Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Angels Unawares

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

In accepting the truth that there exists a world of spirits, a unseen reality beyond that which we can observe and quantify, we open ourselves to a range of possibilities we are far from equipped to explore intelligently.

How does a Christian process such a thing?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Elders and HR Departments

Gotcha, Mr. Employee!
Having recently experienced a round of mandatory workplace sensitivity indoctrination administered by our Human Resources department (part of a company-wide initiative, not the result of any particular violation on my part), I’m struck by the differences in how offenses are handled between believers and between my fellow employees.

When I say “not the result of any particular violation”, I should probably append the word “yet” just to be safe. The number of ways one may offend in the workplace today is truly remarkable, and there’s no guarantee I will not fall afoul of their ever-morphing web of ultra-flexible guidelines at some point.

They’re like flypaper. I kid you not.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Choosing Sides

Ah, Numbers 16, the famous Korah chapter.

I cringe when I read it, I cringe when I read other people writing about it, and I’ll almost surely be cringing as I write about it myself.

And yet it’s there, and New Testament writers have no problem drawing on it for the purpose of instructing Christians, despite the fact that many of us feel it would be awfully convenient if the chapter would simply go away.

Since it won’t, let’s look at it carefully.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The 1830 Principle

“Sorry, you’re just not old enough ...”
I’ve read this statement or something quite like it maybe ten times in the last year:

“Rapture doctrine did not exist before John Darby invented it in 1830 AD. Before it ‘popped into John Darby’s head’ no one had ever heard of a secret rapture doctrine.”

It’s even been picked up by Wikipedia, which I guess makes it a “thing”. They won’t go quite so far as to say Darby invented it, but they concede that he certainly popularized the teaching.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: With One Accord

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

Tom: You and I were talking last week, Immanuel Can, about this recent exchange of ideas I had with Crawford Paul at assemblyHUB — civilly, of course — on the subject of worship, specifically what we refer to as the “Lord’s Supper”, that ended with Crawford pointing out that “The topic is much bigger than this article”.

I couldn’t agree more, so I’ve written here and here about it. But I’d really like to explore the subject a little more with you. What appears to be eating Crawford and others is that the traditions they have grown up with about corporate worship appear to be just that — largely traditional, rather than scriptural.

This is a subject I know you love, so I wouldn’t want to leave you out. Specifically, I’m interested in exploring our corporate freedom in worship, but not divorcing that from the issue of our corporate responsibilities.

Immanuel Can: Right. Count me in. Where would you like to start?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Marketing Jesus

This article about effectively marketing the church was forwarded to me by a reader along with a two-word review: “fantastically misguided”.

“Misguided” is a good way to put it. I think Cameron and Tara from Christ & Pop Culture are well-intentioned. They contend that Jesus must be the focus of all attempts to promote a church and that “church marketing strategies applied without guidance from Scripture undermine the kingdom of God by causing Christians to alter their identities”.

So with Christ as the focus and scripture for guidance, what could go wrong? Lots, it seems.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Rabble Among Them

It’s all about who’s doing the driving ...
“Now the rabble that was among them [Israel] had a strong craving,” the book of Numbers tells us.

The King James translation of this verse is a lot more fun. It reads, “the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting”. There’s something more than a little amusing about the “fell a lusting” archaism, though the story that follows about this mixed multitude is far from humorous.

Craving led the “mixed multitude” that travelled with Israel to complain, which led to the Israelites around them complaining, and before too long the camp of God’s people was full of weeping and wailing.

Over their diet, of all things. Their very temporary diet. They were on their way to a land of milk and honey, after all.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Giant Reset Button

Photo: Flattop341
Baruch Davidson notes that the Jubilee year is not observed or commemorated in modern Israel.

Before the Assyrian conquest of the northern portion of the divided kingdom in the sixth century BC, Davidson says, the Jubilee was regularly celebrated. But a dispute over the interpretation of the words “all who live on it” in Leviticus 25:10 has led many Jews to conclude that the festive year of freedom may only be celebrated when all twelve tribes are living in the Promised Land. So until the return of the ten “lost” tribes, the Jubilee is on hold.

That may not seem a big deal today. It would have been a huge deal to an Israelite in the years before the Assyrian captivity.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Here Comes the Baggage

Yesterday I briefly noted some of the different approaches taken within Christendom to remembering the Lord Jesus. If you haven’t read that post first, this one will probably make less sense than it might otherwise.

The New Testament does not lay down many hard and fast rules about the mechanics of worship, only that we are to “remember” our Lord in the sharing of the bread and the cup and to examine ourselves prior to doing so. Arguably this is the most important part of the Christian life. One can be as active in church as humanly possible, as diligent and and hard-working as anyone, and even passionate about meeting with the people of God.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Calling an Audible

Some call it the Lord’s Supper or the Lord’s Table. Some refer to it as Communion, Holy Communion or the Eucharist. Some call it the Breaking of Bread. Some call it the Worship Service. And some would argue that not all these terms refer to precisely the same thing.

I agree, actually, but it’s not my purpose to set out all such similarities and differences in a single blog post. My point is that, different as they may be, all these overlapping practices (rightly or wrongly) draw their scriptural authority from the words of the Lord Jesus to his disciples at their last Passover supper and the things he did there.

Let’s concede this: whatever we call it, none of us celebrate it precisely the way it was celebrated in the early church, and it’s quite possible that even in the first century there was little consistency from one local church to another in the way it was practiced.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Generational Train Wreck Alert!

It’s becoming increasingly hard for me to dismiss the conviction that this generation deserves whatever it gets.

I refuse to believe every college or university student in the Western world is out of their minds, but the media seems bound and determined to prove me wrong.

For these lost twenty-somethings, the capacity to invent drama where no drama exists is apparently beyond measuring. Their will to be miserable no matter what their circumstances seems boundless. Their sense of entitlement and victimhood is off the charts.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Bucking or Buckling?

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

I promised last week we’d talk about this subject some Friday in the future, and there’s no time like the present.

Tom: IC, we opened a can of worms on the subject of authority and just how the Christian ought to respond to it. That’s not something evangelicals have had to worry about too much in the West for many years, but it’s a topic that’s becoming increasingly relevant as governments begin to encroach on the freedoms we currently enjoy in the interest of a “just society”.

So how about it? Got any grenades to lob on this subject?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

This Is Interesting ...

Well, it’s interesting to me anyway.

The giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel at Mount Sinai occurred on the third new moon after the people of Israel had left Egypt. God addressed them directly in a thick cloud from the peak of a fiery, quaking mountain amid thunder, flashes of lightning and the sound of a trumpet.

The people were understandably petrified.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

How Do You Love the Gospel?

I hear a lot of people talk about their love for the gospel. But then, I also hear a lot of talk about how people “love” ice cream, their cars, their mates, their pets, and the NFL.

I’m pretty sure there’s a difference in each case.

There are different ways to love. Some of them are a million miles from the others. So what are people talking about when they say they really love the gospel?

I’m going to give you three different ways. There are probably more, but I’ve seen these three a lot.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Work Your Way Upstream

Douglas Wilson is, in his own words, “evangelical, postmill, Calvinist, Reformed, and Presbyterian, pretty much in that order”.

One out of five ain’t bad, I suppose.

But hey, I’m an equal opportunity reader. Despite my lack of common ground with many of Mr. Wilson’s expressed convictions, I find much of what he writes profitable.

Monday, May 16, 2016

That Wacky Old Testament (4)

Bible Babble’s atheist webmaster appears confused by the second commandment:

“People seem to think the second commandment says you aren’t supposed to make a graven image of God, and that’s it. But you are not to make any graven images of anything in heaven, in the earth, or in the water. This would include no graven images of fish, moles, worms, birds, shrimp, ants, and all sorts of things. One must wonder why God was so worried about these things that he felt the need to put these ahead of murder and stealing.”

The apostle Paul saw it as his job (and the job of those he travelled and taught with) to demolish “every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God”.

You know, I think this just may qualify …

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Greatest Identity Crisis In History

Ron Cantor says Messianic Jews are the most hated people on earth. That can’t be fun.

Much has been written about the difficulty of living between two countries (not to mention while living for another world entirely). This particular exchange of ideas occurred elsewhere, but is too relevant, useful and thought-provoking to be buried in a thread of hundreds of comments.

I’m sharing it here with permission.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

John Piper, Social Activism and ‘Doing Good’

Debt in the Americas by % of GDP
(hint: black is not good)
Extracted from their original context, many verses may be stretched to the point where they say almost anything we’d like them to.

John Piper, for instance, finds social activism in scripture in places where, try as I might, I just don’t see it:

“It is right and good to pursue obedience to Galatians 6:10, which says: ‘So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.’ ”

With you so far, John. But now things get dicey. In Mr. Piper’s view, “doing good” is a pretty broad term.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Off the Rails or On Track?

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

A convert to Catholicism asks the question “When did the Church go off the rails?” His answer, rather unsurprisingly, is that it didn’t.

Tom: But he brings up an interesting point, Immanuel Can, and that is that if we look at the writings of the church fathers prior to the point at which the canon of scripture was finally fixed in the late fourth century, we find that the seeds of what Protestants consider major error were already planted in the church; things like papal authority, apostolic succession, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, holy tradition, faith and works, the intercession of saints and the doctrine of purgatory.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

All About Me

Sometimes I wonder if people actually read what they are writing and saying.

Have you ever played back a voice message and been embarrassed by your own wording or tone? Or perhaps re-read something you wrote ten years ago and been stunned by your own immodesty, immaturity, naivety or selfishness? If you have, then you understand the way time, spiritual growth and objectivity allow us to see the holes in our own arguments.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

INtent vs. CONtent

I’ve harped on this one before, but I keep hearing people applying Paul’s instructions to Titus just a little too broadly:

“Remind them … to speak evil of no one …”

Correctly understood, this is sound advice that makes for consistent Christian living (not to mention it’s the word of God). But applied to everything we don’t like willy-nilly, it quickly degenerates into silliness.

Not every negative statement is “speaking evil”.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Why Donald Trump is Not the End of the World

A truth that sometimes gets back-burnered:

“There is no authority except from God, and those [powers] that exist have been instituted by God.”
(Romans 13:1)

As has been pointed out ad nauseum (I heard it again this week), this verse of holy writ was written in a day when Nero was emperor. This would be the same Nero rumored to have had captured Christians dipped in oil and set on fire in his garden at night as a source of light, who executed his own mother and is alleged to have poisoned his step-brother.

Alongside that track record, Donald Trump’s history of womanizing, “unpresidential character” and snarky, distasteful personal remarks is weak tea.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Appearance and Reality

SMC from the outside
I happened to be in Palo Alto, California a while back and saw Stanford Memorial Church from the inside.

It’s an amazing structure, built in the memory of her husband by Jane Stanford between 1898 and 1903. The memorial service for Steve Jobs was held there and it has been called the university’s “architectural crown jewel”. I wouldn’t disagree.

You can Google Image it if you’re interested. I’d rather not violate anyone’s copyright by posting their pictures, but some of them are as beautiful as the experience.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

The Stakes

A good writer makes you care about his characters.

When you’re reading a novel, you are probably not consciously asking yourself at every moment, “Does this person I’m reading about really matter to me?” Being occupied with such questions takes you out of the story and defeats the purpose of the narrative. You simply find the characters likable or despicable, interesting or uninteresting, and on that basis you decide whether to continue reading.

Their motives matter, and what’s at stake for them matters, in ensuring that you remain engaged in the unfolding drama.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

That Wacky Old Testament (3)

Greg at Holey Books complains that the Levitical law is sexist:

Women Are Worth Less (Lev. 27:1-4). This is one of those passages that really, really should make believers — especially women — question just how much of the Old Testament we can take seriously. According to Leviticus, a man’s worth — in “dedicating a person to the LORD” — is 50 shekels. A woman, however, is only worth 30. (NB: the ratio here is strangely reminiscent of the U.S. Constitution’s provision that a slave was only worth 3/5 of a white man. There must be like the “golden mean” of massive inequalities.) It is difficult to explain this away without logically also concluding that part of scripture was a historical artifact of its time that we should not take seriously. Unless, of course, you actually hold that men and women aren’t equal or shouldn’t be equal. Which would, obviously, be absurd.”

Notice that Greg is reacting as if Leviticus declares that the intrinsic value of a woman before God is only 60% of a man’s value, as if the Law somehow diminishes her personhood. He finds such an idea offensive to the core and “absurd”.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Empty-Somethings

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

When is an adult an adult?
The Telegraph reports an Italian court has ordered a divorced father to pay child support for his 28-year-old son, who has already meandered through one degree in literature and has now enrolled in a post-graduate course in experimental cinema.

Tom: I bring this up, Immanuel Can, because this is not an isolated case. Most parents have not been nailed for child support, but many all over the world have their adult sons and daughters living in their homes well into their thirties and beyond.

The phenomenon has a name in Italy. They call it bamboccioni, which essentially means “chubby children”. You had what I thought was a better idea, IC. How about “empty-somethings”?

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Laughter of Jackals

When I was young, back in the 1970s, disaster movies were in vogue. Perhaps the most memorable was Jaws (1975), but before that were such noteworthies as The Omega Man (1971), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Airport and Earthquake (1974). Afterward came such screen gems as Rollercoaster (1977), Meteor, Hurricane, and The China Syndrome (1979). All in all, there were more than fifty such major Hollywood disaster productions released in the period.

And everybody was going to see them and talking about how great the special effects were or how spectacularly people were shown dying in them.

Odd, don’t you think?

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Quote of the Day (21)

The Ten Commandments begin with “You shall have no other gods before me”.

It would have been almost automatic for those who first heard these words to apply them primarily to the false gods served by the nations around them. Steve Shirley at Jesus Alive claims scripture makes reference to 34 separate pagan deities from Adrammelech to Tammuz and Tartak, and I have no reason to challenge him since doing so would be a lot of work for not much payoff. Suffice it to say there were plenty of options.

And yet none of these “gods” are giving Jehovah much competition these days.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Something Worth Dying For

So I’m lunching in my favourite café.

You will forgive me for eavesdropping, I’m sure. If you’ve ever done the lunch thing in a major metropolis on a main street, you know that bodies are close together and overhearing one another is usually unavoidable.

Well, forgive me or don’t, but a group of five a few feet away are discussing a friend who, after all their best efforts to cure him, remains “religious”. Poor benighted fellow.

And I’m thinking … where does this come from, this compulsion to strip others of the comfort of faith?

Monday, May 02, 2016

Pretending to See the Future

Watts Up With That lists seven times the global warm-mongers got it spectacularly wrong.

There’s biologist George Wald, who predicted “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years”. Then there’s ecologist Kenneth Watt, who was convinced the crude oil supply would be fully depleted by the year 2000. And let’s not forget the Life magazine prognostication that “in a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution”. That was all in 1970 and so far so good, except maybe in China.

We laugh, but some Christians are not much more accurate when they attempt to read tea leaves.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

That Night

Photo: John Snyder
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread …”
(1 Cor. 11:23)

Well, let me take you back to that night.

Around the table were all the disciples of the Lord, and in the midst of them, the Lord himself. It was a dinner party of sorts, a Passover seder, actually. Solemn in the Jewish calendar, but also a time of thankfulness.