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12.31.2004    |    Repent or perish
Further on God's wrath, the tsunami, and what could it all possibly mean. As the estimated death toll keeps on rising, it sounds smug and righteous for anyone to say something like, "well, they were heathens, God is acting to destroy them..."

Nonsense. We are all God's children; all have the possibility of salvation. Those who are not chosen/choose (Calvinist/Arminian; I'm not interested in parsing those differences for this point) will be judged in the end. Not here. Not now. God acts in mysterious ways, which is the usual cop-out of believers who are faced with something considered too heinous to blame on God. Well, God causes it to rain on the just, and the unjust. Make that God causes all sorts of things to befall all of us. You say, "it's not my fault! I go to church every Sunday, and pray, and tithe, and..."

Well, so you do. Perhaps I do too. But even the casual observer of our species knows that most of us disobey His will, and with great relish. So, when you get right down to it, perhaps the tsunami is, in some theological sense, our fault. We being all of mankind (just a phrase; not to exclude the ladies), especially those who claim to follow Jesus.

No, we did not cause God to have a hissy fit and say, "those lousy sinners, I'll show them a thing or three." But is it possible, just possible, that by our refusal to truly follow Him we postpone His second coming, perhaps indefinitely? And thus bring on ourselves the post-exile (from the Garden of Eden) problems. As for the righteous suffering along with the unrighteous, we may turn to St. Luke (13:1-5):
Repent or Perish

1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
In the meantime, we cope, and those of us in the West with solid infrastructure (which spares us most of the effects of these kinds of natural disasters) must not think that the people of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, etc. are being picked on. It is very much all of us who must be held accountable for God's wrath.
12.29.2004    |    God's Wrath
There perhaps should be a question mark on the title. Was it God's wrath that caused the many thousands of deaths in South- and Southeast Asia? "It was as if God had unleashed his anger on the people" said an Indonesian man in the heavily Moslem province of Aceh. The story, in fact is headlined "Indonesian villagers tremble before 'God's wrath' as tidal waves wreak havoc."

The Scriptures are replete with tales of God's wrath. His wrath against all of mankind in Genesis 6 is a clear statement against a sinning population:
5 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
Well, as any observer of the human condition may attest, it didn't work -- we're back, we're bad, and we're worldwide.

God's wrath has been more explicitly, and with sadness, directed against His covenant people Israel, when they strayed from the path of righteousness. For example, the prophet Amos (9:5) relates that "the Lord GOD of hosts is he that toucheth the land, and it shall melt, and all that dwell therein shall mourn: and it shall rise up wholly like a flood; and shall be drowned, as by the flood of Egypt".

This, although directed specifically against the northern kingdom of Israel, is perhaps a metaphor for the current tragedy in Asia. Some important questions must be raised:
First, does God still act in human history?
Second, for argument's sake, let's say He does. Then, what is His purpose, or, if you will, message in this destruction of innocents?
In response, there are no innocents. All are sinners; Mother Teresa, me, you. The second point is that while God may work in human history, He has relegated the earthly sphere to Satan. Stated in a post-Enlightenment way, the universe of space and time as we experience them is enmeshed in and inseparable from our evil natures.

So, John Luke, how exactly does God work through all of this? I don't really know. I do know that we see shadows of His glory in the here and now, the rare beam of His light that cuts through the evil haze that blinds us most of the time for most of our lives. Jesus showed that light, and died to conquer sin. Were we to actually follow Him and not just with hollow forms and prayers, we would have a better understanding of these events.

What all of this pious talk means is that it wasn't God who directed that earthquake and the resultant tsunami. These were natural events, responding to the planet's geophysics. Yes, God created the universe, our planet, and, presumably, the laws that govern its geophysics. No, God did not place those people in the path of destruction just because He could. Our God takes no pleasure in pulling the wings off of flies, nor of killing children. It happened because it did, and while it may have been part of God's hidden plan for us, it makes more sense that it just happened.

The innocent perished along with the guilty. But none of the victims was truly innocent, no more than me or thee. Did they "deserve" to die this heinous death? Not for me to say; I am not qualified to judge them. Is it possible that the world may learn some lesson from this, and mitigate future disasters? History is not kind to this suggestion; all sorts of evil keeps on keeping on, let alone actually helping poor nations to build the infrastructure that would minimize vulnerabilities to earthquakes, floods, and tsunamis.

I claim to believe, as a Christian, that bodily death is not the end of us. Rather, it is a new beginning for those of us who are saved. What about those who knew not God's Word and His Son who died? Hard questions; those who claim to have easy answers must be regarded with some skepticism.

Regardless, may God take pity on the souls all who died; may He judge all in justice tempered with mercy.
   |    A few places to donate...
for the hundreds of thousands of living victims of the tsunami. These are just a few; contact your local church or denomination, but this kind of need knows no denomination.

45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10018

Tsunami Emergency
P.O. Box 17090
Baltimore, Md. 21203-7090

Emergency Fund
P. O. Box 12043
Newark, NJ 07101

World Hunger & Relief Ministries
PO Box 6767
Richmond, VA 23230
[designate your gift on the memo line of your check]
12.27.2004    |    "pious fiction"
From the post-Christian Times of London, a Christmas-Eve piece by Geza Vermes, "The world's leading Gospel scholar", who "separates the myth from the historical facts of Jesus's life." The article's tagline is, "[W]hen you strip away all the pious fiction, what is left of the real Jesus?"

Mr. Vermes then gives a nicely nuanced portrait of Jesus, briefly deflating the piety of Christmas (which I, too, find quite distracting from the real message of salvation among us). He then gives us a whirlwind tour, in very few paragraphs, of what to him are the essentials of the Gospels.

As a sophisticated and learned type, Geza Vermes is not really a Fluffy Bunny Christian. And yet, he is, as, in the entirety of this popular synthesis of the life and times of Jesus, there is not one word about salvation. Not one word about how He is the way, and that no one will come to the Father but through Jesus. Not one word about sin and judgment, as in, Jesus telling us He loves us, but to repent and sin no more. And, oh yes, how he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus' earthly message of love and healing are marvelous. He will be peace; He is peace. But Mr. Vermes focuses on this message to the exclusion of Jesus' other, more important message of salvation. I do not know what this author, "The world's leading Gospel scholar", actually believes. If this article is indicative, he would fit right in to the so-called mainline Protestant churches, and sit in the pews with the well-dressed Fluffy Bunny Christians. In which pews sin does not matter, and there are no bad thoughts, and we shall all be saved because we are so darned well-meaning.
12.26.2004    |    Feasts and skeptics
Today, December 26, is the feast of St. Stephen, patron saint of deacons and the first martyr of the church. Or perhaps not the first, but the first mortal who knowingly died for his faith in Jesus Christ.

Coming two days later, on December 28, there is also the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which marks the slaughter of all the male children in and around Bethlehem by Herod (Matthew 2:16):
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Much of the text in Matthew 2 about the Magi, and the journey of the Holy Family into Egypt, is suspect if one is looking for weak points in the story of how God became incarnate in Jesus.

Skeptics usually cite Josephus' history of the times, and find no specifics of such a massacre. The problem for believers is that to merely state that "since the tale is it is in the Gospels, it must be true" is not a defense, merely a statement of belief.

The essence of Matthew 2 is to show that Jesus came in fulfillment of prophecies made in the Hebrew Scriptures. You may believe this true, or not (I believe it to be true), but to make a big issue of chapter and verse in the Gospels is to confuse historical truth with the greater Truth of God.

Both types of truth are important, of course. Our faith should never be required to trump reason or objective data. Yet the marking of the killing of innocents on account of Jesus is a very, very good thing. It is a reminder that even unto this day people are murdered, sometimes for their faith in Jesus. There are all too many places in the world today where innocent lives are cut short because of the need of an evil ruler to suppress a competing idea. In the time of Herod, the idea was the big one -- that God is among us, Immanuel, in the person of the infant Jesus.

Now, to my knowledge, there is nothing to disprove that the holy innocents did not perish as written in Matthew. That does not make the story true, but it does not deny it's Truth. Even in modern times, think of our surprise when we discovered mass graves that Saddam Hussein had kept hidden up until we got rid of this modern Herod. It should not be surprising that events of 2,000 years ago might not have been well recorded.
12.25.2004    |    unto you is born this day...

Luke 2:10-12

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
12.24.2004    |    A Child's Christmas
In her Wall Street Journal post today, Peggy Noonan describes the wonder of her favorite Christmas present, and the effect it had on her visions of the holy child. She invites readers to submit their own favorites, and here's mine.

I must have been ten years old, and I'd just joined the Boy Scouts. Being a city kid (Bronx, New York), I couldn't wait to go out into the woods and live like Dan'l Boone on the frontier. Or at least as I imagined he had lived. Of course, at that time, I hadn't a clue.

Well, Santa, in the person of my dad, got me the equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, only this one made for the Boy Scouts. It had two blades, a can opener, a screwdriver, and a few things whose purpose I couldn't begin to devine. Well, I stayed up all night playing with this knife, succeeding in giving myself several knicks and cuts -- which I hid from my parents, so as not to worry them.

Now, by the time I was ten, I had known that Santa Claus was a myth. As to the Nativity and the real meaning of Christmas, I knew not. My dad was a professed atheist; my mother came from a Jewish family and, although she believed in God, never attended services nor forced anything on me. So, I was adrift -- until, after getting my knife the day before Christmas (that was our family's tradition, such as it was), I went to Midnight Mass with a friend -- my first Christian service -- at least the first one I was aware of (my older sister is Catholic, and had taken me when I was a baby, but, as they say, it didn't take).

The Mass blew me away, making me realize that the gift of the knife was nothing, and that there was a much greater gift that somehow was so much more important -- the Holy Child. But, as I was still a child, I mentally filed it under things to unpack later, when I would be able to without incurring the anger of my parents -- neither one of whom would have been very happy to see me as a Christian.

I make no claim to having been born again in Christ when I was ten; that took until I was well into my 30s. But that Christmas, back in the 1950s, was the very first time that I had come to have at least an inkling that there are Christmas gifts, and the Gift of Christmas itself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
12.23.2004    |    My grace is sufficient for thee
A recent daily Bible Verse (available freshly baked for your in-box every day; just go here) reminds us of the truth that we should not put our faith in mortal man. Especially not ourselves.

We can not be the authors of our salvation; it is a pure gift. From Ephesians 2:8-9:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.
As a Calvinist, this is hardly a surprise to me -- it makes sense, one of the bases of my faith. That is, my faith is a gift, which I, a depraved sinner, can not possibly have earned by my deeds.

On the other hand, and sure and there's always another one whether you need it or not, it is not useful to fuss and feud about faith versus works. They go together. If ye be saved, then ye shall have faith, as the old-time preacher might say. If ye have faith, then works shall surely follow.

Who is to know which really came first? I say faith preceeds works; ye say the opposite. We both open ourselves up to the same salvation through Christ Jesus. As the Lord tells Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for thee."
12.21.2004    |    "totally true and trustworthy"
The Southern Baptist Faith and Message includes the statement that Scripture "has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy." This would seem to leave very little room for interpretation, and there are many who we call fundamentalists who take the Holy Bible as literally, i.e., word for word, true.

This poses problems for those who would use Biblical text to support a position, but then show themselves inconsistent when challenged with other, inconvenient, portions of Scripture. I maintain that the only inconsistency is with those who would deny the plain text meaning of Scripture.

The specific issue is homosexuality, which is starkly condemned throughout the Old and New Testaments (e.g. Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:27). Those who would support homosexual clergy use twists and turns to assure us that Scripture's plain meaning is actually its opposite. Or, that Scripture was written in a different time, place, and culture, and is not relevant to us.

One favorite tactic is to cite some legalistic portion of Leviticus or elsewhere in the Old Testament where crimes such as prostitution are dealt with as capital offences. As in, by way of example, Leviticus 21:9, which cheerily notes that if "a priest's daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire." Ouch.

Another tactic is to ask those who condemn homosexuality with a pesky question such as, "why do you shave or cut your hair, since Leviticus 21:5 clearly enjoins us not to?" And so forth. Call me a liberal (them's fightin' words), but God has given us Scripture along with brains to interpret His word.

I cut my hair, and shave, because I am not a priest engaged in temple worship. Jesus has done away with the need for a literal temple (and for a priestly caste, but that's a whole 'nother argument), and Scripture is a package deal. If my daughter was a prostitute, I surely wouldn't burn her -- I would do my best to get her to repent and sin no more, and whether she did repent or not, know that God alone is fit to be her judge. But make no mistake -- because we would not have a prostitute burned to death does not mean that prostitution is acceptable. The truth that sin is sin remains. The trustworthy part? Trust in God to carry out His judgments.

The truth is that those who sin, like prostitutes, will be judged, and may burn, just not in the here and now. God will do both, not me, not thee. Those sinners we "burn" in the here and now would be those we must, in order to protect society. Stated another way, the truth in Leviticus is that sinners may burn if they do not repent, in which burning can be taken as a stand-in for the hell to which such unrepentant sinners will be consigned by God. Call it the unrepentant sinner's separation from God, which is another way of saying "hell."

Well, John Luke, that still doesn't explain away the literal burning called for in the here and now by Leviticus 21:9. My answer is that some portions of the Bible simply can not be taken literally out of context. The underlying truth remains, however. My explanation goes to the underlying truth that must be seen in the context of both God's mercy and God's judgment. At the time of the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, the flame of the one true God had to be kept alive by what seem to us today to be extreme measures. But they were necessary in their time and place in order to preserve the knowledge of God's revelation.

Revelation continues throughout history, especially with the coming of our new High Priest, Christ Jesus (Hebrews 5:1-6). That is why we should not carry out the literal heinous penalties called for -- Jesus has taught us to love the sinner, and to know that He will carry out judgment in the end.

This is the greater truth.
12.20.2004    |    Cardworthy
Well, apparently evangelical Christian George Bush is out of control. It appears that he's sent a Christmas card that actually mentions God. Shocking. The greeting apparently includes at least one verse from Psalm 95, verse 2, which in context is:
1 Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.

2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.

3 For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
Good for him. I have a feeling that the president knows his Scripture, especially Psalm 146:3: Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.

Only the Prince of Peace can save. Thank you, President Bush, for your witness.
12.19.2004    |    "was made in the likeness of men"
He is nigh. From Philippians Chapter 2, vv. 5-11 (KJV), on the Advent of our Savior:
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;

11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

12.18.2004    |    The Fall of Man
The horrific story of a grisly murder and the cutting of an unborn child from the womb of the victim was just a reminder of our depraved nature. This heinous act should not surprise anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of the history of mankind, and who has read Genesis 3.

It is symptomatic of our culture that this depravity extends even to the mainstream media, in this case the Washington Post, which, in its story can not even acknowledge the simple personhood of the infant by calling her a baby. The Post's headline was "Fetus Survives Killing of Mother." Too bad that many fetuses don't survive would-be mothers' exercising their "freedom of choice" in killing their infants. But that's legal, if not moral, whereas killing a would-be mother and taking her baby still is not. Still. Give the Kevorkians and their allies of this world a little more time...

Whether you deal with Scripture as allegorical or literal, there is truth in it. We are a fallen species, although with hope for redemption. His birthday is nigh.
12.13.2004    |    Scripture and the Koran
On reformation in the Muslim world, some reflections on the three so-called "religions of the book." Note that "book" isn't capitalized; Muslims use the term not in reference to our Bible, which they trashed as being incompatible with their version of truth, but in the generic sense. That is, there is a book that is central to their belief system.

As for our Book, the Bible, we Baptists believe (ok, some of us do) that "all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy", or, as we say around our church, inerrant. Does this mean that we believe every single word is uttered by God? Some might; I suspect that most folks in my church in Virginia don't. I don't, but do subscribe to the Baptist teaching that the "Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man"

But we all believe that there is unalterable truth behind the words. As for Jews, those who are Orthodox would likely tell you that the Torah was literally dictated, letter by letter, word for word, to Moses at Sinai. As Jesus said in a different context (Mt 5:18, KJV) "For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." And, just as Islam tells its faithful that Arabic is the only true voice of the Koran, so in like manner is Hebrew the only true language of Torah.

So what? Does this mean that fundamentalist (Orthodox) Jews and pious Islamists are the same? Hardly. You don't read of Orthodox rabbis blowing themselves up on buses, nor of inciting the faithful to kill the infidels. Likewise, you don't hardly ever hear (never, actually) of fundamentalist Christians doing such. And these are the fundamentalists in both faiths.

As for those of us who are not literalists when it comes to Scripture, which is to say the vast majority of Christians and Jews, we for the most part support freedom of religion. We today do not take Scripture as the literal word of God. Rather, we take Scripture as the liberal word of God, with varying interpretations of what the underlying truths are. How else do we get to the point where there are literally tens of thousands Christian denominations? We just don't fight wars over such things. Well, mostly we don't, and I'd prefer to think that in places like the Balkans (Orthodox Christians vs. Catholics) and Northern Ireland the conflicts were never really about competing interpretations of Scripture -- they were about secular power.

Right now, however, it appears that Islam is still at the fundamentalist stage. Period. The Koran as the literal word of God is (sorry 'bout that) all she wrote. Wars continue to be fought between segments of Islam (Shi'ia against Sunni) and especially against us infidels. Islam does not support freedom of religion. Period. Islam is predicated on the conversion, submission (hence the meaning of "Islam"), or killing, of non-Muslims. Period.

All of the talk about reforming Islam needs to start by changing the status of the Koran to something more akin to Christian and (Conservative or Reform or Reconstructionist) Jewish views of Scripture. That is, the good old Baptist teaching "written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man."

Man is fallible, and I'd think we've made several transcription errors over the centuries -- without destroying the underlying truth. I would hope that Islam could first come to this conclusion -- that it is mere mortal man who has written down the Koran based on their vision of God. Of course I believe that Islam's vision is totally wrong. What I would pray for is that the Muslim world can make the same statement about Christianity and Judaism without attempting to correct us with the sword.
12.09.2004    |    Humbling
Marine Lance Cpl. June N. Ramos, a Filipino, has one of the most important jobs on earth. And, no, that's not just his special place as a Marine grunt, which is itself a high calling. The good corporal delivers the eucharist to his fellow marines in the field in Iraq. The story in yesterday's Washington Post describes, without apparent spin, how Cpl. Ramos serves as God's messenger to some of our troops in Iraq:
When a Marine dies in combat, they say he's bought the farm. Ramos did not buy the farm, just a ride home. But when he was in the field hospital in Baghdad, Ramos said, he knew he had to return to the field. He had work to do. He is the man who administers Communion to Roman Catholic Marines on the front, and his job was not done yet.

"This is my calling, the reason why I am here," said Ramos, a slight man with an impish grin. He was bundled up for the cold, his green, Marine-issued scarf pulled tight over his head to cover his ears. He also wore a black stocking cap, like those worn by the rest of his platoon buddies in 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

He keeps surviving, Ramos said. He has been in mortar attacks, mine explosions, the roadside bomb attack that cut his neck. In any other place, he might feel invisible, but Ramos knows that danger does not start and stop. He has not yet made it out.

"God is always with me," Ramos said. "He's always there watching."
It's been said there are no atheists in foxholes. I've had more than one veteran of combat tell me, many more in fact, that not only are there no atheists, but there are no denominations. A Baptist will welcome the ministrations of a Catholic chaplain, and vice versa. Cpl. Ramos is, in a sense, bringing God to the battlefield. Whether it is the literal body and blood of Christ, as (some) Catholics believe, or merely a remembrance of Jesus' last supper with his disciples, I can't think of a more important job.

The Post story notes that after his tour in the Corps, Cpl. Ramos intends to continue his seminary studies at Abiquiu, New Mexico, a Benedictine monastary (The Monastery of Christ in the Desert). This man's faith is humbling. He walks with God, and, though he's been injured and almost killed, knows he will be protected. How many of us have this kind of faith?

Thank God that June Ramos does. Vas con el Señor, Corporal.
12.06.2004    |    I will never leave you
Thus the Lord told Joshua. Words to give strength from the One who is the source of all of our strength. From the Book of Joshua, Chapter 1 (NIV):

1 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD , the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: 2 "Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them-to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates-all the Hittite country-to the Great Sea [1] on the west. 5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

12.05.2004    |    Cheesy Virgin
Where to begin? There's just so much wrong with this little "faith" story that appeared in today's Washington Post. First, the basics from the story:
Diana Duyser, a resident of Hollywood, Fla., made the sandwich a decade ago and, after taking a bite, saw "the Virgin Mary staring back at me," she said. Duyser kept the sandwich in a plastic container beside her bed before selling it last week to GoldenPalace.com, an online casino.
Kind of says it all, actually. As in how cheesy is the religion of some so-called Christians. The article tells the story, with the equivalent of a straight face, as to how it is "not likely" that Holy Mother Church will recognize this cheese sandwich as a "divine apparition."

Jesus on a taco, and all of that. Why is it that people think that our Lord, or His mom, have to stoop to conjurer's tricks to get noticed? Not that I've anything against a good cheese sandwich. As for a religion that depends on certifying as miraculous the equivalent of conjurer's tricks, I have no use. This is primitivism, and pagan worship of an idol. In this case, the idolization of a cheese sandwich.

Of course, GoldenPalace.com did, apparently, shell out $28,000 for this way-stale sandwich. Since I will not knowingly link to a spam site, I don't know what they might be doing with this holy cheese sandwich. I'm sure it's nothing to do with Jesus Christ, and everything to do with idolaters seeing pagan apparitions in their food.

Of course, this particular idolater is having one over on the rest of us. She got a bundle of cash for a sandwich, and we get to waste our time reading about it.
12.03.2004    |    "a teaching moment"
Well, that's one thing you could call it. Thus unrepentant lesbian Irene Stroud comments on what should be an unexceptional, and certainly not newsworthy event -- her defrocking as a Methodist minister. Leave aside that perhaps women should not be ministers in the first place. The Methodists have apparently discovered that some small part of their denomination is still moored in Scripture.

Or at least in "Methodist law." The AP story, via the New York Times tells us the basics:
A lesbian minister who lives with her partner was defrocked for violating the United Methodist Church's ban on actively gay clergy -- the denomination's first such decision in 17 years.

A 13-member jury made up of Methodist clergy convicted the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud on Thursday, the second day of her church trial. Methodist law bars "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals"' from ministry. The panel voted 12-1 to find Stroud guilty; nine votes were needed for a conviction.

Jurors then voted 7-6 to defrock Stroud, the bare majority necessary in the penalty phase of the trial, though her supportive congregation in Philadelphia has said Stroud can continue performing most of her duties.

...Stroud said she was saddened by the verdict but also saw it as a teaching moment that showed how divided her denomination is over homosexuality.
Well, yes, that mushy "teaching moment", which is what those who feel they can commit any sin without consequence or need for repentance often say when they are brought up short by their more orthodox brethren. It isn't clear why Methodists, or any other denomination that claims to be Christian, should need a "teaching moment" to assist them when black-letter Scripture spells it out plain as day. In both Testaments, in case you were wondering. "It" being the clear statement that homosexual behavior is a sin; literally an abomination to the Lord.

So, the Fluffy Bunny Christian asks, hey, aren't we all sinners? And doesn't God love us anyway? And isn't He all about forgiveness? Well, Fluffies, yes, yes, and only half right. God most certainly knows we are all sinners. Were it not so, why would we need to pray for His forgiveness? And I do believe that while God hates sin, He desperately loves us sinners. As to being all about forgiveness, that has to be true, but only if we turn to God and repent -- that is, change, and sin no more.

If God isn't all about forgiveness, what else might He be about, asks the puzzled FBC. The answer is in Scripture (Revelation 20:12, for example), and, for those who can't be bothered to crack open the Book, in the Nicene Creed: He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. He being God in the person of Christ Jesus. God is also about judgment, people. We each of us have been given a second life when we were born again in Christ, but we are also under God's judgment as to how we live those lives.

Homosexuality may be "natural" and not just a choice. The same has been claimed for thieves and murderers -- they can't help doing what they do; they've a mental defect that is hardwired; they were abused as children, etc. etc. God did not create sin; we do and have since the Fall. Even one who has a calling to minister in Christ's name may be a sinner (they all are, just as are you and I). They must not, however, celebrate sin as "a lifestyle choice." Any more than a thief or murderer should be celebrated before they repent. If they don't repent, fine, God will judge them -- but let us not hold such up as paradigms of goodness.

Which is what a minister of God must at least try to be. And which Irene Stout can not be so long as she clings to her sin and claims it to be goodness. Perhaps she is a kindly and well-educated woman, and has gifts of the Spirit. Actually, from what I've read, she is and does. That's not the point. She wishes to be a minister in a Christian church, not some Church of the Lesbian Druid. This entails agreeing to certain things, one of the non-negotiable biggies being Scripture as the foundation for our faith.

Toss this aside because it's got those ever-so inconvenient passages about "abomination" and "judgment", and it is no longer a Christian church, but something else. Which is what the Methodists and others, especially the Episcopalians, are at grave risk of if they don't repent.

About this site and the author

Welcome. My name is John Luke Rich, (very) struggling Christian. The focus here is Christianity in its many varieties, its fussing and feuding, how it impacts our lives and our society, with detours to consider it with other faiths (or lack thereof).

Call this blog my way of evangelizing on the internet.

Putting it differently, we're only here on this earth a short time. It's the rest of eternity that we should be most concerned about. Call it the care and feeding of our souls.

I was born Jewish, and born again in Christ Jesus over thirty years ago. First as a Roman Catholic; now a Calvinist by persuasion and a Baptist by denomination. But I'm hardly a poster boy for doctrinal rigidity.

I believe that Scripture is the rock on which all Christian churches must stand -- or sink if they are not so grounded. I believe that we are saved by faith, but hardly in a vacuum. That faith is a gift from God, through no agency on our part -- although we sometimes turn a deaf ear and choose to ignore God's knocking on the door.

To be Christian is to evangelize. Those who think it not their part to evangelize perhaps haven't truly understood what our Lord told us in Matthew 28. We must preach the Gospel as best we are able. Using words if necessary.

Though my faith waxes and wanes, it never seems to go away. Sometimes I wish it would, to give me some peace of mind. But then, Jesus never said that walking with Him was going to be easy...

Final note: I also blog as Jack Rich on cultural, political and other things over at Wrong Side of the Tracks

Thanks for stopping by.