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3.27.2005    |    He is risen, indeed
A joyous day; our Lord has conquered death and risen from the tomb. This, the core of our Christian faith, is hard for nonbelievers to accept, and skeptics and critics have been hammering away at the resurrection for 2,000 years. Recall doubting Thomas (John 20:27); it was hard for believers to accept, let alone gentiles. Yet believe it we must, for it is truth.

N.T. Wright wrote a profound exposition of what Jesus' resurrection tells us as an historical event and as the formitive event of our faith. Titled "Jesus’ Resurrection and Christian Origins", it is well worth a read this Easter. Most especially in the context of first century beliefs. N.T. Wright's concludes:
as far as I am concerned, the historian may and must say that all other explanations for why Christianity arose, and why it took the shape it did, are far less convincing as historical explanations than the one the early Christians themselves offer: that Jesus really did rise from the dead on Easter morning, leaving an empty tomb behind him. The origins of Christianity, the reason why this new movement came into being and took the unexpected form it did, and particularly the strange mutations it produced within the Jewish hope for resurrection and the Jewish hope for a Messiah, are best explained by saying that something happened, two or three days after Jesus’ death, for which the accounts in the four gospels are the least inadequate expression we have.
To say that Scripture says it is so, therefore I believe it, does not answer our critics. Even if it is the truth. Here is an intellectually-based argument for our faith, from a man of great faith himself.

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3.25.2005    |    For our sins he bleeds
Good Friday; the second day of the three holy days culminating in the joy of Easter.  While Mel Gibson's images of the Passion of the Christ (the original or Recut) may be upsetting to those who prefer to avert their eyes from suffering, I still stand with His Holiness John Paul II as regards this amazing, powerful film:
It is as it was
"Good" Friday's name used to puzzle me. What could be good about the heinous torture of the fully human Christ? Took me awhile, as it might for others, but that heinous torture was necessary for the Father to put paid our sins in the death of His Son. Good Friday is good, as it was a necessary precursor for the joy of Easter morn.

As for now, Good Friday, it is done.
3.24.2005    |    Perhaps Jeb won't become...
...our next president. I had the thoroughly unoriginal idea on March 1 that Jeb Bush, governor of Florida and younger brother to W., would make a sterling candidate in 2008. Now, however, it looks as though Gov. Bush may be letting an opportunity to stand up for life go by. The latest installment is that the Supremes won't (again) hear the Schiavo case. It is beginning to look as though the only thing that might work is if Jeb Bush has the Florida National Guard or state police go to the hospice and rescue Terri Schiavo bodily.

What, you say? You advocate Jeb Bush taking the law into his own hands? In this matter, the law may say that Terri Schiavo must die. The law, if it says this, is not moral, and we have the duty to contravene it if we can. Gov. Bush can. It's true he would likely lose much support from so-called "moderates." To which I would say that there are some things more important than being president (or governor, for that matter). He's already on the outs with the pro-death crowd (for an outstanding essay on this group, see Peggy Noonan's article in today's WSJ). In reality, it's far from clear how much support he would lose. He might actually gain support from us evangelical crazies.

Terri Schiavo may, indeed, be beyond feeling or knowing anything. But simple justice, nevermind "the law", demands that the benefit of the doubt be given to the even infinitesimal chance that she could make some recovery. Ms. Schiavo's parents apparently stand ready, willing, and able to shoulder the financial burden for keeping her alive. The one who wants her dead has a bit of a conflict of interest (living with another woman with whom he has had children). Not to mention that it's his say-so against Terri's parents as to what she might wish to have happen.

We are told by some, most, in fact, that Terri is a vegetable and that she has zero chance for any kind of consciousness. Others are less sure. For instance, yesterday at NRO, Pia de Solenni, director of life and women’s issues at the Family Research Council, reminds us
Terri was not on life support. She breathes on her own and her brain can still keep her organs functioning. Terri wasn’t dying any more than the rest of us until her feeding and hydration tube was pulled on Friday. At that point, she started to die, just like you and I would if we were denied food and water for an extended period of time.
Ms. de Solenni's absolutely correct conclusion? "Disability or lack of ability are not grounds for starvation."

The courts are not the problem. Those who would err on the side of death are. Gov. Jeb Bush -- you know what you need to do.
3.23.2005    |    "the least of these"
While on the subject of obeying the will of God (previous post on Ezekiel 14), let's consider these verses from Matthew 25. With reference to rendering His judgment, the full context:
41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' 44 Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' 45 Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Savor that, "as you did not do it to one of the least of these." Where does a helpless person such as Terri Schiavo fit on the spectrum of the "least of these?" Easy question, and it is no accident that societies are often judged by how they treat the most helpless of its citizens. This is how God will judge us.

As of this writing, it appears that legal remedies to save her life are failing. The failure, however, will be ours, and there will be a reckoning.

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3.22.2005    |    Ezekiel 14
So-called liberal Christians and their secularist allies often accuse evangelicals of attempting to institute a Christian theocracy in the United States. Except for those who are advocates of Dominion Theology, most Christians prefer to keep government and any particular sect apart. Not government and religion. Any particular (Christian) sect.

There is the distinction that is all important. I can't speak for other Protestants, but my sense is that the overwhelming majority of us in America want our government to respect religion, and, to the extent it can without being sectarian, reinforce the basic moral teachings of Scripture in public policy.

Some of these would be: Honor the traditional family. Do not allow "marriage" for sodomites. Freely acknowledging our Creator as a matter of public discourse. Eliminating abortion except to save the life of the mother -- and ensure that all children are loved and cared for. Things like rewarding moral behavior and discouraging immoral behavior.

No, not a theocracy. I am not a Christian Reconstructionist, and personally think it would be a disaster if any sect found itself in charge of a secular government. Non-sectarian, as in not favoring any particular sect. But no government of ours should be God-denying. Rather, our government should be God-affirming. If we, America, are, as our Puritan forefathers claimed, the New Israel, then it would be wise to recall these words from the prophet Ezekiel (chapter 14):
Jerusalem Will Not Be Spared
12 And the word of the LORD came to me: 13 "Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, 14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.
As a Calvinist, I know that man's depravity is total. And this is only too evident when you take even a quick glance at what passes for popular culture in our country. Obscene is not too strong a term.

Pop music is banal or vulgar. Lyrics glorify human scum, killing, misogyny. The liberal elite rants against a public display of the Decalogue while celebrating vile God-denying terrorists. Millions of babies are killed through abortion, because the mothers are just too busy with their self-important lives to bring a child to term. We seem more concerned with political intricacies than with saving a helpless life. We think nothing of advancing the science of cloning without much apparent concern for the morality of playing with human life. Genocide continues in faraway places, but we can't seem to be bothered because there's no oil in Sudan or Rwanda. We bring hope for freedom to the Middle East, and most of our population just yawns and turns up the volume on their reality shows or "American Idol(atry)." And so it goes...

Please do not misunderstand. I know there are many, many good and kind people in America, as throughout the world. It's just that they seem to tolerate far too much depravity in the public square. Perhaps we have, as a people, become too kind, too merciful.

At the expense of justice. Which brings me back to God's justice, as exemplified in Ezekiel. Sooner or later, God's will will be done, and He will judge us all. Matthew 25:
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
Those who have done His will gain eternal life; those who have not, will "go away into eternal punishment."

It's in the Book. Are we to be goats? Or members of Jesus' flock?

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3.21.2005    |    Read the whole thing
That is, the Gospel. Start with Mark, thought by many to be the primary source, and first edition that forms the basis for the other two synoptic gospels Matthew and Luke. Don't read any book that tells you that one of God's purposes is to bless you with material goods. The book that is now the No. 1 "Hardcover Advice" on the New York Times bestseller list is a case in point. Joel Osteen's gospel of material goodness ("Your Best Life Now") is, well, something that will result in damnation if taken by itself.

Two kinds of pastors get me riled beyond reason. One type would be liberal Episcopal priests and Presbyterian "Church" (USA) types who ignore sin and the suffering of the cross. The others are the boosters such as Osteen, the "Buddy Jesus" types who tell us that every day, in every way, God is going to make our lives better in a material way. All we need do is ask.

In an outstanding essay, the Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, got me spun up. Turns out he's an expert of my favorite Synoptic Gospel, that of Mark. Reading Mark is akin to taking a head-first dive into a mountain lake. It's refreshing, but you've really got to get moving once your immersed. Mark is bare-bones Jesus, repentance, and Kingdom come now. Right now.

Mark 10 has some lines that would seem to tell His disciples to simply ask of Jesus for anything they would want:
35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." 36 And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?"
Well, there's the hazard in cherry-picking your verses. Jesus Himself is asking what we want. Or is He? Not exactly. The dialogue continues:
41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Here, as throughout the Gospels, Jesus is telling us that being His disciple means the way of the cross. It means poverty of material goods but immense wealth in the Spirit.

Look, as Tevye of Fiddler on the Roof sang to God, "Would it change some vast eternal plan...If I were a wealthy man?" No, probably not. And who among us would rather be poor? But that is not what Jesus was and is about. The proof of that is right there in Mark 10: "whoever would be first among you must be slave of all."

Let me conclude by taking this excerpt from Michael Spencer:
Rather than telling us about your best life now, Jesus talks over and over about persecution, sacrifice, voluntary poverty and laying down the images and symbols of success for the lasting worth and influence of the Kingdom of Jesus. People who believe the Father of Jesus Christ gives life meaning don't hand him a list of goodies and demand that he fork over the stuff. They read the Beatitudes, and the Lord's Prayer, and the example of Jesus with their hearts open to what these things mean in their most obvious sense. No games or exceptions.
The IM has it right, and it's right there in the Gospels for all with eyes to see.

The final word is also from Mark, 8:34, where Jesus tells His disciples that they had better not be in this for the money:
And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
Those of us who have the courage to do this will, indeed, will find themselves living their "Best Life Now." Just not in the way the Osteens of this world tell us. In the way that God has told us.

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3.20.2005    |    Save a life
It is coming down to this. So-called conservatives want to use the Federal Congressional machinery to save a life. So-called liberals are now saying that it's a local matter. At issue is the life of Terri Schiavo, and it is really not that strange for roles to be reversed. It comes down to the central issue, which is protection of life.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Republicans remain the party of liberty and of life. Democrats remain the party of abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide -- the party of death. It this seems too harsh, provide another explanation for why it is that virtually all those who would kill Terri Schiavo are Democrats; virtually all who would keep her alive are Republicans. Oh, there's the usual snarky references to "Christian conservatives." For example, the ever-lefty Washington Post soviet collective of writers on the Schiavo gave us this irrelevant bit in their story today:
In a memo distributed only to Republican senators, the Schiavo case was characterized as "a great political issue" that could pay dividends with Christian conservatives, whose support is essential in midterm elections such as those coming up in 2006.
Perhaps due to projection, liberals just can't seem to understand that conservatives are not simply doing this for political advantage. "This" being trying to keep an incapacitated woman alive, because it is the moral thing to do. The essence of what this is about is in a joint statement made yesterday by Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist:
We’re pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement on legislation which provides an opportunity to save Mrs. Schiavo’s life.
Both Denny Hastert and Bill Frist would normally side with state and local authorities. Except in a case that involves the most important civil liberty -- the right to life.

Update: as I was saying, the Donks are born-again states'-righters. From this update:
A handful of Democrats -- including several from Florida -- held a news conference today denouncing the bill as an inappropriate intervention into a private family matter by federal officials.
The bill in question would save the life of Terri Schiavo. Do you suppose that these Donks would be quite so zealous against federal intervention if a county in Florida voted to ban all abortions? No. They would be consistent -- consistent as the pro-death party.
3.19.2005    |    1 Corinthians and the Muslims
1 Corinthians 14 seems to contain a clear statement against gender equality in the church, and this particular passage has been used throughout the centuries to refuse ordination to women:
34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
At first blush, this looks to be a 1st century version of barefoot in winter and pregnant in summer. Keep those women down, at all costs, at all times. Perhaps.

A more benign interpretation for today's gender equality crusaders is that Paul was merely attempting to obtain order and tranquility in church worship. 1 Corinthians 5 clearly implies that women may both pray and prophesy, although they'd better not do it with their heads uncovered. Then there's the school of thought that Paul was a woman-hater, plain and simple.

Now, how do Muslims come into this discussion on a Scripture passage they would deny has any validity? Simple. One of the aspects of Islam that is singularly unappealing to us in the post-Enlightenment West is the subjugation of women in Islamic nations. What brings this to mind is the headline, "Woman Leads Muslim Prayer Service in New York." That the story, in the New York Times, is newsworthy at all speaks volumes for how far the Muslim world has to go before it can be considered worthy of joining the modern world. My sense of it is that much of the subjugation of women is cultural and tribal, and Islam merely reflects these realities.

Now, there are likely quite a few of my fellow evangelicals who share the notion that women should not be heard in church, at least not in a preaching role. In this, they're in full accord with the overwhelming majority of Muslims. Although Islam is a false religion, the happenstance of agreement doesn't negate the rightness of those of our faith. In other words, many Christians take 1 Corinthians 14:34 as the final authority on the matter. Never mind Galatians 3:28, or any other sense in the Gospels and the Epistles that we each of us, man and woman, have gifts of the Spirit.

However, regardless of whether we Christians believe that a woman should or should not be a pastor (I don't), we for the most part are civil about it. For the most part, although some of our brethren have been rude. And that's about the worst of it in modern times - one of the salient differences between our faith and Islam.

It has been many years since a female pastor or (Episcopal) priest has been newsworthy for simply being a woman. For better or for worse, and there is much to favor the "worse" side of the argument, but that's for another time. We will know that Islam has started to join the modern world when they can be just as civil as we are about this issue.

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3.18.2005    |    On Meetings and Inerrancy
Biblical inerrancy is a tricky subject, and is often used by secularists as a way of showing believers to be a bunch of knuckle-dragging troglodytes. Mostly this is because most of us don't really understand what the term "inerrancy" means. By the way, in my festering youth, before I was born again, I used to be among those who would scoff at the Baptists (now I are one) and others who would speak of the inerrant word of God. Because I did not understand it. Now, I think I have a better grasp of the concept...I think.

First, a quick extract from the Chicago (Reformed) Statement on Inerrancy: Scripture is "without error or fault in all its teaching." Note: not in every single word, taken literally. Rather, in all its teaching. God's truth is revealed in Scripture, and the form of the words, as translated by imperfect humans, should not all be taken out of context.

In other words, Scripture is not necessarily literally true in every statement. God's truth remains, sometimes hard for us to discern, but usually not. As for the literal part, consider meetings that you and I have to attend as part of our working lives. At least I know I used to have far too many of them.

Staff meetings used to last "an hour." At least that was the published time. By my watch, they sometimes lasted 61 minutes, sometimes 59 minutes, sometimes 59 minutes 30 seconds (when I was especially bored and played with my chronograph). So, the published statement that the meeting lasted "an hour" is not the literal truth. An hour being 60 minutes and 0 seconds. On the other hand, in the real world, "an hour" conveys exactly the right amount of information. Sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. The truth was that "an hour" would be taken from our lives in those silly meetings, never to be given back.

That's the difference I see when I read Scripture and find something that is hard to translate into concrete, precise terms in the here and now. The truth remains. God's truth. And God doesn't require staff meetings.
3.17.2005    |    Terri Schiavo
The Incapacitated Person’s Legal Protection Act of 2005 could otherwise be known as the save Terry Schiavo bill. Most accurately, however, it is just as its title claims: protecting the incapacitated. Ensuring that they get the same due process that terrorists and heinous murderers get.

This bill is the first bill introduced by a freshman senator, Mel Martinez (R-FL). Sen. Martinez would get my vote just for this, and he has my thanks for being able to take a concrete step to protect the weak. Those who would think that Sen. Martinez is just another one of those crazy pro-lifers who are routinely demonized in the mainstream media should read his piece at NRO. Some excerpts:
She is not on a respirator or other 24-hour-a-day medical equipment. She responds to voices, touch, and the presence of people. She can smile, cry, and establish eye contact. She can make facial expressions. And several of Terri’s caregivers and outside medical professionals feel that, with proper therapy, she may even be able to learn to eat without a feeding tube.

Last week, I introduced my first piece of legislation in the Senate: The Incapacitated Person’s Legal Protection Act of 2005. This bill would ensure that incapacitated individuals — like Terri Schiavo — would have their due-process rights of habeas corpus when a court orders their death by removal of nutrition, hydration and medical treatment. My colleague from Florida, Congressman Dave Weldon has introduced identical legislation in the House of Representatives.

“Habeas Corpus” refers to the legal rights available under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution that “No State…shall deprive any person of life…without due process of law…nor to deny any person within its jurisdiction equal protections of the laws.”
So, the utilitarian asks, why is this needed? Terri's just a vegetable, can't do anything useful. The answer has to do with the innate dignity that must be afforded to all human beings. It has to do with the knowledge that while we can't all be rich and famous and skilled and beautiful, we are all made in God's image. The lame, the halt, the dumb, those with brain damage. You. Me. Terri Schiavo.

The Christian knows that we are a fallen species, but also that we are capable of redemption, and that it is possible that God has planned to save even the worst sinner after his repentance. Now one must ask, what, exactly, was Terri Schaivo's sin that she should not even be aforded the chance at a life?

Sen. Martinez ends his article with a call to contact your senators and representatives:
Before you click onto another screen or go back to work, please contact your senators and contact your congressman to let them know that you support this bill — that Terri Schiavo deserves the same rights as criminals to equal protection under the law.
This isn't just about Terri Schaivo. It is about how we as a society respond to the least among us. To those unable to defend themselves. Let me leave you with a few words from our Sponsor, from Deuteronomy 30:19 - "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live."

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3.16.2005    |    Mary, Mary, quite contrary...
Time magazine, which earlier this year told us all about the 25 "most influential" evangelicals in America, is now set to tell us all about how Protestants are now getting involved in Marian stuff.

I write "stuff" as a polite way of not offending any readers who are members of the cult of Mary. What I'm really doing is questioning what exactly a Protestant would be doing with the adoration bit. With all respect to the world's best mom ever, Mary, Marian devotion is, how shall I say this delicately, very much the antithesis of Solus Christus. As in, Christ alone.

However, consider this extract from the Time article about a Presbyterian pastor:
...rather than preach on Jesus alone this Good Friday, he will bring in Mary as well. "If you have Jesus' entrance and exit on the same day," Maguire explains, "she should play a part in that—because she was the first and last disciple to reach out during his life."
OK, that's cool, I suppose. Although it does seem to detract from preaching on His Passion. As presented as a loyal disciple of the Lord, who could object?

Ah, but there's a path started down when you preach on anything but Christ's agony and death for us all; when you focus on anyone else, is this really a good thing? Also, consider where this Marian business has led some Catholics: Mary as "Co-redemptrix." This sounds a lot better in Latin, Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici, which is
the international Catholic movement...seeking to encourage the papal definition of the Blessed Virgin Mary as "Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix of all graces, and Advocate."
Well, I suppose that the Pope can define whatever he wishes. But to consider Mary as co-anything with You Know Who is...idolatry. Plain and simple.

Perhaps these co- folks are wing nuts in the Catholic spectrum. Or perhaps they are mainstream. Either way, this is one path down which Protestants should not venture. Not because we don't love and respect the mother of God. Rather, because we worship God, not His fully human and non-devine mother. Mary took a chance on God's Son; Joseph must have been quite cranky when he got the news of her being with child.

However, never lose sight of the fact that Mary was merely the vessal for God's will. Not her will. His. It was solely by God's grace that He chose Mary to bear His son. I am thankful that Mary took the chance, as I am that Joseph also received the grace of God to not cast Mary out. And, not least, Mary remains a stark rebuttal to all women who would end the precious lives in their wombs as a matter of "choice."

Just let's be very, very cautious about how we deal with Mary, and let's not pray to anyone other than God, shall we? With Jesus as our sole mediator.

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3.15.2005    |    Vengeance
John Piper's Desiring God sermon this past Sunday is titled "When Is It Right to Repay Evil With Pain?". The text is Romans 12:9-21, and his exposition demonstrates that while the Lord tells us "vengeance is mine"(Dt 32:25), we sometimes must act as His agent in the here and now.

Rev. Piper focuses on situations in which we must, as parents, employers, or police, repay that which is not good (or evil), with forceful correction -- which some might consider to be in violation of the Christian spirit of love of neighbor. On this, he is right as rain, but I'd suggest that the same train of thought might profitably be applied to the need to go to war.

Not all wars, of course. Not most, I'd guess. The key precept for Christians must be that we are confident that we are going about God's justice, tempered with mercy. The great caveat was written clearly by Rev. Piper:
...the hearts of Christians are satisfied with God and are not driven by the craving for revenge or self-exaltation or money or earthly security.
Just war theory aside, this is where most wars seem to fail. What was not stated is that the Christian has a God-given duty to protect the weak. It is, to coin a phrase, what Jesus would do; what, in fact, He did do.

The war in Iraq was opposed by the traditional "peace churches" (Mennonites, Friends, etc.), along with several so-called mainline Protestant denominations. The Pope wasn't too keen on it, either. The problem from where I sit, as a conservative Protestant, is that those who opposed this particular war ignored the call to protect the weak. They seem to have completely ignored the Scriptural background for our Savior, in which God uses His people Israel to carry out His justice.

My view is that God's wrath will be taken out against unrepentant sinners -- at the end times, or in the here and now. Using the faithful as His fiery swift sword. As a reminder, consider this from the prophet Ezekiel (Chapter 25):
Prophecy Against Edom
12 "Thus says the Lord GOD: Because Edom acted revengefully against the house of Judah and has grievously offended in taking vengeance on them, 13therefore thus says the Lord GOD, I will stretch out my hand against Edom and cut off from it man and beast. And I will make it desolate; from Teman even to Dedan they shall fall by the sword. 14And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they shall do in Edom according to my anger and according to my wrath, and they shall know my vengeance, declares the Lord GOD.
Note that "by the hand of my people Israel." Of course, those who hate George Bush because he is a Christian will heap scorn on the notion that our president is doing the Lord's bidding in Iraq.

This would be impossible to prove to the skeptic, or even to the believer. The problem for the peace church people is that they can't get past their cherry-picking approach to Scripture. Many believers simply stop after reading Jesus' teaching in Luke 6:27-31. I believe that our war in Afghanistan, and Iraq, is in the tradition of Ezekiel. And that we helped to carry out His judgment against those such as the Taliban and the Saddam regime. Most importantly, I also believe that we have done so with a pure heart, and not for vainglory nor greed -- despite what the naysayers claim.

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3.14.2005    |    "They shall be male and female"
Well, a liberal judge in (where else?) San Francisco has ruled that California's ban on gay marriages is "unconstitutional" (Washington Post story). In the twisted (perverted, actually)logic of the left, the Sodomite judge Kramer noted that
The state's protracted denial of equal protection cannot be justified simply because such constitutional violation has become traditional.
Well, yes, the ban on gay marriages does have a bit of tradition behind it. Some 3,000 years, give or take a few centuries. But, hey marriage for heteros only is so, oh, Judeo-Christian. We're better than that here in San Francisco.

Well, just in case we've forgotten, Scripture, our best source for this sort of thing, is plain on this. To cite but one example, 1 Corinthians 6:
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality...
Our sense of right and wrong, our tradition, our morality is based on Judeo-Christian Scripture. Our very lives are based on a gift from God, who created man and woman so that they might be joined as one to propagate the species.

Now, when the flood waters raged, the Lord commanded Noah to ensure that he brought a male and female of each species. Good thing there weren't any gay marriages on the ark; talk about premature extinction of species. From Genesis 6:
19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female.
A good thing, too. Just as those who would wish gay marriage to be a good thing, and who falsely liken it to bans on inter-racial marriage.

The problem here is that the very same Scripture admonishes us that there is no longer Greek nor Jew, free nor slave, but that we are all one in Christ Jesus. Not to mention that Jesus Himself seems to have put the kabosh on such bans by His association with Samaritans and other 1st century ne'er-do-wells. But, those leading the gay agenda are not deterred by thousands of years of tradition:
But a deputy city attorney {Sodom Francisco], Therese Stewart, criticized "the so-called tradition argument," saying the meaning of marriage has evolved over time. As examples, she cited now-overturned bans on marriage by interracial couples, or laws that treated wives as a husband's property.
Ah yes. Another believer in "evolution." Well, to coin a phrase, that's just a theory now, isn't it?

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3.13.2005    |    A Buddhist Easter
Buddhism is a fascinating lifestyle, as it apparently can incorporate almost any religous philosophy. I had heard of "JUBUs", or Jewish Buddhists, and although I remain doubtful, it's clear that many others believe that one may be both a Buddhist and a theist.

As for whether Buddhism can coexist with Christianity, I'd say it's possible, but unlikely. The essence of Buddhism appears to be a total release from this world (not inconsistent with Christianity) and a total denial of self in the process. This, too, has its Christian adherents. But the Christian denies this world in order to attach himself to Christ, both in the here and now, and at the end times. If I understand it correctly, the Buddhist, in contrast, seeks nirvana, which entails the cessation of self, and absorption into a supreme spirit. Again, sezemingly not terribly inconsistent with our concept of union with God -- but off just enough to make it false, and substituting something in place of Christ as the center of being.

The bottom line? Buddhism can be harmless as a philosophy; harmful if it us used as a substitute for our desired longing for union with God through His Son. Even were Buddhism totally benign, in other words, it fails my simple test of not advancing the kingdom of God through Christ Jesus. Not to mention that Buddhists around the world do not shy from persecuting or killing Christians and others.

With all of this of background, I was taken aback this morning when a neighbor whom we'd invited to attend Easter services at our church declined, saying that she would be going to her daughter's Buddhist temple's Easter celebration. This struck me as just about a perfect condemnation of what I've been calling the Church of the Fluffy Bunny. A Buddhist temple would be the perfect version of a Church of the Fluffy Bunny. Celebrating something, the coming of spring, perhaps, in the name of Easter. In this they are indistinguishable from so-called Christians who love the Easter egg hunts, candy baskets, and frilly outfits of Easter morn, but will not admit that it took our sin which could only be paid through God's wrath, and the heinous death of His only Son on the Cross.

In this regard, Buddhists are the more honest, I think. They at least don't claim to be about Christ.
3.12.2005    |    Nebuchadnezzar and Mooby
That's Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in the Book of Daniel, and Mooby, the Golden Calf of "Dogma." "Dogma" is a deviously devout movie, and many believers might be put off by, among other things, the crude language and the vastly irreverant takes on matters of faith.

On the other hand, there is to my way of thinking a serious message about the true nature of God and of idolatry in the movie. This is the scene where Loki, the retired Angel of Death (played by Matt Damon), slaughters the board of directors of a Disneyesque entertainment conglomerate whose centerpiece is...the Golden Calf. Sparing but one righteous soul, showing that God's angel will carry out His vengeance with mercy. Sort of.

Back to old Nebuchadnezzar and his golden image. The king forced all his people to bow down to this statue of gold, and there is a straight line between this story and the fictional Mooby. Well, here's where fact and fiction become a little entangled.

From Daniel, Chapter 3:
26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!" Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. 28 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.
The faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had saved them. Will it save those of us who worship Mooby, the Golden Calf? The serious message of "Dogma" is that one may not serve both God and Mammon, and that, even in this modern world there will be Hell to pay for such worship.

Nebuchadnezzar was converted to worship of the one true God. How are we to be converted away from our golden calf? Do we even recognize our own Moobys?
3.11.2005    |    On Being Human
Two competing strands of thought in the media today on what it means to be human. The first, and more important (for now), concerns the creation of human embryos for the explicit purpose of experimentation. My thought is that God is the creator any time a mixture of male and female DNA combine to form a new person. Or, as some would put it, a "potential" person. It depends, doesn't it, on what one means by a "person."

Charles Krauthammer's column today reminds us that there is some clarity to be had in the stem cell-cloning-embryo debate. He writes
... I deplore the step that proponents of such research are already demanding: research cloning, i.e., creating special embryos entirely for the purpose of using them for their parts.

This is crossing a critical moral red line. We may honorably disagree about the moral dignity due a tiny human embryo. But we must establish some barrier to the most wanton, reckless and hubristic exploitation of the human embryo for our own purposes.

The line is easy to find: You do not create a human embryo to be a means to some other end. (emphasis added)
This is just so. A human embryo, in different language, has a God-given essence that we should not presume to destroy. What makes Dr. Krauthammer's position striking is that he is a paraplegic himself, so one might assume that his self-interest would be to maximize all forms of research that might alleviate his condition.

From the sublime of human creation (and destruction), we go to what, for now, looks to be an absurdist development in Japan. A story in today's Washington Post, "Humanoids With Attitude -- Japan Embraces New Generation of Robots." We are told the story of Saya, a robotic receptionist who looks almost human:
"I almost feel like she's a real person," said Kobayashi, an associate professor at the Tokyo University of Science and Saya's inventor. Having worked at the university for almost two years now, she's an old hand at her job. "She has a temper . . . and she sometimes makes mistakes, especially when she has low energy," the professor said.
Ah, anthromorphism at its finest. The article reminds us that Japan has a much higher tolerance than we in the West for machines that perform tasks previously reserved for humans. Perhaps too high.

There isn't much of an "I, Robot" sense of intelligent, "ensouled" machines...yet. These robots in Japan are fairly primitive in comparison with the robots of "I, Robot", or of the Terminator series. Nontheless, there's an unsettling element here, and we need to be mindful of crossing a line in the future.

What line? The Turing test, perhaps, is one marker. Another would be when the reasonable person is not able to distinguish between a human and a robot. At that point, I'd start to get nervous, as utility theory may become all too real, and applied to humans and machines alike. That is, if a human, for reasons of disability, can not perform as well as a robot in basic, everyday tasks, it might become all that easier to kill that person. Just like turning off a switch in a defective machine...

We are not there yet. I would hope that we give every bit as much thought to the ethics of robotic intelligence as we are now starting to do with cloning.
3.10.2005    |    ...though He may tarry
The full quotation, from the Thirteen Articles of Maimonides is:
And Ma'amin, I believe with a full heart in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may tarry, I will wait for him on any day that he may come."
Even though he may tarry. Which brings us to the Messiah, Jesus who became Christ.

We have separated from our elder brothers, the Jews, of course. They rejected Jesus as Messiah, yet we share with the Jews the uncertainty of His return. Or, as a faithful Jew would say, His (first) coming.

We, however, have been assured by God, through His Scriptures, that Jesus will return. Mark Chapter 13 tells us of the end times:
24 "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
Jesus' disciples, while He walked the earth as one of us, were told to repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. It turns out that meant the incarnation, Passion, and resurrection of Jesus. As for when He will return in glory, Mark 13 also tells us
32 "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.
We now stand with Maimonedes, when we say of Jesus' return, "I believe with a full heart in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may tarry, I will wait for him on any day that he may come."


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3.09.2005    |    A Trainwreck in Slow Motion
When you come upon the United Church of Christ's website, you want to believe that they are still an authentic voice for our Lord. This is a church that can trace some of its roots back to those stalwarts of the Reformation, our Puritan forebears. Which makes their current state all the more depressing.

UCC is, of course, the ne plus ultra of the Northern, specifically New England, liberal church. While their roots may have been with the Puritans, they have veered so sharply from those roots as to be almost unrecognizable. They have journeyed into the folds of social liberalism at the expense of the Gospel.

There is a case to be made for those things that the so-called United Church of Christ espouses, and reasonable people may disagree on the virtue of those things. The problem is that UCC masquerades as a church of Christ. The paramount virtue for UCC appears to be the gospel of socialism, and inclusiveness at the expense of the Bible.

UCC, and others, will freely quote those verses that support their “social gospel”, or whatever happens to be the guilty-white liberal flavor of the month. They will just as freely ignore those verses that bring us crashing back to the harsh reality of our Lord as the perfect sacrifice of a wrathful God.

Denominations like UCC prefer to ignore the wrath, and focus solely on the mercy of God. They are, perhaps, the quintessential Church of the Fluffy Bunny. All joy and laughter, no cross, no suffering, pausing only for the requisite guilt trip for the sin of being affluent and white. Sin? Satan? Damnation? Judgment? How very, very, antiquated.

Jesus included all who would hear the good news and who would repent. All churches that confess Him as Lord must do the same. The UCC simply forgets the second part, also insisted upon by Jesus: Go and sin no more.

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   |    Christian Carnival LX
This week's Christian Carnival, the LXth (is it ok for a Reformed Protestant to use Roman numerals?) is being hosted by Douglas Bass at Belief Seeking Understanding.
3.08.2005    |    Romans 13
Well, in today's column, Richard Cohen has discovered Romans 13:1-5, which tells us
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
Cohen, as an unbeliever, of course rejects the very notion that God has instituted governments. More to the point, he uses Romans 13 to skewer my second-favorite Supreme Court Justice, Anton Scalia (Clarence Thomas is my favorite), quoting Justice Scalia on the Ten Commandments displays as being "a symbol of the fact that government derives its authority from God." To which Cohen writes, "Oh yeah, Who says?"

Well, God did, but that's another matter. Cohen has some company in this matter, and not just the usual liberal atheists. The late John Howard Yoder, for one. Yoder, a Mennonite, was a pacifist who based his views on Christ Jesus. In his seminal work, The Politics of Jesus, Yoder argued (this is my Cliff's Notes understanding) that Christians owe allegiance only to the Kingdom of God through Christ, and not to any worldly power. His thesis was that Romans 13 was a redaction of Paul's original epistle to the Romans, added to be pleasing to the then-all powerful Roman empire. Or, if not pleasing, at least not threatening of Caeser's authority.

Yoder was a principled pacifist, but I think he was wrong. I think we must accept Romans 13 at its face value, since it is supported rather well elsewhere, for instance Paul's letter to the Collosians, Chapter 1:
6 For by him [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him.
This is plain enough. God instituted governments, not all of them good. To say the least. But then, Christians should know that we were not put on this earth to be entertained or coddled. We suffer often, usually in fact, in solidarity with the Christ. So are we really prepared to think that God somehow doesn't know what He's doing when he sends us tyrants? Tyrants, as well as just rulers, all owe their existence to God.

Let me put this concept differently. In the over-used passage in Matthew 22:21:
They said, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
This passage is often quoted to justify giving obedience to the ruler, however tyrannical. I'd ask this, however: what on this earth, or in this universe, exactly, is not belonging to God? My take is that Jesus simply put one over on the hypocrites, told them that they should render to Caesar that which is Caesar's, without adding the obvious: all things owe their being to God.

So we should not give blind obedience to any secular ruler. God, in fact, has also inspired us to not just accept tyranny. A ruler, to retain God's blessing, must be just (see, for example, 2 Samuel 23:3). This is the context for Romans 13 -- not blind obedience to any ruler (can anyone say "Nazis"?), but obedience to authorities who rule justly. In fact, one of the greatest churchmen of the Reformation, William Tyndale, is quoted as saying "Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God!", and of course he is correct.

Writing this simply, of course, does not mean I think that it is ever a simple thing to assess whether a given ruler is just in the eyes of God. As Christians, the best we can do is focus on the Kingdom of God, prepare for His return, and in the meantime, resist tyranny where we find it, and understand that just governments derive their true authority from Almighty God.
   |    How free is your will?
Although I belong to a Baptist church, I consider myself Reformed. This distinction really isn't important in my dealings with the church, but I find it is vital to my understanding of God. And, therefore, to my sense of salvation, or lack thereof.

How did I come to realize that I am just another one of those Puritan-hearts, a dour, theocratic, know-nothing troglodyte of a Calvinist? How do I know I am Reformed, and not just play-acting? Simple. The elements of Reformed theology just make plain, good, sense. And, they are all Biblically-based.

The greatest virtue for me, as a believer, is that my church be based solely on Scripture. The Baptists do this with some grace, pun intended. Although my congregation is somewhat divided on what I'd consider to be the essential element of distinction between Reformed and what I'll call mainline Protestant theology: Free Will.

For me it is simple, and, yes, I've been accused of being simple-minded by certain High Church priests. But it's fun to see their frowns when I announce my Calvinistic leanings...

Free will? A vanity. In the first place, we are fallen creatures, struggling mightily to get back to the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. Just can't seem to get past that big ol' flashing sword (Genesis 3:24). As Paul told the church at Rome in Romans 3,
9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10as it is written:
"None is righteous, no, not one;
And, to seal the deal, we must remember that, even as we build mighty bridges and buildings that scrape the sky, we are but dust, as the Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 103:
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
To summarize: we are fallen, transient creatures, prone to doing evil. Common sense, everyday observation confirms that while there is much good in the world, there is much, much, more evil. Which should come as little surprise to those who can read the Bible.

Our righteousness, our salvation rests solely with God -- we are far too weak and insignificant in comparison with He Who Is. It is another vanity to place ourselves on His level and claim that we are co-authors of our salvation. There is not a better word for this conceit than this -- vanity. Even were our will strong, and think of how mighty it must be to be on a par with God, we are mired in evil. It is in our very DNA. We are small; He is great. We are weak and prone to sin. His Son put paid to that sin -- free of charge and owing nothing to us.

Why this should be so is a mystery, but Scripture tells us that this is nonetheless the truth. God's will be done (hmm, think I've heard this phrase a time or two...), on earth as it is in heaven. Not my will. Not yours. And it most certainly is not free as regards salvation.

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3.07.2005    |    Tim Challies at it again
March Giveaway

Two things. Visit Tim's fine blog, Challies.com. Click to win two fine Christian books. Oh, I lied -- er, mispoke -- a third thing: Why don't you use this referral ID: 41179.
   |    Free will?
Consider the statement Jesus makes in John 6:37: "...whoever comes to me I will never cast out." All who come will be saved? How can this be? It is, after all, in stark contrast to the famous quotation from Matthew 22:14: "For many are called, but few are chosen." Or, in other words, one of the keystones for the limited atonement of Calvinism. We will not all be saved. How to reconcile these two seemingly diametrically opposed statements?

First, the context for John 6:37:
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
Note well: "all that the Father gives me will come to me." In other words, that big bad predestination raising its battered head. Darn those pesky Calvinists.

Perhaps I missed something, but it comes down to the "I" in TULIP -- Irresistible Grace. When God comes knocking, there's nothing for you to do but to surrender. Perhaps it is tautological, but, just to avoid fighting needlessly with any die-hard Arminians, I'd hazard that those who seek Christ with all of their hearts, souls, and minds, are precisely those who had been chosen, from before time, to do exactly that.

Once the seeker finds Him, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9, Jesus says "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." So seek, and never let any convince you that the doctrine of predestination somehow excuses you for not seeking Christ.

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3.06.2005    |    PEWSLAG
No, this isn't the name of a funky new men's cologne. Rather, it's a mnemonic device to help remember the seven deadly sins. Which are, drum roll, maestro, if you please:








My personal favorite has always been gluttony, but I've indulged in all of these at one time or another. The good news is that I know this, and make every attempt to not repeat any of them. The bad news is that the pride of the pack, pun intended, Pride, will likely force me to sin yet again.

Pride may be considered the father of all other sins, although wide acceptance of this might put some some Christian sin accountants out of business (you know who they are). One can make an argument that it is pride that causes us to commit all other sins. For example, consider gluttony, which on its face might seem to have nothing to do with your pride.

But it does. Gluttony is, among other things, a waste of God's gift of food to us; an unneeded consumption that is blind to the possible needs of others. Blind also is it to our own needs -- our pride tells us that it does not matter what we stuff down our gullets, even though there is ample evidence that an ample girth (the natural result of gluttony) is not what God had intended for us. In short, our pride blinds us to both the needs of others, ourselves, and the requirement that we be faithful stewards of the land and our bodies, both gifts from God.

Envy is easy to attribute to Pride. Only someone who thinks that he is better than someone else would envy what that person has. Or, put it in the form of a question you might have asked yourself: "Hey, Joe over there has something, and since I'm so much smarter/stronger/handsome (fill in your strong points), why shouldn't I have it?"

C.S. Lewis tells us about Pride (found via Reverend Mike's House of Homiletic Hash):
Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices.... Many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity -- that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you become chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride.... For Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.
And, last but not least, Paul wrote to the church at Corinth to warn us against pride:
1 Corinthians 4:6
..."Do not go beyond what is written." Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
We are all prideful creatures. Therein lies the problem. As with most things, the answer also lies in Scripture, in this instance Paul's letter to the Galatians (6:4):
Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else...

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3.05.2005    |    Pride of the Lutheran Church?
You must wonder sometimes what motivates some churches, when they cling to sinners. Case in point: the "Bind, Torture, Kill" mass murderer, one Dennis Rader, who is the lay president of the Christ Lutheran Church (Wichita, Kansas) council. The church's pastor, Rev. Michael Clark, was shocked, but is standing by his congregant.

From a Washington Post story in today's Religion section, Rev. Clark speaks this truth:
He is still a part of the body of Christ, and that is something some people will have a hard time hearing.
Yes, Rev. Clark, this is indeed something some people will have a hard time hearing. In a brief news story, perhaps there wasn't space to go one step further, and note that Rader, assuming he is guilty (seems likely; DNA evidence appears to have nailed him), is just a more notorious version of what each of us is: a sinner in need of God's saving grace.

I think you can be sure that Christ's enemies in this world will make much of the fact that Rader was a pillar of his church. One can almost hear the cries of "hypocrite", as the Devil's legions here on earth continue to attempt to bring down Christ's church. No, I don't mean specifically Christ Lutheran Church. I mean all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Rev. Clark has it just right, and as an experienced pastor, he doesn't strike me as one who could be fooled. He likely knows exactly what Rader is.

This is captured nicely in this statement by Rev. Clark (via Seattle Times):
If Dennis has done what they've alleged he did, then he must pay the price. It still does not have any effect on how I minister to him. I still will love him.
This is all we can expect in this world. The evil we do against our fellow man must be accounted for. In the here and now of this world, and in the world to come. The only hope for Rader is a full confession, a full and sincere repentance, and paying whatever price our legal system demands. In full.

Only this will allow this crooked timber, Rader, to be made straight in God's eyes.

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3.04.2005    |    No Wrath, No Gospel
John Piper on the wrath of God and why there can be no sense in the Gospel message without it. Check out the interview here.

Especially consider what John Piper considers to be his mission in life: "spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all people through Jesus." Think on it -- the supremacy of God in all things. To think that any other power on earth, especially that of mortal man, can affect our salvation is...illogical if one posits an all-knowing, all-powerful God.

With thanks and a hat tip to Michael Spencer at The Boar's Head.

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   |    All sins the same?
If one is so inclined, you may get a full discourse on the nature of sin, and on the assignment of various sins into the major categories of venial and mortal. I don't pretend to be any kind of an expert on sin (how's that for a not-very-humble statement). I do know that not all sin is the same. Some sins are worse than others. Or so it would seem.

Which brings me to a common topic of public debate in the chuch: the inclusion and acceptance of openly homosexual people and the so-called gay agenda. A lot of evangelicals have a really, really, hard time with what is usually called "acceptance" or "inclusion" of gays in the life of the church. As do I -- if by "inclusion" and "acceptance" you mean ignoring sin. Which is at the heart of our resistance -- it's because we are being scolded, being told that if we don't accept certain sins we are not even worthy of the name Christisn.

That's the problem -- some of us don't accept sin. In this we emulate Jesus. Our Savior certainly wasn't one to shrink from calling sin by its name. In fact, He comes across as not very "accepting" of sin. Consider just one extract from the Gospels, from Matthew 18:
7 Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
Those who can read must know that homosexual acts are sinful. But why is there such a focus on these sins, when we are surrounded by adulterers, by thieves, by those who take the Lord's name in vain? What of those who all but literally bow down before money and the things that money may buy? In different words, idolatry. What about the millions among us who routinely do not observe the Lord's Day? Are these also not sins? Do not each of these call for some form of punishment?

The answers are: of course these are all sins, and, likewise, all call for punishment -- absent repentance. And there is the key. No Christian may "accept" sin as normative, as something that will continue indefinitely. God doesn't. His Son doesn't. To do otherwise is to turn Jesus' teachings about sin on their head. Punishment may remain the Lord's, but it is on us, His flock, to recognize it and resist it with the aid of the Holy Spirit.

Does it really matter which of these sins is worse than the others? Yes, and no. Yes, some sins are unrecoverable in this life. The taking of an innocent life, through murder or abortion, for example. Life is a precious gift to us from God, and one we are not able to restore once taken. So the wrongful taking of life must rank as among the most heinous of sins. How about adultery? Theft? Blasphemy? Coveting thy neighbor's goods? Homosexuality? In one way or another, they also deny life, even though they may not literally result in the ending of a life on earth.

As it is with homosexuality, so it should be with theft, with adultery, with other sins -- never, ever accept the sin. I think that, were there the same sort of intense lobbying by a Thieves Guild to simply accept thieves and be "inclusive", I'd feel the same way about stealing as I do about homosexual acts. The good news is that thieves don't usually steal your stuff and then look at you strangely when you accuse them of having sinned.

Never accept the sin. Always accept the sinner who repents. As many times as it takes to stick. All sin is disobedience to the Word of God; while some sins may seem worse than others, they all have the effect of separating us from Him. This separation will become eternal for those who have not been chosen for unconditional election. Another name for this eternal separation from God is hell.

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3.03.2005    |    Remarkable
With no pun intended, if you have any interest whatsoever in the reconciliation of a biblical view with the so-called gay and lesbian agenda brewing in American churches, you must read this remarkable series by Rev. Mark Roberts. The series, written last year, was prompted by the movement in the Episcopal Church to embrace (again, no pun intended) an openly gay man as a bishop.

At the risk of oversimplification of a graceful and Christ-driven series, what I've taken away from Rev. Roberts' opus is this overly brief summary:
  • Jesus was open and accepting of all persons in His ministry, and He loves us all

  • To gain the kingdom of heaven through Jesus, however, one must repent and leave one's sins behind and be made whole

  • The church's response to gay people today must be to imitate Jesus -- love them unconditionally, but not accept their sins

  • And no double standard -- sin is sin, whether committed by gay or straight people.
The bottom line is that we can not abandon biblical authority for some feel-good vibes in the here and now. The Bible remains our eternal truth, and it is clear in telling us that homosexual behavior is a sin. Not that homosexual persons are bad. Just that their behavior is sinful.

Even if some Episcopalian bishops and others disagree, and call us names such as "homophobe" or "intolerant." Or, even, God forbid, "exclusive" -- as in, excluding sinners from union with the Almighty.
3.02.2005    |    "tying the legal system to Protestantism"
First an apocryphal story from the Troubles in Ireland. A Jewish fella in Dublin goes into a pub just off O'Connell Street; he's a stranger, and right away he's accosted by the publican: Answer me this question, boyo, "I know you're of the Jewish race, but are ye a Catholic Jew or are ye a Protestant Jew? Your very life depends on the answer."

The point being that the Troubles had very little, really, to do with Catholic or Protestant theology. They had everything to do with culture and political power. Hence, for this purpose, a Jew could be a Republican (Catholic) or a Loyalist (Protestant). Which brings me home to America, in which the analogy is that we are all, Catholics, Jews, and others -- Protestant.

My point isn't that all of the varied ethnic and religious groups that have made up America share in our Protestant theology. Rather, most assimilated Americans have been acculterated into an essentially Protestant worldview. The key word is "assimilated." There are today many hyphenated Americans whose first loyalty remains their native or ancestral homeland, language, or religion. Too many, in my opinion, but that's subject for another time.

How are most assimiliated Americans Protestant, if not in theology? For starters, in the belief that there is a God, and that all men (and this includes women, of course) are created in His image with certain unalienable rights. I think you all know the litany -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It goes further in the Protestant direction with the classically American precept of the primacy of the individual and his freedom of conscience. It's no accident that there are thousands of Protestant denominations.

In the American system, as codified in our Constitution, power flows from the individual to the state -- not the other way around. No one has supreme power; no King or Pope to rule over us with Divine right or infalliability. Power is also decentralized to the maximum extent consistent with maintaining the commonweal. Or at least it used to be, but again, a rant for another time and place. In my view, these are both classically Protestant, which emphasizes the individual's relationship with God while affirming the unity of God's Church.

With this as background, I am certain that the Founding Fathers, virtually all Protestants, would have been surprised at the charge that it was somehow wrong to be "tying the legal system to Protestantism." Since this is precisely the worldview that helped to shape it in the first place. This, however, is the charge that the Gray Lady's lead editorial today is making with respect to displays of the Ten Commandments on state property.

The New York Times is predictable, however, and no one should be surprised at this point of view. They are, very simply, against any expression of religion in the public square. Unless, perhaps, it involves saluting our Muslim brothers. But I digress.

No claim can be made that Americans are faithful Protestants, qua Protestants. Although a large enough number are. More importantly, the basic Protestant worldview of the individual's liberty are transferred to the secular realm. By Catholics. By Jews. And, it is to be hoped, by Muslims, those of other faiths, and, God help them, those of no faith.
3.01.2005    |    Tradition, tradition
I can almost hear Zero Mostel singing, as he defined the role of Tevye the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof. One of the themes of this great, if overly sentimental play, is that tradition can provide stability in an uncertain and dangerous world -- until it interferes with what your heart tells you to do.

Well, that's what tradition does -- provide stability. In our faith, the Reformation put paid to the conceit that human-inspired traditions may take the place of Christ's eternal and unchanging message. This is a heresy that seems to have started as early as the first century, as we have Paul admonishing the church at Colosse in his letter (Colossians, Chapter 2):
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
Now, one man's tradition may be another's heresy, and how we interpret Scripture is itself subject to controversy. And, before we Protestants get too haughty and discard all sorts of babies with the traditional holy bath water, we need to examine anything that seems to be in place in our own faith tradition simply because it is a tradition.

Tradition is in the eye of the beholder, it seems. My take is that the least departure from the written word of Scripture is best. Before all of you sola scriptura folks, myself included, start nodding furiously, consider how much we have departed from the literal word in things such as, oh, to pick an easy one, killing those who commit adultery:
Leviticus 20:10 If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
An explanation for such commands, directly from God, mind you, is that the "death" is a spiritual death. A separation from God and His people. Harsh enough.

Our tradition, of course, now tells us that the cross of Christ provides for the salvation of sinners who believe, confess Him as Lord, and repent of their sins. At least some of us. So, the Christian "tradition" is to relieve the sinner from immediate execution, and let him await judgment from the Lord at the end.

But our "new" tradition is really not new. It is simply the continuation of using Scripture as our ultimate authority. John tells us, at the end of Revelation, that the Book is sealed (Revelation 22:18). While I've often wondered about this, I accept it.

At least that's my tradition -- least departure from the written Word is best. What's yours?

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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.