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4.29.2006    |    Misogyny?
Among its other niceties, like killing those who don't submit, the Koran has this lovely paragraph concerning women (Sura 4:34)
Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.
Don't you especially love that "...and beat them?" This verse is one of the many that gives Islamic apologists problems in the West. It is, after all, according to Islamic tradition, the literal words of God himself. Not a very loving god when it comes to women, I'd say.

Well, Christians are, as well, sometimes acused of misogyny because of this injunction against women speaking in church (1 Corinthians 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.
This is harsh enough, but it has been argued around by many mainline denominations who have women as pastors, priests, and deacons. But Christianity is based on Scripture, and women have their own place, and their own dignity as human persons, given by God. The "submission" isn't one way, fellas.

The more important message for Christians is in Ephesians 5:
28...husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church...
Islam is a religion of violence, and that it commands men to beat their wives is but a glimpse of its violence. It is hardly a surprise that women have few human rights in the Islamic world.
4.28.2006    |    Judas, and Catholics, and homosexuals, oh my
All that, and much, much more. Christianity Today has outdone itself, in organizing the religion news of the week. Here we may read about really, really important events in the life of Christ's church.

Like the fuss over the so-called gospel of Judas. Like the fuss over a Church of Ireland (Anglican) priest co-celebrating at a Catholic mass (oh, the humanity....). Like the continuing overemphasis on homosexuals coming out, going in, protesting their treatment, as they continue their insistance that they be able to continue to sin, and how dare any church question that? A priest accused of killing a nun, persecution of Christians by Muslims (who would've thunk it?), slaughter in Darfur, AIDS, the Vatican to "study" condoms.

World without end, amen. It all brings to mind Romans 3:10:
as it is written:

"None is righteous, no, not one;
And that, my friends, most certainly includes this curmudgeonly Christian.

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4.27.2006    |    Religious testing
Bob Novak, a Jew turned Roman Catholic, has doubtless been himself subject to some "religious testing," so I've no doubt he writes in his column today with sincerity about the difficulties Governor Mitt Romney (R) of Massachusetts may have should he run for the presidency.

Gov. Romney is a Mormon, and thus in the eyes of many of us Protestants, not a Christian. But, as Novak reminds us, the constitution makes a religious test for office unconstitutional. Specifically, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution concludes thusly:
no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States
Seems straightforward. Novak, however, notes that
The Republican whispering campaign against Mormons is broader -- based on ridicule of the church's doctrine. I have heard Republicans who have read the Book of Mormon express astonishment that any rational person could believe that.
I've read much of the Book of Mormon, it having been placed in every Marriott hotel I stayed in on my many trips around the country. And it is total hogwash, unsustainable by archaelogical or historical evidence. As is, of course, much of the Bible.

So, before we start throwing any stones at Mormons about what "any rational person" might believe, we need to remember that foundational beliefs for Trinitarian Christianity aren't entirely rational. It is also worth noting that "faith" may be defined as "unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence." Our faith is not any more provable than Romney's.

Mitt Romney may have faith in things that you and I believe to be nonsense on stilts. There are also many misguided people who believe the same about Christianity. It is for this reason alone that our fondest hope should be if Romney does run, some of our brethren do not start to go all Torquemada on him because he does not believe as we do. Because, sooner or later, if we start making a religious test for office, it will, before long, hurt us.

If you think that a believing Mormon is not rational, then don't vote for him. Given what I know (so far) about Mitt Romney's beliefs and governance, I'd vote for him in a heartbeat long before I'd vote for most pro-abortion Democrats.

There will be a "testing" at the end, and God will, as we know, sort the goats from the sheep. In the here and now, we must remember that we are a nation of laws, guided by a Constitution that expressly prohibits any religious test for office.
4.25.2006    |    Day of Remembrance
Today is the day on which the Holocaust is remembered. For those who are Jewish by birth, as I am, it is an important and very personal reminder that our very lives may be taken away by modern-day Amaleks. From the address given by Israel's President Moshe Katsav:
The horrifying events of the Holocaust, and the acts of mass murder were a part of everyday life. In a reality were Jews where being gassed and cremated, shot to death and starved, frozen to death and buried alive, many of them managed to rise above the basic human survival instinct, and did not lose their human spirit, despite the inherent dangers. They drew strength from their Jewish faith, from their Jewish history, from the voice of their conscience – these gave them the power to overcome the dangers and humiliation.
It is clear to me that the strength shown by my people during the Holocaust was a clear gift from God. Many might say, "what strength?" Jews went to their deaths, for the most part, without resistance. True enough. But strength is not always shown by physical force. During the Holocaust, strength, from God, was manifested in the form of character, in love of neighbor. Again from President Katsav:
many of them managed to rise above the basic human survival instinct, and did not lose their human spirit, despite the inherent dangers. They drew strength from their Jewish faith, from their Jewish history, from the voice of their conscience – these gave them the power to overcome the dangers and humiliation.
Unanswered is the great question: What was God's purpose in allowing 6 million of His chosen people to die? What eternal purpose could be served by this tragedy?

I don't know the answer; I can only guess. As a Reformed Christian by belief, I am reasonably certain that the Holocaust wasn't some sort of payback for the betrayal of Jesus Christ. God does not deal in worldly revenge, for starters. His judgments will be carried out at the end of time. More importantly, all of Jesus' disciples were Jews, as was Jesus Himself.

Further, Jesus died for all of us sinners. Romans. Jews. Greeks. All. As Paul reminds us in Romans 3:10, "None is righteous, no, not one."

Deuteronomy 25:
17"Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19Therefore when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.
4.23.2006    |    Judas lives
Judas lives in the form of the Roman Catholic Church, which has become just another man-made entity that is involved in the affairs of state. Just like any other nation, except this nation claims the throne of Peter in the name of Christ.

A story about the Vatican's current machinations appears on the front page of the Washington Post today. The essence of the story is couched as progress of sorts, wherein the Vatican will recognize, in the diplomatic sense, Communist China. All in the name of helping the Catholic Church in China, mind you. From the story, the essence of this diplomatic process:
...the process has overcome a major stumbling block with recent signals from the Vatican that it is willing to break with Taiwan and set up diplomatic relations with Beijing as part of an overall accord guaranteeing the church's role in China.
Yes, a stumbling block. Not Christ crucified, but a secular problem with a pesky nation, Taiwan, that has the misfortune of being in the beast's radar sights.

Getting past the fact that Communist China is an infamous human rights abuser, and persecutor of Christians (and others). What business does Christ's Vicar on Earth have dealing with these (very wealthy) thugs? Imagine, if you will, it's the first century, and Peter is convening with his flock to decide whether to recognize the church in Rome, although to do so, it will have to excommunicate the church in, oh, say, Corinth.

Can't imagine Peter engaging in geopolitics? Well, perhaps that's because Peter and the other disciples were in the business of spreading the good news about Christ. About the kingdom of heaven. Not about the affairs of this world. Would that the Roman Catholic Church would remember why it is among us.

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4.21.2006    |    Catastrophe
The 27th of Nissan in the Hebrew calendar is designated as Yom HaShoah, or, literally, Day of The Catastrophe. Shoah is the transliterated Hebrew that is usually rendered as "holocaust," for the murder of 5-6 million Jews by the Nazis and their accomplices during World War II.

For those who keep track, the actual event that caused this particular date to be set was the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which began on April 19, 1943 -- 15 Nissan in that year, which corresponds to the first day of Passover.

The revolt was futile, in the military sense. But, knowing the truth about the "work camps," that they were actually death camps, allegedly unbelieving Jews were moved to take up what arms they could scrounge and attempt to defeat the German Army that had occupied Warsaw. I write "allegedly unbelieving," as the leaders of the revolt were socialist Zionists, who, as I know from my own family, were not just skeptics. They were downright hostile to pious Jews who would pray and observe all the rituals.

But here's a puzzle: how could these secularists, supposedly wed to cold, hard, logic, have taken on the German Army at the height of its power in Europe? They had to know they would be killed. But take their stand, they did. And, against all odds, managed to hold the Nazi war machine at bay for a few weeks.

May I suggest the answer to the puzzle: these brave partisans knew that God was on their side. How did they know this? Was it explained in books, or pamphlets, or by a rabbi? No. I think they just knew, that God's Spirit descended on them and gave them the power to rise up.

The lesson for us must not be lost. We, also, must find our bravery, an unearned gift from God, whenever we are in a corner, about to be killed by evil. We may not be victorious in our time. But in God's time we will conquer, since He never fails.
4.19.2006    |    in hoc signes vinces
No, this doesn't mean that Vince had to pawn his wife's engagement ring. "In this sign, conquer" is the usual translation, and it refers to the Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity, supposedly as a result of his vision of the cross that preceded the Battle of Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312.

But was Constantine truly a Christian? We can't know whether God truly called him, but we do know that Constantine basically turned the Gospel of Jesus on its head, by merging the state and the faith in the risen Lord. For better or worse, this has been the norm in the 1700 or so years since Constantine's epiphany.

Jesus was pretty clear that his message wasn't about earthly power. He specifically rejects earthly power, when Satan offers him the world in Matthew 4:
8...the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." 10Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

'You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.'"
Now, one could have (at least) two interpretations here. The first, and obvious one is that Jesus will not serve Satan, period, but that he had no other problem with being a mightier version of King David. That is, a secular ruler. But it is also clear that Jesus was not about worldly power. He rejected it, and purposely chose, in his ministry, to favor the powerless, the weak, the humble. Hardly a power-hungry messiah, he.

Jesus' ministry, and his Passion, give the lie to any thought that he was sent to us to become our worldly ruler. Jesus willingly submitted to the secular authorities, even though he knew it meant heinous torture and a (supposedly) shameful death on the cross.

In the Lord's words to Pilate, John 18:36:
My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.
Now, fast forward to the pagan Constantine. He sees that God has, indeed, sent Jesus to die for our sins. But Connie takes only part of the message, and, before you know it, in the "Emperor is always right" Roman tradition, everyone becomes a Christian. Which then became the model for the Roman church, as well as for any number of so-called national churches (e.g. the Armenians, who claim to be the first nation to have converted en masse in 301 AD).

Mass conversions appear to be the norm, at least until the Reformation allowed (some) Protestants to exercise freedom of conscience, and allow the Lord to call them...or not. It's impossible to know what was in the hearts of all of those millions upon millions of those who became Christian because their emperor, king, or liege lord were. And, it's certainly possible that this is how the Holy Spirit worked in history. Possible, yes. Likely? I have my doubts.

Perhaps the national churches, including Constantine's Roman church in the fourth century, are part of God's plan for our salvation. Perhaps. I'm skeptical, given what Jesus himself has told us. My belief is that salvation is a personal matter, between us and God, through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit, that we may know Jesus Christ as our Lord. Our only Lord. Not to be confused with any secular government or title.

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4.18.2006    |    Cake, anyone?
As in, having your cake and eating it, too. This would seem to be the essence of a Democratic Congressional group's "Catholic Statement of Principles." Which, in plainer language, should be titled "How we can be loyal Democrats and still claim to be faithful Catholics."

What gives the game away is this from the screed: "we seek the Church's guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience." There are certainly many things that the Catholic Church does not provide dogma on. One of those things, unfortunately for those who claim to be both faithful Catholics and loyal Democrats, is abortion.

The Democratic Party is pro-abortion, or, as they prefer to say, hiding the truth, pro-choice. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states (via About.com):
Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.
This is clear. Crystal clear. This is not, as the Democratic "Statement of Principles" would have you believe, a matter for the "primacy of conscience."

Having been a Catholic, and brought to the faith as an adult, it isn't at all clear to me, as it wasn't to the priests from whom I received my training, that one may be a faithful Catholic and violate the Church's principle of the "inviolable" right of every being to life.

One supposes that the Pelosi gang may think they're some sort of protestants, in the original usage by Martin Luther and the true Protestants. The Democrats who are attempting to cloak themselves with Jesus' seamless garment of life, yet are very much in favor of abortion on demand, are not just mistaken -- they are violating the very faith they are claiming to adhere to.

Democrats, or other Catholics, who think they can get away with this will only fool those who are unbelievers, or those who are willfully ignorant of what the Roman Church demands of its members.

One need not be a Roman Catholic; that is surely a matter of conscience. But if you claim to be Catholic, you can not logically have it both ways.
4.17.2006    |    Thy will be done
Happy New Year, fellow Christians. We are reminded that Easter is the first day of the church year, and, as the trite saying goes, the first day of the rest of our lives. More importantly, the first Easter was the start of the Messianic Era, the time we are in, waiting, waiting, for Christ to come again.

In the meantime, here's the suggestion of our pastor for a New Year's prayer. It's quite simple, actually, and will always be true: Thy will be done. That's God's will. Not our own will.

This is the essence of how the Lord taught us to pray (Matthew 6:9-13): Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Now, for all of the special relationship that Jesus had with His Father, He still prayed this basic prayer: Thy will be done. Even when Jesus struggled, at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-42), with the certain knowledge of His heinous death on the cross, He prayed that God's will be done.

Jesus knew what the Father's will was. We are only human, and quite less than perfect. "Thy will be done" is easy enough to say, and to pray. The problem is that it is sometimes far from clear what God's will might be.

Scripture usually has an answer, and the Holy Spirit steps up (sometimes) and lets us know, in no uncertain terms, what God's will might be in a particular situation. But, as we all know, there are times when, pray as we might to know what God expects of us, we just do not know.

My advice is to listen more, speak less -- perhaps we'll hear what God wants of us. And be very wary of thinking that we can know with any kind of certitude in every situation what God's will might be.

Oh, and last point: don't be surprised if we find out that God really doesn't care if we get that promotion at work, or if we can't afford to drive a Mercedes. Or if we are called to suffer as our savior suffered.

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4.16.2006    |    The Lord is risen
He is risen, indeed. From Luke 24: 1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise."

How can one thank God for this unearned gift? Praise His name. Know His Son. Thank Him for every breath that we take.

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4.14.2006    |    A Good Friday Hero
Today is Good Friday, the day on which Jesus was tortured and horribly killed by the Romans on the cross. It is a perfect day on which to honor those who also were martyrs for God. One such is the man in the picture, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is, or should be, a hero to all who believe in God. Not just Christians; all. He was a Christ-figure in his stand against the perversion that was Nazi Germany. Although his work makes clear that he believed that to be a true Christian one must be nonviolent, he joined the plot to kill the beast, Hitler, that had led the enslavement of Germany.

More importantly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived a Christian life in accord with the gospels -- and he was not shy about reminding his fellow Christians that those who would persecute the Jews were not really Christian. From the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Home Page:
Bonhoeffer's theologically rooted opposition to National Socialism first made him a leader, along with Martin Niemueller and Karl Barth, in the Confessing Church (bekennende Kirche), and an advocate on behalf of the Jews. Indeed, his efforts to help a group of Jews escape to Switzerland were what first led to his arrest and imprisonment in the spring 1943. His leadership in the anti-Nazi Confessing Church and his participation in the Abwehr resistance circle (beginning in February 1938) make his works a unique source for understanding the interaction of religion, politics, and culture among those few Christians who actively opposed National Socialism, as is particularly evident in his drafts for a posthumously published Ethics.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer's stand against evil is in stark contrast with other Christians of that time and place. It is also in stark contrast with those who would claim to be Christians today. Today, as in Bonhoeffer's time, most remain silent in the face of evil.

What are today's evils that pose threats to us? So-called radical Islam, for starters. Crimes perpetuated by the strong against the weak, which today include the genocide in Darfur and chattel slavery perpetrated by Arabs in Africa. And one constant that has not changed since Nazi Germany: demonic hatred of Jesus' people, the Jews.

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4.12.2006    |    The most important thing?
It's infrequent, but this year Holy Week and the Jewish Passover coincide, with tonight marking the first day, at sundown, of the eight-day celebration. I write "Jewish Passover" since Christians also should know that it is very much also their Passover.

God demonstrated His power by freeing the Israelites, and then, 50 days later (hmmm, another pentecost...) giving them His Torah. We are now the Israelites, and we have inherited Torah for our Messianic Age -- with new revelations of course.

In the United States, many Jews, likely even a majority of those born Jewish do not celebrate their religious heritage. Or know very much about it. In attempting to correct this, some Jewish organizations have engaged in outreach for unlearned and unafiliated Jews: the Creative Seder Initiative (CSI).

This outreach, which is unusual for Jews given our history of persecution and resulting isolation, was written about in today's Washington Post, and, as is usual for the hyper-secular Post, it tread the line between being informative and being patronizing.

One quote stood out:
They want a Seder but don't know how," said Shlomo Perelman, an Orthodox Jew who worries but also operates two large Web sites that sell the trendy items. "But the most important thing is that someone goes to a Seder."
Well, I may not be the best Jew, being a Baptist, but I'd prefer to think that Mr. Perelman has it wrong. He has confused cause and effect. Or, better, the Cause and His effect.

The most important thing can not be any liturgy or ceremony. Regardless of its beauty or Biblical significance. The most important thing, the Alpha, must be faith in God. Absent faith in God, the seder becomes just another meal, if one with a lot of puzzling aspects.

With faith, and the Torah-based Haggadah, the seder becomes a celebration of the certain knowledge that God will save us, and has rescued us from bondage to a secular pharaoh. Jews, and Christians, remain, for the most part, in a modern form of bondage to that which is less than God. A seder should serve as a spiritual two-by-four upside the head.

For Christians, we should know that our Lord's Passion has, like unto the Israelites of old, freed us from our bondage to sin. We have different liturgies, but the essential truth remains: first faith in God; then celebration of His acts of emancipation and salvation.
4.11.2006    |    Dinosaurs and men
Roamed the earth at the same time...or so one would have to believe if the earth is less than 10,000 years old, and there remains incontrovertible fossil evidence of dinosaurs. The issue was raised, of all unlikely places, The Sopranos, where a born-again Christian visits the recuperating Tony Soprano.

Hypocritical Catholic meets Bible Thumper. It was amusing, yet somehow quite touching, since Tony appeared to truly appreciate being prayed for. In demonstration of how crazy the evangelical Christian was, he said something to the effect that "dinosaurs and men were on the earth at the same time; the Bible proves it."

Given the venue, a post-modern television drama, it's fair to conclude that the young-earth creationist model wasn't being held up as being correct. In fact, it was clear that this was meant to utterly discredit the evangelical Christian, for believing in such nonsense.

Well, I believe that YEC's are confused, and are in willful denial of what reason tells them. And, no, Satan may own our time and space, but Satan is still God's creation and subject to His will, as are we all. It stretches reason to the breaking point to ignore all the evidence for a 13-or so billion year old universe, and dinosaurs on earth predating any human by tens of millions of years.

Does this "violate" Scripture and its inferred 10,000 year (or less; see Joe Carter's recent posting on Bishop Ussher's 23 October 4004 BC creation date)? Yes. If one believes that Scripture is only to be read literally, with zero interpretation, and, simultaneously, if one assumes that God changed the rules for our lifespans from Adam's day (after the Fall, of course) and if one assumes that it is, somehow, part of God's plan for us to allow Satan to have planted all that physical evidence that contradicts the young earth theory.

In my universe, God is mightier than that. My belief does not fail because of science. If anything, it becomes stronger, as Who do we think is the Author of all that science? In different words, faith must not trump reason, when there are scientific proofs to support reason. Likewise, reason does not trump faith, since all creation has a Father, a Cause: God.
4.09.2006    |    Jesus the politician
The protean Gary Wills is at it again, today in a serious op-ed in the New York Times. The piece was doubtless prompted by the left's darling, The Hillary, and her recent tone-deaf comments on Jesus.

Wills' own politics are left-of-center, and he's not shy about bashing his own Catholic faith. So, when he starts railing against bringing Jesus into the public square, it's a pretty sure bet that his primary targets are conservatives.

Here's what shocked me after reading the op-ed: Wills is right on the mark. Jesus' gospel is not about politics. It is not about going to church and singing in the choir. It is not about having a creche at city hall, or a display of the Ten Commandments in a public building. It is solely about accepting Jesus Christ as your savior, and knowing that he died a heinous death so that we might live.

The details of the gospels are, as Wills rightly points out, not very politic. It's even worse than what is posed, of course, since Wills omits that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. And that judgment will include burning unbelievers "with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12). But, I was pleased to see the op-ed, as it's a good antidote to the usual fluffy bunny Christians who come out this time of year with their Peeps and chocolate bunnies, averting their eyes from any notion of the pain and suffering that Jesus endured.

As for Jesus in politics, Wills is spot-on:
If Democrats want to fight Republicans for the support of an institutional Jesus, they will have to give up the person who said those words. They will have to turn away from what Flannery O'Connor described as "the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus" and "a wild ragged figure" who flits "from tree to tree in the back" of the mind.

He was never that thing that all politicians wish to be esteemed — respectable. At various times in the Gospels, Jesus is called a devil, the devil's agent, irreligious, unclean, a mocker of Jewish law, a drunkard, a glutton, a promoter of immorality.

The institutional Jesus of the Republicans has no similarity to the Gospel figure. Neither will any institutional Jesus of the Democrats.
Jesus is Lord of all. It is demeaning and insulting to think that He's on your side in earthly matters, that any group or political party has a monopoly on Him.

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4.08.2006    |    John 19:23
To be consistently pro-life is difficult, to say the least. Although the worst offenders in terms of numbers of souls put to death may appear to be pro-abortion liberals, so-called pro-death penalty conservatives might seem to also commit the sin of hypocr1sy.

The political labels, in fact, don't help; they hinder our understanding. A more consistent approach may be found with Jesus. John 19:23 may not seem to apply to the question of being pro-life, but it does. Since it concerns the garment worn by the incarnation of life its very self:
John 19:23: When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom...
Jesus, like His garment, was seamless in His protection of life. He knew, as we should but often forget, that our very lives are gifts from God. They are not ours to take. From conception, through birth, through our lives, and until our natural deaths, our lives are sacred.

In other words, life and its protection are, or ought to be, seamless. At no stage in our lives should we, as human persons, be considered as unpersons, as excess flesh to be disposed of for the convenience of others.

This means, among other things, that we protect the unborn, that we nurture the young, that we cherish and protect the frail, sick, and elderly. It also must mean that we acknowledge that of God in even the most heinous of sinners. That we resist the all-too-human temptation to put to death even killers. Even the worst terrorists.

Does this mean that we allow terrorists and criminals to roam free? No. Of course not. To be consistently pro-life also means protecting the innocent from these evil men and women. With deadly force, if that is necessary to save the life of an innocent. But, once the terrorist or criminal is rendered harmless, and locked away where they can no longer hurt innocents, it is wrong to put them down as though they were stray dogs.

Even Osama bin Laden has a soul, and God will judge him. Harshly, I suspect; old Osama isn't likely to get his 72 virgins, or whatever his idolatrous view of paradise may be. But that is up to God. Not us.

In the meantime, we can only try to do as our savior has instructed us to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). I don't know about you, but this is hard for me. Necessary, but Lord, I fail. But I will keep trying.

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4.07.2006    |    "Gospel of Judas:" Nothing new
So now some people are poised to make a bundle of money on a twist on the betrayal of Jesus to the Jewish and Roman powers-that-were. The "Gospel of Judas" has been verified as being sufficiently old (1,700 years) so as to possibly be considered an authentic gospel. Typical mainstream media stories may be found at the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

What makes this latest apocryphal gospel interesting is that it places Judas Iscariot in a more favorable light. Which would not be hard, since "Judas" has become synonymous with "traitor." However, in this latest find, instead of being portrayed as a completely evil man, there is the notion that Jesus requested Judas to betray Him in order to fulfill prophecy.

What a shock. The Man who was fully divine, and a co-equal Person in the Trinity, carrying out His Father's plan. There's no surprise in this, at least for me. This has always been my understanding of Judas: that he was a necessary part of salvation history. Somebody had to betray Jesus; somebody had to give the authorities a pretext to put Him to death. And when I write "had to", I mean precisely that: since this was God's plan, it had to be done.

One of the alleged consequences of Judas' betrayal of Jesus has been anti-Semitism. Well, the true Gospels, especially of John, mark "the Jews" as the betrayer of Jesus. Judas was merely one Jew, and even absent his role, the Sanhedrin of the day (basically the evil Herod's crew of select elders) could reasonably be blamed for wanting Jesus dead. He was, to coin a phrase, a thorn in their side.

So, it was "the Jews" who killed Christ? No. What killed Jesus were the worldly powers, who could not tolerate one who preached the kingdom of heaven. At the time and place chosen by God, first century Palestine, it was the Roman occupiers and the high priests of the Temple. Judas merely played out a role defined for him by God, under either the traditional version (e.g. Matthew 26:14-16), or, this new apocryphal gospel.

The question to be answered is, "does this new document change anything about our understanding that Jesus is the Messiah?" So far, it doesn't seem to.

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4.05.2006    |    Sojourners, all
In this life we are sojourners, all. We live by the grace of God, on, as it were, time borrowed from Him. Since this life is also the province of Satan, we must protect ourselves from others of our fallen kind. This protection includes artificial divisions of the earthly kingdom into nations.

Like it or not, this is the world in which we live. We in America are fortunate; we've got just about the best nation on earth. Millions of foreigners must agree, they keep trying to get in by legal and other means. The question of the day is, how should a Christian deal with those who sneak across our borders?

Scripture provides the most reliable source, as usual. My favorite verse on how to treat strangers among us is Exodus 22:21: "You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt." That's God Who is speaking.

On the flip side, it is also incumbent on those who choose to live among us to obey our laws. If a worker from Mexico starts his life among us by breaking our immigration law, then what should we do? First, as Christians, love him, treat him and his family with dignity. But this love can't include turning a blind eye to his breaking of our law. We must take steps to turn a lawbreaker into a legal immigrant or, failing this, send him back from whence he came.

As an aside, the debate talks of illegal "immigrants." To me, the son of immigrants, this is a misnomer. An immigrant is one who willingly joins our society, and not just for a job, but with the full intent of becoming one of us. This very much includes, as a first principle, obeying our laws. Others who come because they need jobs, but for no other reason, that's fine. No one should be forced to become an American citizen. But this economic need does not justify breaking our law.

So, what to do with those sojourners among us who break our laws? If the only law broken is the one that forbade them entry in the first place, send them back to their native land, with their families if possible. As for those who have split families, some here legally, some not, we must make exceptions based on compassion and allow some "illegals" to stay.

There are other exceptions, of course. Those who flee political persecution should always be given refuge. For example, it is to our shame that we don't allow all Cubans in, without the legal hairsplitting "wet-foot, dry-foot" of the Clintonistas. But then, Fidel is a darling of our so-called liberal intelligentsia...

What about the 10-12 million who are here illegally now? As a practical matter, there's not much you can do, except enforce the laws already on the books: when you catch illegal workers, deport them, and fine their employers if they reasonably should have known their workers were not legal immigrants.

The other thing we must do is tighten our borders. A lot. We need to slow down the flow of people who cross our borders illegally. There's no point in mopping up the floor if you first don't turn off the faucet.
4.04.2006    |    Prosperity or salvation?
If you go to Joel Osteen's website, you will find a list of beliefs that would not be foreign to most evangelical churches. Until you come to this little item:
WE BELIEVE…as children of God, we are overcomers and more than conquerors and God intends for each of us to experience the abundant life He has in store for us.
Be all that you can be. No, wait, that's an old Army slogan. For Osteen and those who share his gospel of prosperity, not only is it not a bad thing for a Christian to be wealthy, it has become a positive good, blessed by God.

Perhaps this is unfair, but then, I've little sympathy for any "church" that places prosperity on the same plane as sola scriptura. In addition to the simple statement that Osteen wants us all to "experience the abundant life," one may hear him preach on the subject. He's almost as embarrassing as Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, but, so far, without the other human frailties to which those two succumbed.

In our culture, it's not acceptable to be wealthy and to commit the sins that Bakker and Swaggart did. It is, apparently, more than acceptable to simply preach that which is denied by Jesus' own preaching. To wit, Mark 10
23And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." 26And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?" 27Jesus looked at them and said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God."
Jesus did not say it was a sin to be wealthy. Just that it was an impediment to salvation. To claim that wealth is a benefit for salvation is just plain wrong, and denies the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus went a little further than simply telling us that it would be difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. As for how to best prepare to join Jesus in the kingdom, there's Matthew 19:21:
"If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
Again, wealth in this world is, by itself, not necessarily a bad thing. Hey, I like the things that money can buy as much as the next man. But I learned, a long time ago, that things of this world are not going to stay with you. Jesus will, if you shed yourself of everything that prevents you from seeing Him.

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4.03.2006    |    No appealing this Judge's decision
From one of the 19th century's great Calvinists (no, that's not a contradiction in terms, all you Arminians out there).

From Charles Haddon Spurgeon:
We shall not adjust our Bible to the age; but before we have done with it, by God's grace, we shall adjust the age to the Bible.
We seem, if anything, to be veering ever further from the Bible's truths in this century than in Spurgeon's. Many, if not most, of those truths are self-evident and need no exposition. Others are less clear. As with much else in our times, it depends on who you ask.

One argument against Biblical truth you will hear, ad nauseam, is that the Bible's text needs to be considered in the cultural milieu in which it was written. In other words, the Word has relative meaning; meaning that changes with the times. Not an eternal, unchanging meaning.

Sometimes this is partly true. Usually, not. The Bible is, by its very nature, a collection of eternal truths. It's often a question of finding the truth that is the foundation, perhaps obscured by antiquated language. And, yes, we no longer have literal Moabites for the Lord to smite, by way of an "antiquated" example. The philosophy, the underlying truth, remains -- God will judge those who rise up against Him.

Biblical values themselves are not antiquated -- just values that may no longer be honored. And those values are often expressed in seemingly harsh, judgmental terms. As should be expected from the highest Judge. God is merciful, in the extreme. God is also our Judge. In the extreme; there's no higher court of appeals. And, to the dismay of today's "I'm OK, you're OK" relativists, God the Judge hands down sentences of eternal life. Or death.

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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.