Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Semi-Random Musings (14)

Numbers 4 states repeatedly that only men from the tribe of Levi between the ages of thirty and fifty were to be engaged in the service of the tabernacle. Upon reaching fifty, they were to “withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more.”

On this basis I have heard it suggested that local church elders should be careful not to stay in the saddle too long, and that age fifty is a logical time to pass the torch to the next generation. Presumably then, these men — still fifteen years too young to collect a government pension — should make their way back to the pews to spend their next thirty or forty years grinding their teeth at the spectacle of younger men making all the mistakes they have learned to avoid. Or else start spending all their winters in Florida.

This cannot be quite right. It isn’t.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Those Latter Days

While every Christian thinks it desirable for individual Jews to be brought into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through faith, I continue to be astounded at the number of evangelicals who reject the possibility of any future blessing for Israel as a nation. The number of expositors and online commentators who insist that the Old Testament prophecies of future glory for Israel have either been abrogated once and for all when Israel crucified its Messiah, completely fulfilled in the Church, or both, is truly mind-boggling.

In some hopefully rare instances, the popularity of this prophetic view is probably a natural by-product of the anti-Semitic spirit that has always been at work in the world. Jews have been hated and persecuted for centuries, many times without any cause at all. Sadly, that is no new thing, even among Christians. One hates to think Judenhass would poison anyone’s eschatology, but history tells us we cannot entirely rule it out.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Anonymous Asks (51)

“How do I deal with people in my life who have hurt me deeply?”

On one level this question is almost too basic. The weakest, newest Christians have heard “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Even raw pagans know we Christians believe that.

Thus if we try to deal with the question as written, the correct answer is a single word: love. That doesn’t make for much of a blog post.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The True Church

The world is full of religious people who don’t have any use for actual instruction from God. When we come across them today, we should not be surprised. They have been around since the very beginning of human history. They like the trappings of institutionalized religiosity but have no use for the spiritual reality these forms and conventions too easily conceal.

Cain was no atheist, no secular man. He observed the formalities. He made offerings to God. He spoke to God directly, and God spoke to him both before and after he murdered his brother, giving moral instruction where both surely knew it would never be heeded.

It didn’t help Cain any, but you can’t say God didn’t try.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (69)

Quick quiz: whose oracle is this? Why, it’s King Lemuel’s, as taught to him by his mother. This fact is unequivocally established in the very first verse. The words express her beliefs; the good king simply put them on paper for the rest of us.

This fact is central to any un-triggered reading of the passage: a woman taught her son which character qualities and habits define an excellent wife and make for a happy home. Lemuel’s mother does not insist he exclude women from consideration who do not measure up to her lofty standards. She doesn’t have to. Her preference is very evident.

In short, these verses cannot easily be dismissed as the misogynist rantings of the evil patriarchy; at least not if we believe in the inspiration of scripture.

Some women really hate that.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Filling the Vacuum

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

Nature abhors a vacuum. This includes a spiritual vacuum.

Tom: The LA Times reports that when asked about their religious affiliation, millennials overwhelmingly answer “none”. That answer is not entirely accurate. As it turns out, a growing number of younger, nominally secular people are embracing practices like meditation, tarot, astrology, energy healing and the use of crystals.

Are you surprised, IC?

Immanuel Can: Not at all, actually. It fits perfectly with what we should expect.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

New, Improved, Advanced … You Need One

A few years ago I went on vacation in England. We had some special places to go, but of course there were a few of the obligatory touristy things as well.

We went to the Tower of London. It’s not a single tower, but a concentric castle formed of 21 towers. One of the main ones is called the White Tower. It was especially interesting to me since it housed a great collection of historical armaments spanning several centuries of warfare. Much of it is conventional stuff: swords, cannons, muskets, shields, chain mail and so forth. Some of the displays feature experimental weaponry, such as multi-barreled, repeating guns and so forth.

Cool.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Romantic Love is NOT an Inalienable Right

I love Andrew Klavan. He’s bitingly witty, reflective, clever, generous-spirited and brave. His Christianity is firmly grounded in the real world and whether arguing for his faith, conservatism or just common sense, he takes no prisoners. We could use more like him.

That said, this blog post lacks the usual Klavan acuity; in particular, this paragraph:

“If, on the other hand, sex is a spiritual act, then you might have an argument that some types of sex are sinful, but if you make that argument, you are advising a fellow spirit to forgo the consolations of romantic love. And if you want to condemn an individual to a life without romantic love, you better make a much more compelling case …”

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

No Way to Think About God

“Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.”

“You shall keep guard over the sanctuary and over the altar, that there may never again be wrath on the people of Israel.”

Throughout history, when God has made his dwelling with men, he has always made gracious provision for our fallen state and inevitable sinfulness. Proximity to perfection is a dangerous thing, a fact God has stated repeatedly. Yet somehow, the idea continues to circulate that God’s holiness is some sort of optional feature of his character, one that may be turned off and on at will.

Nobody puts it quite that way, of course.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Anonymous Asks (50)

“How do you get over a broken romantic relationship?”

How you feel when a relationship ends depends mostly on what you expected from it. If you are convinced that the guy or girl who just told you they don’t see you in their future is the only possible one for you, or that you will never find anyone else like them, or that they are somehow defying all common sense and maybe even the will of God by not appreciating your finer qualities, then you are bound to have a pretty hard time with breaking up.

More importantly, if you and the person who just dumped you have been heavily physically involved, breaking up will be ten times worse.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

God’s Eyelids

God is spirit. I think we can confidently affirm that spirits do not have physical features like we do.

So what’s this the psalmist says about God’s eyelids then? Seems a strange expression:

“The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”

Hmm.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (68)

Throughout history kings have been given opportunities to do good and evil on a scale unlike almost anyone else.

When focused on the welfare of their kingdoms, the benefits they could confer on their subjects were immense. When exacting vengeance from their enemies, the damage the greatest of monarchs could inflict was almost incalculable. And when they devoted themselves to self-indulgence, their excesses were the stuff of legends.

Even today, when monarchs are little more than figureheads, these royal celebs have in their grasp the potential to do both harm and good far beyond the ordinary man or woman.

“With great power,” as they say …

Friday, July 19, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The Pendulum Swings

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

Pride Month in Canada has come and gone, but there are still rainbows everywhere: in banks, fast food outlets and all sorts of corporate venues where you wouldn’t have seen them a decade ago. Our office building had a display in the lobby. If we were to judge the general acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle on the basis of such evidence, we would have to conclude public support for a practice the word of God condemns as an abomination has never been higher.

Not so, say the polls. Interestingly, it’s Millennials who most egregiously dissent from the “conventional wisdom” of their peers.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

So You Want to Serve God …

Dear Daniel:

I’ve been watching you for a while now. I see that you are an earnest kind of person, spiritually speaking. You are enjoying your studies, but finding them a challenge sometimes too, I know. And it’s not easy to handle a young marriage at the same time. Good for you for keeping it all in balance. That wife of yours is a saint; but then again, so are you — I mean the real definition of “saint”, not just some putatively-exemplary dead person in a cathedral window, but a person who has been genuinely sanctified by the salvation in Christ Jesus and has taken his place among all those who love God.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Reports and Opinion Pieces

When Israel reached the borders of the promised land, while the mass of the nation continued to camp in the wilderness of Paran, Moses sent twelve men to spy out the land of Canaan.

He did not do this on his own. God gave the instructions directly, and he even insisted the spies be of high caliber: “every one a chief”.

In hindsight, there were probably several very good reasons for this.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Winning?

Bea tweets, “If god hates gays why do we keep winning?”

Good question. It sounds an awful lot like a punchline with which marauding Philistines might have taunted Israelite farmers around 1070 BC in the midst of plundering their produce and livestock with impunity: “If the God of Israel really hates the practices of the Canaanites, why is it we are running roughshod over his people?

“And by the way, your mother wears army boots!”

Monday, July 15, 2019

Anonymous Asks (49)

“I have a friend who says she is not religious. How do I respond?”

One thing I am slowly learning not to do is to tell other people exactly what they should say when witnessing for Christ. There are probably worse ways to share your beliefs than recycling someone else’s arguments in words you wouldn’t normally use, but I can’t think of too many at the moment. The best case a Christian can make is one he fully understands and believes with all his heart, and is able to express in the same sort of everyday language he uses to enthuse about a football team or a great song.

So I won’t tell you how to respond. The response needs to be all yours. What I might be able to do is to help you work through what your friend is really telling you when she says she is “not religious”, so you can decide how best to attempt to share Christ with her.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Place of My Own

One thing is absolutely certain: we are all going someplace when we die. It may be nowhere more exciting than the digestive systems of worms and soil microbes, thereafter to be distributed throughout the earth’s ecosystem over time, but it is certainly a place. Or places, if you prefer.

Biologically, we do not choose our place. It is imposed on us. Spiritually, however, we do; moreover, we testify to the choices we have made with every daily act we perform. Death makes all choice irrevocable.

This is true even when we are not aware we are making any choice at all.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (67)

A lot of things change in three thousand years, but human nature is not one of them. I am always astounded to find how many of the ancient Hebrew proverbs remain relevant today, if not directly, then certainly by application.

We are looking at the last five verses of Agur’s oracle, which include the last of his six observational quaternions of lists (seven total).

This one is maybe a bit more difficult to work out …

Friday, July 12, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Churches in the Crosshairs

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

Tom: Last week, IC, Bernie and I discussed the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Toronto, Canada, which consisted of 8,000 Catholics, Buddhists, Baptists, Bahai, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans and indigenous spiritualists. They gathered to complain about Donald Trump and disseminate tactics for effectively infiltrating evangelical churches in order to convert us to the globalist / ecumenicalist cause.

Since they’ve been so kind as to warn us of their intentions in advance, I thought maybe we could consider how best to keep them out, or perhaps how to bring them in while thwarting their efforts.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

I Want to Die

I was baptized young.

Not so young that I did not know what I was doing. After all, I believe in believer baptism only … just like the scriptures tell us.

I was around ten, I think. I asked for it to happen. No one pushed me. And at that time, I had a ten-year-old’s faith, and a ten-year-old’s understanding. Nothing wrong with that … it’s just not where I am today.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

That Wacky Old Testament (14)

Yesterday we looked at the sometimes-controversial fifth chapter of Numbers, in which God gives instructions about how a jealous husband should deal with a wife thought to have committed adultery.

The confusion this chapter produces in modern women reading it for the first time is really quite entertaining. Brought up to believe unquestioningly in “equality” of every possible sort, they quickly look around for the parallel chapter in which a wife could take her husband to the priest and have him tested for adultery. The less-experienced Bible students are shocked to find it doesn’t exist.

The world was a different place in those days, especially in the nation of Israel. Some things have changed. Some have not.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

That Wacky Old Testament (13)

The “bitter water” test found in the fifth chapter of Numbers is the source of a fair bit of confusion and debate.

There are arguments that it legitimizes abortion, arguments that the test couldn’t possibly work, and of course we can’t forget the obligatory fussing that the test was unegalitarian because it was not applied to men.

That makes the chapter worth a little more attention, surely.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Anonymous Asks (48)

“Why doesn’t God interact with us today the way he did over the periods covered in the Bible?”

It is important to notice that God did not always interact with men and women in exactly the same way over the periods covered in the Old and New Testaments. In fact, he revealed himself at many different times and in many different ways. There were also long periods in between these self-revelations — sometimes ten generations or more — during which God appears to have been silent, and no new word from heaven was forthcoming.

All the same, I think we have a good idea what’s being asked here, and that is this: Why does it appear there is no longer any absolutely categorical, personal, undeniable, back-and-forth interaction with God available to us?

Sunday, July 07, 2019

A Closer Look

I did not grow up with liturgy. The closest thing was probably the occasional corporate reading of scripture from the back of a beat-up hymnbook with a busted spine, where at least you could be sure everyone was looking at the same translation for once.

Agreed, that’s not very close.

The Upper and Nether Millstones

Of course there were always very sincere, older, conservative Christians around who prayed out loud in religious clichés so hackneyed and distinctive you could see them coming several sentences in advance. But that’s not really liturgy either; it’s more like chronic failure of imagination. My brothers and I would mouth these pieties to one another as they rolled off the speaker’s tongue in amusement at our own rather profane cleverness in anticipating them.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (66)

Everybody loves an underdog.

Ask any sports fan. We are always delighted to cheer the overcomer, the up-and-comer, and the unexpected victory from the team that wasn’t expected to get it done. It’s called bandwagoneering, and it happens regularly in cities whose teams haven’t won in years. People with no previous interest in basketball, baseball or football suddenly start talking about the home squad as if they are family members.

But underdogs are not just a regular feature of professional sports. Creation has plenty of them on display. The best thing is that these natural examples of overcoming were not cobbled together at last minute with millions of dollars at the trade deadline; rather, they were designed by God to teach us all lessons of enduring value.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Those Pesky Evangelicals

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

The 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Toronto, Canada was ecumenicalism monetized, organized and with a working agenda for planet-wide spiritual dominion.

That’s not hyperbole. They’re not hiding much these days, and almost anyone who makes an effort is free to come in to their major gatherings and take a look. They want both a world government and a viable world religion to make it happen. Something close to 8,000 delegates got together to plug away at the project. These included Catholics, Buddhists, Baptists, the Bahai, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, indigenous spiritualists and even a video message from the Dalai Lama. You name it, they were there. Carl Teichrib was also there, reporting.

Tom: Assuming it’s accurate, what interests me about Teichrib’s summary is that the Interfaith Engagement panel he attended was particularly troubled by evangelical resistance to their project. They considered at length how to break down the walls that keep evangelicals from fully participating in their little Babel 2.0. Their recommendations were intriguing.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Straight Talk

Some years ago, Dr. Gordon Marino, the ethicist, wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education called “Before Teaching Ethics, Stop Kidding Yourself”.

In this article, Marino complained of the cottage industry of posers and pseudo-experts we have today who dispense advice to us about how we ought to conduct our moral lives. Ethics, he argued, were not so much a matter of specialized knowledge as of ordinary people doing what they already knew to do.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Conspiracy Theory

I’ve been enjoying the account of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul, the writer of many books in the New Testament. The book of Acts tells Paul’s story several times, each version bringing out new details not recorded in the others.

Atheists and detractors like to point out alleged contradictions in scripture; anything that might be interpreted, however implausibly, with sufficient elasticity as to make less than perfect, logical sense of the biblical narrative. Such things are accounted for variously as factual mistakes, copyist’s errors or conspiracies among believers to commit pious fraud.

TheThinkingAtheist.com is a great place to go if you want to see the sort of thing that passes for Bible criticism among those who have already made up their minds before reading a single verse.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Quote of the Day (41)

In a week when the usual suspects have been howling for a “disproportionate response” to the downing of a U.S. navy spy drone, it’s refreshing to find a commentator who prefers violent provocations be met with no response at all.

Don’t worry, this is not about the Strait of Hormuz or what constitutes Iranian airspace. The provocation is storyline-only, and the response to it is disproportionate only if you fail to consider the circumstances in which it occurs.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Anonymous Asks (47)

“How did people stay alive so long back in the Old Testament?”

If we are going to consider how it was that people were able to live to exceptional ages in the early chapters of Genesis (930 years for Adam, 912 for Seth, 969 for Methuselah, which is the highest recorded, and so on), we had better first ask the question, “Did they really?”

After all, some Bible students believe they did not. I think they’re wrong, but we should at least let them weigh in.