Sunday, January 26, 2020

Breaking Your Own Compass

By the oddest of coincidences, the standard of the
Nineveh Protection Units looks like ... a compass.
“I did it my way.”
— Paul Anka

“I’ve got my own way. I can find my own way.”
— Duran Duran

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
— Judges 21:25

Ah, the conscience.

The Function of Conscience

On one hand, each individual’s conscience must be the final arbiter of his or her choices; a moral compass. While there is plenty of direction out there in the word of God to provide sound guidance for life, in the end, how that is applied and whether or not it is followed is down to each one of us. It can be no other way.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Time and Chance (20)

One thing I have neglected to point out over the last two weeks of posts in this series is that the first seven verses of chapter 5 of Ecclesiastes are different from everything that has come before them. They are the very first commands we have encountered in the Preacher’s writing.

Everything up to this point has been description; the Preacher looking around at his world and telling us what he observes in the absence of divine revelation, most of which he finds disappointing and confusing. But chapter 5 commences with a short series of what we might call prescriptions. The Preacher has actually begun to issue the occasional instruction. “Guard your steps,” he says. “Be not rash with your mouth. Let your words be few. Do not delay in fulfilling your vows.”

Friday, January 24, 2020

Disappearing Comments

Our reader WiC informs me issues he was having with his comments to our blog posts disappearing into the ether seem to have been unexpectedly resolved. If I recall, this happened most frequently to readers with Mac laptops.

Is it time? Is it Blogger? Who knows. Either way it’s good news.

So, if you have felt like commenting on a post here or there but have given it up for impossible, now might be a good time to give it another shot.

Too Hot to Handle: Majoring on the Majors

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

Tom: There’s a line I keep hearing these days that goes something like this:

“We should keep unity for the sake of the gospel. Major on the majors, and not on the minors. We shouldn’t fight over secondary issues.”

Immanuel Can, some things are worth fighting over. Jude urges his readers, who appear to be a very general believing audience, to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

So what’s really worth contending for, and what should be set aside for the sake of unity? In short, what makes something “major” or “minor”?

Immanuel Can: Ah. What do I mean, or what do most other people I meet seem to mean? Can you clarify?

Tom: I take it there’s a significant difference then.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

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.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Semi-Random Musings (19)

“[T]he one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death.”

Tough times, when prophets are anointed in blood.

Not literally, of course; let’s not be grotesque. But the Bible’s first mention of Elijah’s successor tells us he would cause death, and he needed no sword to do it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Is Christianity a Religion?

Depends on your definition, doesn’t it.

As a unit of language, the word ‘religion’ has acquired so many nuances that it is almost useless. Everyone has his or her own idea of what religion means, but they often differ drastically from one another. It has become one of those words that just doesn’t really communicate much anymore.

If I ask, “Are you religious?” and you say “Yes”, I have actually discovered very little indeed about what you believe.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Anonymous Asks (76)

“What does the Bible say about insecurity?”

The answer to that would very much depend on the type of insecurity in question.

For example, King Saul was extremely insecure about his position as king of Israel, so much so that he tried to kill the man he suspected would follow him on the throne. He had very good reason to be insecure, and there was no obvious cure to be found for his insecurity. He had sinned, and was under the judgment of God. His kingdom was to be taken away from him and given to another.

In short, he was trying to defend something to which he had no right. Living in that sort of untenable position will always make us feel insecure.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Agnosticism and Folly

“Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”

Solomon, wisest man of his day and the greatest king of Israel — at least by the world’s standard of measurement — talks about two alternatives we all face in life, picturing them by extended metaphor as a pair of women offering invitations.

On the surface there are similarities: both women are offering food of a sort to those who are simple, naïve or untaught, just as we all are when we come into the world.

But the similarities end there.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Time and Chance (19)

Over the Christmas season, you often get to observe people giving thanks for a meal who wouldn’t do it ordinarily. You can tell it’s a special event because they refer to it as “saying grace”, as if it’s some kind of annual sacrament rather than just another in a thrice-daily series of simple, grateful responses to God’s generosity. Often the head of the family feels compelled to do the honors.

Now, from time to time it happens that the person drafted to perform this duty has given little or no thought to the question of God’s existence one way or the other. He is now put on the spot. It can be fun, and a bit awkward, to watch someone pretend to address a Supreme Being they don’t truly believe in. Their whole “grace” thing usually gets mumbled out strung together like it’s one word: Forwhatweareabouttorecieve ...

Hey, it helps to have a familiar liturgical formula to recite. Anybody can pull that off, believer or no.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Making Merchandise

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

As long as there has been a people of God in the world, there have been those who looked to take advantage of them. The Israelites had their false prophets, and Peter warns the young church to expect their share of false teachers. He says, as the translators of the King James Version so eloquently put it, “Through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you”.

Tom: But of course the trick is always identifying such people, isn’t it, Immanuel Can? I mean, what does that look like in the real world?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Unforgivable Sin

Over the holidays I was browsing a bookshop, and by chance happened to pick up a copy of Søren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death (1849).

Now, I’m not saying it’s a book everybody’s going to find easy to read. I don’t think it’s one that an unbeliever — no matter how bright — is really going to be able to understand. Nor do I think an average believer will find it straightforward. But if you’ve got the will and the ability, and especially if you are a person of some theological background and an interest in the welfare of Christians generally, I most highly recommend it.

It’s blowing my mind.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Text and Me

Marg Mowczko writes about a woman who wept when reading the many masculine pronouns in 1 Corinthians in her 1984 NIV. She asked, “Where am I in the text?

Marg herself admits to a similar issue with nouns: “Masculine nouns, such as ‘brothers’ when the meaning is ‘brothers and sisters,’ effectively distance women from the text.” She finds the book of Hebrews much less personally relevant when she reads it in the ESV.

Accordingly, Marg prefers the TNIV, which uses more gender-inclusive language, giving women the prominence in the text which it is thought they need and deserve.

But since the question of distance from the text is being raised, let’s explore that a bit.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Nouns and Pronouns

Pronouns are noun-substitutes. They save us from cluttering up our sentences with unnecessary repetition. A long string of names can be easily replaced with a four-letter pronoun like “they”, saving all kinds of space.

I’m not telling you anything new here. We learn this in grade school.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Anonymous Asks (75)

“Does God know when I will die?”

Yes. How’s that for a quick and direct answer?

We find David reflecting on this exact subject in a psalm about God’s incredible knowledge of each of his creatures: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” The words “every one of them” tell us that not only does God know the content of our experiences, but each individual time-fragment that makes up those experiences. Every single day.

Not only is God able to count the days of our lives, he has made a formal record of each one.