January 1, 2017
by julie
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The Flood

Today I realized that sometimes, I have time to read, but not to journal, and so… there may be some days I skip.  Today is just brief:

Genesis 6-8; what really struck me was these two little vignettes where we get a picture of God’s heart, and the contrast between them:

When the LORD saw that man’s wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every scheme his mind thought of was nothing but evil all the time, the LORD regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. Then the LORD said, “I will wipe off from the face of the earth mankind, whom I created, together with the animals, creatures that crawl, and birds of the sky–for I regret that I made them.”
(Genesis 6:5-7)

When the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, He said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, even though man’s inclination is evil from his youth. And I will never again strike down every living thing as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night will not cease.”
(Genesis 8:21-22)

I also read a lot about the word often translated “repent” here and feel better about it—if the idea of God “repenting” for something makes you uncomfortable… go read a Hebrew dictionary.  I don’t see the NT nuance of that word there at all.


Mark 3

So much CHAOS going on around Christ.  So many desperate people thronging.  So much evil-doers watching and trying to catch Him out.  Even His family thinks he’s crazy.

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit: man, this is increasingly unclear to me as I get older and older!  We dismiss it as a weighty thing, rare, hard to do, but v. 30 seems to indicate that just their speech met the qualification.  Or, at the least, their genuine heart motives from which such speech flowed out.  Cautionary passage, for sure.

December 30, 2016
by julie
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Hello, original sin.

Genesis 3-5

Man, front and center here: I’m astounded at Adam’s passivity.

Relevant side factoid: God’s command about the Tree was given to Adam… before Eve was created (Genesis 2:16).

So when Eve gets this wrong (3:3), with Adam sitting there watching her (3: 6), well, shame on him!  What’s more, she doesn’t call it the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (which was what God had called it, and the serpent echoes) so I’m wondering just how good of a job Adam had done in communicating this bit of theology to her in the first place.  Her understanding of the tree and the rules thereof are quite a bit more garbled than what God had told Adam.

Worth noting that God also says Eve was deceived, and puts the whole blame for this on Adam.

The last we hear of Eve is 4:1, and again in v. 25, and I think this is an encouraging note for her story to end on.  After the fall, the curse, the ejection from Eden: Eve finds herself with child, and gives the glory to God.

Also, 4:25, “at that time people began to call on the name of Yahweh.”  Something not immediately obvious in English translations, but God’s name was no secret from the beginning.  Humanity knew His name.

Mark 2

Jesus “has authority on earth to forgive sins.”  I thought this was interesting, that the scribes are more impressed by healing—all gave glory to God (v. 12)—but the reality here is Jesus’s authority to forgive sins is much more impressive.  And the scribes have a point: who can forgive sins but God alone?

For some reason, what shot through my head was how often people assure others that, oh, God will forgive you for X.  We take forgiveness so lightly.  God is a forgiving God.  He knows you didn’t really mean to sin.  Etc.

But it was those little sins and those big sins and all the sins in the middle that Jesus was here on earth to pay for.  He had the authority to forgive sins—He was there to die for their/our sins.

I always really enjoy this little bit in 2:19-20:

Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the groom is with them, can they? As long as they have the groom with them, they cannot fast. But the time will come when the groom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.

We are the people in the fasting day.  But, oh, one day we will have the Groom back, and we will feast again as the disciples did!  We are the people who live in sober austerity with an insatiable longing for feasting on the presence of God.

The Sabbath is a point I’ve blogged much, I think, but briefly: this idea that man was not made for the Sabbath is huge.  If the Sabbath is an inseparable part of our worship of God, if the Sabbath is about worshipping God in obedience, then man surely was made for the Sabbath.  If God established it at creation as a special day for man to spend honoring Him, then man was made for the Sabbath.

But Jesus says no.  Jesus says the Sabbath was created for man.  The Sabbath is a gift, not a burden, and Jesus puts it on a level with the temple showbread—if you’re needy and hungry, forget the rule and eat the bread.  If you’re needy and hungry, forget the Sabbath rule and pick some grain.

December 27, 2016
by julie
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New Year, New devotions

Well… I have a one-year plan again that I’m hoping to do, and I do better when I journal it, so… more boring entries to come. 🙂

Starting early because I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions (to him who knoweth to do good, and doeth it not because it isn’t January 1, to him it is sin) and also because I’m sure I’ll miss days, so this makes a soft start. 🙂

Genesis 1-2

Interesting fact I never noticed before: God named: Day, Night, Heaven, Earth.  Adam named all the beasts.

2:2: The Seventh Day is such a challenging little verse.  God created—way back on day 4—the signs and seasons, including the marker of a seven-day week.  Then God finished His creation on day 6.  God was planning ahead for a restful day 7.  I also love what He says about day 7: He blessed it and made it holy.  So often the focus with the Sabbath is for us to make holy the day, but the reality here, in creation, is that God has blessed the day and made it holy.  The seventh day was the day of His rest.

2:5: God made Adam before there were any small (new) plants.  This is in total contradiction to evolution.  This cannot be un-literal days.  also, Adam came before Eden, and then God moved him to Eden (v. 15).

Psalm 19

Oh, what a beautiful and perfect psalm to go with Genesis 1-2.  Mmmm.  I want to print this one out and memorize the parts I don’t already know.  Popular psalm, but it hits on so many things!

Mark 1

Oooh, this is exciting.  I’ve never done a reading plan that brings together OT and the NT purposefully.  How awesome to spend this time in Genesis with the beginning of things—on the brink of the problem of sin—and come to the gospels and see the beginning of redemption at the same time.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15 ESV)

Just as Satan immediately appeared in the Garden, he’s sneaking up on Jesus right away, too—“immediately”, v. 23.  And, oh, how Jesus responds differently than Eve!  Instead of listening, He tells him to be silent.  Beautiful parallel here.  Eve listened to the serpent, was led astray, led Adam astray, and sin flourished and sickness entered the world.  Jesus rebuked the demons, cast them out, silenced them, brought the gospel, and came with physical healing.

November 9, 2015
by julie
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2 Timothy 1:7 for Expectant Mothers

2 Timothy 1:7, hcsb:

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.

No question at all that this verse is not talking about labor and pregnancy.  It’s talking about the Spirit, about faith, about not being ashamed of the Gospel.

And yet: these very same characteristics do inform Christian childbirth.

Our identity in Christ necessarily transforms our approach to birth.

God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness

Right out of the gate, here’s a thing to cling to: God didn’t make us fearful.  Fear is not a “natural” thing or a good thing—fear is the opposite of what we’re supposed to be.  Fear is not resting in God’s sovereignty.

Further, we’re commanded multiple times not to fear.  Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

We don’t fear because God strengthens, God helps, God upholds.  And God is mighty.

Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let you requests be made known to God.”

We don’t fear because we pray.

Psalm 56:3: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”

We don’t fear because we trust.  We don’t fear because God has promises.

Joshua 1:9: “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

We don’t fear because God is with us, everywhere, always.

But one of power

So we don’t have a spirit of fear—we have a Spirit of power.  This calls to mind the contrast of Romans 8:15: “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”  We don’t have a spirit of fear, we have the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of power, the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit that brings us into union with our Father.

The Spirit teaches us (John 14:26), helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26), guides us into truth (John 16:12), gives us freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17), and causes us to abound in hope and peace (Romans 15:13).

We have been given the Spirit of power not the spirit of fear.  It is this Spirit who goes before us and with us into delivery rooms.  It is this Spirit who calms our minds and assures us that God is trustworthy, that God is mighty, that God will keep His word, that God is with us.  It is this Spirit who gives us endurance through hardship, who helps us resist the temptation to fear and sin in the middle of suffering.

of love

How do we love in labor?  The same Spirit of power is a Spirit of love, teaching us to love.

First of all, we can love God.  We can love by seeking His glory in our births, by praising Him—as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances”—even contractions.  We can bear testimony of Him.  We can obey His commands.  We can testify that “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Secondly, we can love our neighbors.  We can put others first even in the midst of great tribulation.  We can live according to the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  We can beat our bodies into submission so that we do not sin against those around us even in the most trying moments.

and sound judgment.

I really love this part, it’s so encouraging.  God has not given us a spirit of fear, but… of sound judgment!  So much of birth is about decisions and terror and distraction and yet—we have a Spirit of sound judgment.  We have a great long book of Scripture with many, many principles that apply to birth.  We have Proverbs.  We have so many verses, truths to turn to, about suffering.  About endurance.  About rewards.  We have testimony that children are good.  We have this encouraging little testimony from Jesus: “Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world” (John 16:21).

We have countless comparisons of birth that experiencing it can help us understand better—creation is groaning as in childbirth (Romans 8:22) and we are groaning similarly waiting for the redemption of our bodies (v. 23)?  Now, we understand that groaning better, as we have groaned.  And we understand the joy that awaits.

We have Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”  We plan.  But God is sovereign and does the ultimate work, brings it all together, to the conclusion He chooses.

As Christian women facing the worst travail of most of our lives (and praise God for even that!), we rest in Him, and are encouraged and strengthened and have HOPE because our Spirit is not one of fear—our Spirit is the very Spirit of God, and He goes with us and upholds us and strengthens us and girds our minds—even in the midst of great physical horror.

I write this a day over-due with our own son, so I’m entirely talking to myself here. 🙂

June 25, 2015
by julie
Comments Off on Bunyan on the Lord’s Day

Bunyan on the Lord’s Day

I recently stumbled across John Bunyan’s little booklet, “Questions About the Nature and perpetuity of the Seventh-Day Sabbath,” a fascinating insight into Bunyan’s views on Covenant Theology and the continuation (or not) of the Mosaic Law.

The booklet is written with the purpose of refuting the “Seventh-Day Baptists”—Baptists who had apparently taken to the belief that it was necessary to continue the Jewish Sabbath, on Saturday, and meet for worship on Saturday.  Which, of course, is not a very prevalent argument today, making the piece a bit of an oddity to the modern reader!

However, the way Bunyan chooses to refute these people turns out to be immensely relevant to many discussions that are still happening.

Bunyan’s argument against the Sabbath

On reading, his booklet immediately divides itself into two logical sections: first, he dismantles the idea that the Sabbath is, or has ever been, a moral law.  He does this by making the following outline:

  • In Question I, he establishes that the Sabbath is not evident by nature. 
  • In Question II, he establishes that God did not give the instruction before the Mosaic Law. 
  • In Question III, he establishes that it was only given to Israel, not the Gentiles, even after Sinai. 
  • In Question IV, he establishes that the Sabbath was done away with along with the other Jewish rites and ceremonies, at the time of the Apostles.

He makes excellent arguments.  He attacks the fundamental assumptions of what we now call Covenant Theology.  He attacks the idea of a “creation ordinance,” even.  In short, he attacks the idea of a Saturday Sabbath not by setting out to prove that the Sabbath has been moved, but by proving that the Sabbath was never a moral law, rather a shadow of what was to come—Christ.

This is an interesting approach, and he is very successful.  I have never read such a convincing anti-Sabbatarian piece.  He pulls in relevant pieces from all over Scripture to disprove the notion that the Sabbath was moral, or that it continues today.

The seventh-day sabbath, as such, was a sign and shadow of things to come; and a sign cannot be the thing signified and substance too. Wherefore when the thing signified, or substance, is come, the sign or thing shadowing ceaseth. And, I say, the seventh-day sabbath being so, as a seventh-day sabbath it ceaseth also.

Bunyan’s argument for the Lord’s Day

The second part of Bunyan’s argument is found in one single, incredibly long question: Question V.  Here he attempts to demonstrate why Sunday is the correct day for having worship.  Since he spent the first four questions (less than half of the entire essay!) establishing that Saturday was not moral, without Question V, one would conclude that the Church could simply do whatever it pleased, or even nothing.  These seventh-day Baptists could easily respond, well, we’ll keep our worship on Saturday, then!

So—he has something to prove, here, too.  But Question V is difficult, because he appears to backtrack a little bit, and could even be said to contradict his own earlier points.  Indeed, when my husband found out I had read Bunyan on the Sabbath, he recalled an essay by John Resinger who says Bunyan did contradict himself.  Reisinger says, “on the one hand, [Bunyan] appears to be a full-blown Sabbatarian, but at the same time, he removes the foundation of that very position” and “Bunyan destroys the foundation of Covenant Theology’s view of law… [then] he changes direction completely and lays out Covenant Theology’s view of the Christian Sabbath. Bunyan’s position… is inconsistent and untenable” (p 2, 5, Reisinger, “John Bunyan on the Sabbath”).

Reisinger’s opinion surprised me.  I had felt a little uncomfortable with the strength of some of Bunyan’s language in Question V, and indeed, at one point he does even say the day was “changed,” as Covenant Theology would—and that odd word choice stuck out to me—but I hadn’t seen his argument as untenable, or even disagreeable.

Bunyan begins this section by affirming two conclusions from his prior questions: 1) it is denied that the seventh day sabbath is moral, and 2) it is not to abide as a sabbath forever in the church.  Then he asks, “What time is to be fixed on for the New Testament saints to perform together divine worship to God by Christ in?

This question is an important frame for the very, very long argument that follows.  Is Bunyan trying to prove that the Sabbath moved?  Resoundingly not.  Rather, his purpose here is to establish what is the proper time, appointed by God, for the Church to worship.

Bunyan begins with the precept that I found uncomfortable:

TIME to worship God in, is required by the law of nature.

On the one hand, this seems utterly self-evident.  But he’s giving it a theological stamp of approval, and it is a major premise for the arguments that follow, and it’s absurd, honestly, how much he doesn’t even try to establish this precept from Scripture.  He says it, and leaves it.  Suddenly it’s very clear that when he said a “seventh-day Sabbath” wasn’t evident from nature, he really meant exactly that—the seventh-day Sabbath wasn’t evident from nature.

Then he moves into a second precept, taking Hebrews 4:10 and using it to draw a parallel between God resting on the Sabbath and Christ resting on Sunday:

Now God rested from his works, and sanctified a day of rest to himself, as a signal of that rest, which day he also gave to his church as a day of holy rest likewise. And if Christ thus rested from his own works, and the Holy Ghost says he did thus rest, he also hath sanctified a day to himself, as that in which he hath finished his work, and given it (that day) also to his church to be an everlasting memento of his so doing, and that they should keep it holy for his sake.

Again, it is hard to argue with what Bunyan is actually saying, but that it seems to lead him into a second Sabbath-like mandate, a day of rest for the Church in imitation of Christ, is—awkward.  It’s very clear why Reisinger says he appears to be a “full-blown Sabbatarian.”

However, this is only on the first page or two of Bunyan’s seventeen-page-long answer.  And it is necessary to ask, what does Bunyan mean by a “sanctified day,” and what does he mean by “rest” and by “holy”?  What’s the significance of his calling Sunday a “memento” rather than a “mandate” here?

It certainly seems like he is setting up traditional Covenant Theology again, but… this isn’t a sermon where someone possibly wandered off mid-stream and got their train of thought mixed up.  This is a well-executed, well-edited essay by a very intelligent thinker.  Moreover, this is an essay written by someone who didn’t have twentieth-century theological terminology and all its nuances at his beck and call.  I’ve noticed this with Gill—even while refuting Covenant Theology, he uses some of their terms which we would probably not use today.  So it is doubly important to try to understand what they actually mean, and not base so much off of signal language. 

The term “the Lord’s Day” is a good example of this, as it appears not a single time in the entire essay, despite being the phrase that would be on the tips of our modern tongues.  “Sunday” is also completely and totally absent.  What is not absent is “the first day,” which appears 108 times, almost all of which in this latter section.  In fact, while he occasionally calls Sunday “the Christian Sabbath,” the vast majority of his references to “Sabbath” are to either the Old Testament Sabbath, or to the eternal Sabbath we have in Christ.  And he has a clear preference for calling our meeting-day “the first day of the week,” rather than a “Sabbath.”  (Although, again—he does call it a sabbath occasionally.)

I think we should begin with the assumption that Bunyan wasn’t setting out to completely contradict himself, and take careful note of what he said of the old sabbath:

This sabbath then, was God’s rest typically, and was given to Israel as a sign of his grace towards them in Christ. Wherefore when Christ was risen, it ceased, and was no longer of obligation to bind the conscience to the observation thereof… All the rests therefore that Moses gave them, and that Joshua gave them too, were but typical of another day, in which God would give them rest (Heb 4:9,10). And whether the day to come, was Christ, or Heaven, it makes no matter: it is enough that they before did fail, as always shadows do, and that therefore mention by David is, and that afterward, made of another day.

So the old Sabbath was a sign, and the first day is a memorial, a “memento,” as Bunyan says.  The old Sabbath had a sanction, which it lost:

By this last clause of the verse, ‘Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind,’ he doth plainly declare, that such days are now stript of their sanction. For none of God’s laws, while they retain their sanction, are left to the will and mind of the believers, as to whether they will observe them or no. Men, I say, are not left to their liberty in such a case; for when a stamp of divine authority is upon a law, and abides, so long we are bound, not to our mind, but to that law: but when a thing, once sacred, has lost its sanction, then it falls, as to faith and conscience, among other common or indifferent things. And so the seventh day sabbath did.

The old law of works is changed to a rule of life in Christ:

the whole law, as to the morality of it, is delivered into the hand of Christ, who imposes it now also; but not as a law of works, nor as that ministration written and engrave in stones, but as a rule of life to those that have believed in him

This is, in fact, the very heart of Bunyan’s argument for a sanctified first day:

So then, that law [of Christ] is still moral, and still supposes, since it teaches that there is a God, that time must be set apart for his church to worship him in, according to that will of his that he had revealed in his word. But though by that law time is required; yet by that, as moral, the time never was prefixed.  The time then of old was appointed by such a ministration of that law as we have been now discoursing of; and when that ministration ceaseth, that time did also vanish with it. And now by our new law-giver, the Son of God, he being ‘lord also of the sabbath day,’ we have a time prefixed, as the law of nature requireth, a new day, by him who is the lord of it; I say, appointed, wherein we may worship, not in the oldness of that letter written and engraven in stones, but according to, and most agreeing with, his new and holy testament.

In short, Bunyan argues that in Old and New Testament alike, we must have a time for worshipping God together, and then he spends many, many pages explaining that the day in the New Testament for worship is Sunday, and that it is sanctified by the Resurrection.

Yet what does he mean by sanctified?  It is worth pointing out that he, earlier in his argument, showed that the regulations of the old sabbath no longer apply—

Now if these be the laws of the sabbath, this seventh day sabbath; and if God did never command that this sabbath should by his church be sanctified without them: and, as was said before, if these ceremonies have been long since dead and buried, how must this sabbath be kept?

Thus, the rules, the regulations of the old, do not apply to the first day.  He even says the first day is ordained “to perform that worship to him which was also in a shadow signified by the ceremonies of the law.”  The ceremonies of the old (including the sabbath) are fulfilled in the worship of the New Testament church, the regulations and rules fulfilled in the reality of a New Covenant in Christ.   This is not a new “ceremony” Christ imposes.

What “rules,” then, does Bunyan apply to the first day?  He goes through the New Testament and systematically pulls out the commands for corporate worship, and calls this “the work” to be done on the first day: 1) to break bread; 2) to collect for the saints; 3) to worship. 

He also warns specifically against entangling the seventh-day sabbath with the first day:

A new covenant, and why not then a new resting day to the church? Or why must the old sabbath be joined to this new
ministration? let him that can, show a reason for it… Christians, beware of being entangled with old testament ministrations, lest by one you be brought into many inconveniencies.   I have observed, that though the Jewish rites have lost their sanction, yet some that are weak in judgment, do bring themselves into bondage by them.

Bunyan notably doesn’t repeat the admonitions of his time and contemporaries to avoid recreation, or any of the other Puritan prohibitions.  Further, he elucidates against prohibitions,

Nor can I believe, that any part of our religion, as we are Christians, stand in not kindling of fires, and not seething of victuals, or in binding of men not to stir out of those places on the seventh day, in which at the dawning thereof they were found.

He is not concerned with enumerating the laws thereof, but of emphasizing what Scripture calls us to do on the first day, what is our privilege to do on the first day.  He shows that the early church did it by agreement, by custom, on that most logical day that encompassed the Resurrection and Pentecost and many other happenings—but is clear throughout that even still, even sanctified as the day was, it was their custom to devote the day to a memorial.  Bunyan speaks often in terms such as “this day is appointed… to do this duty in,” and speaks of some specific duty (such as gathering an offering for the poor) which Scripture describes as being due on that day.  He says we “mark” the day, “for so many memorable things were done on it… let saints be ashamed to think that such a day should be looked over, or counted common… when kept to religious service of old, and when beautified with so many divine characters of sanctity.”  He points out that in Acts 20:7, the church was clearly intending to spend the entire day to worship, and he clearly finds this a model, although he falls short of describing it as a mandate—rather, as a custom.  A delightful custom, as Bunyan demonstrates by contrasting, again, the old Sabbath with the first-day:

…the first day of the week is the Christian’s market day, that which they so solemnly trade in for sole provision for all the week following. This is the day that they gather manna in. To be sure the seventh day sabbath is not that. For of old the people of God could never find manna on that day. ‘On the seventh day [said Moses] which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none’ (Exo 16:26).

Again, a great distinction.  Where the old sabbath was somber, empty, waiting for fulfillment, the first day is the day of rejoicing in what has been provided.

And Bunyan concludes,

Let this [essay] then to such be a second token that the Lord’s day is by them to be kept in commemoration of their Lord and his resurrection, and of what he did on this day for their salvation.

He’s gone full-circle, dismantling the old Sabbath, and appearing for a moment to build a new one, but ultimately, it is a “sabbath” without regulation, except for worship, and not for the purpose of law, but of grace, and not a sign, but a commemoration.  The law of the sabbath was not a creation ordinance, but worship was.  The rest is not from day-to-day endeavors, but a rest in Christ.  It is not a fast of Moses, but a time of feasting on the Bread of Life.

I find it hard to disagree with him, and don’t find his arguments to be Sabbatarian or Covenant Theology, to the end.  He has his moments of questionable terminology, but these seem easily understandable by his temporal context, and not the substance of his arguments.  He would surely offend those who believe Sunday worship is not instructed in Scripture, but believing in Sunday worship is not the same thing as the Covenantal /  Sabbatarian position, especially since his purpose in this article is not to dismantle Covenant Theology (although he does!) but to dismantle the idea that Christians should not meet on the first day—which necessitates that he vigorously defend first-day worship.

May 15, 2015
by julie
Comments Off on A Song for Suffering Saints

A Song for Suffering Saints

Well, I have had terrible morning sickness and been a) behind on my reading, and b) not blogging it even when I am managing to read it!  What should have been finished in March is just now wrapping up, on that score.

But I wanted to turn back into an English major for a minute here and extol the virtues of what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite hymns: How Firm a Foundation.

As a good cradle Baptist ;), I grew up singing this hymn—to the point that I can recite the lyrics without struggle.  Apparently, however, I never really listened to them, and very mistakenly thought the hymn was about the usefulness of the Bible.  “How firm a foundation…is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!”  And I suppose I tuned out the rest of the verses, and failed to consider that Word here means Jesus, not the Bible, and the song is about comforting the suffering, not “yay, we believe the Bible.”

Anyway.  Enough about my inattentive errors.  Onto the song.

First fascinating thing: it was brought into the public eye by no less than John Rippon, the Particular Baptist pastor who succeeded John Gill, wrote the biography thereof, and was eventually followed along himself by Charles Spurgeon.  Rippon made up a very influential hymnal, known widely as “Rippon’s Selection,” which was used in combination with Isaac Watts’ hymnal in Particular Baptist churches until the late 19th century.

Considering what a popular hymn it  has become, it is curious that no one is quite sure who wrote “How Firm a Foundation.”  Possibly Rippon’s church’s worship director.  Rippon credited it merely as “K.”

I first really noticed the song last Wednesday, in the car, trying to drive and not throw up.  Tiny sufferings, even by my experience, and yet meaningful enough to drive the beauty and theology of the words home.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

What more can He say than to you He has said?  Such a gentle, encouraging rebuke to one struggling: God already assures us, flee to Him and be comforted!

Then it switches to God talking, words echoing Scripture.  “Fear not!”  And why do we not fear?  Is it because God will pluck us out of our trials?  No—“I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.”  He doesn’t remove us from our trials, he strengthens and upholds us through them.  Because God never gives us more than we can handle?  No, because God is omnipotent and can uphold us through  more than we can handle!

So by now the suffering hearer is wondering—so You promise to uphold me, and You can, but… why the trial?  Why the suffering?  And the hymnwriter addresses this, too—“when through the deep waters I call thee to go…” and even more, that He will “sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”  Who is ordaining and leading the suffering?  The sovereign God!  And what is accomplished? That even this suffering will become holy to us.

But why?  The hymnwriter has even more biblical answers for the sufferer, and even more comfort, straight out of 1 Peter 1:7:

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

And Psalm 66:10-12:

For You, God, tested us;
You refined us as silver is refined.
You lured us into a trap;
You placed burdens on our backs.
You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but You brought us out to abundance.

Or as the hymn-writer puts it, “the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy God to refine.”  The metaphor is in Scripture many more places than this.  And the comfort—“My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.”  It’s enough!

Still the hymnwriter promises no removal from suffering, yet closes in the most resoundingly comforting stanza imaginable: “the soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, I will not, I will not, desert to its foes!”  “Though all hell should endeavor to shake” it, God will “never, no never, no never forsake.”  Hebrews 13:5: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Genesis, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Isaiah—this hymn is so like Isaiah 43—

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.

The final comfort is the Word, that He will never leave us, that He is always sufficient, that no matter what the suffering, no matter how extreme, that it never hurts us—just our dross—but that it refines us, that it has purpose, for His glory, for our good, and that we will even learn to praise God for the suffering!

In short, this song is a great sermon, abounding with really useful, Christ-centered theology and an absolutely keen practical application.  I find myself humming it often now, and am thankful for the reminder of the biblical truths therein.

March 16, 2015
by julie
Comments Off on there was no king like him

there was no king like him

Another familiar story—that of King Josiah—I think I had read mostly from the shorter account in 2 Chronicles and somewhat passed over the much more detailed account in 2 Kings 23. 

It’s really quite an incredible story in context, after reading about king after king after king who “failed to remove the high places” (regardless of whether or not they themselves followed God), and thinking, uh, why not?  The prophecy of the young prophet is finally fulfilled, by young Josiah, as he sacrifices the priests on their own altars (2 Kings 23:20) and burns the bones of those who had already died.  He tears down the high places all over the place, burns Asherah poles—one of which was in the Temple itself (2 Kings 23:6)—and at last tears down the idol places to Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Milcom (v. 13) that no less than Solomon had built.

He reinstitutes the Passover, which we are disturbingly informed had not been kept since the time of the judges (2 Kings 23:22), which means it was not kept in the latter part of David’s reign or any of Solomon’s—2 Chronicles 35:18 confirms that it hadn’t been observed since “the days of Samuel,” specifically—Samuel who died before King Saul!

In the tale of Josiah’s destruction, we get a really graphic picture of how far wrong Israel and Judah had fallen, and finally, finally, someone stops the idolatry.  It also demonstrates the power of the Book of the Law, the Scripture, to set things back to rights (2 Kings 23:24).

Of Josiah himself, we see that

He did what was right in the Lord’s sight and walked in all the ways of his ancestor David; he did not turn to the right or the left.

2 Kings 22:2, hcsb

and also

Before him there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his mind and with all his heart and with all his strength according to all the law of Moses, and no one like him arose after him.

2 Kings 23:25

All of this at the age of eighteen, and he’s finally doing what David and Solomon and every king thereafter had failed to do.

Josiah dies confronting the Pharaoh (2 Kings 23:29), and his son—who is evil (2 Kings 23:31) is anointed by the people, not by a prophet, as king.  Then Josiah’s next son is appointed next—by the Pharaoh—and again, is evil.  Finally, Josiah’s grandson, Jehoiachin, is the final king, also evil, and that’s when Nebuchadnezzar (the pagan king who will eventually be turned to YHWH himself) comes in and carries everyone off to Babylon.

A sad ending.  Josiah is the most righteous king ever seen in Israel, and yet, “because of the sins of Manasseh… the LORD would not forgive” (2 Kings 24:4).  The die was cast.  Josiah’s reforms came too late.

For the Lord had said, “I will also remove Judah from My sight just as I have removed Israel. I will reject this city Jerusalem, that I have chosen, and the temple about which I said, ‘My name will be there.’”

2 Kings 23:37

March 15, 2015
by julie
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Grace to Nineveh

I am doing a terrible job of blogging my reading.  The biggest thing that struck me this week, though, was as I was reading through the book of Jonah: God is gracious.

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s proclamation; and look–something greater than Jonah is here!

Matthew 12:41

Jonah is one of those stories many of us know from childhood.  Our four-year-old could probably give you the bare sketch; there’s a Veggie Tales of it, after all!  And yet as I read it this time, I found myself struck by many things I’d never really thought about before!  I love how the Spirit makes even old stories have fresh applications. 🙂

First: God sent a messenger to Nineveh rather than just annihilating them.

We are talking about a wicked people, so wicked that their wickedness was said to have “confronted” God (1:2).  God would have been just to have rained fire on them like on Sodom and Gomorrah, or any of the other many pagan kings.  And yet God—who knew they would repent—sent a messenger.

Second: Jonah’s disobedience indirectly led to the eternal salvation of the sailors in the boat.

Here, again, God could have picked an obedient prophet!  But Jonah disobeyed and tried running off to Tarshish.  When the seas grow stormy (another act of God!) the sailors demand of Jonah, who are you? What is your country?  And Jonah answers with a great little piece of evangelism: “I’m a Hebrew.  I worship Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9 hcsb)

So, they’re in the middle of the storm, and Jonah tells them there’s this God named Yahweh who made the sea.  Important piece of information, there, because in Jonah 1:14, these very same men—who apparently couldn’t even recognize an Israelite beforehand—are praying to Yahweh.  They are affirming His sovereignty, and appealing to Him for mercy.  Jonah 1:16 says they “feared the LORD” and they offered a sacrifice and made vows.

God used even Jonah’s disobedience to bring new sheep into His fold—Gentiles, no less!

Third: Jonah’s message was not one of hope.

Jonah 3:4 tells us the very bleak message Jonah gave Nineveh from God: “In 40 days Nineveh will be demolished!” Nothing about “unless you repent,” and in fact not even anything about “because you are so wicked.”  These people are so evil that their evilness has come up against God, and Jonah foretells their destruction.

Fourth: Despite this, the people repented.

The message was not one of hope, and they weren’t sure hope was in the offering (“Who knows? God may turn and relent,” they ponder in Jonah 3:9), and yet they saw their evil, named it as evil (Jonah 3:8), and stopped doing it!  Jonah 3:5 says every single man fasted and dressed in sackcloth, even the king.  They even made their animals fast.  They even fasted from water.  They repented, very thoroughly.

And God relented.  And these same Ninevites will rise up on the last day as witnesses for Him.

Fifth: Jonah knew there was hope.

This was the most significant thing to me.  It’s so easy for me to read the Old Testament and see that “smiting” God that athiests poke fun of—many, many wicked people are indeed punished, and often without a lot of extra chances, at least that we see.  And even here, Jonah’s message didn’t seem to offer an extra chance—and yet, Jonah, who was surely aware of Israel’s own history and the history of the way God had dealt with lawless people throughout it… Jonah says, “I knew You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster!” (Jonah 4:2, hcsb)  He’s complaining, but that these words of God’s mercy come so quickly to his lips—that he is so confident that God is merciful that he fled to Tarshish from the beginning—this is so insightful and wonderful that someone sent to preach destruction to a city was still so sure that God relents from destruction!  He preaches a message of punishment while cradling in his heart (even if he wasn’t happy about it) the certainty that God is merciful.  His conviction of God’s mercy had to be so incredibly strong.

Sixth: God cared about Nineveh.

He compares Nineveh to the plant that grew over Jonah (Jonah 4:10), and asks Jonah, if you cared about this plant, even though you weren’t even the one who labored for it, how much more should I care for Nineveh (which was, of course, His own creation)?

This, again, is an amazing testimony of the mercy of God. “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” God asks in Ezekiel 18:23.  “Instead, don’t I take pleasure when he turns from his ways and lives?”  Nineveh is a beautiful illustration of this verse.  This incredibly wicked city—Jonah himself is revolted—and yet God “cares” (Jonah 4:11).  It tells us He even cares about their animals!  And so He sends a prophet, and rejoices over their repentance, and keeps them till the last day.

So much mercy and encouragement in this little book!

March 11, 2015
by julie
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A Woman of Boldness

As I continue to think about the definition of biblical womanhood, the very-familiar story of the Shunammite woman who helped Elisha in 2 Kings 4 seemed worth looking into.  I’ve always read the story with puzzlement over the somewhat odd miracle-working of the resurrection of her son, and never paid that much attention to what it has to say about the woman herself, and the consider amounts of initiative and planning she undertakes.

While our historical culture has often seen boldness as an unfeminine trait, Scripture has much positive to say about boldness, and this is a good illustration of how it can be a positive quality in women.

I had never noticed how incredibly similar Elisha’s story here is to Elijah’s story in 1 Kings 17.  Mostly minor differences, but at least one significant one—I always thought the woman in Elijah’s story took so much action personally because she had no husband, but in 2 Kings 4, there is a husband in the story, and yet the wife is still very much the central figure.

We see in v. 8 that she is “a prominent woman,” and she not merely offers Elisha some food, she persuades him to eat.  Regularly.  She appeals to her husband to set aside an entire room (with great details like a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp) for Elisha to stay in whenever he comes through Shunem.  And they do it.  And why?  Because, she says, “I know that [Elisha] is a holy man of God” (2 Kings 4:9).

She’s a woman with ideas.  She’s a woman who apparently boldly entreats a prophet to stop and rest a while, and who boldly entreats her husband to do something quite inconvenient on his behalf.  Presumably her husband is going along with all of this, but it’s interesting that she, and not he, is the one driving it.

Elisha takes her up on the offer.  And then—again, bypassing the woman’s husband, who I would have expected him to deal with—he calls for her and thanks her for going to the trouble, and asks her what they can do for her in exchange.

She asks for nothing.

Gehazi points out that she has no son, and Elisha promises her one.  She is disbelieving, but his word proves true (v. 17).

Here, finally, the woman’s husband comes into the story a little bit—the child goes out with his father to the harvest, gets sick in the head, and the father sends him back to his mother with a servant.

The child dies.  She picks him up, puts him on Elisha’s bed, and leaves.  She doesn’t tell anyone what happened, and when her husband asks why she wants to go see Elisha, who is now at Mount Carmel, she doesn’t tell him.  He’s confused (v. 23) but she just affirms that everything is okay and leaves in a rush.

I can’t imagine what is going through her head.  Her only son, her little son, has died, and she’s keeping it all locked inside and not even telling his father.  So much single-mindedness is evident here.

She gets to Mount Caramel, and Elisha sees her in the distance (v.25) and sends Gehazi out to see if everything is all right.

She says yes, everything is all right—so much faith here!—and waits until she gets to Elisha’s feet to be overcome with anguish at last.  Elisha, for his part, has no idea what’s going on (“the Lord has hidden it from me, He hasn’t told me”, v. 27), but is compassionate.

She reminds him that she hadn’t asked for the son, but did ask to not be deceived—and now her son is dead.  Elisha sends Gehazi off in a rush with his staff, which turns out not to work (v. 31), but the mother won’t be dissuaded until Elisha comes himself (v. 30).

Elisha prays and the boy comes back to life.

The same Shunammite woman re-enters the story in 2 Kings 8, where Elisha has prophesied of a famine, and here thoughtfully tells the woman to pack up her household and get away.

Again, I am struck by the reality that he told her, and not her husband; that it was the woman who “got ready and did what the man of God said” (v. 2), and then it was the woman even who went to appeal to the king at the end of the famine to have her land restored (v. 3).  And God worked it out perfectly for her by having Gehazi “happen” to be at court the same time that the woman appeared, telling the king in fact about the woman herself, and her son, and the help they had given to and received from Elisha.

(On a sidenote, it is also awesome that God worked it out so that while Gehazi is telling this awesome, logic-defying story about a kid being raised from the dead, the woman herself comes in and confirms the story to the king.)

The king responds by restoring not only the woman’s house and lands, but also all the income she might have missed.

Nothing really is said about the husband in this story.  He could have been like some minor version of Nabal, and that been why it was left to his wife to do all these things, why it was his wife who helped Elisha and who was addressed by Elisha.  Certainly he doesn’t seem to have stopped her in any of her endeavors, although the only words he speaks in the entire story are questioning her actions (4:23).  Gehazi also says the man is old (4:14), and perhaps that is why he is so inactive—although he was working in the harvest (4:18). 

There’s also the submissive aspect present in at least some degree when, rather than summoning the servants herself to fetch the donkey to go to Mount Carmel, she summons her husband and asks him to summon the servants to fetch the donkey, and tells him where she’s going.  She gives him a reassuring and honest but vague answer to his inquiry, and nowhere in any of these three main parts of her story (making a room for Elisha, fetching Elisha to raise her son, or packing up and moving to Philistia) is there any indication at all that her husband is anything other than a completely willing participant in her actions.  She consistently runs her plans by him—if vaguely at times—and then acts.

She reminds me of the Proverbs 31 woman, who “considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.”  There’s a lot of action going on in Proverbs 31, too, a lot of decisions: which vineyard? which clothes? where shall I buy my wool? how much shall I sell these garments for? how do I deal with the merchants? how much shall I dispense to the poor? what kind of food shall we eat?

There’s a boldness to the Shunammite’s actions—and the Proverbs 31 woman—in knowing the good thing to do, and doing it.  Knowing when to explain, and when to just act; when to ask permission (e.g. to set aside a room in their house permanently) and when to just stride on without any real explanation (e.g. when her son died).  There’s a lot of wisdom needed, but the examples are encouraging.  Doing good things unflinchingly, unquestioningly is one of the things that leads King Lemuel’s mother to declare, “the heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.  She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:11-12). 

Thanks to the Shunammite’s boldness in doing good, her husband gained a son, then had that son resurrected, then survived a great famine, then profited upon their return to their home.  It also led to Gehazi being able to testify of the goodness of the Lord to the king, and surely encouraged and  helped God’s prophet to have a welcome home in Shunem and to see the faith she displayed by declaring “everything is all right” although her little son lay at home dead.  There was much good done by her concern for doing right and seeking the Lord!

March 10, 2015
by julie
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The Tragedy of an Old Prophet

1 Kings 13:11-34 is one of the most strikingly sad and terrible stories in Scripture.  It’s about two men of God—prophets—who make some “small” sins for apparently minor reasons and pay a heavy price.

The story opens with a “certain old prophet,” name unknown, from Bethel, and a “man of God,” also a prophet, also nameless, from Judah, who goes to Bethel.  It’s a very long passage for nameless people.  The “man of God” prophecies that Josiah is coming and will punish the idolatry of Jeroboam.  And to this, God added another commandment for the man of God himself—to not return to Judah the same way he had come, and to not eat bread or drink water (in Bethel).  The commandment is interesting in light of what happened next.

In obeying God’s command to not go back the way he had come, he is observed by the old prophet’s sons, who come and tell their father what had happened and of the prophecy of the younger prophet.  The old prophet quickly gets up on his donkey and chases after the man of God and invites him to his home to eat.

The younger prophet refuses, and tells him that God forbade him.

And then the older prophet lies.  He tells him that God spoke to him (1 Kings 13:18, hcsb):

An angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’

And so the younger prophet goes home with the older prophet and they sit down to eat.  Whereupon the word of YHWH comes to the old prophet—the lying prophet—and rebukes the younger one, and says he will die and not even be buried with his fathers.

This is really sad stuff!  Why did the old prophet lie?  It doesn’t say.  He was living in the midst of an idolatrous people, he was old, he gets wind of a new prophecy and a prophet who—at least momentarily—had been the instrument prodding Jeroboam’s repentance.  It is easy to imagine why this old servant of God wanted to sit down and talk to this new “man of God.”  Easy to imagine him being worn down and out by the years of living among those who worshipped idols.  Easy to imagine him being excited to talk to another “man of God” at last.

But lying doesn’t pay, of course, and he received a new prophecy that weighed heavy: because his guest turned aside, his guest was going to die.  They finish eating, what must have been a gruesome meal as the younger prophet surely realizes that the older one had lied, and as he had just seen for himself firsthand the very literal power of God quickly fulfilling prophecy (1 Kings 13:5).  The old prophet generously saddles up his own donkey for the younger, and sends him off, wherein he is promptly attacked and killed by a lion.  The old prophet hears about it, and responds:

He is the man of God who disobeyed the command of the Lord. The Lord has given him to the lion, and it has mauled and killed him, according to the word of the Lord that He spoke to him.

There is clearly a point to be made here about personal responsibility and not obeying our elders even when they are men of God, when they instruct us contrary to how God has instructed us, or even told us (as the old prophet did) that we have misunderstood or that there is a newer word.  God and the older prophet both clearly fault the younger prophet for believing the lie.  But I am most struck by the old prophet.  He goes and retrieves the corpse—which is still being guarded by the lion!—mourns, buries him in his own grave, and calls him his brother.  He tells his sons to bury him in the same grave as the young prophet, in order that his bones will be kept safe from the fate that was awaiting the false priests of Jeroboam.

And Jeroboam continues to refuse true repentance, and is “wiped out and annihilated” (v. 34), and the larger story continues.

The old prophet doesn’t die at the end of the story.  He continues, living with the memory of the events.  Maybe he lives to see the younger prophet’s testimony about Jeroboam come to pass.  Maybe he remembers the young man who sat at his table and continues to mourn.  There are so many variables here that the story doesn’t tell us.  But I am deeply struck by the tragedy of sin here.  I can sympathize with the older prophet in what might be called a “white lie,” and I can sympathize with the younger prophet in following the testimony of his elders.  But together, they disobeyed God.  The older prophet made himself a false prophet, and the younger made himself disobedient to God to the point of death.  And they both knew it, knew the great effect of their sin, how offensive it was to God, and both stood unquestioningly by as His mighty sentence was carried out.  And, in judgment, the younger one obeyed—got back on the path, though it carried him to his death.  And the older one made what recompense he could, and wept.

It’s a stark picture of the terribleness of sin, even little ones that don’t seem to hurt anyone, and of the capacity of men who even hear YHWH’s voice, true prophets, to nevertheless fall so easily—so quickly, without deliberation!—into sin.

Cautionary tale.