Monday, October 31, 2016

Just Play the Hits

Bear with me. This is trivial. And then maybe it isn’t.

Last night I dreamed I drove down a long, winding highway in the dark to a great lodge, festively lit. Upon parking, I was greeted deferentially and shown to a huge stage with sound, lights and seating for thousands. People with tickets and drinks in hand were gradually being seated, talking among themselves. A crew was wiring up mics and amplifiers, a sound man was testing levels. A buzz was in the air.

I looked at my watch: it was 7:25. My host said, “You’re on at eight.”

Sunday, October 30, 2016

From the Ash Heap

I love this line:

“Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.”

Hannah, who would become Samuel’s mother, is deeply grieved that she is unable to conceive. She has gone up with her husband to the house of God in Shiloh, and she has prayed for a son, vowing that if her prayer is answered, she will raise him as a Nazirite and give him wholly to the service of God. Then she gets up, relieved of her distress, and goes her way — not yet having received an answer to her prayer.

Seems a bit counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Command Performance

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Heretics Aplenty

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Other Fly in the Ointment

The careful student of scripture, as I have pointed out in two recent posts, gets his cues about appropriate Christian behaviour and church order from instructions found in the New Testament. Historical narrative in the Bible provides us with much useful information, but it should not be considered authoritative in the same way as is a direct commandment.

That’s a useful principle to observe if you want to avoid confusion. God is probably not calling you to exterminate idolatrous Canaanites, slay giants with a slingshot or lead a slave uprising in Egypt. Likewise, he probably does not expect you to perform miracles, speak in foreign languages you don’t understand or predict a coming famine.

Still, every rule of interpretation seems to have its occasional exception, which is lamentable in that it requires us to exercise discernment rather than simply checking boxes. Oops.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Weights and Mirrors

In two previous posts, I’ve tried to distinguish between: (1) historical narrative in scripture, and (2) the commands of God — basically, between description and prescription.

Why? Well, because people frequently crack open “holy books” in search of answers to questions that are very personal, and reading historical narrative as if it is God’s direction for your life can lead to considerable confusion — like the atheist who thinks the Bible says ritual castration will get you into heaven. I suspect the Lord would prefer that we not experience that sort of muddled thinking. My advice is to read commands as commands, and history as history.

But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment and point out a fly in my own ointment, if you will.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Chameleon Turning Plaid

Hey, I’m trying! I’m trying!
Easy question: What do all these statements have in common?

It’s locker room talk — it’s one of those things.

If everybody’s watching all of the backroom discussions and the deals, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position.

Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us.

Answer: They take for granted that speaking out both sides of one’s mouth is perfectly normal.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Inbox: Description vs. Prescription

In response to the post Is and Ought, Tertius writes:

“Long time Bible readers will make such distinctions, but perhaps not know the way to explain to others why they must be made. You have put a well packaged set of rules for interpretation and application in their hands and so are helping teachers how to teach; a much needed service to the Church.

An example or two of the common mistake of using the descriptive in the narrative in Acts as though it was prescriptive would be a useful addition.”

I agree. I think we can probably find several.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

What Sort of Heart?

This quote has stuck with me over the past couple of weeks, maybe because it is not just those who would like the Bible to teach universal salvation that see this type of thinking as the ultimate expression of moral goodness.

“What sort of a heart could approve of eternal death for some? The doctrine of Universal Salvation teaches that all will have eternal life, including Satan and the demons. And that one day, all will have the same nature as God. What sort of a heart could not approve of Universal Salvation, eternal life for all?”

Explicitly or between the lines, it boils down to this: anyone who wouldn’t grant eternal bliss, joy, happiness and God-likeness to Satan, Hitler, Stalin and every liar and murderer in human history that hates and rejects the Son of God is, well ... insufficiently morally developed.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sailing the High Seas

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: God and the Child of Divorce

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Distance

Do you ever feel completely inadequate to the task of being a Christian?

The space between God and man is quite a distance to bridge, isn’t it.

I’m not talking about the distance between hell and heaven, or the moral distance between, say, Hitler and Jesus Christ. That’s obvious enough to not require a labored explanation. I’m not even thinking of the need to get saved or the importance of becoming reconciled to God and escaping the judgement we are all due.

No, I’m speaking here, not as a member of a fallen race, but as one who already knows and loves God and is seeking, however incompetently, to stagger along in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The distance between — the difference between — me and him … good grief!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Is and Ought

The Bible tells it like it is, and most times it tells us what we should do about it. But not always at the same time, and not always in the same place.

Much of the Old Testament record is very dispassionate; very ‘just the facts, Jack’. Sure, from time to time an inspired author offers his editorial comment, but this is a rarity. Most of the time, we are simply getting a record of what happened. Those who need to find an application to their own lives beyond the obvious must in many instances look elsewhere in scripture to do so.

To fail to note the difference between the parts of scripture that are prescriptive and those that are merely descriptive is to invite confusion.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Recollection and Response

Old Testament writers often describe God in human terms, though we know from other statements in scripture that many of the human qualities they ascribe to God cannot possibly be true of him in precisely the same way they are true of us.

Memory is a good example, as Ashrei points out:

“To remember, so we are inclined to think, is primarily to preserve in our consciousness a fact or an experience. A ‘good memory’ is one which retains precisely and vividly that which has been seen, heard or learned. In short, we tend to regard memory as simply one comprehensive archive. Retention of the past has great significance per se. However, it hardly exhausts the full range of memory.”

When the Old Testament speaks of God “remembering”, it does not merely refer to his ability to retain information, as it might with us.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Chaotic Mess

Yesterday I mentioned one similarity between churches in 2016 and life in Israel in the time of the judges roughly three thousand years ago.

This was an era repeatedly characterized with the statements, “There was no king in Israel” and “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes”. There was, of course, God’s law, given to Moses, and the name of Jehovah, the God who had brought Israel out of Egypt into Canaan. These somewhat influenced but did not control the daily habits of Israelite worshipers. The revealed truth of God was thoroughly co-mingled with the thinking and religious influences of Israel’s pagan neighbours.

In short, Israel was a chaotic mess.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Unwanted Dedication

Staring at the train wreck that is most of Western Christendom, it’s not hard to see one or two points of comparison with Israel’s early days in the land of Canaan in the time before God gave them a king. You know, that period the writer of Judges describes regularly with the phrase, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes”.

Hmm. That’s pretty much the tale today. The difference is that while Israel had no king, the Church has a living Head.

We are without Israel’s excuse.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Wedded Blitz

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: The Greatest Threat to Faith Today

 The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Your Level of Understanding

It’s 50 years since the first season of the original Star Trek TV series, so I’m rewatching some of those ancient episodes when I need a break from anything that actually requires mental activity.

Part of it is curiosity. I’ve been on a “memorykick lately, as readers of this blog will be well aware, thinking about what we retain and how and why we retain it. So I’m interested in seeing if those episodes are anything like what I remember them to be. I was eleven or so when Star Trek blew my adolescent mind.

That’s neither here nor there. But this one little bit of typical Star Trek dialogue stuck with me, from an episode written by multiple Hugo-award-winner (and legendary curmudgeon) Harlan Ellison.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Tolerance 2.0

We live in a religious climate in which atheists can be Protestant ministers. One in which the so-called Bishop of Rome insists the Koran is just as valid as the Bible and that Allah is the “same entity” as Jesus Christ. A climate in which the ordination of women is accepted, the LGBT community embraced and the performance of same-sex marriages commonplace.

Tolerance is the sine qua non of the new Christendom; its most indispensable ingredient.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Everybody Take a Deep Breath

You may be familiar with Mark Armitage, the Christian microscopy technician formerly at California State University Northridge, who (allegedly) discovered soft tissue in the horn of a fossilized triceratops just a few years ago, ended up having his employment terminated over it, and subsequently sued the university.

The presence of soft tissue might be taken to imply that at least one triceratops was around much more recently than 65.5 million years ago, the time frame currently posited for the much-debated dino extinction event, whatever that may have been.

In short, if legitimate, Armitage’s discovery would be hard to account for under the current evolutionary paradigm.

Monday, October 10, 2016

More Complicated Than It Appears

Cause and effect are not simple things.

Lots of people would really like them to be. Whether an effect is ultimately good, bad, or a little bit of both, they would like the question “Who did it?” to have a single, obvious answer.

John Calvin taught a deterministic view of the universe that remains exceedingly popular in Christian circles today — largely, I think, because of its simplicity. It reduced all causes to … God.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Not A Tame Lion

“Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
(Psalm 2:11-12)

“ ‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’ ”
— C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

It’s an odd combination, isn’t it: rejoicing and trembling at the presence of the Son of God. The quote from the Psalms is directed to “kings” and “rulers of the earth” and looks forward to the millennial reign of Christ on earth.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

New, Improved, Advanced … You Need One

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Worth Leaving Over

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Thursday, October 06, 2016

Getting It Backwards

Christian response on the Internet to the ongoing refugee/immigration issue reminds me how easy it is to get things backwards.

This is not the first time it has happened, and it won’t be the last.

First, there was a barrage of pro-immigration posts at various websites that buttressed their arguments with what appeared to be supportive proof texts: we were to be “Good Samaritans”; we were to “welcome the sojourner”; we are “all one in Christ”. The writers of these pieces moved swiftly from cursory proof to immediate and morally-imperative action: “Here’s how you can help, Christians!”

And some of us did.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Crutch

I actually don’t know anyone who calls religion a “crutch”.

That may seem surprising. A Google search produces a list of close to 200,000 references in articles, social media comments and blog posts that begin with words along the lines of “People often say Christianity is a crutch …”

So I’m sure people say it. They just don’t say it to me.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Impatient Over Their Misery

Okay, so your sin is impressive.

At least, I’m sure it seems gigantic and unforgivable to you. And since the awareness of the magnitude of sin in our lives, its toxic effects on others around us and its absolute repulsiveness to God is a necessary step in turning away from it, I wouldn’t want to downplay it for you.

Carry on. Be miserable. Have at it.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Anointing a Bramble

The worst leaders are people desperate to lead.

I think we’re all seeing that on TV right about now. The conventional wisdom is that America is reduced to scrounging for its least-worst presidential option, and the pickings are world-record slim.

This is not a new problem. In democratic countries, politicians are stereotypically less credible than used car salesmen, TV evangelists and the mainstream media.

People who want to run the show are often the worst people to actually do it.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Total Recall

My memory is getting worse. I don’t think I’m imagining it.

Then again, if I were, how would I know, really?

On one level this alarms me. Any age-related change to the function of mind or body is a reminder that “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls”. Or as a friend of mine is fond of saying, “We’re all going there”.

That’s for sure.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

So You Want to Serve God …

The most recent version of this post is available here.