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1.31.2005    |    A better voice...
...by far than mine on the prior subject of Christianity Lite: Michael Spencer, who posts his theses on the door at The Internet Monk. This particular post, which, honest, I read only after getting thoroughly annoyed at Lakewood and posting below on The Incredible Lightness of the Unchurch.

Here's what Mr. Spencer has to say about God's love, and the fact that the Lite churches seem to gloss over His suffering:
What about loving? Doesn't love "speak no evil?" Doesn't love only speak words of positive encouragement? This is the theology of Joel Osteen and his apparent spiritual hero, Robert Schuller, and it is, in the end, cruel and unloving. The scriptures place love at the center of the Christian worldview, and that love works out alongside God's holiness, justice, truthfulness, mercy, compassion and righteousness. Isolating love from these other qualities of God is idolatry and an abandonment of the Biblical God. We have had enough of the Hallmark Card Trinity. Let's live and speak as if we belong to the God who crucified his Son to balance love and righteousness in the universe.
   |    The Incredible Lightness of the Unchurch
One of my pet peeves has been those success-oriented pastors and pundits who use God's church as a pulpit for boosterism. They include the late Norman Vincent Peale, and Robert Schuller. I've nothing against success, of course; it is far better than being a failure. Or is it? My sense is that earthly riches may as well a curse as a blessing be when it comes to our salvation.

When it comes to the Gospel message, it is crystal clear that the "Crystal Cathedral" would be as foreign to our Lord during His lifetime as a Hindu temple. His Gospel is about the wretched, the poor in spirit. Not to the exclusion of the successful, mind you, but not at all focusing on them -- just the opposite (e.g. Matthew 19:21). Jesus tells us, in His preaching, that the wealthy in material things already have their reward. As our liberal brethren are quick to remind us, Jesus was first for the poor and the wretched.

A better word for what the success-oriented "positive thinkers" do is to pander to the dreams we all have of material success. They preach that spiritual success will lead to monetary success. They may not say it in those precise words, and perhaps I'm being a little harsh on Dr. Schuller (but not on Peale). But, with their exalted trappings, suitable for princes of this world, it is hard to separate the message of the Lamb of God from Mammon.

Today's Washington Post offers a front page story of another of this type -- one Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church Central in Houston, Texas. His appears to be an updated, modern, professionally produced production, whose purpose appears to be, from Lakewood's "About Us" page,
...serving and helping every person, regardless of background and economic status, to achieve their fullest potential.
From the Post's story, we get a little more of the flavor of this mega church:
"Joel is doing it better than most," said William Martin, a sociology professor and religion expert at Rice University. "He is purposely seeking to lower the barriers that keep people from going to church. They don't know the hymns; they don't have to learn the creed. It's all there for them."

Detractors criticize the style as "Christian-lite" -- all show and platitudes and no theological depth. Osteen's older brother Paul, a surgeon who left his practice to help the church, differs. "There is a disconnect between religion and what people need," he said, calling some sermons in traditional churches impenetrable, "almost goofy."

"What people want is an unchurch," Paul Osteen said. "They don't want pressure. Joel makes faith practical and relevant."
Of course. People don't want pressure. Modern folks want to feel good about themselves. The Gospel, and attempting to be His disciple...what downers! I can't stand the pressure...and therein lies my principal objection.

It is certainly not that these preachers don't mention Christ or preach that salvation must come through Him. It is that their path is the broad way, is strewn with flower petals, and is merely another tool to "achieve your potential" through a "practical and relevant" faith. This is, more or less, a feel good about yourself approach to salvation through that narrow gate.

Will it bring strangers to Christ? Perhaps, but will they have the staying power if reared on this kind of Christianity? Will they stand in the gap when it is cold and raining, when they are abandoned and destitute? I don't know, and I make no claims that my faith is any stronger than these new-age seekers who like the jazzy presentation of a megachurch like Lakewood. It's just that I know that it is when I have failed in the worldly things that my Savior is closest to me.

I'm of the old school -- No Cross; No Crown.
1.30.2005    |    "Duty bound"
...to enforce the law." This is the position of Virginia's Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, who is running for Governor. Oh, and Mr. Kaine is a Democrat. He is a Catholic. And, according to this political analysis in the Washington Post,
The Harvard-trained lawyer's quick mind, fluent oratory and unscripted command of policy have excited his party's faithful. But as a Democrat running in Virginia, he starts out in a four- to six-point hole. He is a devout Catholic whose adherence to church doctrine on the sanctity of life has informed a long record of active opposition to capital punishment, including having once backed a moratorium on executions. (He's also against abortion, except to safeguard the mother's health.)
So far, so good. This man sounds like a Democrat I could vote for -- were he not running against Jerry Kilgore, Virginia's Attorney General and a rock-ribbed Republican. But this isn't about Mr. Kilgore. It's about faith, the death penalty, and the extent to which one's faith should dictate one's politics.

The Post story goes on to tell us that Mr. Kaine, the "devout Catholic", who is against capital punishment and abortion (correct on both, in my opinion) has softened his stance on capital punishment, in order that he might win election in Virginia, a true-blue red state. From the story:
So Kaine's line on capital punishment has morphed -- he still opposes it for reasons of faith, but says he would be duty-bound to enforce the law as governor. Of course, he's being a little disingenuous; as governor he would be legally authorized to commute the sentences of convicts on death row, or declare a moratorium on executions. But Kaine won't go there. "I take an oath; I'm not crossing my fingers," he said. "I'm going to uphold the law."
So, Tim Kaine's faith is trumped by the civic office he hopes to attain. A couple of questions for those who might congratulate Mr. Kaine for his "realism", or, worse, "compromise", as though either of these were more worthy than following Jesus' example of loving all sinners, hating all sin, and letting judgment wait until, well, Judgement Day.

First question: Can any oath of office supercede what you believe God wishes you to do?

Second question: Do you put your faith in princes (Psalm 146:3-4) rather than God Almighty?

Third, and last question: Do you consider the law of men to supercede our Lord's second commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself?

Disclaimer: My beliefs on the death penalty are not because I am a devout anything. They are because I believe that judgment is the Lord's, not ours. Once a criminal is rendered harmless and behind bars, the better path is to attempt his repentance and salvation -- as unlikely of success as this may seem in most cases. As a Calivinist-leaning Baptist (getting in touch with my inner Arminian), I believe most criminals are born that way -- men depraved in body, mind, and spirit, incapable of saving themselves. But then, God knows whether even they, the worst sinners, will be saved. We mortals can never be sure.

Take the chance; don't kill those under your power who can no longer harm the innocent.
1.29.2005    |    "separate the wicked from the righteous"
The Gospels provide us with some hard truths. Among the hardest for the "I'm ok, you're ok" Christians are those verses in which our Lord tells us, in no uncertain terms, that not all shall be saved. The why is obvious to those who read Genesis, and who have eyes to see and ears to hear the evils that men commit day in, day out.

In Matthew Chapter 13, Jesus tells those who will listen about the kingdom of God to come:
Matthew 13:47 Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Sheep and goats again; not all shall be saved, but the righteous shall. What is useful for us in the here and now is to see that it is not up to us to decide who shall be saved and who not. It is clearly up to God. The most useful thing that we can do while we rent this space on earth is to attempt to live up to what our Lord has told us He expects. And protect others from those who fall short in ways that threaten us.

I am here to tell you that the hardest part is to not judge those we may think of as falling short. And I am guilty, as charged, with judging others.

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1.28.2005    |    An Open Letter to Evangelicals...
and Other Interested Parties: The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel. This open letter from Knox Theological Seminary. Reading it, I found that I was in complete agreement with their theology, up until I came upon paragraph IX:
The entitlement of any one ethnic or religious group to territory in the Middle East called the "Holy Land" cannot be supported by Scripture. In fact, the land promises specific to Israel in the Old Testament were fulfilled under Joshua.[34] The New Testament speaks clearly and prophetically about the destruction of the second temple in A.D. 70. [35] No New Testament writer foresees a regathering of ethnic Israel in the land, as did the prophets of the Old Testament after the destruction of the first temple in 586 B.C. [36] Moreover, the land promises of the Old Covenant are consistently and deliberately expanded in the New Testament to show the universal dominion of Jesus,[37] who reigns from heaven upon the throne of David, inviting all the nations through the Gospel of Grace to partake of his universal and everlasting dominion.[38]
I make no claim to superior knowledge of Scripture. The Knoxians know their Bible. However, to insist that the fulfillment of God's promise in the Book of Joshua is the end-all and be-all of ethnic Israel's salvation history, is to take a far-too literalist reading of messianic history.

God's promises to Israel, and to the Gentiles who joined the new Israel, are not either-or. They are made both to the Jews, and to the Gentiles -- to all who are saved by the Grace of God in Christ Jesus. The Jewish and Gentile Israel, the New Israel of which I am a member. Simply put, just because Joshua took the land on which modern Israel now sits does not negate God's promise in perpetuity to the Jews. The promise wasn't just for Joshua's lifetime. It was for as long as Israel followed His will.

The Book of Revelation strongly implies that the in-gathering of the Jews to modern-day Israel is a necessary precursor for the End Times. I would hope that the Knoxians would agree with this seemingly clear proposition. Support for the modern State of Israel is also a matter of simple justice, which God calls on us to do as best we are able to. Of course this does not mean we may ignore the plight (mostly self-made) of the Arabs -- but, yes, God does play favorites. He loves those who do His will; both the errant Jews who will be the first to have the choice of salvation through Christ at the End, and to the new Israel, Jews and Gentiles, who have already been saved in Christ.

Knox may dispute that God favors the modern Israel; I suggest that Israel's very foundation, in the ashes of the Holocaust, might have the fine hand of the Almighty in it.

It is also useless, and hypocritical, to wail about injustices done to the Jews during the Crusades, if one does not fully support the modern state of Israel. Oh, those wicked Crusaders! But now, we will be even-handed, and treat the Arab Palestinians, who have attempted to complete Hitler's Final Solution, on a par with God's chosen people. This is a false equality based on a too-narrow view of Scripture.

It may be true that, in the New Testament, one may not find the literal words that the kingdom, now State, of Israel, should prevail over its neighbors and receive the blessings of God. This may lay outside the literal bounds of Scripture. But it is fully within the love that God has shown for His chosen people, of whom our Christ came from by way of the flesh.

It is further true that the Jews will have a day of reckoning in the end times, as prophesied in Revelation. And, yes, they must come through Jesus for salvation. That's for the End Times. For now, evangelicals should support the in-gathering of the exiles in order to bring about His Second Coming. Or, for our Jewish brethren, His first.

Finally, I'd like to present for my brothers in Christ at Knox a different evangelical perspective, from an essay, What About Israel? by George Eldon Ladd:
What does this have to do with the present Israeli question? Three things: First, God has preserved his people. Israel remains a "holy" people (Rom. 11:16), set apart and destined to carry out the divine purpose. Second, all Israel is yet to be saved. One modern scholar has suggested that in the millennium history may witness for the first time a truly Christian nation. Third, the salvation of Israel must be through the new covenant made in the blood of Christ already established with the church, not through a rebuilt Jewish temple with a revival of the Mosaic sacrificial system. Hebrews flatly affirms that the whole Mosaic system is obsolete and about to pass away. Therefore the popular Dispensational position that Israel is the "clock of prophecy" is misguided. Possibly the modern return of Israel to Palestine is a part of God's purpose for Israel, but the New Testament sheds no light on this problem. However, the preservation of Israel as a people through the centuries is a sign that God has not cast off his people Israel.

[34] Joshua 21:43-45, "So the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which he had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it. The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that he had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. Not a word failed of any good thing that the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass."

[35] Matthew 24:1-2, "Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, 'Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.'" See also Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:20-24.

[36] Luke 21:24, "Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."

[37] Exodus 20:12, "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you." // Ephesians 6:2-3, "'Honor your father and mother,' which is the first commandment with promise: 'that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.'" Genesis 12:1, "Now the Lord had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you"; cf. Romans 4:13, "The promise to Abraham that he would be the heir of the world was not to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith." Psalm 37:11, "But the meek shall inherit the land, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace." // Matthew 5:5, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Psalm 2:7-8, "The Lord has said to me, 'You are my Son, Today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession."

[38] Acts 2:29-32, "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, he would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that his soul was not left in Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses."

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1.27.2005    |    Never Forget
On the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp: To any who think they have pat answers for evils such as the Holocaust, I commend this powerful statement in today's New York Times. It is titled "Always, Darkness Visible", by Aharon Appelfeld, an Auschwitz survivor. Some excerpts:
In the penal colony of Auschwitz, the Jew was not condemned because of his old or new beliefs, but because of the blood that flowed in his veins. In the Holocaust, biology determined a person's fate. In the Middle Ages, the Jew was killed for his beliefs. A Jew who chose to convert to Christianity or Islam was saved from his suffering. In the Holocaust, there was no choice. Observant Jews, liberal Jews, communist Jews and Jews who were sure they weren't Jews were crammed into the ghettos and camps. Their one and only offense: the Jewish blood in their veins...

Some entered hell as pious people and came out of it just as pious. That position deserves respect. But most survivors - myself, and especially the young - were outside the realm of faith, and from the first stages of the liberation, we were engaged with the question of how to go on living a life with meaning. The temptation to forget and be forgotten and to assimilate back into normal life lurked for every survivor. We can barely grasp and internalize the death of one child. How can we grasp the death of millions?...

God did not reveal himself in Auschwitz or in other camps. The survivors came out of hell wounded and humiliated. They were betrayed by the neighbors among whom they and their forefathers had lived. They were betrayed by Western culture, by the Germans, by the language and literature they admired so much. They were betrayed by the great beliefs: liberalism and progress. They were betrayed by their own bodies.

What to hold onto to live a meaningful life? It was clear to many that the denial of one's Judaism, which characterized the emancipated Jew, was no longer possible. After the Holocaust it was immoral.
So, both the faithful and the atheist may ask, "Where was God?" Faith clearly did not save the faithful. And, in the author's words of truth, the secularists among the victims "were betrayed by the great beliefs: liberalism and progress."

The Holocaust stands uniquely in the history of the so-called civilized West because it chose blood as its killing metaphor. You have one or more Jewish grandparent? You are Jewish. Doesn't matter if you were a believing Christian, Hindu, or atheist. As Mr. Appelfeld states, this was a (relatively) new approach to antisemitism. Relatively; it had some antecedants in the Spanish Inquisition, when bloodlines became a consideration, and it was not sufficient to merely have been a converso.

My point is straightforward: the world is the province of the Devil. Whether one believes in a literal person, Satan, or in the evil nature of men (my belief), God was most assuredly in the picture. He painted it, and our evil nature reflects God's greatest gift to us -- having been made in His image, with free will. No, God is not evil. One may not blame the Holocaust on God's presence, or absence.

We, depraved mankind, are the root cause. It is our fallen natures that resulted in the gas chambers and the ovens. So, when I write, "Never Forget", this is but a wan hope. Some of us will remember; I suspect that those who do will be those least likely to engage in such evils in the first place.

Mostly, the Holocaust has been forgotten, and, in certain areas of the world, even celebrated (at the same time many in that part of the world actively deny that it ever took place!). Not in any way to minimize the evils of the Holocaust, but mankind is always finding more efficient methods for killing our brothers. The Soviet gulags. The killing fields of Camobia under Pol Pot. The killings of millions of peasants and "intellectuals" under Chinese communist tyranny. The African near-genocides in Rwanda and Sudan. The list is virtually endless.

It's on us, that is, you and I, to rise above our fallen natures. The evidence is that it is not possible for most. The best any may hope for is to die to sin and be born again in Christ Jesus. For the rest, and until the end times when there will be an accounting, let us at least try to imagine how God would have us act towards our fellow man.
1.26.2005    |    Sola Scriptura...
...but which version? There are many, many translations out there. At issue is Today’s New International Version (TNIV), whose New Testament was issued in August 2001 under the sponsorship of the International Bible Society.

Firstly, I am not enthusiastic about new translations generally. That needs to be stated. I grew up with the King James Version; it has been my rock. In recent years however, I've come to prefer the NIV (1984 edition) for my everyday Scripture reading, and for study. Why? Simple. The updated English makes it is easier to understand and take in God's truth. Does this make it a better translation than the King James? Yes, in that aspect.

No, however, if one is also reading Scripture as literature. In this regard, KJV is better. Is KJV therefore more fully the "word of God" than the King James? Not really. Both are imperfect translations of His word. As is the TNIV.

My Hebrew is limited; certainly not competent enough to read Scripture for deep meaning. My Greek is nonexistent. Thus, to read the word of God in the original languages is not an option for me. Like almost everyone else, in other words. So, long ago, I put aside any fanciful notions that any particular translation into English (or Latin or any other language, for that matter) is somehow, the "word of God." As opposed to the imperfect renderings by God's servants.

The first purpose for a Bible is to spread the Good News of Christ. Alright, the sceptic asks, what if that Good News is mistranslated so as to become a parody of God's word? If it serves a political, as opposed to a divine, purpose? This is really unanswerable. Like much else, it is in the eyes of the beholder.

The TNIV stands accused of being inaccurate in its replacement of first-person masculine pronouns. Guilty as charged; I don't especially like this, because it is not what was written in the original. Those pesky Baptists had this to say, when the Southern Baptist Convention not only rejected the TNIV, but forbade its sale in their bookstores (extracts from the SBC 2002 resolution re: TNIV):
The TNIV makes significant changes to the NIV, largely in the area of gender language; and...

WHEREAS, The translators erased these gender-specific details in two ways: (1) they eliminated gender-specific terms (changing }"father" to "parent;" "son" to "child;" "brother" to "fellow believer;" "man" to "mortals," "humans," or "those;" and "he" to "they," so that gender-specific meanings are eliminated), and (2) they added gender-specific readings that are not found in the original text (such as changing "brother" to "brother or sister") so that any gender-specific emphasis of the passage is eliminated; and

WHEREAS, This translation obscures significant biblical references to the person and the work of our Lord Jesus Christ by altering references "father," "son," "brother," and "man;" and...TNIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards; and...This translation alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language; and

RESOLVED, That we cannot commend the TNIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.
There is also a significant collection of pastors and theologians who disapprove of TNIV; see the TNIV Response Center for details. Those who voice their objections do seem to be from the sturdier branches of the sola scriptura church, to be sure. Or at least the more conservative.

What I've read from the TNIV New Testament, frankly, doesn't seem that bad to me. It just seems stilted and forced. It does not seem to alter the basic meaning, and one could get used to it. Consider this example from the Book of James, Chapter 2, of the progression from KJV to TNIV:
King James Version
1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.

2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;

1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.

1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes,and a poor person in filthy old clothes also comes in.
KJV is certainly more elegant. It also is a little difficult to immediately grasp the true meaning of the first verse, given today's English usage. The NIV is less elegant, but crisp in its meaning. Finally, TNIV is less crisp. Brothers become "brothers and sisters"; "shabby" becomes "filty old". The entire effect is only apparent to those familiar with the more traditional translations. The harm is that TNIV does some violence to the original translations -- and, in some instances albeit not the extract from James, to their meaning.

Because of this, I will not use the TNIV, and if my church should somehow wish to use it, I would object. On the other hand, if it will bring more people to know Christ, then the TNIV will be a very, very, good thing.

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1.25.2005    |    PoMo Church
The Emerging Church movement (is this a good term?) caught me off guard. The Wikipedia article isn't too helpful, but does give a nice set of links to begin spelunking. The first one I visited is, logically enough, emerging::church, subtitled "postmodern::world."

My first reactions are mixed. The very term "postmodern" for me is like fingernails on a blackboard. It's a jargonish way of saying, "I don't much like what you've done; I'm not going to do anything different, but I'll call it by a sexier-sounding name." PoMo this; deconstruct that. Jacques Derrida, call your office...there's some work here for you.

From emerging::church, this on their "mission context":
today's mission context provides the church with a chance to:

1. shake off any residual "leave it to beaver" orientation and begin swimming (even with a paddleboard) within the postmodern culture.

2. really trust the power of the gospel and learn to communicate it with authenticity, because for postmodern people, authenticity is primary.
This says absolutely nothing. I may not be the most orthodox of Christians, but the Gospel is for me the most authentic thing I have ever, in my entire life, come stumbling across. It does not need "deconstructing."

So my gut reaction is negative. I will not let that stop me from learning more, to see if the emerging church is just another flavor of the month. Or, if it is, truly, a new way to reach people in the 21st century with a new take on a timeless message.

That last phrase, timeless message, may be a giveaway that I'm not really into this project. I believe there are immutable truths. Perhaps emerging church is but a new veneer, a method of presentation that preserves the truths that make us Christians. The message of salvation through Jesus is simple yet powerful, and will stand up to a fresh coat of paint. The only question for me is, are they throwing out the baby Jesus with the proverbial bathwater?

An open mind collects dirt, I've heard said. Nonetheless, I'll continue to read, and, if I can, interact with some people in this movement – and try to see if there is something that might make sense in our church and community.
1.24.2005    |    Tough Love
We all grew up with the image of the "vengeful God" of the Old Testament, as contrasted with the "God of Love" personified in the Word made flesh, Jesus. I used to think that, therefore, God was a) schizophrenic, or, b) had changed, done a heavenly 180 degree turnabout in His outlook. It took me a while, but I've finally come to realize that neither is true. God remains He Who Is, who led the Hebrews out of bondage, promised the land of Israel, and made straight their path -- or smacked them harshly upside the head when they strayed. God does truly love us -- but it is with something we might now call tough love.

One fine example of the Lord's seeming harshness may be found in the Book of Joshua. Consider this little extract that tells of Joshua's carrying out the Lord's commands, and exacting His wrath on the pagans. From Joshua 11:
12 Joshua took all these royal cities and their kings and put them to the sword. He totally destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded. 13 Yet Israel did not burn any of the cities built on their mounds-except Hazor, which Joshua burned. 14 The Israelites carried off for themselves all the plunder and livestock of these cities, but all the people they put to the sword until they completely destroyed them, not sparing anyone that breathed. 15 As the LORD commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses. (emphasis added)
The Lord doesn't get much more "vengeful" than this -- "not sparing anyone that breathed." So where is the love? It is in the very ashes of the vanquished idolators: love the Lord, follow His ways, earn the promised land. Don't do these things, and earn fire.

Fast-forward to the time of Jesus. Some take Jesus' message to love your neighbor, and to love your enemies, to mean that God is now become love, with no negatives. Members of the Church of the Fluffy Bunny may so believe; those who see only the glories of the resurrection on Easter morn (hence the bunnies), ignoring the suffering on this side of the cross -- His, and ours.

In brief, I've learned that God's love is hardly the caricature of love that is too-often portrayed in popular piety. The love that is purely gentle, never harmful. It's sometimes affirmed with that over-used verse, John 3:16. Or at least the first part of the verse. Even here, however, the fullness of God's love still includes a form of vengence, people. God's love is without bound, but it is on us to receive it. The last part of the verse: "...whoever believes in him [Jesus] shall not perish but have eternal life."

There's more than the hint that Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Gentle Shepherd, will not save the unrepentent sinner or those who do not go through Him to the Father. It gets worse, culminating in that lake of fire (you may supply your own metaphor) for those who do not choose Jesus as their savior (Revelation 20).

Can't feel the tough love yet? Jesus Himself lays it down for us in Matthew 7:
13 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
God's love is without bound. But, as the old joke goes, you've got to meet Him halfway. Brethren, God is most surely love. But a tough love. A love that will purify us in His holy fire. Or not, in which case our souls are on that downbound train.

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1.23.2005    |    Respect vs. Tolerance
Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston provided the benediction at George Bush's inaugural this past week. Just as he did in 2001. There were some not very subtle differences, however. Consider the respective endings:
"We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that's above all other names, Jesus, the Christ. Let all who agree say, 'Amen.'"

"Unto you, O God, the one who always has been and always will be the one King of Kings and the true power broker, we glorify and honor you. Respecting persons of all faiths, I humbly submit this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen."
The differences were mentioned in a brief Washington Post article. From that article, we may get some sense as to how far even a pastor may need to go in order to appear at a secular event:
In an interview after the 2001 ceremony, Caldwell, pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, said he had prayed in the manner he had always prayed and apologized if he had offended anyone.

"If I had to do it over again, I probably would not say, 'All who agree, say Amen,' " he said. "Additionally, I probably would not say 'Jesus, the name that's above all other names.' That truly could be interpreted as inflammatory or offensive." (emphasis added)
The good reverend not only apologized for his unabashed Christianity in 2001, but felt the need to soften his benediction by throwing in the gratuitous "Respecting persons of all faiths."

Christians have not always, or even usually, respected persons of all faiths. True enough. In today's world, those who claim to follow Jesus, to believe that He is the Way, must, by definition, love all persons. Jews. Muslims. Hindus. Atheists. Doesn't matter what the person's faith is, we must love the person, who, as we all are, is created in His image.

Unfortunately, that "Respecting persons of all faiths" will likely be heard as the ever-so politically correct, and dead wrong, "Respecting all faiths." There is that unsubtle difference. A Christian should respect all persons. A Christian may only respect his own faith, though we must tolerate the faiths of others. If we consider Christianity to be the truth, then we must, of necessity, accept what Jesus tells us in John 14:6: "No one comes to the Father except through me." Any faith that does not share this one point is false.

Call it a conditional probability. The condition being confessing Jesus as Lord.

Update: Reader Guy commented that we should not tolerate certain faiths, such as Satan worship and Wiccans. Excellent point; I was thinking of the so-called mainstream world religions. He is correct. One must never even tolerate those whose worship includes evil. Or is, of its very nature, evil.
1.22.2005    |    32 years
On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court, divided though they were, discovered a new right: the right to abortion. Getting past all of the legalese and the huckster talk of radical pro-abortion "feminists", what we now have is the presumption of a "right" that is on a par with freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion.

Oh. Sorry. We don't really have freedom of. We seem to have freedom from religion. But that's a subject for other diatribes. We now have the cult of abortion on demand, where even the minimalist restrictions on the horrendous partial-birth abortion (hey, would you like to see your child's brains sucked out?) are considered an infringement on basic constitutional liberties.

I am not without sin myself, but that was before I was reborn in Christ. And now I repent, and urge all to "choose life, so that you and your children may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19). More to the point, the believer must know that God has formed us in the wombs of our mothers.

Scripture is, as usual, a better guide than the various secular groups with their agendas. A few rather pointed quotations from the Giver of Life:
  • Psalm 139:13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb

  • Isaiah 44:22 This is what the LORD says- he who made you, who formed you in the womb

  • Jeremiah 1:5 Before I formed you in the womb I knew you

The picture is clear, just as surely as it was to the early church. Just as surely as it must be to the church today.

It is one of the great shames of the Reformation that many, many, mainline Protestants have been leaders in the rush to kill the unborn. Kill is the correct, unvarnished word. Let's also be clear that not every child is thought a blessing by their parents. Far too many children enter the world unloved, unwanted, only to live short, miserable lives.

It is up to us to reduce to the absolute minimum that misery, to provide loving homes where possible. However, we must also not forget that we are a fallen species, and often must suffer on this side of the great divide. No one should suggest that a child's suffering can be a good thing. But it is what we have. The argument, often made by pro-abortionists, is that we should not let children be born who will be unloved. What they don't accept is that all of us are loved. By God, if not by our fellow man.
1.21.2005    |    Those who have faith are blessed
So Paul writes to the Galatians, in his ringing statement of this truth: We are justified by faith alone; faith in Christ Jesus. Nothing more. Nothing less. Without disrespect to works, we understand that these are works of faith. Works arising from our faith. And not the other way around. From Galatians 3, Paul's words are direct. Some would say politically incorrect:
6 Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." 9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." 11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith. 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
But wait, some say, what about Jesus' brother James, in his letter, when he writes (James 2:17) "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." True enough. But one should not build a theology on this isolated statement. Works are the natural product of faith. Not the other way around. Jesus' very death on the Cross tells us that fallen mankind could never, ever, have been redeemed by works, by just living under the Law.

To believe otherwise is to claim He died in vain. Paul is correct. No amount of works can justify, if they come not from faith.

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1.20.2005    |    "Berkeley-style liberalism"
These words are intoned by a sympathiser, and a Muslim (by definition; see below) writing for the Gray Lady on the annual pilgrimage that Muslims make to Mecca.

The article positively gushes with good things about Mecca; about what a fine, tolerant, and (ugh) diversity. The story is headlined with this editorial note: Islamic Pilgrims Bring Cosmopolitan Air to Unlikely City. Wow. Cosmopolitan. Diverse. The trailer for the article, on the front page, carefully notes that "the holy city" is "one of the most open and liberal in the Muslim world." Which is, of course, not a very high bar to leap. From the story, these editorialized basics (hey, it's the Times; you expected straight news?):
Rare in most of the Muslim world, the willingness to debate and raise seemingly taboo questions is standard here in the birthplace of Islam and the site of the hajj, the annual pilgrimage beginning Wednesday that attracts about 1.5 million Muslims from all corners of the world for five days of meditation, prayer and, often, vigorous debate.

In workshops and meeting rooms, at schools and mosques in the city, the freewheeling discussion of theology, history and politics lives on. And if this intellectual melee was any indicator, the debate is quite civilized - no raised voices, no threats, no personal attacks.

In Mecca, Dr. Bagader said later, that is the way. "This city is a stage where people from all over the world can come and find an audience to listen to them," says Dr. Bagader, a Meccan native. "There is an acceptance of being different here."
Well, not exactly. No Christians allowed. No Hindus allowed. And most certainly no "sons of pigs and monkeys" allowed. Oh, you, dear reader, may not be a Muslim, so I'd best translate that last: The Perfidious Jews.

To call Mecca tolerant or diverse is to either not understand the meaning of these words, or to be so blinded by bigotry as to not even realize the truth. Islam claims to be a religion of peace open to all, and it is certain that anyone, regardless of skin color or ethnicity, is welcome to become a Muslim -- except perhaps for black Africans in the Darfur region of Sudan, but, hey, who's counting? As for the "peace", what kind of a reception do you suppose a Christian preaching the Gospel would receive in Mecca?

Well, this apologetic for Islam raves on about the glories of free intellectual discourse, and that is hardly a bad thing. But it is only one necessary thing for a free society. The more important, and necessary, part is to invite your neighbors in for some coffee and dates, and to not banish them because they do not share your religion.

As for the "Berkeley-style liberalism" in the title, consider this from the article:
All that has resulted in an unlikely liberalism - not quite a Berkeley-style liberalism, but still a striking oasis of open thought and discussion in a world of hardened politics and interests.
The author is wrong. Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and Islam in general all exhibit, precisely, a "Berkeley-style liberalism", in which only the prevailing creed may be preached. Meccan "liberalism," to the extent it exists at all , operates only within a narrow band of Islam. No other creeds are allowed to be heard in the Muslim public square.

All of this is reported upon in the West, at least in the mainstream media, as unremarkable, and usually without negative commentary. Imagine the reportage should there be a Christian pilgrimage at which non-Christians were not just prohibited, but at which they would take their very lives in their hands to dare to voice a contrary creed in public. Something tells me that the media would scream in outrage about us heartless, bigoted Christians.

It is far past time that people recognize Islam for what it is as it is now practiced -- an intolerant and bigoted religion.
1.19.2005    |    Prayer Request
A prayer request, from Chaplain (Captain) Lyle Shackelford, who is Battalion Chaplain, HHD, 57th Transportation Battalion (Hat tips to secundum Christum, who in turn got the request via Blackfive, the Paratrooper of Love). The prayers are for the safe completion of the vital job of delivering voting machines and ballots throughout Iraq.

The Chaplain's request:
As a transportation battalion, my unit will be delivering the voting machines and the ballots to villages and cities throughout Iraq during the upcoming elections. (January 30/31) Our convoys are prime targets for the insurgents because they do not want the equipment to arrive at the polling stations nor do they want the local Iraqi citizens to have the chance to vote; timely delivery must occur so that the elections occur.

Encourage your friends and family members and those within our churches to pray specifically for the electoral process. Historically, the previous totalitarian regime would not allow individual citizens to vote.

Democracy will not be realized in Iraq if intelligent and competent officials are not elected to those strategic leadership positions within the emerging government; freedom will not have an pportunity to ring throughout this country if the voting process fails. Announce this prayer! request to your contacts throughout your churches, neighborhoods, and places of business.

Those with leadership roles within the local church post this message in as many newsletters and bulletins as possible. There is unlimited potential for God's presence in this process but if we do not pray then our enemy will prevail (See Ephesians 6:10-17). A prayer vigil prior to the end of the month may be an innovative opportunity for those within your sphere of influence to pray.

This is a political battle that needs spiritual intervention. A powerful story about God's intervention in the lives of David's mighty men is recorded in 2 Samuel 23:8-33. David and his warriors were victorious because of God's intervention. We want to overcome those who would stand in the way of freedom. David's mighty men triumphed over incredible odds and stood their ground and were victorious over the enemies of Israel. (Iraqi insurgents' vs.! God's praying people). They don't stand a chance. I will pray with my soldiers before they leave on their convoys and move outside our installation gates here at Tallil.

My soldiers are at the nerve center of the logistic operation to deliver the voting machines and election ballots. They will be driving to and entering the arena of the enemy. This is not a game for them it is a historical mission that is extremely dangerous. No voting machines or ballots. No elections. Your prayer support and God's intervention are needed to give democracy a chance in this war torn country. Thank you for reading this e-mail. Please give this e-mail a wide dissemination.

Thank you for your prayer support for me and my family. Stand firm in your battles.

Lyle CH (CPT) Lyle Shackelford
Battalion Chaplain
HHD, 57th Transportation Battalion
They've got my prayers, and I'll pass this along to our deacons. The second citation, from Ephesians 6, is something we should recall, whenever we have a struggle with evil:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.

Amen, and pray.
   |    Jots and Tittles
At its most basic, our Christian faith is based on Deuteronomy 6:5 (all citations from the NIV): Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. We could argue day and night about the ins and outs of the Law as laid down by God in the Torah, but our Lord tells us, with great simplicity that this is really all there is.

Well, not quite all. There is also this item, picked up from Leviticus 19:18: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. Now, as He was also the Author, I’d like to think that Jesus knew of what He spoke to the Israelites. Difference being, Jesus now widens the context of “your people.” No longer are “your people” limited to the literal tribes of Israel. Rather, all people may now join and become part of the new Israel through belief in Him.

In context, we have Jesus wrapping up all of the laws expressed in Torah thusly: From Matthew 22:
36 Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Earlier in Matthew, Jesus had rather specifically rebuked the notion that the Mosaic Law was abolished. Rather, He had come to fulfil it; to give it flesh as it were, and to deepen our understanding of what it meant to be observant. From Matthew 5:
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
So, the believing Christian asks, “does this mean no more bacon”? And should we not have Mezuzot on our doorposts, as clearly mandated by Deuteronomy 6:9? Here is where Biblical literalists can get their knickers in a twist. My answer is we don’t need to follow the literal details, down to the “jots and tittles”, to use the King James’ terminology. Yet Jesus says those are still in effect.

On the other hand, and in Bible study there's always another hand, if Jesus embodies the fulfillment of the Law in His incarnation, why should we sweat those pesky little details? My response, for what it's worth, is that Jesus, as the living Word, tells us in His earthly ministry to sweat the big things, and the small things will fall into place. And those big things are, of course, loving the Lord, totally, without hint of reservation -- but not confusing ritual acts with love.
1.18.2005    |    Salty
"They're the salt of the earth." How many times have you heard this by now trite phrase? Normally rendered as a compliment, it's origins are in Matthew 5:13 (KJV):
13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Salt is one of those staples we take for granted, an essential nutrient now over-used. It is curious to think that salt has been the focus of revolution (in India), or that any imperial power would have been so foolish as to tax something essential (for preserving food in a time before most people had refrigeration) used by virtually all classes.

One who is "the salt of the earth" may be thought of as be common; of no distinction. Jesus clearly thought otherwise. His view was in harmony with the essential nature of salt. As that which preserves, as that which seasons, as that without which life loses, well, its flavor. Mostly, however, as that which helps our fellow men and women to live their lives.
1.17.2005    |    Pesky John
My namesake is John the Evangelist, but in my heart of hearts, I think it should have been John the Baptist. I make no claims to personally measuring up to either John, mind you. It's just that preaching the Kingdom come, in the person of Jesus, has to have been the greatest evangelization the world has ever seen.

From the inestimable King James Version, from Matthew 3:
1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias [Isaiah], saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

4 And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,

6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
Well, John the B. went on, annoying the self-righteous, and knowing that his cuz, Jesus, was on His way. John combined zeal for the Lord with humility -- it was not about him. It was about Him. And only Him. Still in Matthew 3:
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire
It may be useful to imagine the scene; place yourself in the picture as John, or as one who is about to be baptized. Listen to what John is saying: "he that cometh after me is mightier than I"...and you, and me. But here comes the Son of Man, Jesus, to...repent and be baptized? Doesn't make sense, does it? For the fully divine Jesus to seek baptism by John? Yes, because Jesus was also fully human.

No, of course Jesus did not need to repent for Himself. He needed to repent for our sins. John at first demurs -- who is John to baptize Jesus? Matthew 6:
13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

4 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
Now here comes what we might call the money quote from Matthew 6, when the Holy Spirit descends to seal Jesus' status as the Son of God:
16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Imagine you are there; imagine John's reaction to seeing this; to taking it all in, and knowing, in his bones, that his prophesy of the coming of the Lord is true. John later comes to a bad end, as we all know. But words can not express the honor to have been the prophet who baptized the Lord.

Think, especially, on what John did the next time you think you've accomplished something really nifty in your life. I know that I do. And it humbles me each and every time.
1.16.2005    |    Evangelical Christians: Friends or Foes of the Jews?
[note: this is a post from a defunct blog of mine from May 2002. I thought it worth publishing anew as still being topical.]

It has become conventional wisdom that evangelical Christians are now among the best friends of the Jews. The principal reason usually cited is the role of the Jews and Israel in Christian theology, especially the Book of Revelation. In Christian (as well as Jewish) theology, the re-establishment of the State of Israel is a necessary (but not by itself sufficient) event, leading to the coming of the messiah and the end times, including the Final Judgment of all mankind by God. The messiah makes a first appearance, according to Jewish theology, and, in my Christian theology, the second -- when Jesus Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead.

A second, and not less important reason for support is the fact that in the Torah, God promises the land that is now Israel, including Samaria and Judea (today's West Bank), to the descendants of Jacob i.e. the Jews. Christians include the Torah in their canon as the first five books of what we call the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures.

Same story; same belief. Fundamentalists of both faiths (using this term in a non-pejorative way) truly believe that this promise was made and was made exactly as written. End of story. Hence, how can a believing Jew or Christian go against the word of God?

However, and there always seems to be a "however" whenever religions interact, a necessary part of Christian theology is the conversion of the remnant of Israel, i.e. the Jews, in the end times. They will be given first dibs, so to speak, after those who had been saved in their lifetimes. This is clearly prophesied in the Book of Revelation.

Conversion of all who are not Christian is, of course, the sine qua non for evangelical Christians. We are only following our prime directive from Jesus to "go and baptize all of the nations" (Matthew 28:19). In my view, all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord must, definitionally, agree with this directive -- whether or not they consider themselves "evangelicals". We may disagree about methods between and even within denominations, but how can any Christian deny our Lord's command?

We who believe these words thus have no choice but to do this (or at least try). Trying to baptize all Jews, however, has had some rather unpleasant historical consequences (e.g. the Spanish Inquisition), so anything tied to mass conversion would tend be looked upon with (at best) a wary eye by Jews. To say the least.

So why this embrace by Jews (especially neoconservatives) of a group that might be more naturally situated as an adversary? The short answer is that the survival of Israel is so important that Jews must embrace any group that sincerely believes that Israel must exist. The longer answer is more nuanced. On the "buyer beware" side, The New Republic's Peter Beinert poses a caution (article may be found here). Mr. Beinert concludes his piece with this rather absolute statement: "Ultimately, if you don't love Israel for what it is, you can't be trusted to love it at all."

I must respectfully disagree, and urge those who care about Israel and neoconservatism to read Mr. Beinert's article but also consider these rebuttals:

1. The New Republic is quite liberal in its tone, using that term (liberal) in its neoconservative framing -- a product of the Enlightenment, i.e. open to many points of view but tending towards individual liberty at the expense of centralized power, be it church, synagogue, or government. However, it is also highly secular and somewhat dismissive of those on the "religious right". It also has an author who thinks Senator McCain should run for President as a Democrat, but, hey, no one's perfect...

2. The fundamentalist approach (again, using the word in its literal meaning), among modern Christians and so-called Modern Orthodox Jews, does not preclude a partial give-away of land to form a Palestinian Arab state. It is very hard to think that otherwise practical politicians as adept at their jobs as Reps. Armey and DeLay truly believe that it is all or nothing with regards Israel. That is, ceding any parcel of land to form a nascent Palestinian state somehow completely undoes God's covenant with Israel. They are too modern and pragmatic for that.

3. Modern believers (including your friendly author) must temper their messianic tendencies in the cold, hard, light of today's realities. We might believe that all of Samaria and Judea belong rightfully to the Jews (they do), but often, in human time, we must make adjustments in order to not lose our humanity. What kind of Jew or Christian truly wants to see millions of Palestinians herded onto buses or rail cars, just as was done to the Jews in Hitler's Europe? The answer is that Palestinians also are children of the same, caring God. They just need better leaders. Correction: They need leaders, period, in lieu of terrorists.

[The jury remains deadlocked over whether the Holocaust-denying, "Zionist enemy" declaring Abbas will be a real improvement over the late, unlamented Arafat.]

The bottom line is that practical men and women of good will, regardless of religious fervor, should and must support Israel. Not because it's written in the Bible. But because it is the right thing to do, to support a democratic, market-economy state that has the potential to improve the lot of all who cooperate with her. And I firmly believe that is why the bulk of the so-called Christian Right (in which the liberal mainstream media usually loosely includes evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Biblical fundamentalists) will stick with Israel, even as she negotiates a peaceful solution.

That the path to such a peace may involve opening great big ol' cans of whup-ass on the Palestinian terrorists and their Syrian- and Iranian Hamas friends is the price the Palestinians pay for their lack of vision. They are victims, yes -- victims of their own making (the cheering in the streets of Ramallah and other Palestinian towns on 9/11 still echoes...).
1.15.2005    |    Hast thou not known?
Some of the finest words ever committed to paper, and to the scrolls in the original. By Isaiah, and words just as relevant to today's world as the day they were written. From the King James Version, Isaiah 40:
28 Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.
29 He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Think on this the next time you doubt you have the strength to carry one. You do.
1.14.2005    |    Shalom?
A full-page ad appears in today's New York Times, headlined "A Call for Peacemaking." It is sponsored by a left-leaning Jewish group calling itself "The Shalom Center" Shalom, of course, being the Hebrew word for "peace." By which these folks seem to mean intellectual and moral surrender. The ad is typical left-leaning fare: all problems may be placed at America's doorstep, we are evil, and only the "international community" has the moral standing to save the world.

Actually, that's a little harsh. But the ad, and the Shalom Center website, have a mix of new-age Jewish spirituality, liberal politics (very liberal), and a kumbayah-ish approach: one may almost hear the ever-sincere birkenstock-wearing Volvo-driving libs whine, "can't we all just get along?"

The ad, which is particularly offensive in that it carelessly, and with saccharine tugs on the heartstrings, tells us that we all, Jews, Christians, Muslims, "are members of the families of Abraham." The true gist of Shalom Center might be expressed by this bit of wishful thinking in the ad:
Our traditions teach us to have compassion, seek justice, and pursue peace for all peoples.
At the risk of being insensitive, this is just so much intellectual porridge. Mush, in another word. To be certain, all three "traditions" contain these noble thoughts. The three so-called Abrahamic faiths, however, could not be more different in their foundations and in how those foundations have played out in human history.

Firstly, my comment on liberal Jews generally is that they have, indeed, built upon the finest points of compassion and justice that God has given to mankind. That they are mistaken in many of their intepretations is only human. But let's go back to the foundation -- God Almighty, who instructs His people Israel to both mercy, and to justice. Divinely inspired, and, in the Hebrew Scripture, often divinely carried out.

And a harsh justice it may seem to us moderns. And which is virtually ignored by groups such as Shalom Center. God, in keeping Israel on the narrow path, has slaughtered those who stray. By way of example, consider this commandment from God, which is binding on a faithful Jew (Deuteronomy 13):
12 If you hear it said about one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you to live in 13 that wicked men have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. Destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock.
I don't sense much compassion here for those pesky idolaters; I'd hate to see what the Big Guy might make of a Super Bowl half-time show. In short, starry-eyed proponents of "peace in our time" through the good offices of the "international community" blithely ignore the judgment of the Lord on sinners. God is both mercy, and justice -- and sorry, that justice isn't just about a living wage.

Just so you know I'm not picking on the Jews qua Jews, I know that Christians may have fine-sounding words of peace from our Savior in the Gospels, but then our "traditions" have often been anything but peaceful and compassionate. As for Muslims, suffice to say that they got their start by perverting the very Scriptures shared by Jews and Christians in the first place. Virtually their entire history has been one of violent conquest and conversion at the point of a sword. Islamic compassion, as was most recently demonstrated in their approach to relief efforts in Indonesia, for the most part appears limited to fellow Muslims. The Koran, and "traditions" both seem to emphasize the conversion, subjugation, or, if these fail, killing of the "infidel" -- mostly Jews and Christians, but including Buddhists and Hindus.

Just in case you've not been keeping up with current events, Shalom Center. The shalom that they pursue would likely result in the peace of the grave for far too many Jews and Christians.
   |    FDR, Theocrat
Found, at Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus, this little bit of mischief:
For a little piece I've just written — which I'll share with you later — I reviewed some old inaugural addresses. Please have a listen to the final paragraphs of FDR's fourth (and last — this was January 1945):

"The Almighty God has blessed our land in many ways. He has given our people stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike mighty blows for freedom and truth. He has given our country a faith which has become the hope of all peoples in an anguished world.

"So we pray to Him now for the vision to see our way clearly — to see the way that leads to a better life for ourselves and for all our fellow men — to the achievement of His will, to peace on earth."

Who can doubt that, if FDR talked that way today, he would be branded a "theocrat"? A dangerous kook who knows nothing about the "separation of church and state." Who, indeed, hates the Constitution, and this country, really.
Now, FDR is the patron saint of today's liberals and right-thinking (meaning left-leaning) cognoscenti. I haven't asked any of them, but I would bet dollars to donuts that they would explain away President Roosevelt's obvious belief in the Almighty as being, somehow, an artifact of his times.

They may be right in that; 60 years ago we were not afraid to call ourselves a Christian nation. Which did not mean we had an established church. Which did not mean that those of other faiths were not allowed religious freedom. Atheists were unpopular, but tolerated. As they are today, now that we've come to the brink of not considering ourselves a Christian nation.

The difference is that now, in 2005, it is the atheists and their friends in academia, the media, Hollywood, etc., who set the agenda. It is now Christians who must defend their right to do things in the public square that were commonplace in 1945. Things like prayer in public. Things like a liberal president, FDR, invoking God Almighty in his inaugural. And raising not one peep of protest.
1.13.2005    |    "we're there to help, period"
Thus opines an ordained minister of a Christian church. The context is this story concerning the rescue of Indonesian tsunami orphans and their placement in a Christian home:
A Virginia-based missionary group said this week that it has airlifted 300 "tsunami orphans" from the Muslim province of Banda Aceh to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, where it plans to raise them in a Christian children's home.
That is the story, but it is the subtext that is also worthy of note. The presumption appears to be that it is acceptable for Christian missionary groups to render aid, but only on the condition that they don't evangelize. The group is World Help, and they are really stepping up and into the gap.

Unfortunately, it appears that may have run afoul of the mainstream media's presumption that Christians are ok, just as long as they don't try to convert the heathen. The heathen in this case being Indonesian Muslims. Sadly, the media has company in the form of some Christians who appear more concerned with making nice with Muslims than with spreading the Gospel. From the story, the tag line explained:
The Rev. Arthur B. Keys Jr., president of Arlington-based International Relief and Development, a non-religious aid group that has a U.S. government contract to rebuild the water and sanitation system in Banda Aceh, said he feared overt evangelizing could produce a backlash. "I think there's a danger that all international groups could be tarnished by this," said Keys, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. "I think we have to go out of our way to assure people that we're there to help, period."
By which Mr. Keys means, we will help tsunami victims, but not spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not to criticize any who help; much is needed. And there is something unseemly about so-called Christian missionaries who, right off the bat, hand out Bibles and start singing hymns while villagers are starving.

It's just that the mindset seems to be, even among many churches and missionary groups, that there is something a little bit embarrassing about preaching the Gospel as part of helping. We should never be shamed out of declaring that we are there to help in the name of Jesus. And that to come to know Jesus will also help.

Of course, medical attention, food, clothing, and shelter come first. But, aside from a false sense of embarrassment, or political correctness, there is no reason we can't preach the Gospel while providing these other essentials -- for the Gospel is also an essential.

That the locals may be offended? Hard cheese. We are there to help. That the powers that be are not Christian is at the heart of why we must preach the Gospel. The down side? The locals, being perhaps self-righteous, will feel threatened. And, since Muslim governments are generally not known for their religious tolerance, may simply refuse the proffered aid. In which case, the people suffer.

Which Christians will not let happen if they have a choice. In such a case, my advice to the mission groups would be to smile sweetly, thank the locals for letting us provide assistance in their nation, and go underground with the Gospel message. Providing the aid, and getting the Gospel message across as best we can without causing those in need to go without just because their government is cruel.

Update: Sadly, the plans to save, in the worldly sense, those 300 tsunami orphans, have been canceled due to the Indonesian government's cowardice. Washington Post story here.

It's worth considering this, from Rev. Vernon Brewer, president of World Help:
In the message Thursday, Brewer said he makes "no apologies for the fact that World Help is a Christian organization." He said the organization was now seeking other orphaned children in need of a home and was making every effort to ensure that all funds raised for tsunami children are used as designated.

"We're really not trying to proselytize," Brewer said in an interview with Reuters. "It's no different than what Mother Teresa did by taking Hindu orphan children and placing them in a Roman Catholic children's home in Calcutta, and she won the Nobel Peace Prize for doing that."
Res ipsa loquitur.
   |    "Repent and be baptized"
All Christians believe (or should) that baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a necessary part of being Christian. It is, after all, a kind of invitation to the prom -- the prom being the great dance with our Savior. Through the ages, there have been controversies, great and small, over who shall be baptized, what method is correct, and what it all might mean.

Reviewing some extensive source material gathered by The Church of the threshold, one may spend hours perusing the fine points of the theology of baptism. It is easy to see how sectarian strife starts. One group insists that infant baptism is the only way, and that an unbaptized person will go to hell. Others, especially since the Reformation, claim that the only valid baptism is that of believers, and, oh, by the way, it had better be by full immersion. Just a coincidence that Roman Catholics and Anglicans often practice baptism by pouring water, not full immersion. And let's not even get started with the re-baptizers (Anabaptists).

What is truly sad is that some denominations, and some congregations within denominations, do not necessarily accept as valid a baptism done by any way other than that prescribed by themselves. Or, in the case of the Roman Church, do not consider all baptized Christians to be worthy of communion. My sense is that these are all artificial, man-made divisions. As opposed to God-made divisions. Those who might think that their church has God's full approval and that others do not should think again.

I'm no theologian, so I don't have a textbook position on the matter. I can only go to my core beliefs. I am a Baptist, but wasn't personally baptized by full immersion. I was baptized, by water, as an adult believer, and know that baptism is only effective by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, baptism is just a bath (or a shower, if that is your method). Oh, and since I'm also not a very good Calvinist, I must acknowledge that once the Holy Spirit opens the way, it's helpful if you don't refuse. In other words, God proposes and disposes, but we may still use our free will to accept, or not accept, this unearned gift.

Sidebar: volumes have been written on whether we are able to refuse the gift of salvation from God. My sense is that men are so depraved as to be able to resist almost anything good -- even as their resistance dooms them. The good news is that many hear the Good News, believe, repent, and are baptized by the Holy Spirit. Which is the only way this thing can work. We can all argue about the gritty details in heaven.

My authority is simple: the Gospel. From Mark 16:16, our Savior tells us
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
The key word is "believes." Everything else, method, time, place, stikes me as optional. I can not speak for anyone other than myself, but I believe that water itself is indeed, optional -- an outward sign of our belief and repentance.

Yes, it is Biblical. From Matthew 3:6:
Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
So, does this mean that no baptism is legitimate unless performed in the Jordan River? Then there's the literal meaning of the word "baptism", usually (but not always) taken to mean "dunking" or "immersion." Or even "drowning," which last actually abides comfortably with the notion that when we are baptized we die to sin, and are born again in Christ Jesus.

My advice to all churches would be to look to the Gospel for advice, but not to the extent that we deny the work of the Holy Spirit. God knows what is is in our hearts; He will not be fooled by outward signs, and He will not be convinced that any particular church's method of baptism is the only way that He may save us.
1.12.2005    |    Hey, get your free book...
Well, if your entry is drawn. There is no cost. Tim Challies of Challies.com is giving away two signed copies of a Christian-themed book. From his website:
Each month, for as many months as I can convince authors to sign and send their books to me, I will be giving away two copies of a Christian book autographed by the author.
By the way, you may use this referral number when prompted: 20253. Why? Self-interest. It improves my chances.

Either way, check it out; an interesting way to evangelize.
   |    In case you were wondering...
...about other religions, here is a fascinating website, "The World Religions Index", with information on the world's major faiths. Found via link from SmartChristian.com.

As with much else on the web, your mileage may vary. In other words, there will almost always be second opinions on subjects as intensely personal as faith. And third opinions. And fourth...

However, getting past my cynical side, Dr. Andrew Jackson's SmartChristian.com appears to be a great resource -- check it out. And, for Dr. Jackson, for doing all the hard work to present SmartChristian, thank you and God's blessings on you.
1.11.2005    |    Forgive and forget?
"For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." Thus speaks the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah. This was the starting point of this past Sunday's sermon. The message was that if we have not forgotten sins against us, we have not truly forgiven them.

The full context is Jeremiah 31:31-34:
31 "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD.
33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD', because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
This is strange, at least on its surface. How could God not "remember" something? Clearly what is meant is that God chooses to not dwell on the sins He has forgiven. And God is our measure in how we are to act towards those who sin against us.

What is also apparent is that God's "forgetting" past sins is conditioned on renewal of His covenant, and this time, having the people not stray from it. In a word: repentance, which is implied by "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts." The renewed covenant, if written on the hearts of the people, will be honored. They will sin no more in this regard.

Well, we know God has infinite capacity for forgiveness. Good thing, too, as His people Israel, now including Christians, continue to sin. As for how this works in the here and now, our pastor advises that we literally forget the sins against us, and forgive the sinner. To get the sins out of our minds; to neither think nor dwell on them. Now what's missing is the answer to the question: How do we stop the same sin from happening again and again?

The answer must be, "we can not." There are no guarantees. Sin is all around us; we are immersed in it as a natural part of our fallen world. We take our chances in the world.

What about, for want of a better term, global or national sins? Here's where it gets a little complex. We must, as Christians, forgive individuals who sin against us. What about large groups, such as nation-states who sin? Well, sins are committed not by groups, but by individuals. We should forgive all individuals as individuals, and forget their individual guilt -- if they repent. If they keep on sinning, it becomes impossible to forget -- although not to forgive, as many times as is takes. From Matthew 18:
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"
22 Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventyseven times".
By which He meant, of course, a really, really large number of times. None of this means that we don't stop sinners from hurting us, or others. Jesus is forgiving, with infinite mercy -- yet he also hates sin. It's a trait He got from His Dad. It's something we who are pale images of Him must also attempt -- forgive as many times as it takes, while hating sin, and doing our level best to stop it from hurting our flock.
1.10.2005    |    On Reading Scripture
I consider myself a modern, post-Enlightenment man. Not subject to superstitions; not prone to imagine ghosts and ghoulies. Trained as an engineer, I pride myself on being a factual man -- if something is true, then it is. If it is not, it is not. There being no middle ground; nothing left to mystery.

Many years ago, however, I came to the realization that while this may be true of things of this world, it is not true for things beyond this world. Scripture spans both of these; it being here and now, in this world, of course. It is something that is tangible; I can pick up a Bible, I may read it (or not) as any other physical book.

And yet Scripture also transcends the mundane, in the root meaning of that word -- mundus, which in Latin connotes the secular, as against the church's world. Because Scripture is a gift to us from beyond time and space, we read it as though through a very warped lens.

Those who would claim that a certain translation of Scripture into English (or any other language) is the literal word of God put far too much faith in the mortal men who were His agents. The literalists stand nicely opposed, and with about as much logic, by those who, having read the Word, dismiss it out of hand as being rubbish because it requires a certain suspension of belief in things that they have not been a personal witness to.

In this, I'm not in the middle, somewhere between these two positions. My sense of Scripture is that it is God's pure handiwork, corrupted by men. I believe, in my core, that God has given us His truth in Scripture -- His truth, without error. Errors made were made, and continue to be made, by men in our attempts to interpret the those truths.

Scripture should be read for both its surface text, i.e. its literal meaning, and for the underlying truths that undergird and support the literal text. I may not believe that every word in the Bible is the literal truth, yet I know that every word is supported by His greater truth. When we are told not to murder, this is clear. When we are told to not each things which creepeth and crawleth (see, for example, the shopping list in Leviticus 11), this is less so. After all, Jesus, in Mark 7:18-20 has told us, "18...Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? 19 For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods 'clean.'). That's the Big Guy talking; He knows.

Those who wish to think every word literally true must accuse God of some kind of schizophrenia, or, of somehow, changing His mind after a cosmic blink of the eye of only 1200 or so years. This is but one problem on seemingly mutually contradictory passages. When I read Scripture, these are some of the pitfalls were I to look only at the surface text.

Hence I must, as I believe we all must, delve into the spirit, letting the Holy Spirit be our Scriptural reading guide. This is what I attempt; often failing. But even when I fail, I always learn something when I read His Word. That makes the trip worthwhile. Sometimes, when the transcendant meaning comes through, a time of Lectio Divina, why, that's when the dividends paid are beyond price.
1.09.2005    |    Hitler's Pope at it again?
A new piece of evidence, or alleged evidence, has surfaced in the campaign to paint Pope Pius XII as a willing accomplice of the Nazis. From the story, in the New York Times, this new evidence is described thusly:
The one-page, typewritten directive, dated Oct. 23, 1946, was discovered in a French church archive outside Paris and made available to The New York Times on the condition that the source would not be disclosed. It is a list of instructions for French authorities on how to deal with demands from Jewish officials who want to reclaim Jewish children.
There is evidence alluded to in the story that, while it is unsigned, it had the (at least) tacit approval of the Pope, Pius XII at the time. All of this would be unexceptional, except that it involves a battle now raging for and against the pending beatification of said Pius.

The essence of the argument against the church, assuming that the document is real, is that French church authorities did not return some Jewish children to their families after the war. The overall context is that the church in France saved many Jewish children from the Holocaust, quite a few were baptized, many others had lost their parents in the Holocaust. Some unbaptized children were not reunited with their families.

"Hitler's Pope" is the appelation used by those who believe that the church should have done much, much, more to protest the Holocaust and protect the Jews of Europe. See, especially, this diatribe in book form by John Cornwell, "Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII". The church at this time makes an easy target, at least from the comfort of the 21st century America.

My opinion is that the church proved itself unworthy of the name church of Christ by what it failed to do. Dietrich Bonhoeffer proved that point, and it's nothing to do with being Reformed, Lutheran, or Catholic. It's to do with being Christian. That, however, does not make Pius XII "Hitler's Pope." It makes him, just as I am, and you are, fallen creatures; imperfect, trying to do good and coming up short.

This new revelation might be genuine; it might not. What I would ask those harsh critics of the Catholic Church to reflect on is this: would those children have been better off had they not been baptized and saved from the Nazis? And, of those who were not baptized but were not released to their families, is it perhaps the case that many, if not most of those who had lost their immediate families, might have been better off staying where they were until they had reached adulthood?

This is not to exonerate the church for its failures. But we owe it to our fellow Christians to at least consider the whole picture before we so readily condemn them.
1.08.2005    |    American Creed
David Gelernter has written a brilliant, provocative, yet almost self-intuitive essay in Commentary that links the Puritans with modern-day Americanism. The essence of his argument would not surprise most Protestants -- America is the "new Israel", the shining city on the hill, and the source of our polity is nothing more nor less than the Bible. Both Testaments. Mr. Gelernter, properly, refers to this as our Judeo-Christian heritage. His thesis, however, is no paean to multiculturalism. He grounds his faith, and mine (Protestant), and our shared political faith, in Scripture. It was the faith of the Puritans; it remains our national faith to this day. And it helps explain why America is so hated.

The Puritans have become symbols for most Americans, and, except at Thanksgiving, not usually good ones. Yet it was the Puritans, and their descendants, who were the ones who gave us our freedom from England, and then led in extending that freedom to all Americans. Not exclusively, of course. The cause of American liberty was just as much at home in Church of England Virginia as it was in Congregationalist Boston -- yet it was the northerners who had the more radical view of individual liberty (with no disrespect to Patrick Henry or TJ, of course). This would be the natural result of a brave people, the Puritans, who had crossed the ocean just for the chance to be free of an established church and its intermediaries between the citizen and God.

Mr. Gelernter reminds us of some basic history of the Puritans in America, which many Americans either have forgotten or were not taught in the first place. After all, those Puritans do not measure up to our oh-so-advanced understanding of morality. They actually enforced morality. And burned witches (well, some did). I never said that Puritans were modern in everything, but since their justice was rooted in Scripture, as opposed to mortal man, a citizen at least knew what was expected. Puritans are widely misunderstood, and, let's be frank, they weren't always willing to accept those whose salvation focus was on free will:
Puritanism had two main elements: the Calvinist belief in predestination with associated religious doctrines, and what we might call a “political” doctrine. The “political” goal of Puritanism was to reach back to the pure Christianity of the New Testament—and then even farther back. Puritans spoke of themselves as God’s new chosen people, living in God’s new promised land—in short, as God’s new Israel.

I believe that Puritanism did not drop out of history. It transformed itself into Americanism. This new religion was the end-stage of Puritanism: Puritanism realized among God’s self-proclaimed “new” chosen people—or, in Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable phrase, God’s “almost chosen people.”
As a Baptist, I can attest that the essence of religious Puritanism was the rejection, as being Biblically unsound, of the forms and hierarchy of the established church (Church of England for the Puritans, but also Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches). Since we don't need a priesthood to properly worship God, does not this form also one of the pillars of the so-called secular Enlightenment? The primacy of the individual and his conscience? I'd say yes, and for this reason alone one may see a direct and iron-like connection between the Puritans and the American experiment.

Mr. Gelernter expands on the development of our American creed, based on Scripture:
The fundamental fact: the Bible is God’s word. Two premises: first, every member of the American community has his own individual dignity, insofar as he deals individually with God; second, the community has a divine mission to all mankind. Three conclusions: every human being everywhere is entitled to freedom, equality, and democracy.

In the American creed, both premises and all three conclusions refer back to the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible. Americans have defined the “community” of the premises more and more broadly over the years, until it has grown to encompass the whole population of adult citizens—thus bringing the premises gradually into line with the universal conclusions. Today there is pressure to define the community more broadly still, so that it includes (for example) illegal as well as legal residents.

Freedom, equality, democracy: the Declaration held these truths to be self-evident, but “self-evident” they were certainly not. Otherwise, America would hardly have been the first nation in history to be built on this foundation. Deriving all three from the Bible, theologians of Americanism understood these doctrines not as philosophical ideas but as the word of God. Hence the fervor and passion with which Americans believe their creed. Americans, virtually alone in the world, insist that freedom, equality, and democracy are right not only for France and Spain but for Afghanistan and Iraq.
It's fascinating, isn't it, that the American creed, directly traceable to folks we would label as "fundamentalist" Christians today, have their modern echoes among the camp of those pesky Jewish (many, not all) "neoconservatives." After all, to listen to some, such as Pat Buchanan, one might conclude that our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq are solely the work of American Jews who are, in Pitchfork Pat's indomitable words, members of Israel's "amen corner."

The Jewish connection is emphasized in the article, and rightly so. It was up to Protestants generally, and Puritans in particular, to restore the Hebrew scriptures to their rightful, foundational place in Christian history. In fact, it's been often said, usually by enemies of Christianity from within, that Martin Luther and John Calvin and other early Protestants were "Judaizers."

This theme is expanded upon by the author, who, for example, notes that "[T]he Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, often called the “first written constitution of modern democracy,” were inspired not by democratic Athens or republican Rome or Enlightenment philosophy but by a Puritan preacher’s interpretation of a verse in the Hebrew Bible". And, although this might surprise and even offend some nominally Christian Americans (not to mention millions of non-Americans), he further traces our liberty directly to the Old Testament:
...classical Israel’s (and classical Zionism’s) contribution to Americanism is incalculable. No modern historian or thinker I am aware of—not Huntington or Morison or Perry or Mead or Perry Miller or even Martin Marty or Sydney Ahlstrom—has done justice to this extraordinary fact. They seem to have forgotten what the eminent 19th-century Irish historian William Lecky recognized: that “Hebraic mortar cemented the foundations of American democracy.”
The author's principal contribution is, therefore, to make a bridge that spans the gulf from the ancient Israelites, to Protestant Christians, to modern Americans. Something that most evangelical Christians know already, but might have forgotten. And something that the rest of us should take notice of. Our Savior was a Jew; a rather devout one in His secular life. He lived His life immersed in Scripture; the Author was His Father, after all. This was, of course, no accident, and was fortold by the very Hebrew scriptures that so many in the high churches seemed to have left behind. Jesus' message of human dignity, captured in the recapitulation of the Torah's "love thy neighbor as thyself", itself forms one of the bases of our democratic republic. Jesus' death gives us our salvation; His life gives us a way to live in freedom with dignity afforded to all.

I would like to end with this delightful extract from the article, which once again emphasises the strong cords that bind the modern Christian (or Jew) with what is of the essence in the American experiment. It concerns life and death, and it is worthy of full consideration any time we get too full of ourselves and think that we've somehow got the "right" to end another's life, born or unborn:
Puritans took to heart these famous words from the Hebrew Bible: “I have set before you this day life and death, blessing and curse: therefore choose life and live, you and your children” (Deuteronomy 30:19). On board the Arabella, John Winthrop closed his famous meditation of 1630 by citing that verse from Deuteronomy, centering his words on the page for emphasis:

Therefore let us choose life
that wee, and our Seede,
may live; by obeying his
voice, and cleaveing to him,
for hee is our life, and
our prosperity.

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.