Ecclesial Tapestry

Good morning!

Last night at Bible study we were talking about the “household code” found in 1 Peter 2:13-3:7. I think the household codes in Scripture (Ephesians 5:22-6:9, Colossians 3:18-4:1) are really amazing and counter-cultural, and I enjoy teaching on them.

When I lead Bible studies I like to be able to go deep into the text, discuss things, difficulties, bring up questions, all that; but I don’t like to end there. I think people should go away from a Bible study challenged and encouraged, and so at the end of every Bible study I teach I throw on a little “homiletical takeaway–” my attempt to draw the discussion to a close with an encouraging word from the text. So here’s what I said last night:

God wants unity in inequality. I don’t mean inequality of worth; I mean distinction, difference. God doesn’t want a homogenous church, but an integrated one. He doesn’t love his own equally, as though they were all the same; he loves his own fully, as fully as he can love them. God is a Father– what father loves his own without distinction? There are different places, different levels of maturity, different gifts, different sexes, different roles. But one baptism, one church, one Lord, one Spirit, one God and Father of all.
Satan wants to iron out the difference between sexes, giftings, and institutions. God wants a beautiful stained-glass window; Satan want’s a nice uniform mud, which is just another way of talking about entropy, which is just another way of talking about death.
Unity in inequality. Each member fully accepted, fully loved, fully appreciated, for all their differences, their strengths and weaknesses– many members, one body, one Lord.




I have never read The Prayer of Jabez, although it seems to me that most people who have read have one of two responses. When you ask somebody who loves the book what they think, the response is generally something like this:

yzz8CAnd if you ask someone who wasn’t so fond of the book what they think about it, they generally, in my experience, react thusly:


But I was just looking at 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 and I was struck by a few things. To begin, Jabez isn’t mentioned anywhere else, he just appears, prays, and disappears again, right in the middle of a genealogy to which the chronicler makes no effort to connect him. Is he a son of Koz? A son of Harum? We don’t know; we aren’t told. I think that this is intentional, and it makes me think that the chronicler’s point was theological in nature. This fits with the overall theme of 1-2 Chronicles, which was written after the Jew’s return from exile to remind them of God’s covenant faithfulness in the past and their place as God’s people in the present. This is why it is generally more positive than 1-2 Kings; same general time frame; different purpose in writing.

Now, it’s possible (I would say probable, but what do I know?) that the original readers of Chronicles knew the context surrounding this prayer; who Jabez was, how he fit into the chronology, what the rest of his life looked like, and so on. Nevertheless, it’s possible to learn something from Jabez without knowing that context.

Even without the backstory there is a rhetorical force to this prayer; it says that God answers those who pray to him in faith. God can take a name given as a curse (Jabez, yah-vets, sounds like pain, o-tsev) and make sure that the curse does not come to pass. He can turn Jabez’ name around. A Jew reading this after the exile might remember that in Hosea’s prophecy Israel was given a name: No-mercy. The promise there was that someday God would take No-mercy and show her mercy, but after the exile that promise may have been obscured. The chronicler was reminding his readers that the same God who answered prayer then would be faithful to his people and his promise now.

It’s a two-verse word of encouragement from the chronicler.



I wish Webster’s was open-source, like Wikipedia. I make up words left and right.

Athanasius believed that typology was inherently hortatory. This was because Christian typology is somewhat hourglass-shaped. Old Testament figures and types get narrower and narrower in scope until they get to Christ, their fulfillment;  after that the same images rebound to the church in Christ. I’ve written on this before. Typology is story; if you know your place in the story, you know how to act. And What Would Jesus Do? is only useful if run through the filter of redemptive history, because oftentimes when that question is asked the answer should be “die for the life of the world,” and that isn’t any help to us at all.

For an example, let’s pick… Exodus 17. A few days ago I tried to suggest that Paul wasn’t the first one to think Yahweh was the rock that was split, and yesterday I tried to draw out some implications of that. But is there a command contained within this extended metaphor? I think there is.

Christ is the stricken rock, and from the rent in his side flowed water and blood– life for the world. This confession is the rock upon which the church is built. But Jesus isn’t the only living Stone here; we also, like living stones, are being built into a temple for the Lord. So, like our Foundation, we are split; and though our cleaving isn’t salvific I think Tertullian had it right when he said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.

A comfort in pain, a directive in uncertainty, and an explanation in difficulty.



Tomorrow I leave for the East Coast for a few weeks, and I have no intention of posting. Maybe a poem every now and again, we’ll see. Before I leave, however, I want to share something I found encouraging.

Pastor Sam Crabtree (author of Practicing Affirmation, one of my all time favorite Christian living books) and I sat down the other day to talk about the BBC Shepherd Group which I lead. Sam just became our overseeing elder, and so I was able to introduce him to the group and hear his heart for us. It was good.

Toward the end of our time I asked him what he expects of me as a small group leader, and he said something I thought was profound. He told me that my gift, my strength, the advantage that I have over him in this situation, is thereness. I am not as wise or experienced or mature or articulate or pastoral as Pastor Sam, but I am there, every week, with my group, and he is not. And for Sam, that counts for something.

I’m not sure I’d ever thought about that before. This extends to the whole church, this gift of thereness. Unless you suddenly find yourself the protagonist in a robinsonade, you have been gifted with thereness for someone else’s benefit, to be a blessing. People need good teaching/preaching, wise counselors, just authorities, and a whole host of other things, but they also need someone to just be there for them, and you can do that.

I think this is amazing- God has created a need in the greatest of us which can be met by the least of us. How well this ties the body together! I don’t need to be paralyzed by my own insecurities when it comes to comforting and encouraging a much older brother in the faith. I can just be there for that brother, and God is building his church. Anybody can do it; everybody should. There’s a brother or sister in your local body who needs you to exercise your gift of thereness

The Thing About Sovereignty…

Is that it’s all sovereignty.

I wrote a letter to a friend of mine about the sovereignty of God a few years ago. It ended up on the old site, and I was found it yesterday whilst poking around. Here’s the segment on comfort.

How is my belief in God’s sovereignty a comfort to me? Because I know that “God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). When the crap hits the fan, who did that? Satan? Random, the god of Post-modernity? Me? None of the above- it was the One with holes in his hands and oceans in his eyes, the One through whom, by whom, and for whom all things were created (Colossians 1:15-20). He spoke, and I was created; he commanded, and I stood fast (Psalm 33:9).  All my days were written in his book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16), and now he reads my story, and I stand forth, created and upheld by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).

He works for his people (Isaiah 64:4); he carries them (Isaiah 46:4); he rides through the heavens to their help, and in his majesty across the skies (Deuteronomy 33:26)- in other words, all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). Seeking God’s glory is for our good (John 5:44). So God, who seeks his own glory, calls the shots, which means he will work for my good, even when that good looks like getting slaughtered, because in and through the haze of blood my Redeemer loves me and makes me a conqueror- no, more than a conqueror (Romans 8:35-37).
Otherwise, when the tsunami hits Asia, what do you say to those believers? “I’m sorry you got screwed; God must have been away,” or “He could’ve stopped it, but he wanted to respect the free will of the tectonic plates,” or “God is the first one to cry, believe me.” NO! We mourn with those who mourn, and we tell them that not even now, not even when they despair of life itself (2 Corinthians 1:8) are they outside the good, wise, loving providence of God. He who hangs the earth on nothing is hanging onto them, and no one can snatch them out of his hand. In fact, what is happening to them is happening to promote their eternal happiness and salvation (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). When it seems like the plug has been pulled in the bathtub of my life, I know that my Redeemer lives, and after I have been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God (Job 19:24-25).

Body Talk


Yesterday I mentioned my little “fourfolds” which serve as a unique headspace for me. I thought today I might share the first fourfold I wrote.

Christianity is about forgiveness, not guilt. When one enters the Kingdom, the most important thing to know deep down in the bones is the gospel proper- that Christ died for my sins, and rose again for my justification. God is no longer angry with his people. There is no charge that can be brought against God’s elect. These are not superfluous doctrines- they are at the heart of the gospel news of Jesus Christ, and the devil knows it, even if the Christians don’t. If a man becomes a Christian and struggles all his life with besetting sin but realizes this, his life will not have been a failure. This is not to say that a man may believe the gospel and continue to delight in unremitting, unrepentant, yet realized sin; no, that man is lost. The true believer does stumble in many ways, but he knows it for what it is and hates it, or at least hates that he hates it not enough. The issue is not what this man looks like next to the apostle Paul; rather, what he looks like next to the old man of sin. Without Christ, a man’s works are an offense to God; in Christ, they are a delight to him. All men may be created equal, but not all men are gifted equally. One has faith enough for great deeds, another for “normal” deeds, and yet another for hardly any deeds at all, just enough to believe that God is for him and not against him. If the man of great faith does “normal” deeds, the man of “normal” faith does small deeds, and the weak man believes with all his might, then he and he alone will have moved mountains. God is equally satisfied with all because all are in Christ, but the weak man pleases him more than all the rest.

Flourish where you are planted, you who fall in rich soil, and you will produce one-hundred fold. Flourish where you are planted, you who fall in mediocre soil, and you will produce sixty fold. Flourish where you are planted, you who fall in dry desert soil, and you will produce thirty fold. The vines that grow in hot and arid climes produce the sweetest grapes. God is pleased with his poor children in a way he is pleased with no others. Though they may do no deeds which resound through history, their “insignificant” acts light up the universe for rulers and authorities in heavenly places to see.

I say God is pleased with his poor children in a way he is pleased with no others. This does not mean that he loves his own unequally; rather, he loves his own uniquely. God is a father; what father loves his children without distinction? He shares a special moment with this one, and gives a special gift to that one. All are equally sons, but not without distinction. If the second-born believes the father’s love is greater toward his firstborn, it is because he misunderstands that love. You will never be an apostle; will you never be loved? You have inherited a faith as precious as Peter’s, but you may never walk on water. Some have been given mercy to live well; some to die well. Do not confuse the two.

Gospel love is unmerited; it is not undistinguished. The strong love the weak, being more capable of love. The weak love the strong, seeing in them more of those admirable qualities reminiscent of Christ. As the strong love the weak, they help them to grow into maturity as they themselves are being exercised in those Christ-like qualities. As the weak love the strong, they too are being exercised in such as they have and give the strong an example to follow, as a candle in a dark room is more evident than a floodlight at noon. Each receives fully from Christ the divine love; each shares it accordance with his faith. This is the economy of heaven. Such love can only grow out of distinction. We are in Christ, and we are being made into his image. The church shares in all that Jesus has. Jesus has made his ascent to the Father; the church age is a participation in his return. He came down, after all, to obtain his bride and present her to the Father without spot or blemish. We are the bride of Christ. There may be many members, but there is only one bride. The bride makes one ascent to the Father, as Jesus made one ascent. How then shall we not help each other in holiness? There are many circumstances, many trials, many falls, many hurts, and many struggles- but there is only one Christian life. There is only one baptism.  “Are you able to be baptized with my baptism? Jesus asked the brothers. The strong must help the weak into the waters. They will rise over his head, and he will die; but he will come up remade.

Among the greatest duties and privileges of the strong is to shepherd the weak. Among the greatest duties and privileges of the weak is to love the strong. This admits no envy of station, for both are given by God to promote the good and salvation of the individual and the body. As the body goes, so go its members.

Christian love is better than pagan love because of its distinctions, not despite them. Pagans love the lovely, as they should. They also love the unlovely, but not because they are unlovely; their love rises from pity, not delight. It is a lesser love, not a different one. But the Christian loves his enemy, precisely because he is an enemy. He is able to pray for those who persecute him because they persecute him, not despite it. To the Christian, the one who persecutes has gone through weakness and out the other side, like a petulant and disobedient child.

The strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak. Love your neighbor as yourself- this is the sum of the commandments. The law, we know, was given to show us Christ. How? To reveal guilt. How for the guiltless, those whose sins are paid for? To show forgiveness. Love your weak neighbor, you strong. Bear with his failings. How? What does this look like? Forgive him. This is the sum of the commandments. This is the heart of the gospel, for, as it has been said, Christianity is about forgiveness, not guilt. The man who spends his entire life understanding this, having reached its end, will have discovered that his was a life well spent.


So Many Implications

Good morning!

Have you ever thought about the word “so?” It has many different usages, but one in particular is inferential, or subsequent. In other words, it can be used to indicate that the statement following logically follows the statement preceding, as in “I was hungry, so I went to the kitchen.”

Particularly interesting is the use of it in John 11, where Jesus is told that Lazarus is ill. John says “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. SO, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5-6). Did you catch that? I would have expected a different conjunction, like, “however,” or “regardless,” or something that would highlight the seeming disparity between Jesus love for this family and his hesitation to go an heal Lazarus. But nope. We get “so.” (In Greek the word is oun, often translated as “then,” or “therefore”).

Obviously there’s a point to this. Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus so much he let Lazarus die, because, as he said a verse earlier, “it is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).

God loves you. And so, he will bring you grief and pain. But he does not willingly afflict, nor will his hand be heavy forever. He loves you. Mysterious though it is why God should act in this way, it is as Cowper wrote, “Behind a frowning Providence/He hides a smiling face.”