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1.31.2006    |    Coffee, Whiskey, and the Bible
There are three things that I take neat. Coffee, which is best when it is freshly made, hot, strong, and served black with no sugar. Whiskey, which is best when it is single malt, at least 12 years old, and served neat. Bible translations which are literal, getting as close to the Word of God as we can in English.

The common thread? I don't like things that are watered down or adulterated. Now, I'm not a purist. On rare occasion, I'll have some cream and sugar with my coffee. I'll even have a drop or two of water in my whiskey to bring out the flavor. On still rarer occasions, I'll read something other than a trustworthy word-for-word translation of the Bible (ESV being my current favorite) or the sturdiest thought-for-thought in my opinion, the NIV.

Imagine my shock when our pastor preached, on 1 John, from a Bible version that sounds like it should star Keanu Reeves: The Message Remix, subtitled, "Bible in Contemporary Language." I listened politely, trying to get past my initial discomfort at not hearing something from the NASB, or, even, the normitive (for my Baptist church) NIV.

Our pastor is, in fact, a seminary graduate, and has a doctorate in Old Testament studies. He knows his onions, as they say. He's also a brilliant preacher, and does not soft-pedal the Gospel. To my surprise, the Message didn't, either. At least not in this writing of the evangelist John. It simply presented some of John's difficult message in contemporary language.

Elsewhere, however, the Message can read like, to be gentle, a self-help pamphlet, God's little twelve-step program. For instance, consider the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. First, from the ESV, Matthew 5:1-3:
1Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

2And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The Message dumbs this down to this:
1When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down 2and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

3"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
"Climbing companions?" "...at the end of your rope?" Give. Me. A. Break. This is a ridiculous extrapolation and misses the fundamental point of those who are seemingly without God in their lives. The unthinking one who reads this might come away with a literal picture of a mountain climber who's run out of rope.

But, in this day and age of hundreds of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to...", I suppose I shouldn't quibble about a Bible translation that's been dumbed down to the Kindergarten level.

I know, I know. If even a crappy translation can bring a soul to Christ, it will be worth it. But my overall reaction remains this: people are smart enough to deal with the truth. Give it to them, don't pre-digest it for them.

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1.29.2006    |    "deceiving people for 2,000 years"
This is the claim of an atheist in what used to be the most Catholic of nations, Italy. Atheists, and believers, may claim anything they like here in the land of the free. But in Italy, free speech is not so free. From a Washington Post story, the gist:
An Italian judge heard arguments Friday on whether a small-town parish priest should stand trial for asserting that Jesus Christ existed.

The priest's atheist accuser, Luigi Cascioli, says the Roman Catholic Church has been deceiving people for 2,000 years with a fable that Christ existed, and that the Rev. Enrico Righi violated two Italian laws by reasserting the claim.
The only proper response to this arrant nonsense is that Italy has left the democratic West and rejoined the Middle Ages, this time reversing the roles.

Back then, it was so-called heretics, including non-believers, who were fried. Now, the shoe's on the other foot, and it's become a crime to confess Jesus Christ as a real, living, man.

One may believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, or not. And, that He lived as a man at a precise and well-known time in human history. But to have such beliefs become a criminal matter is, itself a crime.

The issue isn't having to prove that Jesus lived, or did not. It's about freedom of religion. Shame on Italy for allowing this kind of hateful anti-religious nonsense. But, then, it's apparent they are beyond embarrassment.

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1.28.2006    |    "it is a moral issue and not a civil rights issue"
This is the statement of the Rev. Jonathan Weaver, pastor of Greater Mount Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. It was in response to the attempt by a few self-appointed opinion-makers, including one activist judge in Baltimore, to legalize same-sex "marriage" in Maryland. By those pushing this part of the gay agenda, extension of benefits to those who violate God's law is called a "civil rights issue."

This is a too-clever-by-half campaign strategy. People, black, white, brown, any color, who know God's law have little trouble seeing the falsity of the comparison. Although this may be a shock to the liberal elites in politics and the media, it should come as no surprise that many in the black community are not buying gay "marriage" as a "civil rights issue."

Black people have suffered mightily, and have found, as we all can, solace in the loving arms of Jesus Christ. They, and we all, suffer with Christ on this side of the Cross. Some of us know it, and attempt to live their lives accordingly. In this camp I would very much include the Rev. Weaver and many, if not most, in the black communities around the nation.

The Rev. Weaver is quoted in a front page article in today's WaPo. The surprise is that many guilty white liberals, probably including the vast majority of those who write and edit the Post, think that denial of marriage benefits to gays is a civil rights issue. Combining that with the notion that blacks are on the plantation according to Miss Hillary, and must, accordingly, vote for "progressive" issues (read: tax and spend), surely they'll be solidly in favor of same-sex "marriage."

Survey says, "Not so fast with your assumptions." Which is why such an article is actually placed on the front page of a national newspaper.

Finally, when I write "God's law" I refer, of course, to Scripture. No, not advocating any kind of a theocracy. Just advocating what the Founders of America would not have questioned: that there are certain acts that are abominations unto the Lord, and those should be to us as well. Any government that violates these precepts in its laws will find itself on shaky moral ground.

Sex between two men, or two women, is clearly one of those abominable things, and there is no inherent "civil right" to break God's law. Let's never confuse unwarranted benefits with rights.

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1.27.2006    |    Bad to the bone
Those who believe that we are conditioned to sin, that it is learned behavior, must willfully ignore some black-letter Scripture. The Fall from God's grace is what we might now call the backstory.

The deal is sealed by God when He says, in Genesis 8:21, that
the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth.
Or, as George Thorogood and the Destroyers sing, we are "bad to the bone."

Those who think men may be perfect are confused. The best we can do on this side of the Cross is attempt to shed ourselves of sin. Some fail utterly, some come quite close. No one is completely successful.

Those that make such claims have the sin of pride.
   |    "Chris-lam-herb"
Sounds like something you might want to baste your roast with. Would that it were that innocuous. Rather, it is one African approach to reconciling Christianity, Islam, and pagan traditions. Perhaps I don't know enough about Islam, but I look to Scripture for what is required of one who would call himself "Christian." This is perhaps my problem, but I don't think so.

Consider this extract from a news story that seems to be extolling a sort of Christian-Islamic-herbalist fusion:
...worshipers at "The True Message of God Mission" say it's entirely natural for Christianity and Islam to c[o]exist, even overlap. They begin their worship by praying at the Jesus alcove and then "running their deliverance" - sprinting laps around the mosque's mosaic-tiled courtyard, praying to the one God for forgiveness and help. They say it's akin to Israelites circling the walls of Jericho - and Muslims swirling around the Ka'ba shrine in Mecca.

This group - originally called "Chris-lam-herb" for its mix-and-match approach to Christianity, Islam, and traditional medicine - is a window on an ongoing religious ferment in Africa. It's still up for debate whether this group, and others like it, could become models for Muslim-Christian unity worldwide or whether they're uniquely African. But either way, they are "part of a trend," says Dana Robert, a Boston University religion professor.
The bottom line appears to be Africans looking for anything that will relieve their worldly problems. And this is at the heart of the confusion.

To be a Christian, any sort of Christian, at the very least must mean that one accepts Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and savior. And know that there is salvation only through Christ. None other.

There are thousands of denominations of Christianity, and we can leave it to each's proponents to argue the fine points of full baptism of infants, of believers, by full immersion or by sprinkling. Of daily, weekly, monthly, or annual communion, of incense, of unmarried or married priests, of bishops and elders and councils and what-alls, and of all the other trappings that we love to establish to isolate our particular faith communities from one another.

But to engage in Islamic rituals and think that some hybrid is just peachy keen with God is to turn one's back on what it means to be Christian. Islam, along with nativist herbalism, is wrong. It may sell among those who want the warring sects in Nigera to just get along. It would also appeal to Christians who deny Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior. But, by definition, those who deny Christ can not be Christians.

People may believe as they see fit. But people may not logically call something it patently is not; calling a mixture of elements of Christianity, Islam, and paganism a form of Christianity does not make it so. Such weak-minded religious practice will lead to final separation from God. Or, in the classical term, to hell.

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1.25.2006    |    Words of Christ in Red
So, what's the big deal, those words attributed to Jesus Christ being in red? Does it mean that we should pay more attention to them, simply because they are spoken by one who is fully divine and fully human? Or, does it, as many Christians believe, give the impression that the rest of Scripture, not being in red, is, somehow, not quite the word of God?

The usual verse cited by those who argue that all of Scripture is of equal weight is 2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness
A bit of a tautology here, don't you think? Paul wrote in a letter to his good bud Tim that everything he wrote is golden. No exceptions. Says so right here, in 2 Timothy 3:16.

I beg to differ. All Scripture may be inspired (lit. breathed) by God, but I still have to give more weight to what Jesus said than what Paul or John (or any other author who is less than divine) said. Just logical. Let's just say that with Jesus' words there was less likelihood of an error in understanding the message through what we might now call a transcription error.

It's the same in every endeavor. You want to know the truth, go to the source. In this case, Jesus remains the Source, and it very much pleases me to see His words given pride of place.

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1.24.2006    |    Love your enemies...
This is a truly radical and potentially world-changing statement. It comes, of course, from the highest authority. From Matthew 5, Jesus instructs us as follows:
43You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Even many who don't confess Christ as Lord should agree that this is how God would have us be. Two things bring this to mind.

The first is the recent bin Laden missive, offering us a "truce" if we but cease and desist from kicking terrorist butt in Afghanistan and Iraq. The second is the bloviating gasbags on the Senate Judiciary Committee as they tell us, ad infinitum, how bad Joe Alito is. A man, to paraphrase, whose garbage they are not fit to carry out.

Hold up, he says...am I making a direct comparison between the world's number one terrorist and Ted Kennedy? Is this a trick question...no. The problem is how does one love such patently unlovable creatures as bin Laden and the likes of Ted Kennedy? Both are moral ciphers; both have been working for years to destroy our republic. Of the two, Kennedy is perhaps the graver threat, because he works from within the system.

Regardless of my politics or patriotism, we must love both. God loves them both, although He may have a rather serious q&a session for them when they die. My opinion is that both are destined to hell, to total separation from God at the end. But that's just my opinion. God knows.

How does one love an evil man like bin Laden? Or a slimy unrepentant killer (of Mary Jo Kopeche) like Kennedy? Easy. We pray for their full conversion and repentance. There is no wordly evil so foul that God can't forgive it*. At the same time, we, as realists, do our best to stop them from further heinous acts.

As we say in explosive ordnance disposal, first we render them safe. While we pray for their eternal souls.

*Excluding the possibility that bin Laden and Kennedy may also have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit

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1.22.2006    |    To love or not to love...
..."the world or the things in the world." This is the question, and it comes down to the bigger

John, in 1 John 2:15 lays out the negative, like a Biblical two-by-four to the head:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Think on this the next time you or someone close to you says "don't you just love Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey?" Or something similar, say, involving you in a rather too-fond relationship with Ghiraradelli chocolate.

In contrast to my namesake John, we've got Pesky Paul, who advises Timothy (1 Timothy 4:4)
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.
Which is it? Good, or bad? And is that chocolate ok if I receive it with thanksgiving? Which I promise you, I very much do.

Both points of view are right, in the right context. Paul, and John, are both really tellling us the same things: don't confuse any thing with God Almighty. That includes even the majesty of God's mountains, rivers, and stars and galaxies by the uncountable billions. They are just things, matter and energy, brought into being by the thought (or, as some might prefer, the very words) of God.

Paul, John, and God through His Scriptures are forever telling us that we are the authors of evil in this world. It was all created as good, and with our perfection in God's mind. We're the ones who mess it up.

But wait, the skeptic cries, "what about the mosquito? Surely there's nothing good about that little corner of God's creation?" Well, perhaps not to me or thee. But if you're a bird, mosquitos sure look like God's free lunch. A good thing, and part of God's creation to maintain the ecosphere.

And isn't birdsong a glorious piece of evidence of the goodness of God's creation?

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1.20.2006    |    koran says...
...kill the infidel. And to preach from this "holy" book is just fine, according to Queen's Counsel for the defense of one Abu Hamza, the infamous imam of Finsbury Park Mosque in London. The English are apparently quite comfortable with suicide, the evidence for which is the fact that this moke hasn't been put in jail or deported forthwith.

What Hamza, and others who preach the devil's script in mosques are doing is to tell us what their religion would have them do. And at least some of the English are saying something to the effect of, "Oh, jolly good. We suppose if it's written in the koran that's just fine..."

In America we might call such weak-minded fools custard-heads; folks who haven't the common sense to get in out of the rain. From a London Times story, this sad extract:
Mr Fitzgerald cited two verses of the book that Abu Hamza would rely on, among many others, as theological justification for the words that had led to him being charged. They were Chapter 2, verse 216 and Chapter 9, verse 111. He said that all the great monotheistic religions had scriptures that contained "the language of blood and retribution".
Ah, yes. "The language of blood and retribution." The kindest interpretation of this defense of the indefensible is that Fitzgerald is ignorant of the actual content and usage of the Bible. Which I presume is what the comparison is about.

True enough, God did make those who would persecute Israel suffer. The Big Guy didn't let the Israelites off the hook, either, when they strayed from His Word. The essential differences are two. Firstly, it was God who did or commanded the smiting. Secondly, if He used a particular nation to do the heavy lifting in smiting, this happened thousands of years ago, and at specific times and in specific places necessary for God's unveiling of His salvation history.

And let's not have any more Western Christian guilt for the Crusades. Firstly, the Crusades, to the extent they were murderous rampages against Jews and others, were not Christian in any sense. Secondly, they were over and done with 700 years ago. Enough, already. So-called Christians have always sinned, and some have sinned mightily. But when they did so, it was in clear violation of Scripture. In stark contrast, Muslims are being faithful to theirs when they go all jihady on us.

For us Christians, God's judgment, anything involving "blood and retribution", is specifically reserved to God and His Son when He comes again in glory. Jesus took pain, bleeding, and death, on Himself for us. He further enjoined us to love our enemies. This is the exact opposite of Islam and it's "holy" book.

There is no legitimate defense of anyone who preaches the kind of hatred that is heard regularly in mosques around the world. The only thing that we should, and must, do, is be prepared to resist evil and its minions such as Abu Hamza.

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1.19.2006    |    Federalism trumps life?
Among those who have an inalienable right to life are the elderly, the infirm, and the terminally ill. Since our very life is a gift from God, it is not ours to dispose of, without good and sufficient cause. Therein lies the crux of the debate: what, exactly, constitutes "good and sufficient?" Whatever else it may mean, it surely can't mean that a physician, or anyone else, should be able to intentionally kill a patient.

The recent Supreme Court decision (typical story here) was hailed by the Gray Lady as a victory for federalism. Which might come as a surprise to those who regularly read the New York Times and note that it's never shy about the federales trumping the states when it comes to liberal causes near and dear to the Timesmen's black, shriveled hearts. From the Times editorial, here's a bit of the flavor:
The Supreme Court smacked former Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Bush administration when it ruled 6 to 3 that the Justice Department had gone beyond its authority in trying to undermine an assisted-suicide law in Oregon.
You've gotta love it: "smacked" John Ashcroft, who used to be the left's favorite Bible-thumping troglodyte. It is clear that their hatred of John Ashcroft and George Bush counts for at least as much as any newly-found fidelity to Constitutional principles.

They do have half a point, however. It is not usually a good thing for the Federal government to attempt to overturn what the constitutionally sovereign people of the individual states enact. In this case, however, Oregon enacted a law that denies the sanctity of life to a certain class of people deemed to be a burden.

But, the liberal might say, "what if someone is in such dire pain and that they truly want to die?" This is never an easy question, and those who glibly ignore it ignore reality. But the answer can not be to allow a physician, whose oath requires them to do no harm as a first principle, kill a person.

As a God-fearing man, I believe that suicide is an offense against the Almighty, a slap in His face. Take your stinking life; it's no good to me any more. I don't want it.

Those who do take their own lives are to be pitied, and, for extreme cases, perhaps forgiven by God. But there can be no forgiveness for those who kill in some mistaken belief that they are better arbiters of what constitutes a meaningful life than is God.

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1.17.2006    |    "chocolate New Orleans"
Thus spake God Almighty, if one is to believe Ray (I never make mistakes) Nagin. As in, to provide the full context (from today's WaPo):
It's time for us to rebuild New Orleans -- the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans," the mayor said. "This city will be a majority-African American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."
Nope. Can't have it "no other way." Nagin is the current mayor of Nawlins, to give it the annoying Texan pronunciation that used to provide NOLA natives yet another reason to feel superior. Or at least this is the way it was when I lived in New Orleans for a time, when we were instructed to give it the French pronunciation, Nooo Or-Lee-Ahns. More or less.

I haven't check my latest e-mails from God, but my sense is that He doesn't really care if NOLA is a majority black, yellow, white, or purple city. In fact, the last time the Big Guy checked in with me, He pretty much told me that anyone who takes His name in the service of racism isn't really doing His will.

One of the perhaps less-well-known facts about New Orleans is that it was one of the largest slave ports in the Americas, a mega-mart for buying and selling people. Was this, too, "the way God wants it to be?" If not, He surely took His sweet time correcting the situation.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, but to claim that God mandates that New Orleans, or any other place, be "chocolate" is, at the very least, racist. If not plain stupid. Ray Nagin, of course, isn't Pat Robertson, and his idiotarian remarks won't get the same play in the media. Pity, because they're just as shameful.

Which kind of also says something about the pass that idiots can get in the MSM if they're the right color or ethnic group. Once a victim, always a victim, eh Ray? The serious point is that if blacks consider themselves to be permament members of a class of victims, then they are doomed to the pitiful dependancy that leads to cesspools like NOLA's Ninth Ward. And to whining idiotarians like Ray Nagin to "lead" them.

We can do much better. New Orleans deserves much better. And let's not claim that "God is on our side" when we rebuild. God's on everyone's side. Even Ray Nagin's. Just that my sense is that God gives us the tools, but then leaves us alone to do the job...or fail.

Both options are open.
1.16.2006    |    "a man of one woman"
I just love it when folks do some cherry picking of Bible verses to prove a point. Or, perhaps more often, disprove one. The point in question came up at yesterday's Bible study, in which we are reviewing Paul's first letter to Timothy.

1 Timothy 3 provides us with Paul's regulations on the qualifications for church elders (or overseers or bishops) and deacons. I use the term "regulations" for, even if the exact meaning of these passages has been in constant dispute, there was never any doubt that this is what Paul demanded that the Christian churches conform to.

In most of the English translations I've read, the Greek "a man of one woman" from 1 Timothy 3:2 is rendered as "the husband of one wife" (e.g. ESV, KJV, NASB, NIV)*. There are several potential meanings for this phrase, but there's no doubt whatsoever that Paul restricted this church office to men. There are similar qualifications for deacons, and it is just as clear that they must be male.

Why "must?" After all, the feminists may argue, Paul did not prohibit women from these offices, did he? Well, again, here's another hazard of what I'll call negative cherry picking, i.e. the willful ignoring of Scripture that is inconvenient to one's white-hot modern cause.

No, Paul did not write the simple phrase, "women may not be bishops or deacons." After all, at the time Paul was writing the use of "man" or "men" was often indicative of all humans. Or so the modern feminist might say. As did a couple of well-meaning women in Bible study.

The worst case of modern-day egalitarianism was applied by one woman who cherry-picked the lovely Galations 3:28. Her point was, apparently, that, gosh darn, no matter what else Paul might have written, Paul told us that we are all one in Christ Jesus. Ergo we may all, without regard to gender, become...fill in the blank, it's open season.

The logical problem, aside from having to ignore other black letter Scripture, is that the modern woman who takes this reading of Galations 3:28 to cover any and all situations has confused the secular with the salvific. Paul tells us, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus Christ brings Jew and gentile together, but for the purpose of being chosen for salvation. The message is that race, gender, or worldly position, none of these matter to God. Nor should they to us, as regards church memberhsip.

Paul, however, was quite clear on the matter of bishops (or overseers or elders), since these entail, among other duties, presiding over church worship. And, in the passage perhaps most hated, and therefore ignored, by feminists in the church, we are told, in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 14:
33...As in all the churches of the saints, 34the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
"Shameful." No doubt about where Paul stands, at least. Seems he might have turned his back on the Pharisees, but kept their "men only" approach to leading in worship.


* Interestingly, the Catholic New American Bible translates this as "married only once," which is but one of at least four interpretations of the original Greek.

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1.15.2006    |    He said, I said
Gad(d)about, in commenting on my (perhaps) annoying post, Annoying Piety, wrote
I don't know about you, but my God is everywhere at all times. He has no limitations of time or any sense of "mundane." I don't know if He prevented me from tripping or if He simply gave me the ability of balance. Either way, I know God's will was served.
In contrast, but not too much of one, I wrote
God is present insofar as the Holy Spirit is always with us, and, if we are faithful to Him, we'll gain our reward. But that reward won't be anything as mundane as not tripping on the sidewalk.
Gad(d)About added a key thought, which I wholeheartedly endorse and should have included: God's will is served. Always.

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   |    "cheek-by-rhetorical-jowl"
This is how Jim Hoagland, the Washington Post's reliably centrist foreign affairs columnist, describes Pat Robertson and Iranian president Mahmoud (moonbat) Ahmadinejad. Hope I didn't give away anything by the parenthetical note on the Iranian felow.

Mr. Hoagland makes an amazingly inaccurate comparison between the two. Pat is famous for sticking his foot in his mouth, and chewing loudly. The most recent such meal for him was when he commented, foolishly, on the massive stroke suffered by Ariel Sharon, suggesting that this was holy payback from the Lord. As reported by CNN, here's part of what Pat said:
He was dividing God's land, and I would say, 'Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the [European Union], the United Nations or the United States of America.' God says, 'This land belongs to me, and you'd better leave it alone.'
Now, shock of shocks, I happen to think that God did, in fact, promise all of what is now Israel, "Palestine", and Jordan to the Jews. That opinion is merely what Scripture states. Merely. And there's the nub of the problem in the public square. Pat Robertson surely knows his Scripture, just hasn't much of a clue about how to preach in public with love.

Pat may have been right, but he showed a mean and black heart, an unchristian heart, in praising God for striking down Sharon. Assuming, of course, that this is why Sharon suffered his stroke. As opposed to him being grossly overweight and being 77 years old and eating mounds of God knows what kind of anti-health foods.

There's an overarching difficulty, however. How does Pat Robertson know what God's plans are for Ariel Sharon? Perhaps taking Ariel Sharon was God's way of denying the path on which Sharon has started down. Perhaps God knows that by taking Sharon, his country will become even stronger in the long term. Perhaps God really doesn't care much about how insignificant spits of land are divvied up in the year 2006, but the important thing is the survival of am yisrael, the People of Israel, and this is the way to best ensure this in the long term. Now there's a radical thought. God taking the long view and carrying out salvation history at His pace and His methods, not Pat Robertson's.

Now, getting back to the Iranian idiot, he's not just about praising God for actions taken by God. Oh no, this guy doesn't trust the Almighty to do the bidding of the mad mullahs. He's got a better idea. He's going to lead Iran in the building of nukes, and then they'll wipe out the Jews. Give them enough firepower, I'm certain he'd want to, in his heart of hearts, then start wiping out the Christian infidels in Europe.

At the very least, Pat Robertson bases his stupid remarks on valid Scripture. The Iranian nutjob bases his stupid remarks on what appears to be pure vitriol, hatred of God's Chosen People. Pat Robertson loves the Jews too much. Ahmadinejad of Iran hates them too much. Beyond operating at the extremes, the comparison between the two is invidious.

If you doubt this, if you could only choose one of these guys to be the all-powerful king of the world, and had to choose one (no write-in votes, please), which would it be? Robertson, who still has some vestige of humility (he did apologize), or, as Jim Hoagland points out, the very seriously "nuts" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
1.06.2006    |    Heading south
For any regular readers out there (ha, as if...), me and the missus are getting out of town. Heading south. Waaaaay south. 12.3 degrees north of the Equator south. Where it's warm. And there's no snow. Not even a chance of it.

To Aruba, for a week's vacation. Be back on January 14.

In the meanwhile, may you bask in the warmth that is God's love.

Thanks for stopping by.
1.05.2006    |    Not so annoying piety
Mark Hunsaker, blogging at Sojourner, commented on this post. He wrote
...do you think God intervenes in our lives via circumstances? Does he "guide and direct our paths" as the Psalmist said? Does he prepare a plan for us as the prophet said?
I think He does, but not necessarily for all or even most of our actions. I think that we've got a lot of freedom to choose how we live our lives, much of which has to give God holy gas pains.

But does He intervene in our lives? Only when He must, to ensure that His plans are kept. His plans, which may be hidden from us. Usually are, if you ask me. You and I make our plans; God doesn't necessarily buy into those plans. In either case, I have to emphasize that this is merely what I think. Not what I know for certain.

My central point of the previous post is the piety of some who proclaim that God has them on a 24/7 watch, with divine intervention in their smallest actions. I think that such people are wrong. And can be rather annoying.

As for prayers, well, one common type is intercessionary, which I offer to God all of the time. And, yes, I prayed hard for those miners. I prayed that they would survive, and, if not, that they would find the strength in our Lord's suffering to die with Him in their hearts. And in dying, meet Him in person.

That's my piety, I suppose...

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   |    Annoying piety
With absolutely no apologies to Stephen Covey, one of the habits of highly ineffective Christians is when some Christian goes on and on as to how the Lord had, take your pick, a) spoken, b) written, c) e-mailed, d) instant messaged, e) otherwise directly intervened in that person's life. Such people apparently believe that God has nothing better to do than to provide order to their mundane little lives. Or disorder. Or whatever.

Don't misunderstand me. God works His will on us, in ways we know (e.g. the Bible) and in ways we can only guess at. However: when someone says something like "God prevented me from tripping on the sidewalk, praise the Lord", then my first reaction is to simply stop listening to everything else that person is saying. Glad you weren't hurt, but do you really think that it was God taking care of you?

Yes, yes, no sparrow shall fall, and all of that. Is that why you think that God intervenes in your earthly affairs? Beware of proof-texting, grasshopper. What about 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, which might be also cited to make the opposite point that God no longer is speaking directly to us. Let alone giving us a helping hand walking down the street.

God truly does love us, of course, just as it says in 1 Corinthians 13:8: "Love never ends." And I'm also confident that He does, indeed, number the very hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30). But I am also confident that God does not intervene in our affairs in such a mundane fashion as keeping us from tripping.

It is possible He does, of course. Just not likely. This world was given to us to take care of. This includes taking care of all of our business, including not tripping on the sidewalk. God gave us the wherewithal to take care of business, and one of His best gifts to us is that big ol' chess club brain. I say we use it, and not try to claim that God is giving us minute-by-minute assistance.

To make such claims is to enter a realm of annoying piety, where one makes claims about God's working on, in, and through them. God loves us all dearly, but that does not mean He's going to prevent me (or thee) from falling on the sidewalk. His love includes giving us the freedom to make such mistakes.

God is present insofar as the Holy Spirit is always with us, and, if we are faithful to Him, we'll gain our reward. But that reward won't be anything as mundane as not tripping on the sidewalk.

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1.04.2006    |    A heinous death
The miners who died in West Virginia suffered one of the most heinous deaths I can imagine: underground, the walls closing in psychologically if not literally, running out of oxygen, slowly. May God grant me a quick death; may God grant final peace to those who perished underground after what had to have been many hours of sheer horror.

I don't know, of course, but I'd like to think that these miners, humble working men, were believers. This was a difficult day for us -- what kind of God allows this?

Well, the God of the Bible. The God who is all about mercy and justice. The God who knows that we fall far short of what He would have us become. The model being His only Son, of course.

For an elegant take on this, I commend Peter Shaw's Treasure in Clay Jars blog. From his post, this elegant take on the deaths:
...man is what is wrong in the world, not God. We are directly or indirectly responsible for the tragedies that occur in this world, not God.
To which I can only add, amen.

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1.02.2006    |    Burnt offerings
The Hebrew Scriptures are rife with details on what the Lord requires of His people Israel. Among these are ritual sacrifice which include a variety of burnt offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and attendant details on how and how much and who.

Christians mostly ignore these requirements as no longer applicable. Mostly. The usual thing one hears is that "the Law (of Moses) was fulfilled by Jesus' incarnation and substitutional death. Nothing more applies." Well, except perhaps for all of it?

It's all in the interpretation. On the one hand, we are told, by Jesus himself, that the Law still applies. From Matthew 5:18:
...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.
On the other hand, Jesus made it crystal clear that the Father doesn't want or need burnt offerings in the Old Testament manner. The Father wants a contrite and right heart. Not the fat of offerings. From Matthew 15, Jesus cites Isaiah 29:13:
8 This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
This last apparently ignored by Christian churches that spend much time preparing dogmas and catechisms and creeds. And enforcing same; can't have any slackers in the pews, now.

The fundamental question remains: where, exactly, did Jesus tell us to not obey any part of the Law? To be sure, Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms to not follow the letter of the Law without being in the spirit of the Law. And that spirit is what, exactly?

Once again, the simplest answer is the best, and it is given by Jesus in Mark 12:29-30, which is a direct quotation of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5):
29 ...The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'
Back with a question: What does it mean to love the Lord your God? Jesus gives us some old guidance in the second great commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. But this, too, is from the Old Testament (Leviticus 19). Nothing new here. What is new is that the emphasis is placed on the spirit of the Law. Not the letter thereof. Same requirements. Different emphasis.

Jesus' own examples of how He loved His Father show that love of God leads naturally to love of neighbor. And that if elements of the Mosaic Law appear to be violated, it is only because of the greater good in carrying out God's mercy. In other words, mercy trumps the Law -- sometimes. Sometimes it does not. Depends on which part of the Law we're talking about.

But we are still left with Jesus' words, that the Law remains "until heaven and earth pass away." It should be clear from the overall sense of the Gospels that Jesus very much wants us to show our love for God by obeying God's commandments, not just willingly, and certainly not grudgingly. Rather, with a penitent heart, that meets the requirements out of love of God. For, as the Psalmist has written (Psalm 51):
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
So, enjoy your BLT and pork ribs; I won't squeal on ya. Just so long as you love your neighbor by sharing them with him.

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1.01.2006    |    The wrong issue
Some Christians will no doubt get their knickers in a twist over the latest anti-Christian ruling to rain down from an out-of-control judiciary. And, well, they should. We are being told by an obnoxious federal judge that the Indiana state legislature may not offer a prayer to Jesus Christ as part of its traditional invocation. Other prayers, to Allah, and to an unspecified deity are just fine. Just not the Christian God.

A prayer invoked in Jesus' name, which is standard, and required of all Christians, is not "sectarian" in the sense of establishing one denomination. Which was the first (and many would say only) purpose for the so-called separation of church and state.

The founders of our nation did not want the Church of England grandees tussling with the Congregationalists, Quakers, and other denominations. So they wisely said, "knock it off, we're not going to have an established Church of the United States."

In the meantime, those of different faiths, or none at all, were protected. That's all she wrote. Judge Hamilton says otherwise. The story of how Hamilton is attempting to bully the sovereign legislative branch of Indiana may be found here. This judge, is attempting to dictate how a sovereign state's legislature opens its sessions. With not even the hint that the Federal Constitution is being violated.

Let's keep this simple: an invocation by a Christian in the name of Jesus is no more a violation of anything than is any othe invocation. By a Jew in the name of God; by a Muslim in the name of Allah; by a Hindu in the name of Ganesha. Some may be inflamed by hearing the name of Jesus; our Lord did, after all, battle Satan. Not that I'm making comparisons, mind you...

And that is the real issue for Americans: can a federal judge dictate what a state's legislative branch deems an acceptable form of public prayer?

My take on the separation of church and state is that Indiana, as an overwhelmingly majority Christian state, can invoke Jesus Christ in its public prayers. Just so long as non-Christians are not forced to participate. Of at least equal importance, liberty dictates that no judicial hack dictate to a sovereign state.

That's really what the issue is. Judge Hamilton, the article notes that you're "the son and grandson of Methodist ministers." Isn't that just typical of a PK (preacher's kid) to rebel against the faith. Or maybe it's just that you're a typical liberal hyperthyroidal judicial activist.

Regardless, a federal judge has no business meddling in the sovereign affairs of Indiana. Sic semper tyrannis, your "honor."

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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.