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Sunday, April 30, 2017

The House Jesus Built

Home ownership is a great thing.

If you don’t like the color of your walls, you can repaint any time you have the energy. If your living room is too small, you can tear down the wall that separates it from the dining room and go open concept. If you don’t like the tarmac driveway, you can redo it with cobblestone. After all, it’s yours.

Sure, city ordinances will probably prevent you from doing off-the-wall things like adding a sub-sub-basement or a swimming pool in the kitchen, but the variety of family homes in my neighbourhood is evidence that it’s the owner’s budget and imagination that are the most common limitations on their creativity.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Heft and Substance of Cobweb

The other day I referenced an Andy Stanley quote about the historicity of Adam and Eve. Andy believes Adam and Eve were historical because Jesus believed they were historical — or so he argues.

I agree with Andy that Adam and Eve were real, flesh-and-blood human beings, not mere symbols or allegories. Making the first couple mythical upends a great big nasty can of worms all over the pages of our New Testament. Let’s not do that.

Unfortunately, the way Andy has framed his argument gives it the heft and substance of cobweb.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Rose-Colored Glasses

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

The inimitable Conrad Black sums up a recent conversation with atheist and former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali and reviews her latest book Heretic here.

Hirsi Ali has taken on the unenviable — and probably impossible — task of reforming Islam from the outside.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Silly Question

“Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Especially coming from a prophet of God. Normally I’d take Nathan’s advice to the bank. Had I been in King David’s shoes, I’d have gotten cracking on my temple building project post-haste.

Problem is, the prophet was wrong.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (2)

Here’s Andy Stanley’s version of a very common argument for the historicity of Adam and Eve:

“Jesus talks about Adam and Eve. And it appears to me that he believed they were actually historical figures. And if he believed they were historical, I believe they were historical because anybody that can predict their own death and resurrection and pull it off — I just believe anything they say.”

Andy’s probably referencing either Matthew 19 or Mark 10, but either way he touches on an issue that extends well beyond the Garden of Eden.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Still Ticking Boxes

How many times have you heard that Christians are not under law, we are under grace?

A fair number, I’m guessing. But living by the Spirit rather than by the letter of the law requires more than just ticking boxes. We cannot read instructions in the New Testament in the same way many Israelites read their law; as if, having observed all direct commands, we are now free to behave however we may please.

Life by the Spirit just doesn’t work that way.

Monday, April 24, 2017

John Was Not Surprised

Once in a while the force of an expression gets a little buried in translation. Take this verse, for example:

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

Here are two related statements tied together with the word “so”. First, we are told that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Next, we are told that Jesus deliberately took his time going to see someone he loved who was seriously ill.

The word “so” might seem an odd way to connect these two ideas.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

How Much Does It Have To Hurt?

So ... how much do you need to hurt before God will forgive you?

It’s a good question. I have a friend who holds himself responsible for a tragedy that occurred a few years ago. I’m not even sure he’s actually guilty of the sin he believes he committed: when others make choices so fast you don’t have time to think of how to respond until it’s too late, how much responsibility is yours and how much is theirs?

The Lord knows. I wouldn’t dare guess.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Do You Want to Go Out?

That’s what we used to ask back in the day.

Yeah, I know that was a hundred years ago, before the era of shacking up and then the era of hooking up, and today’s era of everything’s up.

Bear with me: I’m old.

Well, old-er. I’m not giving up my happy delusions of youth just yet. And I’m not so old that I can’t remember what it felt like to ask a girl out. Oh, yes: it was misery … the obligatory lump in the throat and sweaty palms, the tension in the air and the vertiginous moment when she made up her mind … and then … the answer.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Rainbow Unicorns and Cosmic Heat Death

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

I’m hearing this all the time now: Just a couple of days ago, our Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Russia has a chance to get on the “right side of history” and help negotiate a political end to the reign of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad. Former president Obama loved the expression, and Bill Clinton used it more than 20 times in his speeches. Writer Ben Yagoda says the phrase — whether it’s “right side” or “wrong side” — has been in use for over a century.

Tom: I can vaguely understand what a Christian might intend by the use of the expression, Immanuel Can. But what on earth does “the right side of history” mean in a post-religious, thoroughly secular context?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

On Leaving One’s Glasses At Home

Gratefulness is good. It is definitely better to be thankful than not to be thankful. The apostle Paul tells the Christians in Rome that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against men and women who knew God but “did not give thanks to him”.

So sure, absolutely, by all means be grateful. Appreciate what you’ve been given.

But is thankfulness enough?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Front or Back Door?

Churches are always under attack, but some attacks are less obvious than others.

There’s little profit in speculating about the angelic constitution, but I think we can assume with some measure of scriptural warrant that our spiritual enemies don’t get tired out or demoralized the way human beings do. And where we age and die and pass the torch in hope our successors will carry on what we have begun, the “cosmic powers over this present darkness” are able to gnaw away methodically at the work of God over generations.

More erosion than explosion, if you like.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Slipping or Standing

What is it that makes us who we are?

Recently we reposted Immanuel Can’s exploration of what it means to be “authentic”. IC raised a couple of very important questions:

“What does ‘authentic’ mean when you already admit you don’t even know who you are? How on earth do you find such a thing, and what happens when you can’t?”

The search for identity is not a new one. The Woodstock generation called it “finding yourself”. But what IS “me” exactly? Clairol, for instance, tells us their hair dye “lets me be me”, when by its very design it does precisely the opposite: it lets me be the version of me that I used to be before my hair turned grey. I’m not using it to be “me”, I’m using it to pretend I’m not getting older.

That’s not authentic at all, is it?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Quote of the Day (32)

The old me needed to die, that was the bottom line.

There was no hope of improving him through education, no chance that a good example might nudge him in the right direction — in fact, everything around him seemed to be pushing him the wrong way entirely. Nobody could reasonable expect that left to his own devices he might eventually turn out to be a decent bloke after all.

But God had something in mind for that guy.

Didn’t See THAT Coming

Photo: Seth Lemmons
If you have a modern translation of the New Testament, you’ll find John 5:4 appears to have gone AWOL.

The missing text was there in my youth. I remember it vaguely from my first King James. The NASB and some older versions still retain it in square brackets for the three people in the world with worse memories than me. But having collected and compared early versions of that passage from all over the Middle East, modern scholars have concluded the verse-and-a-half was not part of divine revelation, but rather a parenthetical explanation added later on by a helpful scribe, originally tagged with asterisks (yes, they really used those back then).

If so, of course, they are correct in removing or flagging the text, but I have always found it useful in understanding the passage.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Everywhere a Sign

The apostle John has a thing about signs. You might say it’s one of the dominant themes of his gospel.

Every gospel mentions that the Lord Jesus performed signs (or miracles, depending on your translation), but John leaves the rest of them in the dust. In connection with the earthly ministry of the Lord, he references the word on sixteen separate occasions. Compare that to Matthew (three), Mark (one) or Luke (four) and you’ll see what I’m saying.

Unlike the old song, in John, signs don’t block out the scenery. They are the scenery.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Let’s Get Together

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

Recently asked on an Internet philosophy site:

“If God is everywhere, why do Christians have congregations?”

We Christians may think the question a bit clueless, but to someone who doesn’t know the first thing about the Church or about God’s purposes in establishing it, it’s not unreasonable to consider.

Tom: Immanuel Can, the man has a point. God IS everywhere. You and I can call on him anytime from anywhere, and we’re awfully grateful for it. So why exactly do we get together?

Immanuel Can: In a word, relationship.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Whistling Past the Graveyard

For any number of reasons I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.

I don’t suspect I’m overly morbid, nor is dwelling on the reality of death something I particularly enjoy. Nonetheless, the happy decades in which I attended mostly weddings are diminishing into obscurity in the rear-view mirror and ahead of me looms a rather dismal string of unwished-for funerals — with my own being perhaps the crowning conclusion.

What are we to make of this thing called death that awaits us all? How should we think of it? There are two broad strategies most people embrace.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Things You Don’t Know You Know

The question came right out of the blue.

It was entirely ingenuous, I think. There was nothing calculating about the teenage girl who asked it. I don’t think she was looking for a pass on any particular sin; she was just curious how God works.

It was Sunday School, and I was discussing Matthew 5:28 — the part where the Lord says, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I wasn’t trying to be especially relevant or anything, but you know teenagers.

So she says, “But if you’re already guilty before God just from looking, why wouldn’t you just go ahead and act on it then?”

Good question.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Authentic Me

I’m not wading into the moral train wreck that is the Bruce Jenner situation. There are some things about which the less said the better. But I am interested in the language that has come out over and over again in regard to it. I note the recurrence of a theme that bears some serious consideration for a Christian.

It’s the idea of “authenticity”. In the parlance of the world, it’s supposed to explain or excuse a very great deal. It is generally taken for granted that to be “authentic” is an absolute moral duty — in fact, it might be the only universal moral duty that the liberal left actually recognizes. And somehow Jenner has achieved this highest value by his recent act of selecting to go half woman.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Does God Need An Editor?

For a new believer taking his first pass through the Bible, nothing tests one’s faith in the words “all scripture is ... profitable” like the first nine chapters of Chronicles.

Even to scholars, these passages are formidable. If there is anywhere in scripture with more unpronounceable Hebrew names per square inch of text, I have yet to come across it. Try reading just one chapter aloud and you’ll see what I mean. And hey, let’s get real here: exactly how does it help me as a struggling Christian to know that Tarshish and Ahishahar were both sons of Bilhan?

It almost makes one wonder if God’s word might have benefited from a slightly more ruthless editor.

Almost.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Good Wine

Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

The system is a cheat. Not news, I know.

Apart from Christ, people inevitably act in what they perceive to be their own best interests, and never mind the rest of us. The master of the feast at the wedding in Cana was telling the bridegroom the oldest tale in the human storybook.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Yet Another Rigged Election

Does God really prepare some people for destruction and others for glory?

It’s a good question.

Most Christians accept that God is, by definition, able to control all that he creates down to the last detail; it is difficult to read the Bible and come away with any other picture of him. But the question of how and to what extent his sovereignty is exercised within the human heart is what generally divides believers.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (1)

Someone just murdered my favourite verse ...
It’s time for a new semi-regular Coming Untrue series, I think.

Writing four to five blog posts every week for more than three years involves a fair bit of research, as you might imagine. I don’t keep track, but I suspect I average as many as ten hours a week just looking things up, whether it’s Greek or Hebrew in Strong’s, cross-checking other people’s statements of fact, or looking up verses that others have quoted as evidence of this or that. Hey, I’m not complaining; I benefit greatly from the exercise.

But one thing I notice is that way too often Christian writers cite proof texts that have little or nothing to do with what they are alleged to demonstrate.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: The Unfair Advantage of a Loving Family

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

Yes, Leftism is just plain goofy.

Philosophers Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse are deeply concerned about the nuclear family.

What happens, worries Adam Swift, when loving your child makes for an uneven playing field for those without equally devoted parents?

The difference between the solution you or I might propose and the one the political Left proposes is that Adam and Harry would prefer to bring us all down to the lowest common denominator rather than aspire to anything inherently more desirable.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Exit, Stage Left

What makes a church a church?

The presence of Christ among his people? Yes, that’s surely critical. That we meet in his name, according to his will and doing the things that he himself would do if he were here with us? Yes, that is our assurance of his presence. That we follow the pattern of the early believers and commit ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer? Absolutely.

Question: What happens if we stop remembering the Lord in the breaking of bread? Are we still a church any sense that matters to God?

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

I’ll Tell You Later

Not everything is instant ...
We live in the age of instant gratification.

If I want to watch a movie, I can skim Netflix and play one in seconds. It takes me longer to make up my mind than it takes to start playing my selection once I’ve decided. If I want to listen to the Strolling Bones’ hot new CD, I don’t have to rush to the mall (assuming I can find a record store still in business) or wait for Amazon to deliver it to my front door, I can stream it right now or download it from iTunes in seconds. If I want dinner, I can microwave something in five minutes, or, assuming I have unusual patience, have it delivered in forty-five.

Spiritual insight isn’t like that. Not at all. Sometimes God says, “I’ll tell you later.”

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Race Metaphor

Yesterday I talked a little bit about images and figurative language in scripture. I think sometimes we can end up reading more into a Bible metaphor or simile than the Spirit of God ever intended. Or we get caught up in the details of the picture itself and fail to grasp the spiritual reality it is meant to depict.

The writer to the Hebrews talks about running a race:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us …”

Here the writer and his original Hebrew audience (that’s the “we”; the rest of us are simply reading someone else’s mail) are compared to men and women running a race. We do well to ask ourselves two questions. Firstly, what is this “race” that is to be run? Secondly, what are the specific intended points of agreement between running and whatever it is this “race” is intended to typify?

Monday, April 03, 2017

Quote of the Day (31)

It helps to know what we’re looking at.
Figures of speech in the Bible have limits, as most people who are regularly obliged to listen to sermons are well aware.

A word picture is a helpful way to describe a particular aspect of a spiritual reality. Unsurprisingly, we find the word of God to be full of them: images from the parables of the Lord Jesus, the poetic metaphors of the Psalms, the similes of Isaiah or the illustrations of the apostles — lovely, practical stuff sufficiently simple and clear to express profound truths even to our children.

Taken beyond their intended range, however, these figures quickly devolve into goofiness and bad doctrine.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Just Get Up

Sammy came to visit me yesterday.

I shouldn’t call him that, actually. He’s not a kid. He’s close to thirty now, I would guess; he’s done with college, done with establishing a career, and while he’s not yet married (if he ever chooses to be), he’s a highly successful entrepreneur who owns two flourishing businesses.

But when I knew him he was “Sammy”. I coached him in his teens, you see.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Dawn of the Pod People

If you’ve ever watched a science fiction flick, you’ve probably seen people in pods.

Maybe they were traveling to another galaxy in suspended animation. Maybe they were hooked up to a computer matrix, bamboozled into believing in a counterfeit reality. Maybe they jumped into a one-man escape capsule to hide from aliens with freaky extensible jaws. Whatever the story logic, the image of people in personal life support units is near-universal in the sci-fi genre.

And hey, we’re living it.