Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Tick Tick Tick …

In my Bible, Psalm 114 has only sixteen lines, but it makes a powerful point: Where God is personally present, big events inevitably follow.

Now, it’s obvious that in one sense God can be said to be present everywhere. David asks, “Where shall I flee from your presence?” The answer: Don’t bother. You can’t. God is present in the realm of the dead, in heaven and in the uttermost parts of the sea. Holding the universe together requires that sort of presence.

But that’s not the sort of presence I’m talking about.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What’s Across the Finish Line?

Christianity Today’s Todd Billings on people who have “too small a view of heaven”:

“A pastor in my home state of Michigan mentioned to me that many members of his congregation assume that there will be plenty of woods and deer in heaven. So naturally, they fantasize about shooting a 39-point buck in the heavenly woods.”

It’s a thought provoking article, worth a few minutes of time if only to draw attention to the extent of what seems like a massive blind spot in modern evangelicalism.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Practical Doctrine

Ever hear Christians complain that we really need more practical platform ministry — as if they never hear any? Mostly I’ve heard it from people listening to the same speakers I listen to; men (imperfectly but regularly) making the effort to explain how the teachings of Christ and the apostles ought to be worked out in our lives today.

I’ve also regularly heard serious Christians lament “Nobody will put up with sound doctrine anymore” — that, in effect, today’s pew-sitters want nothing but pseudo-spiritual, life-oriented, anecdote-driven blather from the platform instead of accurate and profound teaching.

It’s not outside the realm of possibility that both sides are making a not-entirely-scriptural distinction between doctrine and practice.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

On the Mount (19)

There are all sorts of prayers, and all sorts of people who pray.

Some prayers are emotional; others are cerebral. Some prayers are full of adoring worship; others pour out of deeply burdened hearts on the brink of despair. Some prayers are thankful; others are needy. Some prayers are so poetic you suspect they have been scripted; others are a chaotic mess. (Those would be mine, in case you’re wondering.)

Whatever their content and whatever emotions attach to them, we can divide all prayers broadly into two categories: personal or corporate.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Imprecations and Maledictions

There’s an old eighties dirge about an abused child that starts, “My name is Luka. I live on the second floor …”

In the real world the writer’s name was not Luka, it was Suzanne. She was majoring in English Lit. at Barnard College and performing regularly in Greenwich Village when she penned that hit, and the little boy she wrote about was neither abused nor even named Luka.

So much for verisimilitude.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Sophistry

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

We’ve all seen this story before. Those of us who’ve lived long enough to remember Hal Lindsey have seen it repeatedly: a guy who specializes in the study of prophecy and has been teaching one book of the Bible for thirty years all over the world. His bread and butter (often quite literally) is finding something new to say about the same old subject that is also both current and, ideally, sensational.

Tom: And so, hot on the heels of Hanson Robotics’ press releases about their new “artificial intelligence” creation (and ‘her’ subsequent appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s show), here comes Bible teacher Mark Correll with his latest twist on prophecy: the first beast of Revelation 13 could be … AI.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Trinity Matters

Let’s Be Simple

Here’s a simple thought.

But it will be the least simple of my simple thoughts, by far.

The triune God is not just far superior to any of the polytheists’ gods, but also to any monolithic type of god. It is better that we serve one God in three Persons than that we claim God is a big singularity.

Really?

At first glance, you might not think so. You might think it’s easier and better to have to explain a God that’s just a big ‘One’ than to have to unravel what it means to say God is triune. You might think, for example, that Muslims and monotheist Jews and even Hindus have an easier job talking about God than Christians do.

Moreover, many Christians have a very difficult time explaining what one-in-three really means, in application to God.

Check that: every Christian does.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Details, Details …

Hebrews says that God spoke by the prophets (and presumably to the prophets) “at many times and in many ways”. Among these methods were visions, dreams and riddles.

The apostle Peter had one such experience on the housetop of Simon the tanner while waiting for a bite to eat and praying. Luke says, “He fell into a trance.” Peter heard a voice uttering actual words (as opposed to merely receiving an impression) and saw an accompanying vision, but the end result was perplexity, not sudden clarity.

Peter had indeed witnessed something spiritually meaningful, but had yet to find the appropriate context in which to apply the instruction he had received.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What’s Our Excuse?

We’re getting away from it now, in the kangaroo courts of Human Rights Tribunals and college campus inquisitions, but due process used to be a thing.

Built into the Law of Moses were several important procedural provisions designed to ensure that justice was done, including the oft-quoted “On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.” First century Jews applied this principle across the board. It was the essence of fairness.

Yet we have it on the authority of several gospel writers that in the case of the Lord Jesus, the rulebook went out the window, as it did at Stephen’s trial and in Jewish attempts to get their hands on the apostle Paul.

In first century Judea, the kangaroos were out in force.

Monday, February 19, 2018

A Motion of No Confidence

The origins of the circumcision ritual are deeply buried in human history. The act has come to be associated primarily with Judaism, but there is plenty of evidence it did not begin there.

Infogalactic says, “Circumcision is the world’s oldest planned surgical procedure.” The earliest historical record of the ritual dates from about 2400 B.C. in Egypt, several hundred years before God introduced Abram to it.

The importance of the Genesis account lies not in it being some kind of “first” in human history — it almost surely wasn’t — but rather in the establishment of God’s covenant with Abram and his seed; a covenant of which circumcision is merely a token or symbol.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

On the Mount (18)

Back in 2013, Republican congressman Jeff Duncan toured a Department of Homeland Security training facility in Maryland and observed eight or nine IRS agents engaged in target practice with semi-automatic Colt rifles. It later occurred to him to ask, “Why do IRS law enforcement agents need standoff capability that you would have with a long rifle or with a weapon similar to an AR-15?”

Good question, but it goes to the basic nature of taxation.

Taxation is not “giving”.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

All That Remains

Ear wax is a good thing.

(No, Microsoft Word’s autocorrect function is not playing havoc with my posts again; this is precisely how I intended to start this one, though I quite understand if you’re confused.)

Ear wax really is a good thing. We are unbelievably well designed, and everything that happens naturally in our bodies is in service of one purpose or another. Cerumen, as it is more formally known, is about 50% fat and serves to moisten the ear canal, fight off infection and help keep dust, dirt and debris from getting deep inside your ear.

Mind you, it IS possible too have too much of a good thing.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Virtual Christianity

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

James Smith’s Los Angeles Review of Books has a piece up called “How to Find God (on YouTube)” about a gang of “apostles” and “prophets” we discussed in this space last year.

Tom: You may remember our conversation about Independent Network Christianity (or INC), the post-Pentecostal charismatic internet church movement from California. (By “post-Pentecostal”, I mean that they are signs-and-wonders focused, as you might expect, but have no connection to denominational Pentecostals like the Assemblies of God. They are total freelancers.)

How do you feel about autonomous “Christian” movements, IC? Are they suspicious by definition?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

What Are We Waiting For?

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” Thoreau famously wrote.

I hate to say it, but a great number of modern Christians could be described in just that way. Their lives are quietly unhappy — unhappy to the point of deep frustration, and even depression. Having been told that the Christian life should be abundant, joyful, meaningful and characterized by freedom, they find themselves living in a way that is dull, tired, seemingly pointless and characterized by a bunch of “have to’s” — when they stop to characterize it at all.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Of Judges and Secret Kings

Not every popular song is about you or me.

For every My Funny Valentine, in which almost every listener pictures someone who makes me “smile with my heart”, instantly identifying with the songwriter in his slightly maudlin rhapsodizing, there’s a “Galileo Figaro magnifico!”

Say what? What does that even mean? But Bohemian Rhapsody was hugely popular and remains a rock classic, though nobody who’s ever heard it has the slightest idea what it’s about.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (8)

It’s That Man Again was the most successful British radio comedy of the WWII era. One of its more famous sketches featured a pair of handymen named Claude and Cecil who were so excessively deferential they never managed to get anything done. Cecil would say, “After you, Claude,” and Claude would reply, “After you, Cecil,” and that would pretty much be the end of that.

The writer of the Daily Reflection at The High Calling is having his own “Claude and Cecil” moment.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Semi-Random Musings (5)

Last week’s Too Hot to Handle discussion with IC on the subject of collective identity opened a bulging can of worms, and we could hardly avoid leaving a few of those slimy stragglers wriggling around in the bottom of the rowboat.

One such not-entirely-explored issue is the importance of caring for immediate and extended family, a responsibility that in the New Testament is committed to both Christian men and women.

It’s also a responsibility Western governments have in the not-too-distant past assumed on our behalf — not entirely, but extensively.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

On the Mount (17)

It takes courage to stand up and pray in public if you’re shy by nature, but not that much courage; maybe only a little more than it takes to spill your guts on Facebook or Twitter. Judging by the number of people doing that, it must feel pretty good. And of course if you’re the type of person who loves to be the centre of attention, it doesn’t take any courage at all to pray in public. It’s like swimming to a duck.

It certainly doesn’t require faith.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Price of Proximity

God is holy.

Not a new thought, I know, but one that, in the opinion of the Holy Spirit, merits mention three times in the nine verses of Psalm 99: “Holy is he! Holy is he! The Lord our God is holy!”

Amen. In fact, he’s so holy that in the Old Testament, those closest to God tended to pay a price for their proximity.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Collect Yourself

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

Tom: How much Jordan Peterson have you been watching lately, IC?

Immanuel Can: A fair bit, actually. The guy’s an interesting cat.

Tom: Good. I was afraid I’d have to come up with something original. :) Have you seen him express his thoughts on identity politics?

IC: Yes. It seems to me he’s very strong on the view that one should sort oneself and one’s own life and relationships out first, before getting involved in any sort of collective. So he’s saying to our generation of young people, Don’t focus on complaining about how unfair the world is, or on mobilizing others to do likewise, unless you’re also prepared to address the obvious areas of need for improvement in your own life. Makes sense.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

All By My Self

Back in the 1970s, the cool (or possibly groovy or far out) thing to do was to drop out of the system, tune in to drugs, and get with “the scene”. Whether it was to a flophouse in Soho or a park bench in Paris, young people went wandering.

When their bewildered parents pressed them for the logic of this sort of wild fit of lifestyle experimentation, the stock answer from the younger generation was this: “Sorry, Mom … Dad … I’ve got to find myself”.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

A Better Job

Paul had Timothy circumcised. He didn’t require the same of Titus, and makes a point of saying so. Then he went and told the Galatians, “If you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.”

Three apparently similar situations. Three completely different responses: You SHOULD, You don’t NEED to and You absolutely must NOT under any circumstances. Yet Paul had not made some sudden grand discovery about the circumcision question right in the middle of his life and ministry. And he certainly was neither inconsistent nor hypocritical.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Seems Good to Me

Elders haven’t got the easiest job in the world.

The average local church requires answers to a hundred different questions in the course of a year. Some are of an obvious and urgent spiritual nature. Others appear innocuous and procedural, though even these may be chock-a-block with hidden spiritual landmines.

Sure, deacons handle many of the day-to-day administrative details in gatherings where New Testament principles of operation are given priority, but that still leaves an awful lot of territory to be talked over, prayed through and hashed out between busy men just trying to do the best possible job of shepherding the people of God, often while caring for their own families and leading busy lives.

The most careful, prayerful, diligent and confident leader must still occasionally ask himself “Are we getting this right?” Or if he doesn’t, he should.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Remember to Quote the Whole Thing

Christians in the habit of proof-texting should consider examining the context of their favorite “gotcha” verses once in a while. It’s a healthy exercise, useful in maintaining doctrinal balance.

Determinists, for instance, would benefit immensely from making context-scrutiny a daily practice. Most of the great passages they like to cite on the subject of God’s sovereignty have overtures to human responsibility at their core.

Let me grab a couple of favorites from The Calvinist Corner, because nobody can make the point better.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

On the Mount (16)

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord,” says the book of Leviticus. Those last four words are not unrelated, as we will shortly see.

In Leviticus, the neighbor in question is indisputably a fellow Israelite, a blood relative: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” With the parable of the Good Samaritan, the definition of “neighbor” would shortly extend itself to moral geography a Jewish legalist might not strictly consider his own stomping grounds, but that’s another story. It isn’t part of the Sermon on the Mount.

We could import it, of course, but Jesus didn’t.

The Good Samaritan is Luke’s tale to tell. Matthew, who is all about the Lord’s Jewish audience, doesn’t touch it.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Forests and Trees

When I pick up a Bible and try to understand a particular verse or passage, I am at a slight disadvantage compared to the writer’s original audience.

“Slight?” you might well ask, taking out your logical 2x4 and preparing to give me a smart tap on the frontal lobe, hopefully in the interest of bringing me to my senses.

“How can you possibly call the disadvantage of living thousands of years after the original writer slight? Sure, you can read the words that the author penned, assuming there has been no significant textual corruption along the way, but you have no idea what was in the author’s mind. You’re not a Hebrew, and you didn’t live in his day. You don’t know the cultural baggage with which his language was freighted. You didn’t have his experiences. You don’t know Greek idioms or how they came about.

“Chances are quite high that you are coming to the text with all kinds of modern assumptions that influence how you read things.”

Friday, February 02, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: #MeNOT

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

Have you heard of the “Pence Rule”? The term comes from a 2002 interview of current American Vice-President Mike Pence in which he confirmed that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.

Tom: This idea didn’t originate with VP Pence. It has Christian roots. Way back in 1948, Billy Graham and team members George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows and Grady Wilson agreed to something called the “Modesto Manifesto”, which obligated each man on the Graham team to never be alone with a woman other than his wife.

Naturally, today’s media find the Pence Rule scandalous.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

I Am the One

“I am the one you warned me of
  I am the one who’d never, never lie.”
— Blue Oyster Cult, 1988

Not my favourite band, for sure — but I do admire their theology.

At least in this instance.

So often we begin by thinking that evil, if it exists at all, is a thing “out there”. It’s in the world somewhere, not inside me. Me, I’m pretty good. Not perfect, maybe. But not so bad that God can’t overlook the difference (that is, if he’s really loving) and accept me as spot-on.

Then we live for a bit.