Sunday, November 29, 2020

Looking for a Word

“The crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God ...”

How did these four words become so commonplace among Christians? How did we come to take them so completely for granted?

It’s Sunday morning, so the family piles into the aging Camry five minutes late, maybe ten. Dad is distracted by problems at the office and the condition of the lawn, which he meant to get to Saturday afternoon but didn’t. Mom is simmering about Junior, whose hair is its usual mess, and who didn’t wear the freshly pressed shirt she put out for him last night, but there wasn’t time to make him change before meeting. Junior is rhapsodizing about a blonde in his math class, while Sis obsesses over the number of calories in the cream cheese bagel Mom guilted her into eating for breakfast, half of which she smuggled into the garbage in a napkin. Meanwhile, the baby just spat her soother under the car seat again. Everyone is used to the waves of ambient unhappiness she emits most of her waking life, but this morning she’s cranked the volume up to eleven.

We’re off to hear God’s word.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (10)

If you are in the habit of praying regularly, especially in the privacy of your own heart, you will surely have noticed that some of your prayers are more coherent and composed than others, depending on circumstances, distractions and the level of distress you are experiencing at the time.

This is fairly normal, I think, and gives us cause to be thankful for the Spirit of God, who helps us in our weakness.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Great Reset

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

The only substantive difference between the Great Reset and other conspiracies is that the Great Reset is right out there in the open, more or less declaring itself for what it is in hope that the generation has finally come along who will take up its ideas and make them successful. The movement has its own websites, branding and literally trillions of dollars in backing. If you haven’t come across it yet, you probably will shortly.

Tom: The Great Reset idea is the product of eighty-something German engineer and economist Klaus Schwab, whose detractors refer to him as “the new Karl Marx”, and an organization he founded called the World Economic Forum. Schwab has been pushing his utopian vision since the early ’70s, but the outbreak of COVID-19 across the world this year is the latest pretense for finally implementing it. IC, maybe you can give us a quick executive summary of the concept.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Eating and drinking to the glory of God?

What a strange idea. I get the “eating” part, and I get the idea of “glorifying God”. But what does our action of eating have to do with God’s glory?

That’s going to take some explaining.

A Meal and Love

I have a friend who has the gift of hospitality. Watching him for many years has totally convinced me of the incredible power of that gift. More than anyone I’ve ever met, he has a knack for making his home a place where people feel welcomed, warmed, loved and fed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Flyover Country: Ruth

David Jeremiah writes, “Perhaps the greatest romance in all of scripture is found in the book of Ruth.” Ray Stedman calls Ruth “a beautiful story of a romance”. Bible.com’s reading plan for Ruth actually refers to the book as an “OG chick-flick”.

Okay, that last one is a little hard to stomach. If you had never read the book of Ruth and heard only those sorts of comments about it, you might be forgiven for expecting the book to be a little on the trivial side, or for not reading it at all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

On the Construction Site

Raising children is hard. Doing it right is harder.

Psalm 127 was written by Solomon, and contains several oft-quoted lines about parents and children. To the extent we know much about any of Solomon’s own children, it appears they had limited success in this world. Solomon’s son Rehoboam started his reign with twelve tribes calling him king and ended it with 2-1/2 ... not exactly what we would call an outstanding job performance.

That doesn’t mean Rehoboam’s father knew nothing useful about governance, but whatever Solomon did know, he passed on to his son imperfectly, as is so often the case.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Anonymous Asks (120)

“Does your past play a role when you become a Christian?”

This is another one of those questions whose meaning is a little hard to nail down, but the answer is the same either way we read it: No.

A good past, even a past chock full of good works and moral excellence — if any of us could truly claim one — cannot qualify us for a relationship with God. Likewise, even a past rife with the most wretched sin and excess cannot disqualify us from getting right with God and seeking to live a life that pleases him. There is nothing impressive in our past that we can bring to God for his pleasure: “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” But there is also nothing in our past which will drive us from God’s presence forever if we truly repent: “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people.”

What matters is whether your past is really your present. Let me explain that a bit.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Dried-Up Brook

“After a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.”

There is a video out there circulating in which a Joe Biden supporter (lawn sign and all) has an unexpected and unpleasant interaction with some of those “mostly peaceful” protesters we are always hearing about. Let’s just say it doesn’t go well for him. He is absolutely flabbergasted to discover that the color of his skin and his gender are of more significance to an angry mob than his professed political affiliation. They do not want his support, and they are quite happy to tear up his property and threaten his person as enthusiastically as they would any Republican’s.

Secularists and leftists make such errors in judgment because they do not know who they are, and do not understand the times in which they are living. Christians should not make the same mistake.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (9)

The book of Jonah provokes a whole spectrum of reactions. I find it just a little amusing to dig through blog posts and online commentaries only to discover that on one side we have Christians who want to take all the miracles out of Jonah so that it reads more plausibly, while on the other we have Christians who want to introduce new miracles into the book from between the lines of its text.

Variety may be the spice of life, but it can also be confusing to new readers of scripture.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Minding the Store [Part 2]

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

Continuing a discussion arising out of Immanuel Can’s recent and well-received post “Who’s Minding the Store?

Elders have the job of feeding the flock. IC’s post suggested that not only the Holy Spirit’s leading but a certain amount of human organization, ingenuity and especially careful observation are necessary in effectively carrying out that task. I pointed out some of the things that make that tougher than it looks, and we considered three of them last week. And here we are.

Tom: Since you mention individual gifts, IC, I pointed out in our discussion last Friday that our gifts tend to predispose us to see the world a certain way.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Leadership: It’s a Dog’s Life

It seems everybody today is complaining about the lack of leadership in the local church. Those appointed to lead are not leading at all, or they’re leading too much. Either the whole church is failing to stand for anything, or else arbitrary and inflexible leadership is killing off the life of the church by strangling it with tradition, routine and rules. No one likes how things are running, but no one is terribly sure what a better style of leadership would look like.

Oh, there’s no end of advice out there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Produce Department

Among the most oft-repeated principles of scripture ever enunciated by our Lord is this: that we are what we do. It is our ongoing patterns of behavior that most accurately reveal the condition of our hearts and our relationship to God.

That is not to say that our words and thoughts are inconsequential; both will be subject to God’s judgment. But words can be poorly expressed and easily misunderstood, while thoughts are often fragmentary, incoherent, transitory and quite invisible to the world. Patterns of behavior serve as much more accurate indicators of the condition of our hearts than either of these.

We might say that genuine followers of Christ are regularly found in the “produce department”. They are characterized by spiritual fruit rather than just fine words.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

That Day and Hour

The return of the Son of Man to earth has been promised, prophesied, anticipated and longed-for — and equally disbelieved, sneered at, feared and ignored — for almost 20 centuries now. And when he comes again it will be at an hour nobody will expect. Though there are many facts concerning his return detailed in Bible prophecy, he will catch the world totally by surprise.

The exaltation of the Lord Jesus to his earthly throne — a throne that belongs to him both by right of birth and because he has fully and perfectly earned it — will mark the end of our current world order. This is no small event, and we could hardly expect to be let in on its specific timing.

But what is more than a little surprising is that the One who is coming also disclaims any knowledge of the time of his own arrival on earth … and further, seems entirely unconcerned about the dilemma this fact poses for any number of theologians.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Anonymous Asks (119)

“What is hell like?”

There are two different words used in the Greek New Testament to describe the destination of those who refuse to take the opportunity currently available to all to enter into a saving relationship with God on the basis of the sacrifice of his Son. These are hadēs and gehenna. Older translations use the word “hell” for both, while some modern translations distinguish the two. Either way, the book of Revelation teaches that these are not precisely the same place: a time is coming when “death and Hades” will be thrown into the “lake of fire”, which seems to be the same place Jesus was speaking about in the gospels when he used the word gehenna.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Times and Places

Regular readers of the gospels cannot help but notice that Jesus often repeats himself.

When we think about it, this makes perfect sense. The things he said to crowds in Jerusalem were not heard by his audiences in Galilee, and vice versa. A certain amount of repetition, especially of the Lord’s most important teachings, is to be expected.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (8)

The choice between my way and God’s way is always before us, isn’t it?

And yet, for many reasons, God’s way may hold little appeal. It didn’t appeal to Cain, so he slew his own brother rather than take it. God’s way surely didn’t appeal to Abraham when instructed to offer his own son as a sacrifice at Moriah — how could it possibly? And yet Abraham’s faith enabled him to see past the strange command he had received to the character of the God who gave it, and to trust him to remain who Abraham had always known him to be.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Minding the Store [Part 1]

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

In his recent post “Who’s Minding the Store?” Immanuel Can considered the responsibility of elders in deciding what should be taught in the local church they care for. His point was that elders need to really know their congregations in order to provide them with the spiritual food they need. Somebody needs to “mind the store”, so to speak.

Tom: I wanted to get into this a bit further with you, IC, and it seems to me this is a better place to do it than a back-and-forth in the comments to the original post.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The God of All Possibilities

One of our most popular features is our weekly Too Hot to Handle post.

Tom and I started it because we wanted to get beyond safe topics. If the word of God is really our guide, we decided, how can we confine ourselves to applying it to the sorts of tame issues that keep us all feeling comfortable? Isn’t it a sharp and quick sword, a sword of division? And doesn’t it have to be our guide in all things, not just in those that are polite, conventional and suitably religious?

We wanted to push those limits, to see how far the word of God can take us. Pretty far, we’re guessing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Christianity Lite

Better entertained in goatland ...
I can’t speak to the condition of churches throughout the world, but I think it’s fair to say there is an epidemic of church-playing in North America these days. People are crowding into megachurches weekly to partake of a sort of ‘Christianity Lite’ in which scripture is still quoted as authoritative and many of the right forms are still observed.

But if YouTube reflects any sort of cross-section of Christian reality, many sermons seem to primarily involve wrestling the words of the apostles and prophets into the shape of modern secular values. And if the more popular Christian blogs show us anything, it’s that many believers lead lifestyles indistinguishable from those of someone who does not know Christ at all.

Too harsh? Maybe.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Amillennialism and Isaiah 60: Five Problems

I’ve been enjoying reading amillennialist Dean Davis at Come Let Us Reason.

Really. When I say “enjoy”, I’m not being snarky. It’s actually of considerable interest to me to see someone set out specific details of an allegorical reading of Isaiah 60, among many other passages Dean exposits as consistently as seems possible within the restrictions of the amillennial schema.

This is something few in his position do effectively.

Mr. Davis makes an effort to work through the chapter on a verse by verse basis, rather than doing the traditional hand wave and dismissal of any further clarification with the words “But it’s spiritual!” It’s nice to see any fellow believer take his preferred method of understanding the word of God seriously enough to examine the scriptures extensively and in minute detail. Many hours went into this, and I respect that.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Anonymous Asks (118)

“Why can’t all Christians agree on one version of the Bible?”

In the first century AD when the Lord Jesus walked this earth, there were two popular versions of the Old Testament in circulation (the New Testament having yet to be written). The Greek version, the Septuagint, was then about 2-1/2 centuries old, and exceedingly useful if you wanted to study the Old Testament but could not read the Jewish Tanakh in Hebrew or Aramaic.

So then, which version of the Old Testament did Jesus quote from?

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Nationhood and Angelic Representation

A state is a political and geopolitical entity, while a nation is a cultural and ethnic one. Or at least so says Wikipedia.

Keep this distinction in mind.

What follows is more of an intellectual exercise and a conversation provoker than a specific meditation, but I throw it out there for those who, like me, are intrigued by the details of scripture.

You may be familiar with the concept of the angelic representation of people groups, which is plainly stated for us in the book of Daniel.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (7)

Students of ancient religions will likely recall that the vast majority of non-Israelites (and, frankly, far too many Israelites too) were pantheists, and that the vast majority of the gods these people worshiped actually possessed very limited portfolios.

In the Ancient Near East, every major city had its own patron deity. The Egyptians had literally dozens of them, each with specific areas of responsibility. So Montu was their god of war, Neper their god of grain, Osiris their ruler of the underworld, Nut their sky goddess, Ash their god of the Libyan desert, and so on. The Sumerians had more than 3,000 deities, major and minor, including Ashur, god of wind and Nergal, god of plagues. The gods of all major ancient religions divvied up responsibilities over the world in this way, and the effect of this multiplicity of gods was invariably to lessen the impressiveness of any individual deity.

Even the Canaanite god Baal, named 63 times in our Old Testaments and a major factor in Israelite idolatry, was primarily known as a fertility god.

How does this relate to our study of Jonah? Read on, my friend ...

Friday, November 06, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Greatest Threat to Faith Today

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

Writer Andrew Sullivan gives this advice to churches:

“If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation. Christian leaders seem to think that they need more distraction to counter the distraction. Their services have degenerated into emotional spasms, their spaces drowned with light and noise and locked shut throughout the day, when their darkness and silence might actually draw those whose minds and souls have grown web-weary.”

Tom: “The greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction.” What do you think, IC? Is technology dangerous to Christians?

Thursday, November 05, 2020

The Next [De]Generation

“There are three types of lies,” Mark Twain famously quipped, “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

I know he was overstating the case somewhat, but my time in higher education has given me plenty of opportunity to see that he was not far off. Statistics have a way of impressing people with the apparent solidity of the numbers they generate. Many of us, especially the numerically inclined, tend to think they’re telling us something profound, truthful and scientific. But I have discovered that often they are not, and until you know how the numbers were obtained and how they are being interpreted, you can never be quite sure how solid they really are.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Prophetic Trajectories in Matthew

Matthew 10 recounts the commission of the twelve disciples to take the good news of the kingdom to all the cities of Israel.

There is a specifically ethnic character to this set of instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” instructs the Lord.

At this time and for this specific purpose, the Lord equips his servants with a tool kit you and I do not possess in taking the message of gospel to the world today: he “gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.”

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

A Structural Analysis of Psalm 107

Sometimes the best way to understand something is to try to put it inside your own frame of reference.

The book of Psalms is a compilation of poetry written at various times and places by a bare minimum of eight different godly men with diverse personalities and interests. Some were theologians writing poetry, and some were probably poets writing theology. This means, as you would expect, that there are psalms with obvious and ornate structures (Psalm 119 comes to mind, where the letters of the Hebrew alphabet start each section of the psalm), as well as others that appear to be structured very simply (Psalm 15 is a single question and its answer) or have very little noticeable structure at all (Psalm 117, for example, is so brief that any analysis of its structure is near-pointless).

Pattern recognition is more useful in some passages of scripture than in others. Psalm 107 is definitely structured.

Monday, November 02, 2020

Anonymous Asks (117)

“Why should someone start believing in God?”

Not so long ago, I watched a highly educated agnostic on YouTube argue the case that pretty lies are sometimes beneficial. His point was basically that if what people believe causes them to do more good things than bad, then their beliefs are a net positive for the world despite the fact that they are out of touch with reality. He went on to say the Christian faith is one of these things, and that it is a net positive for societies and the individuals in them, even if it turns out to be a pretty lie. He says Western Civilization could use more people who believe pretty lies.

There might be something to that, but it’s not an argument a Christian is likely to make.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

An Unnecessary Insertion?

In Matthew, the Father declares that he is “well pleased” with the Son three times.

“Three?” you say. “I can think of two.”

Sure: the baptism of the Lord Jesus and his transfiguration. But there is a third reference to the Father’s pleasure in the Son found in Matthew 12. It’s a familiar quote from the book of Isaiah.

“Oh, a quote. That’s kind of cheating.”