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6.26.2006    |    National guilt?
Most of us, when looking into the face of evil, tend to avert our gaze, and either pretend that evil is not there, or forget that it was there. A recently published book, "Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz" reminds us that mankind remains capable of unspeakable evil.

The book deals with virulent anti-Semitism, of the kind fatal to Jews, in post World War II Poland. Get that? Post WWII Poland. During the war, of course, Poland was Hitler's willing little helper, enthusiastically participating in the attempted extermination of Jews. The end of the war did not put a stop to the hatred. From the editorial review at Amazon:
Fear relates, in compelling detail, how Poles from virtually all segments of society persecuted the poor, emaciated and traumatized Holocaust survivors. Those who did not actually participate in the persecution, e.g., Church leaders and Communist officials, refused to use their influence to stop the pogroms, massacres and plundering of the Jews.
Fear was also reviewed by no less a moral authority than Eli Wiesel in the Washington Post. Mr. Wiesel, however, does not believe that Poland qua Poland is to blame:
Does it follow that all of Poland was to blame? I do not believe in collective guilt. Only the guilty are guilty; their contemporaries are not. The children of killers are not killers but children. Today, a new generation will assume responsibility for its history. And yet there is this: The past lives on in the present, impossible to forget. Jan Gross forces Poland to confront that past. Just as he forces his readers.
"Only the guilty are guilty." Well, that's always a true statement. True, but how is it that a nation of alleged Christians could allow the widespread, and unhindered persecution of God's chosen people?

This smacks of national guilt. I'm not a sociologist, or cultural anthropologist, but my common sense says that whenever a nation allows a pervasive evil to thrive it is because it, the nation, is itself evil. There is national guilt when the nation does not take steps to remedy such evil. As in Germany during the war. As in Poland during the war, and, apparently, afterward.

For those of us who are believers, the total depravity of many Poles is not a surprise. It is simply part of the human condition -- we are all of us, Poles, Britons, Americans, you name it, members of a fallen species. Think "T" in "TULIP."

Nations can change. Germany appears to have. Poland, in many ways, remains our ally in the world today. But this does not mean that they have admitted their sins of the past, and repented of them.
6.23.2006    |    Don't mess with the Big Guy
Those nations that the Lord has shown His favor to will survive all attacks. Those that do not do His will, will not. It is as simple as that. Some would have us believe that all secular authority is ordained by God, as per Romans 13:
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
Well, my first take on this is that it's strictly propoganda, redacted to curry favor with the Roman Empire.

The textual meaning of Romans 13 is plain. Christians must always apologize for it in order to show that God did not really put in place monstrous regimes (like the Soviet Union, Communist China, and Nazi Germany). God certainly allowed those regimes to exist and do heinous things; that's quite different. It is, in fact, wholly consistent with the total depravity of men. Or, if you prefer, we must acknowledge that this world is the province of Satan.

The Christian owes no allegiance to evil or corrupt regimes. And we must know that, ultimately, God is on our side -- if we but walk in His ways. An example of what ultimately happens to regimes that fight against God's people? 2 Kings 19:
32"Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. 34For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David." 35And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians.
And God didn't even read them their rights before smiting them. Guess there's no Miranda warning in heaven.

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6.20.2006    |    No longer Christian?
The Episcopal Church, USA, has not just withdrawn (at least symbolically) from the Anglican Communion. They've declared that they are no longer bound by Scripture. Hence it becomes an open question as to whether they remain Christian.

This one paragraph says it all (from USA Today):
The Episcopal Church USA's election of a female presiding bishop who supports gay bishops and the blessing of gay unions may stress the centuries-old global Anglican Communion to the breaking point.
My reaction to this is, "hmm, do you think so?" That's sarcasm; the html coding for it doesn't seem to be working at the moment...

The serious issue is, how far may a group declare that it's social views negate black-letter Scripture? It takes some fancy lawyering to justify women as priests. We're not Druids, after all. But, in the end, it comes down to simply ignoring Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthians 14:33-34, "women should keep silent in the churches."

Paul may have been the founder of what we call "Christianity," but he was just a man. So perhaps it's acceptable to ignore what he wrote, or twist it beyond recognition. Fancy lawyering in the church is needed; Episcopalians have no shortage of theological lawyers, it would seem.

Much harder to ignore is the actual word of God in Leviticus 18:22: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." To call homosexual acts worthy of blessing places one outside of acceptable interpretation of Scripture. That isn't exegesis; it's the triumph of ego over God.

I can only conclude that those in ECUSA who support their new presiding bishop don't much care about Scripture. Or God's will.

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6.18.2006    |    The Book of Life
I'm currently reading "The Lord Will Gather Me In," an autobiographical sketch by David Klinghoffer, an editor at National Review.

The book traces David's journey from being a secular Jew to an observant (Orthodox) one, and along the way he's got some harsh things to say about many of his fellow Jews -- and some misinformed things to say about Christianity. Very misinformed.

One such thing that lept off the page was this: (page 119, hardback edition):
...the salvational theory used to explicate the crucifixion of Jesus: "He died for our sins." Christians say: Doesn't Judaism maintain that a person must himself pay the price required of him?
The context, which compares Torah (written and oral) and Christian thought, strongly implies that Christians don't have to worry about deeds; Jesus has paid the freight, no matter what.

There are, to be certain, a rather large number of Christians who may still believe in antinomianism. It doesn't matter what I do in the here and now; Jesus' blood will wash me clean in the end. This is true, but we've got to pull our weight.

What we do in this life very much does matter. Our Lord has told us to do two basic things (Matthew 22):
36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37 And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38T his is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."
By "love the Lord your God" it is reasonably clear that Jesus meant carry out God's commandments. Commandments, as in the Law, the very self-same law that Jews observed, and still observe. Jesus did not excuse us from the Law (Matthew 5:18); He insisted that observance merely for show meant nothing. It was hypocrisy that Jesus condemned. Not Torah observance.

As for whether Christians are saved merely by having faith, as opposed to also doing God's will in this life, there is Revelation 20:12
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.
Perhaps the whole business about ignoring the Law, and, for some Christians, ignoring their actions, is Paul's fault. After all, wasn't it Paul who made it easy for pagans to sign up?

Right; Paul did all that. But he also made it crystal clear what is expected of those who would call themselves disciples of Christ. And it's every bit as hard as anything in the Law, and, wonder of wonders, is wholly consistent with the moral underpinnings of Torah.

"Wonder of wonders" is sarcasm, of course. Paul was brought up under the Law, and this is what he knew. When God stirred Paul's heart on the road to Damascus, and those scales fell from his eyes, it was then that Paul could know that Jesus was the Christ, the fulfillment of messianic prophecy.

Jesus is the Messiah, but not at all a negation of what God had also told us about what He expected of us. Rather, its fulfillment.


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6.16.2006    |    so much for the First Amendment
Political correctness has, in Maryland, trumped the First Amendment to the Constitution. Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich, a Republican no less, has fired a Metro Board member for speaking his mind in an unofficial capacity.

The sad and ugly story of how PC trumps freedom of speech may be found here. The essentials:
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday fired Robert J. Smith, his appointee on the Metro transit authority board, for referring to gay people as sexual deviants on a cable television show.

"Robert Smith's comments were highly inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable," Ehrlich (R) said in a statement less than five hours after the controversy erupted during a Metro board meeting. "They are in direct conflict to my administration's commitment to inclusiveness, tolerance and opportunity."
Ehrlich's "commitment to inclusiveness and tolerance" apparently does not include those whose thoughts and speech deviate from some unwritten code. In this case, Mr. Smith's offense was giving offense to the take-it-up-the-bum lobby (hey, I could have used a much uglier term...). What Mr. Smith actually said is "Homosexual behavior, in my view, is deviant...I'm a Roman Catholic."

Well, apparently Ehrlich will only have Catholics serving his administration if they deny some politically incorrect teachings of the Church. Or, for that matter, any believer who happens to know that God Himself has labelled homosexual sex as an "abomination" (Leviticus 18:22).

The biggest problem is human nature: homosexuals, like the rest of us, just hate it when they are told that their sinful behavior is...sinful. We all sin, and no group is exempt just because it's become politically convenient to ignore their sin.

Shame on Ehrlich for being so pliable, and lacking any discernible backbone.
6.15.2006    |    "legitimate acts of resistance"
The prime minister of Iraq the Puppet, one Nouri al-Maliki, seems to want to cut some strings. Or, perhaps, merely appear to be so doing. The strings? Any attachment to the United States, without which Maliki would be just another citizen under Saddam's heavy yoke.

Maliki, who not too long ago accused our troops of being no better than Mongol hordes, has now proposed an amnesty for "resistance" fighters who have shed American blood. The headline for the WaPo story is "Iraq Amnesty Plan May Cover Attacks On U.S. Military."

There are many words about "reconciliation" and those who don't think about it are likely to say, "wow, isn't that great -- just like South Africa." And that would be a good thing, right? From the WaPo:
Asked about clemency for those who attacked U.S. troops, he [Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi, a top adviser to Maliki] said: "That's an area where we can see a green line. There's some sort of preliminary understanding between us and the MNF-I," the U.S.-led Multi-National Force-Iraq, "that there is a patriotic feeling among the Iraqi youth and the belief that those attacks are legitimate acts of resistance and defending their homeland. These people will be pardoned definitely, I believe."
Love that bit, "defending their homeland." Against what? An invasion of the liberators? Those who set roadside bombs or attack mosques and schools and anywhere else without regard to the deaths of innocents are not defending anything worthy of the word.

Most importantly, this action by the Iraqi government declare that an American's life is worth less than an Iraqi's. An American who died, not for treasure or power, but to put these ingrates into power in the first place. And to free Iraq from one of the bloodiest tyrants of all history.

Here's where the difference between a Judeo-Christian and a Muslim culture becomes self-evident. America, a Judeo-Christian nation, comes to the aid of all peoples. One may argue as to whether the Iraq war was necessary or good for American geopolitical interests. But that decision was made by our leaders, and we went in with the intention of liberating Iraqis and not leaving until we could ensure a stable, a relatively free Iraq.

Those who believe that an American life is worth less than an Iraqi life should receive no support from us. Too bad President Bush hasn't seen this.
6.13.2006    |    Torture month
I just found out that June is "International Torture Awareness Month." This message is being brought to us by something called "National Religious Campaign Against Torture". Well, I'm pleased that there is a "religious" campaign against torture, but after seeing who is behind this thing, and what they are saying, I'm not at all sure it's a good thing.

First, the basics, from today's WaPo:
Twenty-seven religious leaders, including megachurch pastor Rick Warren, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, have signed a statement urging the United States to "abolish torture now -- without exceptions."

The statement, being published in newspaper advertisements starting today, is the opening salvo of a new organization called the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which has formed in response to allegations of human rights abuse at U.S. detention centers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
This last bit is the giveaway: this isn't about torture; it's about the American endeavor in Iraq and, globally, the war against terror. Else, why single out the United States? How about Sauda Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Cuba, or any of dozens upon dozens of other fly-speck "nations" that have virtually no respect for human rights?

Then there's the question, What, exactly, is "torture"? To many who would coddle terrorists and criminals, it's not having access to HBO while in prison. To most of us, however, torture does not include harsh interrogation, sleep deprivation, or getting wet. Especially not if the individual has critical intelligence that might save innocent lives.

Have there been some abuses at Gitmo and elsewhere? Yes, and we've investigated and punished those responsible. But this is akin to saying that Cardinal McCarrick has no moral standing to bloviate about torture (he's one of the misguided sponsors of this "I hate America fest") because there have been many cases of pedophilia and abuse by priests in the Catholic Church.

It is not the policy of the Catholic Church to allow pedophilia. It is not the policy of the United States to allow actual torture. And, not to put too fine a point on it, there's been far more incidents of perversion and sexual crimes in the Catholic Church than there's been actual torture in our war on terror lockups.

What we seem to have here are selective perfectionists, whose main goal, intended or not, is to hinder our national security while hiding behind their clerical collars.
6.11.2006    |    A little something from the Talmud
Observant Jews will likely dispute this, but I see this as a form of convergance between Jewish messianic expectation, and the Christian's knowledge that the Messiah has already come. From the Talmud, Sotah 9:15, this version of the end times (via Boker tov, Boulder):
In the footsteps of the Messiah, confrontation will increase...and there will be no rebuke. The government will become godless, the campus will become a place of immorality, religion will be despised...the young will no longer respect their elders, and the elders will have to give in to the young. A son will rebel against his father, a daughter will stand up to her mother...A man's family will seem to be his enemies, and the entire generation will appear to be going to the dogs...but still, we must rely on our Father in heaven.
In traditional Jewish theology, the end times will be characterized by the following:
  • universal recognition of the God of Israel as Lord of all creation
  • the end of warfare and the start of an age of universal peace and justice
  • the end of the exile and the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land
  • the rebuilding of the Temple and the reestablishment of the sacrificial cult
  • the execution of God's final judgment on all of humanity
  • the resurrection of the dead and eternal life for those judged as righteous.
This is, with the obvious exception of the rebuilding of the Temple, similar to mainstream evangelical views of the return of Christ. I make no claims as to the validity of either Jewish or Christian visions of the End times, just note that this is my understanding of what passes as mainstream.

The important point? The Messiah is the one who will (or has, depending on your confession) lead us out of sin and into the time of final judgment. Which has not, obviously, yet taken place.

There is a good deal of evidence, however, that we are already living in a time when "The government will become godless, the campus will become a place of immorality, religion will be despised..." The open question: when has it ever been different?

Just asking.
6.08.2006    |    Visions of Hell
Hell may not be the eternal lake of fire as envisioned by John in Revelation, but it will be the total separation of unrepentant sinners from God. For all eternity. Which is a long, long, time to be waiting without any hope. Or so I'm told.

My early conceptions of Hell were formed by the Medieval Inferno, by Dante. And, of course, the descriptions in John's Revelation, which, when I first read it, was named "The Apocalypse." Much catchier name, don't you think?

When I learned that Hell is actually a state of the soul, and is the final, and total separation from God, I started to think differently about it. Hell, I believe, differs for each of us. For some of us, Hell might be having to listen to the same Barry Manilow song, over and over and over, for eternity. For those who might actually like such a thing, it wouldn't be Hell, of course. And I suspect that many who do like such a thing will have a particularly nasty version of their own private Hell...

This brings me to the good news this morning: the confirmed death of al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Yes, I know. We are enjoined to pray for our enemies. But that does not mean that we sit back and let them continue to kill innocents. Well, al-Z is in some form of Hell, which for him would not be those 72 virgins (or white raisins, or whatever the Islamist pagans imagine).

No, not for our good buddy al-Z. He's probably surrounded by do-gooder liberals, who will chatter and bloviate about how al-Z didn't even get a fair trial before an appropriately sluggish international tribunal in Geneva or Brussels. Imagine an eternity surrounded by idiots like that.

Oh, and for food in the afterlife: nothing but fried pork rinds.
6.06.2006    |    "The Elephant in the Room"
Andrew McCarthy has a necessary piece today at NRO: "The Elephant in the Room". Here's my response to him:

Many on the Left love to throw around the trite phrase, "talking truth to power." You've actually done it in your piece today.

The truth is that Islam is a religion, not of peace, but of conflict. A religion of the sword, which it's been since its very founding.

The Times and other left-leaning mass media have what I call the "guilty white liberal syndrome." Wherein those of us in the affluent and free West must make amends for all wrongs ever done to our little brothers and sisters in the developing world. All wrongs. Ever. And no amount of apology is sufficient.

One of the favorite tactics of those who would apologize for Islam and its violence is to raise, yet again, the bloody shirt of the Crusades. And note, correctly, that Christians have violence in their history as well.

But there's a very important difference. Those who profess Christ as Lord and commit murder in His name have violated some very explicit direction He gave us when He was with us in the flesh. Christians who murder in God's name are simply not Christian.

The difference, as you allude to, is that Muslims who murder in the name of Allah and Allah's prophet Mohammed are simply following instructions.

Violence is in Islam's very DNA. In contrast, peace is in Christianity's DNA. Doesn't mean we're always, or even usually, successful. Just means that we have to keep on trying. In sharp contrast with Islam, where they don't even seem to be trying to change.
6.05.2006    |    "all religions have their extremists"
The headline on this WaPo article concerning the foiled terror plot in Canada reads:
Arrests Shake Image of Harmony
Muslims in Canada Brace for a Backlash After Foiled Bomb Plot
The article focuses on how those poor, misunderstood and mistreated muslims are, somehow, being blamed for having jihadis in their midst. The usual apologists for bad behavior are making their usual excuses.

Among the worst of these excuses is along the lines, "everyone does it." This lame excuse is used by many, many miscreants, from those who cheat on their income taxes to those who rape, rob, and steal. And, of course, those whose religion is a natural fit for violence against innocents. From the WaPo article:
...some Muslims say the arrests are bound to increase suspicion and discrimination against them.

"A backlash is a given," said Fatima Rakie, 24, a Canadian-born woman of Lebanese descent who wears traditional black robes and a Muslim hijab , or head scarf. "People are aggravated with us already. They will think all Muslims are extremists. But all religions have their extremists."
Yes, Fatima, baby. People are "aggravated" with you already. Could it have something to do with the tens of thousands of deaths, worldwide, caused by those who kill in the name of Allah?

It is certainly true that all "religions have their extremists." But -- and a big "but" it is -- Jews and Christians don't kill innocent men, women and children in the name of God. The worst self-proclaimed Christian group that comes to mind is the Westboro Baptist [sic] Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas. These morons go about protesting the funerals of those of our fighting men who have given their lives for their country.

And, I suppose, some might label Pat Robertson an extremist. There are others, of course. But here's the difference: none of these Christian "extremists" go about blowing up innocents. Phelps and his moronic "Baptists" (I'm a Baptist; these people are too hate-filled to qualify...) do heinous things, but never with violence. And Rev. Pat sometimes engages his mouth before his brain has had a chance to work.

Islam is a religion of violence. Christianity is a religion of peace. It's as simple as that. And if the muslim community in Canada or the United States wishes to avoid a "backlash", then perhaps they should police their own -- do a little "frontlashing."
6.04.2006    |    Cultic Hasidim
Sounds like a nonsensical spam message header, doesn't it? Well, there is a cult-like group of Hasidim, the Satmars, who, among other things, make the claim that the modern state of Israel should not have been founded before the messiah came. Oh, and one more thing: that God allowed the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust because of those pesky Zionists.

There is a lengthy story on the Satmars in today's Washington Post, in the Style (!) section. Seems that this sect of pious Jews is fussin' and feudin' over who should be the next head rabbi.

All of this is quite human, as in totally depraved and having lost sight of what God requires of us. Worrying about the worldly rewards of power and prestige of being in the inner circle of the man in charge. Since this particular man would be in charge of God's covenant, at least as interpreted by these Hasidim, I think that many Christians who have dealt with so-called men of God in our churches can empathize.

Well, my opinion is that the Satmars are an evil bunch, indeed, if they attribute to God the deaths of six million human beings, each on of whom was made in God's image. All because of whether or not the victims believed that there should be a modern state of Israel before, or after the coming of the Jewish messiah.

My beliefs are heretical to these Jews, but if they'd listen I'd tell them that their messiah has come, and his name is Jehoshua the Nazarene. Who became Christ Jesus. Fellas, it's ok to have a modern state of Israel -- Jesus has come, and will come again. Don't worry about who's in charge of your little cult. God will come again and sort us all out...
6.02.2006    |    A natural fit
Slavery and Christianity, that is. Naomi Schaefer Riley's article, "Equal Before God" in today's WSJ poses the question "Why did masters want their slaves to be Christians?"

That's a good question, but the better one is, "why did any slaves remain in the faith?" My answer should be clear to those who can read Scripture: we suffer, with our Savior, on this side of the cross. In different words, life is harsh, and we look to the world to come for comfort. But on this side of the cross, in this life, we grit our teeth, bear our burdens, knowing that God is with us -- Immanuel.

I can't imagine what it must have been like to be a slave, but I've seen some hard times and know that faith in God has pulled me through. There are many in today's generation that could not do what I had to; just as I don't know that I could do what a slave had to.

The key word is suffering: for Christ; with Christ. This, to me, is the message: one that complements, and is a natural fit, to being a slave in this world. Those who suffer simply for having been born the wrong color must know that God loves them, especially. Just as He loved His only son, but allowed that, before Jesus returned to the Father, "first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation" (Luke 17:25).

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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.