Purity Rituals Make Good TV

After ten years on air, one reality TV show points out there’s still a market for ceremonial cleanliness.

It’s an American show, but it’s sprouted regional versions all over the world. Because ceremonial purity is something everyone, everywhere wants.

The show is called (you might have guessed it), Say Yes to the Dress.

It’s about the journey of brides-to-be and their families, seeking the perfect wedding dress at Kleinfeld Bridal in Manhattan, NY. To see an episode is to see a purification ritual:

People go on pilgrimage from all over the world to seek the temple (Kleinfeld’s). There they hope to find what will cover their blemishes and inadequacies and make them beautiful and clean. In this sacred space, the priests (Mara, Ronald, and Randy) greet the pilgrims and assess their needs. The pilgrims are astounded by the special knowledge, wisdom, and craft of the priests. The pilgrims have journeyed far and are willing to pay great sums to the priests in order to gain access to the clean white robes they seek. The brides are willing to make sacrifices of time, emotion, and money, for where else can they be covered and made pure?

Possibly a scene from Season One.

If you’ve ever seen the show, you know there’re problems: Sometimes, as the pilgrim’s insecurities and fears mount, they retreat from the temple. Sometimes they find what they’ve been seeking, but the cost of the white robes are too high. Sometimes they desire even greater purity and beauty, and so say “No” to the dress, and seek another temple and another priesthood.

Now there’s a reason why shows like these don’t have in-depth follow-up. While each episode has a very happy ending, we all know the dress didn’t actually solve any deeper issues. Despite the personal sacrifice, the brides’ hearts remained impure; they continued to be dogged by the same guilt, shame, envy, anger that they had before they came to Kleinfeld’s.

And their circumstances were unchanged; they still had difficult relationships, crazy demands at work, health problems, etc.

It seems there are some things that even a really really white dress can’t solve.

This is our human situation: every person wants purity, cleanness, and freedom, and both religion and non-religion make promises that they can deliver it. Modern people laugh at the ancients: “Get a load of these guys! Can you believe they thought you can get clean by visiting certain temples, saying special words, or making marks in your flesh?”

They scoff, but then they turn immediately to their modern priests, who offer the same cleanliness using different means. These priests tell you to cut out sugar, “pay it forward,” be the authentic you (without any apology), get a new outfit or join a gym, or stay away from all those negative people. Sometimes they’re totally unoriginal and just say you need a “cleanse.”

But neither these modern or ancient cleansing rituals can go deep enough! We leave the temple, the resort, the mall, or the yoga studio with hearts that are a mess.

The problem with both religion and non-religion, is that they both say the same thing: “You can make yourself pure.”

In stark contrast, the gospel of Jesus Christ says: You can’t make yourself pure, but Jesus can.

The gospel tells us we are without any strength or hope to cleanse ourselves. And so God, because of his greatness and love, did what we were utterly unable to do (despite our repeated and best efforts).

The Bible teaches us that life on earth is this: The wedding is coming, so get ready! The invitations are being sent out, the table is being set, the doors will open soon.

But there’s not a single person ready for the wedding; everyone is unclean, everyone is sinful, everyone is impure. Even the Bride is impure.

The good news is this friends: Jesus Christ came for you and died in your place so that you’d be ready for the wedding. So that you could be presented to him without spot. Without impurity. Without any guilt. Without any shame. 

Do you live with shame and regret for things you’ve done in darkness? Do you try to cover that shame and regret with religion, good deeds, and being a nice person? Or are you doubling down on your shame, hoping that a life lived for purely for selfish ends will somehow lead to life? It can’t work. You know it can’t. None of our attempts can go deep enough.

Only the Saviour who’s given himself for you can cleanse you from top to bottom; inside and out.

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, was crucified outside the ancient city of Jerusalem, stripped naked, so that our nakedness could be covered.

Jesus, who was clean, was defiled so that we who are defiled could be made clean.

Jesus was cast off and killed so that you could be welcomed in and enter into life.

And the purity that Jesus’ sacrifice bought was so thorough, so complete, that shame and guilt no longer have any place; those who believe in Jesus are dressed in fine linens, bright and pure, that have been purchased for them and given to them freely.

So the call for us, religious or non-religious people alike, is to repent of trying to make ourselves pure, and to accept this good news, that Jesus alone can purify us, and give us the required clothes for the great wedding feast to come.

May that day come soon, and may we be found ready.

And It’s Either a Noose or a Wormhole

“To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presupposition of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 130).

The Knowledge of God: Part I (The Institutes for Kids)

If you could pile all the stuff that makes you wise into great heaps, you’d basically end up with just two. They’d be called: KNOW-GOD and KNOW-YOURSELF.

To be wise, you need both piles.

KNOW-GOD shows you how amazing God is! He’s big, he’s strong, he’s good! If you KNOW-GOD, you want to sing and jump and bow to him and spend lots of time with him… until you get into that second pile.

KNOW-YOURSELF shows you how miserable you are. You’re small, you’re weak, you’re sinful. If you KNOW-YOURSELF, you want to hide and cry and you get filled with sadness.

But remember how I said you need both KNOW-GOD and KNOW-YOURSELF to be really wise?

KNOW-YOURSELF tells you you can’t find happiness and goodness in yourself. KNOW-GOD tells you that the only place in the whole world where true joy is offered is in God.

Do you see? KNOW-YOURSELF can actually walk you by the hand, right up to KNOW-GOD!

Self-knowledge impossible without the knowledge of God

It’d be great if KNOW-YOURSELF were always this helpful. The problem is, KNOW-YOURSELF can sometimes be a bit of a trickster.

KNOW-YOURSELF might whisper to you that you’re actually pretty good. Sure, you’re weak and silly and sinful — but there’s usually someone you know who’s even more weak, silly, and sinful than you. That can (strangely) make you think you’re actually good.

I know your parents told you not to look at the sun, so just imagine this: When you look around a room and see things, you might think your sight is strong. But what happens when you go outside on a cloudless day and try to stare at the very heart of the sun? Ah! It’s too bright! All of a sudden, you have to admit your sight isn’t that strong.

If we only look at ourselves with KNOW-YOURSELF at our side, we might think we’re pretty good, pretty smart, pretty strong. But as soon as KNOW-GOD chimes in, we realize we’re not good, smart, or strong AT ALL!

That’s why people in the Bible often completely freaked out when they felt God near them. You might think Abraham, Isaiah, and Peter were fine, saintly people, but when they got near God they wanted to tuck tail and run (Gen. 18:27, Isa. 6:5, Luke 5:8)!

So to make sure KNOW-YOURSELF behaves, KNOW-GOD always has to stay right beside it.

Prefatory Letter to King Francis: Part VII (The Institutes for Kids)

Satan’s purpose: to discredit the gospel

There’s a pattern here: God’s word lightens things up, Satan tries to close the curtains. God’s word starts its march, Satan prepares the ambush. Yes, things were quieter before we started preaching, but that just means run-of-the-mill preaching helps Satan gets his eight hours a night. Now that we’ve woken him up, he’s whetting his knives.

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Like highwaymen, there are rebels who will use this gospel to conceal their hatred and evil plans. But they’re rebels! They’ll use anything to get what they want. Their misuse of the gospel doesn’t make it false or dangerous.

Look at Jesus and the Apostles: wherever they went, things got heated. Wicked people twisted what they said, too. Should Jesus and the Apostles have stopped their work and said the gospel was bad, because it often led to trouble? No way! They simply steeled themselves, took up their shields, got ready for a rough road ahead, and kept right on preaching.

That’s our plan too, and we’re sticking to it.

Conclusion

Please don’t get tricked, O great king! I’d be angry too if I thought teachers outside the Big Shiny Church were trying to take your throne away and burn your kingdom to the ground. But look at us: when we’re imprisoned and beaten, we pray for your safety. When we’re taken from our homes, we pray that God protects your kingdom. When what we have is taken away, we pray you will prosper.

There are many who say they’re part of our cause but are just imposters and real evil people. Some of your counsellors will say we’re all like that; don’t believe them. That’s why I wrote you like this, to try to soften your heart enough so you’d give us a fair listen-to. Please, don’t plug your ears to the good news of Jesus because of how the frauds make us look or how our enemies paint us.

But even if you won’t listen to us, we’ll be patient and persistent and prayerful.

May the Lord Jesus, the King of kings, build you a throne of justice and fairness, our strong and honoured king.

Spider-Monkeys in the City

Brit and I and the four kids got back last week from a four night visit to Halifax. We put in 3310 km and 36 hours of total van-time (along with a great many McDonald’s cheeseburgers and Tim’s breakfast sandwiches). Our kids are great road-trippers and we had a blast together.

Halifax has been on our radar for church planting. Landing there in the next year seems more and more like a real possibility. This is both exciting and frightening.

We stayed at an Airbnb equipped with Netflix, so we watched a couple of episodes of Planet Earth II together.

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One episode featured a family of spider-monkeys and focused on the daily challenges of being a spider-money. Jungle life is no joke. Unbeknownst to these little creatures, David Attenborough had the cold, hard facts on them, and sombrely narrated: “Only 1/3 of these monkeys will survive to adulthood.”

To survive, Attenborough said, the moneys have to be tough monkeys. Tough and smart. Monkeys that develop their jumping and swinging skills faster than other monkeys are the ones that survive. The jungle is competitive, and only the strongest, smartest, luckiest spider-monkeys make it.

When I think of church planting, I feel the same pressure.

I have to be tough, I think, because only tough church planters make it. And I need to be smart. I need to not just be a good church planter, but an innovative and unique one–the city is a competitive place, after all.

I hear David Attenborough’s voice narrating as we walk around Halifax: “Only 1/3 of these church planters will survive past three years.”

Thankfully, there’s a better word than Attenborough’s.

Speaking to the apostle Paul, whose life was one of weakness and distress and pain, our Lord said: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Once, Paul had begged God to remove a “thorn in the flesh,” a constant reminder of Paul’s weakness. And this is how God responded: not by removing the thorn and replacing it with strength and smarts, but rather with a renewed promise of sufficient grace. God would not turn Paul into a great and powerful man, but would use Paul’s weakness as a conduit for his own power.

When God paints, he likes to use unimpressive brushes.

This answer would have hardly been surprising for Paul. He witnessed this upside-down reality in his ministry, pointing it out when encouraging other Christians:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

I doubt spider-monkeys experience the dread and fear I sometimes do. For their sake, I hope they don’t suddenly freeze, catch their breath, and, high up in a tree, begin wondering, “Do I have what it takes? Am I strong enough? Will I make it, will I be okay? Am I just another weak monkey?”

Paul no longer needed to be strong. He didn’t need to be worried about competition or lack of resources or the rate of persecution among apostles of his time. Because of Jesus’ grace he could say, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Church planting is going to be hard. It has many challenges. There have been many before me who have tried and failed (in a manner of speaking). I’m planning on working hard. I hope to be wise and bold wherever I’m called.

But my comfort and hope isn’t strength and smarts; it’s in the God who gives grace to the weak people he chooses to work through.

I Think, Therefore, I Am Created

“[Reformed theology] holds that man’s mind is derivative. As such it is naturally in contact with God’s revelation. It is surrounded by nothing but revelation. It is itself inherently revelational. It cannot naturally be conscious of itself without being conscious of its creatureliness. For man, self-consciousness presupposes God-consciousness. Calvin speaks of this as man’s inescapable sense of deity” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 115).

Prefatory Letter to King Francis: Part VI (The Institutes for Kids)

Custom is no substitute for truth

If men were foolproof, we’d be okay. But they’re not. The church has a big pile of the church father’s teachings and called it ‘custom.’ Now there’re hot-lies in the pile and it’s threatening to burn the house down. Yet some of you would rather preserve and honour the whole pile than save the house!

Listen: I’m not saying that “custom” is bad, but that bad custom is.

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True church and false church

We’re not a new church just because we don’t like that whole burning pile. And, we don’t think we’ve picked a fight with a true church.

Since some insist the church must always be visible, and the Roman church is the most glittery, they conclude that that must be the church. But that ox won’t plow.

Listen to how Hilary put it: “I urge you, beware of Antichrist. You look no further than the walls, seeking God’s church in beautiful buildings, thinking that they enclose within them the fellowship of believers. Can we doubt that this is where Antichrist has his seat? I consider mountains, woods, lakes, dungeons and deserts to be safer and more trustworthy. For the prophets who hid in them prophesied.”

It’s like their best argument is: he with the biggest church, wins.

But that’s not God’s way. He’s always been preserving and hiding his people, even though outside it appears they’re not there. Remember Elijah feeling like he was all alone (1 Kings 19:10)? The temple-people were evil evil. But hidden among Israel were seven thousand faithful people (19:18), without a glimmer of outward glory.

They say, pastors of the church can’t err. Wha?! What about that whole Aaron-and-the-golden-calf-thing (Ex. 32:4)? Were Ahab’s four hundred prophets insiders or outsiders (1 Kings 22:6)? What about the priests, teachers and religious leaders of Jesus’ day–were they correct to plot against Jesus because they had the temple–the most visible church (John 11:47)?

Shall I bring up how you once had two popes at the same time? Ya, let’s go there. Which one of them was the real schismatic? Is the true church just the side that wins?

Your beliefs about the church are as rotten as your lives.