Drinking Deeply

Thursday, December 27, 2007 at 10:13 PM

Book Review: Above All Earthly Pow'rs

Here was another book that was long in finishing and also worth it. You'd think after enough of these books which are long in finishing but good in content, I would stop being long in finishing!

Whatever the case, the Above All Earthly Pow'rs by David Wells is a book comes as the fourth in a series, but can stand alone, as I read it with much fruit without reading the others. It is a little academic in its approach, with lots of historical notes. David Wells traces out the roots of postmodernism and how it now impacts the Christian church, from it's basic assumptions to deep implications, David Wells unpacks the unique (and very old!) dangers of postmodernism to Evangelicalism.

This book is packed with insights into the culture that I live in today, as well as challenging many basic assumptions that I myself held. It pulls no punches in its desire to exalt Christ above all the thoughts and opinions of this world, and I for one am very thankful for that.

All that said, it is a little bit heavier on the history than the theology, so there are places where I wish he would go an exegete some passages, but usually his focus is on taking those passages as given and pulling together historical ties to see how today's society has drifted far and wide of those passages. I guess not every book must be perfectly fitted to what I want =p.

Though the book is a little harder on the thinking end, I would also recommend it to any Christian that lives in America or Europe, as the discussion within it is very relevant to the environment that we now live in. The last chapter in particular, where he pulls everything together and puts it under the sovereignty and supremacy of Christ was most encouraging. Read it, and then make your pastor read it.

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at 9:58 PM

Book Review: Holiness

I received this book months and months ago, and I've finally finished it. Some of the delay was because I was late in starting it, but some of it was simply that I never found the time (namely, I always wasted the time I could have spent reading it.)

Whatever the case, I finally finished Holiness by JC Ryle during a long "internet is down, no one is home, sit at home alone and read" stint.

To summarize, the book is basically one man's thoughts on holiness, how we seek it, why we ought to seek it, different encouragements from Scripture to seek it. There were strong rebukes, exhortations, and comforts found throughout the book, and from the structure, it seems like it's a collection of sermon manuscripts/letters. Very well organized and directed. It speaks directly into today, and it spoke directly into where I was at as well. I found it remarkably convicting and very challenging, at many points having to put the book down so I get get my heart right with God. Though it took me a long time to finally finish it, I'm glad I did and slightly sad that it's over. I wonder how long I ought to wait before rereading it=p.

I found the book Scripturally enlightening, well written (though a little archaic at times), and renewing to the soul. I would highly recommend that every Christian own this book and read it through at least once. It's challenging but very rewarding. Lord grant that I would remember its lessons!

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Sunday, December 16, 2007 at 8:28 PM

Our sins, our iniquities

David Jones mentioned one day in one of his sermons that yes it's true that faith is personal, but it's never private. And this isn't just a "so and so said this," but it's a truth ingrained in Scripture. Though today's society likes to talk about autonomy and free will and free choices and personal rights, the fact of the matter is that personal actions have deep consequences upon the community, especially within the covenant community. We see it in Israel's disobedience leading to judgment, we see it in the death of the members of the church at Corinth because they took the Lord's supper irrelevantly.

Ezra 9 begins with Ezra being approached by Israelite officials about the fact that the people of Israel had intermarried with the people of the lands and their abominations. And this passage caught my eye because Ezra was a man who had basically done everything right up to then. He was fearful of God. He delighted in God's Word, he sought to obey God, even when it seemed to put unnecessary delays in the process. And when he hears about the sin of his fellow Israelites, he tears his garment and his cloak and pulled hair from his head and beard. He begins with this, emphasis added.

Ezra 9:6 “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. 7 From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today.

And we find Ezra isn't the type to stand back and talk about his brothers and sisters in Christ as if they were sinning and he were not, but actually identifies himself with them. He calls their sins his own sins, their punishments and judgments his punishments and judgments. There's no hint of "ok, I've got this right and you guys need to follow me in this," but simply repentance and prayers.

To be honest, I found this particularly convicting. It's been a difficult few weeks with my fellowship and church. I've felt so frustrated and disappointed at the actions of people who seem to not care at all about the community of believers, people who should have known better. And it's been far too easy to just wonder if maybe this fellowship isn't for me, maybe I just don't fit in, maybe the reason no one responds to the invitations put out by me and a few other friends was because this community wasn't for us, that if they didn't care about us, there's no reason why I should care about them. And it's been far too easy to stand back and just talk about it instead of recognizing that "hey, I'm involved in this too, that this sin isn't just their sin, but it's our sin." It's been too easy to want to complain to others instead of bringing it in prayer and repentance to God.

But Ezra presents a more difficult way, a way of faith and obedience. Lord help us all.

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at 12:05 AM

Setting an altar because of fear

A few days since I last posted.

In Ezra 3, the returning exiles built an altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings according to the Law of Moses. (Ezra 3:1-3)

This passage strikes me in particular because of the reason that was given for their putting up of an altar. Now surely there was a desire to be obedient to the Law of the Lord, but we see in verse 3 -
"They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands."
Where do they run for security when threated by the people around them? They do not build a wall nor do they start training for war, but instead they enact an altar to offer sacrifices on! Why? Because they know that the Lord is a God who hears them and protects them (Ezra 8:21) and is one who has judged them in the past for their disobedience (Ezra 5:12).

How little do we trust in the Lord when the chips are down. We claim that the Lord will sustain us but when the stresses and struggles come, we freak out and stress out about work, about grades, about applications, and everything. Yet God asks, no, commands our obedience in spite of all our sufferings, our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, knowing that it is really these things that will bring joy, truth, and rest.

Isaiah 31:1
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 12:40 AM

God vs. neighbor

Very rarely does the command of "loving God" conflict with "love your neighbor." In fact, properly defined, I don't think the commands conflict at all.

But sometimes, what someone thinks is an act of love to our neighbor is not one at all, but rather is an act of hating God, and by implication, not loving your neighbor.

Ezra has a couple of cases like that -

During the first wave of Israelites, there were a number of Israelites who wanted to come along, and claimed an inheritence with the rest of them, but unfortunately, their names were not mentioned or all record had been lost, so they couldn't prove their decendence from the tribes.

What was the right thing to do for the Israelites? Was it, "Oh, I'm sure you're in there, it's ok, come and join us anyway." No, it was instead "you are not allowed to partake until your genealogies are proven."
Ezra 2

61 Also, of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, and the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called by their name). 62 These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. 63 The governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food, until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim.
Even though it has them listed in Ezra as "sons of the priests," so presumably they were actually true Israelites and true priests, they couldn't partake just in case. Today such a move to fence the table of the Lord and ask people to prove their faith would be seen as outrageous and presumptuous and judgmental. But obedience to the Lord must trump what other people think is right or wrong.

Another case in Ezra 4
4:1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers' houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers' houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”

Wolves try sneak in to try to deceive the Israelites and mess up their plans, but the Israelites, instead of bowing to today's views of inclusivism and "dialog" don't see it that way, but call a wolf a wolf. "You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God." Why is it today we are ready to embrace anyone and everyone who even suggests that we worship the same God? Check out Challies (here and here) on this topic, he says it so much better than I do.

Finally, one last act of love for God in Ezra 10
10 And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have broken faith and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. 11 Now then make confession to the Lord, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” 12 Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, “It is so; we must do as you have said. 13 But the people are many, and it is a time of heavy rain; we cannot stand in the open. Nor is this a task for one day or for two, for we have greatly transgressed in this matter. 14 Let our officials stand for the whole assembly. Let all in our cities who have taken foreign wives come at appointed times, and with them the elders and judges of every city, until the fierce wrath of our God over this matter is turned away from us.” 15 Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahzeiah the son of Tikvah opposed this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite supported them.
What happens here? Mass divorce, putting away children and wives. All for the glory of God, that He might turn away His wrath (v. 14). And we wonder why society is regressing. Could it be that God's wrath remains upon us for not shunning evil and obeying God but rather bowing to the modern idols of tolerance and dialog?

Now, to be clear, I'm not against loving our neighbors per se, I'm against the idea that love is defined according to cultural opinions (which basically involve "allowing them and their views, being open to them, tolerating them."). Instead, we ought to define "loving our neighbors" in a biblical sense, which includes doing good to them physically, but also involves hating what they believe, what they stand for, being opposed to them in ideology and in practice. (Psalm 139:21, 2 Corinthians 10:5, 2 Corinthians 6:14-15).

Jude 23b
"to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh."
Can we include that in our definition of true love?

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Monday, December 10, 2007 at 12:01 AM

Kings in Ezra

Had an interesting discussion with someone today about historicity and inerrancy of Scripture. Essentially he asked me if there would be any issues if there actually was an error in the Bible. And I think the answer is, "yes, because then it wouldn't be God's Word!"

But any case, the reason I bring that up is I'd like to deal with something that someone might bring up as an error that confused me a little bit today.

In Ezra, there's a progression of kings, with a slight hiccup. It begins with King Cyrus (Ezra 1). In Ezra 4, we read that opponents of Israel interfered with the rebuilding of the wall from King Cyrus all the way to Darius. And then all of a sudden we read that a letter was written during the reign of King Ahasuerus, but then a letter was written to Artaxerxes. Confused yet? The letter causes the Israelites to stop building and only during King Darius does the building restart (Ezra 5). It is finished in Ezra 6 and there's a great celebration.

All of a sudden, at the beginning of Ezra 7, we read "7:1 Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia..." and we're really confused, because it seems that this comes historically after all that had happened before, but Artaxerxes was earlier!

I read my NIV Spirit of the Reformation commentary, and it stated that Ezra 4's discussion of Ahasuarus was actually parenthetical, meant to prove something else. But that really doesn't work, because it seemed clear that the letter was the direct cause of the stoppage of the work, not a parenthetical remark that has to do with it. But yet there still is Ahasuerus being named twice, once before Darius and once after, with the time markings distinct.

The only possibility I could think of was that there were two kings named Ahasuarus (kind of like King George the 2nd, except without the number). And as I was searching about in the prophets yesterday, I stumbled upon this passage, that supports the earlier one pretty clearly, and the later one is well established by the time markings in the text.

Daniel 9:1

9:1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus

Now, this doesn't sort everything out (I think Ahasuerus is identified with Artaxerxes, but I'm not sure why), but does seem to be a step. If anyone has anything else to add, I'm open to hearing it.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007 at 10:52 PM

The hand of the Lord

Ezra 1
1:1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia
Ezra's filled with the Lord's actions upon people. He stirs up a spirit here, he protects a people here, he awakens a person there, it's just all really cool. And all of this is in accordance to His sovereign plan. Who is a God like this who says something and then does it? All the other acts claimed for other gods are mere shadows of this God. Mute and deaf idols.

Here, it is pointed out that the acts of a pagan king turning and commanding the building of the temple was not some mere accident, but an intentional act by the decree of God. I'm not entirely sure what the reference to Jeremiah exactly is, but there are some possibilities - Jeremiah 27:16-22 is one, where God says that the vessels will not be brought back to Jerusalem until the Lord brings it back. Or Jeremiah 29:10-14 which is the whole "I know the plans I have for you." I wonder how many of us actually knew the context of that promise! I certainly didn't.

Whatever the case, we know that God uses this period of time as a fulfillment of His former promises to a nation that was under God's judgment in exile. There are no accidents here, no lucky breaks. The exile as well as the restoration done by God's right hand.

One thing that comes to mind as I think about this. Is it too much to expect and hope for the same things today? In the past, the punishment and the exiles only came for a period of time, until once again the Lord poured out His blessing upon His people. I wonder if today we have too much of a bunker mentality, thinking that righteousness will come in heaven, but we shouldn't expect too much on earth. Can we not hope and/or expect that like the days of past, God will once again move in the nations and awaken His people, transforming even the pagan kings to fear and obey Him?

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Thursday, December 06, 2007 at 12:38 AM

Theonomy

Here's a general definition of theonomy that I think is accurate. Theonomy generally speaking is a belief that not only does the Bible regulate all of my life, but it also regulates all of everything else. We ought to have not only a church that glorifies the Lord, but also an economic system, an educational system, and a government, and the only way to actively glorify the Lord is through obedience.

Today, this view does come across as a little radical because we've been raised in an environment where there is a "separation between church and state," which of course, properly defined, I agree with. The church has its role and the state has its. But I don't agree that this means the church has absolutely nothing to say to the state and the state has nothing to say to the church. Far from it! The church as the caretaker of the Word ought to have a lot to say to the state and the state as the enforcer of the Word ought to have much to say to the church as well!

I wonder if the reason why people are so opposed to such a view because we don't actually catch the fact that governments actively act for the sake of God not only in Israel but also when Israel is under subjugation by pagan nations.

Here's an example -

Ezra is a remarkable book filled with key little phrases here and there that demonstrate that even though God's name isn't written up and down every page, He is the actual hand that is moving behind everything. In Ezra 7, we find that God actually moves in the pagan king to declare that God's law could be enforced by the sword in his pagan nation.

25 “And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God that is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province Beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God. And those who do not know them, you shall teach. 26 Whoever will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed on him, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of his goods or for imprisonment.”

And Ezra takes this in stride and follows the directions. He doesn't protest "oh, but that isn't my realm," but rather has a simple acceptance of yet another gift of the Lord.

So I don't think we have anything to fear from Christianity in the government, or even a government that enforces Christianity. It's happened by the blessing of God in the past, there's no reason why it can't or shouldn't happen again. Will it fall short of the glory of God? Of course, as do all things, but I think it's a faithful step forward for a government to want to be a Christian one rather than one opposed to Christianity.

Anyone who does not gather with Christ, scatters. That's the option for you and for me, and for our governments.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007 at 12:22 AM

Ezra, a scribe of the Law of the God of Heaven

Scribes kind of get a bad rep nowadays. I guess when you crucify the savior of the world because of selfish gain, it's hard to escape a bad rep.

Ezra, however, epitomizes all that was right with those people. I just love his character and how he demonstrates a genuine love for the Lord.

His character is introduced in Ezra 7:

7:1 Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2 son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3 son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4 son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5 son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest— 6 this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.

...

9 For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

And we find that he's skilled in the Law of Moses, with Scripture making the immediate connection to "the hand of the Lord his God was on him." He had set his heart to study the Law and to teach God's statutes and rules in Israel. What conviction and genuine love for the Lord! I love how abundantly he is blessed because of his love for the Lord. By grace, God had given him favor with his king, protected him from his enemies, used him to bring Israel to repentance, and basically had done all these awesome things. Ezra's prayers of thanksgiving and repentance simply blow me away.

Oh may the Lord awaken in me a heart for His Law, to see it as Wisdom,the source of all Truth. A heart that seeks to be obedient in all things, even the little ones. Trusting ever more in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in spite of my enemies, in spite of my friends. You have been ever so gracious to me, a sinner. Grant more in increasing measure that I may fear and obey!

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007 at 1:09 AM

An appropriate grounds for divorce?

An interesting passage in Ezra came up.

In Ezra, they start rebuilding the Temple, and they discover that there are actually a number of Israelites that have taken foreign wives. Ezra falls to his knees and prays for his people and the people repent and turn from their ways.

But how does this show itself?

Ezra 10
3 Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord [1] and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law. 4 Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it.” 5 Then Ezra arose and made the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take oath that they would do as had been said. So they took the oath.
And this is really interesting on a theological basis. Here's what I'm thinking -

1) It seems clear that this act is one that is pleasing to God. Not only is it a time of congregational repentance and confession of sin, but they decide to make a covenant before the Lord, very similar to other cases where this happens and the people repent of their wicked ways and make a covenant to follow him, or to obey his laws, etc. On top of that, v.3 says that they do this "according to the counsel of my lord."

2) It also seems clear that "put away" is not just a "don't look at these people," but an active casting off and shunning, aka divorce. This was all to be done "according to the Law." The only examples I can think of in the Law are those of a husband, writing his wife a certificate of divorce. Additionally, if we do a search on the phrase "put away," we find it used in the putting away of household gods to truly serve the Lord. I find no conception of this actually allowing for a "keep them around but just have nothing to do with them."

Now, this does pose some difficulties, for Paul actually writes in 1 Corinthians that if a man finds himself married to an unbeliever who is willing to stay, they should stay together (1 Cor. 7:12).

A couple possibilities, all of them don't quite satisfy me now, but here are some possibilities.

1) We can weaken the phrase "put away" to allow for "remain married, but don't be drawn away from them." I don't like this idea because it seems to go against the seriousness of the sin. Surely if that was the solution, it isn't that bad. But it seems like it's a serious act, one that takes 2 and a half months to completely resolve (Ezra 10:16-17).

2) It may be possible that this case is not covered by Paul's interpretation of the marriage covenant in 1 Corinthians 7, namely, these people, as Israelites, ought not to have married these foreign women, and thus they were obligated to divorce them. That would make a modern day analogy if a believer marries a non-believer, he ought to divorce her. That's a difficult statement to believe, especially because of Paul's statement that if the unbeliever consents to stay together, they ought to stay. It doesn't seem to say "if you were both unbelievers but then one of you was converted (though, that is the expected cause)."

Whatever our interpretation, it does seem that the passage teaches the seriousness of marriage and how important it was. Picking who we marry is not some trivial act, but one that should be taken with great trepidation and a holy fear of the Lord. It also demonstrates just how far sometimes we must go to be obedient to the Lord, even at the cost of our wife if she is leading us away from the love of God. We must put away our wives lest we put away the Lord. Could this be akin to chopping off our hand lest we be cast in the fires of hell?

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Sunday, December 02, 2007 at 2:57 PM

Ezra

New month, that means new book.

This month I decided upon the book of Ezra, and it's pretty amazing what you can get out of it (in terms of context) without reading a commentary or a study Bible. All it requires is a little thought as we read.

The book of Ezra coincides with the prophecies of Haggai and Zachariah, all about the rebuilding of the temple of Israel. King Nebby had taken all of Israel into captivity. A bit later Ezra's history takes place during the reigns of Cyrus and Darius. God works powerfully in the ruling authorities to give them a heart for the Lord and no longer against. (A great reason why we should continue to submit to the authorities, God is merciful in our obedience!).

As for who wrote the book, it's pretty clear that Ezra was responsible for it (or at least, most of it). The first half of the book is in third person, all the way up till Ch. 7, where the character Ezra is introduced he leads a group of people to rebuild the temple and the text shifts to first person. Where it's clear the "I" is Ezra. The only area where this might be doubtful is the last chapter, because within that chapter, it shifts back to third person again, looking at the people responding to Ezra.


So the goal is to try to post more frequently. I've also been particularly blessed by another two attempts by some friends to post more frequently. Check out Chang's xanga and Evan's blog.

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