Friday, May 31, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Responsible Fatherhood

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

The U.S. federal government is teaching fatherhood. Stop and think how many ways that could go wrong.

Now, the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC) is not a brand new initiative by any stretch. It claims to exist in order to “provide, facilitate, and disseminate current research, proven and innovative strategies that will encourage and strengthen fathers and families, and providers of services.” This looks like it is mostly done through social media, websites and virtual training courses, as well as access to help lines and so on.

Tom: You’ve spent most of your life working with teens, Immanuel Can. How important is it to high-schoolers to have a father present and engaged in their lives?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Dear Dinesh: On Evil and Suffering

[Dinesh D’Souza is a writer, scholar, filmmaker and Christian apologist.]

Dear Dinesh:

Thank you very, very much for your 2007 book, What’s So Great About Christianity? I regret having not gotten around to reading it earlier. What a fine piece of writing!

It seems to me it fills a very necessary gap in our growing corpus of apologetics literature: rather than merely defeating atheist reasoning (yet again), it rightly points to the need for a more positive take on Christian achievements. It is an apology without an “apologetic” tone, if you take my meaning; a confident treatise on the goods of faith, rather than a defensive reaction to the current round of atheist hate literature. More of this is what we need.

In the spirit of supporting that, I wonder if I could offer a thought that might further strengthen the case you are so courageously putting forward?

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Ripple Effect

“For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.”

There’s a new law in Alabama, and it has become the occasion for a great deal of sin. I can’t go anywhere without hearing about it or being provoked to talk about it. If you’re on Twitter you’ll already know that most of the sin is verbal, and the vast majority of it advocates for wrongdoing: “I had one, and I feel FINE about it! If you’re a good person, you’ll support it too.”

Relax, I’m not going to recycle badly overheated rhetoric. I have a more general point to make.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Loving an Abstraction Abstractly

Christianity Today’s editor in chief Mark Galli recounts a personal crisis:

“It may have been as the result of hearing a sermon, or perhaps reading a book. But I distinctly remember thinking that my Christian life was sorely lacking in the love of God.”

Not only that, but as Galli frankly concedes, he wasn’t even really sure he wanted to know and love God more deeply. He certainly did not yearn for intimacy with God as he felt he should.

Ouch.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Anonymous Asks (42)

“How do we minister if we are already in a Christian school?”

Outside of the modern religious and political contexts, the word “minister” simply means “agent” or “assistant”. More importantly, when we find the word “minister” used in the Greek New Testament, it has an established meaning which translators have replicated inconsistently in English.

That meaning is “servant”.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Hope Against Hope

I’d like to play an under-par round of golf this summer. I’d also like to play QB for the Browns once Baker decides to hang up his jersey. Sadly, neither the PGA nor the NFL have been in touch to schedule my appearance. If you’re making a list, I also wouldn’t mind winning the lottery; although apparently I’d have to actually buy a ticket to have a chance of that happening.

Some people might call those things “hope”. I call them pipe dreams.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (60)

We are still in the penultimate chapter of Proverbs, and while there are expositors who disagree, I believe we are now reading the words of Agur rather than the words of Solomon.

Unlike the great king of Israel who was granted exceptional wisdom by God, Agur seems to be nothing more impressive than an average devout man observing the world. All the same, by the Spirit of God, he has left us with a few useful reflections. After all, James tells us, you don’t need to be a king to be wise. All it takes is asking in faith.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Anonymous Asks (41)

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

Tom: It’s Crossover Friday!

A couple of weeks ago my co-contributor Immanuel Can helped me answer a question for one of my weekly Anonymous Asks columns. I had another doozy handed to me this morning, and I think I’m going to share this one with him too. Here goes:

“Many Christians seem to live more in defeat than in constant victory. Shouldn’t the word of God, being born again, or both, be more spiritually powerful in order to make it easier to battle sin? Wouldn’t a bunch of victorious believers be a better testimony?”

I’ll let you take first crack at that, IC …

Thursday, May 23, 2019

“I Love You,” She Said Determinedly

A man and a woman are going to bed. It’s been a long day — work has been vexing, the children have been demanding, calls and emails have piled up, and best efforts at getting it all done have failed. Irritations have built up; and at times, the couple has actually been a bit snappish.

The husband is middle-aged, and somewhat dumpy and slightly graying. His earlier grumpy mood has subsided only into a plodding weariness as he gets ready to turn in. He’s left his slippers askew in the corner again, and hung his trousers over the chair instead of putting them in the closet.

The wife turns to her husband and says, “I love you.”

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Exile or Egypt?

Yesterday we looked at the Assyrian invasion of Israel which took place during the ministry of the prophet Isaiah around 2,700 years ago.

With an army at their doorstep, the citizens of the city of Samaria were confronted with a choice: repent of their sins, humble themselves under the chastening hand of God and probably end up in Assyrian exile, or else seek the protection of the Pharaoh in Egypt in hope of retaining some of their wealth and a few shreds of national pride.

The message God gave Isaiah for the people was quite unambiguous: “Don’t go down to Egypt.” Not a complicated instruction, but it certainly went against Israel’s inclinations.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Egypt Option

Roughly one hundred years before the city of Samaria fell to Assyrian invaders, King Jehu of Israel offered tribute to their king, Shalmaneser III.

We know this from an inscription on the side of a seven-foot obelisk currently making its home in the British Museum. It depicts a rather scruffy-looking Israelite monarch on his face at the feet of his Assyrian counterpart. The accompanying caption reads, “The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears.”

The black obelisk was carved approximately 2,800 years ago. As you may appreciate, there are not many such items around. Those that remain are highly valued by historians.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Anonymous Asks (40)

“In Genesis, Adam and Eve leave the garden and cities are already there and other people. Please explain.”

This is definitely something you have been told, not something you have observed for yourself. I can say that with confidence because it’s quite wrong, and even a quick and dirty scan-read of the first chapters of Genesis should not leave a reader with that impression.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Inbox: Blaming the Buzzsaw

Concerning the judgment of the Egyptian firstborn in Exodus 12, Qman writes:

“I would say that many people would sort of be appalled at the fact that the Egyptian firstborn (mostly politically innocent; depending on age, this could be into young adulthood) had to bear the brunt of this whole affair. What would the conversation between God and that creature be when they met? God to firstborn: ‘Sorry I just had to kill you because your king had a major attitude.’ How would that go over?”

Good question.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (59)

To call Agur an obscure Old Testament character would not be out of line.

The first twenty-nine chapters of the book of Proverbs set out the compiled wisdom of Solomon. Obviously not all of it; we’re told he wrote 3,000 proverbs and an additional 1,005 songs, so this is the tip of a large iceberg. It’s a pretty impressive resume by any standard.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Cult of Personality

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

Sunny Shell no longer follows John Piper or any of his ministries, and she certainly doesn’t endorse them to her friends. Why? Well, Piper invited speakers to his Desiring God National Conferences whose character and practices Sunny finds highly questionable, and Piper publicly participated in a “mystical type exercise”. Sunny concludes that Piper has been in some ways “led away from sola scriptura”, and has effectively written him off.

Tom: Now, I’m not about to critique Sunny’s choices here, Immanuel Can. I have more than a few doctrinal quibbles with Mr. Piper myself. But her post brings up a significant issue.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Who’s Minding the Store?

I’m seeing more and more of those “self-checkout” units at the local stores. They always creep me out a bit. There just seems to be something really weird about the idea of walking up to a mechanical box, shuffling around my own transaction, and then leaving, going out of a store without passing by a person.

I feel as if I owe somebody some kind of explanation, like “Here’s my purchase, and here’s my money, and they match up; so don’t call the cops.” And then this person is supposed to give me the nod, like, “Okay, you’re alright this time; but when you come back, we’ll need to see each other again.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Hooks and Nooses

“[I]f you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

We often have more than one reason for saying the things we say. God could have said, “If you serve their gods, I will be offended.” That would certainly have been true. He could also have said, “If you serve their gods, you will find it useless.” This too is true. Inanimate carvings of wood and stone have no power to protect or deliver. He could have said, “You don’t understand that serving their gods is really serving demons.” Once again, entirely true. He could even have said, “If you serve their gods, I will punish you severely.”

This was most definitely the case.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Olive Tree in Romans

Significant numbers of Christians over the years have had difficulty understanding the image of the olive tree the apostle Paul uses in Romans 11. If you doubt this, consult any combination of online commentaries. You’ll quickly see interpretations differ wildly.

For those who wonder why something like this matters enough to merit an entire blog post, bear in the mind that Romans 11 speaks of the future place in God’s purposes of his earthly people, the nation of Israel. An increasing number of Christians are convinced all God’s promises to Israel are fully realized in the Church, and that the “Israel” of which the Old Testament speaks is actually … well … us.

How you understand the olive tree is all tied up in that.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Anonymous Asks (39)

“How did dinosaurs exist if they are not found in the Bible?”

It’s next-to-impossible to determine for certain what really happened fifty years ago, let alone four thousand plus. Try internet-researching a moderately popular TV series from the late 1960s or early 1970s. A few are quite well preserved. For most, you’ll find a super-grainy, speedily deteriorating video clip of the opening and closing credits of a single, sorry episode, hastily digitized and uploaded to YouTube, and maybe a transcript of a TV Guide episode summary on one of the Wikis.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Religious Flesh

“It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ ”

Fruit is often used both in the Bible and elsewhere as a metaphor for children, and with good reason. You don’t need to be a geneticist to observe that the fruit of a tree carries in it the nature of the tree on which it grows, and expresses that nature to the world in the next generation. Or at least it should. Real-world results with human beings vary, as we have all observed.

Turnabout being fair play, perhaps you will excuse me using children as a metaphor for fruit. Well, metaphorical fruit at least.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (58)

Three of these final nine Solomonic proverbs address masters and thieves.

For the thief, there is a certain excitement and freedom from the moral strictures others are required to observe, but these come with the potential hazard of arrest, prosecution and punishment. Flaunting society’s rules always brings with it the possibility of eventual payback. And while it is certainly a better lot in life overall to be master rather than servant, that role brings with it responsibilities, decisions and difficulties neither slave nor employee really has to trouble themselves about.

Though very different, neither master nor thief is always a desirable role to play.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Sexuality and Public Education

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

[Editor’s note: This post is almost four years old, and the Ontario government that implemented these curriculum changes is long gone, thank the Lord. But don’t think they (or others like them) won’t be back in short order. Sadly, these issues will be part of our lives until the Lord returns.]

In the news this week: the sex education curriculum for the Ontario public school system will now be implemented starting in Grade 4. That’s correct: if you live in Ontario, your eight-year-old will be discussing sex in class come September.

And not just the usual stuff we were embarrassed to listen to in high school.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Getting to the Truth

“I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
— English Common Law
Oath of Testimony

The fight outside a club was broken up by police; but a man was stabbed. Inspector Thomas has been assigned to find the assailant.

When the perp fled, the crowd scattered, but four witnesses remain: a bouncer, the girlfriend, the bar manager and a local cabbie. Inspector Thomas knows procedure; that each must be interviewed separately in order to get a complete picture.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

When God Says Things He Doesn’t Mean

Forget pancakes. Here’s a stack of problem verses to chew on instead:

“Take your … only son Isaac, and offer him … as a burnt offering.”

“ ‘Rise, go with them’ … But God’s anger was kindled because he went.”

Let me alone, that I may destroy them and … I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.”

Sometimes God says things he doesn’t really mean. Think about that a bit.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

That Wacky Old Testament (12)

“Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck.”

Well, that seems a little brutal, doesn’t it? “Hello, baby donkey. Nice to see you in the world. SNAP!”

What on earth is THAT all about?

Good question. Glad you asked.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Anonymous Asks (38)

“Can ghosts and evil things get me?”

Let’s see. There are indeed “ghosts” in the Bible.

The King James Version uses the word 109 times, though not in any sense that should keep us up at night. All occur in one of two expressions: “Holy Ghost” (an antiquated way of referring to the Holy Spirit) or “give up the ghost” (which just means dying).

In modern translations the word is used whenever superstitious people saw something they couldn’t explain, and wrongly assumed they were being visited by spirits. The disciples saw Jesus walking on the water and cried, “It is a ghost!

Like most reported ghost sightings, it wasn’t.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Persecution and Wrath

A great number of Christians believe the Church will go through the Great Tribulation.

Reasons for this vary. For some it’s all about heavenly trumpets: how many there are, and when they sound. For others, the teaching of the apostle Paul that the godly “shall suffer persecution” and the words of the Lord himself that “in the world you will have tribulation” tip the scales in favor of a Church that will suffer through the end times along with the world. Others compare the order of events in John’s Revelation visions with the future described by the Lord Jesus in the gospels, leading them to anticipate martyrdom like so many of our fellow believers throughout history. Still others believe the doctrine of the Rapture originated in the 16th century counter-reformation teaching of Papal Rome, and therefore consider it discredited.

All these are arguments from detail.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (57)

Who are you? Who am I really? Good questions.

Well, we are the sum of any numbers of things, including but not limited to what we think, what we do, and — by far the most important — who we are in God’s eyes.

What do we really feel in our hearts when we’re under intense emotional pressure, and how would we react if everyone could see that on full display? What do we allow ourselves to engage in for the sake of polity or social acceptance, and is that consistent with what we claim to believe? How does God distinguish between us? What are his metrics?

Three consecutive proverbs contribute to the discussion.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: A Lack of Leadership

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

Is a good man always hard to find?
Immanuel Can: Tom, we need a new generation of spiritual leaders in our congregations. But they don’t seem to be appearing in most places, and not nearly fast enough for the rising need.

What can we do?

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Anonymous Asks Again

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

You asked, “Why does school suck?”

Yep, It Does

When I was young, there was a pop song called Kodachrome that began with the words, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school / It’s a wonder I can think at all.” I think a lot of people feel like that: when they think about what their teachers forced them to learn, they can’t imagine what the real purpose of it all was. I was like that. In fact, I eventually dropped out, though I did go back later.

So I get your point.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Wagging the Dog

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Trudy Smith of the Huffington Post asks, “Was Jesus racist?” Her answer, of course, is yes.

That’s hardly surprising. The HuffPost is the online poster-rag for the New American Left. In their exceedingly well-defined and ideologically-pristine PC world, even the Son of God takes the knee before the official progressive racial narrative.