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12.31.2005    |    Nguyen Van Thoi
Nguyen Van Thoi was one of those boat people you may have heard of. In Mr. Nguyen's case, he had been in ARVN and had directly helped our forces during the Vietnam war. After our disgraceful abandonment of the South to Communist dictatorship, he was sent to a "re-education" camp, in good Stalinist fashion. After two years, he bribed his way out, showing, if it needed showing, what the Communist ideologues were really about.

Nguyn Van Thoi escaped, via boat, taking his family to Thailand. The fuller story of how he wound up in Arlington, Virginia, where I had met him, may be found in his obituary. This man worked hard, at first at menial jobs, until he started what became his life's work here: a successful entrepreneur, opening a small chain of excellent restaurants. The best of them is the Nam Viet on North Hudson Street in Arlington, where we used to go weekly before we moved out of Arlington not too long ago.

Mr. Nguyen's life, now cut sadly short, is a reminder of how precious each life is. And how we should ever welcome newcomers to our shore who are willing and able to work. Especially those who are fleeing tyranny in their homelands. This man surely enriched our community, in more ways than one.

In closing, this about Nguyen Van Thoi's outlook (from the obituary):
Loyalty was a principle Mr. Nguyen often reiterated as a cherished quality for a good life, his son said.

"Never lie, cheat or steal from anyone to get ahead in life," Nguyen [John, Van Thoi's son]said his father wrote in a memo to his children shortly before his death. "Never let anyone look down on you."
Well, he's surely looking down on us, in a manner of speaking. No one who met the man in life could possibly have looked down on him. R.I.P.
12.30.2005    |    Catholicism Wow!
If you don't recognize this version of our savior, perhaps you've not been paying close attention to Joel Osteen. Sort of. The image is part of the new "Catholicism Wow!" that Cardinal Glick unveiled in the movie "Dogma". Oh, that's not real, is it? Neither is Joel Osteen's views of the Gospel.

In life-imitating-art, we have Joel Osteen and his feel-good boosterism approach to God. Joel is hardly unique in this. It's a soft gospel that doesn't deny the real Gospel. Doesn't much affirm it, either. It just seems to be a vanilla-verging-on-unflavored gelatin brand of Christianity. With promises of joy and properity if you just behave yourselves. Oh, deeds.

As should be evident from his appearance with Larry King (transcript here), Osteen basically neither affirms nor denies our Lord as the way, and only way, to God. As for condemnation for those who reject Christ as Lord? Fugeddaboudit. You are all good; it is all good. Why bother with those pesky biblical thingies?

Well, my name is John Luke for a reason. I'm named after John and Luke the Evangelists. From Eagle boy John, Chapter 12:48, this on affirmation of the Lord:
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
In context, this verse means that when that last trump sounds, baby, you're going to be separated from God forever unless you confess Christ as Lord. In your heart, with full repentance.

Of course, you may think that Buddy Christ is the way to go. He's certainly not limited to Catholics. In the Buddy Christ-Joel Osteen universe, witches and worshippers of Baal can get in. What a downer if they couldn't!

Oh, and by the way -- you can get your very own Catholicism Wow! t-shirt, with the imprimatur of Cardinal Ignatius Glick. Don't wait; supplies are limited.

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12.28.2005    |    Hear him roar
We finally saw Narnia today. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, it was a spiritual experience.

As a movie, in the technical sense, Narnia is outstanding, verging on great. Not quite in the league of Lord of the Rings, but then, what is? But the combination of the acting (moving in and of itself) and the story of sacrifice, redemption, and resurrection is beyond my ability to describe it in mere words.

Aslan is not the Christ. At least, not our Christ. But he does fill that bill for Narnia. Those ignorant of the gospel message might be tempted to read a little C.S. Lewis (go for it). Then check Jack Lewis' sources in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Those of us who have already received the gospel message know that the story of Narnia is Truth. With a capital "T."

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12.27.2005    |    Fallen nature, even for pastor's wives
Why does it make news whenever a churchman, or woman, or one of their spouses, does something that that is out of the ordinary? Today we've got the report of a minor incident involving Victoria Osteen, wife of Joel. From the Washington Post story, the basics:
Last week, Victoria Osteen, wife of the televangelist Joel Osteen, pastor of the Houston-based Lakewood Church, was removed from Continental flight 1602 to Vail, Colo., after she "failed to comply" with a flight attendant's request, according to a report filed by the airline to the FBI.
As with any incident, there are (at least) two sides to the story. But my point is not whether Mrs. Osteen was at fault or not. It is that the mainstream media seems to think it rich when what I'll call a "public Christian" is involved in any conflict.

The sense I get is that the MSM, and, perhaps secular society at large, expects much, much better behavior from Christians. Well, it is true that many, many "Christians" do violate our Lord's warning in Matthew 6:1
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
This must especially be applied to some televangelists and their wives. Who can forget the scandalous Jimmy and Tammy Faye Bakker?

Can you spell hypocrisy, boys and girls? Because this is what preachers get nailed with as soon as they stray from some model of perfection. The Bakkers earned the sobriquet, to be sure. It's far from clear the Osteens have, even if I don't especially approve of how they put forth God's message. They don't need my approval, after all.

But are we not all fallen in our natures? Even the best among us is less than he or she should be. The Osteens no less, nor more, than I. Or you. We'd all like for public Christians like the Osteens to be blameless; it's less embarrassing for the rest of us. Well, some of us would...others just love to wallow in that good ol' schadenfreude.

We should resist taking joy in anyone's sorrow. We are them; they are us. Sinners, all. Some of whom may be redeemed.

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12.25.2005    |    God with us
The prophet Isaiah told us about His coming (7:14): ...the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Whose name means, "God with us."

And so it is today, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus who became the Christ. Not just a great rabbi, a great teacher. He was God's only Son. And fully divine Himself; present at the creation. As we are told by Paul in his letter to the Colossians (1:19): For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

A virgin. A son. The Son.

Merry Christmas to all.
12.23.2005    |    Gatherings
The coming of the Lord is at hand, and our time of celebration about to begin. Of course, in the secular world, it's been little else but noise and tinsel. Not that I've anything against Christmas carols; I love them. Just that they come too early, and listening to "Jingle Bells" in early November is jarring.

Advent should be a time of watchfulness, of waiting for Him. It is also a time to gather one's thoughts about God, to know that God's purpose for sending Jesus to us through the vessel of Mary was to put paid to our sins.

God caused this to be known. Mary was told, directly, that she, too, would suffer as the Mother of God when Jesus was pierced and put on the tree. From Luke 2
34And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."
"A sword will pierce through you." As it should for all who proclaim Christ as Lord. William Penn wrote, in 1669, a pamphlet entitled,"No Cross, No Crown."

We go Friend Penn one step further, and know that the wood of Jesus' cradle presages the wood of His cross.

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12.21.2005    |    Not science
As in, what intelligent design is not, according to a rather egocentric and arrogant federal judge. The basic story is here, and it involves the usual suspects in opposition to any mention of You Know Who. In a fit of judicial activism, Da Judge went a few steps further. Must be an atheist, to judge from this:
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, a Republican appointed by President Bush, did not confine his opinion to the missteps of a local school board. Instead he explicitly sought to vanquish intelligent design, the argument that aspects of life are so complex as to require the hand, subtle or not, of a supernatural creator. This theory, he said, relies on the unprovable existence of a Christian God and therefore is not science.
Note that "Republican appointed by President Bush." As if this would indicate that the judge was some sort of knuckle-dragging, Bible-thumping Fundie. Also note the swipe at a "Christian God." Somewhat gratuitous, don't you think? After all, if memory serves, the Jewish God came first. Does this mean that if I'd remained Jewish I could teach intelligent design?

Despite all of this, the thinking Christian (or Jew) has to admit that any theory that can not be proven in an objective, repeatable experiment, and whose validity ultimately depends on an unprovable assumption, should not be taught as "science."

Hey, wait a minute. Does this not also describe Darwin's theory of evolution? Isn't the basic assumption, that all life evolved into its basic forms today through utilitarian adaptation to its environment, equally unprovable?

I say, let's teach both intelligent design and evolutionary theory as it is now assumed (ha!) to be true. Both require assumptions; both can be taught as science. Students are free to believe, or disbelieve, in the assumptions.

What I'd like to know from some unbelieving evolutionary biologist is this: given that great apes still exist, and have nowhere near the intelligence of homo sapiens sapiens, it's clear that apes did not and do not need our big, fat, chess club brains to survive. Yet we have them.

Thanks, He Who Must Not Be Named.

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12.20.2005    |    Walk in the way of the cross
One of the most difficult thing for Christians is to walk in His footsteps. Steps that led, inexorably to a heinous death on the cross. For us, and in obedience to God. The cross and the crucifixion remain, in the words of 1 Corinthians 1:23, "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles."

Well, we all know of a whole passel of Gentiles who have declared war on the Cross, and on Christians, as well as Jews: militant Muslims. How to respond? John Piper, in this recent essay, would seem to advocate the "love thy enemy" approach:
My greatest longing in response to this [Muslim] enmity is that Christians walk in the way of the cross. Yes, militant Islam is big and threatening. It may even be the true Quranic Islam. There are alarmists whose whole tone seems to awaken political and even militant responses from Christians. My concern is that as the church we distance ourselves from this kind of response and focus on the truth that we will never spread the Christian faith by the sword. Some Muslims may kill to spread their faith. Some Christians have. But it is not the way of Christ. It is not the way of the cross...the followers of the cross will never take up arms to proclaim or defend Christ
One would need to be willfully ignorant of the Gospels to think that Christianity could be spread by the sword. Which is why we must always cast a suspicious eye on mass "conversions", such as when a ruler adopts Christianity and mandates that all his citizens do likewise. This doesn't make anyone Christian who wasn't already called by God. Worse, it employs the sword, in the form of state power, to force professions of belief. For better or worse, this has been the model for much of Christian history.

On the other hand, pace John Piper, do we not have an obligation to defend our people against militant Islam? Do protect our flocks? Of course we do; it would be unchristian not to do so.

This, however, remains in the secular realm: we do not take up the sword against militant Islam in order to convert them. The last time we claimed to be doing this, during some of the Crusades, we had the ugly picture of "Christians" killing other Christians (calling them "heretics", of course), and Jews. Not that it was a bad thing to take back the Holy Land, but it would've been nice if the Crusaders could have just stuck to that program...

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12.18.2005    |    Don't you just hate it...
...when well-meaning people get it so wrong? Here's a man, author of a letter that the Washington Post featured on today's editorial page. What this means, in plainspeak, is that the WaPo editors really, really, agreed with it. Hence its prominent placement, complete with a border.

The letter-writer's main thesis is something I very much agree with, as indicated by the title: "A Lesson About Christmas: Lighten Up." Something I wrote here, and here) not too long ago, with the same complaint: that Christmas has become a blood sport of shop 'till you drop. A pagan celebration of money and the things it can buy.

But here's where my thought-to-be comrade-in-arms goes astray. Big time. You get the sense when he writes about Jesus' not-so-quiet riot in the Temple, then this: " I also remember that the theme of inclusion is a thread through the New Testament." Uh oh. "Inclusion." Code for, kumbaya, my Lord, and it doesn't really matter what you believe, so long as you believe, and didn't Jesus just love all the little children...yellow, black, and white, they are precious in His sight...gag me with a spoon.

Well, perhaps this kind of saccharine piety is your cup of tea, to mix metaphors. But it usually leads to incredibly sloppy theology. Which, sure as shootin', our writer then commits. Big time. Here's the money quote:
If one learns no other lesson from Christ, it should be that there is good in everyone and everything and that our mission as Christians is to seek out that good, not construct walls and paradigms of us vs. them.
Well, certainly glad that this is the lesson that this guy took away from whatever church he attends(ed). Not that I'm a big fan of building "walls," although I do fancy not allowing people to claim to be Christians when they are totally ignorant of the Gospels.

Firstly, Jesus wasn't only, or even primarily, about giving us lessons. He was about taking our sins on His shoulders, and dying in our place so that we may be saved. Period. That is the lesson. As for how to apply this great lesson, well, Jesus also has told us this, in the two great commandments (Matthew 22):
37..."You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Now, some take the last and bend and twist it to the point where they claim that Christians must accept all sorts of heinous behavior and simply forgive folks, regardless that they don't repent and just keep on sinning, sort of like Satan's Energizer bunnies.

The Fluffy Bunny™ Christian letter writer says we should seek the good in all. Actual Christians also know that we, each of us, also harbor evil. It is our nature. And the only sure antidote to that evil is Jesus Christ.

Our "mission as Christians" is as stated simply by Jesus in Matthew 28:19: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Yes, there's "inclusivity." "All nations." No, that does not mean regardless of belief and repentance of sin. Although all might be saved, the reality appears to be that most will not be: we are too wed to our sins.

Among which I would include the hyper-commercialization of the Mass for Christ. Take your plastic reindoor and your inflatable Santas off of your lawns. Get down on your knees, and thank God for to us a Savior has been born.

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12.17.2005    |    In limbo no more
Ah, the limbo...how low can you go? Oh, wrong limbo. Sorry. We're talking about the Roman Church's recent disclosure that yet another piece of invented theological flotsam was going bye-bye.

The whole notion of consigning those who die unbaptized to a special corner of the afterlife smacks just a little of church boosterism, having nothing much to do with God or His Son. "hey, come to us, we'll take care of your soul." Or, don't, and who knows, you could spend eternity watching Leave it to Beaver re-runs.

There is a thoughtful essay on the subject by Ross Douthat whose reading I very much commend. What I take away from the entire business of limbo is that we should never stray very far from Scripture in fashioning our theology. We do so at the risk of creating division, and, to quote the fella claimed to be the first pope:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1)
A lesson that the Roman Church now appears to be taking to heart. At least as regards the unbiblical notion of limbo.

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12.16.2005    |    Nice try...
...but no cigar. Gene Edward Veith, writing in World Magazine, attempts to convince us that "the origin of Christmas had nothing to do with paganism." By which he means not the birth of the Lord, but the date on the calendar on which it is celebrated.

Veith cites an epistle by "Calculating Christmas," published in the December 2003 Touchstone Magazine by William Tighe, and then goes on and on about how the date could have been calculated by assuming March 25 as the date for Jesus' conception. And so on. It's all very convoluted, and, as .

The entire effect is that Mr. Veith is trying far too hard to deny the obvious: that the celebration of Christmas within three days of the Winter Solstice was instituted to evangelize pagan peoples. To claim it had nothing to do with this purpose is to ignore the evidence. And, if it wasn't to coincide with the solstice, doesn't it ever occur that the arbitrary selection of March 25 for Jesus' conception (nine months to the day, even though human gestation isn't exactly nine months) is a bit too much of a coincidence?

The point is that Christmas as we now celebrate it has been encrusted with many pagan trappings. We are often told, not by World Magazine, to be certain, but by many others, that Christianity should "adapt itself" to cultural norms around the world. Well, yule logs, holly, dead pine trees in the living room certainly do that. Thereby, to a certain extent, violating the injunction, "Do not be conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2).

In the end, as Veith points out, the actual calendar date on which we celebrate the first coming of our Lord is not important. What is important is that He did come. Call it a rescue mission.

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12.15.2005    |    Unholy man
Don't you just love it when a man who uses God to support his rhetoric shows us who he really is? We've got the president of Iran, adding to the anti-Semitic rhetoric with a public Holocaust denial. It would be easy enough to dismiss this moke as just another raghead moron. But he's the president of a major nation.

How to explain this? Easy. He is a Muslim. That is all you need to know. Islam has always viewed the Jews as their public enemy number one. Right from the beginning, when that peaceful dude Mohammed beheaded hundreds of Arabian Jews for the crime of not submitting to his brand new religion of peace.

In today's Iran, there may well be many thousands willing to live and let live. But they've not shown the gumption to rid themselves of the mad mullahs who have controlled them since 1979. The current denial of reality by the evil toad who holds the title of "president" of Iran's theocracy is merely part and parcel of the anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, anti-God nature of Islam as practiced in Iran.

Should you think that my assessment is overly hostile to Islam, hard cheese. Actions speak louder than words, and there's yet to be an Arab nation that's made peace with Israel before losing at least three wars. And only then because we bribed them (think Egypt and Jordan). Anti-Semitic propaganda, much if not mostly state-sponsored, is the standard in places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, which we used to think was simply due to their being Arabs. Call it the bigotry of lowered expectations. Iran, with its proud culture and history, is different. Or so we thought. We were wrong. The common element? They're Muslims.

Courtesy of the Washington Post, here's a mere sampling of the, to be really, really charitable, lack of sympathy in the Muslim world for condemning anti-Semitism of this sort. One may also get the picture by simply going to MEMRI and reading the translations that emanate from the cesspool of hatred that is the Muslim Middle East.

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   |    Choosing our myths
Islam is presented by its apologists as a "religion of peace", an Abrahamic faith that welcomes all to join, regardless of race, or social or economic status. Sounds like a great, ultimate democratic love-in, doesn't it?

My personal belief is that Islam is based on some rather fanciful readings of a long and bloody history of conquest, enslavement, and the tyranny of the imams wherever it has triumphed. Islam has failed as a culture, in all endeavors except war. The so-called "golden age" in Iberia simply was a period of relative tolerance, in which the ancient wisdom of the Greeks and Romans, as preserved by Christian monks, was re-discovered by the Moors and Arabs.

To be fair, about the fanciful aspects of Islam, Christianity is just as fanciful. Both require faith, belief in things unseen and unproven. The difference is that Christ was the ultimate peacemaker, while Mohammed was a warrior who killed all who did not submit.

So we choose our myths, and Christians claim to follow the Prince of Peace, Jesus. Muslims follow the example of the violent tribal chief Mohammed. To be sure, Christians have a long a violent history of their own, often in the very name of the Prince of Peace. But violence is not the default option for the Christian. Violence by a Christian, in the service of the good, is not forbidden, and in fact may be a Christian's duty in protecting the weak. Our savior's Passion, where He suffered unto death and forgave his torturers and killers, is stark evidence of the difference between Christianity and Islam.

Islam, as it has been practiced since its founding, uses violence as the first option in bringing infidels under its sway. This is among the prime directives for Islam -- defeating the "House of War", i.e. the non-Muslim world, and making it part of the "House of Islam (Submission)", i.e. Islamic territory under sharia, or Islamic law.

Those who lie, and call Islam a "religion of peace", are, at best, simply mis-translating "Islam", which, properly means "submission." This is the "peace" of Islam, the submission to the will of Allah, performing the various daily devotions and duties (e.g. dietary restrictions), charity, love of fellow Muslims, etc. This is a peace that is, by definition, restricted to those who are Muslim. While infidels may be tolerated, history demonstrates that it is only when they accept dhimmi status as, at best, second class citizens.

Faith is, or should be, a personal matter, and what you believe may be total hogwash to me, and vice versa. But it must come down to this: We each must be free to choose how to worship God; or even choose not to worship at all. Christian nations now provide that liberty. Muslim theocracies do not.

Muslims in America need to come to terms with these inconvenient facts, and start working to bring American values, especially freedom of religion, to Islam. The evidence on the ground, unfortunately, is that it is the other way around -- Muslim apologists keep whining about their civil rights and alleged slights, rather than work to reform their own communities.

We would, or should, welcome an Islamic reformation, when modern precepts of liberty and freedom can replace the violence. The question for Muslims of good heart, which I am certain are out there in the millions, is: When shall your voices for reform be heard? How long will you continue to be silent and let the mad mullahs dictate your faith?

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12.14.2005    |    You want radical?
Here's something radical. Young Jewish girl, named Miryam (Mary). Betrothed to Yossi (Joseph), local crafts guy. Up and announced that some angel or somesuch had told her that she was going to have a baby. And, hey, Yossi, not just any baby. But a Son of David. I dunno, Yossi, sounds like he might even be our Messiah.

From Luke 1, this radical news:
26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" 29But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
Two things to take away from this bit of good news. First, if you are Christian, you are first Jewish. Second, if you are Jewish but haven't accepted Jesus as Lord, as king over the house of Jacob forever, what are you waiting for?

Just asking.

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12.13.2005    |    "Twofold Meaning"
The full headline in this story about interfaith marriages is "This Year, the Meaning of Dec. 25 Is Twofold; 1st Night of Hanukkah Falls on Christmas Day." There is a brief disclaimer as to how Hanukkah is a "secondary" Jewish holiday and not really comparable to the central place that Christmas has in the Christian faith.

The reality being disposed of, the rest of the article basically equates the celebration of Christmas and Hanukkah, and how interfaith couples have their difficulties. The first of which appears to be incoherence about what might be important in their respective "faiths."

You can get a hint of this when one mixed couple is "raising their two daughters in both faiths." Which, perhaps, should have been written, "exposing their two daughters to both faiths." Faith is something one can't simply apply, like a bandage. God will work His will in you, or not. And it can only confuse children to have to participate in one set of rituals or liturgies that basically say the other set is a bunch of lies.

I'm very sympathetic to the problem of a mixed marriage, having been in one. I came to Christ, thanks to the Holy Spirit, so that I'm no longer in a mixed marriage. Before this, however, I did not fool myself into thinking that anyone with free will could "celebrate" two mutually exclusive faiths.

Perhaps the problem is that we are dealing with people who confuse the secular trappings of faith with the faith itself. There is no mention of God, or the Messiah in this Washington Post story. Which one might expect, if it is a story of how "faith" is celebrated. Faith in what? Father Christmas? The tooth fairy? One can get the sense of how far these mixed marriages are from anything to actually do with "faith" from this small extract:
The other night, the Liebreichs put up their Christmas tree, which has an ornament with the Star of David on one side and a tiny Christmas tree on the other.
Sigh. The Puritans were right to not celebrate Christmas as anything other than the mini-Lent it was meant to be: a time of reflection, repentance, and waiting for the Lord.

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12.12.2005    |    "rulers of the Gentiles"
There are some Christians who would rule over us, if they could. All in the name of God, of course. There are also, more commonly, those who are not Christian who believe that any who profess Christ as Lord have some sort of secret plan to wrest control of the government. The key giveaway is when someone shouts out about "theocracy" anytime a Christians wishes to not be denied his rights under our Constitution.

But, sadly, there are also some that claim to be Christian who lust after worldly power. Quite a few, actually, if the noises that many politicians make are to be believed. A true Christian should not care anything about worldly power. Jesus has made it so clear that even a team of high-priced Philadelphia lawyers couldn't wrange out of this plain truth from Mark 10:
"You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
We come to Him in service. This may include being stewards of His creation, but must never, ever, be for the sake of exercising power of our fellow man.

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12.11.2005    |    Brood of vipers
In what important way think you different from the crowd that John the Baptist was addressing? And, in "you", I very much include myself. In this season of Advent, it is all too easy to fall into the holly-jolly-deck-the-halls-and-let's-be-merry crapulence.

Not that I've anything against being merry, or the occasional pint of good cheer. But not in His name. And, most certainly, not in celebration before it's due. We should be humble, contrite, and confess our sins to God. In the hope that He will forgive us, and welcome us into the Advent of His Son.

These days, whenever I see yet another cheap and tawdry "Xmas" display at some store, I wish I had the guts to yell out what my namesake did (Luke 3):
7He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
Get on your knees, if not literally, then in your hearts. Repent. And believe the Good News.

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12.09.2005    |    Lighten up, redux
Seems that there's far too much sensitivity on the part of some folks. Here's a town supervisor in Manhasset, New York, objecting because a Catholic priest gave, please be sitting down for this, a Christian blessing to a Christmas tree.

How dare he, fumed the town supervisor, who happens to be Jewish. That's not the real issue, of course. The man's an idiot to object to a Christian clergyman giving a Christian blessing to a Christmas tree. There. That's three "Christs" in one sentance. From the story in today's New York Post, the good priest has this to say:
"It seemed to me that because this was a Christmas tree, it would be OK to use the blessing from my Catholic tradition."
Understated, I think. The good father might be dealing in deep sarcasm. I probably would have, but then, I never claimed to be that holy. This Fr. Zientarski looks like my kind of guy, however...pesky. I'd love to hear what he said in private.

To any who think that a Christmas tree is anything other than a celebration of the birth of our Savior, just this: you would be wrong to harbor such thoughts. We love Jews, Hindus, atheists, and Muslims. Our Lord commands us to. That does not mean we give in to inappropriate demands to deny our own traditions.
12.08.2005    |    "pervy pipe-puffing Oxford prig "
Jack Lewis, call home...they're talking about you. This is the alliterative notion spun in a piece in today's Washington Post about the cultural tsunami about to be unleashed by Narnia.

In fairness, the full quote from the article is this, which sums up the pending conflict:
A timeless fantasy about talking beavers, friendly fauns and a mystical lion named Aslan? Or insidious militaristic propaganda cunningly used to inoculate innocents with rigid Christian dogma penned by a pervy pipe-puffing Oxford prig who actually didn't very much like little children and might have slept with a woman old enough to be his mother? When he wasn't drinking. In pubs. With J.R.R. Tolkien.
Well, by today's dumbed-down standards, any behavior that isn't Sunday-school perfect can be subject to condemnation by our moral betters. And here I don't mean William Booth, the author of this piece. I mean the typical "let's get dressed up and be on our best behavior when we go to church" crowd, the ones who are more upset by someone cursing or "making a scene" than the notion that most of us live lives far, far removed from His Gospel.

The essence of what I know of C.S. Lewis' life is that he was a sinner come to Christ. And that he had the touch when it came to explaining all this. For us. For children. And, may God bless him, he got to drink in pubs with the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Would that I have had such an opportunity. If anyone out there thinks that tossing back a pint or two with the other Inklings was, somehow, a bad thing...perhaps you'd better be seeing your eye doctor about that beam in your eye.

I've read Narnia, several times, and it never fails to charm. It's message is pretty clear; always was. It's a Gospel message. And that's not a bad thing for us in this sinful world. Not. Bad. At. All.

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12.07.2005    |    Lighten up
The furor among some Christians over the White House "Christmas" card, which does not mention Christ or His Mass, is misplaced anger. The card, which wishes its recipients a "happy holiday season," does include a verse from Psalm 28. So, it's pretty clear that the Bushes are believers. No matter. From the front page (!) story in the WaPo:
Many people are thrilled to get a White House Christmas card, no matter what the greeting inside. But some conservative Christians are reacting as if Bush stuck coal in their stockings.

"This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture," said William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

Bush "claims to be a born-again, evangelical Christian. But he sure doesn't act like one," said Joseph Farah, editor of the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily.com. "I threw out my White House card as soon as I got it."

At the Catholic League, Donohue had just announced a boycott of the Lands' End catalogue when he received his White House holiday card. True, he said, the Bushes included a verse from Psalm 28, but Psalms are in the Old Testament and do not mention Jesus' birth. [well, this is a matter for some debate...e.g. Isaiah 7:14]

"They'd better address this, because they're no better than the retailers who have lost the will to say 'Merry Christmas,'" he said.
A few points. First, does anyone doubt that George and Laura Bush are the most sincere Christians to inhabit the White House in many a year? Isn't this much, much more important than what is on a greeting card? If you doubt this, perhaps this might refresh the memory.

Second, isn't there something just a little disturbing about self-professed Christians who find the time to complain about such a "vain display" as a Christmas card? The Bushes are sensitive to the fact that some Americans are not Christian. This makes them, if anything, more, not less, like Christ -- because they still profess Him as Lord.

Third, and last, the Bushes will be criticized for not being evangelical. Well, as our Lord said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21). Given the need to keep church and state separate, it is an entirely foreign notion that our head of state be expected to evangelize for his faith.

So, people, lighten up. Celebrate our Lord's Advent with a joyous heart, and know that He will come. And I suspect He would not especially care if a modern Caesar says, "happy holiday season" along with a picture of the White House pets.

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12.06.2005    |    Bible disproves science?
Science can become a religion, as when someone says they've got "faith in the scientific method." Or, from a story in today's Washington Post about a forum on evolution, one teen said she "believes in evolution wholeheartedly." Her friend does not, and believes that "nothing on Earth is more than 6,000 years old." Two versions of faith. I.e. belief in things that are not or can not be fully proven by reproducible, objective tests.

The friend, in other words, has faith that God's Word, the Bible, is literally true - in the same sense that a triangle has three and not four sides - and that the theory of evolution is just a "myth." This dispute is hardly unique, but it does produce some gaps. Not just in the fossil evidence for evolution, but in logic.

Which brings me to what someone said during Bible study at our church last Sunday: the Bible disproves (some) science. In this woman's world, God's Word can "prove" that some aspects of science are false. Why? Because that's what she believes. Nevermind reproducible, objective tests, like radiocarbon dating. The Bible says that the earth is about 6,000 years old; that's the end of it.

Arguments like this give Christianity a bad name, because, in my not so humble opinion, they confuse cause and effect. God created the earth, and us. He also gave us His Word through the Bible. Which is true and without error -- but not necessarily in the same literal sense that "a triangle has three sides" is true and without error.

The Bible, by itself, proves nothing. God's existence, even, can't be proven from Scripture. Not logically, anyway, since this requires the following sequence:
  1. Assume the Bible is literally true
  2. The Bible tells us that God exists...
  3. and that God completed His creation in six days
  4. Using the Bible, and backtracking from the present, shows that this creation took place not more than 6,000 years ago
  5. Anything that shows fossils to be older than this is, therefore, not true
Since there is objective and reproducible evidence that there are many things on this planet much, much older than 6,000 years, perhaps there's a problem with the basic assumption? If the Bible is not literally true in the same sense as the triangle example, then there is no logical ground to accept anything after number 1.

Else one must posit a universe in which an agent of darkness, call him Satan, has planted all sorts of scientific evidence that contradicts at least one interpretation of Scripture. Possible? Yes. Probable? Don't think so. And not necessary for belief. The problem with this worldview is that one's faith can easily shatter, if enough things that one believes are contradicted by logic. Or, worse, data.

God simply is. It is God's existence that is "proof" of the truth of Scripture, not the other way 'round. My understanding is that Scipture, was inspired by an infallible God, but written by very fallible men. Who had to tell the tale in ways that would be grasped by people we would in this day call ignorant. But hardly stupid.

As for those literal six days of creation? Let's just say that with the Lord, "one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). I hope this makes you think. Use the tools God has given you. Which include a rather oversized brain, of which we now use but a small fraction. Surely He's got some plans for the unused portions...

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12.05.2005    |    Just because I could...
Yours for the making -- a customized picture of Einstein scribbling your name on his blackboard. Go here if you must.

Hat tip to Scotwise.
12.04.2005    |    Christmas un-Christian, or, Bah, Humbug
I always knew that Christmas was un-Christian. Now it's been confirmed by a writer of the Secular Times. The point of this op-ed, by Adam Cohen, is to scourge John Gibson's point of view in his book, The War on Christmas. In a great leap of illogic, and, I suspect, bah-humbuggery, the author also attempts to bring in my spiritual forebears, the Puritans:
The Puritans considered Christmas un-Christian, and hoped to keep it out of America. They could not find Dec. 25 in the Bible, their sole source of religious guidance, and insisted that the date derived from Saturnalia, the Roman heathens' wintertime celebration. On their first Dec. 25 in the New World, in 1620, the Puritans worked on building projects and ostentatiously ignored the holiday. From 1659 to 1681 Massachusetts went further, making celebrating Christmas "by forbearing of labor, feasting or in any other way" a crime.
Now I'm going to lay down my own "Bah, Humbug": Christmas as celebrated has very little to do with Christ. The Puritans had it right. There is no December 25 in the Bible. And, isn't it rather suspicious that the celebration of the Nativity coincides, within three or so days, of the Winter Solstice? In this sense, the Times' author is right on the money. Which is at the root of the modern problem.

I've railed for years against the ugly commecialization of Christmas, which should be a Mass for Christ. Period. The decorations, the forced gaity, the giving and receiving of gifts, the scrum in the box stores after Thanksgiving for the "must have" presents, all stinks to high heaven of paganism. Of worship of self and of things made by the hand of man.

Where the author errs is in thinking that John Gibson and others are proponents of, as he nastily writes, a "commercialized, mean-spirited Christmas." No. Gibson, and I, and many, many others, are proponents of not having Christ forcibly removed from the public square, just because He might offend some. To show the extremism of these enemies of Christ (not just of Christmas, mind you), consider this outrageous statement:
...their campaign to make America more like a theocracy, with Christian displays on public property and Christian prayer in public schools.
Just in case you might have wondered what a "theocracy" might look like -- the giveaway is a manger scene at city hall. Right. This man needs to calm down.

The reality is that Christmas was paganized when its date was fixed to coincide with the pagan rituals, common to many pre-Christian cultures, around the Winter Solstice. The deal was sealed the first time somebody brought in some pine wreaths festooned with holly berries. And those gifts? They were for the Son of God. Not for you or me. Think ye that ye deserve the same thing as Jesus?

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12.03.2005    |    Justice, or mercy, redux
I wrote about the Tookie Williams deathwatch yesterday. My conclusion is that mercy should trump justice in this case.

Williams is not a very sympathetic, or deserving man. He was a stone killer, and has not repented. God may judge him quite harshly. Until then, we've got him safely locked away, and should keep him that way. I say that's enough, and here is one reason I'd like all who disagree to consider Romans 3:10: None is righteous, no, not one.

That's me, and that's you. And that is most certainly Tookie Williams. We are all guilty under the God's Law; Williams has the distinction of having also been found guilty under the (secular) law. For a series of heinous crimes.

As usual, Jesus had it right about stones and that throwing thing.

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   |    "Christian" lefties
Byron Borger, in a comment below takes great issue with my (apparent) lack of knowledge of these lefty "Christian" groups. Well, what he doesn't know, because I haven't stated it, is that I spent two years with the Quakers. I attended meeting every Sunday, and worked on the peace committee of my local and yearly meetings.

This was well before our liberation of Iraq, and, at the time, the national Friends' lobbies (FCNL and the American Friends Service Committee) were not only not against Saddam but very much in favor of ending all sanctions against him. Attempts to get them to see, and proclaim, that Saddam and his thugs were the problem were to no avail.

I know far too much about this extreme wing of "Christianity." After 9/11, Friends as a group seemed totally unwilling to know that militant Islam was still the enemy of Christianity. They see only us Americans as the problem.

Note the quotation marks around Christianity. Another thing that troubled me about the Friends was that Christ as Lord was essentially absent. Christ the Teacher, yes, especially in the form of the social gospel. And, conveniently ignoring all that nasty judging and need to walk the straight and narrow path to salvation.

Now, in the scheme of things, Friends, at least in America, may be to the left, but they tend to be to the right of groups such as the Christian Peacemaker Teams.

So, I left them, to join my wife's Baptist church. And, yes, Byron, I get very "mean spirited" when a group takes the Lord's name in vain. Which these lefties do.
12.02.2005    |    Justice, or mercy?
That's the former gangbanger Tookie Williams, now the flavor of the month for guilty white (and black) liberal celebs, and others with far too much time on their hands. Williams is a stone killer, and, just as is written in Exodus 21:12, is scheduled to be executed for his crimes: "Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death."

But wait, some people say: didn't Jesus overturn this Law? Well, yes, and no. What he did do was tell us to love our enemies, and that he would be back to do the final judging. As for the Law, including Exodus 21, he if anything reaffirmed it: "until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." (Matthew 5:18).

Ah, but there's always another hand: On that other hand, Jesus made a counter example of the sinful woman the crowd was about to execute for adultery in accordance with Leviticus 20:10. The morality tale unfolds in John 8:2-11, and the essence of the message is this: "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7).

Does this apply to those who would execute Tookie Williams? If not, what makes his crimes different as regards the Law in Exodus and Leviticus? Yet we wouldn't think of, for example, executing a child convicted of striking his father (Exodust 21:15). Well, some of you might, but most of us would think this to be, oh, to coin a phrase, cruel and unusual punishment. But from a theological point of view, these cases are not different -- if one views the Bible's truths as unchanging as unchangeable.

So, what might Jesus have done with Tookie Williams? First, he likely wouldn't stop the execution, since Williams has not repented -- i.e. has not confessed publically (he did to a fellow prisoner) nor requested forgiveness for his crimes. The only data we have as to what Jesus would have done is when he was on the cross, between two others condemned to die. Jesus let them die, with a promise to the faithful "thief" (actually a rebel and likely killer) that he would be with Jesus later that day in paradise.

Jesus lived in Roman times, and he was not a political revolutionary. He was content to let the Romans hold sway over the secular world. But we are not Roman pagans. We are a Christian nation, and I'd come down on the side of mercy, albeit unearned, for Williams. Let him live, and continue to do a little good. Keep him locked away, and let God judge him.

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.