Sunday, February 28, 2021

Of Gourds, Barley and Building Small Houses

I hate to waste food. I also like a dash of pasta sauce in my morning omelette.

So last week when I noticed a little yellow spot of mold floating in my open jar of pasta sauce, I thought I could probably just spoon out the bit that was starting to turn and then make good use of the rest of the jar. I didn’t want to miss that little extra zip of flavor I’m used to.

Hoo boy. Not my brightest move.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (4)

As discussed briefly in our introductory post, as divine judgments go, the judgment of nations prophesied in the first few chapters of the book of Amos is a little unusual.

In the mid-eighth century BC, the eight nations targeted by the prophet occupied approximately 50,000 square kilometers of contiguous geographic territory east of the Mediterranean Sea, extending from the middle of modern-day Syria down through Lebanon and Israel to a few dozen kilometres north of the current Egyptian border and, on the far side of the Dead Sea, well into Jordan.

National judgments are fairly common in the Old Testament; simultaneous mass-judgments of multiple nations less so.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Woman Overboard

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

Last week we discussed the “new normal” — that almost 70% of divorces are now initiated by unhappy wives — and suggested a number of possible reasons for a phenomenon that is growing not just in the world but in our churches: young women brought up in Christian homes, most or all of whom have made professions of faith, seem increasingly able to walk away not just from their husbands but from their families, often to raise the children of their new partner.

Tom: We talked about the Internet and the work environment, IC, and the family-associated problems of over-protection and legalism.

But let’s leave the family for a moment.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Attack of the Killer Reason

“Chaaaaarge!”

A half-dozen knights leap over a hill to attack a rabbit.

Unexpectedly, the little white bunny turns and attacks the knights, killing some and wounding others.

“Run away! Run away!”

Scattering shields and armaments, the terrified knights clamber back over the hillock, and duck in shame.

*   *   *   *   *
It’s a famous scene called “The Killer Rabbit” from the 1975 comedy feature film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I’m reminded of it every time I converse with a Calvinist.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Vain Salvation

These days, when we read that we are to “love our enemies”, many Christians in the West find ourselves thinking long and hard to find anyone in our lives to whom that word genuinely applies. We are just a bit short in the enemy department ... or at least that’s my personal experience.

There are notable exceptions, but the sorts of foes modern Christians encounter are more along the lines of surly relatives, ungrateful children or fellow employees with a tendency to step on others to get ahead. And I suppose not too many of us are overly disappointed with that arrangement.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Seeing and Being Seen

The first chapter of John is all about seeing and being seen.

We begin with a God who cannot be seen with the human eye or fully understood with the human brain — no man has ever done it — and a God who has allowed himself to be seen in all his grace, truth and moral glory.

Then John sees Jesus coming toward him. His first spiritual impulse is to ensure others see him too. “Behold,” he cries. “Behold, the Lamb of God.”

See!

Monday, February 22, 2021

Anonymous Asks (133)

“What are the names of the devil?”

The writers of scripture refer to mankind’s most virulent and determined enemy by a number of names and titles and with many different images. Some of these started as mere descriptions and evolved into proper names, while others originally referred to lesser spiritual beings and came to be used as euphemisms for the devil himself. In some cases it is debatable whether they are really intended to be used as proper names at all.

This list is not exhaustive, but I have tried to include the most common ones and to group similar names and concepts together.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Too Much for Sunday School

I can recall nearly every chapter of Daniel from my childhood. Many kids who grew up in Christian homes can (or could; our current generation may not be so well versed).

This shouldn’t surprise us. Many stories from Daniel make fantastic Sunday School material, and I mean literally fantastic — there are miracles to be found throughout the book: the golden image and the fiery furnace; Nebuchadnezzar’s dream; the king’s humbling at the hand of God; the writing on the wall; the den of lions; the prophetic visions of coming kingdoms depicted as beasts (kingdoms we actually studied in history class, so I knew this was no fairy tale); and so on.

And the stories are not just fascinating; they make significant moral points: stand for what you believe in; don’t be proud; don’t blaspheme; trust in God; the heavens rule.

Of course the book sticks in our memories. Why wouldn’t it?

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (3)

There’s a lot of talk today — and maybe this is the case in every generation — about the evils of generations past and how they affect the present, conferring “privilege” on some and disadvantaging others.

Much of this talk is nonsense, nothing but hunger for political power masquerading as a quest for justice. Moreover, the outrage directed at the alleged beneficiaries of multi-generational injustices is very selective. For example, we are not allowed to excoriate the practitioners of modern-day Islam for 9/11, but it is perfectly fine to blame the economic and social disadvantages of today’s American black community on the current generation of whites, including many whose ancestors did not even cross the Atlantic until years after the abolition of slavery. Equal weights and measures, and all that.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the abuses of the concept in the present day, there remains some biblical validity to the idea of cumulative multi-generational sin that brings the judgment of God to bear on a single, unfortunate generation.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Abandoning Ship

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

Men have always done it mid-life — some men, anyway, though thankfully Christian men did it somewhat more rarely.

We met the “right” waitress, secretary, serving wench or married woman bathing on a rooftop and bailed on our wives and families. We did it to find happiness (or at least firmer skin or, for a time at least, a cheerier disposition). We did it to demonstrate we were still virile and desirable. Or we did it for some other perfectly scrutable male reason that we wholeheartedly believed was unique to our own experience.

Tom: It took them a while to catch up, Immanuel Can, but thanks to feminism’s influence, women are doing it too, and they’re doing it with a vengeance. Almost 70% of divorces are now initiated by unhappy wives.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

My Sheep

“My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them …”

“I know them.”

It’s funny … wouldn’t you expect the Lord to have said, “My sheep listen to my voice and they know me”?

That would be parallelism. That would be equivalent. That would speak of our recognition of the Good Shepherd, just as the first part of the verse emphasizes it. We know his voice, and we know him.

But it’s not that.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Failure to Choose is a Choice Too

The other day I came across a paperback a few years old credited to a number of generally reputable authors and entitled Hard Sayings of the Bible.

Why not? There are more than a few commonly misunderstood or genuinely obscure sayings in scripture to work with, perhaps even enough to fill a decent-sized book.

But I wonder if we don’t make some sayings harder than they should be.

Some Christians tend to mistake indecisiveness for graciousness. Thus a waffling, cover-all-the-bases interpretive position may be thought humble when it is merely uncommitted. A failure to point out the logical fallacies on the other side of a scriptural question may seem charitable when it is merely cowardly.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Progressive Revelation and Paradigm Shifts

Seismic enough for you?
Whenever I come across an overly-technical explanation of some phenomenon in Christendom, I like to try to restate it for myself in plain English before I decide whether it makes any sense.

On that note, if you haven’t heard of them, the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance (OCRT) have set themselves the task of reducing bigotry by exposing religious people to information about other religions.

A worthy undertaking. Perhaps.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Anonymous Asks (132)

“Why is the Bible so violent?”

On one level the answer to this is fairly obvious: any work that accurately documents human history or tells a believable tale of any length and scope about us will invariably involve violence unless it is highly censored or terribly dishonest. Julius Caesar is violent too, as is Macbeth, Moby Dick and even To Kill a Mockingbird.

So the Bible is violent because people are violent.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Forgive or Die

“I can’t forgive him,” the young man told his counselor.

Understandable, I think. I don’t know all the details, but it seems the speaker has been quite horribly mistreated and cannot bring himself to feel forgiving toward the person who has hurt him so badly. He simply can’t let it go.

More significant is the young man’s concern for his own soul, since he has read the very words of the Lord Jesus himself and has concluded that if he cannot feel forgiveness toward this individual who has had such a negative effect on his life, then he cannot be saved.

And “forgive or die” is a pretty scary ultimatum to face when your feelings won’t play along with what your Christian friends are telling you is the right thing to do.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (2)

Any map of the Middle East from the time of the prophet Amos, including this one (if you want something larger than the map to the right), shows an interesting feature of the judgment of nations we read about in chapters 1 and 2.

The six Gentile nations — and all eight nations against which Amos prophesied, including God’s own people in Israel and Judah — are not chosen willy-nilly from here, there and everywhere in the Middle East; rather, they comprise a contiguous geographic region of over 50,000 square kilometers. Israel sits dead center in this region, while Judah abuts it on the south, Ammon on the east, Moab on the southeast, Philistia on the southwest, Phoenicia (Tyre) on the northwest, and Damascus (southern Syria) on the north. Only Edom does not have a common border with Israel, and it has common borders with both Judah and Moab.

This suggests that rather than a series of separate judgments, we are considering a single massive, transformative event that affected every one of these nations to differing degrees.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Performance-Church

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

Tom: You sent me a horrible parody of a contemporary evangelical church service, IC. You’ve got to know I couldn’t leave that alone. I’m still brushing my teeth to get the taste out of my mouth.

But when they’re snarking the modern eleven o’clock church meeting on YouTube, and especially when it looks horribly familiar to most of your audience, you’ve almost got to concede we evangelicals are done like dinner. And it appears we cooked ourselves.

Does this travesty seem familiar to you?

Immanuel Can: You seem more shocked about it than I. There’s a reason why the piece is funny so many people; it’s recognition. The jokes reflect the current reality of many, many evangelical-type churches.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Time to Face the Music

Did you know that some famous pop songs are about to go bottoms-up?

Yep, it’s true. Our culture has changed so rapidly in the last couple of decades that some tunes simply don’t make sense anymore.

Back in the ’70s we had Jim Croce’s “Operator”. We don’t even know what one of those is today. A little later, we had Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” and the Boomtown Rats’ lyrical reference to a telex machine. (Now, there’s an obscure one!) More recently, we stepped up to Maroon 5’s “Payphone”, or Brand New’s “Mixtape” (apparently not so brand new after all). Or what about all the references to pagers and beepers in ’90s rap songs? Gone and forgotten.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Enemy Territory

This is not our world.

It hasn’t been ours since the garden of Eden and it’s not ours today. It is the dominion of the “god of this age”, the “prince of the power of the air”, the “ruler of this world”.

That explains so much, when you really think about it.

We live in enemy territory, like Frodo in Mordor without the obvious orcs and spiders. Oh, there are plenty of both here, but they come well disguised. They don’t even drip acid when they speak — unless you pay very close attention.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The Dignity of Causality

A few days ago, I stopped on my way to work to talk to a homeless man. His name is Rick, and he’s a fascinating character, all smiles and cheer as he sits for hours at a time on a downtown side-street air vent pumping out lifesaving heat in the sub-zero February chill. He’ll gratefully take your money if you offer it, but he doesn’t do the traditional begging thing. At night, he bikes up to the courthouse, where there are nearly 100 CCTV cameras, so that he can sleep without fear of being robbed … or worse.

He’s been at it for three and a half years.

Monday, February 08, 2021

Anonymous Asks (131)

“Was Jesus really a Jew?”

If you have been a mainstream evangelical Christian most of your life and are even slightly familiar with the scriptures, this may seem like a ridiculous question with an answer so obvious it is unworthy of serious attention. And yet you might be surprised to find how many people who call themselves Christians would answer it in the negative, often quite fiercely.

Sometimes a ridiculous question is not so ridiculous when you understand where it is coming from. At very least it is not ridiculous to the person asking it.

So does the “Jesus was not a Jew” argument have any merit? Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by “a Jew”.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

The Ironic Ending

Not all friendships get off on the right foot.

One of my best buddies in high school was a skinny longhair with similar tastes in pop music. But Terry and I met under less than ideal circumstances. Another student had a serious grudge against me and was determined to make my early high school life as miserable as possible; however, he wasn’t quite sure he had it in him to handle a six foot 200 pounder on his own. So, one day after school, he and his hulking sidekick chased me into the nearby woods. On the way, they drafted Terry to help out.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (1)

God loves using shepherds.

G.J. Wenham suggests the nomadic lifestyle of the shepherd tended to foster mistrust in ancient societies, as plausible an explanation as any other for the low estimation of the profession in the eyes of the elite. But though the Egyptians disparaged herdsmen, God uses the term as a compliment, and he called some of the greatest men in Israel’s history from among the flock.

Friday, February 05, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: He Made Them Male and Female

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

Immanuel Can: Ordinarily I let you throw out the first pitch, Tom, but let me hurl the first fastball today. The wind-up’s a bit long, but I think it’s worth it for the amount of heat we stand to generate.

Tom: Deal.

IC: Psychologist Paul Vitz (a Catholic) has a book, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism (2013), and in it he says some very provocative things. In context, he’s been writing about how atheism and the experience of bad, abusive, weak and absentee male parenting (fatherhood) are psychologically correlated. He turns to considering the reasons why men and women tend to experience the effects of ill-fathering in a somewhat different way.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Horrific Hymnology

A year or so ago I wrote three posts on music (you can find them here, here and here). My point — then and now — was that we all have a responsibility to be discerning and to choose our music based on biblical principles rather than personal preference. And so that I would not be taking that responsibility away from anyone, I talked about the key principles rather than particulars of which musical pieces might be indicted or approved by a discerning observer.

Moreover, if anyone did not agree with me about their selections for congregational singing, I did not want to pass any judgment on them. After all, we all stand or fall to our own Master. So if the hymns and songs somebody else’s congregation wants to sing don’t square with the sort of list I would choose, I say, “No hard feelings.” I am not the last word in musical orthodoxy.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Ezekiel and the Future of Palestine

To whom does Palestine really belong?

The student of history encounters arguments for both sides, most of which transparently serve the agendas of their writers and pass themselves off as factual while trading largely on sentiment. But any careful reader of scripture understands that the Jewish claim to the land of Palestine goes back a whole lot further than May 15, 1948.

Having been unilaterally gifted the land then called Canaan via God’s covenant with their forefather Abraham around 2000 BC, Israel has spent more time in exile from the land of promise than actually living there.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

It Ain’t Personal

Spiritual leadership is not easy.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason so few Christians seem to seek it, especially these days. But unless we opt out of family life and church life entirely, most of us are faced with a certain amount of responsibility, like it or not.

Elders are leaders. And in fact every Bible teacher, formal or otherwise, leads too. The act of writing down or publicly giving voice to a spiritual conviction is invariably an act of leadership that declares, “This way, not that way” or at least “This means X, it doesn’t mean Y”, no matter how delicately or deferentially one chooses to formulate one’s opinion. In addition, all mothers and fathers lead their children, or else their lives quickly devolve into an endless series of rather potent miseries.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Anonymous Asks (130)

“Should children be told Santa is fake?”

We can probably include the tooth fairy in this conversation as well. I think it’s fairly clear that if you pick up a Hebrew or Greek concordance, you will have great difficulty locating an equivalent for either “Santa” or “fairy”. The Bible does not address such questions directly.

So, I am trying to think back to my own childhood in a Christian home, asking myself how my parents handled this ...