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Sunday, December 31, 2017

On the Mount (11)

After questioning the Lord Jesus, the high priest stood up before the Jewish council and asked, “What is your decision?” Mark’s gospel tells us, “they all condemned him to be guilty [enochos] of death.”

That same Greek word, usually translated “guilty” or “liable”, appears four times in the Sermon on the Mount. It is legal terminology. The Sanhedrin had no problem delivering its verdict, but it lacked sufficient clout to carry out its sentence without Rome’s ratification.

In the kingdom of heaven, however, there are no such inconvenient limitations.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Just As I Am

Aubrey Sitterson just lost his job.

Until earlier this month, Sitterson penned the long-running comic book GI Joe, a war series based on Hasbro’s successful toy franchise. The book was canceled after its publisher determined projected sales wouldn’t cover Hasbro’s licensing fees. The series has been bleeding red ink ever since Sitterson began making drastic changes to a number of beloved characters in the name of inclusivity, re-imagining whites as people of color and, if the PJ Media report is correct, even one bulked-up male soldier as an overweight lesbian.

For a property primarily marketed to men and boys, that last one’s an interesting choice, but apparently not one that Hasbro, his publisher or (more importantly) Sitterson’s readers were prepared to support.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Terms of Engagement

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

The Chicago Tribune reports the Trump administration has quietly nixed the use of a number of social justice buzzwords in official documents. The Center for Disease Control and the Departments of Health, Justice, Education and Urban Development have all been advised that the words “vulnerable”, “entitlement”, “diversity”, “transgender”, “fetus”, “evidence-based” and “science-based” are off the table.

Tom: You’re a language guy, IC: Why does the terminology we use around the subject of controversial issues matter so much?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

What You Don’t Know Can Kill You

He was a walking nightmare — tall, balding, all angles-and-bones, a vulture of a man. His beady eyes peered out predaciously over his hawk-like nose, and his battered tweed jacket emanated chalk dust clouds as he strode up and down the aisles. We students cowered in fear, praying he would not ask us the next question. Chances are we couldn’t answer it.

Hey, chances are we couldn’t even understand it, so high over our heads was his vocabulary.

But cowering would not save us. He would pick someone at random. “You,” he would say. “What does ‘ephemeral’ mean?” His respondent would not know. He would repeat the question, stepping closer to the cringing child. No answer.

He would persist: “Don’t you have a dictionary? … Can’t you ask anyone?”

Silence.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Two Swords

Consider this passage in Luke’s gospel for a moment:

“And he said to them, ‘When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘Nothing.’ He said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: “And he was numbered with the transgressors.” For what is written about me has its fulfillment.’ And they said, ‘Look, Lord, here are two swords.’ And he said to them, ‘It is enough.’ ”

Two swords. Hmm. A call for a more militant Christendom, maybe?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

On the Mount (10)

“It was said ...”

So begins our next distinct section of the Sermon on the Mount, and since it’s a lengthy one, I won’t reproduce it here in its entirety but simply link to the relevant “paragraphs” or “subsections” for convenience.

I’m going to need to make a few general comments about this section before diving into its subsections individually, because they have so much in common.

There are six of these, a number which in scripture makes me go “Hmm ...”

Monday, December 25, 2017

What It’s All About

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate some surprising things. In my twenties, I finally “got” Shakespeare. How many people, like me, loathed him at first meeting, usually in high school? I guess there are some things you just have to be old enough to understand. And some people never do.

By my thirties, I suddenly found I had a feel for non-fiction reading. In my forties, I developed a taste for comparative religions and philosophy, then for apologetics. Now, in my fifties, I suddenly discover that some of the music styles of songsters more celebrated by my parents’ generation have started to speak to me with very strange poignancy. Again, I guess sometimes you just have to reach an age.

Lately, I’ve found myself strangely compelled by the work of Burt Bacharach.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Harking the Herald Angels

“So this is Christmas,” sang John Lennon, “and what have you done?”

That Lennon — never one to get a point.

Whatever Christmas means, you can trust me: it’s not about what you’ve done. When you get stock-taking at the end of the year, you can easily get more than a little depressed. How has the year worked out? Did you achieve all the goals you set for yourself? Did you always live up to the mark, always do your best, and always win what you hoped? How’s it all been going?

Merry, merry Christmas indeed!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Forgiven and Forgotten?

A couple of fairly old quotes raise important issues about forgiveness:

“The confession should be real and full, and at once forgiveness and cleansing follow, though not often realised to the full at once. David was forgiven the instant he confessed his sin in the presence of Nathan, but later he wrote the 51st Psalm.”

“David confessed his sin and was straightway forgiven, but the Lord dealt with him governmentally in three ways: ‘the sword would never depart from his house,’ the child would die, and he would receive the same treatment he had meted out to others (2 Sam. 12). So that though sins are forgiven and forgotten in one sense, they are not in another.”

— William Hoste, Bible Problems and Answers (1957)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: The “Divinity” of Christ

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

Our friend Michael Gungor is at it again, doubling down on his statements to the effect that “Genesis is a poem if I’ve ever seen one”.

Which would be fine, as mere opinions go, but now he’s brought Jesus Christ into it:

“Even if he was wrong, even if he did believe that Noah was a historical person, or Adam was a historical person, and ended up being wrong, I don’t understand how that even would deny the divinity of Christ. The point is it wouldn’t freak me out if he was wrong about it, in his human side.”

Tom: Let’s just catch us up here.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Atheist’s New Clothes

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ”

Sometimes the Bible just hits the nail on the head.

You run into a lot of people who pride themselves in being atheists. They rattle on about how they are the only intellectual option … that every scientist is an atheist … that no one who has any sense would be anything else … and so on. Their smugness, their self-satisfaction, their certainty seem so great that the unprepared believer is often blown back on his heels.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Words, Words, Words

Back in 1971 warmed-over sixties folkie Pete Seeger penned this little ditty:

“Words, words, words in my old bible
  How much of truth remains?
  If I only understood them
      while my lips pronounced them
  Would not my life be changed?”

It goes on. Seeger riffs on the Constitution, oral tradition and written history in much the same vein. But his tone is meditative rather than rebellious. He has no new “truth” to declare with his usual hippie bravado. In fact, he seems to wish he could find some of that rare truth in all those “words, words, words”.

Because, yeah … if he understood them, his life would most surely have been different.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Quote of the Day (38)

Moira Greyland on being raised by sexually abusive parents:

“I understand why it feels so hollow to forgive: I have no problem at all with never even getting mad at what they did to me. My response is frozen in time. I cannot even begin to forgive them for what they did to other people, which is why I was able to take action against them when a child was in danger.”

Walter Breen, Greyland’s father, died in a California prison at the age of 64. He was there because of his daughter’s testimony.

Monday, December 18, 2017

One Thing Worse

Sin serves a purpose. In fact, having observed a little of the way God works, I’m guessing it probably serves more than one.

But this at least sin does: it proves God right.

“Against you, you only, have I sinned … so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”

Oh, we can rationalize our desires with the verbal dexterity of a sophist, excuse them with petulance of a six-year old, or romanticize them with the eloquence of a poet, but the places they lead us are inevitably, inexorably and invariably bad.

Just as God has warned.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

On the Mount (9)

The website Judaism 101 lists every one of the 613 Mitzvot, or commandments of the Law traditionally recognized by the rabbis from Genesis through Deuteronomy. If you’re planning on trying to keep them all (an undertaking I don’t recommend), it’s quite a daunting read.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is first baptized by John, then tempted in the wilderness by the devil. On the heels of successfully frustrating Satan, the Lord begins his ministry formally with the declaration “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and follows it with the “good news of the kingdom” preached in the synagogues and streets of Galilean towns and villages and accompanied everywhere by miraculous works that authenticate his message.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Bulwark Never Failing

Around 1052 B.C., King David conquered a Jebusite stronghold in the hills and made it the capital of his kingdom. He repaired and built up the city that has come to be known as Jerusalem, Zion, the City of David and Ariel. His son Solomon enhanced it and made it truly world class, and the later kings of Judah supplemented and strengthened it. It has been attacked by history’s greatest empires, razed repeatedly but always rebuilt, and unlike many ancient cities of the East, it’s still there today.

The Sons of Korah called Zion “the city of our God”.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Picking and Choosing

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

Hmm, this smells like clickbait … or deliberate provocation.

An Amy Julia Becker blog post from early 2015 suggests Christians should scale back our New Year’s Resolutions and quit trying to read the Bible cover to cover.

Tom: Mrs. Becker wonders about the helpfulness of reading the Bible in its entirety and practically brags about not having read Nahum “in ages”. You can almost feel the calculated poke in the eye to Christians committed to getting through the whole Bible annually as she adds, “Perhaps you’ll join me”.

Thanks but no thanks.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Lies, Myths and Misinformation: Christianity Causes Wars

The application of the statement “religion causes wars” to Christianity is actually a double lie.

It’s a lie because its detractors classify Christianity as a “religion” just the same as any other. You be the judge of whether or not that’s fair. But let’s give them that one for the sake of argument.

It’s also a lie because it’s not even accurate to say that the disparate group of things secular people call “religion” causes wars. It’s not just intuitively wrong, it’s statistically absurd.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Semi-Random Musings (4)

Dr. Jordan Peterson likes to say the Bible is “hyperlinked”, by which he means something along these lines: that the earlier writings inform the later ones, and the later writings explain the earlier ones. Despite having been written by numerous different authors, it’s one great connected web of spiritual information.

Without giving away everything IC and I expect to discuss this Friday, we’re taking a similar position on the subject of daily Bible reading: it takes all of God’s word to interpret any given portion of it accurately. Bits and pieces here and there will not get the job done.

Other Christians take a different view.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Lambs in the Midst of Wolves

When the Lord Jesus sent seventy-two disciples ahead of him two-by-two into the Israelite towns he intended to visit, he deliberately made his followers just about as vulnerable as it was possible to be.

“Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.”

So, no spare tunic. No spare anything, for that matter; not even a change of clothes, from the sound of it. No backup sandals when the pair on your feet wore out, which was bound to happen when you consider the distances involved. No moneybag, so you couldn’t even buy your next meal.

Lambs among wolves. Pretty much the go-to metaphor for vulnerability and risk.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Happy Birthday to Us

Hey! For once I didn’t forget.

Way back in 1982 when Bono nicked the words of one of King David’s most familiar psalms for U2’s “40”, he only got as far as the first three verses. He missed out on my favorite:

“You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.”

Anyone who undertakes the task of telling his fellow men and women of the Lord’s wondrous deeds is fighting a losing battle. Human life is way too short, human intellect is staggeringly insufficient, and no earthly language is up to the job.

And don’t even get me started on God’s “thoughts toward us”.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

On the Mount (8)

If the chronologists have it right (and they seem to agree more than they disagree), the Sermon on the Mount was preached less than halfway into the Lord’s ministry, probably during its second year.

God’s kingdom is mentioned eight times in the Sermon’s three chapters. In these studies we have tried so far to ensure we don’t ignore the elephant in the room: the Sermon’s original, primarily Jewish audience.

As a nation, Israel did not take up the Lord’s offer to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

A Homily That Isn’t

I was about to refer to what follows as a homily, but I must correct myself in advance: properly speaking a homily is a commentary that follows a scripture reading. In this instance no scripture has been read or even referenced:

“The Church was not established in this way so that we could put all settings on autopilot, and wait for the Second Coming. As we look at the history of the Church, we see that we must constantly learn, generation after generation, what it means to be Israel.”

In this case there’s a perfectly good reason the word of God has not been called upon: I cannot think of a single verse of scripture that legitimately supports such a statement.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Where the Grass is Greener

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

If there’s a more common inter-generational issue in the Church today, I can’t think of it right now:

“My kids want to go to that church down the road …”

Hoo boy.

Tom: I bet that church down the road has a worship team, Immanuel Can.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Big Questions and the Loss of Faith

A few years ago, this little brain-teaser was making the rounds. Take a run at it, and let’s see how you do:

Three old ladies go to a hotel one evening, hoping to save money by sharing a room. The hotel manager charges each $20 for the night, though he knows the room is only worth $40. Shortly thereafter, the manager feels guilty that he has charged them too much, so he sends the bellboy to return $20 to the old ladies. On the way, the bellboy realizes that he cannot split $20 among three ladies, so he pockets $5 and hands them the remaining $15.

Here is the problem. The ladies paid $60 initially. Since they received $5 each, the net amount they paid for the room was $15 each, which adds up to a total of $45. The bellboy has $5 in his pocket, which if you add it to the $45 makes $50. Where is the other $10 that they paid the manager?

Now, if you’re normal, your instant reaction is, “This is amazing … a hotel room for only $20!”

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

There Is No ‘Plan B’

I have a friend who regularly sends me emails full of ‘Christian’ content, mostly the type of cookie-cutter platitudes and cheesy, sentimental anecdotes popular on social media. One or two have actually been pretty decent. I have no idea where he finds them all.

I assume he sends them my way because he knows I’m a Christian and expects that they’d be of interest to me in the same way that, say, NHL trade rumours interest a hockey fan, or an article on Jeff Tweedy may interest a fan of the band Wilco. It’s a nice gesture on his part.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A Fistful of Jell-O

Too many times, trying to get a handle on complex disagreements within the Body of Christ is like trying to grab a fistful of Jell-O. And not the cubed, wobbly, gelatinous sort either. More like the runny, near-liquid stuff that races away across the tabletop or squirts between your fingers when you finally catch up with it.

Good luck nailing that down.

A long-time reader pointed me to this blog post by Barbara Roberts at A Cry for Justice, which might well represent the quintessential runny Jell-O story.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Testimony and Evidence

It’s not enough to be nice.

No, really, it’s not. If you want to be trusted — if you want to build confidence, and if you want to establish a lasting relationship — you need to first express the truth in words, then you need to embody it. Or the other way round, if you like. But when we want to send a message and have it understood, our testimony and the evidence to back it up must go together. One or the other alone will not cut it.

That first aspect of communication is expressed in scripture this way: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word.”

Right. Verbal expression is critical in building trust.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

On the Mount (7)

While the prophet Daniel revealed the coming of a “kingdom that shall never be destroyed” that was to be “given to the people of the saints of the Most High”, John the Baptist got the job of formally announcing the arrival of the King to his nation.

If all we had to go on was the book of Daniel, we might associate heaven’s kingdom with the power, glory and dominance of the earthly empires that preceded it, and which it would forever eclipse and obliterate: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome.

That idea would not be wrong so much as it would be incomplete.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

An All-Too-Common Problem

Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!”

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way.”

“Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”

Three times in eight verses David reminds his readers not to get worked up over the apparent success of people who make their own way in life by taking moral shortcuts.

If the righteous need this many reminders, fretting must be a very common problem, right?

Right.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: More Than Me

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

This topic is considerably less incendiary than the current Palestinian situation or the question of whether or not churches should be led by one man, but when Squidoo.com posted its list of “ultimate questions” and asked which ones its audience considered most important, this one finished second:

“Why do people insist on looking outside themselves for a reason for their life?”

Tom: Immanuel Can, what do you think about that: is there more than me, and why should I care if there is?