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5.27.2005    |    Time Out
I'm off to Scotland, with a side trip to Spain. They call it vacation; I call it a chance to greet strangers and make new friends, drink some good stout and whiskey (all things in moderation, of course...), and eat some haggis and blood pudding. Which of course, taste even better washed down with a fresh ale or stout from a local brewery.

Don't knock them until you've tried them, I say...

Look for more itinerant preachings around the middle of June. 'Til then, God's blessings on all.
   |    Pesky Pascal
The problem of God's existence and purpose in the face of evil has plagued theologians and philosophers as long as there have been men wondering about creation and the divine. It is the big "why?"

Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth century French mathematician and theologian. In his famous series of essays, Pensees (Thoughts), he laid down a marker, a logical test of faith in the form of a wager:
If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having, neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is ... you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then without hesitation that He is.
I'll take the wager, but I'm a believing Christian already. For an atheist's take, I recommend A Skeptic's Guide to Christianity. That recommendation has absolutely no endorsement attached to it. I found the site by accident, and found it to have some decent internal logic.

Notice I wrote "internal." The author, Paul Tobin, goes to great lengths to discredit Christianity by, among other things, ad hominen attacks on major figures in the Church's history. Which is typically what folks do when they can't argue something on its merits. Of course he went too far when he attacked John Calvin...

Nevertheless, Mr. Tobin has a rather complete dissertation on evil and its role in (according to him) disproving Christianity. Which he fails to do, but it's useful to keep tabs on our adversaries. What I would pray for would be for Paul Tobin, and others like him, to see the light by seeing the Light that is Christ.

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5.26.2005    |    Ezra the racist?
Ezra prophesied at the time of the restoration of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. One of his themes is to keep the "race" of Israel pure and free from the taint of abominations. From Ezra 9, we read of his lament in reaction to this report to Ezra:
The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race[offspring] has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.
Is this merely old-fashioned hatred of the "other", of miscegenation as moderns would understand the term? In short, is this dismay by Ezra racism, plain and simple?

Absolutely not. The entire notion of a covenantal people, Israel, chosen by God, had nothing to do with the social construct that we now call "race." Back then, and until well into modern times, the word "race" was simply another way of designating a tribe, and later, collections of tribes that coalesced into nations. As in, the English "race," or the German "race." On the contrary, the Israelites were, from the very beginning, a conglomeration of varied tribes.

Also from the very beginning, the Lord's covenant with the people of Israel demanded total fealty to the One True God. None others to be worshipped or tolerated, at least among the people of Israel. When Israel strayed from this simple precept, as it often did, they were sharply chastised by a wrathful God. As were many of Israel's enemies -- for the crime of denying God by worshipping idols, or of forcing the Israelites to worship idols.

The fear of mixing the blood of Israel with that of outsiders was the fear that this would lead to Israel's again falling away from God, and breaking the first commandment. The crux of the matter was perhaps best expressed in Psalm 106:
35but they mixed with the nations
and learned to do as they did.
36They served their idols,
which became a snare to them.
The lesson? Ezra, and, throughout the Bible, all of Israel, is not expressing racism by stating that they are the chosen people. They are stating what the covenant at Mt. Sinai, dictated by God, told them: You shall have no other gods before me.


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5.24.2005    |    No, they're not kidding
Just when you thought that the Church of the Fluffy Bunny could not sink any lower, they smack us, as though with a pie, with something called the Clown Eucharist. This particular CoTFB is Trinity Church, which, if memory serves, is a member of the Episcopal "Church" USA.

In case any Reformed Protestants are reading this, the Eucharist is ECUSA's centerpiece, the manifestation of Jesus Christ in their midst. Eucharist is a solemn and serious business, or at least used to be. But not this past Sunday at Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City. From Trinity's website, this:
All are invited to come in clown dress, big hats, floppy shoes or some sort of foolish garb. Those watching on the Internet might even be foolish enough to put on some white face or a big grease-paint smile as we worship God and learn about the structure of the Eucharist by being the circus which came to town and to church on that day. I look forward to worshiping with you.
This is classic CoTFB. It is conforming the holiest rite of the church to the world, thereby making a mockery of it. Trinity's explanation? It's part of "being a fool for Christ."

Trinity's problem? They used the word "fool" in its modern sense; a person with no wits about them; a clown. Hmm. Paul wrote of being a fool in the sense of not accepting the conventional wisdom of the day. For example, from 1 Corinthians 3:
18Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight.
Note well the quotation marks in Scripture. I sincerely doubt that Paul and the early Christians would have looked kindly on those who pranced about, making a foolish pudding of the Eucharist. So Trinity's problem, which is shared by many, many Christian Lite attendees, is that they are simply foolish, clowning around, placing the bitter medicine of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross in treacly syrup. Gospels too difficult to swallow? Not to worry, boys and girls, we've got clowns.

This clowning borders on being an abomination before the Lord.

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5.23.2005    |    Handing out Bibles
Just a thought about missionaries. Our church, along with many other Baptist churches, has regularly sent missionaries as part of Baptist teams over to India and Africa. They are gentle, respectful of local customs (other than those that deny our Lord), and their first goal is to gain the trust of the locals. If they can help the locals with some problem-solving, such as building a better shelter, arranging better medical care, and the usual humanitarian ends, this is the entree to preaching the gospel. Of course they provide Bibles as part of their preaching, and arrange to have Bibles printed in the local languages if that is feasible.

Then I got to thinking about the usual harsh criticism of so-called secular humanists (English translation: those who have too much faith in their lack of it). You know the type: the scornful criticism of those overly-moralistic and judgmental Christians, who let the locals wallow in filth and disease, and starve, while they sing hymns and hand out Bibles. Of the sort made infamous by the Abner Hale character in James Michener's Hawaii.

There likely were many missionaries of that stripe in the past, but I suspect not nearly as many as the secularists would like to believe. We all have our fairy tales; theirs is about how evil Christianity must be. After all, they, being the superior intellectual types that they are, must have rejected it for good reason. The truth is that it is most likely that past Christian missionaries didn't just sing hymns and distribute Bibles, but did pretty much as today's Baptists do. That is, try to improve the lot of the locals, and get in some preaching while so doing.

But here's the kicker. If you give a starving man a Bible, and nothing else, have you not helped him, at least potentially, to seek eternal salvation? Mind you, I don't advocate just handing out Bibles. Not if you're able to provide material assistance as well. Just let's not forget the power of the Gospels, that, even without so-called material assistance, provide the hope needed to survive the day.

And, who knows, survive eternity.

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5.22.2005    |    "they have pierced my hands and feet "
As part of a review of a triad of books in today's Washington Post Book Review, David Klinghoffer's latest book, "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, The Turning Point in Western History" is given a favorable review. I've not read the book, and likely will not, but I've read a good deal of Mr. Klinghoffer's work in conservative periodicals such as National Review; enough to respect his talents as a writer and thinker.

That said, I'm not going to accept any thesis derived from a faith that denies my own, which his does. Yet David Klinghoffer's story is both inspiring and illuminating for all who have faith, even those of us who think he is in serious error about God's nature. A sympathetic Jewish perspective on his background and his seminal work, "The Lord Will Gather Me In" may be found here.

David Klinghoffer's error, which he shares with the author of the WaPo book review, is that he uses a legalistic approach to denying that Jesus is the Messiah. The title of this post comes from Psalm 22, which appears to be a reliable indicator of what the world will do to the true Messiah. The verse in context:
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet —
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!
The legalistic approach? The author points out that the original Hebrew for Psalm 22:16 is better rendered "Like lions [they maul] my hands and feet." To which the author adds "which, lacking the 'piercing,' seems much less like an Old Testament foreshadowing of the crucifixion." Perhaps. It is a hard corner into which the Biblical literalist paints himself, if he insists that, somehow, our faith hangs on the translation of a single verse. Or that the mauling by allegorical lions, given their sharp claws, is not a "piercing."

My response to this is that my faith most certainly does not rise, or fall, on the translation of God's word by fallible men. In any event, there are sufficient other markers in the Hebrew Scriptures that presage the Savior, even if He did not establish, then and there in first century Jerusalem, the worldly kingdom that may have been envisioned in Ezekiel 37 (which is what I would guess the review's author refers to, although he does not give any reference):
22 And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
Well, I believe this is true, and that Jesus will fulfill this on a global scale when He returns. Again, my faith does not depend on the translation (or mis-translation) of a few verses; it stands on the entirety of God's word in His Scriptures. I know it; feel it in my bones. As I'm sure that David Klinghoffer feels his truth in his bones. One of us is correct, but not because of any legalistic reading of Scripture.

God is not subject to copy editors. His truth is revealed, a little bit at a time, throughout human history. We can only glimpse, darkly, with distorted human eyes, at His eternal and blinding truth. Jesus was God incarnate. The Gospels give evidence to this. He will come again. St. John the Divine's Revelation tells us this, and if it seems funky or other-worldly, that's not God's fault.

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   |    faith working through love
The Book of Galatians is at the heart of the Reformation. In Chapter 5, Paul tells us, in language that is crystal clear, that it is only through faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified. This chapter appears to be a harsh condemnation of the Jews, or, more specifically, the Jews of the time who saw Christ as their Messiah.

In fact, Paul writes of the "yoke of slavery" that is the law, for which circumcision is the marker. But, as with much in Reformed theology, less is more. The simplest explanation is best, and perhaps all those thousands and thousands of words of exegesis were only needed because the early church got it wrong in the first place.

Paul does not really condemn those who were in the Law of Moses. What he tells them is the simple truth that "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)"

Only faith. Working through love, to be certain. Once Christ Jesus has brought you into His path with His power, you will then work through love. Before He has done so, all of your work(s) will be nice, but have nothing to do with salvation. The corollary? No amount of circumcision, of works, will save you -- unless and until you have faith.

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5.21.2005    |    Notional Council of "Churches"
No, "notional" isn't a typo. And the scare quotes in the title are exactly right. The left-wing lobbying organization that operates in the guise of faith, the National Council of Churches, should be known to all as exactly what it is. The "churches" that are members may have individual members who are stalwart believers. Yet these churches, formerly called "Protestant mainline", have lost their way, dabbling in liberal politics and seeing only a gospel of income redistribution and welfare checks.

The latest salvo from NCC? For some reason, they believe that the Christian church, which they claim to represent in some measure, has a dog in the current fight in the Senate on judicial nominees. From their website, consider this proud statement on the filibuster brouhaha:
A historic civil rights organization has joined the NCC in warning that efforts to eliminate the Senate filibuster may dismantle the system of checks and balances that once made civil rights legislation possible
Talk about a selective memory. The filibuster, led by the same party that now wishes to again stymie the will of the majority, was infamously used to...what's your first guess?

If you guessed that the most infamous and common use of the filibuster was to kill civil rights legislation, you would get the gold star. So, one might think, that eliminating this undemocratic vestige of the "golden age" of Robert Byrd's Klan days might be something that a Christian should get behind. Should; but so-called Christians of the NCC stripe would much rather pursue a purely partisan agenda.

It is curious that the NCC, supposedly in the business of saving souls, should be so heavily invested in politics that it places such things at the top of its agenda (at least on their home page on the web). Perhaps their choice of issues is a reflection of their pretending to be a Christian organization.

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5.20.2005    |    Thanksgiving
No, not that gravy-soaked holiday on the fourth Thursday of November that has become known more for kicking off the Christmas orgy of commercialism than for the actual giving of thanks. Rather, the result of random Bible reading.

One habit, which I highly commend, is to open your Bible at random, and read the chapter you've "selected." Today I "selected" Psalm 147, which begins thusly:
1Praise the LORD!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.
2The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
4He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
5Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
6The LORD lifts up the humble;
he casts the wicked to the ground.
"He gathers the outcasts of Israel." And He heals us; binds our wounds. We are all outcasts since Christ Jesus praised, and obeyed, the Father unto death.

Yet we must praise God the Father, for, yes, He surely will heal us and bind our wounds -- and gather us outcasts, we who are adrift in the seemingly godless world of today.

Praise Him; love Him; He will surely return the favor.

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5.19.2005    |    Chosen still
An old limerick goes, "How odd, of God, to Choose, the Jews." Not odd at all. Merely the fulfillment of promises made to the Patriarchs. The Jews as the Chosen People has been a source for a bit of anti-Semitism over the centuries, and, to be fair, a source of false pride for some Jews.

In my experience, most nominal Jews, as with most nominal Christians (by "nominal I mean those born into the faith but with little depth of belief or participation), don't realize that to have been chosen by God was not due to any particular merits of the ancient Israelites. Just as we who are ancient Israel's spiritual descendants are saved solely by God's grace, not by virtue of our own merit.

From Deuteronomy 7, God is telling the Israelites rather directly that they were chosen
6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10 and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. 11 You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.
And so the people Israel, with varying degrees of success, kept the Law. Until God saw that it was the right moment in human history to further reveal Himself by becoming one of us. Serving TDY (Temporary DutY) here on earth, as it were. And by putting paid to our sins, once, and for all. For those who were chosen. Who God knew, from eons before He gave Moses the Torah, would be "his treasured possession."

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5.18.2005    |    Sparrows and abortion
No apparent connection? First, consider the word of God as given to the prophet Jeremiah 1:
4 Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you..." This is God speaking. God, who knows each and every single person ever born, ever to be born, as long as there shall be persons in His image on the earth. So what, the skeptic says. Jeremiah was special, a revered prophet. Surely God doesn't care in the same way about all of us.

Surely He does. The skeptic may be correct; you and I are not the equal of the prophet Jeremiah. Perhaps not in our eyes. But in the eyes of God, all of us are equal to the extent that we are His people. From the smallest and dullest child, to the most brilliant sage. For as our Lord tells us in Matthew 10
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
It really is that simple. And it helps to explain why we should always choose life for those yet to be born. Who knows, the baby that is killed in an abortion might have become the new Jeremiah. Or Einstein. Or the homeless man you take such pity on but would not trade places with for all the tea in China. All worthy of the gift of life in God's eyes.

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5.17.2005    |    BibleSkool wiki
Russ Lipton, who runs the excellent blog coffee-house-at-the-end-of-days has also been running the BibleSkool. No, this is not a typo; Russ writes that "the 'other' domain name was long since taken."

BibleSkool is a collection of thoughtful and thought-provoking essays, all grounded in Scripture. The table of contents for BibleSkool may be found here. And now we, as in thee and me, have been cordially invited to join in the conversation. Hence, Russ Lipton's BibleSkool wiki. Russ provides the "why":
Please consider this as an experiment in online Christian fellowship centered around a single, shared purpose: study and meditation on God's Word.

While I welcome fellowship about topics I have covered in my devotional pieces, I am seeking your help in improving my work and extending it to subjects (and scriptures) that have not yet been covered.
A worthy enterprise. Check it out at your earliest convenience.

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   |    Mein Kampf
We now find out, surprise, surprise, that the "U.S. Long Had Memo on Handling of Koran". From the WaPo story:
The three-page memorandum, dated Jan. 19, 2003, says that only Muslim chaplains and Muslim interpreters can handle the holy book, and only after putting on clean gloves in full view of detainees.

The detailed rules require U.S. Muslim personnel to use both hands when touching the Koran to signal "respect and reverence," and specify that the right hand be the primary one used to manipulate any part of the book "due to cultural associations with the left hand." The Koran should be treated like a "fragile piece of delicate art," it says.
This is multiculturalism and political correctness running rampant. If the Koran is your holy book, read the Bible for the actual truth. If it is not, then know that the Koran denies Jesus Christ as the Son of God and has quite a few harsh words on what to do with us "infidels" who will not submit to God exactly as written in the Koran. It is, in short, a wicked and evil book as used by the radical Islamists. It is demonstrably the prime source and justification of murder, rape, and mayhem the world over as Islam attempts to conquer by the sword -- it's preferred and demonstrably only means for wide proselyetization.

The point, which I trust is obvious by now, is that just because a large number of ignorant people believe the Koran is holy does not make it so. Further, we are at war with radical Islam. Those who say this is not the case perhaps have not been paying close attention. We are, in fact, precisely at war with those in Islam who make a fetish of their Koran, who idolize (is in the sense of idolatry; see previous post).

So, why are we being so extra-special concerned with the feelings of those radical Islamist terrorists that we've caught? I don't know. But I do know this: an analogue would be instructions given during World War II to treat "Mein Kampf", Hitler's blueprint for world domination and genocide, with the utmost care and concern, to avoid offending German POWs. After all, Hitler created a cult of personality, with himself as the Leader with (at least) quasi-divine attributes. It would have been quite the offense, I suspect, to have flushed a copy or two of that trash down the crapper.

I don't advocate giving insult gratuitously. On the other hand, if we do not believe a thing, a book, to contain truth, and those that do are our sworn enemies, one must ask: How far do we need to go to worry about the feelings of those who are a) wrong, b) dedicated to converting or killing us? The Pentagon, in this sorry episode, has bent over so far that they are kissing their own behinds.

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   |    Muslim Idolatry
The recent deaths due to Christian-hating Muslim riots are not Newsweek's fault. Any blame must be laid squarely at the feet of the fanatical adherents of the so-called "religion of peace." The allegation of an allegation that started the unfortunate turn of events (human beings did die) was that some of our troops at Guantanamo trashed a Koran, or Korans, in the crapper. That it wasn't true wasn't really the point of this exercise in human depravity.

Getting past the fact that the Koran both denies and defies our faith, all politically correct whines to the contrary, we have, at worst, an isolated incident of disrespect for some prisoners' religion. It is one thing to hold a book in reverance. But those whose own faith is denied by that book, namely Christians (the Koran denies that Jesus was the Son of God) must not be held to such a standard. And what a standard it is for fanatical Muslims. From a story at NRO on the affair:
The spark was lit not by Imram Khan but by Newsweek itself on May 9 when apparently none of its reporters or editors was aware of the effect such a story would have. There seems to have been nobody there that knew that death is the penalty for desecrating a Koran in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Egypt is milder, there one would be sentenced to several years in prison under Article 161 of the penal code for “publicly insulting Islam,” or perhaps Article 98, “inciting sectarian strife”; similar patterns are followed in more moderate [sic] Muslim countries.(emphasis added, as was the snarky [sic]
Note to the author of this piece at NRO -- the problem is not Newsweek, or their (or our) inability to "pay careful attention to the complexities of religion." The problem is that Muslims worship their book, and treat it as if it were God. The Koran is more than a fetish. It is an idol.

One may believe that the Bible is the literal word of God almighty. And, to be certain, we believers hold the Bible in reverance, and we are careful to not subject it to harm. But it is just a physical manifestation of God's word; not God. It's just a thing, a man-made thing. The Word is eternal. The paper we print that Word on is not; worthy of respect, but to kill a human being for its desecration is an abomination. Pity that Muslims lack the clarity of vision to see that their version of God isn't just some words in Arabic. What a weak and pitiful god that would be.

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5.16.2005    |    "We see God as our equal"
The title is a quote from a member of something called the United Church of Religious Science. In an article by Drew E. Goodmanson in a series called "Sheep and Goats."

The article is written matter-of-factly, without any sense of disapproval or approval. Unless Goodmanson has terminal Botox of the typewriter, I'd say he deserves a prize for not spewing coffee through his nose in hilarious laughter. If this "church" is any example of where religion in America is going, we are doomed. To get some sense of this, let's get a fuller bit of this member's sense of God:
"For me, I don't want a structure. I don't want to pray to God, I want to pray with God. I am equal with God. I know this seems so New Age, and yet it is inherent in who we are as people. If people were given their own free choice, I think they'd want this. I just can't see God as a god who wants to be the boss as [these other religions do]."
Can almost hear the soundtrack to "Malcolm in the Middle" by They Might Be Giants; the song where the refrain is, "You're not the boss of me..." Only these folks mean God.

Well, it isn't clear that these people are harmless nuts or if anyone really cares about their form of atheism. What they've got going for them is that their "theology" doesn't seem to differ much from any of the postmodern, I'm ok, you're ok pap. In other words, they blend in, chameleon-like, with their environment in post-modern America. Or at least in the more liberal environs of same. Chances are they'd be welcome with their views into many mainline Protestant churches.

In what may be the other money quote, the title being the first, consider this pearl, where a member is talking of different denominations:
We can both be right even if we don't agree on the issues.
Fascinating. I'll bet some of you thought that there were absolute truths, and things that differed from those truths could not also be true. So "issues" must be things in which there is no truth. Something tells me that this group of "Religious Science" might not consider Scripture to be true. Safe bet, don't you think?

Thank God they don't have "Christian" or "Christ" anywhere in their name. That would be embarrassing. Regardless of their apostasy, may God bless them and help them to see that God is, in fact, "the boss of me." And thee. And all.

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5.15.2005    |    Pentecost...End of the Beginning
Today is the day on which we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Or, more accurately, Pentecost, today, is the day we recognize that He's never left us. One of the Scripture readings was from Acts; Peter reaching back to the prophet Joel to tell us that God's breath, His Holy Spirit, is upon us. But note that Peter's context is the Day of the Lord, when He shall return to judge the nations (Acts 2):
17 "'And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'
As a pesky tuliphead sidenote, Peter didn't finish that last verse from Joel Chapter 2. Joel 2:32 continues,
For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.
"Those whom the LORD calls." Just in case any Arminians might be feeling their oats. Back to the main point, however: the Day of the Lord, as prophesied by Joel, and as (partially) fulfilled at the creation of Christ's church.

We celebrate Pentecost as a beginning; Joel's prophesy portrays it as a harbinger of the end time, when God will judge us all. Viewed through the lens of salvation history, the first Pentecost was the mid-point. In actuality, the end of the beginning, in which the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ was God's way of completing His beginning revelation to us.

This may Pentecost also be considered the beginning of the end. More accurately, the beginning of the End. After the first Pentecost, we are now moving towards the Day of the Lord; towards the judgment for all. Call it slouching towards Babylon, as we, despite celebrating Pentecost each year, make idols of cars, jewelry, houses, clothes, fame, and a myriad of other unworthy things. Myself most definitely included.

Yet God is merciful for those He has chosen. Again from Joel, Chapter 2:
12 "Yet even now," declares the LORD,
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 and rend your hearts and not your garments."
Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
It is good to always be mindful of our coming judgment before the Throne. Especially as we celebrate the many gifts of the Holy Spirit this day -- who will be with us, always, on this journey to the End.

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   |    You want one of these...
My copy of Cruden's Complete Concordance is now winging its way to me, via UPS.

Arthur Cruden, a "Significant Scot," was probably more than a little crazy. But in a good way. He was called "Alexander the Corrector," and made his living by, well, correcting things. Mostly proofreading, but, in his later years, correcting the moral behavior of folks. Chances are, he was not a terribly popular fellow.

His life's work was writing down each and every word in the the King James Bible, sorting them alphabetically, and creating a concordance. That's every single word; more than 770,000 of them. Plus a few extras. What is past amazing is that this book is still in print, and is re-issued from time to time. You can pick up one in good condition for less than $10, including shipping via Amazon. Sure, we don't necessarily use the KJV for our daily reading, but it still remains the rock-hard standard against which all future English editions shall be judged.

Let's just say that I will make room on my crowded bookshelf for the life's work of Alexander the Corrector.

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5.14.2005    |    Emerging confusion, redux
At first blush, this discussion by Scot McKnight on the need for the "emergent church" seems to make a lot of sense. Consider this paragraph:
First, Emergent is a reaction to what the Church has to offer and what the Church is today, and what it has to offer is not enough, not good enough, not biblical enough, not spiritual enough, not radical enough, not relevant enough, not in touch with a new generation of young adults who simply will not let the "same old, same old" be what they will tolerate for the Church (which is theirs too).
McKnight continues, and this is especially relevant for those of us who think that our current churches are, for want of a better term, "white bread." We see, he relates,
too much Bible study without changed lives and churches, too much money spent on church buildings and not enough in missional work, too much apologetical articulation and not enough apologetical embodiment, too much old music and not enough edgy music, too much superficiality and not enough honest-to-goodness radical confession and admission of where we really are, too much "get me to heaven" gospel and not enough "Shalom is for the world too" gospel, and too much hierarchy and not enough spreading the gifts to the people.
Well, there you have it. Not enough "edgy music." As for "Shalom is for the world too," who's arguing? However, it sounds very much like another way of presenting that tired old faith versus works argument.

The accusation that Christians preach but don't live the Gospel is as old as the hills. And as valid in the first century as it is today. As for doctrine and creeds, they serve the need for an anchor for believers. Let me state it differently: if your church recites a creed, you either agree with it, or not. If it is the traditional Apostle's or Nicene creed, and you don't agree with it, well, that perhaps means you need to deepen your faith. If your church's creed differs markedly from the traditional creed(s), perhaps it's time to find a new church -- or work to rectify the situation in your current church.

What's the summation of all this? "Emergent church" sounds very much like, to quote McKnight and turn his words around, the "same old same old" tired complaints against any church at any time over the past 2,000 years. Not that the complaints are without merit for many churches. Just that to go to a postmodern, vaguely hippy dippy church of the electric guitar and ganja weed, is not a permanent answer. It is just a trendy application of the secular world's weakness for fads.

By all means, let us address the problems, very real ones (and some, like a perceived need for better music, not so pressing). But let's not forget who took us to the dance in the rush to impress the new girls and boys.

And let's never lose that sense of strangeness; that being Christian in the world is to be a stranger in a strange land. The moment you feel totally comfortable in today's secular world is the moment you should start to panic. But not to the extent of throwing it all over and starting afresh. Just, as McKnight suggests, go back to our roots.

It's all there in the Gospels. And in Paul. And in the prophets.

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5.13.2005    |    Hardwired depravity
Here is what might be a surprise to most well-meaning secular humanists: racial prejudice may be hardwired into our beings. That is, we may have some genetic predisposition toward racial prejudice. The New Scientist recently had an interesting story on this topic. What makes it especially interesting is the morality question that is raised. From the story:
Then again, suppose it could be demonstrated that some people, or all people, had a genetic predisposition toward racial prejudice. Would this change the moral equation? Our view is that it would not--that if people have such a predisposition, they are morally obliged to overcome it in their actions.
In this, they are quite right. But then they have to go and muddy the waters with this bit of political correctness:
Some make an analogous argument vis-à-vis homosexuality: that even if homosexual orientation is genetically based, homosexual behavior is morally unacceptable. We do not endorse this view but bring it up to make a broader point about the limits of science: It deals in the realm of observable facts, not values. Science can inform moral judgments, but it can never resolve them.
Of course I disagree with them about the morality of homosexual behavior. They are correct, however, in noting that science is usually silent on how that science is to be used.

Stated another way, science deals with observable events, and scientific theories are proven (or disproven) by objective and repeatable experiments. Science is morally neutral. Now science may be telling us that homosexual tendencies are hardwired, and not a "lifestyle choice." Let's assume for the moment this to be true, althought I think the jury is still out deliberating on the proof of this theory.

This brings us back to the wise statement that, even if a tendency is hardwired in our DNA, we are "morally obliged to overcome it" in our actions. If racial prejudice is among those tendencies, so-called social liberals would be hard-pressed to deny this as a "moral obligation." Racial prejudice used to be not just accepted, but justified as the natural order of things. There are probably still far too many who may accept prejudice, but at least Christians can know that our savior was without such prejudice. As we should be.

Going on the homosexual acts, Christians should also know that our savior was not prejudiced against those who perform such acts. Neither, then, must we be so inclined. He would not have been so charitable towards the acts themselves; He likely would have told the sinners to repent and sin no more. But accepted the sinner as one of His flock when they did so.

In this, as in all things, Scripture should be our first guide as to what is moral, and what is not. Sometimes Scripture is vague; often, and usually on the big ticket items, it is spot on. So, if Scripture tells us that homosexual acts are an abomination in the sight of the Lord, how to explain such tendencies being hardwired in our very DNA?

The simple, and simplistic answer is Satan. God created us in His image, but, thanks to our depraved nature, that image is harshly distorted by the evil that owns us and owns the earth. Call it our hardwired depravity. Call it the tendency to, among other things we should know are wrong, kill our brother, discriminate against those who look different, steal, dishonor our parents, commit homosexual acts, and, generally, mess up God's creation.

That such tendencies to sin are hardwired should come as no surprise to anyone who reads the Bible as far as Genesis 3:1-7. It is also wise to keep our total depravity in mind whenever some scientist seems to be making a new discovery of this fact.

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5.12.2005    |    I knew I liked him...
...and here's another reason. Benedict XVI likes...hope you're sitting down...beer. Well, he is a German, after all. From the story at WKYC.com
Thanks to the pope, a German brewery is enjoying new success thanks to his "endorsement."

A Stuttgart brewery had been struggling to sell its wheat beer, until pictures showed then -Cardinal Ratzinger enjoying the brew every once in a while.

So when the new pope was elected, white smoke not only emerged from the Sistine Chapel, but from the brewery’s chimney as well.

This past weekend, the brewery sent a beer truck to Rome delivering 185 gallons of beer to the pope.
This guy is real.

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   |    Plan B
No, not a nefarious scheme to defend a murderer on The Practice*. Rather, a (relatively) new contraceptive, one that works after unprotected intercourse. According the FDA,
Plan B works like other birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. Plan B acts primarily by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary (ovulation). It may prevent the union of sperm and egg (fertilization). If fertilization does occur, Plan B may prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb (implantation). If a fertilized egg is implanted prior to taking Plan B, Plan B will not work.
Simple enough; it's a "morning after" pill, and does not terminate a pregnancy. It does prevent one. So far, so good...or bad, if one's faith does not allow for contraception of any sort.

Here's where we run into the by-now standard and expected excoriation of "evangelical Christians" when they voice expert opinions on anything. When said opinions seem to impinge on a "woman's right to choose", or the holy-of-holies, the "right to privacy" which now extends to 12-year-olds who get preggers, the (redundant) term, "evangelical Christian" is used as an epithet.

Case in point: a story in today's Washington Post, which highlights the recent decision by the FDA to not allow over-the-counter (OTC) sale of Plan B. From the story:
...an outspoken evangelical conservative doctor on the panel subsequently acknowledged in a previously unreported public sermon that he was asked to write a memo to the FDA commissioner soon after the panel voted 23 to 4 in favor of over-the-counter sales of the contraceptive, called Plan B. He said he believes his memo played a central role in the rejection of that recommendation.
The story goes on and on to relate terms such as "conservative doctor," "social conservatives," "evangelical Christian perspective," and, in case some secular liberals were not paying sufficient attention, this, claimed to be from Dr. Hager's sermon:
"I argued from a scientific perspective, and God took that information, and he used it through this minority report to influence the decision," Hager said. "Once again, what Satan meant for evil, God turned into good."
This is the money quote in the WaPo article. Clearly, it is implied, that someone who uses such medieval terms as "Satan," "good," "evil," and, perhaps the worst, "God," where God is portrayed as taking an active part in our lives. Oh, the humanity!

Aside from attempting to smear Dr. Hager as an evangelical, there is the presumption that since an FDA advisory panel voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing teeny-boppers who bopped one too many times to buy a morning-after pill OTC, by what rights did the FDA go with the minority report?

The FDA does, patiently, explain that they are not bound by an advisory committee's recommendation. This instance of democracy denied really must annoy the lefties, especially since the FDA has (apparently) taken the minority advice from an evangelical who uses words like "Satan" and "God." Let's review the bidding, trying to be objective.

Plan B is a contraceptive, and, as such, prevents what would otherwise be a natural event: pregnancy. There are many better ways to prevent pregnancy. First among them should be abstinence. Next should be condom use, perhaps augmented by birth control devices of the pre-coital variety. Then, there's always the much-vilified and somewhat ineffective rhythm method. You needn't be a Christian to appreciate that your young, unmarried daughter, would be far better off not having sex -- unless, of course, you truly want grandchildren quickly. Which, mostly, I assume you do not.

The problem with OTC contraceptives for women is that they would seem to strongly encourage very young girls to have unprotected sex, with the knowledge that they could still be "safe." With Mom and Dad, those neanderthals, none the wiser. And, oh very yes, in today's society, one needen't encourage that sort of thing -- just the opposite is called for.

In short, OTC status for Plan B, or other morning-after pills, is further weakening of the most important social structure in our society: the family. If this opinion marks me as an evangelical Christian, thank you.

*For those who did not follow this show, "Plan B" was the fictional law firm's backup plan to create reasonable doubt for their obviously guilty clients. It usually involved some unethical, bordering on illegal, use of evidence, or making baseless accusations against people they knew to be innocent.

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5.11.2005    |    It's not either-or
When some of us were young and foolish, we used to think that we could just live on love. You loved your wife; it really didn't matter that you didn't know from week to week whether you could pay the rent or buy groceries. Now that we're older, and some of us, at least, are wiser, we know that love is great, but you can't live on it. You can, however, live in the Spirit with it. A little bread along the way, however, is, shall we say, helpful.

Today's verse is Matthew 4:4
Jesus answered, "It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
Now Jesus surely did not mean that we don't eat bread (and the other foods that our pesky government is always telling us, in new and improved pyramids, that we supposedly need). What he meant is that bread will keep your body alive -- but his Word will keep you alive forever. And we need to recall who it was, exactly, that Jesus was answering.

Yes, good guess; it was Old Scratch his ugly old self, trying to tempt the Lord when he was, we presume, weakened in body and mind from forty days and nights of fasting. The lesson is that Jesus may have been weakened in body, but not in the Spirit. He knew, as we should also, that Satan puts a mighty fine table before each and every one of us.

We could find happiness, as such is defined by much of the world, dining and drinking at Satan's table. And even though we might become obese in body, in the Spirit we would starve to death. A permanent death.

So, eat, drink, and be merry...don't worry about getting right with God; that will take care of itself...after you're fed. it's what Satan would have you do. And what Satan would likely say to you, in a soothing announcer's voiceover, "Eat, drink, my children; it will soon be over."

Then you're Satan's. The good news is that the Good News isn't an either-or proposition with sustenance for the body. We each of us have a choice, and it is far better to go a little hungry in the belly than to starve in the Spirit.

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5.09.2005    |    Say what you mean...
...and mean what you say. It's an old lesson, one that was knocked into me at a quite young age. Not that I always follow this advice, mind you. Just that I know that it is the right thing to do. This lesson in truth-telling has apparently not quite taken with some parts of the Christian world.

I make specific reference to the Episcopal Church, USA, which has had its issues with the truth since it insisted on flouting Scripture with the promotion of an openly gay Bishop. What is interesting is how Anglicans, which used to include ECUSA (there's some sense that much of the worldwide Anglican Communion, being a little more rigorous than ECUSA, is no longer in full communion with ECUSA), use too many words to say too little.

Just the most recent example may be found via the Episcopal News Service, which notes that yet another local church has disassociated itself from ECUSA. From this news story:
The [ECUSA] diocese and parish [Christ Church] have attempted to conduct the entire process with respect for one another's beliefs and opinions," said Bishop Dean E. Wolfe of Kansas. "While these issues have caused great pain for many people, the agreement allows us to move forward on separate paths in our ministries." (emphasis added)
Under the assumption that what prompted Christ Church to split was its refusal to go along with the sin of celebrating a practicing and unrepentant homosexual as a bishop, it is difficult to see how a Christian can "respect" the ECUSA's "beliefs and opinions." Not when those "beliefs and opinions" contradict black letter Scripture.

We are not speaking of how many acolytes should be on which side of the altar; whether to drink the cup or dip the wafter in it, or a myriad of other things not dealt with directly by Scripture. How we worship, discussions about what did that crazy John mean when he wrote the Book of Revelation, and many, many other things yet to be fully revealed to us are fair game for "opinions." Not what God tells us directly is an "abomination" in His eyes. Not when Paul, with the authority of the Holy Spirit, tells us that "a bishop must be blameless" (Titus 1:7).

ECUSA and Christ Church are infected with a disease, one of the symptoms of which is being unable to utter a simple declarative statement. Of putting "being polite" above telling God's truth.

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5.08.2005    |    Fully human, indeed
Reading the Gospel of Mark is like diving into a mountain lake. It's refreshingly cool, and spare, and has an authority that can't be denied. Mark also relates two apparently mutually contradictory ideas that have been used against Christians throughout the ages. The first is Jesus' prediction that the end times are nigh (Mark 13:30)
Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
Now Jesus had made some other prophesies, not least including His increasing awareness that He had been sent by the Father as the perfect atonement for our sins.

When Jesus' prophesies concerning His sacrifice on our behalf were fulfilled (actually, of course, Jesus was only retelling God's prophesies handed down through the Old Testament prophets and psalmists), his followers naturally expected His imminent return. Well, the Holy Spirit descended on His church at Pentecost, the apostles went abroad to fulfill Matthew 28:19, and life, without the end times, went on.

How could Jesus not have known what He was saying? Was He not God incarnate? Well, yes. But something got in the way of what should have been God's otherwise crystal clear vision: Jesus was fully human. Jesus was a man; He probably got headaches from worrying about His family; after all, as the eldest son, and when Joseph passed on, He had quite the burden to look after Mom and the siblings. We can only imagine how the divine-human sides found some semblance of balance in Jesus. What we must accept is that His humanity resulted in, let's say it politely, a less-than perfect prophesy of the end times.

Before we get too critical, however, Jesus also told us, within a very few words, that even He could not really see the end. In the same chapter, Mark 13, Jesus tells us that
31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Only the Father. Not the Son; leastways not while He was incarnate. Reminding us, yet again, of our limitations as merely human. Which he shared, in the ultimate act of solidarity. He knows now, of course, as part of the Trinity. So far though, wild-eyed prohetic claims to the contrary, He isn't talking -- just telling us to be patient, and to expect Him at any moment.

Oh, and just in case we were worried, He reminds us that even though He hasn't returned, He never really left. Matthew 28:20: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

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5.07.2005    |    Guess Paul wasn't an early Christian
Montgomery County, Maryland, is probably the most liberal county in a very, very, liberal state. In a front-page story, the hometown Washington Post warns of the invasion of the brain-snatching troglodytes of "the conservative movement" in a dustup over pushing the gay agenda in MoCo's public schools. From the story, the lead paragraph which sets the tone of the defenders of goodness (the gay pushers) against the forces of darkness ("conservatives"):
Maryland's largest school system has become a battleground over what students should be taught about sex and a symbol, some supporters of the new curriculum said, of the increasing influence the conservative movement is hoping to play in public school classrooms.
As with much of what passes for public discourse on elements of the gay agenda, those who believe homosexuality to be sinful are dismissed as bigots. The fact that homosexuality (by which I mean homosexual acts, not homosexual individuals) is a black-letter sin in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is dismissed as a "myth."

We are also provided with some other relevant extracts from a MoCo teacher's guide (not available online but in today's dead tree edition), which include these pearls:
  • Loving people of the same sex is immoral (sinful)...Many religious denominations do not believe this
  • Less than half a century ago, Baptist churches (among others) in this country defended racial segregation on the basis that it was condoned by the Bible
  • Early Christians were not hostile to homosexuals
Therefore, those who oppose any aspect of the gay agenda are racists who hide behind Scripture to push their bigotry. That's the teacher's guide, and if you think that Montgomery County is, itself a liberal county, just imagine how liberal the techer's unions that control the county's board of education must be. Not to worry. The Washington Post, as ever, takes the side of those pushing the gay agenda. Consider this use of scare quotes from the Post's story:
The opponents contended that discussions about homosexuality were unbalanced because curriculum materials did not include information about the "risks" of such a lifestyle and did not allow "ex-gays" to share their viewpoints.
Now, I don't know about "ex-gays", although there's probably some who, whether or not being gay is hard-wired in their DNA, have given up homosexuality. As for "risks", those who deny that there are solid, and demonstrably high risks involved for gay men are living in the river in Egypt. Let's just say that the overwhelming majority of AIDS deaths have been the result of unprotected gay sex. But the Post calls this "risks," with the usual implication of scare quotes that it just is not true.

As for those religious denominations that don't believe that homosexual acts ("loving people of the same sex") are sinful, well, that's fine. But it's hard to consider any of them Christian if they deny black-letter, plainly worded Scripture such as Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth:(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...
As for defending segregation, Baptists and many others have atoned for their sins in this regard. Regardless of Old Testament statements that seem to condone segregation (e.g. Leviticus 19:19), no Christian should have ever denied the very plain statements, also from Paul, that we are all one in Christ Jesus (e.g. Galatians 3:28).

That Christians err, and have sinned in the past, and, will continue to sin in the future, does not mean they are wrong about homosexuality. The key words are "practice homosexuality." It is the homosexual act that is a sin. We all sin. We are all God's creatures, and God loves the homosexual sinner just as He loves the heterosexual sinner.

Just let's not confuse God's love for the person with what God, through Scripture, has told us about sin. he hates it. It's wrong. The "early Christians," who of course included Paul, would almost certainly not agree that homosexuality was a valid "lifestyle." Would they be hostile to homosexuals? Only those who were adamant in defending their sin, and who would not repent. Just as the early Christians would love a thief, but hardly tolerate his continued thievery. And certainly not entertain any notions as to how thievery was just an alternate lifestyle.

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   |    "orgies of piety"
Should you wish a snapshot of the bile that the liberal mainstream media reserves for Christianity, you could do worse than read the New York Times review of the newly-released sword-and-sandal epic, "Kingdom of Heaven." The topic is the Crusades, and events, purportedly historic, that took place in and around Jerusalem in the late 12th century.

Near the end of "Kingdom of Heaven," a plaintive period epic from Ridley Scott about the bloody orgies of piety known as the Crusades, the camera pulls back from the tumult of battle. Perched on high, as if assuming the view of a passing bird or some divine being, the camera looks down on a medieval scene that condenses the barbarism that has consumed the previous two hours of screen time - the impaled flesh, the crushed bone, the hollow and inflamed invocations of faith.

"Kingdom of Heaven" is an ostensibly fair-minded, even-handed account of one of the least fair-minded, even-handed chapters in human history, during which European Christians descended on the Middle East for more than 200 years. (emphasis added)
Chances are, most people who read this will not have a clue that the Crusades were defensive, and undertaken after the steady expansion of Islam by the sword over four hundred years (by the late 12th century). It is fascinating to see the moral equivalence afforded both sides, at least in this review. Not having seen the movie, I can't comment on it beyond noting that if it thus annoyed the reliably anti-Christian Times, there must be some good about it.

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5.06.2005    |    "All the days of Noah were 950 years"
Those old folks certainly lived long lives, back in the beginning. Noah, a righteous man, lived to be 950 years. Genesis 9:
28After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.
Many others in Genesis had, shall we say, long, long, lives in comparison to our current measly allotment of 80 or so, if we're lucky and live in a developed nation. And have good health care. And have selected our parents wisely. Consider Shem, in Genesis 11:
10These are the generations of Shem. When Shem was 100 years old, he fathered Arpachshad two years after the flood. 11And Shem lived after he fathered Arpachshad 500 years and had other sons and daughters.

12When Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he fathered Shelah. 13And Arpachshad lived after he fathered Shelah 403 years and had other sons and daughters.
And on and on; you get the picture. So, what happened? How is it that people lived such amazingly long lives, and the most we hear about in modern times might be some Georgian (from the Caucauses, not where Atlanta is located) claiming to be 115 or so. Those who take their Scripture neat, no exegisis for me, thank ye, have no problem: God said it; it must be so. For me and for, I suspect, most modern Christians and Jews, we look for other explanations.

God needn't explain Himself fully to us. He reveals His truth a little bit at a time, and, perhaps, at the end times, we will find out exactly what He meant when he told us through His Scripture that "all the days of Noah were 950 years." In the meantime, we need to avoid two traps.

The first is to take each word of the Bible as the literal, absolute truth -- even when it conflicts mightily with our God-given reason. This is a trap, although it's also the easy way out for believers. It's a trap because God may have His reasons, but it makes zero sense for the elders in Genesis to live 10 times the alloted lifespan of everyone else. To say, in response to such fantastic numbers, "it's God's will" is to simply duck the question. And gives major ammunition to those who scoff at our faith. If Noah lived to be 950, because he was a righteous man, why weren't other righteous men who followed through the ages also given such lifespans? There is no real answer except, "God works in mysterious ways." Which isn't really an answer.

The second trap is to assume that whoever transcribed the word of God made editorial mistakes and got the figures wrong. No, there's too many specific ages given, and there is some God-given reason for the numbers. The reason could be as simple as showing us that those who truly feared God, using "feared" in its proper sense of being in awe and respect for our Deity and following His precepts, reaped an earthly reward of long life. This is what works for me.

Do I believe that Noah, et.al., actually lived those many years? No. They could have, since I also believe that with God all things are possible. But they did not need to, to make the point that I believe God wished to make: Follow He Who Is; do not deviate from His ways. Live long, and prosper.*

*Could Vulcans be God's creatures as well? Who is their Christ? Just asking.

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5.05.2005    |    National Day of Prayer
Well, it's official. Today, May 5, 2005, is the National Day of Prayer. There's a Presidential Proclamation giving it the government's imprimatur. Just in case you were wondering.

While I'm hardly against prayer, I am against having a single day marked as a specific "National" day of prayer. But then, I'm generally against any and all such special days, months, years, decades, millenia, whatevers. It seems that whenever we try too hard to "celebrate" something or another, we cast it in the light of being unable to sustain itself.

National Pickle Month, for example, is July. Also in July, we have these tasty treats:
Lasagna Awareness Month
National Baked Bean Month
National Hot Dog Month
National Ice Cream Month
National July Belongs to Blueberries Month
National Picnic Month
Now these are all worthy things. Who among us, after all, doesn't really like at least one of these things? The point is that dedicating an entire month to any of them is simply a marketing gimmick. After all, there is no food so foul as to not have some association of growers or packers or distributors or grocers pushing them on us.

Wait, we say -- isn't prayer totally unlike such commercial boosterism? Doesn't prayer to the Almighty deserve special recognition in the form of a Presidential Proclamation, a special day? Yes, prayer is totally unlike ice cream, although they do share certain attributes. They can both be exceptionally tasty, and the can both satisfy an intense inner craving. Not only that, but prayer isn't fattening.

The point is that to have one day set aside as the "National Day of Prayer" trivializes what should be second nature to believers. OK, it's May 5th. You can pray today. What you do tomorrow; what you did yesterday, that's of no concern to us. Not that we are ever prohibited from praying. Oh. We are? If you think we are not, try having your child lead his classroom in prayer.

Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5, provides us with this instruction:
16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Pray without ceasing. Not just on May 5. Always. Every day, every moment of our lives. How to do this? Well, this will vary depending on one's beliefs. Some people prefer rote prayers, mandated and repeated time and time again. Others to pray in groups with a set liturgy. Some don't admit to praying, but give thanks to our creator in their own way; itself a form of prayer. Mix and match, and let no one tell you your form of prayer is insufficient in God's eyes. Who are they, God's optician?

No one in ths world is keeping score. Just pray. Without ceasing.
5.04.2005    |    Bible on the desk
Is this the mark of the evangelical? Well, it could be one such. In today's Washington Post, there's a very nice, calm, reserved, and altogether civilized rebuke of the anti-religious culture in today's mainstream media. The piece is by John McCandlish Phillips, a self-described evangelical Christian who has labored lo these many years in the MSM vineyards. His lead paragraph gives the flavor of this must-read article:
I have been looking at myself, and millions of my brethren, fellow evangelicals along with traditional Catholics, in a ghastly arcade mirror lately -- courtesy of this newspaper and the New York Times. Readers have been assured, among other dreadful things, that we are living in "a theocracy" and that this theocratic federal state has reached the dire level of -- hold your breath -- a "jihad."
Holy jihad, Batman. Sword in one hand, cross in the other, as we Christian soldiers go boldly marching as to war...Except that the war is being waged against, not by, those of us who hold God as above nations but certainly not apart from our nation.

Mr. Phillips notes how he was marked as one of us:
When the Times put me on its reporting staff, I was the only evangelical Christian among some 275 news and editorial employees, and certainly the only one who kept a leather-bound Bible on his desk.
I must have chosen the wrong business, because I kept a leather-bound Bible on my desk for many, many years, and if my coworkers thought anything of it, with a few exceptions, they never let on. But it's a sign, perhaps, a signal, one that may alarm those who believe in disbelief. Perhaps they feel threatened by someone who may have a perceived inside track to salvation? If only they knew, that the more one lives with Scripture, the more one can at once be convinced and be doubtful of one's salvation.

As for religion in the public square, here's a reminder of how our nation dealt with the matter at the founding, at the very creation of the First Amendment:
The fact is that our founders did not give us a nation frightened by the apparition of the Deity lurking about in our most central places. On Sept. 25, 1789, the text of what was later adopted as the First Amendment was passed by both houses of Congress, and subsequently sent to the states for ratification. On that same day , the gentlemen in the House who had acted to give us that invaluable text took another action: They passed a resolution asking President George Washington to declare a national day of thanksgiving to no less a perceived eminence than almighty God.

That's president , that's national, that's official and, alas, my doubting hearties, it's God -- all wrapped up in a federal action by those who knew what they meant by the non-establishment clause and saw their request as standing at not the slightest variance from it. It's a pity our phalanx of columnists cannot crawl into a time machine to go back and reinstruct them.
In the end, we are and will always be "one nation under God." Those of us with Bibles on our desks, leather bound or otherwise, may discomfit our adamantly secular colleagues. My hope was that I could get someone to ask about Jesus, which, on occasion, they did.

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5.02.2005    |    Think ye works will save?
Couldn't resist the King James language. Part of the problem being a tuliphead is that you can get too wrapped up in the irresistable grace arguments. You can assume that when the Holy Spirit calls you to Jesus, all you need do is doze through it; it's somehow automatic. You needn't lift a finger.

Sorry. You've also got to want to come to Jesus. Nothing you can say or do could stop the Holy Spirit; God is sovereign, and, well, irresistable. If it is God's will that you are among the elect. If not, then nothing you do matters. If so, then God's grace will move you to do...good works. And this I believe to be an inevitable consequence of receiving the call.

Does God really care that you do good things in this life? Yes, of course. Jesus' earthly ministry is our best, and perfect example of what is expected of us. But it is, of course, insufficient. Faith without works may be dead (James 2:14-26), but God repeatedly tells us through Scripture that our works are not really what He needs of us. Rather, as the Psalmist tells us in Psalm 40, He wants His law to be within our heart:

6Sacrifice and offering you have not desired,
but you have given me an open ear.[a]
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
7Then I said, "Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
8I desire to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart."
Or, what Paul tells directly in Romans 3:
27Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Apart from the fact that Scripture so informs us, why should we believe this? For the simple reason that we are all sinners, and it is impossible to satisfy all of the law all of the time. In fact, Jewish lore has included the thought that the messiah would come when all of the 613 traditional mitzvot, or commandments, were carried out in a twenty-four hour period.

The Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth who became The Christ, showed us that what God told us of old is the truth -- "your law is within my heart."

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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.