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2.28.2005    |    Emerging confusion
In a followup to an earlier post on the so-called emerging church, a/k/a postmodern (PoMo) church, I'm moved to be more definite: This is postmodern nonsense. Christians attempting to reconcile their faith to the world. When we know, for a certainty, that we are told by Paul, in Romans Chapter 12:
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Do. Not. Be. Conformed. To. This. World. Another way of saying this might be the overused expression, "be in the world but not of it."

Paul's truth is that Christ is the unchanging and ultimate ground of our being. "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be..." Although many of our High Church brethren may not believe this simple yet profound statement of faith, we in the evangelical and Reformed ghetto still seem to.

The emerging church people, of course, have a different take on "unchanging." As in, their motto could be, "everything changes." So we Christians should change along with the world. Consider this introduction from the Emergent Village:
The world is changing politically, from Cold War era to a post-communist era, from a world of conventional and nuclear war to a world of terrorism and genocide, from a colonial world to a post-colonial one (or perhaps to a neo-colonial one).

It is changing philosophically, from modern to postmodern, from a world of absolutes and certainty to a world of questions and searching, of challenge and anxiety, of opportunity and danger.
All of this is true enough. The (secular) world changes. It is hard, however, to treat with such a presentation in a serious manner, when we also read on the very same introductory page, how the emergent church seeks to deal with these kinds of changes: "A network called emergent is seeking to network these important regional networks." Well, yes. That is what "networks" do, I suppose. This all means what, exactly? That networks network? Well, that's always true, I suppose.

Such as this makes it quite hard to maintain a sense of Christian charity to those who are turning my faith upside down and shaking it out to see if anything of value falls to the ground. About the best thing I can say is that they appear to be sincere in their belief that Christianity as we normally understand it has somehow failed to keep pace with the changes in the world. Which I would consider our goal, as a matter of fact. Thanks for the vote of confidence, PoMo church dudes.

Given much of what passes for modernity in the secular world, I would say it is far from a bad thing that Christianity has not moulded itself to the world. We are a nation apart, we Christians. By design, and by the Word of God. We owe our first allegiance to God, who saved us with His only Son Jesus of Nazareth, and who by the power of His Holy Spirit grabs us with an unyielding, and unchanging message: repent and believe the good news. Lose your (worldly) life to gain life eternal.

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2.27.2005    |    God speaking to us
Just a quick thought. When we pray, we are speaking to God. When we read Scripture, God is speaking to us. Those who say that God never speaks to them perhaps haven't glimpsed this particular truth.

Listen with your eyes, my friends. God is speaking to you.
   |    Endure anything
Today's sermon started with a story the pastor told of his time in seminary. This was in the 1970s, and there were only a few women enrolled in the Master of Divinity program. One woman, whose husband was also enrolled, graduated with her husband and went on to mission work among the Masai people in Africa.

When it came to asking permission to preach the gospel (a wise thing to do among a warrior tribe), the husband was granted free reign. The wife was told no. She could have reacted the way many so-called feminists do, and gone ahead and preached regardless. She did not, choosing to stay behind.

Why did she not preach? Because she knew that the Masai culture at the time was not open to a woman preacher. And that to go and preach despite this would not aid in bringing the Good News to these people. So, although she was not a shrinking violet, she did not place her pride ahead of whatever it might take to forward the message of salvation through Christ.

This is a clear case of someone placing their needs after the need to spread the gospel. Which is as it should be, and which Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 9:12: we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. I am in awe of this woman, although I don't know her except by way of this story. Pride, in many ways the father of all sin, has made me not listen to this simple but powerful message from Paul.

Another way of stating this lesson would be in this little mantra, or some variety of it:
Unity in the essential things;
Liberty in other things;
Nothing to hinder the gospel of Christ
This is good advice for all who may think that it is their way or the highway. Who think that one must observe the Lord's Supper in a certain way or be damned. Or who don't invite all baptized Christians to the Lord's table. The list of things we allow to divide His church is virtually endless...and a reflection of our pride. Some things are essential; we've each of us got at least a mental list. Some of us have big honkin' rule books just chock full of legalese.

I don't mean to suggest that there are not essential things. Of course there are. But they are few. It's all the baggage that many denominations insist on bringing into the tent that cause the problems. Many, if not most, such things hinder the gospel of Christ.

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2.26.2005    |    "do not feel subordinate"
The intellectually flabby Episcopal Church, USA, has all but made it official. And for once, the headline in the Washington Post story is exactly right: "Episcopalians Affirm Pro-Gay View -- Church's North American Members Back Same-Sex Unions." The essence of the sad story:
Episcopal leaders in North America declined yesterday to apologize for endorsing the ordination of homosexual bishops and same-sex unions despite growing threats of a schism with other branches Anglican church, which has 77 million members worldwide.

The election of an American gay bishop and the blessing of same sex unions in the United States and in Canada have put the U.S. Episcopal Church on a collision course with the rest of the Anglican Communion.
Now it's not quite clear that a mere apology would have sufficed, although it most certainly would have been a welcome start. The problem isn't that the American church has insulted the Anglican Communion with their promotion of an openly gay priest to bishop. The problem is that they have ignored black-letter Scripture. No, that's not strong enough. They did not merely ignore Scripture, they flouted it. Turned it on its head. And have attempted to make those who say so into appearing to be knuckle-dragging troglodytes.

Pardon me while I get my knuckles out of the dirt, but I stand with Paul’s first letter to Timothy:
2A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
Absent repentance for his homosexual acts, a gay man should never become a deacon, let alone a bishop. The Episcopal Church USA stands in the dock, and their tussle isn't really with the man-made Anglican Communion, to which they "do not feel subordinate." The struggle for the Episcopals is with God and His word, Scripture. To which the knees of all Christians must bow.

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   |    "not everything is beneficial"
Paul had it exacly right. The State of Maryland has it exactly wrong. The Maryland House of Delegates has just voted to have slot machines in various venues, principally horse racing tracks. From the Washington Post story, we learn that
Both versions [of the slots bill in the Maryland House and Senate] would devote the bulk of the earnings to schools and school construction projects, with other proceeds going to slots vendors, horse-racing purses and renovations to horse tracks.
Well, that's certainly nice, isn't it? The kiddies get some of the proceeds from slot machines. It's enough to make the teachers proud. I would not ban gambling, just as I would not ban many things that are not good. On gambling, I stand with Paul in his first letter to the church at Corinth:

1 Corinthians 6:12 "Everything is permissible for me"–but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me" – but I will not be mastered by anything.
We would have to say that the State of Maryland has just been mastered by slot machines, and the interests that control them.
2.25.2005    |    "Hungry hearts appreciate Christ"
Galatians chapter 3 forms the basis for one of our principal claims as Protestants: we are saved by faith alone. Not by works, which kill. Paul is crystal clear on this:
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." 12 But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall 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 hanged on a tree"-- 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
My use of the word "kill" as regards work and salvation is not original. I first read it in a commentary on Galatians by Martin Luther (Project Wittenberg) in which Luther wrote
The Law cannot give life. It kills. The Law does not justify a person before God; it increases sin. The Law does not secure righteousness; it hinders righteousness. The Apostle declares emphatically that the Law of itself cannot save.
Luther, of course, was rather too harsh by half on "the Jews", by which he likely meant all Jews. He was a brilliant yet bitter man, as some Jews of his time had rejected his entreaties to join him in his reclamation of the Hebrew Scriptures for the Messiah.

In other words, Luther was far from perfect, but he illuminated the truth about salvation. For the first time in many centuries, a truth that had been all but lost. Luther recovered the essential nature of God's gift of salvation, and illustrated it with our father Abraham:
God never said to Abraham: "In thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed because thou hast kept the Law." When Abraham was still uncircumcised and without the Law or any law, indeed, when he was still an idol worshiper, God said to him: "Get thee out of thy country, etc.; I am thy shield, etc.; In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." These are unconditional promises which God freely made to Abraham without respect to works.

The proverb has it that Hunger is the best cook. The Law makes afflicted consciences hungry for Christ. Christ tastes good to them. Hungry hearts appreciate Christ. Thirsty souls are what Christ wants. He invites them: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Quite the foundation for the Reformation, don't you think? Hungry hearts, yearning to be re-united with Christ without mediation.

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2.24.2005    |    you can kill the baby if he's straight...
From the State of Maine, the Mainiacs have now upped and annoyed the pro-death brigades, a/k/a those who believe a woman should have the right to choose to kill her unborn child. With a tip of the fedora to JivinJehoshaphat for finding this bit of bizarreness (is that a word?). The Mainiacs have a bill to amend their state law so as to prevent the abortion of a gay fetus. Yes, you read that correctly.

The bill is titled, "An Act To Protect Homosexuals from Discrimination." The operative section if this bit of New Brave World wisdom is:
An abortion may not be performed when the basis for the procedure is the projected sexual orientation of the fetus after birth, based on analysis of genetic materials of the fetus in which sexual orientation is identified through the presence or absence of a so-called "homosexual gene."
Well, I'm somewhat ignorant of what the "homosexual gene" might be, and, frankly, I'm not interested in finding out. What I am is in favor of life -- born, yet to be born.

Well, John Luke, as a God-fearing Christian, don't you just hate those homosexuals? Wouldn't you want to prevent their being born in the first place if you could? The answers are no, and hell no. As in, the place to which those who kill the yet-to-be-born willingly, with malice aforethought, will be going. If I knew to a mathematical certainty that a child would be "born homosexual", I would not kill him or her. Impossible. Even assuming that one is born homosexual, so what? Are we not all born in sin? Some repent; many do not. Some will be saved; many will not.

Homosexuality may be a state of being. I've also read that there may be a DNA strand that makes a man prone to violence. Or to being a thief. Or to being a host of other things, good, and not so good.

Sin must be resisted. And my essential point is that sin is vested in the DNA of any and all who are human. Homosexuals, thieves, clergy, me, sinners all. Is it a sin to kill a sinner? Yes; it is only for God to judge us in this, to make us pay in the ultimate coin. It is, therefore, to be against God to snuff out a life, any human life, before it can even be born. Simply because some man-made test may predict certain behavior. Or may not.

Homosexual behavior is an abomination unto the Lord. And the Lord will judge such behavior. Killing a (perhaps) homosexual baby in the womb is far, far worse.

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2.23.2005    |    Genocide
The word "genocide" has been overused of late. It's been fraudulently, and with malice aforethought, applied to the control of terrorists in the West Bank (remember Jenin and the mainstream media lies?). There are probably some idiots who think that the bringing of the first free election to Iraq is a form of genocide. The world has a short memory, and forgets what the genuine article is.

Nick Kristof continues to serve as our conscience in the matter of the murder of black Africans taking place in Sudan. In today's Times, he again reminds us in his column, this time with grisly photographs. In a secret African Union archive, Mr. Kristof cites this simple statement of intent on the part of the Arab government of Sudan:
"Change the demography of Darfur and make it void of African tribes," the document urges. It encourages "killing, burning villages and farms, terrorizing people, confiscating property from members of African tribes and forcing them from Darfur."
Sounds like ethnic cleansing at its finest to me. Although even a single life is precious, when the murders mount up to a sufficient magnitude, and all of those killed are of a particular ethnicity, and the stated intent is to eliminate that ethnicity, well, then I think we have made the case that genocide is in progress.

Those last two words are key: in progress. Once again, the world yawns, giving Arabs a pass at murder and mayhem. Is it because the victims are black Africans? Or because the perpetrators are Arabs? A little of both, I suspect. While the Arabs and their pet Euros froth at the mouth over minor offences in our war on terror, very little is seen or heard to stop this genocide by adherents of the "religion of peace."

As a Calvinist Christian, I'm never truly surprised by evil. What does surprise me, even shocks me, is that the so-called civilized world, which claims to be compassionate, turns a blind eye. The Arabs who commit this genocide are clearly in Satan's dominion -- as are we all who do not shine a light on this evil and stop it.

I urge all who may read this to write your Senator, your Representative, any who you may think might be able to make a difference -- tell them to do what they can to stop the killing.
2.22.2005    |    Inerrancy
One of the great stumbling blocks for modern Christians (and Jews, I suspect) has been the debunking of the notion that the Bible, as the literal word of God, must be swallowed whole or not at all. Moderns like to imagine that we are in charge; that the truth of a thing is solely determined by our ability to rationalize it. Using "rationalize" in its root meaning of "to conform to reason."

I believe that Scripture is the inerrant word of God, and affirm the Baptist Faith and Message that the Holy Bible
was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
Pesky Baptists, what do you suppose we mean by "totally true and trustworthy?" How about "without any mixture of error?"

Here's where the believer gets into difficulties with his unbelieving neighbors. Whom he would very much like to bring into the church, but can't get past objections that the Bible can't possibly be true, given that amazing and weird things are happening all the time.

I make no claims to be a good interpreter of Scripture, and the very fact that I even use the word "interpreter" means that fundies have already left the lecture hall. Back in the world of the real, I've come across one of the best essays on the topic of inerrancy that I've seen, ever. It is by Kevin Vanhoozer and available here. Some extracts:
The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture, in the original manuscripts and when interpreted according to the intended sense, speaks truly in all that it affirms.

The thrust of the doctrine of inerrancy, however, like that of sola scriptura, is to stress the distinction between the Word of God and the words of men. Interpretations of the Bible fall under the category ‘words of men’. It is thus important not to ascribe inerrancy to our interpretations.

What conflicts there are about biblical interpretation ultimately must be ascribed to the fallible interpreter, not to the infallible text.

Does inerrancy therefore mean that every word in Scripture is literally true? There has been a great deal of confusion on this point, both in the media and in academia. It should first be noted that mere words are neither true nor false; truth is a property of statements. Second, those who oppose biblical ignorance have all too often contributed to the confusion by caricaturing the notion of literal truth. Critics of inerrancy typically speak of ‘literal truth’ when what they really mean is ‘literalistic truth’. Defenders of inerrancy must take great care to distinguish the notion of literal truth from the kind of literalistic interpretation that runs roughshod over the intent of the author and the literary form of the text.

The Bible speaks truly because it makes good its claims.
This last is at the heart of the matter. "It makes good its claims." We can argue about whether creation took place in six literal 24-hour days until we're blue in the face. I don't think they were days as we now reckon time. It simply does not matter. What matters is the truth of the progression of those first "days" through now, until the end times. That truth remains, undergirding our faith, and not needing to be proven by our inflated sense of reason. Nor disproven, for that matter.

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2.21.2005    |    "I'm a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?"
In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes crystal clear that we are all sinners. When the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus, they meant to entrap Him in the Mosaic law. Jesus, as the only one without sin in this hard crowd, simply states (John 1:7):

He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
Well, it's a good thing that these scribes and Pharisees were honest enough to admit that they were also sinners...because they walked away, not carrying out the harsh punishment that God had given to Moses.

Then Jesus tells the woman (John 8:11) that, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." Fast forward to today's contentious and sin-soaked environs. We now have a sin, homosexuality, being presented on the Simpsons as something that is merely another choice, something to flavor of the American stew. Well, last night's episode cause a bit of a stir, insofar as it showed Homer performing same-sex marriages to increase Springfield's tourism, and brought Marge's sister Patty out of the closet. Despite the rush by the mainstream media to embrace this as cutting edge social commentary (see, for example, this New York Times story).

For all of that, relax, people. "The Simpsons" is just a show, and one that is wickedly funny. I don't take its social commentary seriously, and I know that the point of view is both snarky and irreverant. As for pushing the gay agenda, they are hardly alone, and my approach is to state the truth, that homosexuality is a sin, but that we (that's thee and me, brother) are not in any position to throw stones.

It turns out our president, derided as a knuckle-dragging troglodyte by the left, would agree. From some secret taping of Mr. Bush's conversations, as reported by the Times (how they would dearly would have loved to hear Bush say, "stone the faggots!"):
Early on, though, Mr. Bush appeared most worried that Christian conservatives would object to his determination not to criticize gay people. "I think he wants me to attack homosexuals," Mr. Bush said after meeting James Robison, a prominent evangelical minister in Texas.

But Mr. Bush said he did not intend to change his position. He said he told Mr. Robison: "Look, James, I got to tell you two things right off the bat. One, I'm not going to kick gays, because I'm a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?"
Well, he's correct. Of course. Is he blind to sin? Doubtful. Just too good a politician to label anyone as a sinner. At least in public, or, even in private when talking with someone who is not a member of his inner circle.

Mr. Bush does it by supporting family values and by promoting a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman. For this he is vilified as a gay-basher, homophobe, etc. etc. We all know the drill.

The fact is, one need not throw stones to simply state that something is a sin. Jesus certainly told the woman that she should "sin no more." Failing that, Jesus, and we, would, and should, forgive the sinner -- as many times as forgiveness is asked for.

Shows that celebrate sin, however trivial they may seem, are but a symptom of our fallen world. Certainly not its cause.
2.20.2005    |    "a stone that causes men to stumble"
Thus spoke the prophet Isaiah, preaching about God Almighty, the "one you are to fear." In Chapter 8, Isaiah tells us:
13 The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread,

14 and he will be a sanctuary;
but for both houses of Israel he will be
a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
a trap and a snare.

15 Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured.
So it was, thus will it ever be. Today we see and hear of countless examples where we stumble, where we fall, because we have not heeded His word. When we do not fear the Lord, and follow His precepts. Where we do not love our neighbor.

You want particulars? Any time some hoodlum robs someone at gunpoint; when a husband beats his wife; when we allow someone to freeze to death because they are not clean enough to invite into our homes. Whenever some jiveass wannabe hoodlum starts rapping about "hos" and "gangstas" with foul language and dirt. Whenever we allow a Christian to be persecuted by the heathens. Things, big, and small, that are sinful. When we do not have the fortitude to label sin as sin, or to love the sinner by not accepting his sinful behavior.

The list is endless, and in almost infinite variety. Our ability to sin, to spit in God's eye, is a reflection of our fallen nature, our total depravity. The reflection, and the reality, that we are born depraved in body, soul, intellect, and will. That we are dead in the spirit unless and until those chosen for grace allow themselves to receive it.

Love God. Receive His unearned grace. Then you shall, as surely as day follows night, fear the Lord and love your neighbor.

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2.19.2005    |    Outward signs
More on outward signs, with specific reference to my earlier post on Ash Wednesday. From a message I sent to an Anglican:

I came to the Baptists from the...Episcopal Church. Before leaving, I described myself as a Calvinist Anglican. You might know how well this would go down in a typical (liberal) ECUSA parish. My basic problem isn't the liturgy, which I very much liked. And I agree with you about not needing the outward sign. It's how many Baptists actually feel about baptism -- an outward sign of inward grace. Let's put it another way -- the thief on the cross next to our Lord was taken into heaven without baptism -- it was his faith alone that saved him.

What drove me away was a combination of political correctness (e.g. hearing a woman priest intone about "our mother who art in heaven") and the virtual absence of any sense of man's fallen state or, for that matter, of sin and repentance.

The business with an openly gay bishop (Robinson), and the approval of his promotion by the church's bishops sealed the deal -- this church, ECUSA, is in violation of Scripture. So, while perhaps some of the classically Anglican parishes might cling to sound doctrine, when Nigerian and Ugandan bishops start treating the United States as a mission field, it's time to move on to a more truly Protestant, Bible-based church.

Everyone's different in their approach to God. The good news is that we all, basically, share the Good News that Jesus was given to atone for mankind's sins. Just that you'd never hear it said in this way in most Episcopal churches today.

The issue, however, isn't the need to reform ECUSA (or any other church). I'm not so arrogant that I think that it's my way or the highway. It's that as I've come to more fully appreciate Reformed theology, I've come to want to strip away all but that which is essential. For me, that comes down to the five solas. I'm still somewhat out of synch with my (Baptist) church, but at least I am no longer derided as a hopeless throwback to Geneva.

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2.18.2005    |    Even simpler gospel
Adrian Warnock has created a wee stir with his recent "simple gospel in 10 points" post. The problem with this? Nothing that deals with salvation is that simple. On the other hand, anything that deals with salvation is, by its very nature, so simple as to defy logic. Crashingly simple.

This is the theologian's problem; the attempt by us mortals to put into words that which is beyond mere words. And if theologians, with their tanker trucks of spilled ink, can't get it across, how can the unlearned (me) even hope to understand? So, kudos to Adrian for even attempting the task. His take on a simple(r) gospel:
1. Everyone has Sinned
2. God hates sin
3. Sin must be punished
4. Jesus took the punishment instead of us on the cross
5. Admit you have been naughty
6. Believe that Jesus took your punishment
7. Say sorry to God
8. Ask God to be in charge of your life
9. Be baptised (note the order here)
10. Receive the Holy Spirit
Fair enough, but not quite enough. "Say sorry to God?" Perfect for the original audience -- 4 to 7-year olds. The "ask God to be in charge of your life" I presume would be a way of saying "repent" to those who don't know that word. One would also have to assume that the kiddies, and us, have a benchmark to know exactly what it is that God expects of us. Well, we do -- Scripture.

We adults who can read or hear Scripture know what sin is; it's well described in Leviticus; in Romans; and elsewhere. And, as Paul tells us in Romans 3:9, "We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin."

It doesn't take a genius to recognize sin once you know what it is; it does take God's grace to fully resist its call -- hence it's really not up to us, is it? It is, as we all know, the logical result of God having sent His Son to die on the cross. For us. Instead of us. There's the utmost simplicity. Yet He still lives, as we shall. This is the message.

So, John Luke, you're saying you understand all of this? And you're certainly past your childhood. No, I make only limited claims. My claim is that the gospel, as free grace received, is primarily felt or perceived, rather than understood as one might understand a problem in mathematics. It is really not intellectual, or fully rational. One is saved by grace; you'll know it when it happens, even if you deny it. Remember Peter! And who are we in contrast with the Rock?

This is where it is crashingly simple, and beyond words.

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2.17.2005    |    ...free exercise thereof...
Those pesky Bible-thumpers in the Commonwealth are at it again. No, not John Kerry's Commonwealth, they're more likely to burn Bibles. No, it's one of the red state commonwealths -- my (soon to be again) home. Virginia, the true cradle of liberty for these United States. Retired state trooper Charles W. Carrico Sr., now a Delegate in Virginia's lower house, has introduced legislation to do something about the near banishment of the free exercise of religion in public. At least in Virginia.

The relevant context for this post's title is, of course, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
Liberals are quite fond of the first part of that clause; hate the second. Well, Bill Carrico has upped and done something about it, at least for Virginia. He's introduced legislation to amend the state's constitution to secure what the founders would not have considered even to be in question: the right to pray in public or in school. The full text of his proposed addition:
To secure further the people’s right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience, neither the Commonwealth nor its political subdivisions shall establish any official religion, but the people’s right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions on public property, including public schools, shall not be infringed; however, the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions, including public school divisions, shall not compose school prayers, nor require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity.
This change is needed, given the harsh anti-faith pressures that are now all too common in the public square. Back in the day, when we would start the day with a prayer, I presume that some children's parents would have objected, and no one can deny that there is very unsubtle coercion if you are a child and everyone else is doing something and you are not.

This is the essence of the argument against public prayer -- that it can coerce non-believers into doing something that violates their conscience. As for children, whose conscience has not been fully formed, I say that prayer absolutely can not hurt them. It did me a world of good -- when I finally realized that there was something behind those words from Scripture. Was I coerced? No. Was there pressure? Yes, and who among us has the maturity in grade school to go against the flow on something that seemed to harmless.

Well, there you have it. Coercion. Pressure. Public prayer. Oh my. But here's the basic problem -- the majority's rights have been trampeled to protect against very hypothetical harm of subtle coercion on some children. Our rights should be guaranteed by that "free exercise thereof" phrase. But they are not. Hence, the need for a change.

A Christian must abide by the laws of the government, or, when those laws deny God, work to change them. That's what Delegate Bill Carrico is about. God speed, Bill.

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2.16.2005    |    Battle Hymn
The Battle Hymn of the Republic is likely not a favorite for folks with long memories in the South. Julia Ward Howe's (May 27, 1819 - October 17, 1910) famous hymn also seems to have fallen into some disfavor in the mainline Protestant Churches of the Fluffy Bunny; too military, don't you know.

Perhaps that's why I've always loved it. Regardless, it is a strong hymn, a song of the Church Militant, of God's army (us) and His Son come to save us when our merely human efforts fail. I was just now listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's version, and, as usual, it's a great rendition. Until they got to the fourth stanza, in which the good Mrs. Howe penned these lyrics:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
In the Tabernacle's version, not to mention at least two others I've heard, the Civil War era "let us die to make men free", a literal truth, became, "let us live to make men free."

One can understand that dying to preserve the freedom of men is such an old-fashioned and dead white male notion. Very unpleasant and declasse. A small point, a trivial change in the lyric, you say? Perhaps. Yet to me it reflects the entire fluffy bunny syndrome, the dumbing down of Christianity, sanding off the rough edges. God is love, don't you see; He couldn't possibly be about dying to bring about freedom.

Yes, He could, and Mrs. Howe, actually a lapsed Calvinist become Unitarian liberal (for the 19th century), penned those words precisely because she believed that once talking about freedom was done, men had to be ready to die for the cause. As He died for our freedom at Calvary.

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2.15.2005    |    "make bricks without straw"
There is a searing indictment of President Bush's "faith-based initiative" by its former deputy director, David Kuo. Kuo's piece appears in Beliefnet, and he goes into great detail as to how "com-cons," "compassionate conservatives," are not really compassionate.

If I could summarize Kuo's thesis, it would be in this short sentence:

Republicans were indifferent to the poor and the Democrats were allergic to faith.
Ouch. That hurt, no matter which side of the political isle you're on. Because Kuo is rather critical of something that President Bush proposed, his complaints made the front page of the Democratic National Committee's house organ, the Washington Post.

Kuo mentions the little things that might have occupied the President's time and taken all of his political capital. Little things like our war on terror, ousting Iraq, and rebuilding a shaky economy inherited from Bill Clinton. Kuo also appears to be one of those pesky works uber alles guys. How else to explain this rather disdainful dismissal of the faith community's leaders:
...since this community's most powerful leaders - men like James Dobson of Focus on the Family - weren't anti-poverty leaders, they didn't care about money.
The key words are "anti-poverty leaders." Kuo's universe is apparently populated by people who, if they do works (are "anti-poverty leaders") will have faith. Or so it would appear from his choice of wording.

I don't wish to be overly critical of Kuo. He, at least, does not appear to be hostile to faith. He is overtly hostile to evangelical faith, which, as he notes, doesn't "care about money." A Christian must not care about money; at least not as his first priority. His first, and by far most important priority, is salvation in Christ Jesus. And, yes, of course, as James tells us in 2:17 that "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." The problem for the Kuos of this world is that they wish the government to be the dispenser of deeds, in the form of money.

This criticism of Mr. Bush is misplaced. Charity for those in need is a natural outcome of faith. Not the other way around (as any Reformed believer would tell you). As a political conservative, my instincts are to keep government as much out of our lives as is possible. In times of great stress on the federal budget (due to a war that we did not seek, despite what liberals might believe), the best course of action to help the poor was in exactly what the president did -- lead the charge to give believers, those of faith, back some of their hard-earned money in the form of tax relief. So that we could then have that money to perform those vital works of charity.

So that, even if the government was not the source of charity, we in the faith community would not be expected to "make bricks without straw." We'd have the money already in our pockets, rather than waiting for Uncle Sam to do it for us. If you doubt this, consider the generous private outpouring for tsunami relief as but the latest example of what a faithful people will do when faced with a challenge.

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2.13.2005    |    Valhalla
How appropos that a New York scientist trying to obtain a patent on a human-beast hybrid does his work in Valhalla, New York. Valhalla being the Hall of the Slain. According to this news report, Stuart Newman's
seven-year effort to win a patent on a laboratory-conceived creature that is part human and part animal ended in failure Friday, closing a historic and somewhat ghoulish chapter in American intellectual-property law.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected the claim, saying the hybrid -- designed for use in medical research but not yet created -- would be too closely related to a human to be patentable.
"Ghoulish" is a good adjective for this kind of work. It opens a raw wound and exposes the questions of what is human, and what gives us the right to attempt to create things that can not occur in nature.

In a small hint of sanity, a senior officer with the patent office opined about their inability to discern what is human and what is not:
I don't think anyone knows in terms of crude percentages how to differentiate between humans and nonhumans," said John Doll, a deputy commissioner for patents. Yet neither is the office comfortable with a "we'll know it when we see it" approach, he added: "It would be very helpful . . . to have some guidance from Congress or the courts."
This, of course, is where Mr. Doll is misguided. There is no "guidance" on this matter that can usefully come from Congress, or the courts. Or any other mortal source. Man was created by God, in God's image. One may argue as to what that image might mean. One may not, with impunity, meld the God-designed DNA that makes us human with animal DNA just because we are able to.

I hate to sound like an old-time preacher man, but in this case, the description for what is being attempted here fits: an abomination unto the Lord. Dr. Stuart Newman and others who think it is their province to better the Lord's work -- stop, in the name of all that is holy. And in the name of all that is human.
2.12.2005    |    Separate but equal?
No, not the now infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896. Rather, the strain of thought among some on the left that the so-called rights of homosexuals are somehow covered under the civil rights rubric.

Among the more reasoned supporters of a major part of the gay agenda is Colbert King, columnist for the Washington Post. Although he started his career in the urban-black news ghetto (typical of many mainstream media outlets), he has branched out into many areas. Often a doctrinaire liberal, he has also been a voice of reason and comes across as an honorable and God-fearing man. To a point. Today he passed that point.

On gay "marriage", Mr. King wrote in his column today:
I don't equate the long, bloody struggle of African Americans against racial injustice, ugly brutality and unjust treatment with the effort to give equal rights to lesbians and gay men.
On this, Mr. King is spot-on. However, he then goes on to very tenuous, and insupportable ground. He goes on to accept the Scripture-denying business of same-sex "marriage":
But I do believe that homosexuals are subject to prejudice and that they are forbidden the same rights and safeguards that heterosexuals enjoy, including the right to marry. That, in my book, is wrong.
Sigh. "The same rights and safeguards that heterosexuals enjoy." This is difficult for a believer to stomach. To legitimize homosexual liaisons with the same standards as marriage (between a man and a woman) is wrong. It violates Scripture. It violates thousands of years of practice. It violates the Judeo-Christian understanding, even among the deist founders of the United States.

None of what I wrote justifies denying any civil liberties to homosexuals. Or treating them with anything other than the full dignity that God has granted to us all. Let us be clear, however. Not awarding heretofore ungranted privilege is not the same as denying common civil rights.

Let's review Scripture, which is crystal clear on the subject. Homosexual behavior is wrong in the eyes of God. Really, really, wrong. First, Hebrew Scripture:
Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
This is God doing the speaking, by the way. The only way around this is to simply deny God. Moving on to the New Testament, Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, 6:9:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders
Once again, Scripture is plain. One may deny Paul, or claim he was a secret, self-hating homosexual. Yet the Scripture attributed to Paul has stood the test of many church councils and some rather harsh reviews before, during, and after the Reformation. My instinct is to simply accept what Paul wrote at face value.

One of the things that those pushing the gay agenda will tell us is that Scripture was also used to justify slavery and otherwise deny full rights to blacks. Let's just say that those who did so were cherry-picking, and using verses out of context. Or, more accurately, simply misreading passages such as Ephesians 6:5 -- passages that simply acknowledged the current state of the world. What pro-slavery readers might have done is simply ignore the context, and concluding thought in Ephesians 6:9:
...masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
No favoritism. The clincher, of course, completely denies the rightness of any form of discrimination for those in Christ -- Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

You are, indeed, all one.

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2.11.2005    |    Values
Democrats have been advised to "do a better job of explaining the moral underpinnings of their political stands." It would be better if they truly accepted that our Savior loves life, born, and yet to be born, and acted to imitate Christ.

In today's Gray Lady, we are advised as to the hows and whys the Democrats lost the values race in the 2004 election. As Bubba Clinton might have said, "it's the values, stupid." But wait -- there's more.

In the "from the mouths of babes" department, a Dem pollster named Mellman said that
the election turned on "a sense of shared values"- whether voters believed Mr. Bush or his Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry, shared their moral compass. So Mr. Mellman, who advises Mr. Reid, has been urging Democrats to do a better job of explaining the moral underpinnings of their political stands.
Mr. Mellman is, of course, correct. Or, more accurately, would be, if there were moral underpinnings of things such as gay "marriage", abortion on demand, euthanasia, and porn in every pot. When it wasn't being smoked. Drat; there I go again, sounding like one of those moralistic Christian evangelists...

This is not to say that there is much that is worthy and supported by Scripture in the classic liberal's portfolio. A preference for the poor, healing the sick, visiting the prisoner. All very much in tune with the Gospel message of salvation. The problem for Democrats, as it is for some evangelicals, is that we do not have the luxury of discarding vital parts of the Lord's message of salvation -- which includes, first and foremost, love of life. Life born; life yet to be.

Some may complain, Jesus did not formally preach about abortion. No, not in those words. Yet can there be any doubt that our Lord was, and remains, in today's terms, "pro-life?" It's silly to imagine anything else, actually. The Lord loves us all; each and every one. Even those who advocate abortion on demand. It must be clear to believers, however, that the Lord is grieved whenever any one of His flock is taken before he or she can even be born.

Now, there's a rumor that our Savior was on good terms of the source of Scripture. His Father, as I recall. And Scripture is quite clear on the subject of the unborn. By way of just one example, consider Job 31:
14 what will I do when God confronts me? What will I answer when called to account? 15 Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?
Message for Democrats and others in favor of abortion: God made us in the womb. God loves us all from our very formation in the womb.

Back to Jesus' message. The one cited most often by political liberals is the second great commandment. Yes, one must love one's neighbor. And that of necessity includes protecting innocent life. Born. Yet to be born. Until the Democrats include that in their message, and truly believe it, what they say will matter not at all. It is what they do that counts. Right now, what they do is very much not in favor of life.

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2.10.2005    |    Almah
Almah is the English transliteration of the (modern) Hebrew word for "young woman." Likewise, betoolah is modern Hebrew for "virgin." The Hebrew Scripture, in Isaiah 7:14, the classic verse foretelling us of the coming of The Christ, uses almah. And therein lies a needless source of division among Christians.

When Isaiah wrote, it is likely that there was no linguistic distinction between an unmarried and young woman, and "virgin." At the time, and, frankly, up until relatively modern times (in my lifetime), "young unbetrothed woman" was synonymous with "virgin." How wrong we were, you might say.

Now Jewish translations that I've seen always use the words "young woman" to translate almah. Fair enough. But, since the word really connotes "virgin", evangelically-informed translations seem to all use "virgin", while those striving for linguistic if not theological purity will use the first, modern Hebrew meaning of "young woman."

Herewith, Isaiah 7:14 in three Christian versions:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman'u-el.

Note the changes, from "a virgin" to "the virgin" to "a young woman." The "the" (no, not the alt rock group) would seem to prophesy Mary, the Mother of God. "A" virgin certainly does not rule out Mary. "A young woman" doesn't either, in point of fact. The point of all this? The particular wording does not affect my faith. Not one little bit.

My preference is to read a version that adheres most closely to what I believe to be the truth of Christ Jesus. This I find in the NIV (not, repeat not, a third time not Today's NIV), the English Standard Version, and, thanks to a recommendation from Jim at Stones Cry Out, the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

That being said, if the pew Bible I find is the Revised Standard or even Today's NIV, I'll read it prayerfully. And have charity towards those who think these more "modern" (read: politically correct) are somehow, better.

Either way, the Bible I read will not change my faith -- just that some versions will enhance it more than others.

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2.09.2005    |    Ashes
Today the Catholics and Anglicans observe Ash Wednesday as the start of the Lenten season in the church. Baptists, and I would guess most other Reformed Protestants, do not have special liturgies to mark the day -- or ashes to mark the foreheads of the faithful.

Ashes to ashes; we all return to dust. Well known. And we should all welcome opportunities to deepen our Christian faith. To a point. The point of Ash Wednesday is to enter a period of (choose your route) a) reflection and reconciliation, b) penance for your sins, c) a 40-day journey in the desert in anticipation of the Passion and Resurrection of Easter morn. Or all of the above.

So, why no ashes? For me, it's in Scripture: Matthew, Chapter 6:
16 When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Does this mean I think that those who do wear an outward sign of fasting for Lent (ashes) are hypocrites? No. But it shows that their churches hold tradition to be at least the equal to Scripture. Or at least New Testament Scripture.

To be certain, sackcloth and ashes are called for in the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, Daniel 9:3:
So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
But as part of our new Covenant, Jesus tells us that the old tradition of sackcloth and ashes to demonstrate penance is not needed.

What is most curious is that the Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgies for today include the very same passages from Matthew 6:16-18. Curious, and, seemingly self-contradictory. In any event, Ash Wednesday should be as any other day: waiting upon the Lord; being prepared for His return at any moment. From Mark 13:
32"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back–whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’"

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2.08.2005    |    Words matter
The Gospel of John is quite different than the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is the most mystical, and, in one sense, perhaps kabbalistic, although it's unlikely that John would have known the term -- it not having been in common use for at least another thousand years. The giveaway phrase is "Word made flesh."

Jesus, as the incarnation of God, is also the incarnation of God's Word. In one stream of thought in kabbalah, God created the universe, and then mankind, by first emptying Himself, then creating the Hebrew aleph-bet in His mind. Which He then used to bring forth all creation. Thus, in a sense, the building blocks for our reality -- our very universe and our souls -- derives from the building blocks for literal (Hebrew) words. At least that's one school of thought. (My limited knowledge of kabbalah has just been virtually exhausted; a good survey book is by Gershom Scholem)

When I was brought up in churchly things, I was taught that John's gospel simply represented the idea that the Bible, the Word of God, had been brought to life in the form of Jesus. We never learned of the Jewish mystic thought that may have informed John's view of God.

Switching gears, we also know that not only was Jesus the Word made flesh, He was of the Spirit, and brought us God's grace. From John's introduction of Jesus in Chapter 1:
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’" 16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.
Word made flesh made grace and truth. Is it any wonder that it all may be found in God's Word, the Holy Bible?

Not to me. After all, it is sola Scriptura.

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2.07.2005    |    Tim Challies at it again
Study Bible

He's at it again. Tim Challies, at Challies.com is giving good stuff away. Visit him, and by all means use my referral ID: 32247.

   |    I am a Jew
An important post on anti-Semitism by Meryl Yourish at Yourish.com. From that post, this rather sums it up:
The [late] Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim says that Jew hatred has three stages:

You cannot live among us as Jews.
You cannot live among us.
You cannot live.
My theory on why anti-Semitism is an evil weed that will not die is that the world hates those who have brought God's word to the world. Call it shame, call it revenge. Nobody likes to have to be told that their pagan ways are wrong and will bring judgment against them by the Almighty. Yet that is what the Jews had to do to maintain the covenant. Sure didn't win any popularity contests.

The Jews did not invent God, of course -- the other way 'round. But they took upon themselves the awful burden of following His law. The Jews chose God; chose His yoke to bear. Or not. And have suffered the consequences throughout history.

Both Old and New Testaments were written by and about Jews and their interactions with God. One in particular Jew being God's only Son, a nice Jewish boy from Nazareth. Christians who hate Jews hate their own Savior. And are not Christians. Jews rejected Jesus? Some did; some did not. Just like the rest of the world.

I am a Christian. I am a Jew. A Jew who knows that my Savior, Jesus who became Christ, lives and will return. And, most importantly, that it is solely my faith in Jesus as Lord that will save me. All by its mighty self. It really is that simple.

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2.06.2005    |    "Cornwell loves the Church"
What can you say when an extreme liberal reviews a book on Pope John Paul II by an even more extreme liberal? The liberal author is John Cornwell -- creator of the anti-Church screed "Hitler's Pope", and now, a new (likely) attack on the church in the person of JPII, "The Pontiff in Winter."

The liberal reviewer is himself an author, James Carroll ("Constantine's Sword" and most recently "Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War" (referring to our current war against Islamic terror). Don't you just wonder what side of the political fence Carroll is on? Just kidding; of course we know -- the review by Carroll of his fellow Church-hater Cornwell was in the January 30, 2005 Washington Post's Book Review. So what do you think?

Carroll loves the Pope for being against war. Carroll hates the Pope for exercising his papal authority. Carroll equates the fight against totalitarianism with women's rights to become priests. Consider this pairing of supposedly contradictory things that His Holiness is supposed to favor
The conventional assessment of John Paul II contrasts the pope's liberalizing work outside Catholicism with his profoundly anti-liberal governance of the Church itself. Thus his support of pro-democracy movements against totalitarian regimes stands in stark relief to the rigid authoritarianism with which he has squelched not only theological dissent but also the regional autonomy of bishops (which, in part, accounts for the bishops' grievous failure to act against priestly abuse of children). John Paul II's global promotion of human rights is seen against his rejection, say, of the demands of Catholic women for equality (which contributes to the astounding collapse of the Church's moral authority on all matters having to do with sex).
The Pope just can't win. As a Protestant, I've my own thoughts on the Catholic Church, and in Christian charity I won't put them down here. But I'm a Protestant, and owe no allegiance to Rome. However, I also happen to greatly admire John Paul II and know that where I disagree with him (as on the war on terror or on the supremacy of the Roman Church) that he comes to his positions out of prayerful consideration of the issues.

One must wonder about those who are on the inside, such as Carroll and Cornwell, who supposedly love their church yet seem to have such an abiding hatred for its structure and dogmas. "Cornwell loves the Church." writes Carroll. I wonder if Cornwell wrote the same about Carroll?. Regardless, on the subject of "Hitler's Pope", it might be a useful palate cleanser to take a look at what a true Catholic has to say on the subject of Pio XII (review in First Things by Fr. John Jay Hughes).

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2.05.2005    |    "Defender of the faith"
A great Christian saint? One of the mightier emperors? A pope? Part of the title of the Queen of England? None of the above. This defender was Ernst Mayr, described as "the leading evolutionary biologists of the 20th century" in his New York Times obituary. Dr. Mayr was 100 (he picked his genes well, it would seem).

This man was, apparently, a one-man industry, shoring up the theory of evolution. Perhaps the title quotation is a slip, but one epitath for him by a scientist was this:

"He was the Darwin of the 20th century, the defender of the faith"
Apparently, at least one of Dr. Mayr's colleagues felt that the theory of evolution requires a leap of, well, something other than that which can be proven.

One of the great challenges to the secularists and their vision of a God-free world is to make claims about how they are purely objective. Their theories are more than just guesses, they are, much, much more than that. Perhaps. A typical venture casting scorn on anything other than the secular establishment's church of evolutionary theory appears in a current Newsweek article on intelligent design. As to that "theory" business, the wording
encourages confusion over the everyday meaning of "theory"—akin to "hunch"—with the scientific meaning, a systematic framework to explain observations. Evolution, which deals with events that no one was around to witness, will always be a "theory."
Of course, ID is based on the observable fact that certain biologic functions, e.g. the human eye, has an "irreducible complexity" that is difficult to imagine merely happening as part of random evolution. Absent a willful and intelligent creator, it is not just difficult to imagine -- there appears no other plausible explanation.

The problem, as with any theory, is that ID is just like Darwinism -- it requires faith. My problem, and, I hope, yours, is that we are burdened with a certain faith that not just allows for God, but is His free gift to us. Faith that God created not just our world and its so-called natural processes, but also created us. God is patient, and we don't really know His time scale (young earthers, you may leave at this point should you wish to avoid being offended).

We may cite the Bible as evidence that Darwin was wrong. But it simply isn't sufficient to state that the particular wording in Genesis denies a longer period of time in which God brought forth His creation, including us. It will not convince those who do not share our faith; it will not convince Christians whose faith does not depend on a literal, word-for-word reading of twice-translated Scripture (Hey, where did Cain's wife pop up from in Genesis 4:17?). It will certainly not convince anyone who knows something sbout the physics of the universe, especially radioactive decay, and the resulting relative abundance of various isotopes.

These, also, are God's works. It is easier to imagine that human scribes got the original story in Genesis in words, not literally true, that would make sense to them at the time, than to think that God is playing tricks with us by salting the universe with false leads. And who says that six days would have to be six rotations of the earth about its axis as they occur now? Could they have been? Possible, yes. Again, why would God need to do this? The creation story works just as well if each "day" was millions and millions of years. It is the Author we should never doubt; His methods and how we describe them should be secondary.

Intelligent design may offer us non-literalist believers with a means to explain what we know to be the truth. That truth being that we are created by God in His image. It's the how that may baffle us. God does, indeed, work in mysterious ways. But in ways that we can, perhaps, describe with theories that can appeal to both our faith and our reason.

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   |    The Perfectability of Man
The perfectability of man is a constant theme of the various pagan -isms that have plagued men for as long as we've had the ability to construct words ending is "ism." Marxism, fascism, feminism, vegetarianism, you name it-ism, all have their theme as perfecting something or everything about our dear little lost selves. Many isms, of course, have good objectives and sometimes good motives. It is in their attempt to remake men in whatever image of perfection that they've conjured where they always fail.

Why do they fail? Because of who we are; because of how we were made, and Who made us.

So, what about Jesus Himself telling us to be perfect? Matthew 5:48 (KJV):

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Hey, since our Lord is the one who is saying this, who are we to not take His direction? Well, let's just call this call to perfection to be a goal, that perhaps some will reach when we stand before His throne for judgment. Certainly not a microsecond before.

Some folks even end up believing their own press releases about how good God has made His creatures (e.g. progressive Quakers). Even the Psalmist gets into the act, in, for instance, Psalm 8:
4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet
Ah, that famous quote, "a little lower than the angels." Well, that's pretty high, isn't it? Isn't it? No, not really, answers the really annoying voice of reality.

Man is a fallen creature, beloved of God to be sure, but pitiful in his failures. The basic problem with any -ism or theology that asserts our species may attain perfection is that it ignores the very story of our creation in Genesis. And it denies the saving grace of Christ. If we may become perfect, why did God need to send His Son to die that heinous death on the cross? Well, He did, because He needed to. The thing speaks for itself -- our Maker knows what we need, better than any of us shall ever know.

Just look at the text, the record we have in Scripture. The history of God's attempt to corral his stubborn and stiff-necked people results in little things like, oh, basically wiping out almost all of humanity in the Flood. Like the slaying of untold thousands who disobeyed His commandments. Like giving those who persist in idolotry over to the swords of the righteous (cf Joshua).

Note to any fundamentalists out there: take this as literal or allegorical; the result's the same. We can argue about the reality of the Flood as a discrete historical event later.

The prophet Isaiah got it right, when he tells us of Morningstar, a/k/a Lucifer: From Isaiah 14:
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:

14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.

15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
Now, Isaiah may, or may not be referring exactly to Old Scratch his own ugly cloven-hooved self. Perhaps this is a type for any tyrant -- in Isaiah's case in the coming Babylonian exile, the king of Babylon. Could God have inspired Isaiah to warn us of ourselves? Not to think that we may "ascend into heaven", or that a mortal ruler should "exalt [his] throne above the stars of God." Yet is this not the very thing that political isms, such as communism, lay claim to?

This kind of arrogance is far too easy to see in the here and now. It especially is present in any secular enterprise that claims to know what is best for all the people, without the humility that necessarily comes from knowing that we are but dust, and, as our American founders said, make "an appeal to Heaven."

We may be saved; many shall not be. None of us will ever be perfect; that job was taken by a carpenter's son.
2.04.2005    |    Time, for a change
Evangelicals have been noticed by the mainstream media -- yet again. Since a genuine born-again has won the White House, again, it's become de rigueur for left-leaning publications to show that, sure, they get it. "It" being the fact that faith is the first priority for many, many Christians who vote.

In this instance, it's the February 7, 2005 issue of Time magazine, and their cover story is...the suspense is building..."Evangelicals in America." The summary is straightforward:
American Evangelicalism seems to defy unity, let alone hierarchy. Yet its members share basic commitments. TIME's list focuses on those whose influence is on the rise or who have carved out a singular role
Well, they certainly got that part right -- evangelicalism does very much seem to defy unity. That is, if all one sees are the doctrinal tussles that have marked Protestant Christianity, virtually from Day 1 (Hey, Brother Martin, shouldn't you have first sent a messenger over before your start hammering your theses on the Cathedral door...).

What is much, much, more important is the faith shared by all evangelicals. And, surprisingly, in its selection of "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America", the commentary is, for the most part, respectful. For the most part.

Time, of course, simply can't resist laying on some of its bias, as in this in the short essay on Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention:
Land, who helped engineer his 16-million-member convention's 1979 shift from moderacy to hard-line conservativism...
Must've been that pesky citation Colossians 3:18. It's odd that those who share Time's secular liberalism don't object to a literal reading of Scripture when it comes to Jesus' favoring of the poor...But hey, we Baptists are "hard-line" conservaives, I suppose. Time said it; must be true.

Those selected as the 25 most influential? They vary all over the evangelical map, and even include Fr. Richard Neuhaus, founder and guiding spirit behind the essential journal First Things. Of course, it also includes Tim LaHaye, who, among other things, inflicted the Left Behind series on us. But he's forgiven for this, naturally.

The true purpose for this article, however, appears to be sort of a National Geographic travelogue for Democrats -- down among the fierce aboriginal inhabitants of Jesusland with gun and camera. Oh, wait. I forgot. Democrats and other liberals don't use guns, do they?

Take a look at the article. Then, as atonement for reading anything out of Time, you could perhaps check out the latest article from Fr. Neuhaus.

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2.03.2005    |    Utterly depraved
To any who may think that the "insurgants" or "resistance" are anything other than pawns of Satan, go no further than this story of a retarded man used as a living bomb (New York Post):
February 2, 2005 -- A 19-year-old Iraqi [Amar Ahmed Mohammed], who had the mind of a 4-year- old due to Down syndrome, was turned into a human bomb by guerrillas and then blew up near a polling place during Sunday's historic election.

"He was mindless, but he was mostly happy, laughing and playing with the children in the street," one of Amar's cousins told the Sydney Morning Herald.

His parents had left him alone at home when they went to vote.

The family believes guerrillas seized Amar, loaded him with explosives and sent him on his way to the polling place like a guided missile. But he apparently detonated the bomb before reaching the intended target, and no one else was injured.
There are two points besides the obvious depravity of those who would use such an innocent as a weapon. The first is that for once, the politically correct neologism of "differently-abled" may be just right.

It's been said that the mentally or physically handicapped have been truly blessed by God, that they are fuller in the gifts of the Spirit than those of us with all of our faculties. There's something to this, despite the old notion that the retarded were possessed by demons, or other dark, medieval notions. It can't be an accident that many, many of those who are unable to function in society are, nonetheless, described as "mostly happy, laughing and playing with the children."

This is not to claim that those with handicaps, mental or other, are, somehow, superior to those who are not. On the other hand, think of how difficult is sometimes is for any of us to just get through some of the things we must deal with as part of this life. Now, just imagine having to still go through with them, but without your full abilities.

God's blessing must surely be with those who do this, in all innocence. There's a story of a holy man, a great and learned rabbi, who, whenever he was in a room into which a retarded person entered, would stand in respect -- for the gifts, unknown to us, that God had surely bestowed on one made in His image yet seemingly lacking in intellect.

The second point is really an amplification and generalization of the obvious -- the depravity of those who would do this heinous thing to a defenceless boy. That point should also be evident to those who share my Christian faith: the total depravity of mankind, the certain knowledge that the world is, indeed, Satan's footstool. We are all fallen creatures, some of whom are saved through no virtue of their own. Events such as this in Iraq leave me ever more convinced of these truths.

Pray for the soul of that Down syndrome boy Amar, although I suspect that, in ways I can't understand (as he was nominally a Muslim), our Lord had already picked him for testing, and salvation, before His throne at the end of time. In the here and now, it is up to us to protect the defenceless. It's the Christian thing to do.

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2.02.2005    |    Jesus the Groundhog?
Today is Groundhog Day, and Punxsutawney Phil, the "Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary" saw his shadow. So there will be six more weeks of winter. Unless he did not see his shadow, in which case spring will start in...about six weeks. But who's counting? It's the show that's the thing.

Then there's the movie, Groundhog Day, which Jonah Goldberg over at National Review Online annoints as one of the best films of the past 40 years. That is debatable, although I've always liked the movie. Its themes of falling again and again into sin, followed by eventual repentance and rebirth into a new life, are fairly obvious.

Fair enough; and I'm no one to argue against it. But this snippet that Goldberg quoted from film historian Michael Bronski caught my attention:
The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever-hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays. And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect.
I'm certain that Bronski meant no disrespect to the groundhog; it's less clear that he has much respect for Jesus when he (correctly) notes that Groundhog Day, the day and not (just) the movie, has its roots in paganism.

It gets worse. A year ago, the film was hailed in a story by the Independent (UK) as
"The greatest story ever told?

A 1993 romantic comedy starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell is being hailed by religious leaders as the most spiritual film of all time. Today, as the US town of Punxsutawney celebrates Groundhog Day, Andrew Buncombe reports on an unlikely parable
The article goes on to cite how Christians, Jews, and Buddhists have been using the movie as the basis for sermons and other faith-based lessons. "The most spiritual film of all time"? Hmm. That's unlikely, but, in fairness, this was written before "The Passion of the Christ" was released. It gets even worse, or, perhaps I should write, it was worse. Two years ago, in an article in the New York Times titled "Groundhog Almighty", we are told about Groundhog Day, the movie, that:
Since its debut a decade ago, the film has become a curious favorite of religious leaders of many faiths, who all see in "Groundhog Day" a reflection of their own spiritual messages. Curators of the series, polling some 35 critics in the literary, religious and film worlds to suggest films with religious interpretations, found that "Groundhog Day" came up so many times that there was actually a squabble over who would write about it in the retrospective's catalog.
"Groundhog Day" is one of the very few movies that I would watch again...and again...sorry, got into a Groundhog Day loop for a moment. As for its spiritual content, this strikes me as what I'd call "faith lite." The themes are there, and they are good themes to reflect on. If they can get some people to dig deeper into the Bible and pursue what God has told us of sin, repentance, and rebirth, so much the better.

If you've not seen it, do so. It is well worth the time. If it causes you to reflect on matters of faith, great. Sometimes, however, a movie is simply a movie. We should not expect it to work miracles, even though it seems to include some in its plotline.

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2.01.2005    |    Infidel...
...and pleased to be one. At least in the eyes of the Wahhabi branch of Islam. This is the intolerant branch that is supported and exported by our friends the Saudis. It is their state religion. Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom, in an invaluable service, has provided a new report "exposing the dissemination of hate propaganda in America by the government of Saudi Arabia."

What is scary is not that the Saudis do this. It's been known for years by anyone who reads Daniel Pipes or MEMRI. What is scary is the extent to which this poison is disseminated in the United States at mosques and madrassas.

From Freedom House, these summary points for consideration:
· Various Saudi government publications gathered for this study, most of which are in Arabic, assert that it is a religious obligation for Muslims to hate Christians and Jews and warn against imitating, befriending, or helping them in any way, or taking part in their festivities and celebrations;

· The documents promote contempt for the United States because it is ruled by legislated civil law rather than by totalitarian Wahhabi-style Islamic law. They condemn democracy as un-Islamic;

· The documents stress that when Muslims are in the lands of the unbelievers, they must behave as if on a mission behind enemy lines. Either they are there to acquire new knowledge and make money to be later employed in the jihad against the infidels, or they are there to proselytize the infidels until at least some convert to Islam. Any other reason for lingering among the unbelievers in their lands is illegitimate, and unless a Muslim leaves as quickly as possible, he or she is not a true Muslim and so too must be condemned. For example, a document in the collection for the "Immigrant Muslim" bears the words "Greetings from the Cultural Attache in Washington, D.C." of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, and is published by the government of Saudi Arabia. In an authoritative religious voice, it gives detailed instructions on how to "hate" the Christian and Jew: Never greet them first. Never congratulate the infidel on his holiday. Never imitate the infidel. Do not become a naturalized citizen of the United States. Do not wear a graduation gown because this imitates the infidel;

· One insidious aspect of the Saudi propaganda examined is its aim to replace traditional and moderate interpretations of Islam with extremist Wahhabism, the officially-established religion of Saudi Arabia. In these documents, other Muslims, especially those who advocate tolerance, are condemned as infidels. The opening fatwa in one Saudi embassy-distributed book, published by the Saudi Air Force, responds to a question about a Muslim preacher in a European mosque who taught that it is not right to condemn Jews and Christians as infidels. The Saudi state cleric’s reply rebukes the Muslim cleric: "He who casts doubts about their infidelity leaves no doubt about his." Since, under Saudi law, "apostates" from Islam can be sentenced to death, this is an implied death threat against the tolerant Muslim imam, as well as an incitement to vigilante violence;
There's more; much, much more. The full report is available online. To the extent that this is what Muslims in America embrace, they are not Americans and can never become so until this hatred is repudiated.

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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.