Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Splendor and Disillusionment

At the church I attended as a teen, there was a family of three. I suppose they were reasonably affluent, though I did not pay much attention to such things in those days. After I moved on, I heard that the father succumbed in middle age to a degenerative disease and went to be with the Lord. Being a decent sort and forward-thinking, he had made financial arrangements for his wife and disabled daughter so that they would be cared for after he was gone.

That worked out well … until it didn’t. A con artist talked the gullible widow into a bad investment, and they lost everything. Years later, they’re still struggling.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Anonymous Asks (23)

“How can I be a witness to my friends and still be accepted?”

It is important to realize there are really two questions here, not one. Question one is “How can I be a witness to my friends?” Good question, and it recognizes that Jesus Christ gave a job to his followers when he ascended into heaven. He said to them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses … to the end of the earth.” If you have believed in and confessed the Lord Jesus, you have accepted the same ongoing task they did. That’s fantastic.

Question two boils down to “How can I maintain my present relationships as they are while witnessing to something that transforms lives, upends worldviews and tells people hard truths about themselves they may not want to hear?

That may be possible. And it may not.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Things Ovine and Caprine

Schindler’s List was a very successful 1990s movie about a German businessman and member of the Nazi party who saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish refugees during WWII. While the screenplay certainly received the Hollywood treatment and has been criticized for a taking a variety of storytelling liberties, one of which was being overly sentimental, the story upon which it is based is said to be substantially true.

So there is a real-world precedent for the scenario I am about to lay out for you.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (42)

We’re past the halfway point of the Thirty Sayings, and so far we’ve covered a wide range of topics. This week’s selection is no exception: the importance of truth, the joys of parenting, and warnings against adultery, alcohol abuse and crime.

If there’s a way to wreck your life or to make it better, God has something to say about it.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Fundamentalism and Modernism

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

Theistic evolution is a concept that has become increasingly acceptable throughout Christendom. As long as God is said to have directed it, evolution is a pill many otherwise-solid Christians seem prepared to swallow.

Tom: I read Terry Mortenson’s article on compromise this morning. It seems as good a starting point as any. He names a number of well-reputed conservative stalwarts whose own statements suggest they have gone (or went) a little soft on the issue — James Orr, Dyson Hague, George Frederick Wright, R.A. Torrey — to one degree or another, some as far back as the early 1900s. Other less conservative believers like Andrew Klavan accept evolution outright, convinced it’s so obvious that believing it is simply common sense.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Assumptions and Loaded Conversations

Back in 2012, NBA Commissioner David Stern caught flack for cracking an old joke in an interview with Jim Rome. Rome asked him if the NBA lottery was rigged. Stern came back with, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

Of course, this immediately got him into trouble with the PC set, who took him to be making fun of the very serious issue of wife abuse. I can sympathize with their ire; but in fairness, I think it’s not what Stern was trying to say. He was actually referring to an old (admittedly somewhat tasteless) joke. I think I first read it on a bubble gum wrapper when I was a kid, and I remember seeing it in other places as well. It was one of those things that was “just around”. The joke went like this:

Question: What’s a question you cannot answer either “Yes” or “No”?
Answer: Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

Perhaps Stern and I chewed the same gum, I don’t know.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Facts and Conjectures

The facts are these: about 57 A.D., give or take, the apostle Paul traveled to Jerusalem, where he was arrested something less than seven days after his arrival. Initially at least, he was (falsely or mistakenly) accused by the Jewish religious authorities of profaning the temple. Later he was also accused of disturbing the peace, a charge more likely to be taken seriously by the Romans than any merely religious disagreement between members of a subject people group. His Roman custodians took him first to Caesarea and finally to Rome when he made an appeal to have his case heard by Caesar himself. He was imprisoned there for approximately two years.

Contrary to what I thought as a teen and young adult, Paul did not die in Rome. Not that time at least. I had my chronology muddled for years. In any case, even if martyrdom was not the result, we can reasonably conclude these four-plus years in Roman custody were not exactly fun and games.

And they were entirely voluntary.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Faith, Fear and Prudence

Christians are entering troubled times.

I suspect we are already well on our way into a thick and rather gloomy forest, but because the sunlight has been diminishing only a very little bit with each passing step, some of us have been less attentive than others about exactly how far into the underbrush we really are.

When Alex Jones’ InfoWars was recently deplatformed by Apple, YouTube (Google), Facebook and Spotify, few evangelicals noticed or cared. Most have no idea who Alex Jones is in the first place, and many of those who do recognize the name are still getting their news from CNN or other mainstream sources that despise Jones and his ilk and view them as unwanted and amateurish competition.

In any case, Jones’ speedy purge perturbed few. I would argue we need to start paying a bit more attention.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Anonymous Asks (22)

“What if I have doubts about my faith? What should I do?”

I’m going to try to answer this in a very general way, since you don’t specify any particular issue that is troubling you.

I like to think of faith as that not-quite-quantifiable thing that bridges the gap between the evidence I already have in front of me and my will to act on that evidence. That’s not a theological definition, but it works for me. Properly understood, the biblical definition, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” seems to me to amount to much the same thing.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Criticism and Grace

The apostle Paul (and Timothy) to the church of God in Corinth:

“For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it — though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”

You may already know the background here …

Saturday, January 12, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (41)

There’s a little something for almost everybody in this week’s selection of proverbs: children, parents and seniors, alcoholics and other people with out-of-control habits, and most especially their enablers. Even the envious get a quick name-check.

Never let it be said that the Bible isn’t practical …

Friday, January 11, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Does Your Building Matter?

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

Tom: I’m prowling the Internet, as is my wont, and encountering discussion on the subject of whether a church building can impede one’s efforts to grow a local church. Take for example this meditation, from Abby Stocker at Christianity Today:

“Our worship spaces matter. The music, preaching, and community obviously influence our church experience, but building styles also communicate something to the congregation about what is proper in worship. A central stage outfitted with a drumset probably means the music will be emotional and modern. Feel free to wave your hands, dance, however the Spirit leads you. Kneelers will probably be dedicated to congregational, possibly liturgical, prayer. Space for a mosh pit signifies ... you’re probably not at, say, a small intimate gathering based primarily on discussion of a text.”

So here we are, left to consider how the apostle Paul might have felt about a mosh pit. Immanuel Can, please help me out here.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Dear Preacher: On Calvinism and Pride

Dear Preacher Bob:

This isn’t a complaint, just a reflection. My point is not to object, but rather to expand the range of possible answers to a question you raised a couple of weeks back. Would you bear with me while I do that?

You gave a message on the subject “The Sovereignty of God”. I agree that this is an essential topic and for the most part, I found myself rejoicing in your take on it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Cheap Contrition and Hardened Hearts

“Rend your hearts and not your garments.”

There is a vast difference between the public displays of remorse we so regularly see in the media and actual repentance. The former is purely external and serves the purpose of notifying one’s community that the party subject to censure acknowledges his faux pas and hopes for a quick end to the unpleasantness of public disapproval so he can return to his former way of doing business as expeditiously as possible.

The latter is a matter of the heart before God.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Top 10 Posts of 2018

Lots of things happened in 2018. Billy Graham went to be with the Lord. April and May were record high-traffic months for the blog, as you can see from the number of posts they placed in our annual Top 10. Our readers continued to show interest in how the church ought to deal with people who claim to be Christians but live sexually immoral lives, in the limitations of platform ministry and in the ongoing effects of sins that can’t be undone.

To top it off, Canada’s most infamous public intellectual popped up in four of our ten most-read posts, where he was both praised and critiqued, just as he was in much of the secular media in 2018.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Anonymous Asks (21)

“How do you know if you’re being called to go to the mission field?”

Anyone interested in the answer to this question may find it useful to first read two previous posts in this series (numbers 18 and 20), which concern finding the will of God with respect to marriage, college and careers. Much of what the New Testament teaches about the “call” of God remains the same regardless of what it is we may think we are being called to, so for the sake of those who have read them already, I won’t recycle what I said there ad nauseum.

That said, scripture says a little more about the calling of God with respect to missions than to other areas of life.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Getting in the Driver’s Seat

“My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles.”

Idolatry is stupid. There, I said it.

It’s hard to imagine that any craftsman who ever put tools to wood, stone or metal really believed his artistic creations had the power to determine outcomes or influence reality. These men could hardly miss the fact that they were manufacturing a commodity. They were marketing a commercial product, not consciously giving worldly form to some arcane power in order to enable its devotees to focus their otherwise-diffuse religious attention. And if idols are indeed merely human constructs, then worshiping them is stupid.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons people do it.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (40)

In his short story “The Rich Boy”, writer F. Scott Fitzgerald commented that “The very rich are different from you and me.” I never watched Dynasty or Dallas, and I’ve been in few very rich people’s homes in the course of my life, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t wrong. Their conventions are different, their habits are different, their way of thinking is different.

Even their temptations are different, but we can still learn something useful from considering them.

Our second set of five of Solomon’s “thirty sayings” have a fair bit to do with power and money.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Two Promises

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

In Matthew 16, upon Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus responds with two promises, which we may briefly restate as: (i) “On this rock I will build my church”, and (ii) “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven …”

Tom: There’s more to these promises, obviously, but I wanted to consider a couple of issues. First, whether these are two separate promises, or if the second is merely some kind of amplification of the first, and second, when can we anticipate the realization of these promises.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Passing Thoughts on Fred Phelps

Nearly five years have passed since Fred Phelps went to meet his Maker, and it’s fascinating to observe how abruptly and extensively the acceptable bounds of public discourse have narrowed in the interval. Homosexuals are far from the only identity group it is no longer permissible to criticize, and many other subjects are now off the table. Still, more than a few of the thoughts expressed in IC’s post from 2014 remain relevant. — Tom

Fred Phelps, notorious pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas has died at age 84. I doubt many people are ready to cry much about that. According to The Independent, he rose to national notice after becoming the subject of the Louis Theroux documentary The Most Hated Family in America (2007). But for most, he is the man remembered for showing up at the funerals of dead homosexuals to exhibit a sign reading “God Hates Fags.”

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Inbox: Thoughts in Progress (2)

God has dealt differently with mankind during different eras of human history. That is not disputable. It is evident to anyone who reads the Bible with anything more than cursory attention.

How we think about this truth is not one of those issues too heady and esoteric for anything but the rarefied atmosphere of a roomful of full-time theologians. It determines how the average believer reads the Old Testament, how he uses it, and the place he gives to it in the Christian life. It may affect how he thinks about the nation of Israel. It molds his expectations about the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ. It certainly impacts how we read the Sermon on the Mount.

And it does all these things and others to us even if we have not consciously developed our theology with respect to the various periods of human history.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

The Dreaded New Year’s Day Post

Oh no. Not New Year’s Day again. Did I mention I hate writing “event” posts?

Yeah, I did. Well, here we are again anyway. It’s January 1 in a new calendar year, and many among our fellow Christians are doing the same sort of reassessment almost everybody tends to do this time of year. Those who aren’t are probably feeling better about themselves than you and me, but we’ll salvage a bit of delusional cred, at least in our own heads, by marking them down a notch or two for egregious lack of self-awareness.

Hey, this “taking stock” stuff needs to be done sometime, right? If there’s a better time to do it, I can’t think when it might be.