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Friday, March 31, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: How Do You Read It? (3)

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

God, cash & prizes: a winning combo! Or not.
How Do You Read It? is kind of a series within a series, in which Immanuel Can and I discuss common misinterpretations of some very familiar verses. The first two installments can be found here and here.

Tom: IC, it’s been a year since we did one of these. Have you got one for me?

Immanuel Can: What about “Whatever you ask in my name …”?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Under Collective Judgment

I am not my dad. I don’t make quite the same mistakes. I make different mistakes. Likewise, I don’t do many things half as well or half as spiritually as my father does. We’re very different in many ways.

I’m definitely not my dad’s father. I never knew him. Many of his ways seem foreign to me. He lived in another era, one characterized by different assumptions and habits.

And my great-grandfather? You gotta be kidding.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Horse Plunging Headlong

I’ve been listening to unhappy people this week: people that have sinned, have hurt others and have hurt themselves.

It’s refreshing when someone gets it; when they realize that their own choices and desires took them places they do not want to be, and that these patterns need to be changed. It’s a good thing to see correctly the relationship between cause and effect, between actions and consequences.

But it’s even better when it dawns that our most significant sins are the inevitable consequence of refusing to take the Lord at his word.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

False Unities and Lines of Division

As Christians living in a day in which we have every possible advantage in understanding what God has revealed of himself to mankind down through the centuries, the importance of having our hearts and heads thoroughly marinated in the word of God cannot be overstated.

There is no area of human investigation that matters more. None.

But in a fallen world, the word of God divides. The more we read it and follow it, the more we will find ourselves separated from those who don’t.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Inbox: The ‘Stealth Pastor’

After reading our recent post on “The Role of a Senior Pastor”, David B. asks a perfectly legitimate question:

“From the ‘brethren assemblies’ perspective, what is your opinion on the ‘full time worker’?”

From any perspective, denominational or otherwise, there’s a point well worth considering here, and that is that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Things are what they are at their core, not merely what you label them. A garbage dump smells like a garbage dump even if you call it a Post-Consumer Product Management Initiative.

Sometimes your nose tells you what your eyes may not.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Recommend-a-blog (22)

The Tel Gezer calendar
(Attribution)
If it seems like I haven’t done one of these in ages, it’s because I haven’t. Too much time invested in surveying the political landscape, clearly.

Bible Chronology Studies is a refreshing change from that sort of thing, though not necessarily in an area of study all believers will embrace with enthusiasm. Some of us are deeply interested in what’s “under the hood” of our Christian faith; others are just happy to turn the key and take it up to the (legal) limit.

The website is the work of what I estimate must be thousands upon thousands of hours of independent study by a thus-far-anonymous Christian writer (not that there’s anything wrong with that) apparently obsessed with getting it right.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Living Under the Blade

Damocles, R. Westall, 1812
The ancient writer Cicero has an anecdote about a man named Damocles, a boot-licking courtier to the ancient despot, Dionysius II. Damocles foolishly thought he’d like to see what it was really like to be a king, and so the king granted his wish.

Damocles quickly settled himself into Dionysius’ luxurious couch and began to enjoy the pleasures of rule — being fanned, having serving maids feed him, issuing commands, and so on. But in order to make the experience truly authentic, Dionysius gave one further order: that above Damocles’ head a shining sword would be suspended by a single horse-hair, so that he might be ever conscious that at any moment it might fall and carve the presumptuous pseudo-king in half.

Of course, Damocles soon begged the king to be allowed to return to his former position.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Not Quite What They Expected

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

The Atlantic bemoans the failure of secularism to ease cultural conflict in America.

Between 1992 and 2014, the percentage of Americans who reject religious affiliation soared from six to twenty-two — 35% for millennials. And yet partisan clashes today are more brutal than at any time since Vietnam war protests and racial tensions of the late sixties, and the sense of “us” vs. “them” in America is only increasing.

Tom: Is this what happens when we seek peace without the Prince of Peace, Immanuel Can?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Of Trees and Floods

“Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, ‘The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.’ For he thought, ‘Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?’ ”

I have no clue what you’re thinking about right now. Not a one. That’s normal, I think.

Despite this, when we read novels and the writer tells us precisely what is on the mind of the protagonist, we barely notice how bizarre that is. After all, it is the author’s story and it is his prerogative to drive its narrative or provide insight into its characters via whatever literary technique he chooses.

Not in the real world. If a news reporter presumes to inform us what President Trump really intends when he thumbs his latest tweet into his iPhone for the nation, we rightly think she is overstepping her role just a bit. How could she possibly know for sure?

Bible history is a little different.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

That’s MY Mail You’re Reading

I came across a very cool website.

RationalWiki is basically a repository of unbelief designed to show people how and where the Bible is (in their view) untrue. Somebody has gone to a lot of effort to attempt to debunk scripture and compile evidence of its alleged irrationality.

Possibly the coolest section of all is the page on ‘failed’ prophecy, which begins this way:

“Some Christians claim that fulfilled prophecies prove the Bible’s inerrancy … mainstream Christians will actually claim that, for example, the Gospels are historical evidence of Isaiah being accurate prophecy (rather than works written with a copy of Isaiah to hand to claim fulfilment of prophecy), therefore the Bible is accurate and Jesus is Lord.”

You know, I think they’re probably correct about Christians claiming such things, though they don’t provide specific examples. But they have a bigger problem: they’re reading my mail. Small wonder they’re a bit confused.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Message You’re Sending

“There’s always someone looking at you.”

The line was penned by Sir Bob Geldof way back in 1979, long before personal computers with memories that the average person cannot easily erase, long before the Internet, before the NSA was on your hard drive and tracking your every movement through your cell phone, before your TV started watching you while you watch it, and before the unblinking eye in the sky that is Google Maps. It seems more than a little prescient, but Geldof had become (briefly) famous, and the world was paying more attention than he would have liked.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Always Ready?

The faithful are always to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us why we hope in God. The apostle Peter says this is especially true when we are being attacked for our beliefs.

But some questions are not really questions. They are not sincere inquiries. They are rhetoric, intended to demoralize and destroy belief.

I point this out because it’s easy not to notice. For the enthusiastic or pedantic among us, everything is a witnessing opportunity ... even when it isn’t.

But sometimes it’s better to be silent and let God speak.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

More Calf Exercises

Is it my imagination, or do those
tags in your ears say, “Liar, liar”?
It was 722 BC, and God had taken Israel off the board.

As a political entity, the northern kingdom would no longer be active in accomplishing the purposes of Heaven. God continued his work, of course, in the lives of individual Israelites and their families dispersed throughout Assyria’s empire.

The writer of 2 Kings gives the nation this eulogy: “They went after false idols and became false.”

But this is how it goes: when you order your world on the basis of a lie, you further the lie and become a liar yourself. And liars are not much use as anything but cautionary tales.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Faith’s Got Legs

It’s been a good winter for walking.

There’s hardly been any ice on the sidewalks, for one thing. For another, you could go out in February and march about in a thin jacket.

My little terrier has been ecstatic, actually. He loves a good walk. Dogs need a couple every day; and unlike in other winters, there have been plenty of smells around for him to get into. He stops everywhere, and he finds everything delightful. My dog trainer would never approve, but I can’t resist indulging him a little bit, and so our peregrinations contain frequent pauses to let him sniff about. Sometimes I actually think we walk his nose more than we walk my legs. But who could begrudge him a winter like this?

Friday, March 17, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: The Role of a Senior Pastor

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

A website with plenty of other, more helpful posts also contains this gem:

Question: What does the Bible say about the role of a senior pastor?

Tom: Oh, you’re going to make ME pull the pin on this one? Fine, fine.

The question is phrased this way: “What does the Bible say?”, which might lead one to naively conclude that the answer will have something to do with the teaching of the Bible. Which it sort of does ... until you read the first sentence.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Acts of Faith That Aren’t

Some things in my life that might look like faith to the uninitiated are really just me being me.

I’m not alone in this. Like many other Old Testament saints, Jacob’s faith rates a mention in Hebrews 11. But it’s interesting to see the act of faith for which he is commended, and to consider the many acts for which he is not.

It would, of course, be foolish to think the Hebrews list of acts of faith is exhaustive: the writer concludes with the words “time would fail me to tell”, which statement strongly implies numerous acts of faith left unmentioned among which may well be a number of Jacob’s.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Statsman Cometh

I am an obsessive statistician, a very slightly annoying quality for which I would apologize if anyone who knows me at all would take such an apology seriously.

Okay, I am an unrepentantly obsessive stats nut. I love numbers, and I love what they tell us about people and about life. If we know each other well, you may think you are keeping to your diet, but I probably have a better idea than you do whether you’re kidding yourself about your eating habits. Likewise, you may think you are characteristically timely for your appointments, but I can tell you precisely how often you aren’t.

Some people are more fun to know via the Internet than to put up with in real time.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Day Without Me

If you missed “A Day Without a Woman” last week, don’t feel bad: I didn’t notice it either until I read about it online. Women were encouraged to take the day off and not to spend money to show their economic strength and impact on American society. Most did not.

Perhaps our U.S. readers will tell us if they felt the impact of some sort of message being sent.

Cassady Findlay, spokeswoman for the protest, says, “We provide all this value and keep the system going, and receive unequal benefits from it.”

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Commentariat Speaks (9)

Most of the time someone else chooses
what ends up on these.
We’d like to think we have a say in how we’ll be remembered, but it ain’t up to us.

Twenty years ago, Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve was a semi-controversial but methodologically orthodox exploration of the links between intelligence, class and race. In addition to providing hard data, Murray and his co-writer made public policy suggestions intended to mitigate socioeconomic differences in IQ, birth rate, crime, fertility, welfare, and poverty.

The book sold well enough, but failed to genuflect to the progressive racial narrative, and Murray was roundly taken to task for it.

Old news, right? Not so much. Last week, Murray and a professor who had invited him to speak at Middlebury College were attacked by rioting Leftists on campus.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Wrong Way Round

In a previous post I pointed out that Christ’s disciples, unlike many modernists, were seekers after objective truth.

But the process of discovering that truth was anything but easy or natural. The disciples made some pretty entertaining mistakes.

Not that I would’ve done any better, I assure you. But they had an uncanny knack for getting things the wrong way round.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Needs of the Many

I suppose my subject may require at least a rough definition, but sometimes there’s only one word for a particular job. So the word of the day is solipsism.

The solipsist is not a narcissist; that’s a pathology. The solipsist is not merely selfish; that’s childish and natural in a fallen world, and even unbelievers may learn unselfishness as they age and experience life. Solipsism is actually a philosophical theory that the self is all that may be known to exist, but I’m not here talking about mere philosophies or theories. Practical solipsism is a phenomenon in which adults — particularly Western adults, I think — automatically and reflexively view every issue before them first and foremost from the angle of how it affects them.

It’s kinda like empathy ... except it isn’t. Empathy feels your pain. Solipsism feels its own imaginary pain that has been triggered by yours.

And solipsism is absolutely epidemic in our culture.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Lies Lies Lies, Yeah

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Once in a while everyone, no matter how trusting, comes across a news story that just doesn’t smell right.

Now, thanks to U.S. declassification protocols, we know that Fake News has been a real phenomenon since prior to 1975. President Trump is not huffing and puffing on Twitter over nothing. In fact, we now know the CIA is primarily to blame. The biggest names in media have a lengthy track record of publishing false stories actually written for them by the CIA: The New York Times, LA Times, Fortune, Newsweek and even the venerable Saturday Evening Post. Other news services would then pick up these stories from sources they believed were trustworthy, and the disinformation game was afoot.

Tom: Was it the Boomtown Rats who sang “Don’t Believe What You Read”, Immanuel Can?

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Too Clever For Our Own Good

“And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?”

There is tremendous irony in Paul’s statement here that he is “accused by Jews” over his belief in resurrection.

Jews, who claimed the Law of Moses as their inheritance and the prophets as their own. Jews, who claimed there was one God and that he belonged to them exclusively. Jews, who claimed to believe in YHWH but many of whom balked at the concept of resurrection. To be accused by Greeks, Romans, Syrians or Asians, sure: their gods were not like YHWH, much less powerful and more human in their interpersonal dynamics.

But accused by Jews for hoping in resurrection? There’s cognitive dissonance for you!

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

A Change Is Gonna Come

Umm ... not effective?
So sang Sam Cooke.

I guess he’d know. He was writing his soulful anthems back in the ’50s and early ’60s in places like Mississippi and Chicago — not the easiest places for a young person of his particular shade of skin to be. But things were changing then, and in retrospect, those who didn’t know they were changing and who thought they could keep things the way they were forever were just spitting into the wind.

Yes, change is gonna come. And you can’t change that. You’ve just got to be ready and react smartly when it does.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Change Is Gonna Do Us Good

Where is Kodak these days? Remember that company? It used to have its name on most of the cameras and film that you saw around. Kodak was an empire, an institution. Now where is it?

And how about Blockbuster Video? Seen any of those stores around lately? They used to be on every corner.

Laura Ashley clothing? Napster music service?

Monday, March 06, 2017

To Jezreel By Chariot

Jehu-style leadership is not always a bad thing.

Both Jehu and David were anointed king of Israel at God’s command. David chose to serve King Saul faithfully until forced to flee for his life, then served God and country as he was able while on the run until Saul met his end in battle. It took approximately 32 years to establish David’s kingdom.

Jehu, on the other hand, sniffed the political winds, discovered his fellow commanders all had his back, then promptly drove his chariot to Jezreel at speed and killed not just the king of Israel and his entire family, his friends, his priests and his inner circle, but the visiting king of Judah to boot. His kingdom was established in a matter of hours.

The similarities end with the anointing oil.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Word, Uncontained

“It’s got to be in here somewhere ...”
This YouTuber, blasting away in ALL CAPS, wants us to know that “THE BIBLE CANNOT BE THE WORD OF GOD.”

Oh, he calls himself a Christian, make no mistake. But he insists the Bible is “the words of men that have recorded some words of God sometimes”. So much so that the caps come out again:

“Our focus and our trust must be in Jesus, WE MUST BE LED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD.”

Being led by the Holy Spirit with our focus on and trust in Jesus seems a pretty good deal to me. It’s his understanding of what that means that’s the problem.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Antiquated Ways of Thinking

I might fall over laughing if it weren’t so sad.

If feminists want to minimize their own joy in life, that’s one thing. God bless ’em and have at it. But it’s another thing entirely when they set out to trash the culture so comprehensively that nobody else enjoys their lives either.

If you are driving into Winston-Salem from Kernersville, about 85 miles northeast of Charlotte, N.C., expect to encounter a billboard that reads, “Real men provide. Real women appreciate it.

Better drive fast though: last Sunday at 11:00 a.m., the owner of a Winston-Salem women’s boutique called Kleur organized a demonstration against the billboard’s message and its “antiquated way of thinking”.

If that’s their metric, I’m an antique and proud of it.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Just Another Bump in the Roe

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Next! Move ’em on through!
Norma Leah McCorvey died February 18, and unless you happened across this article in The Economist or something like it in one of the few other well-known publications that referenced her passing, you might not have the slightest idea that Norma was the “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade, probably the most significant U.S. Supreme Court ruling of the last century.

Tom: You also might not know that by the time the Supremes actually ruled on her case, the baby Norma McCorvey went to court to get the State’s permission to murder in her own womb was 2-1/2 years old and had been adopted. That’s the legal system for you.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Divine Veto

Lately I’ve been wondering how much latitude God gives his servants in choosing how they go about doing his work. If you read either Testament carefully, it seems like it could be an awful lot.

Now, bear in mind that from John Calvin’s perspective, it is really God doing everything that is done in the universe. I don’t think he ever used the word “pawn” (which might have been the most honest way to describe how he thought God treats his creatures), but in effect he taught that sentient beings, good or bad, cannot really act contrary to the will of God. God’s determinate counsel initiates and controls every transaction in the universe — “all events whatsoever”, as Calvin put it.

I’m not operating on that wavelength at all, so disciples of Mr. Calvin may want to take a pass on the following musings.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

A Non-Binary Proposition

God took a nation for himself from all the peoples of the earth. If you’re Israel, that’s what you might call a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, there was lots of good stuff that came with being uniquely God’s. As Paul puts it to the Romans, “to [Israelites] belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises”, and he goes on to mention the patriarchs and Messiah. Being a Jew was a tremendous privilege.

On the other hand, as another Jew once put it, “With great power there must also come — great responsibility.”