Thursday, June 30, 2022

Minding Our Own Business

Our church just got a flow chart. It’s our very first.

Congratulate us. We have a new hierarchy, with the elders and lead pastor pegged in at the apex, then a sort of “Christmas tree” pattern downwards, with levels for “administrative pastors” and “pastors of family life and missions” and then various lay designates like Sunday School supervisors and teen ministry functionaries below them. (The congregation itself didn’t make it onto the diagram, but I think we’re assumed to be down there somewhere.)

And … oh yes … Someone Else is missing. I just can’t think of who he is.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Sleeping on the Job

Socially, there are conservatives and liberals.

Geopolitically, there are globalists and nationalists.

Philosophically, there are uniformitarians and catastrophists.

The vast majority of us find our way into one or more of these camps by default.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Semi-Random Musings (26)

Unless you come from a megachurch background where the primary influence on your Sunday praise fodder is the Hillsong catalog, you are probably familiar with the name Isaac Watts (1674-1748), lyricist of several absolutely wonderful old hymns. The three I know best are “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” and “Jesus Shall Reign”.

Many of Watts’ hymns paraphrase psalms.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Anonymous Asks (203)

“Why does the Bible use so many different words to describe sin?”

John Walvoord writes that there are thirty-three different Greek words translated as some version of “sin” in the New Testament. I won’t try to rehash his study, but it should be fairly obvious from the sheer number of ways the writers of scripture describe it that sin is a big subject.

Properly understanding sin demands we look at it from multiple angles.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Goodness or Godhood

The following post is an edited version of a flyer created in 2016 for the author’s neighbors. He went to be with his Lord and Savior January 20, 2020, which is “far better”.

“Good” is a word often carelessly used in conversation.

Three examples: “People who work for the government earn a good wage”, or “The weather should be good tomorrow”, or you ask a friend, “How are you?” and he replies, “I’m good.”

That last one is too much for anyone to say of themselves. We have “all sinned and come short of the glory of God”. At best we are not absolutely good, though we may have done some relatively good things that we hope our neighbors appreciate.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (33)

One of the more ironic features of God’s judgment is that he sometimes gives men and women precisely what they are asking for, and it turns out to be not at all what they had in mind.

Israel craved meat and complained against God, so God gave them meat until it came out their nostrils and became loathsome to them.

Israel craved idols, so God gave them idols that were deaf, dumb and useless at protecting them.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Immasculate Conception

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

Last week we discussed the problems faced by children who grow up without fathers. If it were just an issue within society, that’s one thing, but evangelicals are increasingly being called upon to aid, abet and even validate single motherhood in the church.

Tom: I’ve just referenced three cases (and there are many more like them) where so-called Christians are looking to justify these sorts of choices and normalize them in Christian circles.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Fatal Friends: Dawkins and Calvin

Hey, look — John Calvin and Richard Dawkins are riding on the same bus!

To be fair, I think neither is likely to be very happy the other has come along for the ride. They’re probably sitting at opposite ends, looking away from each other, and maybe pretending to read an outdated copy of The Times. But they’re riding to the same station.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Foreign Gods in the Least Likely Moments

“He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.’ ”

Quick question for avid readers of the Old Testament: without clicking or mousing-over the link above, who said these words?

If you guessed Moses, you’re wrong.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Minimizing the Damage

Most elders, pastors and church leaders would agree that formulating an appropriate corporate response to the purported pandemic has been among the most difficult and divisive issues they have ever had dropped in their laps. No matter which way they went, some Christians were going to disagree with official church policy. A non-trivial number of congregants have parted ways with their brothers and sisters over it, and some are still mulling their options.

The question for church leadership is how to minimize the damage.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Anonymous Asks (202)

“How could a good God drown babies in the Flood?”

Many terrible things happen to babies in this world: war, starvation, disease, domestic violence and abortion, just to mention a few. People often ask why God would allow men and women to do such things to one another. It’s an oversimplification, but the usual Christian answer is something like “free will”. People make choices, and choices have consequences. Take away choice, and you remove every opportunity for evil to occur. You also remove all possibility of voluntary good.

Today’s question bypasses altogether the things God allows and singles out a historical event for which the Bible assigns God direct responsibility. That’s more interesting, I think, and maybe less easy to answer.

Still, let’s take a crack at it.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Lord, Teach Us to Pray (2)

If applied, the pattern the Lord gave his disciples in answer to the request “Teach us to pray” would breathe life into those times when two believers come together to pray, and to group situations when a local fellowship or church gathers for that purpose. The “Our” in “Our Father” slams the door on anything petty, personal or partisan.

We should be asking together that God’s will be done, not something based on sectarian interest, personal preference or private concern only.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (32)

Why are the prophets so obscure at times?

Peter tells us they did not always understand how and when the the words they received from God would be realized. And if the men who spoke these words had to labor to put the pieces together, we should not be surprised if we have to do the same with prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled today. That’s one reason.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Faith and the Fatherless

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

Single motherhood is the new “normal”.

Government programs of various kinds have made possible a generation (or more) of children, many of whom know no father but the state. The Washington Post reports that by age eighteen fully half of children today will have lived some period with a single mother.

And increasingly, evangelicals are being called upon to aid, abet and even validate single motherhood.

Tom: IC, are there predictable consequences to growing up fatherless?

Thursday, June 16, 2022

I Want to Die

I was baptized young.

Not so young that I did not know what I was doing. After all, I believe in believer baptism only … just like the scriptures tell us.

I was around ten, I think. I asked for it to happen. No one pushed me. And at that time, I had a ten-year-old’s faith, and a ten-year-old’s understanding. Nothing wrong with that … it’s just not where I am today.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

It’s Official ...

It’s easy as pie to find information about the number of women sitting as members of the 44th Canadian Parliament, especially those who ran as candidates for the victorious Liberal Party. Depending on the website you browse, commentators are either delighted so many of the fairer sex were elected last September or outraged that more women were not. So far as I know, the question that so perplexed US Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson during her hearings (“Can you define the word ‘woman’?”) has not been raised to any of these ladies, let alone have they been asked to nail down their preferred gender identity.

We Canadians may have bought into the Social Justice program hook, line and sinker, but the websites that celebrate or lament the sexes of our MPs are still running a little behind.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

When Normal Rules Don’t Apply

Was Adolf Hitler a Christian? And if so, how would we know?

One starting point would be to look at the things he said. Quotes like these employ language sufficiently “Christian” to inspire opportunistic atheists to say that he was, and even to assign Christians responsibility for the Holocaust:

“Overpowered by stormy enthusiasm, I fell down on my knees and thanked Heaven from an overflowing heart for granting me the good fortune of being permitted to live at this time.”

(from Mein Kampf)

“Let us fall down upon our knees and beg the Almighty to grant us the strength to prevail in the struggle for freedom and the future and the honor and the peace of our Volk, so help us God!”

(from a 1936 speech)

The horrified Christian responds, “No true Christian would ever order the deaths of millions!”

Monday, June 13, 2022

Anonymous Asks (201)

“What do sheep symbolize in the Bible?”

The Bible is full of symbols and pictures intended to help us understand the spiritual realities they depict. But as a young man getting serious about studying scripture for the first time, one of the things I had to learn about Bible imagery is that there is rarely a single, consistent interpretation for any figure or picture.

In one sense all of scripture is the product of a single author in the person of the Holy Spirit of God. Because of this, we might expect perfect consistency between image and intended meaning from Genesis to Revelation. But that would be failing to take into account the way inspiration worked.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Lord, Teach Us to Pray (1)

In seeking to interpret the answer given by the Lord Jesus to this request, we should remember he spoke to his disciples in the light of where they stood and what they could grasp at the time. It was before his suffering, resurrection and ascension to heaven, with all the privileges that resulted from those events. Those making this request had an earthly kingdom in view, but we can learn so much of practical value from the pattern he laid down for them.

Christians know themselves to be already included in the kingdom of God with their citizenship in heaven, but still may learn from this prayer.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (31)

If you want to communicate truth effectively, you have to do it at the level of your audience. The Lord Jesus understood this and used imagery all the time. He told stories to which people could relate. Even if they often didn’t fully understand the subtleties of his parables, they sometimes got the broader message.

Even his most hardened critics knew when they were being targeted.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Stomaching Veganism

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

How, now?

Increasingly, studies like this one point to the strong possibility that a strictly vegan diet might actually be the healthiest for human beings, and that even consuming a small amount of meat in our diet is sufficient to increase our chances of diabetes, among other things.

These studies may well be accurate (though, as with all assertions of the scientific community these days, I tend to reserve judgment until we see all the consequences of a purely vegan diet in a representative sample of the human population over a generation or two). But for the sake of argument, let’s give these studies the benefit of the doubt and assume they represent truth and not simply another scientific boondoggle.

Tom: So, the obvious question ...

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Star Trek, Salvation and Sermons

Back in the early 1990s, The Humanist magazine interviewed the famous producer Gene Roddenberry, creator of the TV show Star Trek. The first series had been off the air for years and was long into syndication. Roddenberry was in the process of cranking out its eagerly-awaited sequel, Star Trek: The Next Generation — soon to prove yet another great hit.

The interviewer got the famous producer chatting about the relationship between the show and his own secular humanist beliefs.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

The Bankrupt Christian

I find the answers on the GotQuestions website to be biblical and well-thought through — most of the time.

This one was a rare exception. It’s not that the writer is categorically wrong in his take on the question of Christians declaring bankruptcy, but I do think there are aspects of the issue he fails to consider.

Short version: his answer to “Should a Christian declare bankruptcy?” is a hard “No.” I’m going to suggest a better answer is “Maybe.”

Hear me out.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

No Longer Live

“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Did you know that living for yourself is a sin?

It seems a little harsh when we think of it that way. We think of sins as major patterns of observably evil behavior, and the word of God even leads us in that direction: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

These are not oopsies, slips, errors or one-off sins. We can forgive those in ourselves easily enough. No, Paul is talking about ongoing patterns of behavior that become more important to people than obedience to Christ. These are the things that keep men and women out of heaven.

Monday, June 06, 2022

Anonymous Asks (200)

“Should Christians respect borders?”

Borders are neither essentially good nor bad: they simply tell us where one state’s authority ends and the next one’s begins. In principle at least, borders are morally neutral.

In fact, God himself was behind the original borders between the nations. As Moses put it, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples.” This is a reference to the fallout from the judgment at the tower of Babel, when the Lord dispersed mankind over the face of the earth.

Sunday, June 05, 2022

In Service of Self

Self-centered = pre-occupied with one’s own well being and comfort.

What is the difference between being a selfish person and being a self-centered one? If you think about it, a person may give of his wealth freely, and see himself (and be regarded by others) as generous and unselfish. Yet for all his lavish giving to worthy causes, the real reason for his beneficence can be self-centered, motivated more by how others will see him than by the needs of those helped by his charity — his own image rather than the impoverished condition of the needy.

Big corporations often engage in this kind of duplicity on a grand scale; it is a “virtuous” way to keep name and products before the public.

Saturday, June 04, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (30)

Hoshea the son of Elah was the last non-Davidic king of Israel. Its next king will rule a reunited kingdom from Jerusalem, not Samaria, and he will most assuredly be from the tribe of Judah. A repentant and restored Israel will not mind, we are assured.

Hosea’s prophecy of the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 BC bookends the latter portion of the chapter (verse 7 to the end). It starts with Samaria’s king perishing “like a twig” (ESV) and concludes with the words “At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off.”

A sobering thought. The phrase “cut off” means to be destroyed.

Friday, June 03, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: The Words are Immaterial

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

Tom: Clint Bryan at Christianity Today has a post up about something called the Hillsong Church. I’ve heard the name and vaguely associate it with religious music and the “worship team”-style presentation, but I know very little about the Hillsong phenomenon, and I don’t think I could hum even a single one of what Mr. Bryan says are very hummable tunes. If you tell me that’s a not-very-subtle indication I’m not exactly at the nexus of mainstream evangelicalism, IC, I suppose I’ll have to take the rebuke with grace, but I thought maybe we could talk about Mr. Bryan’s article since it touches on a subject you’ve written about a fair bit.

Immanuel Can: Yep, okay. Where do you want to start, Tom?

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Straight Talk

Some years ago, Dr. Gordon Marino, the ethicist, wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education called “Before Teaching Ethics, Stop Kidding Yourself”.

In this article, Marino complained of the cottage industry of posers and pseudo-experts we have today who dispense advice to us about how we ought to conduct our moral lives. Ethics, he argued, are not so much a matter of specialized knowledge as of ordinary people doing what they already knew to do.

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Not That Difficult

“Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

There are actually two different Greek terms translated into English here with the phrase “men who practice homosexuality”. The first is malakos and the second is arsenokoitai. In recent years repeated attempts have been made to redefine the meanings of these words in order to explain away what the apostle Paul is saying in the clearest possible terms.

Short version: the allegation is that Paul is condemning abusive, coercive or recreational sexual relations between men, but not loving, faithful same-sex relationships.