Thursday, October 31, 2019

Minding Our Own Business

Our church just got a flow chart. It’s our very first.

Congratulate us. We have a new hierarchy, with the elders and lead pastor pegged in at the apex, then a sort of “Christmas tree” pattern downwards, with levels for “administrative pastors” and “pastors of family life and missions” and then various lay designates like Sunday School supervisors and teen ministry functionaries below them. (The congregation itself didn’t make it onto the diagram, but I think we’re assumed to be down there somewhere.)

And … oh yes … Someone Else is missing. I just can’t think of who he is.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Purpose of the Sacrifices [Part 6]

Continuing an examination of the sacrifices of the Old Testament. We started with what the sacrifices WERE NOT and are now examining what they WERE.

In my last post we looked at the sacrifices as a reminder of sins and asked why a constant reminder was necessary for God’s people.

But what other purposes did the sacrifices serve?

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Purpose of the Sacrifices [Part 5]

Continuing an examination of the sacrifices of the Old Testament. We started with what the sacrifices WERE NOT and are now examining what they WERE.

In my last post we examined the way in which the sacrifices served the very practical purpose of providing food for God’s servants and their families.

What other purposes did the sacrifices serve?

Monday, October 28, 2019

Anonymous Asks (64)

“Does everything happen for a reason?”

That ominous yellow ticket under your windshield wiper: did God do that?

Just curious.

Some Christians are determinists. They think everything that happens, no matter how minuscule or insignificant, is a product of God’s deliberate calculations; in effect, that God micromanages the universe. In believing this, they feel they are glorifying God, because they are acknowledging his sovereign rule.

In their view, yes, God gave you that ticket. You will thank him later.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Confession and Edification

Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.”

“Let all things be done for building up.”

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: whenever one presumes to associate verses about different subjects, it is pretty much obligatory to acknowledge what they mean in their original contexts. Long time readers of the New Testament will already know my first quotation comes from James, and has to do with sick Christians who feel they are under judgment telling mature believers the previously-concealed truth, whatever that might be, in hope of being healed. They will also surely be familiar with the second quote, which has the apostle Paul observing the governing metric by which Christians may assess the value of verbal contributions during their gatherings.

Both verses are bigger than their immediate contexts. They embody principles we may quite reasonably apply in circumstances other than those specifically addressed by the NT writers.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Time and Chance (7)

Last week I pointed out that Ecclesiastes 2 divides neatly into three sections, observing that the phrase “so I turned” marks the transition from one subject to the next. In the first section, the Preacher considers the emptiness of hedonism as a philosophy. This is not a position with which most of our readers are likely to disagree.

This second section, however, deals with the shortcomings of wisdom as a be-all and end-all. That may not be quite so obvious. However, as we will shortly see, even living wisely has its downside.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: American Laodicea

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

In a blog post entitled “The 10 Biggest Issues Christian Americans Are Facing Today”, author Daniel Sweet maintains American Christianity is Laodicean in character. Sweet reads the Lord’s condemnation of the church at Laodicea and says this:

“Yes, that’s America. With atheists becoming more strategic in championing their godless worldview, the increasing reticence of Christians to engage in faith-oriented conversations assumes heightened significance. Why would a Christian be reticent about living and sharing his faith in Jesus Christ? Could it be because neither the Word nor the Lord is real to them? And could that be because the doctrine presented to most Christians is illogical, self-contradictory, confusing, bland or unmotivating?”

Tom: That’s pretty harsh, Immanuel Can. Do you think it’s accurate?

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A Dangerously Clear Head

True story: When I was in my early university career, I was friends with a girl whose father taught history there. One of his students exhibited a most peculiar propensity in his essays; and that is, that no matter what question he was asked, he always answered, “God did it”.

What caused the Napoleonic Wars?

“God did.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Purpose of the Sacrifices [Part 4]

Continuing an examination of the sacrifices of the Old Testament. We started with what the sacrifices WERE NOT.

In my last post I pointed out what should be obvious to any evangelical Christian or cursory reader of the book of Hebrews: that the Old Testament sacrificial system neither disposed once-and-for-all with the question of sin from God’s perspective, nor did it clear the conscience of the worshipers.

So what WERE the sacrifices for then?

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Purpose of the Sacrifices [Part 3]

Continuing an examination of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, starting with what they were not, and moving to what they were.

In my last post I tried to establish that the sacrifices neither fed God nor gave him pleasure, and that they were useless without the right attitude and accompanying actions.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Anonymous Asks (63)

“If I doubt my salvation, am I still saved?”

Doubts are a part of life. If you have never had them, you simply haven’t lived long enough yet.

To understand the answer to this question, it is necessary to consider how we were saved in the first place. Paul answers it very simply: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Put your trust in the resurrected Christ, then acknowledge his right to rule. Over the world. Over your life. In public. Not complicated. These are the beginnings of the salvation process.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The People Standing Around

“I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around.”

Sometimes Jesus said things he didn’t need to say. Sometimes he asked questions to which he already knew the answer, or asked to be given things he didn’t require. Once, he even went through a baptism of repentance when he had nothing whatsoever for which to repent.

He had to, on account of the people standing around.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Time and Chance (6)

The last few verses of Ecclesiastes 1 (v12-18, which we discussed in this space last week) may best be viewed as a summary of the Preacher’s intentions for the book. He is about to apply his exceptional wisdom to all aspects of human experience in hope of finding meaning.

Spoiler alert: he tells us his conclusion up front before going into his investigations in detail.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Generation Z and Unbelief

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

In this article in The Atlantic, Larry Taunton tells the story of Phil, a young atheist whose reasons for his unbelief sound surprisingly unlike those of the New Atheists.

To me they sound uncomfortably close to home.

Phil had been president of his Methodist church youth group, and loved the Bible studies led by Jim, their youth leader. Jim didn’t dodge the tough chapters or questions. He couldn’t answer every question, but he made the Bible come alive for Phil.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Turning Into Monsters

In one of his messages, a self-styled philosopher sent this line:

“Conservatives are monsters.”

I’m not really sure what he means by “conservatives”. In the context of the discussion, he meant anti-abortionists, definitely.

Oh, believe me: the irony’s not lost on me.

But I think he meant to speak more broadly, as well. I think he also meant social conservatives like Libertarians, Republicans and Brexiters, and maybe even Christians. Anyway, he gets them all with one broad brush: “conservatives”.

It’s obviously rhetoric. But let’s take him seriously.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Purpose of the Sacrifices [Part 2]

Continuing our examination of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, starting with what they were not, and moving to what they were. In my last post I tried to establish that, first and foremost, the sacrifices of the Old Testament were far from God’s ideal. I am quite confident that if there had been a way to accomplish the necessary purposes of the sacrifices without involving suffering or death, God would most certainly have ordered it.

So let’s carry on with what the sacrifices were not:

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Purpose of the Sacrifices [Part 1]

Animal sacrifice is not something Christians practice, for good reason. The sacrifices of the Old Testament point forward to Jesus Christ and were fulfilled in his death, and are thus no longer necessary for either Jews or Gentiles.

For Christians, the sacrifices can be an interesting study, the details of which frequently serve to reinforce the unity and consistency of scripture and the plan of God for man through the ages. They can be very reaffirming to a Christian’s faith, and give a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the holiness of God, the nature of sin, the condition of man and most significantly, the value of the sacrifice of Christ himself.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Anonymous Asks (62)

“Does it really matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere?”

This is a curious question in that one would almost never think to ask it about anything other than religious belief.

Consider what happens if I go for a drive at high speed on a dark and stormy night and decide the sign that says “Bridge out!” is a hoax. The sincerity of my belief in a functioning bridge cannot stop what inevitably happens next. Consider what happens when a general sends his armies east instead of west because he believes sincerely that is the direction the attack will come from, and instead is attacked from the west. Again, the intensity of the general’s convictions has no bearing whatsoever on the end result. Reality will be what reality will be, regardless of what men and women think about it.

What the question presupposes is that God is uniquely uncaring about how men and women approach him. That is an assumption which cannot be defended from the Bible.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

An Afterthought about an Afterthought

“As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped.”

By his own admission, Gideon was the least accomplished son in the household of a father whose clan was a mere afterthought within its tribe. Worse, in the latest recorded Israelite census, the tribe of Manasseh had finished dead last in the number of fighting men it was able to supply to Israel’s army, less than half the number available from Judah and well behind even small-but-pugnacious Benjamin.

To top things off, the tribe of Manasseh then voluntarily split itself in half.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Time and Chance (5)

If you’ve ever read the biography of a genius, you’ll understand that a high IQ on its own is not necessarily a recipe for a successful or happy life.

Beethoven is thought to have been bipolar. Michelangelo was probably a high-functioning autist. Isaac Newton may well have been schizophrenic. Before becoming a Christian, Leo Tolstoy suffered from deep depression and regularly contemplated suicide.

Obviously there is more to living well than thinking at a high level and possessing a large number of facts.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Upside-Down World

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

Two weeks ago, a British court ruled that transgender fantasies now officially trump the word of God in at least one Western state.

Tom: Here’s the wacky ruling in a nutshell:

“Belief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others, specifically here, transgender individuals ... in so far as those beliefs form part of his wider faith, his wider faith also does not satisfy the requirement of being worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others.”

Well, here we are, IC, “not worthy of respect.” How will we look at ourselves in the mirror?

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Why Are We So Easily Shaken?

I won’t soon forget his face.

He was perhaps thirty or forty years of age, well-dressed and smart looking, a typical man of his era. He was just one among the thousands who had come to this week-long Christian conference.

Every morning, the speakers had been dealing with the reasons for faith, their goal being to show people how firm and rational the foundation for our beliefs really is. Naturally, in this day and age, they had found it necessary to refer often to the recent screeds of people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett or Sam Harris, the self-appointed “brights” of the atheist world, the so-called “Four Horsemen” of the secular apocalypse; though, really, all four are theological lightweights, since contempt for one’s subject matter tends to make one rather imprecise. Anyway, they make their way by preaching to the atheistic converted, reciting to them the same old canards that have been circulating since Darwin, Freud, Marx and Nietzsche. (Truly there is no new thing under the sun.)

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

From Gilgal to Bochim

“Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim.”

The angel of the Lord went up. Have you ever wondered exactly what that means?

In Hebrew, the phrase is mal'ak Yĕhovah (literally, “the representative of YHWH”). The word mal'ak (often translated “angel”) may also refer to perfectly ordinary human messengers, so context very much determines how we interpret any given instance of its use. When Jacob sent mal'ak to Esau in advance of his return home, we can be quite confident he did not have Michael or Gabriel at his disposal. Thus, the use of mal'ak on its own in scripture may not necessarily be intended to convey anything supernatural or otherworldly.

Add Yĕhovah to it, however, and you’ve got a phrase with a rather more specific spiritual significance.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The Names of Their Gods

Dr. Jordan Peterson’s fifteen minutes of fame are pretty much up, I suspect, but since he got almost three years of limelight and a book that has sold in the neighborhood of three million copies out of his notoriety, he’s probably not complaining.

For the three readers who have never heard of him, the professor drew international attention in late 2016 for his critique of political correctness, something almost unheard of on Canadian university campuses. He has not looked back since.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Anonymous Asks (61)

“Is low self-esteem better than pride?”

Pride is very, very bad. God hates it, and has documented his hatred of it repeatedly. It leads to destruction; in fact, it was one of the sins for which God judged the city of Sodom. James says God opposes the proud, and the prophet Isaiah reminds us that “the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty ... it shall be brought low.”

So pride is definitely something to avoid. The question is whether low self-esteem is really a whole lot better.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Mission Statement

I’ve never had much use for mission statements or five-year plans, though they are certainly an ongoing feature of modern business life. And perhaps in a business environment it makes sense to ask, “What is our purpose and how are we going to realize it?” The problem is that it is easy to formulate a lofty catchphrase that is entirely meaningless in the real world, isn’t it?
  • McDonalds’ mission statement is typical of such efforts to distill purpose into a single phrase: “McDonald’s brand mission is to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink.” Predictably bland and inoffensive.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Time and Chance (4)

Up to this point in our study of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher has been primarily concerned with making general comments about the natural world from observation — the sun, the wind, the water cycle, biology and humanity as a species.

He has established several things: (1) that all aspects of both the natural world and of human existence are cyclical and endlessly repetitive; (2) that each phase of any given cycle is relatively brief and inconsequential; and (3) that understanding the meaning of it all is not an easy thing.

Now he narrows his focus and begins to consider human society and the various ways one’s life may play out within it.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Parroting the Narrative

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

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is apologizing again, this time for being caught dressing as a blackface Aladdin at a 2001 party, thereby managing to potentially offend two different segments of his voting base simultaneously. Or so say his detractors.

Tom: IC, would our Canadian readers be expected to give him a pass if he’d cross-dressed as Jasmine rather than Aladdin?

Immanuel Can: Plausibly. Dressing so as to “appropriate” a culture or to mock another “race” (to use their words) is greeted with howls of dismay; but there’s an automatic approval of men who dress as women, so that might work for him.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Lies, Myths and Misinformation: Missionaries Are Destructive

The modern, secularist, Leftist legend goes like this: missionaries are evil.

And why?

Because they were really nothing more than shock troops for colonialism. Being the first into remote areas, they led the way for merchants and the military to exploit vulnerable native cultures. And so, they conclude, we Christians should all be ashamed of the work done by missionaries in the past; and today, we definitely should not sponsor missionary efforts abroad.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

The Search for Faith

“[W]hen the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The answer to this question matters. God loves faith, not least because it is faith that produces every work which pleases him.

Hebrews 11 catalogs a variety of wonderful things faith does in the lives of believers, all of which delight the heart of God.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Semi-Random Musings (16)

If you don’t believe anything you see on CNN or MSNBC anymore, if The New York Times prints more fiction than fact, and if The Drudge Report has too many tabloid-style shock items for your taste, you may like Disrn, a new website created by Adam Ford of The Christian Daily Reporter and the Adam Ford Newsletter in partnership with Seth Dillon of The Babylon Bee.