We understand it when it comes to children, little girls almost always have hair.  The great tragedy is the little girl with cancer and no hair.  But we grow older and must be sophisticated and practical.  What of the function of a covering?  Models get it. Artists get it.

Today we also have a culture.  I think it is fair to say that in our culture long hair is feminine and short hair is masculine.  Of course there are exceptions, but they are usually burned out pot heads or ski bums with long hair, or homosexual women with buzz cuts.  Hmm I wonder if there is any connection to temple prostitutes here?  God is very clear, men and women are different and so they should look different. Deuteronomy 22:5 I have studied the history of our particular church a little bit as well.  Every older woman I have talked to about the the history of Grace has made a point to tell me that no woman would dare go to church without a hat.  A few of them still do, but they are passing away.  What made this change happen?  Did we have a church meeting and decide that scripture had been misunderstood all these years and that we should phase out the hat wearing?  I think not.  We followed the fashion of the world.  Hats went away, even veils, skirts got shorter, women swim in their underwear and when they get  over 30 they chop off their beautiful locks. I need another picture to get that foul image out of my head. . . ahh that’s the stuff, now we see why he is so struck.

Frank Dicksee-La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Frank Dicksee-La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Further Reading:  Doug Wilson’s Blog

Worship Language

I wonder what would happen in a typical evangelical church if the pastor suddenly showed up wearing robes and the liturgy was directed by the Book of Common Prayer (even though, you might have to look this up to be offended).  No doubt the majority of the congregation would be up in arms, if it happened again most would leave.  This is a progression towards more traditional.  But the opposite does happen, that is more–um–worldly, or if you like, less traditional.  And few seem to care.  Maybe it’s because it’s subtle and no one notices, but I doubt it.  So, why is this?  Why is one allowed and the other a crime?

It just so happens that this is the direction the world has been going.  Dress is less formal, the elderly are not respected, tradition is discarded for being tradition.  History is written off as unscientific lies that we can do without. Popular writing is more simplistic, and music is louder and less complex.  ”Get with the times”. “This is 2013″.  The ‘new’ is cool the ‘old’ is out because it’s old. This is disposable pop culture.  The whole idea of ‘pop’ culture is that of settling for cut rate.  Those who aspire to more are labeled ‘elitist’ or ‘legalist’, and so the racket is protected.  I don’t think this thinking has any place in the church.

I believe the principles of worship should come from scripture into the church and then into the culture.  But we have gone the other way.  We are immersed in the culture of the world and we borrow from it and take it back to the church and then use the scripture to justify our use of it, of enlightened, non-legalistic, freedom (come on, say it like William Wallace).

Rather than following the world down I believe the church should be leading  the way up as it has for so many centuries.  I think a helpful way to think about aspects of worship as a language.  Whether it be the songs you sing, or the architecture of the church, or the clothes you wear think of it in terms of language. Languages change and evolve over time, the changes are usually subtle and generally accepted by everyone. This will dismiss the old timers who want everything to stay the same, that’s not how it works.

The great rush to modernism cut off everything from the past, or at least pretended to.  What if you did this with language?  ”Ok tomorrow we are starting a new language everyone, so get ready.”  ”We are throwing out these words, because they are too old”. This was basically attempted with Esperanto, and it didn’t work at all.  Language requires tradition, in fact, it could be defined as a distillation of tradition.   We are fortunate to have a tradition in our language heavily based in scripture. In a very real way the King James Bible was the most influential source of English. It gave us countless idioms today as well as defining many words which makes Biblical ideas very natural to us.  But these are passing away, this is the way of language, the problem is that we don’t write new ones.  And we let the world use even biblical idioms incorrectly “don’t judge” “Jesus is Love”, or even define words. What will our children think ‘marriage’ means?  What does ‘gay’ mean. What does a rainbow mean?  And we cross back over to the aspects of worship. How will people view the metaphor of Christ and his bride in light of our redefining marriage? Who is developing the tradition of worship that our children will follow?  What does the decor of our church mean?  What does the dress of the pastor mean?  Are they primarily driven by an attempt to cut us off from tradition?  Are we driven by an attempt to not look like the Catholic Church? Or do we try to further the richness of language in light of scripture?

Language is cumulative.  New words are derived from some relationship between existing words. This is the job of the poet.  He uses existing words which have one connotation and gives them a different connotation to expand our understanding and revive ideas that have been lost.  He mixes two colors to create a new color.  And if the metaphor or new connotation is powerful enough the old understanding will be lost and the new overpower it.  ’Shocked’ came to our language as the result of experience with electricity.  Someone used it as a term of surprise and now surprise is the more common connotation.  Are we doing this in our worship?  Are we taking music from the past and mixing the metaphors in an attempt to create more meaning or express deeper truths from scripture?  I don’t think so.  Instead Christian musical ‘artist’ are trying to express themselves, or worship leaders try to build ‘tools’(ewe those modern metaphors, I’m not a machine, I’m a person, so why do I want to think about tools working on me?  Persons operate in story. Mmm, story.) to elicit worship reactions.  Are we adapting clothing from the past and attempting to create clothing that is modest, respects a sense of community and displays biblical principles?  Or are we trying to express our selves?  Are we building elements of worship that respect our elders? Do we take what they gave us and try to make it more true, more good, and more beautiful?

Perhaps we think we are, but I beleive we need to do more thinking, as our ancestors did.

Dr. Cheever

The body of Christ and our body lost a great champion last week.  There is no question that he has gone home–without us.  His obituary can be found here.  And that is one story, but I have another, and that is no antithesis, for the more stories the better.  I knew Dr. Cheever a little, we were missionaries, tourists and outdoorsmen together as well as neighbors and churchmen. There is certainly something more real about an event once it is reminisced.  I had some opportunity to do this with the good doctor before he passed.  We moderns don’t appreciate story as the old timers do, we want plot and scientifically verifiable fact, but they sought joy.  They sucked the marrow out of life and made the losses into stories of companionship and the victories into myths of sinful men made great.

dr. cheever

Dr. Donald H. Cheever, in Albania.

I grew up across the alley from Dr. Cheever, causing trouble which did not go unnoticed.  I remember him chasing me out of his bushes on a number of occasions.  He would get angry, but it was warm old man anger. To me he has always been old.  I thought that was just how God made him.  I was recently surprised to find that he had had a childhood.  This is the way of children, we have limited perspective.  We never consider the difficulty of maintaining, we never consider all the hard work that makes one old man warm while another is  cold and scary.  Chesterton said “The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things”  When you are young this is easy, everything is a new gift.  But it becomes more difficult as we grow older.  But Dr. Cheever, made it to the end still appreciating.

We next encountered each other as we toured the Holy Land in a group from Grace.  I was baptized on that trip and he was the first to congratulate me, with that glow on his face and a warm handshake. Later I watched him sacrifice certain plot points on our tour, as he stayed in the hotel to care for his wife.  He knew how to see the narrative that really matters.

Less than a year later we were both part of a small group that was sent to Albania to minister to refugees fleeing from Milosevic.  It was last minute, I was only 18 and I didn’t know anyone going except for Dr. Cheever.  But I knew that would be enough to make any trip enjoyable and profitable.  We worked hard and lived in tight quarters.  There were conflicts within and without, we were pushed to the edge.  We waged an unfortunate passive aggressive war with our fellow missionaries from Ireland.  But as I sat with the doctor a few weeks ago we had a good laugh at my copying of their accent, letting pass any strife that characterized the moment, years ago.  That’s how the heart of a saint works the pain is all distilled into joy.

We shared a couple nights in a forest service cabin, after we had skied a few miles in.  He kept the evenings warm with his stories, and poems.  And he stoked the fire every morning before anyone else stirred.

Last summer I spent a week replacing his roof.  I knew it gave him joy to take care of the nagging problem it had been.  He was catching light breeze of his age, and considering that his time was short.  But that didn’t slow him down a bit.  He continued his work at the Church and celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary with a camping trip to Yellowstone.  I will never forget working that day when they returned.  Tired and travel weary he displayed nothing but joy.  He couldn’t help but tell me how wonderful marriage was and that he recommended it to anyone.  It was wonderful because that’s what he made it.  All the hard work and sacrifice, was forgotten.

The last I saw him he suddenly began recounting the poem of Bessie’s Boil. As he recounted the hilarious story I was trying to figure out why he had begun.  Oh yeah, he had a boil on his bottom.  Which might be the end for someone trying to complain about why God gives us hardships, why good men suffer and all that, but instead he wrote a better story. As the three of us sat laughing, he began to drift to sleep, and I never saw him again.

It is only tragic because I wonder who will replace him.  Of course he was one of a kind, but we have a shortage of old men with the faith of a child.  We moderns get the story all wrong.  In our rush to the plot points we forget what is really important, it’s Bessie’s Boil, dang it.

Says I to my Missis: “Ba goom, lass! you’ve something I see, on your mind.”
Says she: “You are right, Sam, I’ve something.  It ‘appens it’s on me be’ind.
A Boil as ‘ud make Job jealous. It ‘urts me no end when I sit.”
Says I: “Go to ‘ospittel, Missis. They might ‘ave to coot it a bit.”
Says she: “I just ‘ate to be showin’ the part of me person it’s at.”
Says I: “Don’t be fussy; them doctors see sights more ‘orrid than that.”

So Misses goes off togged up tasty, and there at the ‘ospittel door
They tells ‘er to see the ‘ouse Doctor, ‘oose office is Room Thirty-four.
So she ‘unts up and down till she finds it, and knocks and a voice says: “Come in,”
And there is a ‘andsome young feller, in white from ‘is ‘eels to ‘is chin.
“I’ve got a big boil,” says my Missis. “It ‘urts me for fair when I sit,
And Sam (that’s me ‘usband) ‘as asked me to ask you to coot it a bit.”
Then blushin’ she plucks up her courage, and bravely she shows ‘im the place,
And ‘e gives it a proper inspection, wi’ a ‘eap o’ surprise on ‘is face.
Then ‘e says wi’ an accent o’ Scotland: “Whit ye hae is a bile, Ah can feel,
But ye’d better consult the heid Dockter; they caw him Professor O’Niel.
He’s special for biles and carbuncles. Ye’ll find him in Room Sixty-three.
No charge, Ma’am. It’s been a rare pleasure. Jist tell him ye’re comin’ from me.”

So Misses she thanks ‘im politely, and ‘unts up and down as before,
Till she comes to a big ‘andsome room with “Professor O’Neil” on the door.
Then once more she plucks up her courage, and knocks, and a voice says: “All right.”
So she enters, and sees a fat feller wi’ whiskers, all togged up in white.
“I’ve got a big boil,” says my Missis, “and if ye will kindly permit,
I’d like for to ‘ave you inspect it; it ‘urts me like all when I sit.”
So blushin’ as red as a beet-root she ‘astens to show ‘im the spot,
And ‘e says wi’ a look o’ amazement: “Sure, Ma’am, it must hurt ye a lot.”
Then ‘e puts on ‘is specs to regard it, and finally says wi’ a frown:
“I’ll bet it’s as sore as the divvle, especially whin ye sit down.
I think it’s a case for the Surgeon; ye’d better consult Doctor Hoyle.
I’ve no hisitation in sayin’ yer boil is a hill of a boil.”

So Misses she thanks ‘im for sayin’ her boil is a hill of a boil,
And ‘unts all around till she comes on a door that is marked: “Doctor Hoyle.”
But by now she ‘as fair got the wind up, and trembles in every limb;
But she thinks: “After all, ‘e’s a Doctor. Ah moosn’t be bashful wi’ ‘im.”
She’s made o’ good stuff is the Missis, so she knocks and a voice says: “Oos there?”
“It’s me,” says ma Bessie, an’ enters a room which is spacious and bare.
And a wise-lookin’ old feller greets ‘er, and ‘e too is togged up in white.
“It’s the room where they coot ye,” thinks Bessie; and shakes like a jelly wi’ fright.

“Ah got a big boil,” begins Missis, “and if ye are sure you don’t mind,
I’d like ye to see it a moment. It ‘urts me, because it’s be’ind.”
So thinkin’ she’d best get it over, she ‘astens to show ‘im the place,
And ‘e stares at ‘er kindo surprised like, an’ gets very red in the face.
But ‘e looks at it most conscientious, from every angle of view,
Then ‘e says wi’ a shrug o’ ‘is shoulders: “Pore Lydy, I’m sorry for you.
It wants to be cut, but you should ‘ave a medical bloke to do that.
Sye, why don’t yer go to the ‘orsespittel, where all the Doctors is at?
Ye see, Ma’am, this part o’ the buildin’ is closed on account o’ repairs;
Us fellers is only the pynters, a-pyntin’ the ‘alls and the stairs.”
— Robert Service 

Further Reading: The Autobiography of G. K. Chesterton