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10.31.2005    |    All Hallows Eve
The Christian reaction to Halloween varies all over the map. It is basically a celebration of the dead, a pagan holiday that got Christian trappings and was dressed up as the vigil (eve) for All Saints’ Day, November 1. As a "holy day of obligation", this is a biggie for faithful Catholics.

Hence, of course, Halloween, "hallow" being what we old guys know to mean "sacred" or "venerated." As in, "hallowed by thy name…" No, not "hollowed," although that’s what I thought it meant when I was a little younger.

All Hallows Day is not to be confused with All Souls Day, normally celebrated the very next day, November 2. This is merely a "feast." It’s easier being Protestant, I suppose; don't have to remember all those pesky feasts and holy days and all.

The way Halloween is actually celebrated is, to say the least, quite secular. It’s all about ghosties and ghoulies and goblins; about lots of candy; about one of my favorite colors, orange (a Protestant color if ever there was one, thanks to William of, well, you know…) I understand that Halloween has become the occasion on which the most is spent on decorating, costumes, consumables, etc.

In my experience, many conservative evangelical churches consider Halloween to be a thing of Satan; Old Scratch being a very popular figure for costumes, even if he is often disguised as a stand-in (e.g. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Osama bin Laden). Just kidding about Bill Clinton; he doesn’t really belong with those other two devils.

My thought is that Halloween is fun, if it doesn’t devolve into worship of that which is evil. Of course, the whole concept of Halloween, the money and time spent on it, does reek just a little of idolatry, the worship of a thing. Actually, it seems quite a lot like idolatry-- but no more so than how Christmas is celebrated in the public square, especially now that it’s become difficult to even use the name "Christmas." That period of time between Thanksgiving (and who are we giving thanks to?) and New Year’s is called "The Holidays", just another opportunity for retailers to make their sales numbers for the year.

Another complaint for anyone who takes his evil seriously (I try to), is that things that are soul-less beasties, and hence evil, are presented as being merely cute. Haven't you all noticed those cutsie skeletons, carved pumpkins, and not-so-frightening witches? As with much else, the whole concept of evil has been dumbed down and softened for consumption by children and child-like adults. Wouldn't want to really scare them, now, would we?

So why is Halloween fun for a Christian? Simply because it can be used as a reminder. That death, which is ostensibly the thing celebrated, is part of life. Halloween could instruct us, especially if we recall its ancient meaning in the Church, that death is not the end -- Just the beginning of a new chapter.

Happy All Hallows Eve, y’all.
10.30.2005    |    Skin deep
Monica Bhide, an author of cookbooks, writes in today's Washington Post of racism she's been a victim of.

Ms. Bhide is coy to the point of annoyance as to her ethnicity (she is Indian), but she is clear on the fact that she has brown skin. And that some ignorant Americans have seen her skin color and assumed she was an enemy -- an Arab. Getting past the fact that many Arabs hate, in no particular order, Americans, Christians, Jews, and Hindus, it ought never surprise when ignorant people act ignorantly. Many Arabs are ignorant in this regard, or are fed heinous propaganda and make the worse error of believing it. But this gives us no liberty to return the favor.

Those of us who are pleased to call ourselves Christians (far too-well pleased, if you ask me...) should know that we all sin, and ignorant prejudice is but a small consequence of our fallen nature. Thus, no one should be surprised at the racist ignorance shown by some. The miracle is that there isn't more of this, given that we are at war with Islamic extremists, including many Arabs.

To expect more is to have an unrealistic view of human nature, to assume that we can actually internalize and live the message that Paul gave to the Galatians (3:28):
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
No, skin color isn't mentioned. Doesn't need to be; the message that we are all one is universal.

What of those not Christian? Well, we are also taught by Jesus that all people are our neighbors, even those pesky Samaritans. For amplification: at the time of Jesus' earthly ministry, the Samaritans were a sect of Judaism considered weird and unclean by the mainliners who ran things at the Temple in Jerusalem. Sort of like the dalit of today's India. Samaritans, like dalit, were, literally, "untouchable" by those who considered themselves superior.

Ms. Bhide, Welcome to the United States, an allegedly Christian nation. Well, some of us. We're trying, in both senses of that word. Most of us mean no harm, and don't really care what color your skin is. If you think that the ignoramuses who reviled you are typical, you are wrong.
10.29.2005    |    More graven images
A commenter asked, "wonder what Paul would say if he could see St. Paul's Cathedral?" Excellent question, and alluding to a basic issue that Christians have been grappling with through the ages. Probably not excluding the cathedral's namesake.

I've been in St. Paul's in London, and, wow. It's something. I've also been in many of the grand cathedrals in France, and some elsewhere in Europe. Wow again. I'm of two minds when entering such places. The first is usually, "surely they could have found a better use for the money this all cost?" Like, maybe, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, shelter the homeless. That sort of thing.

The second is to be in awe at some of the craftsmanship, sculptures, and paintings. Beautiful. What price to put on it? Ad majorem dei gloriam, as my Jesuit brothers say. As to what Paul might have said, don't know. He was a bit of a curmudgeon, in a righteous cause, for which he gave his life. I suspect he'd not have liked it much.

The "graven images" controversy has been going on probably since Luke handed his draft of Acts over to the editor. For centuries, at least since the Reformation, many Protestants have rejected the "graven images" that seem to overwhelm the senses in many Catholic cathedrals and churches. [The Church of England is Protestant only by the narrowest of definitions. They are a catholic, sacramental church, one step removed from Rome. Which I only bring up just in case the CoE is confused with some of us harder-core Protestants.]

Baptists, especially, have made it a point of not having anything that could be remotely construed as an "image" of God, or of Christ. That is not a uniform practice, these days, but it is not an accident that Protestants tend to have empty crosses, and Catholics crosses filled with the crucifed Christ. The usual theological argument is that we Protos celebrate the empty cross symbolizing the risen Christ; Catholics the filled cross symbolizing the suffering servent. That's a convenient but only partial explanation.

All Christians, to be faithful Christians, must acknowledge that it isn't a question of one as against the other. Both are necessary; it's just a matter of emphasis. And here's where I suggest that a Protestant distaste for "graven images" comes into play. "Less is more" might have been the motto of some Protestants, especially among Baptists, Methodists, and Church of God. Quakers take it to the extreme, and don't have even a cross in their meetinghouses (at least those of "unprogrammed" Friends in the United States).

As for stained glass, statues, votary stands, gilt, reliquaries, and all of the other works by the hand of man that one may find in churches and cathedrals? They may, or may not, meet your personal standard for beauty. They may, or may not, pass the "ho-ho" test on nurturing the Christian faith. But they are plainly not forbidden by Scripture.

What is forbidden is to pray to a crucifix, statue, painting, reliquary, or any thing made by the hand of man.

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10.28.2005    |    Picture this
The Ten Commandments are sacred to many, annoying to others, irrelevant to those who prefer a different source for their morality or who have no such source. One problem with taking any of them out of context is that the meaning can become lost.

Case in point: that pesky "graven image" commandment. Specifically, Exodus 20:4 (using the King James Version, 'cause we've all heard of that evil "graven image"):
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth."
Now, for those who think that every single word of the Bible is God's unalterable and unanswerable law, no interpretation, thank you. That would surely mean that even a photo of your aunt Mildred is evil. Dogs playing poker rendered in black velvet? Fuggedaboudit. Elvis might be ok...

Just kidding about the King. The problem, as with much of Scripture, is that it usually isn't sufficient to just look at the literal meaning of a single verse. It is pretty clear that God had no intention of not letting us paint, sculpt, or, for that matter, take photos of dear Auntie. This is clarified in the very next verse of Exodus 20, verse 5: "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them..."

"Them" being those graven images. The injunction is against the worship of idols, of any thing that is less than God. Not against works of art. In a sense, we humans are caretakers of God's creation, and as part of that stewardship, it is hardly surprising that we attempt to imitate God by creating things of beauty.

So, to those who use the commandments as a bludgeon against the less pure, and to those who use them as a "gotcha" to show how confused believers are, perhaps you might read the context before firing both barrels.

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10.27.2005    |    "no pink unicorns"
Whadya mean, no pink unicorns? There goes my worldview...

From a semi-cranky comment by a (presumed) atheist:
There is no God, no reincarnation, no soul, no Santa, no pink unicorns or what-have-you. Every bit that you look down on me for having no prescribed moral code, I look down on you for not being able to think for yourself and act morally without a giant father figure watching you. If life is too complex to have been made without a designer, then who made the designer?
One point this young man misses is that just because something can't be proven does not make it false. Doesn't make it true, either, of course. Nice touch, also, lumping those pesky pink unicorns and Santa with affirmative negatives about God, reincarnation, and the soul. Just shows how gullible we Christers really are, I suppose.

As for having a moral code, we believers are stuck with what our "giant father figure", the Father, gave us. It's pretty good, and seems to be what most unbelievers come around to, for the most part. You know, things like murder is bad, stealing is bad, adultery is bad, you should honor your parents, don't covet your neighbor's things.

The big question that is posed by the young man: who made the designer? Well, this is a question that's occupied more than one class in theology. We believers kind of think the answer is, He was always there.

Lesson? There are always some things beyond our ken. Unless, of course, you are one of those who think that you know everything.

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10.26.2005    |    Simchat Torah
In the tradition I grew up in, Jews celebrate the gift of the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, that tradition says were transcribed by God's own hand and given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Simchat Torah means, literally, "joy of Torah." The Forward has an editorial that might be useful for all people, Jews, Christians, and unbelievers to consider.
[In the Torah, the Jews] will see a narrative of how the Jewish people came to be: the first moment of awareness of the infinite mystery and majesty that is our universe; the slave revolt that gave birth to the idea of freedom; the fiery prophetic visions of righteousness and social justice. They will see a moral code that has been passed along through thousands of years and managed to retain its power to inspire. And although we live that code today in ways that differ dramatically, its central truths retain their overarching power. We value the day of rest from labor. We cherish the family. We value the individual worth of every human being. We proclaim the rights of the poor. We recognize the dangers of worshipping false idols.
We Christians have added to this marvelous narrative of God's gifts to His people the ultimate gift of a Jewish savior. A savior who came, in one sense, to make all the nations Jewish by faith, as opposed to Jewish by the flesh.

It is useful to see that today's Jews struggle with the meaning of Scripture just as today's Christians do. Some Jews regard every word as the literal truth, meaning precisely what it says. Others (most, I suspect; certainly most Jews I've known) regard the truth of Scripture as being in the underlying concepts of God's mercy, God's justice, and what God expects of us.

Christians, likewise, with our Scriptures -- Old and New Testaments. We may not all be fundamentalists, i.e. believe that every word in the Bible must be the literal truth, but most of us (again, I can only really speak with even limited authority for those Baptists I hang around with...) believe that the Bible is without error, since it has God as its ultimate Author.

Without error, meaning, at least to me, that the underlying concepts of God's mercy, justice, and expectations of us are true.
10.25.2005    |    Were the Founders Christian?
This is the CliffsNotes version only. In response to a comment, two citations as to why I think the American founders were Christian. Note: not evangelical as this term is used today, certainly not snake-handlers or talking-in-tongues Pentecostals. Christians, nevertheless.

First source is a review of Michael Novak's "On Two Wings." This, as the Friends (Quakers) say, "speaks my mind":
The U.S. isn't officially Christian, but Novak demonstrates that the men who created it rooted the country conceptually in the Bible. The characterizations of God in the Declaration of Independence derive from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), probably deliberately, because all Christian denominations accepted them. Faith in God was ubiquitous among the founders, who regarded religion as necessary to maintain a just and equitable society. Only a moral (because religious) society would foster responsible citizens; pursuing freedom without religion, individuals would create a chaos of competing self-interests. Finally, the founders' conception of rights derived more from Acquinas than from Enlightenment philosophers. Quoting so often from the founders and their influences that this is practically a documentary history, Novak is compelling on those major propositions and others. He concludes by answering 10 common questions about religion and the founders, and he appends comments on some lesser-known important founders and the Revolution's great fellow traveler, Thomas Paine, who believed in God despite disapproving all the religions he knew. Hard but invaluably informative reading.
The best background to this is to remember that at the time of our Revolution, memories of inter-sectarian Christian persecution were still raw. The founders, with very, very few exceptions, were at least nominal Christians, but clearly did not agree on which sect, if any, should be paramount. Hence the great need to allow all Christian sects but not establish any of them as the official American church. At the time, this was a radical break with precedent. A few years later, Jews and non-believers were also granted official tolerance in the various states.

Second is the thought that there is a bond between an allegedly atheistic (or, at the least, agnostic) Enlightenment philosophy and the "philosophy" of the Christian religion. From an article earlier this year in National Review by Christopher Levenick and Michael Novak:
Every single one of the Founders believed that, at the level of both individual morality and public policy, the demands of reason and of revelation powerfully reinforce one another. They understood that with respect to the ultimate questions — the creation of the universe, the purpose of human existence, and the hope of life after death — faith and philosophy might differ. In the practical world they inhabited, however, the Founders believed that both Socrates and Jesus enjoined their followers to accord all persons truth, justice, and charity.

Indeed, the Founders saw the cultivation of religious sentiment as the ultimate safeguard of American liberty. They knew that liberty could only prosper among moral citizens, whose practice of self-government in their private lives was a necessary prerequisite for its exercise in public. They believed that even if it were possible for certain individuals to behave morally without believing in God, on the whole an entire citizenry could not long keep its moral bearings without the guidance of religious faith.

This conviction permeates their public and private writings. George Washington placed it at the heart of his Farewell Address, in which he advised the nation that of "all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men & citizens." Indeed, he continued, "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
There is no doubt as to what "Religion" Mr. Washington spoke of -- a Christian faith.

It is certainly possible to cherry-pick quotations from the various founders, and thereby use them to dispute things. George Washington was a nominal Episcopalian. John Adams became a Unitarian. Thomas Jefferson so disliked the idea of miracles that he personally edited them out of the Gospels. And so it goes, proving nothing. The proof is in stepping back from the dots that make up the pointillist canvas so one may see it whole.

The founders adhered to what I'd call a Christian worldview. One that did not allow for any single church to be established. One that tolerated all viewpoints. But one that bound our Constitution, our laws, and our national sense of what is honorable and right, as against what is vile and wrong, to the Scriptures.

Last point, just got to demonstrate our innate Baptist contrariness. Just because we were founded by Christians with a Christian worldview certainly does not mean we adhere to that. As an early Baptist, Roger Williams said, "If this were a Christian nation, then why are so few Americans Christians?"

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10.24.2005    |    Faith for those without religion: yet another update
A self-proclaimed atheist, UnApologetic Atheist, who wanted to know why I wrote
Atheists can be fun. They can be geniuses, morons, but are, just like believers, mostly in-between those two extremes. One species of atheist appears to be those who so firmly believe that God can't possibly exist that they become, how do we say this gently, hysterical about it. Screeming meemies about it.
Sigh. Where to begin? Perhaps it was that Newdow fellah who wants to eliminate "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. Perhaps it is all those lawsuits to prohibit the showing of Christian symbols. Perhaps it is all those lawsuits to prohibit the posting of the Ten Commandments.

The biggest problem is that atheists don't like Christians who actually believe in what they claim to believe in. They'd much rather have watered-down, vaguely Christian members of the Church of the Fluffy Bunny™. In fairness, they also jump, sometimes gleefully (hey! caught ya!) on unchristian "Christians" like Pat Robertson and a whole bunch of other wingnuts who seem to want to establish a theocracy. Well, neither do I, but that does not make us all Nazis just waiting for our chance.

As many thoughtful atheists know and freely admit, Christians come in all flavors, some tasty, some like Bertie Bott's vomit flavored beans (ooh -- devil worship reference to Harry Potter). Here's the bottom line for me: our nation was founded by Christians, who also were strongly against any one sect being the established church. Who therefore, especially thanks to James Madison, ensured that we would never force anyone to become a Christian.

There's no irony in my saying, Thank God for that. Thank God, also, that America has matured, and, in one sense, come around to the Baptist way of thinking (hey, got to get a plug in...): freedom of conscience (This is not an apology for Baptist sins, which have been mighty. We all sin; it is in our nature). It is merely a statement that Baptists have, by being the victim of real persecution in early America, come to value freedom of conscience in matters of faith.

Which is kind of what America, the idea, is all about -- freedom of conscience, to believe, or not believe. Many atheists seem discontented with this state of affairs, and would have us be loosed from the Judeo-Christian moorings of the American Founders.

That's my principal beef with atheists.

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10.22.2005    |    Faith for those without religion: update
Update of yesterday's post: Chad, from Eternal Revolution, wrote, "it is important for all parties to realize it is not a blind faith." He cites Acts 17, where Paul uses reasoning and logic to convince people of Christ's authenticity.

My statement about faith is, of course, not meant to taken as an absolute and "blind" faith. It is based on two great things: The Holy Spirit's working in me, and God's Scriptures. But let's consider Scripture from the point of view of the unbeliever. They are just a man-made book to him. My view of Scripture is as put forward in the Baptist Faith and Message:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.
Boring down to the root of the issue, our logic, our reasoning, is grounded in our belief that Scripture is true.

To recap, my belief that my Savior lives, my knowledge of this fact, is based on two things denied by an atheist: The existence of the Holy Spirit, and the inerrancy of Scripture. In logic, a conclusion derived from an unproven hypothesis is not necessarily true. It isn't necessarily false, but it would not be possible to prove it true.

In other words, my belief in my Savior might still be true, even if there were no Holy Spirit, even if Scripture were not true. But absent those beliefs, it's not possible to prove it.

There. I trotted out my left-brain for an outing. One plus one does, indeed, equal two. One plus I-don't-know-how-much equals I-don't-know.

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   |    Still think you're in charge?
God has divvied up the labor in His creation. He created us not to help Him; He clearly does not need our puny efforts. But one of the reasons for our creation is to work with God as His agents in the here and now. This is the sphere is which our free will operates, within the confines of His overall plan for creation.

So, we have choice, and we make choices all of the time. Some good, some not so good, some evil. Our choices, operating within His frame of reference. Salvation is clearly within God's fram of reference. Not ours. We are the receivers; He is the sole giver.

To think otherwise is to refute Scripture rather directly. The concept is stated with simple elegance in Phillipians 2
12...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
We use our free will to "work out" our own salvation. But never, never, should we think that it is anything but His will that will be done.

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10.21.2005    |    Faith for those without religion
Atheists can be fun. They can be geniuses, morons, but are, just like believers, mostly in-between those two extremes. One species of atheist appears to be those who so firmly believe that God can't possibly exist that they become, how do we say this gently, hysterical about it. Screeming meemies about it.

One such has a blog titled Evangelical Atheist. Cute title, eh? I'm not going to repeat any of his rants here, just to note that if this site is representative of the state of atheistic thought and practice, woe unto them.

As an American (and I think it is safe to substitute Australian, Briton, or, God help me, even Canadian here), I believe that we must have freedom of conscience in matters of faith. My belief is that God is in control; yours may be that you are. You are wrong, but your having this belief doesn't unhinge me.

Not so with some atheists. They simply can't abide that we believers believe. Atheists of course, believe in something just as strongly: the lack of a God. At least that is the sense one gets by sampling the atheistic blogosphere, for which Evangelical Atheist's site is a decent jumping off point.

The key word is belief, and the next key word is tolerance. Christians and atheists both have religious beliefs. In the atheists' case, it is that fervent prayer to Whom It May Concern (we Christians call Him God), that the believers in God will simply wake up from their trauma-induced nightmare that there is a God.

One of the threads I've found among self-confessed atheists (do they have some version of the Westminster Confession?) is a terrible eagerness to disprove that God exists, or challenge one of us to prove that He does. Most Christians that I know, myself included, would, when posed with such a challenge, fail to fall into the left-brain mode that atheists seem to prefer. I think that we would tend to answer simply, "I know my Savior lives. This is what I believe." That's what I'd say, anyway.
At the end of the day, that's why it is called "faith."

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10.20.2005    |    Are Jews Smarter?
I was born a Jew in a nominally Jewish home. Since my family had come from Eastern Europe, Poland and Russia, I am an Ashkenazi Jew, at least by birth. Given how the world works its evil ways, the fact that I was born again in Christ Jesus would matter not one iota if we have another bout at attempted genocide. This is all prelude to a post that could be considered as a third rail to many: just how superior are the Jews, or do we consider ourselves to be?

Note that "we." I am still an ethnic Jew, if not an observant one. But then, so many of those who identify themselves as "Jewish" profess no belief in God. Go figure. Anyway, cast your eyes on this article in New York Magazine, title, "Are Jews Smarter?"

OK, you're not that interested. So here's the Cliffs Notes version, from the article:
Did Jewish intelligence evolve in tandem with Jewish diseases as a result of discrimination in the ghettos of medieval Europe? That’s the premise of a controversial new study that has some preening and others plotzing. What genetic science can tell us-and what it can’t.
Bottom line? There are lots of dumb Jews. There are also lots of brilliant Jews. Given the evil uses to which ethnic stereotyping has been, and continues to be applied, The study on which the article is based makes me very uneasy. But, truth will out, as they say.

Can we get to some bottom line here, John Luke? Well, perhaps us allegedly brillianter-than-your-average-bear Ashkenazic Jews aren't really so special any longer. A concluding paragraph from the article:
Yet in America, that sense of otherness, which for so long has served as a kind of incentive to strive and achieve, may be dissipating. "I’m no demographer, but I think what’s happened in the U.S. is the normalization of the Jew," says Leon Botstein, who, as the president of Bard College, has seen all sorts of students cross his field of vision. "They’ve become as complacent and culturally undistinguished as the average, suburban, white middle-class American."
Now this Botstein, who is president of a famously liberal school with great pretensions for intellectual achievement, is almost certainly an ethnic Jew himself. So he gives the lie to his very own thesis.

My take on this matter is that it does not really matter if ethnic Jews are smarter than average. Or dumber, for that matter. Much more important for me is the instruction from one Jew, named Jesus, to love our neighbor, knowing that all men are our neighbors.

As for the ethnicity, I prefer to go with what Paul wrote to the Galatians (Chapter 3):
28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

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10.19.2005    |    "I will by no means leave you unpunished"
Thus says the Lord, as recorded by the prophet Jeremiah (chapter 30):
10"Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the LORD,
nor be dismayed, O Israel;
for behold, I will save you from far away,
and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
and none shall make him afraid.
11For I am with you to save you,
declares the LORD;
I will make a full end of all the nations
among whom I scattered you,
but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
and I will by no means leave you unpunished."
Ouch. Hey, God, we thought you were going to save us. Couldn't you spare the rod? But, no. God loves us far too much to let us go scot-free.

So it should be with our children. Starting perhaps 50 years ago, the West decided that corporal punishment was cruel and unusual. Little Dick and Jane had to be nurtured, encouraged. There was no such thing as a bad child; just a misunderstood child. This helped to produce faux empathetic "leaders" like Bill ("I feel you pain") Clinton, and the entire "if it feels good, do it" mentality.

As with children, so it was with ancient Israel. So it is with today's Israel, the Christian church. God loves us far too much to simply let us slide into a plush and prosperous idolatry. God loves us far too much to allow us to take the easy road of lowered expectations.

Christians need not be ascetics. We can be, but it's not necessary. On the other hand, Christians must not be be sybarites. Which we all to obviously have tended towards, at least as a society. The key is to never take our eyes off of the prize: fearing, and loving, God, heeding His Word, walking in His ways.

For those who think this does not make a difference, and that God loves all of us to forgive all our sins, each and every one, I suggest we refresh our memories with something His Son taught us. Jesus tells us, as regards our salvation, in Matthew 7, that we may
13"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
The broad way leads to destruction. We've been forewarned, by the Word made flesh, who loves us far too much to expect less from us.

Note: see C.H. Spurgeon on Jeremiah 30:11 (from Faith's Check Book, Daily Entry for October 19, 2005).

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10.18.2005    |    West Wing Theology
As a former victim of the Inside-the-Beltway culture, I enjoy the fantasy show about what a Democratic administration would be like if it were led by a morally straight and academically brilliant version of Bill Clinton. The West Wing is an interesting show, if only for the insights it gives to the world of Hollywood liberals.

In truth, the West Wing is a liberal's wet dream. Here we have Josiah Edward Bartlet, Jed, presented as a devout Catholic from an olde-tyme family in New Hampshire who is moral, upstanding, and a Nobel laureate in economics to boot. Wow. Bartlet is played by a lefty's lefty, Martin Sheen, but he does make a convincing president. At least if one suspends disbelief long enough to imagine that such a man could actually gain the Donk nomination in the first place.

This season's episodes are focused on the very end of Bartlet's two (!) terms, and the presidential race between a devout Catholic and an agnostic. In the dream world of the liberals, of course, it's the Donk who's the Catholic, Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits. Santos is moral, upstanding, and is distinguished primarily by not having a Nobel prize. Oh, did I mention that he is Hispanic? "Santos" kind of gives it away, I thought. Don't you see how open-minded we Donks are? We up and nominated one of them...

Santos is rather sanctimonious about things, generally, and comes across as having the kind of naiveté one might find in a candidate for treasurer of the 7th grade. But he's likeable, nonetheless. Hey, it's only a television program, right?

Well, Santos stepped in it during the most recent episode, when asked "Do you believe in intelligent design?" Santos replied, brilliantly if evasively, "I believe in God, and I'd like to think He's intelligent." This causes shock and awe among the loyal Donk staffers, both in the Santos campaign, and in the West Wing. OhMyGawd, doesn't Santos know that our party's base are atheistic baby-killers? He said he believed in G - O - D. In He-Who-Must-Not-be-Named.

OK, maybe they didn't say it quite like that. However, the subtext being pushed by the liberal writers here, not terribly subtle, is that Democrats can also be devout Christians. Or at least devout Catholics, which, somehow, is acceptable in a way that being a devout Reformed Baptist or any kind of devout Calvinist is not.

There is also the conceit that Republicans, in this instance Arnold Vinick, played by Alan Alda, are free to be non-Christians. Of course they are free to be agnostics, atheists, or wiccans, for that matter. At least in the fantasyland of liberal Hollywood writers.

Getting back to what "devout" means (hmmm, echoes of Bill Clinton's infamous evasions...depends on what "what" means...), for the West Wing's parallel universe, it means that "devout" Catholics are free to ignore their church's teachings about the sanctity of innocent human life, and that this life unarguably begins at conception.

Once again, we are free to believe what we will. This is America, even on the West Wing. But doesn't it rankle to see people in positions of great authority shown as paragons of Catholic virtue, and then they go and ignore the Holy Father on the sanctity of life?

Well, it is only an entertainment, and not to be taken seriously. And, to be sure, it is entertaining. The problem is that so many in this country wish that they could have it both ways: elect a "devout" Catholic who would be an unabashed supporter of abortion "rights." And creation and attendant destruction of human life in the laboratory in the name of "stem cell research."

Well, our job as voters is to hold those who claim to be devout Catholics to the standards they set for themselves. President Kerry, there's a casting call for you on West Wing...
10.16.2005    |    Satanic verses?
One of the best country songs, ever, by Charlie Daniels is "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Well, Satan is most definitely afoot. At least insofar as one, count him, one, extremist in the suppression of any public expression of anything remotely related to the religion is able to suppress a harmless song.

The sad story is in today's Washington Post, and its essence is that a marching band was going to play that pesky Charlie Daniels song. The lyrics to the song are here, just in case any of y'all aren't familiar with it (if not, why not? I want a full report on my desk by 0700...).

In two paragraphs, here's what transpired (from the Post story):
But early this month, a local newspaper, the Potomac News, published a letter by a Woodbridge resident who, after having seen the C.D. Hylton Bulldawg Marching Band perform the country-western hit at a football game, wondered how a song about the devil could be played at school events, because of the separation of church and state.

Fearing bad public reaction, Hylton's longtime band director, Dennis Brown, pulled the song from the playlist. "I was just being protective of my students. I didn't want any negative publicity for C.D. Hylton High School," he said.
Well, I suppose that the letter-writer could have sincerely felt reasons. He's forgiven, and, in fact, according to the Post story, home-schools his children. Which may, or may not, say anything about his personal faith. But that's neither here nor there. The real problem is the band director, who lacked the simple fortitude to simply state the obvious: a song is just a song, and, yes, it mentions the Devil. Oooohhh. Scary.

Well, it wouldn't be the first time that a gutless school flunky fails the common sense test. It might be helpful, too, if everyone would know that the mention of God, of Satan, of Jesus, of Moses, of the Ten Commandments, of any and all of these things does not establish a state church. Not. Even. Close.

To those atheists or misguided believers who protest? Hard cheese. Start your owned damned (correct usage here) nation. Ours was founded by believers who were not afraid to appeal to Divine providence.

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10.14.2005    |    Holy Repentance?
This is one example of a more accurate translation improving on one's understanding of the theology. In 1 Samuel we have Saul, the fatally flawed King of Israel, playing out his necessary role in the coming of the King David. Which, of course, sets the stage for the later coming of our Savior.

Saul had it all; sorry for the rhyming. He was, per 1 Samuel 9:1, of the tribe of Benjamin, and "a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people." Yet Saul, after he became king, just wouldn't heed the Lord's commands, as relayed through the Lord's faithful prophet Samuel.

Well, we all can read how Saul lost it all through his disobedience. At the end, Samuel himself has to come on the scene to make it right by slaying Agog (1 Samuel 15:33). And then we see the Lord's judgment on the whole episode, from 1 Samuel 15:35, KJV:
...and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.
The Lord "repented"; changed His mind. Which is fascinating for those of us who were taught that God is outside of time and space; there never was a time He wasn't; there never will be a time He won't be. It just seems not credible that He changed His mind.

Then I turned to the ESV of the same verse:
And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
Now we're talking. The Lord "regretted." Since we must assume (ok, I must so assume) that God knew exactly what would happen, I'm left with the apparent contradiction: Why would God set up Saul as King, knowing that he would fail? And, since He knew, from before it happened, how Saul would not obey, why on earth would God "regret" the whole thing?

My answer may be incomplete, but it's all I have: God regretted He could not find a stronger link in the chain of His revelation to mankind than Saul. But Saul was at the right time in history, and met the overarching needs of salvation history: Saul's failure provided the setting for David's kingship.

God surely regrets it when any of His creatures fail, as fail we must. Saul was a mighty man, and tall and handsome, to boot. So Saul fell a little further than most of us do. God has surely been shaking His head in sadness over all of us, in regret, that we are all fallen. Not least Saul.

For some of Phillip Johnson's take on the impassibility of God, which is what this post is (in a sense) about, check this out.

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10.13.2005    |    You give them eyes, Lord...
...but they do not see. Found, via the Weekly Standard, the latest foray into global politics by that withered branch of Christ's church, the Church of England. The Standard does a good job of trashing the CoE and its ability to sit on its high horse and criticize us knuckle-dragging troglodytic Christians here in the U.S. of A. The focus of their ire is a typically prolix thesis from the CoE's bishops, entitled "Countering Terrorism: Power, Violence and Democracy Post 9/11".

The focus of the CoE bishops' ire is us. By "us", meaning the United States, which has had the effrontery to actually engage in the war on terrorists. By "us", also meaning, particularly, us pesky members of the VRWCC (that's the Vast Right-Wing Christian Conspiracy). All of "us" are nothing but slack-jawed yokels, engaging in the worst kind of unilateral imperialism. Here's but a mere sample from the good bishops:
This sense of moral righteousness is fed by the major influence of the "Christian Right" on present United States policy. This has a very worrying political aspect in the way in which Christian millennialism has been taken up by so many evangelical Christians, with its apocalyptic overtones and its very clear political agenda in relation to the Middle East. We argue that not only is this political reading of current history in the light of apocalyptic texts illegitimate, but that those texts need to be read in a different way altogether, as a critique of imperialism rather than as a justification of a particular form of it.
We're bad, and we're worldwide. In truth, the bishops do raise some troubling issues for Christians who are called to follow our Lord when he did not resist those who would, and did, torture and kill Him. Unfortunately, they give away their actual game when they cite, many times, the United Nations as their ultimate authority for the use of force.

Part of the bishops' screed is to trash dispensationalism, which they claim is "a majority faith among millions of American evangelical Christians," all achieved through a single book. No, not the Bible, which, in my opinion, is not the best source for the dispensationalists' view of the end times. Rather, Hal Lindsey’s book, "The Late Great Planet Earth." Followed, some years later, and right now, Tim LaHay and Jerry B. Jenkins "Left Behind" series.

I've not any problem with the bishops trashing the dispies. The problem is that they are doing this from a modern, anti-American and purely political point of view. A point of view that is obvious, but which they will not come out and admit. They are, in other words, good at half-truths and deception.

There are valid Christian arguments to be made in favor of non-intervention in the Middle East. For instance, the notion that Muslims have already been enlisted in Satan's legions, and that God will judge them harshly at the end. We Christians owe them nothing in this world. We certainly should not go about changing what God has established (if Romans 13 applied to the vile and brutal Romans, surely it also applied to Saddam). But that really wouldn't be Christian, now would it? To let our Iraqi brothers suffer and die without at least attempting to free them. Not to mention for the very noble purpose of putting an end to a regime that has warred on its neighbors and slaughtered its own citizens.

Oh oh. Looks like I'm just one of those nasty Christian right wing imperialist warmongers, wanting to invade Iraq, steal their oil, convert their people, and then move on to the next target. Syria? Iran? There are so many tempting targets...

To read the CoE's latest is to understand that many "mainline" Christian denomoninations seem to have lost their way. They seem to have lost even the will to survive as Christian churches. Pray for them, that they will wake up and open their Bibles again.

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10.12.2005    |    Mark of Covenant Grace
Today's reading from C. H. Spurgeon's Faith's Check Book is based on the supremacy of grace over works. Specifically, the Lord telling the Hebrews, in Deuteronomy 30:6
And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Circumcise your heart. The essence of Reformed Christianity, in other words: grace working within the heart, as against the mere outward sign of physical circumcision.

Later in Deuteronomy 30, God reminds us that it isn't just a one-time conversion event, His grace entering our hearts. That grace must result in works, as surely as night follows day. There is a price, however. Deuteronomy 30:
9...LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
It is useful for modern Christians to re-read Deuteronomy 30 every now and again, for two reasons. Firstly, to know that this still applies to us, the new Israel. Secondly, to know that modern Judaism, as was ancient Judaism, was, and remains, a religion of grace infused in the heart.

A faithful Jew can not perform works blindly, in the hopes of achieving life. Not if he first reads Deuteronomy 30. A faithful Jew, like his faithful Christian brothers, will walk in the ways of the Lord if and only when he has received God's grace in his heart. When he has been circumcised in his heart, not in his flesh.

True, there are some, perhaps many, Jews who blindly follow the Law in the hopes of walking in the ways of the Lord. Before we get all judgmental about them, let me ask: Don't we all know some Christians who are every bit as legalistic? I could name names about certain denominations that are every bit as legalistic as the Pharisees of Jesus' time on earth.

One example? Fussin' and feudin' over whether full immersion baptism is necessary for salvation, or whether any "flowing" water will do. Is this not a species of legalism?

Those still entwined in the snares of the Law, thinking that blind adherence will save are, I hope, a small minority. But I maintain that this is true in both faiths.

Now, if we could just get the Jewish people to know that their Savior has already arisen from their midst...

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10.11.2005    |    The power of prayer
One of the bedrock principles of the Christian life is that we pray to God. We pray to praise Him, to thank Him, and, mostly, I suspect, to ask Him to help us or our loved ones. Often our prayers are not answered, even those that are modest and unselfish. At least they don't seem to be.

This seems to fly in the face of our plain-text reading of some Scripture, where we are told by Jesus (Matthew 7):
7"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
In case this wasn't clear enough, Jesus later in Matthew (at chapter 21) tells us:
22"And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith."
The faithful Christian, reading this, yet knowing that his prayers often go unanswered (or so he may think), is at a loss. The immediate response might be to question one's faith. After all, if the Lord says that "whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith", it must be that I lack faith.

Yet, if we believe our faith is strong, might we not be tempted to think that Jesus either did not know the truth, or lied to us? Neither of these, however, is credible. Jesus could not lie; it was and is not in His sinless nature. As for not knowing, that is possible, since even Jesus, as fully human, did not know everything that His Father had planned for humanity (Matthew 24:36).

So, it is possible that Jesus did not know what He was speaking of. Possible. Most unlikely, however. Getting back to what He told us, the other key words are, "you will receive." You may not receive the literal good you had asked for. You will, however, receive what you need. And, believe me, God knows what you need, better even than you yourself.

There's a catch, however, embodied in these key words: "if you have faith." My evidence for this from Scripture hinges on what the man of perfect faith, Jesus experienced in His prayers at Gethsemane. The cup did not pass from His hands; that was not His Father's will. To fulfil His role in salvation history, Jesus had to die that heinous, yet atoning death on the cross. This, as horrible as it was for Jesus, was what He needed.

If our faith is strong enough, our prayers will always be answered. Just not in the linear, obvious way that some might prefer. I'd call it a test of faith: to have the strength to carry on, seemingly without God's comforting response to our prayers. Yet it is that very faith that provides the strength.

Perhaps the lack of that comforting response is exactly what we need to "receive" in answer to our prayers. As Paul wrote to the Phillipians 4:7, when we pray, "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." With that kind of protection, we can face anything.

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10.09.2005    |    The power of love
Time for what might seem an unserious post, about a very unserious movie: "Legally Blonde". We just watched it, and its plot is seriously contrived and most definately not asking to be taken as a metaphor for anything. What you see is what you get.

And yet, while watching this ostensibly silly piece of eye candy unfold, I couldn't help thinking about Matthew 22:39: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

On the surface, "Legally Blonde" is about a shallow sorority girl, Elle Woods, who decides to go to Harvard Law in order to show her equally shallow boyfriend who just dumped her that she is worthy of his affections.

This movie being a Hollywood fantasy, of course our heroine, played by Reese Witherspoon, gets into Harvard. And succeeds. Not by using her obvious physical charms. In fact, succeeds by denying those charms and applying Jesus' commandment: love, not in the carnal sense, of our fellow men and women.

No, "Blonde" isn't a Christian movie, per se. Religion, other than a mention of the magazine Cosmopolitan as being the bible for the fasion-savvy, does not appear. Love, however, is the theme. It is the not-so-secret of Elle's astounding success at Harvard -- she takes care of her friends, and she wins over her enemies, with her love.

Watch the movie, and it is a bit of a test for the oh-so-serious among us (yours truly most certainly among 'em) to suspend our wish that Elle Woods wasn't such a bimbo. But that's the whole point -- one should never judge a person by the shallow standards that allow us, the viewers, to enter the movie thinking that Elle is a shallow bimbo. She's anything but; we're the shallow ones if we don't see through the facade to the glorious person who is Elle Woods.
10.08.2005    |    The Pope they love to hate
"They" being those who would tell us that a homosexual "lifestyle" is but one choice among many. Sort of like choosing to decorate your home in the Shaker style, or in the Virginia colonial style. Here he comes again, that pesky former Cardinal Ratzinger, now Papa Benedict XVI, reminding his flock, all billion or so of them, that homosexuals are to be treated with kindness -- but not to the extent of approving of or even excusing homosexual acts. From the Washington Post story:
"It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech and action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs," he wrote in "The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons."

But he also came down hard on homosexuality as both a proclivity and a practice: "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder."

"The use of the sexual faculty can be morally good" only in a marital relation framed by procreation, he added. "A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally."
This is nothing new for Benedict, and any objective observer of the Catholic Church in America must have noticed an awful lot of members of the "lavender mafia" in the seminaries, orders, and parishes. But then, some people are very good at not seeing what is in front of them. Else why would the RC church need to send "inspectors" out to determine "Is there evidence of homosexuality in the seminary? (This question must be answered.)"

Well, better late than never, one supposes.

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   |    Not a mere golden calf

Today's Calvin and Hobbes, showing how difficult it might have been had the ancient Hebrews had the idiot box instead of a mere golden calf.

   |    The best we can do?
Is Harriet Miers the best we can do at this point in our history?

It is not sufficient to verify that Ms. Miers is a "good" Christian (read: she agrees with the beholder). There are far more qualified people out there. Not because they are "better" Christians -- because they are better at showing that they may become a moral and intellectual force on the Supreme Court. Ms. Miers has shown loyalty, and that she can run a clean Texas state lottery.

Harriet Miers, as a presidential buddy lacks the intellectual gravitas that one might find in, to name but two examples, a Michael Luttig or Janice Brown.

The whole notion of evangelicals judging Miers on her piety stinks. Firstly, because it is unchristian to judge such a thing. Secondly, because it is wrong to place any kind of a "religious test" on a SCOTUS nominee.

We (politically conservative Christians) objected, mightily, and properly, when John Roberts' Catholicism was questioned. Let us at least be consistent with Harriet Miers.

Best solution? Ms. Miers graciously withdraws; President Bush nominates a heavyweight jurist and goes to the mat for him or her.

Note: Above is the substance of a comment I left at JollyBlogger's excellent post, "Harriet Miers - Trust me on this"

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10.07.2005    |    Multitudes, multitudes
Considering the current flap over the Supreme Court nominee, (apparently) credible terror threats against the New York City subways, Hurricane Katrina fallout, the half-hearted "war on terror", and the possibility that we indeed do, as our Lord told us in Matthew 24:6, "hear of wars and rumors of wars," these verses from the prophet Joel's third chapter keep running through my mind:
14Multitudes, multitudes,
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the LORD is near
in the valley of decision.
15The sun and the moon are darkened,
and the stars withdraw their shining.
Do I think we are in the end times? Not really, and yet, and yet...

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   |    "a sorry retreat into smallness"
Thus is the Miers moment captured by Charles Krauthammer today. There are many problems with the nomination of Harriet Miers, but the single most important reason for her to not get to the Supreme Court as a justice is the fact that her sole qualification is loyalty and closeness to the president.

That she is a born-again Christian is not in doubt. That her faith would help inform her jurisprudence is also more than likely. So what? It is not sufficient to be a Christian, nor is it sufficient to be an evangelical Christian (actually, a redundancy, but then, so many "Christians" don't get as far as Matthew 28:19). As Dr. K. so rightly points out, if there is a single area where Miss Miers has an edge, it is in cases that might come before the Court dealing with our war on terror. And it is in exactly these areas that her expertise disqualifies her, because she, at least in theory, would have been involved in the crafting of many of the administration's policies.

Even were this not a stumbling block, Miers' expertise in anything approaching a national scope is tied, with bonds of steel, to George W. Bush. Dubya assures as that he knows her heart, and knows that she'd be the same person twenty years down the road. Given that her other area of expertise appears to be running a clean lottery in Texas, this is not reassuring.

Mr. Bush, withdraw this nomination. It is an insult to the deep reserves of conservative jurists, with relevant experience, whom you could have, and should have named. It is also an insult to all of us, and not just conservatives. Harriet Miers' nomination sends the clear message that you, George W. Bush, are afraid of Harry Reid and his big bad Senate Democrats. That you shy away from fighting the good fight.

Unless, of course, your rhetoric has been empty all these years. Do the right thing, George.

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10.05.2005    |    Be careful what you wish for
...you may just get it. We are told that the Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid, was consulted, specifically, on the Miers nomination. And he likes it. From Reid's website, speaking in reference to the nomination of Miers:
In my view, the Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer.
It gets worse. A voice of the angry left, from the Daily Kos, tells us that "this is already a victory -- both politically and judicially -- for Democrats."
Which merely demonstrates what we should have already known: the extreme wing of the Donks is more concerned about Donk success than national success. Senator Reid is not an extremist, and must perform an intricate balancing act between his angry left and the merely annoyed centrists. So he leaves the door open to voting against Harriet Miers:
"I look forward to the Judiciary Committee process which will help the American people learn more about Harriet Miers, and help the Senate determine whether she deserves a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court."
Well, Harry, sorry to break this news to you, but the only person in living memory who "deserved" a seat on the court was Borked. By your estimeed colleagues.

The Donk left is correct, insofar as they've noticed that principled conservatives don't think much of this nomination. See, for instance, George Will's column this morning, aptly titled "Can This Nomination Be Justified?." Will's answer is, probably not.

As for the nominee herself, it does look as though her personal beliefs are not far from many of those red-meat conservatives on the appelate bench who could have, and should have, been chosen by Bush. One can also get the flavor of the opposition that is brewing, in a renewed Inquisition, this time against an orthodox Christian. Just check out the front page headline in today's Washington Post, a reliable barometer of the secular liberal opposition: "Strong Grounding in the Church Could Be a Clue to Miers's Priorities."

Absent finding anything indictable or really sleazy in her background, it's Harriet Miers' faith that will be the subject of this new Inquisition. Can't you just feel the love?

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10.04.2005    |    Calvin
Ok, here's a test: do you take yourself too seriously? One sure way to find out is see if you think that this Calvin is an offense to the old guy whose picture appears in my heading. Hint: he's the guy to the left of Jonny Edwards.

Just to let y'all know, the definitive, and complete Calvin and Hobbes collection has just been released. This collection of Bill Watterson's creation is a must for those who have lost their sense of humor, and who claim to have a philosophical bent. Hard to believe it's going on ten years since Calvin and Hobbes sledded off into their future. Which had sadly diverged from our own.
   |    "all Israel will be saved"
The full quotation from Romans 11:
26And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

"The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob";
27"and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins."
As usual, Paul cites the Scripture extant in his day: the Hebrew Scriptures, in this instance the prophet Isaiah 59:20-21, with a little Jeremiah 31:33-34 thrown in.

Every Christian should accept the prophecy that the "Deliverer will come from Zion." Jesus, after all, was from Abraham and David by the flesh. The question is, was salvation given to "all Israel" in the simple English meaning of "all," or is it necessarily more limited and conditional?

My take is the latter. "All Israel will be saved" is immediately limited earlier in Romans 11:
4But what is God's reply to him? "I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." 5So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.
A remnant, chosen by grace. Yet this salvation is also conditional. It is conditioned by the words that immediately preceed "All Israel will be saved." From Romans 11:25: "a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in."

Chosen by grace; Jew and Gentile. Replacing those of Israel whose hearts had been hardened, and who were not chosen by God's grace. The truly difficult thing for those who wish that God would save everyone is that universal salvation can not be supported by Scripture. Those unsaved, Jew and Gentile, are visible in the world today, as they worship our modern version of the golden calf.

We are told not to judge, lest we be judged. God will surely do this, and we may be surprised at the results. And it is not possible for us to know what is in the hearts of our brothers and sisters; to know whether God's grace has started them down the narrow path. Yet it is hard to avoid drawing conclusions from outward appearances.

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10.03.2005    |    "Do this in remembrance of me"
From Luke 22, Jesus is at the Last Supper with his disciples:
19And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."
Those words, or words very much like them and having the same meaning, were said at communion yesterday in Christian churches around the world. The Lord's Supper, Communion, the Eucharist, the Lord's Table, no matter what it is called, is done because it is one of only two things that the Lord himself specifically commanded us to do (the other thing being "baptize all the nations").

Nowhere else in Scripture do we have Jesus instructing us to remember, in ritual form and in group assembled, his birth, or, for that matter, his resurrection. And yet that is what the world celebrates: Christmas and Easter, whose celebrations have been hopelessly corrupted by pagan and secular influences. Not so the Lord's Supper. It remains faithful to Scripture, and it asks us to celebrate Jesus, to recline with Him at table, at least symbolically, and know that it leads inexorably to Jesus' heinous death on the cross.

"Celebrate", not in the sense of a happy event. Rather, in the sense of honoring an event that was necessary for our salvation. I often write about Fluffy Bunny™ Christians; you may hear such called "C&E Christians", those who only come for the "good" news, not the true Good News. No pain or messy blood for FBs; it's all about pagan garlands, Father Christmas legends, Easter egg hunts. Oh, and lots of presents and candy and happiness.

We are told (specifically in this case by our Pastor, Bill Smith*) that Jesus emphasized the Lord's Supper in Scripture (Jesus is, after all, on really good terms with the Author), because Jesus knew that we would choose to not remember the cross. It was, and for many to this day, remains, as Paul wrote to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:23): "but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles."

Nobody prefers pain to its absence, Well, at least no sane person does. Or so we are told. And yet, Jesus was right, of course, to focus our attention on his crucifixion and death in the form of the Lord's Table. Because the ultimate test of Christianity is that we share His pain and shame, and overcome what Paul wrote to the Galatians (3:13): "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree."

So, Christians are all a little crazy. Because we know, in our heart of hearts, the truth: No Cross, no Crown.

*In the giving credit where credit is due department: this post takes off from a theme from our pastor, Bill Smith, at Communion Sunday yesterday.

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10.01.2005    |    Leviticus 19:27 -- it's the Law
Everyone among you who claims to be a Bible-believing Christian, yet still cut your sideburns, raise your hands. Also, why don't you all have beards down to your chests? After all, it's the Law. Specifically, Leviticus 19:27:
You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.
Leviticus 19, all of Leviticus, in fact, contains many, many of God's commandments: things we are required to do, and things we must not do.

Now, getting back to the fact that no one is righteous under the law (one of the great themes of Romans), and that our righteousness is only given by our faith in Christ Jesus. Yet our Lord also tells us that "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). What does it mean to love the Lord your God? In part, it must mean what our Lord tells us about the Law (Matthew 5):
17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
"Not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law..." So, how do we justify not following black letter law from Leviticus? Jesus tells us that we have no license to ignore the Law, although Paul also tells us that we must not confuse meeting part of the Law with righteousness.

The answer, such as we have it, is that we all, each and every one of us, must interpret Leviticus in the context of the entirety of the Scriptures. This particular one on shaving, for instance, was likely given to the Israelites so as to distinguish them physically from their pagan neighbors in ancient times.

Regardless of interpretation of individual passages, however, we must not take them totally out of context -- just as we should not succumb to blind literalism. We also must not simply say, "well, Jesus died for my sins, I don't need to worry about that pesky Law." You trim your beard, i.e. shave. But you probably don't do other things explicitly prohibited by God in Leviticus 19. For example, Leviticus 19:11: "You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another." That's God speaking. Hard to quibble. And yet...

No one (almost no one, at least) would argue that stealing and lying are just fine; Jesus loves me, I can do what I want -- not at all. Yet, likewise, almost no one, I am certain, stays up at night worrying about violating Leviticus 19:27 because he will shave in the morning. What it comes down to is that we, as the body of Christ, have agreed (for the most part), that it's acceptable to violate certain of God's commandments in Leviticus, but not others. All of God's commandments are important; but not all are necessary today to mark us as belonging to Christ. The tricky part? Deciding which is which.

A faithful Jew makes no distinctions; every single word uttered by God in the Torah is considered to have equal weight. All commandments are binding; no exceptions. A faithful Christian knows that some of these commandments have been fulfilled by Christ's atoning death, and that those that were intended to set apart the people of Israel (such as Leviticus 19:27) are now internalized in our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit.

What I would ask of all Christians is that they keep in mind this form of relativism when their brothers and sisters interpret Scripture in a way that they find offensive. For instance, those who insist that women may lead in church, or even those who insist that homosexual acts are not sinful. I know they are wrong, yet they are doing what each of us does when we shave in the morning: decide for themselves which of God's laws they don't need to bother with.

My job, and yours if you agree with the overall sense of Scripture? Gently rebuke those who would violate that God-given sense of His Word. With all humility, as we also sin under the Law.

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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.