Monday, May 31, 2021

Anonymous Asks (147)

“What does Romans 14:5 mean?”

The verse in question comes in the middle of a passage in which the apostle Paul is seeking to discourage Christians from quarreling over opinions.

That makes it fairly important to understand what Paul means by “opinions”.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Curing Instability

“… a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

“Among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women …”

“… that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

Weakness of will. Instability. Confusion. None of these qualities have been traditionally considered admirable in Christian circles, and with good reason. Indecisive people make poor signposts. Our role models rarely include those who fail to exhibit self-control. Erratic individuals are not likely to have your back in times of crisis.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (17)

In his book The Riches of Divine Wisdom, David Gooding notes that the writers of the New Testament had a distinct advantage over the Old Testament prophets in that they now looked back on the prophecies and histories of the Old Testament from the vantage point of having witnessed their fulfillment in Christ. Gooding writes:

“In that light it was inevitable that they should perceive that the intended meaning and scope of God’s Old Testament prophecies were often far greater than many people realized at that time.”

Makes sense. The more light you have, the more you can see.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: ‘Good News’ Nihilism

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

English philosophy professor James Tartaglia has co-authored a 70-page study provocatively entitled “A Defence of Nihilism” which argues two main points: (1) that life is meaningless, and (2) we shouldn’t sweat it.

Somehow we are supposed to find this encouraging.

Tom: Canada’s CBC Radio recently gave Tartaglia and his Australian co-author Tracy Llanera the opportunity to air their views on its Ideas program. You can find a summary of that here.

IC, how on earth does one come to the conclusion that widespread belief in a meaningless existence “poses no significant problems or threats”?

Thursday, May 27, 2021

As Perfect as Me

“Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

A few years ago, I remember hearing about an evangelist who claimed he’d managed to conquer sin absolutely, and eliminate it from his life. In fact, he said he hadn’t committed one in twelve years.

His wife, apparently, backed him up on that.

Now, if you’re a woman that has lived with a man for any period of time longer than fifteen minutes, you probably suspect the wife has gotten into the cooking sherry. It’s just not reality. Sinless perfection just isn’t possible on this earth. And if you meet someone who says he’s achieved it, he probably needs to take a second look — if at nothing else, at the sin of pride.

But I don’t need to tell you that. You know from your own experience. As I do, from mine.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

They Shall Become One Flesh

At work a few weeks ago, the old phrase “one flesh” came up in conversation. I can’t remember how exactly, but I think it had something to do with the low priority modern married couples often place on the husband-wife relationship in comparison to the parent-child relationship. Sadly, we all know people whose emotional attachment to their children or parents greatly exceeds their loyalty and commitment to their own partner.

In our highly atomized age, the concept of two individuals becoming mystically united seems exotic, even unrealistic, to many. So what does it mean? Does “one flesh” merely refer to the sex act itself? Does it refer to the cooperative production of the fruit of marriage, children? Can two people really function as one person?

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Fearful Expectation of Judgment

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

What does it mean to “go on sinning deliberately”? That’s a very important question. Our sense of security in Christ and our enjoyment of the experience of following him in this world depend on how we answer it.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Anonymous Asks (146)

“Is it okay to take communion at home?”

As is the case with many questions about the Christian faith, the answer to this one very much depends on the motive.

On the ‘yes’ side, there is plenty of New Testament precedent for taking communion at home.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Commentariat Speaks (21)

A letter to Doug Wilson from an Australian named Ben poses a familiar question:

“Since I, like everyone else (except Adam and Eve), am born into this sinful state, how can God truly be just in judging me for committing sins I was destined to commit?

Our ‘free-will’ is not really free at all. I think our will is like a set of old-fashioned scales, then our scales are definitely not on the level. They are heavily weighed down towards the selfish side, causing most, if not all, of our choices to be made with a selfish heart; a heart I didn’t ask for or have any say in receiving. I was just dumped into this wretched state, into a wretched life, and then at the end destined to be judged by The Most High, for breaking laws I had no chance of keeping.”

Bound to get interesting, wouldn’t you say?

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (16)

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy …”

Peter, quoting scripture at Pentecost to explain why Parthian, Median and Egyptian Jews were hearing Galileans speaking their native languages, preceded these prophetic words with the statement “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel.”

Hey, if Peter says so, I believe him.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Another Kind of Empowerment

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

It’s an oldie but goodie. Much-loved opinion columnist Dave Barry has a few words to share about the Sailor Moon cartoon my own daughter grew up watching:

“Sailor Moon is the blond, ponytailed heroine of a wildly popular Japanese cartoon show. Sailor Moon leads a team of female superheroes who wear miniskirts and go-go boots; according to the AP story, they ‘combat evil and sexism’ using special powers that they get from their ‘magical brooches, scepters and compacts.’

That’s right: These heroines, striking a bold blow against sexism and outdated stereotypes of women, get their power from jewelry and makeup.”

Boom. Mic drop, long before mic drops were a thing.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

B-B-B-Betty in a Dress

Have you ever heard of a mondegreen?

That’s the technical word they give it when you listen to something, but you hear something different.

Apparently, people do it all the time when they’re listening to song lyrics, for example. There is some phrase that is sung, but their ear picks up something different, often with irrational results.

Want to see if you’ve ever mondegreened? Okay, if you have even a passing familiarity with popular music, you might be able to guess what famous songs produced the following mondegreens. (I’m guessing most of us are in middle age somewhere, so I’ll keep the examples a bit retro.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Cosmic Accidents and the Chain of Command

Many years ago now, a man I love and respect opened up the book of Matthew and read us the story of the centurion’s faith. You will recall that the Lord commended this Roman soldier as exceptional because he understood that Jesus possessed the ability to heal from far away as easily as he could heal when immediately present, so he didn’t wish to trouble the Lord unnecessarily by asking him to undertake a journey in order to do him a favor.

The centurion expressed his conviction this way: “I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

“Only say the word ...” Wow. That was indeed great faith, and the Lord responded to it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Having Your Cake

We are forever being told we need to keep open minds. Close-minded people tend toward confirmation bias. We wouldn’t want to just see what we expect to see, right?

Hey, an open mind is a wonderful thing. But an open mind needs to be open the same way a baseball glove is open.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Anonymous Asks (145)

“Can the balm of Gilead heal?”

Well, there’s an obscure question for you!

I suppose first we should probably ask what the balm of Gilead is. I don’t imagine most people, even some regular readers of scripture, have the slightest idea.

Genesis 37 makes reference to a “caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead” and bound for Egypt. These men were merchants and traders, and one of the goods they had for sale was balm, salve in the form of wax or resin to be applied topically. They acquired this balm east of the Jordan River in Gilead, later part of Israel. Genesius’ Lexicon says this medicine was secreted by a plant known to grow only in that region, though the actual species is today a matter of dispute among scholars. The plant was extremely rare, its medicine believed to be very effective, and was highly valued and sought after. Once Israel conquered Canaan under Joshua and populated the Transjordan highlands, they effectively cornered the world market on Gilead’s balm.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Honoring the Weakness?

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel ...”

Here is a verse often considered controversial. Obviously it is not truly a matter of controversy; an apostle wrote that the woman is in some sense “weaker” than the man, and the Holy Spirit of God spoke through him when he did. He wasn’t being a misogynist; the very notion is ridiculous. So then, our responsibility as followers of Christ seeking to live for him is to accept what we read whether the notion of inequality of the sexes in any particular area appeals to us or not.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (15)

Like most fathers, I disciplined my children when they were young and disobedient.

We can think about discipline in either of two ways: firstly, as punishment for sinning, which it most certainly is. When an evil act is committed, it deserves a penalty. Justice cries out for it, and if justice doesn’t make its voice heard, a child’s siblings generally will. But secondly, most acts of discipline are also designed to encourage repentance. A good father desires that the offender learn his lesson and stop offending, both for his own sake and for the sake of those he offends against.

Both these aspects of the disciplinary process are in play in God’s dealings with Israel in Amos 4.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Rethinking Sunday School

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

Tom: I have a confession for you, IC. I was a terrible kid in Sunday School. I made everybody’s lives miserable, from the guy tasked with leading the singing to my individual Sunday School teachers. I really didn’t like it much.

The odd thing is that I had nothing against church particularly, or the Bible. I even believed it was true. But I was a total cut-up.

How about you?

Immanuel Can: Yep. Dead with boredom, and ready to make trouble.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Untwisting God’s Words

Tertius once told me about something that happened to him many years ago, when he was a young Christian. He had started to study the Bible with a friend who had a particular mainline church denominational background.

One day he received an angry letter from his friend’s priest, who was upset about the idea that two lay people were attempting to read and understand the word of God without his “professional” help.

“No prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation,” declared the priest, quoting part of 2 Peter 1:20. From this, he expected Tertius to see that it was just wrong for a person not approved and trained by church authorities to dare to read and understand for himself.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Wrong Word

Sometimes we’ve just plain got the wrong word in our Bibles.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know translators are highly skilled people. In almost every case when it was first translated it was the right word. It was clearly understood by its audience. It was the best English equivalent in its generation for a particular Greek or Hebrew expression.

But languages evolve. Meanings morph. Sometimes they even reverse themselves. Words that worked in one generation no longer transmit the intended message without causing confusion, eroding our ability to grasp what the writers of the word of God were trying to tell us. More than a few beloved expressions hang on well past their expiry dates.

My candidate of choice? The word “grace”.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Reality Check: Religious Freedom

Religious freedom is not a Christian value.

There, I said it.

Now, let’s be real about it: religious freedom is certainly a value held and promoted by many Christians. It is also a benefit that, when conferred on us by the occasional society that looks favorably on the faith (or simply neglects to single it out for special persecution), has made preaching the gospel a whole lot less painful for those who preach it. If I could have religious freedom or not have it, I would certainly prefer to have it.

Nevertheless, these things in themselves do not make religious freedom our inalienable right, and they should not remotely encourage us to seek to spread it around.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Anonymous Asks (144)

“Did God make any promises to Abraham that remain unfulfilled?”

I count 40 separate promises to Abraham made over the course of seven chapters and a period of (very approximately) 40 years.

How about that.

Mileage May Vary

Your mileage will certainly vary, for a number of reasons. For example, promises #3 and 4 could be considered a single compound promise if you like, but since they affect two distinct groups of people and could each stand alone, I am reading them as two separate promises.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Recommend-a-blog (32)

Free trade is “a policy followed by some international markets in which countries’ governments do not restrict imports from, or exports to, other countries.” Or so reads the Infogalactic entry on the subject. The history of free trade goes back centuries, at very least to Adam Smith in 1776, but its global application really awaited the decades following WWII. I grew up with the idea, and accepted it unquestioningly as a “good” of sorts, a necessary corollary to freedom, capitalism and economic growth that benefits all.

After all, who wants to be a commie pinko, right?

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (14)

Why would God extend an invitation to sinners to keep right on sinning? Isn’t that the exact opposite of what he really wants?

It’s not a bad question. Yet the scripture frequently shows us God standing back and allowing the sinner to act out the evil in his heart, from his warning to Cain in Genesis 4 that “sin is crouching at the door” (which went sadly unheeded) to the accumulated sins of Babylon in the book of Revelation, which are “heaped high as heaven”.

This divinely permitted real-world actualizing of the evil desires of the heart often comes at great cost to others. Yet here in Amos, God once again invites the people of Israel to “multiply transgression”.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Alt-Personhood

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

Fox News reports that the Baltimore Book Festival has dropped Rachel Dolezal’s invitation to participate in the festival this year after receiving too much negative public feedback.

You may remember Ms Dolezal from a flurry of media scrutiny in 2015 when it was revealed that the leader of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People wasn’t really a person of color after all, but was in reality a little blonde in blackface.

Tom: IC, I don’t understand. Society says it’s not only okay but morally imperative for me to self-identify as a woman if that’s how I feel about myself, even if I have been born biologically male. It will defend my right to call myself any made-up gender I like, even to the point of stripping you of your right to disagree with me about it in the public space.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Getting Reading Right

So I got talking with a guy the other day.

Those of you who know me know I’ve made my career among secular people. Philosophy being my thing, I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of different sorts of people — many very far from Christian. But in this case, I was talking to a youngish Christian who had been pulled sideways by reading too much of the Unitarians and various Gnostic sects before getting his grounding in scripture. He’s got shaken about the general reliability of scripture, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and a variety of other issues, and he’s working his way through them.

I asked him what he thought was the touchstone of truth. He’d already expressed doubts about large sections of scripture, so I wanted to know what he was relying on to show him what was reliable and what wasn’t.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Faithful and True

Nobody likes being told they are wrong. It’s hard on our pride. For this reason, we may behave very badly in the process of being corrected. But if you’ve ever stumbled around in the dark, looking for answers and living with the painful consequences of your own mistakes, then you may have come to appreciate the value of a faithful and true witness; one who risks your anger and hostility to tell you the real story about yourself; one who cares enough to get involved when others would simply keep quiet, go about their business and let you continue in your misery. Faithful and true witnesses are rare and precious.

And if you have ever told the truth in front of hostile men and women who don’t want to hear it, then you know the cost of faithfulness and truth in giving testimony.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

The Motive Doesn’t Matter

In chapter two of Daniel, the Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar dreams of the end of all this world’s great secular empires ... including his own. A great stone representing an eternal kingdom set up by the God of heaven destroys the image of which Babylon was the golden head.

The weak point of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was its feet, which were a less-than-sturdy composite of iron and clay. Perhaps with this in mind, the king eventually decided to build an image of his own. His version was ninety feet high, with no weaknesses which might be easily targeted by other would-be empire builders. Anyone who observed it saw nothing but gold from head to toe.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Anonymous Asks (143)

“If Christians are forgiven, and they know they will be forgiven no matter what they do, why should they refrain from doing evil?”

Jesus warned his disciples from the very beginning of his ministry on earth to expect that there would be counterfeits among their number. The apostle John writes about what happened when Jesus began to perform miracles in Jerusalem at the Passover. He says, “Many believed in his name.” Then he adds this: “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” Some of these “believers” were not genuine in their desire to associate themselves with him, and would later fall away.

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Inbox: Meditating on the Cross

Recently received from Bernie, and well worth sharing:

“ ‘Don’t cross me.’

  ‘You’re making me cross.’

  ‘I’m at a crossroad.’

All these common phrases speak to a conflict — and not a minor one at that. “Cross” is the coming together of two (often mutually contradictory) standards. What you are choosing to do is not what I want you to do — and thus I am “cross”, or you are “crossing” me. When I’m at a “crossroad”, I am faced with a choice that is one of two directions that do not go to the same place.

“Cross” is a collision, an intersection, a choosing point.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (13)

I am understandably reluctant to compare other men’s wives to cows. Let’s just say the criticism may not be well received.

Amos says some hard things, but they were given to him to say, and he dared not water them down or modify them. These are God’s words, not his. And if God wants to call your wife a cow, you had best listen. More importantly, your wife would be wise to pay attention.

Then again, if she were wise, the Lord wouldn’t be calling her a cow.