Monday, November 18, 2019

Anonymous Asks (67)

“Are intrusive thoughts sin?”

Intrusive thoughts can be distracting, distressing and very, very hard to get rid of. They keep us from focusing on things we know are more important, and things we really need to deal with. They raise issues we are eager to put to bed. They make us question whether we have truly forgiven others, and whether we even have full control of our own faculties.

Intrusive thoughts are certainly a pain. But are they sinful? Good question.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

You Could’ve Just Asked

Some people approach God as if he is mechanical rather than personal; as if checking all the right religious boxes will get you what you want out of him, after which you can happily go on your way until the next time you need something.

It’s not specifically a Catholic thing, an Orthodox thing, or a Protestant thing, but it’s definitely a thing. The tendency to view God as a stimulus-response Being on a cosmic scale can infect even the most theoretically-liberated evangelical heart.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Time and Chance (10)

What does it mean that God has “put eternity into man’s heart”? The statement is baffling and comprehensible in near-equal parts.

It is impossible to imagine mere human beings are capable of any substantive grasp of the transcendent or even the nature of our own being. That’s the baffling part. We are not fully equipped to understand ourselves, let alone anything more significant. We are more animals than angels: tiny, exceedingly finite beings concerned primarily with matters of comparative trivia.

The comprehensible part is that on some undefined level we all understand that the Preacher’s statement is true. We know it because we feel it.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Nonsense That Remains Nonsense

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

Tom: C.S. Lewis has a line I love. He says, “Nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.” It applies nicely to lots of things.

I felt a little like that reading the Moody Publishers piece you sent me this week, Immanuel Can. The author of “Worship Leaders: We Are Not Rock Stars”, Stephen Miller, has written a short promotional piece entitled “Worship Leaders are Theologians”, in which he uses one extra-scriptural term to define another. My head is spinning trying to sort out all the modern church-speak.

How far away are we getting from the New Testament here, IC?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Force Farce

Last week we were talking about the charge made by so many non-Christians today that we are guilty of forcing our views on them.

At first blush, the charge seemed ridiculous. After all, Christians represent absolutely no threat of physical or political violence: even to imagine that is just paranoid, and completely misunderstands the fundamental necessity of faith. Moreover, Christians may sometimes choose to absent themselves from participating in or approving of worldly values, activities or lifestyles because of conscience, but that represents no threat of force: it’s simply a matter of personal conscience — the very thing that world is at pains to affirm.

So where does the charge of “force” come from?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Order in Disorder

The book of Judges records some of the most distasteful tales in all of scripture, and does so unflinchingly and without a great deal of unnecessary editorializing. There is much we can learn about human nature from the first few hundred years of Israel’s possession of the land God had promised to Abraham, almost all of it predictably bad. Few would dispute that the book ends on the lowest of low notes, with the oft-repeated declaration that “In those days there was no king in Israel” and the rare editorial conclusion, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

As we might expect, everyone’s “right” turned out to be spectacularly wrong.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Point of the Exercise

It is God who confers authority, but he doesn’t do it for its own sake.

Sure, a position of authority often comes with side helpings: popularity, riches, dignity, power, a (usually temporary) legacy ... and (in Old Testament times at least) a bunch of wives. But these are baubles. They are not the point of the exercise. Other things come with authority too: abuse, rebellion, heckling and a horrible, frequently harrowing level of responsibility — but let’s not get into those.

My point is that it is always and only the WORK that matters to God, not the status or other benefits that authority confers.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Anonymous Asks (66)

“Did Jesus have brothers and sisters?”

I’m going to answer this as if it reads “earthly brothers and sisters”. In other words, literal siblings, children from the womb of the same mother. We all know of situations in which the words “brothers” and “sisters” are used figuratively in everyday language, particularly in a religious context. In this case we will not bother talking at length about New Testament figurative uses of “brother” or “sister”, as the answer is obvious enough to make this a very short post indeed.

So let’s get the metaphorical usage out of the way quickly.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Semi-Random Musings (16)

How many significant lessons have you absorbed from the history of neighboring provinces or states back in the 1640s, and how often do you reference them when making important decisions today? My guess would be not too many, and not very often.

At the Red Sea, shortly after the final vanquishing of the Egyptian army, Moses and the people of Israel sang these words to the Lord: “The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.” Perhaps at the time that was more anticipatory than precisely accurate: Philistia was all the way across the Sinai Peninsula. It seems unlikely the news of Pharaoh’s stunning defeat could have traveled so far so fast.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Time and Chance (9)

The first eight verses of Ecclesiastes 3 are among the most famous in all of scripture. Go ahead, name another #1 U.S. single with 3,000 year old lyrics. Even today, I find myself singing them in my head rather than merely reciting them. They so obviously reflect reality that one wonders they even need to be stated, but such is the nature of poetry. If we did not use these words, we would need others instead.

Still, there are probably one or two dusty old hippies around who might be shocked to learn Pete Seeger was not their author.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Diluting the Faith

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

Salvation Army founder William Booth once said, “I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be: Religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, politics without God, and Heaven without Hell.”

Author Daniel Sweet believes American Christianity is already there. One of the problems Sweet identifies is the dilution of the faith almost exactly the way Booth described.

Tom: What do you think, IC? Any of Booth’s formulations ring true to you? I’d argue politics was always without God, but other than that …

Thursday, November 07, 2019

A Disturbance in the Force

“Stop forcing your beliefs on me!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that cry when debating with unbelievers. In fact, I’ve heard it so much that I’ve begun to think there might be something behind it. After all, when many kinds of people from many kinds of backgrounds and situations seem to be arriving at the same kind of sentiment, there must be some cause for it, right?

But for a long time I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what it is. The problem is the wording: “You’re forcing …”

Am I? Really? How is that?

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

His Own Place

“Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

I have often wondered what the apostles meant by saying that Judas went to “his own place”.

I’m not the only one. For example, I’ve heard at least one Bible teacher say from the platform that the apostles (or perhaps Luke, the writer of Acts, in summing up their prayer in his own words) were sort of hedging their bets; discreetly avoiding passing judgment on Judas’ fate since they could not be 100% sure what had really happened to him. In this — or at least so it is alleged — they are modeling for us Christian virtue.

I find that explanation weak tea.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

They Did Not Know

“Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.”

“Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”

The first of these two editorial comments from the writer of 1 Samuel sheds a little light on an otherwise inexplicable feature of Christendom: that a non-trivial number of people who make their living from full-time religious service are vile human beings. They care only for themselves, and in catering to their own desires do great evil to their fellow men and women, even casting doubt on the reality of Christ and the salvation he offers.