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5.30.2007    |    "Christian nation"
Here we go again; grist for those who think we're heading straight for a fundamentalist Christian theocracy. As reported by the Washington Times, we get the wholly unsurprising "news" that a large majority of Americans (67 percent) think the United States is a "Christian nation."

There is also an interesting polling result on the Bible. From the Times story:
More than three-quarters of Americans believe the Bible is literally the word of God or inspired by the word of God, according to a trio of Gallup surveys, with 19 percent saying the Good Book is a compendium of myth and legend.
The Bible being asked about would be, of course, some version of both the Old and New Testaments. It is hardly a surprise that such a large majority (75 percent) who believe in the truth of the New Testament would consider their faith to be normative, and hence, the conclusion for two-thirds of Americans: the United States is a "Christian nation."

We are, and are not such a nation. We are certainly a nation whose majority states that they are Christian. And yet, if measured by what passes for popular culture, not to mention our failure to do for the least of our brethren around the world, we fall far short of the goals that Jesus himself set for us.

I prefer to think of America as a nation with great potential and one whose works are mighty, but fall short. A nation that should start acting not as though we were a "Christian nation," but, rather, a nation that knows its shortcomings and acknowledges that we are under God's judgment.

In short, a little humility. Make not claims about being a Christian, pilgrim, until you've passed before the Throne in judgment...

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5.29.2007    |    I will bless them that bless thee...
It is always useful to consult Scripture whenever there is a question. One in particular that has vexed the Christian church since its very beginnings has been how to treat the Jews. The simplest answer is to be found in the beginning; in the Book of Genesis, chapter 12:
1Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

2And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:

3And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew. His parents were both Jews. All of the apostles were Jews, as were virtually all of those who were called to be disciples of Jesus.

St. Paul taught us to distinguish between being a slave of the law, assuming righteousness, yet with an unclean heart (e.g. Romans 2). Was this a rejection of the Jews qua Jews? Some Christians have made this claim, the notion that Paul was rejecting the Jewish people.

Not at all. Paul was rejecting, as we too must reject, the legalism that can too readily become a substitute for the love of God and of our neighbor. This isn't what being a faithful Jew, or Christian for that matter, is about; it is only an imagined vision of Jews who observe as many of the 613 commandments from Torah as they are able to.

The faithful Jew is no more a legalistic automaton than is the Catholic who prays the Rosary and attends daily Mass, each with its formulaic prayers, seemingly repeated endlessly and without the Spirit. The same may be said for fundamentalist Protestants who insist on the literal word-for-word truth of selected passages of Scripture, but who lack Christian love.

Legalism comes in many forms; it is hardly a Jewish disease. It is a human failing. The point is that the Jews remain blessed by God, Who does not lie or change His mind. There are not two covenants or testaments; there is but a single God, triune in nature, who reveals Himself to us throughout history. His promises remain true.

First to the Jews; then to all. Will the Jews "come around" as they say? I think so, although it may take until the end times when all knees will bow at the name of Jesus. Until then, our job is to love all men, but take especially care to preserve Israel, and the Jews.

It's what our Lord expects of us.

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5.28.2007    |    Fascinating perspective
Melanie Phillips sheds light on unknown (at least to this infidel) portions of the Quran that implore Muslims to love and respect Israel and the Jews. Who knew?

Here's an extract, which Ms. Phillips cites from the website "Arabs for Israel":
[Quran] 2:47 Children of Israel! call to mind the favour which I bestowed upon you, and that I preferred you to all other nations.

2:122 O Children of Israel! call to mind the favor which I bestowed upon you, and that I preferred you to all other nations.

7:137 And We made the children of Israel, who were considered weak (and of no account), inheritors of lands in both east and west, - lands whereon We sent down Our blessings. The fair promise of thy Lord was fulfilled for the Children of Israel, because they had patience and constancy, and We leveled to the ground the great works and fine buildings which Pharaoh and his people erected (with such pride). 17:104 And We said thereafter to the Children of Israel, “Dwell securely in the land of promise”

10:93 We settled the Children of Israel in a beautiful dwelling-place, and provided for them sustenance of the best: it was after knowledge had been granted to them.

20:80 O ye Children of Israel! We delivered you from your enemy, and We made a Covenant with you to give you the right side (the blessed side) of Mount Sinai, and We sent down to you Manna (special food) and quails.

26:59 Thus it was, but We made the Children of Israel inheritors of such things (the promised land)

45:16 We did aforetime grant to the Children of Israel the Book the Power of Command, and Prophet hood; We gave them, for Sustenance, things good and pure; and We favored them above all other nations.

44: 32 And We have chosen them (the Children of Israel) above the ‘Alamîn (mankind, and jinns) and our choice was based on a deep knowledge.

32.23] And certainly We gave the Book to Moses, so be not in doubt concerning the receiving of it, and We made it a guide for the children of Israel.
[32.24] And We made of them Guiding Lights and leaders to guide by Our command as they were patient, and they were certain of Our communications.

[17:104] And we said to the Children of Israel afterwards, “ scatter and live all over the world…and when the end of the world is near we will gather you again into the Promised Land”.
These are fascinating verses, and, although taken out of context, should provide at least the minimal basis for Arabs to stop calling for the destruction of the Jews.

Nonie Darwish is the person who is the face of "Arabs for Israel." A very brave woman; one can only wish her success. But, given the tsunami of anti-Semitism in Arab nations, even those at peace with Israel, and given the daily hatred in the teaching and preaching at mosques throughout the Middle East, I'm not holding my breath.

And, there's one more thing with which Christians should find some satisfaction: the attitudes displayed by Ms. Darwish may be exceptional for an Arab Muslim. But they are the expected, and observed, behavior of many, if not most, Christians.

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5.27.2007    |    "heaven's ambassadors"
There is a moving story on the front page of the Washington Post about a previously institutionalized, blind, gospel singer, Brian Slaughter.

Mr. Slaughter can, apparently, sing up a storm; he's got the gift of the Holy Spirit. The story of how he was "discovered?" From the WaPo story:
Margaret Dickinson first met Brian Slaughter nearly 30 years ago, in the forgotten world that was Forest Haven. She was a graduate student, about to start work at the District's facility for the mentally retarded. He was one of the residents, a young man who had lived there since the age of 10.

As Dickinson took in the conditions that day -- the toilet overflowing into the day room, the two attendants engrossed in TV, the 60 idle men -- she wondered how she could ever work at such a place. Shaking her head, she half-sang a line from an old hymn, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen."

A deep voice sang back, "Nobody knows but Jesus."

It was one of the men sitting on the bench along the wall.

"He was holding his trousers with his left hand because he didn't have a belt," she said, "and he had three big safety pins in the place where the zipper was. Most of the day's menu was all over his T-shirt, and he had shoes with no shoelaces and no socks."

There was one more thing: He was blind.

"Hi, I'm Brian," he said, extending his hand. "And I'm a gospel singer."
The conditions under which Mr. Slaughter was living are all-too-typical of how "liberal" governments, such as the District of Columbia, deal with the least of our brethren. Jesus, of course, set the much higher standard (Mt 25:45).

Brian Slaughter has a gift of the Spirit, and appears to believe with a clean heart that Jesus is his savior. I sometimes envy people like him; except that we all have our talents and our cross to bear, and envy is wrong.

Brian Slaughter does set a standard we would all do well to emulate. In the words of Ms. Dickinson, speaking of Mr. Slaughter:
I believe these people are heaven's ambassadors. They're highly evolved, special beings. They are our teachers.


5.23.2007    |    How the mighty have fallen
"And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son..." This, from 2 Samuel 17, describes David's great sorrow at the evil which had overtaken Saul. This is the passage that occurred to me as I read this account of two former stalwarts of human rights: the American Civil Liberties Union, and Amnesty International.

On the ACLU, we've got, from the Wall Street Journal, the sadly accurate headline, "The American Liberal Liberties Union". The thesis? The ACLU tends to ignore cases where it disapproves of the content of the speech. And, of course, like all good multi-cultis, weigh in with vigor whenever the rights of Muslims to blow us up in the name of the Religion of Peace whenever there is "hate speech" about.

For the ACLU, "hate speech" may best be translated as: "Say nothing that even remotely criticizes Muslims, members of other approved minority groups, or the unfettered 'right' of a woman to kill her unborn child." As for the rights of Christians to proclaim our views? Fugeddaboutit.

Then there are the pro-terrorists over at Amnesty International. If a Jew in Israel looks cockeyed at an Arab terrorist, that's a human rights violation. If the Arab blows up a pizzeria or a rocket kills an innocent woman (as happened just this morning, thanks to the terrorists of Hamas), well, those poor Arabs are freedom fighters.

The story is told in this New York Sun opinion piece. An objective man might think that Israel, with a robust, functioning democracy, complete with the rule of law, is somewhat better than places where you can be killed for being a Jew or Christian. You might think this; you'd be wrong if you were only to read what AI puts out.

By way of example, from the Sun article:
...in 2006, Amnesty singled out Israel for condemnation of human rights to a far greater extent than Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, Egypt, and other chronic abusers of human rights.
This kind of a double standard might be called anti-Semitism, but then Amnesty also is fierce in the protection of any terrorist who has been taken off the jihadi rolls and given that life of tropical ease at Gitmo.

The ACLU, Amnesty International, and others of that ilk might be only annoyances. But they reflect a dangerous mindset in the West: America, Israel, believing Christians, Jews, those in favor of actual free speech and civil liberties for all, must be put in their place. And actual enemies of freedom, who inhabit much of the Muslim world, must be treated with kid gloves lest they take offense.

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5.22.2007    |    "kinder, less harsh style of leadership"
This is a quotation from the new leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, talking of us pesky Baptists. You know that there's something wrong when the Washington Post, or other liberal outlets, start to write favorable "news" pieces about evangelicals. The recent death of Jerry Falwell, the evangelical the left loved to loathe, has resulted in yet another mis-reading by the secularists of what it means to be an evangelical.

The Rev. Falwell was not my cup of java, mind you. He made the same error, from the right, as the Posties now laud when it comes from the left. The error? Using the pulpit to espouse a political point of view. As a Baptist, I know that church has only one legitimate purpose: to show us the way to salvation of our eternal souls.

One may disagree with this, or believe in a different path. Or no path at all. That is our right. But one should never confuse the sacred with the secular. Jesus himself set the standard, which political pastors like Falwell, and now younger ones, ignore with great regularity. That standard? "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).

The current emphasis of some post-Falwell pastors on global warming, other environmental issues, poverty, AIDs in Africa, etc. is being highlighted by the Post for the simple reason that it fits with the liberal secularists' view of what religion should be about. Trouble is, this is secondary to the principal reason for Christianity: salvation.

This is not to say that Christians should simply sit back, claim to be saved, and never do what is sometimes called "good works." Hardly. But we must never confuse the cause and effect. The Christian is moved to do good in this world because he has been saved; he is not saved not because he follows a certain political party or has particular opinions or performs certain works (Catholic theology as I understand it does not claim that works are sufficient; it is the saving grace of Jesus Christ that is the cause for the good works).

Among the secular left, global warming has become the issue du jour. And one that is approached with as much certitude as the Catholic Church used in the Inquisition. Believe this way, or die. Well, the would-be Torquemada of Global Warming, Al Gore, isn't in power...yet. Not that there is not a warming trend in some parts of the world; just that it has become an article of faith.

This from people who clearly don't understand that faith has everything to do with the world to come and one's eternal soul.


5.21.2007    |    More in common?
An article by David Howard in the Wall Street Journal on the conversion of Francis Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), makes what has become a common claim: that Christians who are theologically conservative, whether Catholic or evangelical, have more in common than that which divides them.

At least that is the implied claim in this paragraph from "Rome-ward Bound":
A common element among these converts is a strong commitment to the Catechism and papal encyclicals. These Catholics are not generally in sympathy with the theologically liberal wing of the American Catholic Church but are enthusiastic supporters of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI's emphasis on orthodox teaching and practice. In short, they have more in common theologically with evangelicals than with liberal Catholics, and evangelicals themselves, in many respects, have more in common with traditional Catholics than with mainline Protestants. Especially on social and political issues, there is much room for common cause.
This may be overstated. While it is true that we share generally conservative social values with orthodox Catholics (and orthodox Orthodox, for that matter), there remains a huge stumbling block: Sola scriptura.

This can't be negotiable, and the Roman Church's history is proof of the errors that can be made when the wisdom of a hierarchy is substituted for the Word. Catholics are right about many things, and it is still true (at least to me) that what we have in common is far more important than that which divides us.

But that which divides us should be insurmountable to a Bible-believing Christian. In Mr. Beckwith's case, he chose to put aside sola scriptura. And, contrary to the essay, it isn't about the Apocrypha. It's the rock-ribbed truth of the Reformation, as expressed by ETS, that "the Bible alone . . . is the Word of God written."

The Bible is sufficient for me.

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5.20.2007    |    Sola New Testament?
We had a visit from a representative of the Gideons this morning in our church, and the man made a heartfelt pitch for the saving nature of Scripture. One never knows what fish may be caught using the Word as bait; all we can do is cast those seeds out and pray that some bear fruit. OK, enough of the evangelization metaphors...

I know from personal experience that I'm always comforted when checking into a hotel, and finding one of the Gideon's sturdy KJV Bibles. In fact, I've been known to ask at the front desk if there wasn't a copy in the room. In my travels around the country, I've never gotten a negative response for this request; at worst, it's "we'll look into getting those in the rooms."

Scripture is the one, single thing that is indispensable for learning about God's revelation to humanity. Note that I write "thing." It is obvious that the Book by itself is insufficient for salvation. For that one must have one thing, the Book, and, much more importantly, one Person: God, working through His Holy Spirit.

As for which translation, that's quite secondary. Better the worst translation than none at all. Hence, although my preferred version is the English Standard, the KJV, NRSV, or even the cloyingly politically correct TNIV will do for starters.

But what should not happen is for a newbie to only receive the New Testament, which the Gideons also distribute freely. What's the harm in someone reading only the Gospels? A lack of context which can too easily lead to grave misunderstanding of how Jesus of Nazareth came to be God incarnate among men.

As John has Jesus telling us, "salvation is from the Jews" (Jn 4:22). The Saviour comes out of Zion, and it's necessary to understand all of God's revelation to humanity that leads to Jesus. To do this it is essential that the seeker, not to mention the mature Christian, know Scripture.

This means knowing Genesis and the Fall; knowing the story of God's covenants with humanity, starting with Noah and ending with Jesus. Jesus did not just appear in a vacuum. He was, and is, the Word. Again, the reason to never ignore the Hebrew Scriptures may be found in John 1:
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Start with Genesis. End with Revelation. It's all of a piece, and it's all telling us the story of God's love affair with humanity.

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5.16.2007    |    "celebrate death"
In last night's GOP "debate," abortion was a large topic. In fact, it was the elephant in the room. OK, no more GOP puns... It is interesting to watch Rudy G. and others squirm, and explain the unexplainable. It was also interesting to hear Mike Huckabee, in referring to jihadis, state thay they, unlike us, "celebrate death."

Well, my quibble with this phrase isn't that jihadis "celebrate death." This they most certainly do, and they will be judged before the Throne. But as for us celebrating life, hmm. Not when it comes to those least-able to protect themselves: the unborn children.

I understand that most people in America don't believe that a newly-formed fetus is a "person." Those of us who do (I do) have a major intellectual and moral problem should we run for public office. The twists and turns of candidates like Rudy and Mitt Romney are illustrative.

On the one hand, if one believes that any abortion ends the life of a human person, then one simply, as a moral matter, can not "go along to get along" with the practice. Stated differently: We're all against murder. God told us, in no uncertain terms in Exodus 20:13, that this is what he expects. And by "murder," we mean the death of an innocent. And, which unborn child is guilty?

So, how many murders are acceptable as a matter of public policy? The only morally acceptable answer is "none." Yes, despite these intentions, murders happen. We, the human race, are a fallen and depraved group, so individual crimes must be expected. But we don't, and should never, go about stating that a certain number of murders is just fine.

Yet this is exactly where the triangulators like Rudy place themselves: they state that they "personally" are against abortion, but as a matter of public policy, "it's a woman's right to choose" to kill her unborn child.

The only answer, so far as who to vote for, is that it will be far better for our nation to have a Rudy Giuliani, who will at least attempt to appoint strict constructionist judges, than a Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat for that matter. Any Democrat who may credibly get the nomination will be enthusiastic in their "abortion on demand" manifesto.

And, as for the kinds of judges that even so-called centrist Dems like Bill Clinton appoint, one need only look at the ultra-liberal decisions of the Ninth Circuit.


5.15.2007    |    Sin is such a drag
Now we know what kind of tame evangelicals DNC chair Howard Dean thinks we should all be. He cites Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, in this article about his longing to join evangelicals with the Democratic Party.

Dr. Dean also knows what ails those who don't go to church. It's that pesky sin; the sense that we are sinners and that there is a better way. What a downer. Nobody wants to be told they're sinners, now, do they? From the Deanster:
People don't want to go to church anymore ... and come out feeling bad because they happen to know somebody who's gay. People want to go to church because they know what they can do about poverty, about Darfur, about the environment.
I make no dispute with the need for Christians to help out in the here and now. But if that's the only, or even primary reason you go to church, then perhaps you should call where you attend a political or social justice clubhouse.

Church is first and foremost about thanking God for giving us His son Jesus, and for showing us, through the son's atoning death, that we, too, could be forgiven of our sins.

Yes, I feel badly about decent-seeming gay people who we know to be in a state of sin. But I also feel badly about my own sinful nature. Church is not a shrine for the holy; it is a hospital for us sinners. A hospital where, if we allow it, we may be healed.

Once again, the Democrats show they've a tin ear when it comes to matters of faith and salvation.


5.12.2007    |    Form over Function
I admit it -- I'm a Yankee. Born and bred in New York, so at least in the Civil War sense I'm a Yankee, as opposed to a Southerner. But I'm a Yankee in the earlier, and broader sense: an American who is a spiritual and political descendant of the Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The Puritans of Massachusetts could not have been more different than the bulk of the founders of Jamestown, whose 400th anniversary we celebrate this weekend. Not that Jamestown is not worthy of our greatest admiration and respect. Rather, to believe, or, worse, proclaim loudly, that "Jamestown is America" is to lapse into an all-too-common modern malady: that of Form over Function.

Jamestown was a settlement of, by, and for the Establishment of early 17th century England. High Church of England; landed gentry; men of position and leisure. Again, not that they did not suffer and die, in great numbers, after they founded Jamestown in 1607 and discovered that the natives were restless...and armed to the teeth.

Jamestown ultimately prevailed, and those who survived quickly learned to adapt to a harsh new land. But these were, in a word, Cavaliers (almost 40 years ahead of the English Civil War of 1642-51, but of that party). The Puritans of Massachusetts, by contrast, were, at least, spiritual antecedents of the pro-parliament Roundheads who would form the true spirit of what would become the United States of America.

Function? Freedom of conscience, independence from a royal, hierarchical Catholic-in-all-but-name church, all working for the common good while retaining their basic sense of self. Discipline, and a simpler life, freed of much of what passed for Form in the 17th century.

Form? the pompous frippery that the Virginia gentlemen would have shown had they had the luxury of not being killed by Indians and disease.

In the end, both the hierarchical, high-church Virginia, and the Protestants of Massachusetts were both essential for the successful creation of the United States some 150 years after the landing at Plymouth. But our national character is best reflected in the Puritan ethic of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Not the class-bound founders of Jamestown.


5.05.2007    |    "filthy Christ killer"
There was a brief report in the Wall Street Journal on a recent conference, topic: "What's He Doing Here?: Jesus in Jewish Culture." What caught my attention were these paragraphs relating to a common misperception about the role of Jesus in anti-Semitism:
"Here you are, you jewish intellectuals, with a small 'j,'" an elderly man stated from the front of the auditorium when he received the microphone. "I want you to know that I am not a cheder boy -- I grew up among Catholics, who called me a filthy Christ killer. I envy you that your generation can be so calm. I live in fear. And I grew up in Montreal, not in Poland. My grandfather was murdered in Jesus' name."

There was a tense pause. When a second hand went up, holding out hope that a new questioner might change the subject, you could almost hear the audience members breathe a sigh of relief. The situation, after all, was awkward -- something akin to a dinner guest loudly noting a chunk of lobster in a kosher whitefish salad. But upon the passing of the microphone, things only took a turn for the worse.

"I'm a New York Jew," a second older gentleman said, "whose entire life has been programmed by stories of my family who died in Europe because of Jesus, hiding in cellars from pogroms at Easter and Christmas. I don't see beauty in [Ezra] Pound, or [Louis-Ferdinand] Celine, or the great anti-Semites of the world. I don't see any great influence that they've had on the good of the world, with their vituperative pronouncements about Jews. I don't get it -- I really don't get it."
I, too, am a New York Jew, and remember having Catholic kids throw rocks and holler "Christ killer" at Jewish kids. Turns out that this is what their Irish priests had told them, in no uncertain terms: the Jews had killed Jesus, and that today's Jews bore the stain.

When I came to know Christ, I then also knew that those priests were not just wrong, but anti-Semites. We all, humanity that is, killed Jesus. It was all of our sins for which he paid the ultimate price. Jesus was a Jew, born a Jew, died the Jewish Messiah. Jesus was not, as some of those Irish priests told their flocks, a Catholic.

As a Christian, I have also come to know this: there is no possibility that a true disciple of Jesus Christ would harm a Jew for being Jewish. We must wish that all, including all Jews, would accept Christ as Lord. We must also never, ever, use force or any other coercion to bring this about.

Those that do, and those that commit violence to innocents in the name of Jesus are damned to Hell. This is something all Christians must know. Must. And if they do not, they have no claim to being Christian until they do.

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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.