Thursday, December 31, 2020

Protecting People from Truth

I was listening to a preacher a few days ago … just online, you know. And he said something that’s stayed with me and keeps running around in my head, because it’s just so smart. It’s something that solves a perplexity for me that I have to confess I’ve struggled with for years. I want to pass it on to you.

My perplexity has been this: When do you just say what the Bible says, and when do you hold back?

The preacher said this: “I’m through protecting people from scripture.”

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Non-Canonical Episodes

Did Jude have the gift of prophecy?

I wonder. It certainly seems a strong possibility. Prophecy is not merely a feature of the Old Testament, but is also numbered with the gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the New Testament church.

Prophecy was a practical gift. In the early church it also appears to have been a fairly common one. It did not manifest itself in the expected esoteric, oddball mutterings but rather in “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation”. In this the prophet functioned similarly to the teacher in today’s church.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Balancing Act

“A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.”

False balances are generally associated with weights and scales. The idea is that there is an established price quoted per pound, ounce or liter, but when it comes time to measure out the product, the merchant has rigged his scales so that the balance shown does not reflect the quantity being measured, and the purchaser ends up paying for something he is not receiving. He is being ripped off.

We may come to view being fleeced as the cost of doing business, but the Lord loathes such practices. He calls them an abomination.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Anonymous Asks (125)

“Did Lot really have sex with his daughters?”

It may surprise you to find that Abraham’s nephew Lot is mentioned a grand total of 111 times in the Bible. That’s not a lot compared to David’s 1,100 or Abraham’s 293, but it’s considerably more than Elijah, Elisha or Daniel, all of whom have major Old Testament roles.

All the same, Lot is more of what we might call a “supporting actor” than a main character. He is best known for following his uncle Abraham on his quest for a city with foundations whose designer and builder is God. But if Lot is known more for being a follower than a leader, at least he was following a spiritual giant on a God-directed mission.

So did this godly man have sex with his daughters? Well, yes, he did.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Commentariat Speaks (20)

“At the end there’s like a 3-4 minute hip hop breakdancing ... thing, that’s the worst thing in the movie by far. I found this symbolically perfect because, if every worldview has its strengths and weaknesses, the weakness for American evangelical Christianity, speaking as an outsider friend rather than an overly critical foe, is that it has no ‘fence’ or ‘barrier’ to keep stuff like that out, which I suppose is part of the function of tradition in other manifestations of Christianity.”

I know nothing about Owen beyond what I’ve read in a single Twitter thread, but one may reasonably infer that he hails from one of these “other manifestations” of Christianity he refers to, one which offers believers the fence-like protection of tradition.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (14)

As finite beings of time and space, we cannot really know what God’s emotional life is like, or understand the way in which the Divine Mind makes choices. To imagine we can is simply projection.

In describing these incomprehensible things for us, the writers of the Bible have painted their picture with the very limited palette of human language. Moreover, the Spirit of God chose ways of expressing God’s feelings and actions that would communicate effectively to men and women of widely different cultures across a period of thousands of years.

I think the result is marvelous. Still, there are passages with which we struggle. The final verse of Jonah 3 may be one of them.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Is There Any Joy?

It is often said that joy is different from happiness. Happiness is a thing based on “hap” (which means chance), or one based on circumstances going well — on “good happenings”. By contrast, joy is an abiding sense of fulfillment and well-being, a disposition not based on circumstances, but one that is durable in the face of change. Something like that must be what RZIM spokesperson Max Jeganathan has in mind in this video, for example.

That distinction's good to note  — and true, so far as it goes. But we might press the issue further: What accounts for the quality of joy that enables it to endure when mere happiness is taken away from us?

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Less Than He Is

Nothing you can do to him can make him less than he is.

Remember that saying.

His Birth

Because he came into this world in a stable. They put him in an animal food trough. There was no place for him at a low-class inn. Yet he was — and is — the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Eternal King.

And God did not prevent it.

From the moment of his birth, God made this message clear: “He is who he is; nothing you can do to him can make him less than he is.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Out to the Curb

“Only one life, ’twill soon be past ...”

Garbage day in our city varies from block to block, so there is always something out for pickup. Quite often, along with the refuse of daily living, home owners will set outside for collection a few items that are still in good shape but are simply of no further use to them.

So out to the curb they go. Each abandoned item has its story.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Spiritual Treachery

Samuel Reproving Saul, John Singleton Copley, 1798
It is not enough for certain kinds of people to despise truth. They can’t just express their lack of interest and walk away.

I suspect every Christian who has ever shared his or her faith has run into people who have no trouble making their lack of interest clear, and no trouble beating feet. I think it’s fairly normal. Picture yourself talking to someone about the love of Christ and the things in his word that have become intensely precious to you; the things that make it worth getting out of bed every morning; the things for which you and I live.

Now of course if you’re like me, you’re not a perfect communicator.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Anonymous Asks (124)

“I have to write an essay for my university class on the Christian view of a technology. The topic that I choose is regarding genetic engineering and how we as a Christians view it.

So, some background information:

Genetic engineering is a procedure that could be done pre-natal (meaning before birth or during embryogenesis) or post-natal (on adults the procedure is called ‘gene therapy’).

The argument revolved around the question is whether this is allowed or not because ethically it’s as if we’re playing god.

I’ve asked my pastor about this some other time and he said that it’s allowed but only for medical purposes, not to change one’s aesthetics or to make someone racially superior.”

That’s an interesting question.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

That Which Comes Naturally

“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.”

“I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

The first quote comes from the book of Proverbs, and we might paraphrase it this way: “Do not ever allow yourself to stop being consistently loving and trustworthy; make these qualities part of the fabric of your being.” As a father, King Solomon is challenging his sons and others who will eventually read his wise words to be people of exceptional kindness and consistency.

The second quote here is the prophet Jonah’s complaint to God, and it pretty much explains itself. But it also serves to illuminate the first quote a little bit.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (13)

My cat starts talking incessantly about ten minutes before breakfast, which is probably about how long it takes me to pry the pillow out of my ears and give in to her pestering. My dog doesn’t bark much, but he too will let you know if dinner is taking an unreasonable time to hit the bowl.

Hungry, stressed-out cattle also make noises. They do not suffer in silence. Underfed lambs bleat and cry. So do goats when they are hungry or thirsty, and their bleating gets louder and more obnoxious over time. (They will also butt you when they are hungry, but that only makes a sound if they happen to connect when you’re not expecting it.)

Friday, December 18, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: God and the Child of Divorce

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

Larry Taunton has a link up to this Washington Post story about divorce and its effects on the next generation. The Public Religion Research Institute says children of divorced parents are significantly (12%) more likely to become non-religious adults.

Tom: You’ve taught thousands of teens in your thirty-ish years in the education system, IC. What do you think: does that sound plausible?

Immanuel Can: Absolutely. I believe I’ve seen it in the changes in behavior of the average student, but more tellingly, in their personal reporting of their feelings and attitudes.

Tom: In your experience, how would that show itself?

Thursday, December 17, 2020

All By My Self

Back in the 1970s, the cool (or possibly groovy or far out) thing to do was to drop out of the system, tune in to drugs, and get with “the scene”. Whether it was to a flophouse in Soho or a park bench in Paris, young people went wandering.

When their bewildered parents pressed them for the logic of this sort of wild fit of lifestyle experimentation, the stock answer from the younger generation was this: “Sorry, Mom … Dad … I’ve got to find myself.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Leaving Something on the Shelf

“Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands ...”

What is that all about, you ask?

Well, let me tell you what it’s not all about. It ain’t about taking the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and quoting it to the unsaved in hope of touching an unregenerate conscience and stirring it to life.

Some battles are not between people’s ears.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Running Out of Time

Utopian schemes are everywhere these days, and we would be remiss if we failed to acknowledge that they have a certain appeal to Christians as well as secularists.

Who could argue with solving the food crisis, ending unjust incarceration, abling the disabled, elevating the downtrodden, promoting the good, caring for refugees, or providing protection for the most helpless members of society?

Apart from using their plight to his advantage, the current ruler of this world does not concern himself one iota with the men and women at the margins of society. And yet they are of great interest to God. Social justice matters when it is social justice of the biblical sort.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Anonymous Asks (123)

“Why are birth defects allowed?”

Birth defects are not a small problem. One in 33 children in the United States is born with a birth defect, small or large. That seems like something about which a God who loves children might have a strong opinion.

Some birth defects are simply one of many consequences of living in a fallen world, as are tornados, tidal waves, earthquakes or disease. The vast majority, however, are due to choices made by human beings.*

So before we call on God to eradicate all birth defects, let me ask you this first: How would you feel if God overruled every bad decision you ever thought about making?

Sunday, December 13, 2020

A Flashlight in the Eternal Sun

It has been pointed out that when God gave Eve to Adam, it was for eminently practical reasons and not merely on account of the typological significance of being “one flesh” with a complementary created being. So the primary purpose of marriage is often taken to be companionship — “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

Companionship is indeed of great importance, but we should not miss the point that this gracious gift was provided by God with a specific end in view — helping, and helping in a way that was appropriate to Adam’s needs.

It is logical to ask ourselves what exactly Eve was intended to help with.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (12)

There is belief and then there is belief.

The oppressed people of Israel “believed” God had sent Moses and Aaron to deliver them from Egyptian slavery until Pharaoh suddenly doubled their workload and they began having doubts.

But we shouldn’t be too hard on them: it’s easy to believe something when it’s purely theoretical and doesn’t cost you anything. When belief persists despite resulting in humiliation, physical injury, hunger or economic loss, that’s when it starts to look a little more credible.

The book of Jonah tells us that the people of Nineveh “believed God”. There was nothing abstract or theoretical about it.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Where Would You Like to be Judged?

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

Not all religions acknowledge coming judgment, but Christianity does.

Tom: As we discussed last week, Immanuel Can, the Bible teaches there is both a general judgment of sinners and a separate, distinct judgment of Christians. That division was not clearly traced in our Old Testaments, and most Jews know next to nothing of it.

But it’s there in our New Testaments, and getting rid of it involves ripping out whole pages of Paul’s epistles.

Immanuel Can: Lay it out for us, Tom: what’s the difference?

Thursday, December 10, 2020

I Am the One

“I am the one you warned me of
  I am the one who’d never, never lie.”
— Blue Oyster Cult, 1988

Not my favorite band, for sure — but I do admire their theology.

At least in this instance.

So often we begin by thinking that evil, if it exists at all, is a thing “out there”. It’s in the world somewhere, not inside me. Me, I’m pretty good. Not perfect, maybe. But not so bad that God can’t overlook the difference (that is, if he’s really loving) and accept me as spot-on.

Then we live for a bit.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

The Power of the Narrative

Headline this week in the Edmonton Journal:

B.C. glaciers 38 per cent thicker than expected, surprising study finds

And then there’s the sub-headline that follows it:

Some glaciers might last a few years or even a decade longer, but that still won’t save them from climate change

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Everybody’s an Idolater

“The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.”

Everybody’s an idolater. Well, almost everybody.

Christians are exempt. Of course we may struggle with temptation to idolatry of various sorts from time to time, but the characteristic pattern of the Christian life is not idolatrous. We do not continue in it. After all, idolaters will not enter the kingdom of God. Anyone whose life is characterized by idolatry is by definition un-Christian.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Anonymous Asks (122)

“When should life support be stopped?”

If you managed to get through those awful presidential debates this year, you will probably remember that on several occasions Joe Biden accused President Trump of all-but-murdering something like 206,000 U.S. citizens, which was the number alleged to have died of COVID-19 complications at that point in time.

Apparently the Democrats thought this was a sound strategy that would resonate with undecided voters, though I very much doubt the average American imagines any president is really capable of doing very much to slow the rate of transmission of a virus once it is out there in the world.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Did We Betray Jesus?

In a post she calls A Tale of Two Betrayals, Bethany Verrett argues that “though [Peter] did not hand Jesus over to the religious leaders like Judas, it was no less a betrayal.” Over at The Gospel Coalition, Mike McKinley has a few suggestions for Christians about What to Do When You Betray Jesus. And back in 2014, when Franklin Graham addressed a question from a reader about Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, his editor at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association entitled Franklin’s responsive post We, Like Judas, Can Be Deceitful and Betray Christ.

Really? Can we? At the risk of getting overly-technical, I don’t think we can ... at least not in the language of scripture. And sometimes the language of scripture is a bit different from the wording in our English translations. Not every Greek word has a precise one-for-one English equivalent.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (11)

Nineveh was the largest city in the world in its day, but it was also one of the most ancient. The Assyrians who lived there in the time of Jonah did not build it. When they conquered it and drove out the resident Amorites, Nineveh had already been around for more than a millennium, having been built, rebuilt, occupied and re-occupied under different names first by the Hatti, then the Akkadians and Amorites. This constant building and rebuilding was not just necessitated by the endless wars fought for the city over the centuries; the original city was also built on a fault line and was therefore subject to regular damage from earthquakes.

Other great walled cities of the Ancient East may have inspired a measure of overconfidence in their citizens. Nineveh probably did not. When Jonah announced Nineveh’s imminent doom to its people, it is very likely that his prophecy sounded all too plausible.

The reaction of the Ninevites may have been something like “Not again!”

Friday, December 04, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Judge of All the Earth

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

On her way to work a few months ago, a Muslim driver urged my friend to reconsider her ways in view of coming judgment. The driver knew nothing at all about his passenger, but he was convinced his god will one day be both her judge and the judge of all mankind.

Tom: Not all religions acknowledge judgment is coming, I suppose, but many do. It is not an exclusively Christian teaching. But there are some things about biblical judgment that make it distinctive, Immanuel Can, and perhaps we can explore some of those today.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Ya Really Oughta Know …

“ ‘History never repeats’,
    I tell myself before I go to sleep.”

— Neil Finn, 1981

Well, that’s reassuring. We’d never want a second Black Plague, a second Holocaust or even a second Hurricane Katrina, would we? But if Finn is right, we should perhaps ask ourselves the obvious question: Why study history?

After all, if it never repeats, then knowledge of the past is useless to guide us for the future. What use is it to think about the South Sea Bubble or the Cold War when we know that the unique circumstances that made each possible will never exist again?

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Immediate and Greater Context

Over at Stand to Reason, Alan Shlemon is back on the subject of the importance of reading in context. I too am convinced that context is probably the single most crucial way to accurately determine the intended meaning of any verse in scripture, so as you may imagine, I find myself agreeing with almost everything Alan has to say.

In discussing the Lord’s much-misunderstood promise that begins with the words “For where two or three come together in my name,” Shlemon asserts that “Jesus begins and ends by talking about how to respond to a sinning brother. Therefore, the meaning of verse 20 must be restricted to that context, making it unlikely that it is about God being present among believers.”

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

“Christianizing” the Psalms

In Sunday School we used to sing, “Every promise in the book is mine: every chapter, every verse, every line.” And of all the books in the Old Testament that we Christians love to apply to ourselves, the book of Psalms is right at the top of the list.

I suspect this is because despite being mostly composed between 4,000 and 2,500 years ago by Hebrews living in a very different cultural setting, the psalms contain statements of great universality which we may reasonably apply to believers in every era of God’s dealings with mankind, up to and including ourselves.