Sunday, July 31, 2022

Overcoming Discouragement

Do you ever feel sorry for yourself or downhearted without being sure of the cause?

Apparently David did. He asked himself twice in Psalm 42, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” Then he prescribed an effective remedy for himself: “Hope in God”, he said, for he had good reason to believe he would yet praise the one he called the health of his countenance and his God.

David was not whistling in the dark to dispel his distress. It was not merely good psychology; it was an act of faith. He knew he would “yet praise him”, and thus he put his hope in God.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (38)

The photo to the right reproduces my favorite classical attempt to represent Jacob’s struggle with the angel by French painter Pierre Patel (1604-1676). If you squint, you can just about see two figures wrestling on the bottom left. Patel’s design displays a certain cautious reverence sadly lacking in other painters of the period.

One of Hosea’s main themes in chapter 12 is the patriarch Jacob. The second and fourth divisions of the chapter use different aspects of Jacob’s life to instruct any willing ears in Israel or Judah.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Keeping It Controversial

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

Matthew Block at the National Post says it’s a bad time to be religious in Canada.

Now of course he’s looking across the religious spectrum, not just at Christians, touching on everything from proposed government training and certification of imams on to the Quebec government’s plan to ban ostentatiously religious clothing through to the resistance to Trinity Western opening a law school.

Evidently it’s not just terrorism the Canadian government is concerned about, and it’s not just Canada where religious restrictions are either being considered or have already been rolled out.

Tom: I’m not a fan of the hyper-regulatory state, Immanuel Can. Do you see any silver lining here?

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Worship of Angels

I went to an old-time hymn sing last week.

It’s not that I prefer the old hymns. I’m just as much a fan of new choruses as the next guy … provided they’re theologically sound, of course. And singable: there’s no point in trying to sing something that’s lame musically. But if it’s all coming together, I don’t much care how new or old the tune is. If the words are good, and the tune is great for congregational singing, I say let’s go.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Punishment and Deterrence

One of those infamous recent “studies” found that 88% of America’s leading criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime.

I use scare quotes because virtually all such “studies” are commissioned by one side or another of a major public policy divide. The questions asked are rarely framed in neutral language. The expertise of those consulted frequently turns out to be unrelated to the area of study about which the inquiries are made. Such data as may result is rarely presented scientifically and impartially.

I take them all with a truckload of salt. Most “studies” are simply propaganda exercises.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Answering a Skeptic

Not all college friendships last a lifetime, but one guy I went to school with has kept in touch for over 30 years. He maintained an attitude of genial bemusement about my Christian faith right up until his own daughter became a teenager, when he abruptly decided that a purely secular worldview was not what he wanted for her after all.

So I can relate to the plight of the writer of A Skeptic’s Journey Through the Bible, an anonymous blogger who says this about himself:

“Growing up a believer, I left my faith in my teens. Now that I’m at the age of starting a family of my own, I need to know in which direction to guide them.”

Fair point. Let’s help if we can.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Anonymous Asks (207)

“What does it mean to ‘take the name of the Lord in vain’?”

Good question. Does it mean to use the words “God” or “Jesus” casually in conversation? For example, is the oft-heard epithet “Oh my god” a case of taking the Lord’s name in vain?

The phrase comes from the third of the original Ten Commandments given to Israel in Exodus 20 and restated in Deuteronomy: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

The context (a list of important but diverse God-given commands) doesn’t leave us much else to parse for meaning. We are pretty much stuck with the words themselves. All the same, the words give us plenty to think about.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Testing the Spirits

The biblical injunction to test the spirit behind a religious teacher or doctrine requires more of us than merely weighing the worth of a teaching by its popularity. Nor should we allow the smile, charisma or demeanor of the one presenting a message to influence our judgment.

In the apostle John’s three letters, the word “Spirit” shows how believers are equipped to detect unseen and intangible forces, even though they are more accustomed to living by what they see and feel.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (37)

Some chapter divisions in our Bibles are more helpful than others. Not every chapter stands on its own. The contents of many may be better understood by looking backward or forward.

I mentioned a couple of weeks back that I found chapter 12 of Hosea difficult to analyze. In this case it’s not the chapter divisions that are the problem; chapter 12 stands just fine as a discrete unit in a larger message. What I find hard to understand is the structure of the chapter itself.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: A Change in the Whether

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

Crawford Paul, who serves as an elder in an Ontario local church, has written a short post entitled “Consider Moving Your Prayer Meeting to Sunday”.

Tom: Now I’m not sure, Immanuel Can, how many churches in North America still have weekly meetings dedicated pretty much exclusively to prayer. It may not be a large number. Mr. Paul’s suggestion seems to be generally well received. But it does bring up the question of how much flexibility churches have in such matters, assuming we are using scripture as our guide, of course.

We might start by asking what constitutes a local church in the first place.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Total Depravity: Can’t We Come Up With A New Term?

I was talking with an ardent Calvinist about this article. He is firmly committed to “total depravity” as meaning that human beings are black, wicked and “dead” so far as God is concerned, devoid of any kind of goodness, light or value: utterly deplorable and despicable. I understand the misguided humility that drives him, but I don’t buy his argument, and I don’t like the term “total depravity”. I think it’s misleading. This is what I wrote to him:

The Meaning of “Death”

One of the things you said you believed, Sam, is that because the Bible calls us “dead in trespasses and sins”, that must mean that we are totally valueless, like a corpse, before God saves us; and that like a corpse, we are incapable of response before God regenerates us. As you said to me, “Dead means dead.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Improbable Last-Minute Comebacks

Superbowl 51 made history. Too bad I didn’t know that in the third quarter when I turned off the game and went for a drive.

My team was the New England Patriots. I was watching the big game in the lawyer’s lounge during the last hour of a deadly quiet shift at work. Midway through the third quarter, the score was 28-3 … and not for the Pats. By all historical football metrics the game was over. Rather than sit in a funk watching the Atlanta Falcons celebrate their victory, I decided when my shift had ended to make good on an earlier promise to drive a load of boxes over to my landlady’s condo.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Who is the Weaker Brother?

We all know Christians who get offended at just about anything: observing Christmas, reading Harry Potter, owning a deck of cards, instrumental music in church, the “wrong” hymnbooks … you name it, some believer will invariably have something bad to say about it, especially if you are the one doing it.

A pseudonymous writer on asks how to handle such situations in a post called “The Tyranny of the Weaker Brother”. To be fair, he had just given up a much-loved pastime out of respect for a self-professed “weaker brother”, and was probably in a bit of a snit.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Anonymous Asks (206)

“Are Christians obligated to attend every meeting of the local church?”

The way you instinctively feel about this question will likely depend on the type of church you attend. Christians in a declining work that is still trying to run all the programs it did when the meetings were better attended often put pressure on one another to get more involved and to fill the empty shoes of the departed with any fresh body they can draft into service. On the other hand, a highly organized institutional church may be paying people to fill those roles, with the result that Christians can easily come and go from church as they please without feeling that their presence at any particular meeting makes much difference to anyone else.

Of course, the more important question is What does the Lord think?

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Faith in Action

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” says someone who doubts the truth of what he has been told.

That statement is absurd. He should know there is no need to believe anything once it is seen. The fact that “one day faith will give way to sight” does not mean faith is inferior to sight; each faculty has a time and opportunity to show its worth. The time for faith is today, the time for sight is tomorrow.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (36)

We are continuing to examine the way the New Testament writers make use of Hosea’s prophecy. Not all NT uses can properly be called fulfilments of Hosea — some are merely allusions or references — but those which are fulfilments may be broken down this way, with all due credit to David Gooding:

  1. Fulfilment as the fulfilling of predictions
  2. Fulfilment as the final, higher expression of basic principles
  3. Christ’s fulfilment of the Law
  4. The Christian’s fulfilment of the Law

NT writers may use the word “fulfil” in any of these four senses.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Collision Impending

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

Germans in Stuttgart staged a protest rally last weekend over “family values”. At least 4,500 people took to the streets to protest new school curriculum that puts special emphasis on “sexual diversity and sexual minorities”.

What’s interesting about the German situation is that against the wishes of many Germans the Merkel government is importing unprecedented numbers of Muslims into its school system while simultaneously pushing an increasingly liberal social agenda, also against the wishes of a not-insignificant number of its citizens.

Tom: I bring this up, Immanuel Can, because our own Canadian government is on precisely the same trajectory and the U.S. is not far behind. It seems to me spectacularly ill-conceived social policy to pit one set of values against another. The cultural collision, when it comes, promises to be loud and destructive.

What are they thinking, IC?

Thursday, July 14, 2022

A Change Is Gonna Come

Umm ... not effective?

So sang Sam Cooke.

I guess he’d know. He was writing his soulful anthems back in the ’50s and early ’60s in places like Mississippi and Chicago — not the easiest places for a young person of his particular shade of skin to be. But things were changing then, and in retrospect, those who didn’t know they were changing and who thought they could keep things the way they were forever were just spitting into the wind.

Yes, change is gonna come. And you can’t change that. You’ve just got to be ready and react smartly when it does.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Do You Love the Lord?

Well, do you? It’s a hugely important question. It merits serious thought.

Love for God is fundamental. Jesus taught that the first and greatest commandment in the Law of Moses was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. So then, God claims the right to rule my thoughts, to control how I define and express my self, and to direct my understanding. Allowing him to exercise his rightful domain unimpeded is the first and greatest expression of love toward God.

This truth was fundamental to a right understanding of the Law, and it is fundamental to Christianity. All true goodness follows from it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Flyover Country: 2 John

What we think of Christ is the most important thing about us.

Our relationship with God depends on thinking rightly about his Son, who came into the world at the Father’s behest to save sinners. Heaven’s gate is forever closed to those who do not come to love the Lord Jesus. Moreover, true Christian fellowship is impossible for us to maintain with anyone who does not think accurate, biblical thoughts about the Savior of the world, just as the apostles and writers of the New Testament taught.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Anonymous Asks (205)

“Does Satan have to get God’s permission to attack Christians?”

You know how this goes: “I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news. Which do you want first?”

Good News and Bad News

Let’s go with the good. God certainly offers a significant level of protection to those who serve him. Satan complained that God had “put a hedge” around Job and his household, preventing Satan from changing Job’s circumstances or revoking the blessings God had given him. Likewise, the Lord Jesus informed Peter that Satan had demanded to sift the disciples like wheat. That sure sounds like an attack to me … but an attack Satan could not have initiated unilaterally.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Grace in the Wilderness

It is essential to our well being that how we think about ourselves and our circumstances (our philosophy) be governed by what we know about God from scripture (our theology). This is especially true when we are experiencing physical pain, mental distress or unwanted and unexplained trials over an extended period.

If our theology does not take charge, we find ourselves in a state of guilt or self-pity. Neither helps.

Saturday, July 09, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (35)

I candidly admit to struggling with Hosea 12: the historical references to Jacob and Moses; the back-and-forth between these and the condemnation of the nation’s present conduct; the choice of timing for what appears to be a defense of the prophetic office … let’s just say I need to think and pray about it a fair bit more before I start writing about it.

In the interest of putting chapter 12 off as long as possible, I’m going to do what I promised several months back and devote at least one post to the New Testament uses of Hosea’s prophetic word. Some of these are direct quotations; others are references and allusions.

I trust you will all put this down to cleverness rather than cowardice.

Friday, July 08, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Where Do You Get Your News?

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

Millennials are among the most flat-out gullible people I have ever encountered. For the most part, they wouldn’t know truth if it smacked them upside the head. Their manipulators and peers circulate fiction as fact on social media 24/7. They mistrust everyone except those they should.

Older folks still watch the six o’ clock news and have newspaper subscriptions. They grew up with media reputed to be fairly trustworthy in an age when the illusion could be reasonably sustained that there existed such a thing as journalistic ethics. Many of these are our fellow believers, people of goodwill for whom the habit of giving others the benefit of the doubt is well ingrained.

Thursday, July 07, 2022

The Change Is Gonna Do Us Good

Where is Kodak these days? Remember that company? It used to have its name on most of the cameras and film that you saw around. Kodak was an empire, an institution. Now where is it?

And how about Blockbuster Video? Seen any of those stores around lately? They used to be on every corner.

Laura Ashley clothing? Napster music service?

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Revisiting Lot’s Wife

“But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”

Wow. That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?

As a child, I certainly did. That image stuck in my head: righteous family fleeing from a condemned city, scrambling frantically for the shelter of the little town of Zoar, as instructed by angels. Then sulfur and fire begin falling from heaven.

And … poof! The wife takes one fleeting glance over her shoulder and gets incinerated.

Was God looking to make a point or something? As a believing youngster, I found it more than a little scary. And it raised very practical and personal questions, like “Is this sort of instant, inescapable judgment the type of thing I can expect from God if I slip up?”

Maybe, but a few of my assumptions as a child appear to have been a little off.

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

On the Great Reversal

I’m going to keep this post fairly discreet for reasons which will hopefully never become apparent. Search engines and algorithms are imperfect, but rarely miss the obvious.

And perhaps the radical left pro-death crowd is generating a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing in the wake of the Great Reversal of June 24. Perhaps not. Time will tell. But some of the threats against supporters of life currently circulating on social media are truly unhinged. They reveal some very dangerous thinking, and it is in the human heart that wickedness, murder and all manner of evils always begin.

Monday, July 04, 2022

Anonymous Asks (204)

“Is the person Paul describes in Romans 7:14-25 saved?”

The passage referred to in Romans 7 is the one in which the apostle Paul begins by saying, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” and ends by posing (and answering) the question “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

I cannot see how this person can be anything but a believer.

Sunday, July 03, 2022

Promoting Fellowship

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.”

Over four hundred years later the risen Christ asked two of his followers, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other?” It is a question we sometimes need to ask ourselves.

Saturday, July 02, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (34)

The wrath of God is an established fact of scripture, the Holy Spirit making reference to it in excess of 300 times. But we should not think of God’s wrath as merely emotional, as if it comes and goes depending on his mood. Rather, the wrath of God “abides” or “remains” on sinners who refuse to take God’s provided way of escape. God’s anger never abates, never lifts and never loses its intensity unless it is met with the appropriate response.

After all, he is not a man that he should change his mind.

Friday, July 01, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Objectively Bad

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

Here we are, Immanuel Can. It’s 2016, and our old pal Rachel Held Evans is once again raising spiritual issues of importance.

I had not realized that she and husband Dan are expecting a baby, but it does explain why her blog output is down to about one post a month. And if my recollection of raising children remains unimpeded by creeping senility, her writing output is likely to remain at an all-time low for the indefinite future, assuming it does not tail off altogether.