Saturday, December 31, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (17)

Two weeks ago, before our Christmas sabbatical, we looked at the first half of Micah 6 and suggested it plays out like a courtroom drama, though with major differences from the typical examples we see on TV of how Western justice operates. The nation of Judah is on trial, and God is both plaintiff and judge. The prophet Micah assumes the role of prosecutor. God calls upon the earth itself to witness his complaint against his people.

In the latter half of the chapter, the Lord makes his case against Jerusalem and pronounces sentence.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: The Role of a Senior Pastor

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

A website with plenty of other, more helpful posts also contains this gem:

“Question: What does the Bible say about the role of a senior pastor?”

Tom: Oh, you’re going to make ME pull the pin on this one? Fine, fine.

The question is phrased this way: “What does the Bible say?”, which might lead one to naively conclude that the answer will have something to do with the teaching of the Bible. Which it sort of does ... until you read the first sentence.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

The God Point

Everybody’s on the JBP train today, it seems.

I mean the “Jordan B. Peterson” train. For those who have been living under a rock (or perhaps have no love for YouTube or other media), Dr. Peterson has been the center of much rapt attention over the last couple of years. How a psychologist and philosopher of religion rose to the pinnacle of worldwide publicity is quite an odd story. Starting with his principled stand against transgenderism and compelled speech in Toronto, continuing with his publications in print and on YouTube, and then in widely-viewed and controversial interviews on worldwide television, JBP has positioned himself as the most famous public intellectual of recent years.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Standing is its Own Reward

Nick is the son of a single mother.

His mother didn’t start out single. She gave birth to three children while married to a very talented but unstable (professing) Christian man. He left her for a younger, more attractive co‑worker in what looked to me (and to the rest of the world) like the stereotypical male mid-life crisis. It played out like the cliché of all romantic clichés, frankly.

It looked embarrassing. It probably was. I actually liked the departing father a great deal, and was deeply disappointed when I heard about what he had done and what had become of his family.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Twice-Told Tales

I love scripture. Obviously I love it from a spiritual standpoint: what it tells me has saved me for all eternity. There is simply no way to top that.

But as a reader, writer, and lover of language, I find the scriptures endlessly fascinating in the way that they were constructed and the purposes they were intended to serve, both by the Holy Spirit and their human writers, to the extent we are able to discern these intentions by careful observation.

I love the scriptures in this way too, as many others do. For me, a deep dive into the Word is as refreshing as a dip in a mountain stream and more enlightening than the most profound secular literature.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Anonymous Asks (229)

“Is it wrong for a Christian husband and wife to have separate bank accounts?”

Modern banking practices such as accepting deposits and transferring funds didn’t emerge until the late sixteenth century. As such, we can hardly expect the Bible to address the subject of bank accounts.

As usual with such questions, this one comes down to motivation.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Story of Christ in Four Parts

The scripture presents the story of Christ in at least four parts:

The first one is the birth of the Lord Jesus. God was making himself known to people in a human body. God the Son was going to come into this world and become man, though he existed eternally with the Father.

Secondly, there are the teachings of the Lord Jesus. He went through every city and village preaching the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. The teachings of Christ are tremendously important. We need to pay attention to those.

Then there is the death of Jesus outside the walls of Jerusalem in a place called Calvary.

The fourth part is the resurrection and ascension of Jesus back to the throne of God.

So we need to think of the story of Christ in at least these four ways — in his birth, ministry, death and resurrection — to have a complete view of the person and work of the Lord Jesus.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Line of the Forever King

“To you in David’s town this day
 Is born of David’s line
 A Savior, who is Christ the Lord
 And this shall be the sign …”

— from While Shepherds
    Watched Their Flocks

The Messiah of Israel had to be from the tribe of Judah. Not just that, he had also to be of the specific line of David, Israel’s greatest king, and the “man after [God’s] own heart”.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Reasons Not to Celebrate Christmas

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

The Becoming Christians website wants you to know that if we would just dig deep enough in our Bibles, we would find reasons not to celebrate Christmas.

Tom: Hey, I’ll bite. Immanuel Can, this sounds like something you wrote about recently in your post about legalism. This Christmas naysayer has given us five reasons to put away the eggnog and put on a hair shirt. We could probably find more if we kept digging, but these should stir up a little anti-Christmas spirit, don’t you think?

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Inbox: The Problem Begins at the Platform

In response to Tom’s post Five Lessons We Can Learn from Jordan Peterson, Russell writes:

“In the local church context, based on 40+ years of listening to sermons/messages, I would say there are a rare few who can hold people’s attention for more than 15 minutes. They present material in a boring and unorganized fashion. They are unaware of the learning and comprehension level of their audience. They are very very detached in their application to where people live their daily lives. Shame on them for being such poor communicators of God’s truth. Shame on us for propping up a system which perpetuates bad messages.”

Now, we might bridle at that — especially those of us who have a favorite speaker. We might say, “That’s not fair, Russell; I know Mr. X, and he’s really profitable and interesting: I could listen to him forever.”

Maybe. But how many Mr. X’s are there? Be honest now.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Flipping the Switch

I was sixteen, I think, watching a young man in his twenties give his testimony.

It was one of those beauties so full of clichés you might have been forgiven for mistaking it for the creative output of a team of Hollywood screenwriters or perhaps the lyrics to a Bryan Adams song. He had even been a sailor, if you can imagine. I mean, who goes to sea to act out these days? He’d tried the “broken cisterns”, as the old hymn goes, and “Ah, the waters failed.”

Except it seems they tasted pretty good to him at the time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Holiness and Vision

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

What is the writer to the Hebrews saying in the latter part of this verse?

A casual reading might leave us with the impression that it’s something to do with salvation. We might paraphrase that sort of interpretation this way: “Without being holy, nobody will be able to enter the presence of God and enjoy heaven.”

That’s perfectly true, but I don’t think it’s the writer’s intended meaning.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Anonymous Asks (228)

“The Bible says nothing about trans people. Why should Christians be against sex transitioning?”

One very compelling reason to be against sex reassignment is that the surgery doesn’t cure gender-related unhappiness even in the short term. Journalists dispute this claim vigorously, but data gathered in clinical studies does not support the prevailing optimism in the secular media about the efficacy of surgical solutions in addressing the misery experienced by gender-dysphoric people.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Sympathy and Separation

Jesus of Nazareth was — and remains — unique in his nature.

He was the Word become flesh, and yet dwelling among us. Who is the Word? One with the Father, the creator of worlds, yet becoming man.

What does it mean when we say that the Savior was “separate from sin”?

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (16)

Micah 6 plays out like a courtroom drama, but with a few notable differences from your average episode of Law and Order. The God of Israel is both plaintiff and judge. The defendant is the nation of Judah. The prophet Micah takes on the role of prosecuting attorney. The witnesses are the personification of eternal solidity: the backbone of the earth.

It’s an unusual cast of characters, and the trial proceeds a little differently than people familiar with Western justice systems might expect. For one, there is no cross-examination of the Plaintiff’s testimony: who would dare call the Eternal God a liar? There is no jury to give a verdict, which is what we might expect when the only things in the courtroom other than God, his people and his prophet are inanimate objects.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Different Ways to Die in the Dark

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

Islamophobia is the hot topic of the day. Once again Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is breaking new legal ground. Motion-103, introduced by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, is allegedly intended to combat religious discrimination, often referred to in the media as Islamophobia.

Its detractors claim Motion-103 would make for bad law: too broad, too specifically focused on Islam rather than religious discrimination generally, too confused between racism and religious discrimination.

Tom: First of all, are we “phobic”, Immanuel Can?

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Wheat and Weeds

I was talking to a close friend last week. He’s serving as an elder in a local congregation of believers. A man of their gathering has raised an issue; he feels very strongly that certain forms of worship are simply out of court for Christians. But the form he most particularly dislikes is one that scripture never even really talks about one way or the other. In fact, if I told you what it was, you’d likely be very surprised; it’s something that Christians have done routinely for a long time now.

My pal was struggling with how to handle this guy.

The objector is pretty strong on his beliefs, and he’s not at all happy that the elders are not jumping to his side instantly. But my friend is more thoughtful and scriptural in his convictions; and I think he senses that the objection is more a matter of personal preference than of principle.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

A Short Ride to the Bottom

Some people refer to the slippery slope argument as a fallacy. They contend that there are many places between the top and bottom of a hill where an out-of-control slide may be arrested, and that therefore one little step downward does not make descent into the abyss inevitable.

In some cases, this may even be true. Most kids who spend endless hours playing first person shooter video games don’t go on killing sprees in high schools. On the other hand, there is plenty of hard data to establish the through-line from single motherhood to offspring criminality.

Some slopes are more slippery than others, I guess.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Names Will Never Hurt Me

Lots of quotes today.

First up: Media professionals from CBC, CTV, Global News and other major Canadian media outlets made up the panel at this recent seminar, entitled “Journalists and Online Hate”, put on by Ottawa’s Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication. The video of the event commences with a round of self-abasement from the head of Carleton’s journalism program (white, male, middle-aged), who receives applause for calling himself a “fifth generation settler” and apologizes to the panel on behalf of all white, male Canadians.

An inauspicious beginning, and it’s only downhill from there.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Anonymous Asks (227)

“What does it mean that ‘the sexually immoral person sins against his own body’?”

The quotation here comes from a longer discourse by the apostle Paul on the importance of Christian doctrine and practice in the area of sexuality. It includes the memorable line “Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?” — the obvious answer being “Never!” The relevant portion is as follows: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”

So how does that work exactly?

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Trampling the Birthright: Hebrews 12

The book of Hebrews was written to Hebrews. We need to understand it in that light.

Following the display of Pentecost, many Hebrews believed or professed to do so. In the light of that, the writer says in Hebrews 10, “Recall the former days” — for now a number of years had passed since that time — “when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”

These Hebrews had suffered a great deal.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (15)

The vast majority of Jacob’s descendants elected not to return to Israel in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, preferring the lives they had made for themselves in other nations during the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. 587 years later (or thereabouts), when James wrote his epistle, the twelve tribes were still largely “scattered abroad”, and this almost two decades before the Romans sacked Jerusalem in AD70 and dispersed the Jews yet again.

It may be argued that Jacob’s descendants have been “in the midst of many peoples” and “among the nations” for the better part of the last two thousand years. Israel is still scattered abroad today, despite the existence of a national home for the Jews. Seven million live in Israel, while 8.25 million live elsewhere, six million in the US alone. And these are just the ones who identify as having this very specific type of Hebrew background.

In a sense, then, there is nothing new about what we are about to read in Micah.

Friday, December 09, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Shut Your Trap

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

Does everything that ever crosses your mind deserve to be aired?

By way of illustration, the Toronto Star prints this piece on “Moms who regret motherhood”. I’ll second the opinion offered by the writer of the story, who says, “All my pity is for the actual victims in these stories” — that is to say, for the children of the mothers who regret them.

Tom: IC, this brings up an interesting question: How much of what flashes through human synapses actually merits further scrutiny?

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Choking On Our Empathy

“I know exactly how you feel.”

How many times have your heard that line, or a line like it, when you were expressing some personal sorrow or woe to another?

And was there ever a doubt in your mind that when the person said it to you, they were wrong?

They had never been you. They had not faced your situation. If they meant well, they were imagining themselves in your place, maybe; more likely, they were transferring some experience of their own and placing it upon you, pushing your real experiences aside in favor of remembering their own. They were feeling empathetic with themselves, not with you.

And in some cases, they were not meaning well at all.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Semi-Random Musings (27)

I have written once or twice about the use of disambiguators in scripture. These are the little bits of information the Bible’s writers supply in order to help us distinguish James (the brother of Christ) from James (the brother of John) or Mary (Magdalene) from Mary (the mother of Jesus).

The Benaiah who served David and Solomon is consistently called the son of Jehoiada. Good to know. With that disambiguator appended to his name it’s impossible to confuse him with two later Benaiahs mentioned by Ezra and Ezekiel, or with Benaiah of Pirathon, another man of valor in David’s service.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (23)

The website was an outreach of the UK-based Christianworld Church headed by the late Tony Sharpe that published occasional posts promoting the doctrine of Universalism after Sharpe’s death from a failed heart surgery in June 2004 until some time in 2016. The website does not specifically credit the articles there to Sharpe, but they appear to represent his views on scripture.

Like many other defunct websites, we only find Universal Salvation in The Wayback Machine’s archives. I can think of several possible reasons it is no longer active: (1) the church disbanded; (2) the person who maintained the blog died, as will happen to us all at one point, and subsequently discovered his beliefs did not represent reality; or (3) the person who maintained the blog discovered his error in this life and deleted it (we can only hope).

Either way, we don’t need to caution anybody at Universal Salvation about proof-texting. The same cannot be said for its former readers.

Monday, December 05, 2022

Anonymous Asks (226)

“How detailed should prayers of confession be?”

John famously wrote, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He didn’t add a lot of detail about the confession process, but perhaps this is because the Greek word he used for “confess” carried linguistic freight the English translation does not.

Most people get their ideas about confession either from the Roman Catholic practice or from police procedurals, so the concept of biblical confession requires a bit of unpacking.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

When Is It Wrong to Pray? (2)

In a previous post, we were considering the danger of using prayer as a sort of blanket to hide under when we ought to be doing something else, and I suggested that there are times when it is inappropriate for us to pray.

We will come back to that idea shortly, but let’s begin with this statement:

All men are either in Adam or in Christ.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (14)

From one end of the Bible to another, the Holy Spirit quite frequently assigns layers of spiritual significance to real personages, cities and nations.

In Ezekiel, for example, the “prince of Tyre” is an analog for Satan himself. Manifestly, the real, human prince of Tyre never appeared in Eden. Likewise, John calls Jerusalem “Sodom and Egypt” in the book of Revelation, perhaps because the people of that city have at times displayed the moral character of both places. Again, in Galatians, Paul uses Hagar and Sarah as allegories for two covenants.

Observing this principle may help us with a few verses in Micah 5 when our attempts to interpret him literally hit the wall. Back to that thought in a bit. Let’s do the comparatively easy stuff first.

Friday, December 02, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: E-dification

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

In case you’ve never seen it before, TL;DR is internet shorthand for “too long, didn’t read”. Its existence and very common usage online points to a problem for Christians seeking to communicate the truth of God to others through technology, which is that we are often working with a very short window of attention.

Tom: There is little point in us bemoaning reduced attention spans, Immanuel Can: they are a reality among millennials, and if we want to speak for God in the current environment, we’re going to have to learn to deal.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Who’s Running This Place Anyway?

Churches today need leaders — badly. And biblically speaking, that means they need elders.

“Elder” doesn’t necessarily mean old but it does mean spiritually mature, so some age and experience are required, of course.

Unfortunately, spiritually mature people are in short supply these days. I fear that the majority of my generation, the currently middle-aged, didn’t spend much of their youth reading the Bible or seeking spiritual growth opportunities. Consequently, those now in the best age group to be selected as elders to lead the churches are not quite up to the task.

But churches still need leadership.