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.


Apocalyptic Epistle: Lampstand

Good morning!

A few days ago I said I would start blogging through the book of Revelation, pointing out those most pastoral encouragements and exhortations from the risen Lord and his apostle John. I acknowledge that Revelation is an apocalyptic book, of course, but it is also an epistle, and I know I often miss that part when I read through this letter. This is an attempt to correct that mistake.

In Revelation 1, John sees the Lord on the Lord’s Day, and the first thing he says about this vision is “I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man,” and then he goes on to describe the One he saw. For a few verses nothing is said about the lampstands, and Jesus exhorts John and commissions him to write. Then, almost as an aside, Jesus tells John that the lampstands are the seven churches.

OK, cool. And the image of lampstand makes sense, right? “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” and all that. Jesus declares the church to be the light of the world, and Paul tells Philippi to shine like stars in the universe.

But what amazes me about the way this is written is that the risen Christ walks among the churches. Jesus is risen (hallelujah!), but he is still in the midst of his church. Jesus ascended to the Father, but he didn’t leave his church. The one like a son of man still walks among his lampstands.


Apocalyptic Epistle: Introduction

Hello again,

I just started reading the book of Revelation this morning. Every time I read Revelation I am struck at how amazing it is, and not because of its convoluted timeline and swirling imagery and (not-so) veiled Old Testament references. Certainly these things make me wonder, but what strikes me when I read this is how pastoral it is. This is a letter, written by John, to churches full of people he knows and loves. The same guy who wrote “to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth” wrote this letter.

More than just being from John, however, this letter is a message from the risen Christ to his church, a series of exhortations and visions from Christ directly (or by his angel) to the church. In fact, in commanding John to write to the churches, Jesus says to him “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold, I am alive forever more, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore…” How pastoral is that!

So, as I read through Revelation (like with Jeremiah), I’ll be posting the more comforting vignettes which I see from the Lord and from John. I hope you’ll be encouraged.



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).