Tuesday, November 30, 2021

A House of Trade

“Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

Jesus had nothing against pigeons; he made them after all, as John’s first chapter well establishes. Furthermore, the poor pigeons were only present at the temple to serve as sacrifices, a practice the Lord had himself authorized.

But these pigeons were not in the process of being carried to the altar in the arms of guilty or devout Jews. They were caged, on sale, and probably marked up at a premium for the convenience of having a cheap sacrifice handy when you needed one.

The Father’s house had become a house of trade.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Anonymous Asks (173)

“Do guardian angels exist?”

How many angels are there? We can’t be sure, but there are indications in the Bible that number is stratospheric. Hebrews speaks of “innumerable angels in festal gathering”. In Revelation, John writes of “many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands”.

The Greek expression underlying the latter phrase may refer to vast numbers generally, or may refer literally to the number 10,000 times itself.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Intended Meanings and Frivolous Applications

Disclaimer time: our loving Father is not indifferent to the details of his children’s lives. He cares about our strained relationships, our problems at work, our finances and our trips to the doctor’s office. It matters to him when we grieve over a lost pet. If you are not grateful for that level of divine attention today, you certainly will be at some point down the road.

The bone of contention in what follows, then, is not whether God cares, but how his care is normally expressed to us. After all, we can’t appreciate the Lord’s love if we can’t recognize it. If we are expecting it to manifest one way and it manifests in a different way, we may feel God doesn’t love us at all.

More importantly, we really don’t want to lead other Christians to expect from the Lord things they are most unlikely to receive.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Mining the Minors: Hosea (3)

Two sentence recap: The northern kingdom of Israel went into Assyrian captivity in three stages, the final one occurring with the fall of Samaria in 722 BC. The southern kingdom of Judah went into Babylonian captivity over a century later, with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

Those readers less familiar with the history of God’s earthly people may wonder why an empire as aggressively expansionist as the Assyrian would be satisfied with devouring only the northern kingdom, leaving the south to its own devices.

The answer is that it wasn’t.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: The Future Church

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

We’ve written here on many occasions about current trends within Christendom and what they say about North American Christians. Last week, for instance, we did a piece on giving by millennials. But I wouldn’t say we do an inordinate amount of speculating about the future, because while we can see from scripture where both the world and the people of God are ultimately headed, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to plot exactly where we are on that timeline.

Tom: Still, Carey Nieuwhof is willing to go out on a limb and tell us where he thinks the Church is headed in the next few years in his article “10 Predictions About The Future Church”.

What did you think of Carey’s musings, Immanuel Can?

Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Mental Scrapbook

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, as the famous adage goes. Your raw materials define what is possible with them.

The same is true of your mental life: you cannot make a good life out of bad imaginings.

Your mind is a scrapbook. Like any scrapbook, it collects fragmentary images of whatever you decide to put in there. Over time you fill it up. And eventually, what you have put into it defines the kind of life you’re going to have. That happens because the ‘resources’ you put into your mental scrapbook become the raw materials for your present attitudes, your frame of reference for present experiences, and the repository of images for your present imagination.

Garbage in, garbage out. Good stuff in, good stuff out. It’s that simple.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Candles and Flags

“So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, ‘Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city.’ But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.”

On the bright side, at least Lot didn’t have to start with an explanation of who “the Lord” was. He had at least that much of a testimony: that he was a worshiper of Yahweh, as opposed to whatever god or gods were worshiped in Sodom, where he had rather unwisely made his home.

Evidently his prospective sons-in-law knew that much about him.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Happy Accidents

My college painting teacher had a name for improbable color choices or brushstroke combinations that gave a pleasing and unexpectedly-mature aesthetic to student-level work.

He called them “happy accidents”.

Most often he was correct. Sometimes things happen at random that just work.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Anonymous Asks (172)

“Did Noah’s sons represent races?”

We are often told diversity is our strength. Yet many of the very same people who chide us to accommodate the differences between men and women from different parts of the world also insist there is no such thing as race, other than the human race.

So then, to answer questions about the origin of races, we would first have to agree about the meaning of “race”. Good luck with that in our hyper-politicized environment.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Infants, Innocence and Ignorance

“Be infants in evil ...”

“We are not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs.”

In the first instance, Paul appears to be suggesting that Christians in the churches of Corinth were better off the less they knew about evil. Perhaps naivety has its benefits. In the second, the same apostle writes to the very same Christians that “we” — which I take to mean Paul and Timothy, authors of the letter and fellow workers in Christ — are familiar with the manipulations and schemes Satan uses to pit Christian against Christian. That implies a bit of inside knowledge about the way in which evil works, or at very least basic pattern recognition.

Is Paul suggesting there are two different standards of understanding about evil: one for experienced Christian workers and another for the average Joe and Jane in the pews? Or possibly Paul is just being inconsistent ...

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Mining the Minors: Hosea (2)

Jonah is a historical account that includes a mere eight words of actual prophecy (five in Hebrew), while Amos is a series of prophecies that includes a mere eight verses of history.

This mixture of historical narrative with the word of the Lord (as well as occasional visions and discussions between the Lord and the prophet) is typical of all the prophetic books of scripture. Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah each contain lengthy narrative passages, usually describing the prophet’s personal situation and/or events going on around him.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Religious Freedom, Limited

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

The Independent reports that Belgium’s Walloon region is the latest territory to ban kosher and halal meats. Denmark, Switzerland and New Zealand all got there first, in each case turning a deaf ear to the protests of Jewish and Islamic minorities.

Tom: That’s fine with me. We’ve already established in the U.S. and Canada that there are reasonable limits on religious freedoms, though these have been applied more frequently (and certainly more visibly) against Christians than against religious minorities recently.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Post-COVID Christianity

Well, the COVID crisis has sure taught us all some lessons, provided we’re conscious enough to think them over. And the purpose of this post is to help us do that; first, by listing some very obvious things we all cannot help but realize, and then by talking a little bit about how Christians should be feeling about all of it.

Because it’s really not the same for us as it is for everyone else.

Hang on. You’ll see.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Second-Hand Christians

“So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him.”

Lot wasn’t Abram. The Lord didn’t speak to Lot directly as he had spoken to Abram. The Lord didn’t “appear to” Lot.

Abram went; Lot went with. Abram went as the Lord had told him; Lot went as Abram told him.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Out of the Ground

“When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.’ ”

Er ... what is this exactly? Lamech’s declaration about Noah seems, to say the least, thick with irony. How should we understand the fatherly intent here? What was Lamech trying to communicate?

Monday, November 15, 2021

Anonymous Asks (171)

“Is the United States a Christian nation?”

I have commented before that the word “Christian” makes a poor adjective. It doesn’t tell you much that is useful. I have seen lies, error and heresy on sale in “Christian” bookstores, false believers in “Christian” youth groups, and atheists playing “Christian” rock.

Christianity is just not something you can ascribe to groups, especially groups as large as a nation. One becomes a Christian by trusting Jesus Christ for salvation and recognizing him as Lord. Groups can do all kinds of things an individual can’t, but only individuals can be saved.

So what is really being asked here? Here are a few possibilities:

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Holy Kiss and the Social Distance

A few years ago over lunch, a friend pointed out to me that the holy kiss is not merely a passing reference to an ancient custom in the Bible’s historical narrative; rather, it’s a New Testament commandment given by two different apostolic writers not once, not twice, but FIVE TIMES. It was obviously important to both Peter and Paul, the Jachin and Boaz of the early church.

As such, we would be unwise to ignore it or handwave it away. The holy kiss should never be “kissed off”. At least, I’m uncomfortable doing that.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Mining the Minors: Hosea (1)

Time for a one-paragraph summary of our 59 posts in this series to date. Ready? Go!

The prophet Jonah preached to the Assyrians in Nineveh around 760 BC. Their repentance delayed the destruction of their empire by a century or more. That delay left Assyria available for God to use when he judged the ten northern tribes of Israel for centuries of injustice, pride and unrepentant idolatry. Less than a generation after the prophet Amos delivered the word that Israel was about to lose its kingdom for the foreseeable future and that its people would shortly be dispersed throughout the Assyrian empire, the city of Samaria fell to the Assyrian army.

We continue to move through the Minor Prophets chronologically. The next messenger on our list is Hosea.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Surveying Evangelicalism

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

The current state of our evangelical Christian churches is not the easiest thing to encapsulate in a few sentences. While each of today’s Protestant denominations originally sprang from a set of shared doctrinal convictions and associated practices, few could ever have been called monolithic, and evangelicals are even less so. Some groups bear the same name but believe and do things very differently indeed.

Tom: My experience with folks from the denominations is primarily online, but our own Immanuel Can has been out church-shopping of late, and may have a better view from the trenches ... er, pews. Does the average modern evangelical church building still have pews, IC?

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Rage, Rage …

I had a conversation with one of my brothers in Christ recently that left me a bit shaken and concerned, I must confess.

It was outside of a local church building. The man was speaking to me about the mask mandates and the distancing regulations that the church had implemented.

Suddenly, his eyes flashed with fire, and his words became tense and cruel: “These people,” he said, “These people who just think they can …” He went on with such fierceness that his wife had to put her hand gently on his arm, and say to me, “You see we feel strongly about this. Pray for us.” “Come along, dear.” And she pulled him away.

He was still in mid-rage, I could see, and there was much more he wanted to say.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Guarding the Heart

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Solomon gave this instruction to a young son; that’s who it’s addressed to. It’s important for all of us to be guardians of our own hearts, to watch those things that influence us. It’s important for all of us, no matter how old we are and how far along the path of life.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Misery and Obduracy

I know a woman who is utterly miserable, or so she will tell you if you have time to listen. She lives on welfare with a man she claims to dislike, convinced her daughter is abusing her, and is forever begging for handouts to help with rent or groceries. But when concerned family members point out local job openings in her field, there are always multiple reasons she can’t possibly apply.

They are proposing real solutions ... just not the solution she wants.

Monday, November 08, 2021

Anonymous Asks (170)

“How should Christians regard Jews?”

This is a fairly important question to consider. Historically, there has been little agreement within Christendom about it. Today, there is increasing polarization within the evangelical ranks concerning both the religion of Judaism and the nation of Israel.

The two “poles” look something like this.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Kissing the Son

“If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.”

That’s a very strong statement. Catholics would say, “Let him be anathema”, which simply means “devoted to destruction”. Paul leaves us no fence to straddle: it’s love or destruction. Choose one or the other.

That word translated from Greek to English as “love” refers to affection or approval. It’s also a word that means “to kiss”. In the ancient East, when you saw someone you knew and liked on the street, you would greet them with a kiss. It was a way of publicly identifying yourself with that person; of saying to everyone around, “This is my guy, right here.”

Or you could just turn your head away and walk on by. But what an insult that would be.

Saturday, November 06, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (40)

Analyzing the structure of any book of the Bible requires basic pattern recognition, a skill quickly developed by most students of the Word who go on to write anything useful about it. Mind you, that doesn’t mean they all see exactly the same patterns. Often there is more in there than any single intellect is equipped by God to dig out.

In the case of the book of Amos, efforts to analyze its structure have been frustrated at times by its apparent randomness. Everyone who comes to it sees something slightly (or in some cases, wildly) different. “There is not a clear ‘story’ or ‘narrative’ to this text,” writes Rebecca Holland.

In short, finding a definitive structural analysis of Amos is no easy task.

Friday, November 05, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: The Unfair Advantage of a Loving Family

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

Yes, Leftism is just plain goofy.

Philosophers Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse are deeply concerned about the nuclear family.

What happens, worries Swift, when loving your child makes for an uneven playing field for those without equally devoted parents?

The difference between the solution you or I might propose and the one the political Left proposes is that Adam and Harry would prefer to bring us all down to the lowest common denominator rather than aspire to anything inherently more desirable.

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Living Large

“What church do you guys go to?”

The question came out of left field. She had been poking around at her desk, seemingly preoccupied with the day’s business. Normally our exchanges were rare, light and usually practical.

I liked her as a person, but we hadn’t had many deep conversations. There was always a brittleness in her manner if any spiritual matter ever appeared on the horizon — not an uncommon happening if one teaches literature, as we both did. A lapsed Catholic, now essentially secular in all her habits, she usually avoided such topics completely. So to foray into spiritual issues so suddenly was very unlike her.

“An evangelical church up the road. Why?”

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Reasons to be Fearful

“And you are [Sarah’s] children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

The world is a scary place. It was scary when Peter wrote these words, and it’s scary today. Maybe it’s scariest for women, though I can’t say for sure: there are plenty of places in scripture where men are told not to be fearful, and many exhortations not to let our fears control us which we may reasonably assume are intended to apply to both sexes.

In fact, some of the most powerful men in the Bible were scared.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Inbox: Less Serious Side Effects

Our old friend Dave B. writes:

“I’d be curious to hear your opinion on the ‘expert’ claims that those vaccinated develop less serious side effects, should they catch the dreaded COVID virus. Is this legit?”

Dave, you ask the best questions. I’m game to share my current opinion about the effectiveness of the vaccines so long as we all recognize it is just that, and that new data is emerging daily.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Anonymous Asks (169)

“Why do so many white supremacists claim to be Christians?”

Interesting question. I’m not actually aware that this is common. I’ve encountered few genuine white supremacists online, but the ones I have run into all reject Christianity, primarily because of its close association with Jews. If they call themselves religious at all, white supremacists generally appropriate Norse mythology as their starting point; for example, a Finnish movement called Soldiers of Odin is currently gaining popularity in Canada’s western provinces.

Well, that’s assuming it is reasonable to refer to an organization with a mere 600 members across the entire globe as “popular”.