Friday, January 31, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Discipline of Discipline

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

Immanuel Can: The only verse in the Bible that everyone today seems to know is “Judge not lest ye be judged.”

Tom: Sounds about right.

IC: Okay, so that verse seems to people to be conveying something important. Maybe it needs some closer examination.

Tom: Fair enough. Well, it seems to me there’s an obvious incentive on the part of those who use it to rebut any potential critique of their own behaviors — or the behaviors of those for whom they choose to be advocates. I mean, quoting a verse to an unbeliever would carry no weight at all, so it’s clearly a device to disqualify dissenting Christian opinion and shut down any debate before it begins.

It’s saying to you and me, “Aha, see, you’re not allowed to have a view on this.”

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Authentic Me

I’m not wading into the moral train wreck that is the Bruce Jenner situation. There are some things about which the less said the better. But I am interested in the language that has come out over and over again in regard to it. I note the recurrence of a theme that bears serious consideration for a Christian.

It’s the idea of authenticity. In the parlance of the world, it’s supposed to explain or excuse a very great deal. It is generally taken for granted that to be “authentic” is an absolute moral duty — in fact, it might be the only universal moral duty that the liberal left actually recognizes. And somehow Jenner has achieved this highest value by his recent act of selecting to go half woman.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Flyover Country: 3 John

The most enthusiastic reception I’ve ever gotten at a local church was the day I set foot in a small congregation of Christians whose nominal affiliation with (reputed) sectarian purists turned out to be no predictor of the warm welcome they uniformly showed to visitors from the “other side” of the theological divide.

I broke bread with them after an introductory conversation that took approximately thirty seconds, just long enough to discover what I thought of Jesus Christ. I think very well of him indeed. That was sufficient cause for a hearty introduction, several good conversations and multiple invitations home for a bite of lunch.

Good for them, I say.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

More Than One Blessing

“Have you but one blessing, my father?”

Mature Christians will tell you the answer to every problem in life is Christ. They are not wrong. The most complex interpersonal disasters, the most dysfunctional families, the biggest crimes and misdemeanors and all the fallout that comes from them — in one way or another, Jesus Christ is the answer to all these things.

When you have smashed all the dishes, Christ is the answer. But he will not mend them for you and put them back on the shelf. When you have blown up your marriage, Christ is the answer. But he may not magically transform your ex-husband into your best friend. When you have raised an ungrateful, spoiled, crazy child, Christ is definitely the answer. The child may still decide to go to hell.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Anonymous Asks (77)

“Is my baptism still valid if I sin?”

I cannot think of a single person in the New Testament who was ever baptized twice as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Now, there were a few believers in Corinth who received a second water baptism, but only because their first baptism had been a baptism of repentance preached by John. This was insufficient; they needed to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

But baptized twice as Christians? Never.* That in itself should strongly suggest it is impossible to invalidate one’s baptism.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Breaking Your Own Compass

By the oddest of coincidences, the standard of the
Nineveh Protection Units looks like ... a compass.
“I did it my way.”
— Paul Anka

“I’ve got my own way. I can find my own way.”
— Duran Duran

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
— Judges 21:25

Ah, the conscience.

The Function of Conscience

On one hand, each individual’s conscience must be the final arbiter of his or her choices; a moral compass. While there is plenty of direction out there in the word of God to provide sound guidance for life, in the end, how that is applied and whether or not it is followed is down to each one of us. It can be no other way.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Time and Chance (20)

One thing I have neglected to point out over the last two weeks of posts in this series is that the first seven verses of chapter 5 of Ecclesiastes are different from everything that has come before them. They are the very first commands we have encountered in the Preacher’s writing.

Everything up to this point has been description; the Preacher looking around at his world and telling us what he observes in the absence of divine revelation, most of which he finds disappointing and confusing. But chapter 5 commences with a short series of what we might call prescriptions. The Preacher has actually begun to issue the occasional instruction. “Guard your steps,” he says. “Be not rash with your mouth. Let your words be few. Do not delay in fulfilling your vows.”

Friday, January 24, 2020

Disappearing Comments

Our reader WiC informs me issues he was having with his comments to our blog posts disappearing into the ether seem to have been unexpectedly resolved. If I recall, this happened most frequently to readers with Mac laptops.

Is it time? Is it Blogger? Who knows. Either way it’s good news.

So, if you have felt like commenting on a post here or there but have given it up for impossible, now might be a good time to give it another shot.

Too Hot to Handle: Majoring on the Majors

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

Tom: There’s a line I keep hearing these days that goes something like this:

“We should keep unity for the sake of the gospel. Major on the majors, and not on the minors. We shouldn’t fight over secondary issues.”

Immanuel Can, some things are worth fighting over. Jude urges his readers, who appear to be a very general believing audience, to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

So what’s really worth contending for, and what should be set aside for the sake of unity? In short, what makes something “major” or “minor”?

Immanuel Can: Ah. What do I mean, or what do most other people I meet seem to mean? Can you clarify?

Tom: I take it there’s a significant difference then.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Just Get Up

Sammy came to visit me yesterday.

I shouldn’t call him that, actually. He’s not a kid. He’s close to thirty now, I would guess; he’s done with college, done with establishing a career, and while he’s not yet married (if he ever chooses to be), he’s a highly successful entrepreneur who owns two flourishing businesses.

But when I knew him he was “Sammy”. I coached him in his teens, you see.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Semi-Random Musings (19)

“[T]he one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death.”

Tough times, when prophets are anointed in blood.

Not literally, of course; let’s not be grotesque. But the Bible’s first mention of Elijah’s successor tells us he would cause death, and he needed no sword to do it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Is Christianity a Religion?

Depends on your definition, doesn’t it.

As a unit of language, the word ‘religion’ has acquired so many nuances that it is almost useless. Everyone has his or her own idea of what religion means, but they often differ drastically from one another. It has become one of those words that just doesn’t really communicate much anymore.

If I ask, “Are you religious?” and you say “Yes”, I have actually discovered very little indeed about what you believe.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Anonymous Asks (76)

“What does the Bible say about insecurity?”

The answer to that would very much depend on the type of insecurity in question.

For example, King Saul was extremely insecure about his position as king of Israel, so much so that he tried to kill the man he suspected would follow him on the throne. He had very good reason to be insecure, and there was no obvious cure to be found for his insecurity. He had sinned, and was under the judgment of God. His kingdom was to be taken away from him and given to another.

In short, he was trying to defend something to which he had no right. Living in that sort of untenable position will always make us feel insecure.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Agnosticism and Folly

“Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”

Solomon, wisest man of his day and the greatest king of Israel — at least by the world’s standard of measurement — talks about two alternatives we all face in life, picturing them by extended metaphor as a pair of women offering invitations.

On the surface there are similarities: both women are offering food of a sort to those who are simple, naïve or untaught, just as we all are when we come into the world.

But the similarities end there.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Time and Chance (19)

Over the Christmas season, you often get to observe people giving thanks for a meal who wouldn’t do it ordinarily. You can tell it’s a special event because they refer to it as “saying grace”, as if it’s some kind of annual sacrament rather than just another in a thrice-daily series of simple, grateful responses to God’s generosity. Often the head of the family feels compelled to do the honors.

Now, from time to time it happens that the person drafted to perform this duty has given little or no thought to the question of God’s existence one way or the other. He is now put on the spot. It can be fun, and a bit awkward, to watch someone pretend to address a Supreme Being they don’t truly believe in. Their whole “grace” thing usually gets mumbled out strung together like it’s one word: Forwhatweareabouttorecieve ...

Hey, it helps to have a familiar liturgical formula to recite. Anybody can pull that off, believer or no.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Making Merchandise

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

As long as there has been a people of God in the world, there have been those who looked to take advantage of them. The Israelites had their false prophets, and Peter warns the young church to expect their share of false teachers. He says, as the translators of the King James Version so eloquently put it, “Through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you”.

Tom: But of course the trick is always identifying such people, isn’t it, Immanuel Can? I mean, what does that look like in the real world?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Unforgivable Sin

Over the holidays I was browsing a bookshop, and by chance happened to pick up a copy of Søren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death (1849).

Now, I’m not saying it’s a book everybody’s going to find easy to read. I don’t think it’s one that an unbeliever — no matter how bright — is really going to be able to understand. Nor do I think an average believer will find it straightforward. But if you’ve got the will and the ability, and especially if you are a person of some theological background and an interest in the welfare of Christians generally, I most highly recommend it.

It’s blowing my mind.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Text and Me

Marg Mowczko writes about a woman who wept when reading the many masculine pronouns in 1 Corinthians in her 1984 NIV. She asked, “Where am I in the text?

Marg herself admits to a similar issue with nouns: “Masculine nouns, such as ‘brothers’ when the meaning is ‘brothers and sisters,’ effectively distance women from the text.” She finds the book of Hebrews much less personally relevant when she reads it in the ESV.

Accordingly, Marg prefers the TNIV, which uses more gender-inclusive language, giving women the prominence in the text which it is thought they need and deserve.

But since the question of distance from the text is being raised, let’s explore that a bit.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Nouns and Pronouns

Pronouns are noun-substitutes. They save us from cluttering up our sentences with unnecessary repetition. A long string of names can be easily replaced with a four-letter pronoun like “they”, saving all kinds of space.

I’m not telling you anything new here. We learn this in grade school.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Anonymous Asks (75)

“Does God know when I will die?”

Yes. How’s that for a quick and direct answer?

We find David reflecting on this exact subject in a psalm about God’s incredible knowledge of each of his creatures: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” The words “every one of them” tell us that not only does God know the content of our experiences, but each individual time-fragment that makes up those experiences. Every single day.

Not only is God able to count the days of our lives, he has made a formal record of each one.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Times and Dates

The phrase “unto this day” or its equivalent occurs 92 times in scripture by my count, 86 times in Hebrew and six times in Greek. Well over a dozen Bible authors use it. When I was much younger and more solipsistic, I read it — don’t laugh — as if it meant up until the late twentieth century, as if “this day” meant the day I was reading it. It seemed rather cool to me that so many landmarks in Old Testament history could survive so long.

Later it dawned on me that of course it really means up until sometime between the first moment the writer put quill to papyrus and the moment he finished editing what he had written. No more, no less.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Time and Chance (18)

The “house of God”. What does that mean exactly? When you see the expression in your Bible, it does not always mean precisely the same thing, though all its uses have a common element.

When Jacob first coins the expression in Genesis, he is referring to what he saw in a vision while camped about 12 miles north of Jerusalem. He dreamed of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, on which the angels of God traveled up and down, and the Lord standing above it, speaking to him. He concluded he had slept on the doorstep of God’s heavenly dwelling, and he called the place Bethel, which means “house of God”.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Biocentrism and Reality

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

The soul: it’s a heavy topic, and one that not everyone agrees about. Dr. Robert Lanza is a biologist who says that consciousness creates the universe rather than the other way around. He’s what is called a “biocentrist”. His is a relatively new theory, having come into play around 2007. The fundamental notion behind it is that the much sought-after “Theory of Everything” scientists are looking for cannot be found until biology is placed at the head of the sciences.

Tom: It’s interesting, Immanuel Can, to see the spiritual dimension of life acquiring some scientific credibility. Do you want to take a shot at explaining Dr. Lanza’s theory?

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Living Under the Blade

Damocles, R. Westall, 1812
The ancient writer Cicero has an anecdote about a man named Damocles, a boot-licking courtier to the ancient despot, Dionysius II. Damocles foolishly thought he’d like to see what it was really like to be a king, and so the king granted his wish.

Damocles quickly settled himself into Dionysius’ luxurious couch and began to enjoy the pleasures of rule — being fanned, having serving maids feed him, issuing commands, and so on. But in order to make the experience truly authentic, Dionysius gave one further order: that above Damocles’ head a shining sword would be suspended by a single horse-hair, so that he might be ever conscious that at any moment it might fall and carve the presumptuous pseudo-king in half.

Of course, Damocles soon begged the king to be allowed to return to his former position.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Acting Like Men

“Act like men.”

Yesterday I watched a few seconds of video from the recent attempted mass shooting at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas. It’s all up there on YouTube, of course. The church was livestreaming its service when the incident occurred.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Top 10 Posts of 2019

I did this last year, and if it was not necessarily a smashing success, at least it was easy and fun. So why not give it another shot?

If we started any trends in our sixth full year of daily posting, it was probably due to the shortage of new material from Immanuel Can. IC has written a bunch of things in the past twelve months, many of which I’ve read and enjoyed. However, most of them have been directed to individuals online and targeted toward very specific personal needs, which made them poor blog fodder. Our loss.

In any case, what happened as a result is that five of our ten most-read posts this year (numbers four through eight) were various installments of my weekly email exchanges with IC. Hey, apparently our readership will take what it can get ...

Monday, January 06, 2020

Anonymous Asks (74)

“Does God only help those who help themselves?”

I hope you will not think I am equivocating if I answer, “It depends.” Because it does. Sometimes believers have to do a great deal of the heavy lifting while carrying out the plans and purposes of God. To shirk our obligations would be to defy God himself. Other times, getting involved in accomplishing God’s purposes is not only unnecessary, but can cause all kinds of complications and regret.

Abraham’s wife Sarah could tell you how badly that can go.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Semi-Random Musings (18)

There are no wasted words in scripture. At least, I’m not having much luck finding any.

The apostle John says that if everything Jesus did were written down, the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Sanctified hyperbole? Maybe. But what is certain is that we’d need tractor trailers to carry our Bibles to church and bigger doors on our buildings. Much bigger. Add a few more unnecessary details to our Old Testaments, and we’d have to leave them at home. Except of course that our homes would not be big enough, and we couldn’t afford to own all the volumes.

The Holy Spirit is not just the world’s greatest-ever writer, he is also the world’s greatest-ever editor. We get exactly what we need and no more. No detail is frivolous.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Time and Chance (17)

I do not own or read many Bible commentaries.

Why? Well, I find commentaries tend to sway me toward specific interpretations of the text. That makes them bad places to start the search for truth — for me at least — because they rarely lay out all possible options for me to consider. Further, these selective impressions about meaning may or may not be well informed, linguistically accurate, carefully thought out, or consistent with the rest of scripture. Some are and some are not. The sheer number and variety of impressions gathered by different writers from any given passage demonstrate that not all can be correct, though some are definitely better than others.

So I prefer to read a passage multiple times, pray through it and mull it over, then do word studies and comparative analyses to develop an opinion about its meaning on my own. Reaching for a commentary is a very last resort. Confirmation, maybe.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Speaking Out of Turn

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

If the quotes in this Breitbart article are even close to accurate, the head of the Roman Catholic church has just thrown one of the most important principles of first century Christian faith under the bus:

“The last thing I should do is to try to convince an unbeliever. Never,” he said. “The last thing I should do is speak.”

Tom: So now the most revered figure in one of the world’s biggest branches of Christianity insists all testimony to Christ must be non-verbal. What do you think of that, IC?

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Faith’s Got Legs

It’s been a good winter for walking.

There’s hardly been any ice on the sidewalks, for one thing. For another, you could go out in February and march about in a thin jacket.

My little terrier has been ecstatic, actually. He loves a good walk. Dogs need a couple every day; and unlike in other winters, there have been plenty of smells around for him to get into. He stops everywhere, and he finds everything delightful. My dog trainer would never approve, but I can’t resist indulging him a little bit, and so our peregrinations contain frequent pauses to let him sniff about. Sometimes I actually think we walk his nose more than we walk my legs. But who could begrudge him a winter like this?

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Five Easy Predictions for 2020

I am not Daniel or Ezekiel. I’m not even George Orwell. So if we’re still here in January 2021, you can either say, “Well, he totally botched that,” or “Not too bad.” More likely it’ll be somewhere in between, as it usually is. Age and experience give one a certain ability to estimate what might be coming our way in our societies and churches. Basically, it is usually something like whatever happened the last time we saw similar symptoms.

But the operative word here is “might”. There are always factors for which we cannot account, the finger of God being far from the least of these.

So with it very much in mind that the Lord will do what he will in our world, let’s speculate about what we might see more of in 2020.