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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Clarifying the Discussion

I wrote a post on the problem we face sometimes in being unable to talk about certain issues. One of the obvious ones for men is the issue of women as pastors. That post produced a brief dialog, which included this comment from The Median Sib:
I firmly believe (based on the Bible and words of Jesus) that God never intended for women to NOT be ministers and work fully in His service. I've known too many wonderful and spirit-led women ministers to believe otherwise.
Now, be it known that I have often enjoyed reading The Median Sib blog, and be it further known that wading into this debate is a foolish idea on my part (as in trying to resolve the questions to everyones' satisfaction). However, there is something here that bespeaks a miscommunication, and I'd like to clear it up.

In the strongly "anti-traditionalist" (my word) article by Cindy Jacobs of For His Glory entitled Women In Ministry, Cindy assures us:
We must open our eyes to the fact that when God anoints women with the gift of teaching, He is releasing great revelation and blessing to the church through them.
She seems fairly sure that the wording of 1 Tim. 2:11-15 was aimed at not teaching an extremely specific heresy that Eve was the source of Adam, and perhaps even aimed at a specific woman. Women today, she is quite sure, are not under this "obscure passage". Fortunately, it seems, the Church has finally, after nearly 2000 years, figured out what God really intended (with the help of the Women's Liberation Movement) and the Church has been either ignorantly wrong all this time or, perhaps, suffering from a male conspiracy against women.

Both The Median Sib and Cindy Jacobs suffer from a misunderstanding of "the traditionalist" view. Let me say that a different way. I am somewhat of a "traditionalist" on this topic, and I agree with the two quotes from these two ladies. No one as far back in history as I can see has ever suggested that 1) women are not gifted to teach or 2) women are not allowed to teach. I have never seen anyone (except, perhaps, the lunatic fringe) suggest that women cannot minister. I have never seen a version of 1 Tim. 2:12 that says, "I do not allow a woman to teach -- period, end of sentence, that is the complete thought, please stop here."

The "traditionalist" view has always seen the verse as a linked thought. "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man." The question, traditionally, has been one of women's authority over men, and specifically in terms of the church structure. No one of whom I am aware has ever suggested that women cannot teach ... women. I've never seen any suggestion that women cannot teach ... children. My point in these two statements is not to offer limits, but to indicate the problem with the statements above. Can women minister? No one has ever suggested that they cannot. Can women teach? Absolutely! No one (at least no one that we all, traditionalists or anti-traditionalists, don't dismiss out of hand) has ever suggested either prohibition. So when people today who have gained new enlightenment on Scripture that the "traditionalist" hasn't are complaining that we are trying to prevent women from ministering or teaching, this is not the case.

As I said, for me to try to clear up the argument to everyones' satisfaction would be a fool's errand. You will all come to your own conclusions. I'm not trying to sway anyone here to my way of thinking. I am simply trying to point out that we need to be careful about our language and rhetoric. If we attack a false position, we waste our time and fritter away our arguments. These types of disputes typically produce only heat and no light. And perhaps heat in the winter is nice ... but this kind of heat doesn't seem to warm anyone.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Liberals and Liberality

Okay, let's review. Here's what we know. We know that liberals care about people, while conservatives only care about themselves. We know that religious conservatives claim to care about people but only care about their own religious groups. We are pretty sure that liberals out-give conservatives and we are confident that they out-volunteer conservatives. We certainly know that liberals are the primary support for such causes as animal rights, environmentalist movements, and the like. We're all pretty confident about these facts.

So along comes Arthur C. Brooks. Dr. Brooks is Professor of Public Administration and Director of the Nonprofit Studies Program at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Dr. Brooks has written a book called Who Really Cares. And Dr. Brooks is causing a stir.

Dr. Brooks's first observation is that charitable giving is fundamentally tied to one's religious beliefs and practices. If you are very religious, you are much more likely to give. This giving does not include church giving, but does take into account charitable giving and volunteering as well as other things such as giving blood. In fact, according to Dr. Brooks, if liberals gave blood at the same rate as conservatives, the blood reserves would be up 45%. And, as it turns out, these same religious folks are the ones who are giving most to secular causes such as animal rights, environmentalism, and the like.

It seems that one's economic condition plays a factor in one's willingness to give. Statistically, the American working poor are, relative to their income, some of the most generous people in America today while those with above-average incomes say they don't have enough money.

Perhaps we were wrong in what we thought we knew. When my son was in junior high school, he came home excited because he had learned something about politics. "Our teacher taught us the difference between a liberal and a conservative," he beamed. "A liberal wants to help others, while a conservative only wants to help himself." Well, teacher, it would appear that, while your perceptions are likely in line with a lot of others, they are quite wrong. It appears that conservatives care about people more than liberals, and that, wonder of wonders, the leading indicator of whether or not a person will actively involve themselves in helping others is whether or not they have a real, living religious life. How odd! It appears the "popular view" might be wrong!

Friday, December 29, 2006

False Dichotomy

In the past I've made a couple of posts on the topic of logical fallacies. They had fun little Latin names like "Tu Quoque" and "Post hoc ergo procter hoc". This one doesn't (and many shed a sigh of relief). It's simply the concept of the false dichotomy.

In the false dichotomy, you are typically given two choices: "Either this or that." Unfortunately, rarely does life offer you merely two choices. But you are often presented with either an obviously good choice or a clearly bad choice and you are "free" to choose which one. Sometimes your are given no good choice ... choose.

The fun example is the classic courtroom scene. The attorney asks, "Yes or no ... Mr. Jones, have you stopped beating your wife?" Now, poor Mr. Jones can say "yes" to indicate he is not beating his wife to which the lawyer cries, "So! You used to beat your wife, but no longer!" No, no, that's not the right answer. How about "no"? "So! You admit that you still beat your wife!!" Obviously there is a third alternative: "I never beat my wife."

We find ourselves often facing false dichotomies. We must either agree with his theological point or be heretics or, at best, obviously ignore Scripture. We must either agree with her view on how to act in this situation or we are obviously uncompassionate. You cannot, for instance, recognize sin without being "judgmental" or agree with a creed without being "outdated" and "narrow-minded". You can't stand on a biblical truth without being unloving and harsh. I recently visited a website that argued in favor of Universalism. The position offered was this: Either all people are saved, or God failed. These are all false dichotomies.

False dichotomies are very effective. In the fun example above, the attorney gives the witness choices. He's not forcing anything, right? I mean, how fair can he be? The false dichotomy appears to offer options, to be "open-minded", to be fair. But by narrowing the options to two, it carefully redirects your attention from the truth. The argument is like a magician who gets you to watch over here while he manipulates something over there and ... poof! ... it's magic! The argument says, "Look, here are the choices," and if you agree to the premise you will not see the world of options outside of the question.

One of these false dichotomies that has been used so effectively these days is in the arena of the argument of homosexual behavior. Many Christians have eased off the biblical position that homosexual behavior is sin because of these false dichotomy arguments. Someone points to Leviticus and says, "If a man lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death" (Lev. 20:13). The response is, "So, are you saying we need to follow the Old Testament law? Do you think we should do away with pork? Should we eliminate football?" (I actually heard this argument made on The West Wing.) This is a false dichotomy. "We either follow all the Old Testament Law or we follow none of it." Of course, the sweeping argument against the biblical Christian is far more prevalent and combines more than one fallacy, but includes this false dichotomy. They simply say, "If you claim that homosexual behavior is a sin, you are a bigot, a homophobe." It's a false dichotomy. Either you agree that homosexual behavior is normal, acceptable, right, or you are a bigot, scared of homosexuals. There are other options, of course. It could be that one is not bigoted or homophobic, but simply intent on following the clear teaching of Scripture. But in order to avoid the accusation, many have decided to leave the clear teaching of Scripture and stand on the other side.

Unfortunately, the argument about homosexual sin is only a hint of the numbers of false dichotomies we face. You are either conservative or liberal, republican or democrat, a hawk or a dove. As a Christian you are either concerned about biblical truth or concerned about the needs of people. Love, in fact, seems to present a host of these dichotomies. You can't love and ... many things. You can't love and tell the honest truth. You can't love and punish. You can't love and believe doctrine. You can't love and recognize sin. This false dichotomy has put God in an awful box. It is not possible to love and send people to Hell. Fortunately, all of these are false dichotomies. These are all part of the False Dilemma, Bogus Dilemma, Bifurcation, Black-and-White Fallacy, Either-Or Fallacy. They are all premised on the belief that there are only two options. They are all logical fallacies.

A bad argument in favor of a good idea is possibly more harmful than a good argument in favor of a bad idea. We need to be careful of the approaches we take when supporting truth. We need to avoid the false dichotomy. If there really are only two possibilities, we must first demonstrate it before we argue it. Otherwise, we must avoid the manipulation. And when we face the argument, we should be aware of it and recognize it and call it what it is rather than caving in to bad arguments and faulty conclusions. Check the options given and see if there aren't more available. Rarely are there only two. Let's think, Christians.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Road to Sacrifice

Here is another one from my son, Jonathan:

Sometimes, when I'm feeling disconnected from God, or spiritually stagnant, I have a hard time figuring out how to resolve the issue. I can sense the problem but I am not sure how to rectify it. Most Christians encounter this feeling from time to time and probably more than just myself start to think that the way to turn things around is to give something up. The notion of sacrifice. Whether it be fasting, devotion of time, or any kind of sacrifice, it just seems like that's what needs to be done in order to get myself back kneeling before the throne of God. Yet, if we were to look at how seldom or how temporal that method works, it must mean that something is wrong with the premise. And then I realized the whole basis is out of whack. I should not be trying to sacrifice so that I can come before God; I should be sacrificing myself to God, and He will decide what needs to be changed in my life. The urgency to sacrifice to make oneself clean before God is almost like tossing a dog a bone. We are too frightened to actually face the unbridgeable gap between our sin and our God, that we use sacrifice as a deterrent. "Well, I can't come before God while my soul is in this condition" or "Certainly you don't expect me to try and help other people towards Christ when I am in such a state. That's hypocritical!" Don't you see? We are fallen. The only way to come sanctified and cleansed before God is to come before Him when we are dirty and broken. How clever it is to use our own desire to return to a stronger relationship with God as an excuse to stay away from Him until we "feel" prepared to serve Him properly. And what is lost? The time between trying to get right with God and actually figuring out that you can't and have to plod on anyway, all that time where so much good could have been accomplished has withered away.


I'm trying to get my son to contribute to my blog, but he's reticent. He did send me this little piece, which I pass on to you. In the future he'll likely send me more which I'll pass on to you. So, this is from my son, Jonathan.

You can't flip on the TV anymore without hearing about some celebrity or another going into rehab for any and every reason under the sun. Somehow it has become the get-out-of-jail free card for anyone seeking, whether truly or just for public image, the redemption that comes with admitting you have a problem. Since when did admitting your shortcomings become an acquittal of guilt? But I digress as that is not the point I am trying to make. Watching another celebrity taking shade beneath the all-encompassing umbrella of rehab, a thought occurred to me that has never been there before. What about a Christian rehab? What about a place for the fallen and backslidden Christians looking for a chance to return to some sense of normalcy in their walks with God? I am sure that they must exist already, (I'm not that original of a thinker) but I can't think of ever hearing of one. And if they do exist, should they not be fostered and encouraged to grow? The Salvation Army for the spiritually homeless and needy in every church, a grand idea. Just imagine it like an AA meeting. It would be difficult to feel included in a group where you feel the others around you have never tasted a sip of the spiritual fire water that has engulfed you. Would it not be worthwhile to be in a place where you can help those more desperate than yourself while being able to seek help from those a little further along when your own will falters? Like I say, such a system is probably already in place and one has only to say a few words to me to make me slap my forehead in embarrassment, but for now the thought stays and I am intrigued.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


A couple of years ago there was this story in the news about a truck driver. It seems that he was a Christian, married, and a long-haul driver. As a long-haul driver, he was assigned a partner to drive with and share the sleeper. He told his boss that he couldn't drive with a female driver because it would violate his beliefs. As might be expected, his boss assigned a female driver. When he refused to go with her, they fired him.

The story became news because of the lawsuit that followed. The ACLJ waded into the situation and sued on behalf of the Christian driver to get his job back. He was fired for religious reasons, they argued, and it was wrong ...

In another story over at Puritan, a 13-year-old student in Australia refused to write a paper on how she would cope if she was a heterosexual living in a homosexual community on the moon. Now, given, the details are murky. The whole "don't tell your parents" thing is really odd, for instance. However, the basic story is that this 13-year-old Christian girl stood her ground based on her moral beliefs and paid a price for it in the form of her first-ever "F". Of course, outrage followed, both on the part of parents, then joined by State Opposition and Australian Christian Lobby, forcing a change in policy and a resolution to the event. (Note: There are questions about the facts of this story, as indicated in the comments here. The questions regarding the facts have no impact on my point.)

It's not new. Christians are placed in situations that violate their particular beliefs. Maybe it's work. Maybe it's school. Maybe it's even at home. And we admire those Christians who, faced with these situations, stand firm on their beliefs. But what disturbs me is the perception that once a person stands firm on their beliefs, they shouldn't have to bear consequences.

There is an example story in Acts 4-5. Peter and John were arrested for preaching the Gospel (something they were commanded by Christ to do). The rulers and elders were opposed to their preaching, but were somewhat concerned because they had just done an undeniable miracle (Acts 4:16), and 5,000 people (Acts 4:4) had just come to agree with what was being preached. Rather than face down the crowd, the leaders decided to simply command them not to speak about Christ (Acts 4:18). Peter and John responded, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19-20). The two were further threatened and then released. So they went to their local Christian lawyer and filed a suit to prevent the rulers from blocking their free speech and freely exercising their religious beliefs.

No, that's not in there. They went to the other believers and placed the situation in the hands of the One who could handle it. "Truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus" (Acts 4:27-30). That was their plan. Leave it in the hands of the One who orchestrated the death of His own Son.

So they went out and started preaching and healing again. They followed the direct command of Christ to make disciples in direct opposition to the authorities of the day. The result was jail (Acts 5:17-18). When they went to trial, they repeated their position. "Peter and the apostles answered and said, 'We must obey God rather than men'" (Acts 5:29). Then their lawyer showed up and demonstrated that they were within their rights to stand on their beliefs and that the Sandhedrin had no right to prevent them from preaching. No, that's not in there either. Instead, they were whipped and warned.

Funny thing ... nowhere in any of this account is anything about "That's not fair!" There is nothing about their rights, nothing about how wrong the Sanhedrin was, nothing about how they shouldn't have to suffer for their beliefs. James the brother of John is beheaded (Acts 12:1-2), and there is no moral outrage. Peter is arrested, and he's surprised when he is freed by an angel (Acts 12:3-17). Paul was stoned to death in Lystra (Acts 14:8-19) and I don't read anything about his moral outrage. Instead he told the Christians there, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). When he and Silas were imprisoned, they didn't call their lawyers; they sang hymns (Acts 16:25).

Our primary example, of course, is the one after whom we are named: Christ. He bore the ultimate injustice and did so as a lamb, silent. He was without fault and bore the fault of all of us without a complaint.

We are indeed to stand on our beliefs. We are indeed commanded to stand firm. But the real glory is not in standing firm behind our lawyers and rights. The real glory is in sharing in the same suffering as Christ. "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Phil 1:29). "If when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God" (1 Peter 2:20). By all means, stand. But expect consequences. That is the right thing to do.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Sexist Women?

In an email discussion I was having with my mother (regarding the article referenced in The Good 1955 Wife), my mother sent me this. (I reference my mother for two reasons. 1) She sent it to me. It is standard to reference your source. 2) As I said in this post, men aren't supposed to talk about this stuff because it makes us "sexist". Well, this is my mother's perspective.)
Philippians 2:5-11 paraphrased for a wife:

I, being made in the image of God -- a believer, a woman and a wife, having equal worth in God's sight and equal access to the Lord as my husband -- choose not to grasp after a position of equal leadership with my husband which is not my God-given place. Rather, I choose by God's grace to make myself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, which was the attitude of Jesus -- desiring with all my heart to be humble like Him. I choose to be obedient to God's command to submit to my husband and die to myself. I understand that this decision will cause pain and suffering at times, but in those moments may I all the more identify with my Lord. When the cross is hard to bear, I pray for the will to give Him the burden of my heart and to learn to rest in Him. I trust God and His Word and am confident that He knows what is best for me. One day He will exalt me in heaven as one of His own who obeyed His will. By His grace, I will receive my reward worshiping Him in His presence forever, confessing Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father. (by Judith Lake)
Okay, my mom isn't Judith Lake. But she concurs with Judith that this is a good perspective.

Are these women wrong?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Story - A Perspective


“Now that’s something you don’t see every day. An angel shows up to tell you you will become pregnant. And without relations with a man. He called me ‘Blessed one’. I’m not even sure what he meant. What kind of a greeting was that? What brought me favor with God? I don’t understand. And what a child! The Son of the Most High? The King? I don’t understand at all. Who can I tell? Joseph is a nice enough guy. We will be married, after all – I hope. But he wouldn’t understand. Who would? I’m carrying the Child of God! Well, Gabriel said that my cousin Elizabeth has a miracle baby on the way as well. I have to share this with someone. I’ll go see her.”


“Oh, this is bad. This is really bad. Pregnant? My fiancé is pregnant? How could she? Mary seemed like a nice enough girl. Now she gets herself pregnant? How will this look? This is bad, really bad. I really don’t want to do more damage to her reputation than is absolutely necessary. I’ll have to break off the engagement and send her away. It won’t be pretty. I’ll do it quietly. But this is really bad.”
Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:20 22).
“Oh, now this is bizarre. When was the last time you had a visit from an angel in your dreams? Was I dreaming? Was it real? Seemed real. Maybe I imagined it all. But who makes this stuff up? Conceived of the Holy Spirit? He will save us all from our sins? This is not the kind of thing one imagines on his own. It must have been real. My fiancé isn’t merely pregnant. She is carrying the Savior. Really bizarre. We should probably get married soon – the sooner the better. This is really strange.”

Joseph and Mary

“Hi, Elizabeth. Can I talk to Mary, please? Hi, Mary.”

“Oh, hello, Joseph. I suppose you’re here to tell me it’s over between us.”

“Actually, Mary, no. I’m here to ask you to marry me sooner.”

“Sooner? Haven’t you heard? I’m pregnant.”

“Yes, but I was told who the Father is.”

“Oh, you know then? This is really strange.”

“Tell me about it. But if God wants to father a child through my fiancé, I’m fine with that.”

“How about naming Him ‘Jesus’?”

“Oh, you got that information, too? Yes, the angel that visited me said the same thing.” (Aside: “See, I knew it was too bizarre to be imagined.”)

“When do you want to marry?”

“Well, we have this requirement from Rome to go to our home town. Marry me before that, and you can go with me.”

“As you wish.”


“This is going to be tricky. I’ve planned for a peasant girl to be pregnant without an earthly father involved. I’ve planned for her husband to raise the child. I’ve planned to get them to Bethlehem, where I told My people the Savior would be born. I’m dropping my Son, my Only Begotten, into human form, into the form of a baby. I know that Satan, that dragon, is waiting for Him. I will need to protect Him from Satan, guard Him from Herod, and carry Him along the path that I have foreordained He will walk. This is going to be very tricky. Shouldn’t be a problem at all.”

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Christmas Story - My Way

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth1. And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good2. But all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way3. "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one."4 All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God5. The wages of sin is death6.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us7, sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins8.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men9. Although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men10. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth11. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God12.

Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace13.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn14.

1 Gen. 1:1
2 Gen. 1:31
3 Isa. 53:6
4 Rom. 3:10-12
5 Rom. 3:23
6 Rom. 6:23
7 Eph. 2:4
8 1 John 4:10
9 John 1:1-4
10 Phil. 2:6-7
11 John 1:14
12 John 1:10-13
13 Isa. 9:6
14 Luke 2:7

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Religion or Christianity?

I have been told repeatedly and sometimes belligerently that "Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship." Now, I honestly understand the point ... but why must it be such a point of contention? Based on the Random House Dictionary, religion is "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs." The American Heritage Dictionary says it is "belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe, or a personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship."

So ... how is Christianity not a religion? What I fear is that the modern church's anti-intellectualism and anti-creed stance has made it ... not a religion. Creeds and reason provide systematic methods of examining a common set of beliefs. Without a doubt, if creeds and reason are included in Christianity, then it is indeed "a set of beliefs", "reverence for a supernatural power", a "personal [and] institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship." The question then becomes "Do we not want it to be?"

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Carol Quiz 2 - the Sequel

Just when you thought it was safe ...

I've received these carol quizzes over the years and I enjoyed them. I thought you might as well. To the authors of the quizzes, I apologize. I have never known the source. But thanks.

(Again, the answers will be in the comments, so if you want to play, don't look there yet.)

(Oh, and there is no guarantee that there aren't duplicates from the first quiz.)

1. Bleached Yule
2. Castaneous-colored Seed Vesicated in a Conflagration
3. Singular Yearning for the Twin Anterior Incisors
4. Righteous Darkness
5. Arrival Time: 2400 hrs -- Weather: Cloudless
6. Loyal Followers Advance
7. Far Off in a Feeder
8. Array the Corridor
9. Bantam Male Percussionist
10. Monarchial Triad
11. Nocturnal Noiselessness
12. Jehovah Deactivate Blithe Chevaliers
13. Red Man En Route to Borough
14. Frozen Precipitation Commence
15. Proceed and Enlighten on the Pinnacle
16. The Quadruped with the Vermillion Probiscis
17. Query Regarding Identity of Descendant
18. Delight for this Planet
19. Give Attention to the Melodious Celestial Beings
20. The Dozen Festive 24 Hour Intervals

Christmas Carol Quiz

These are popular Christmas carols. Can you figure out their normal names?

1. Approach everyone who is steadfast.
2. Ecstasy toward the orb.
3. Listen! The Foretelling spirits harmonize.
4. Hey, Minuscule urban area southeast of Jerusalem.
5. Quiescent Nocturnal period.
6. The Autocrat troika originating near the ascent of Apollo.
7. The primary carol.
8. Embellish the corridors.
9. I'm fantasizing concerning a blanched yuletide.
10. I apprehended my maternal parent osculating with a corpulent unshaven male in crimson disguise.
11. During the time ovine caretakers supervised their charges past midnight.
12. The thing manifests itself at the onset of a transparent day.
13. The coniferous nativity.
14. What offspring abides thus?
15. Removed in a bovine feeding trough.
16. Creator, cool it, you kooky cats!
17. Valentino, the roseate proboscises wapiti.
18. The slight percussionist lad.
19. Father Christmas approaches the metropolis.
20. Seraphim we aurally detected in the stratosphere.

(Don't read the comments until you try to answer them yourself. I have put the answers in the comments.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Watching the CBS Evening News last night, I was quite surprised to hear a comment by Katie Couric, a piece of news of which I was totally unaware. According to Couric (in a story about the President's plans to increase military strength in Iraq), the majority of America believes we cannot win in Iraq. That was the statement. She made it in passing (so much so that my wife missed it entirely). It was something like "While polls show that most Americans believe we cannot win the war in Iraq, the President believes we can."

Completely aside from whether or not one is for or against the war, for or against keeping troops there, or for or against the President, I am wondering if this is true. Is it true that most Americans believe that it is impossible for us to finish the task of placing a democratic government in Iraq?

I ask because it would certainly answer the question I asked here. If most Americans believe that we are incapable of accomplishing the task, then my "What then?" answer would be, "Nothing! Write off Iraq! We need to run and hide."

Good News!

Mr. and Mrs. Jones (not their real names -- their names were changed because ... frankly I don't know their real names) lived in sunny Sun City, Arizona. They were getting up in years, so maintaining the lawn and the rest of the house was difficult, but together they managed the task. That is, until Mrs. Jones suddenly passed away. Mr. Jones found it impossible to keep up the job of living as well as the lawn. So it was no surprise when the Home Owner's Association informed him that he needed to remedy the lawn or face legal action. Mr. Jones was at an impasse.

A landscaper in the neighborhood found out about his plight. He checked with his connections at local rock suppliers and got them to donate the rock and desert plants for the yard. Then he organized volunteers and together they met, removed the lawn, and installed a desert-friendly, minimal maintenance front yard. Problem solved.

Mr. Jones was grateful. His gratitude was only magnified by the fact that the neighborhood landscaper was a nine-year-old who mowed lawns and tended yards, and the fact that the oldest volunteer he got to help out was twelve years old.


Army Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis served at Forward Operating Base Loyalty in Iraq. He was the youngest soldier in Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Pfc McGinnis was manning the gunner's hatch when a grenade was tossed into the vehicle. McGinnis could have jumped out to safety, but instead he covered the grenade with his body, taking the force of the blast to protect the crew. The Silver Star Medal has been approved for McGinnis’s actions Dec. 4, and will be awarded posthumously.


Jaimen Ortiz noticed a toddler hanging from a second-story window. Acting quickly, he jumped the fence and arrived just in time to catch the 2-year-old as she fell screaming. "If I had delayed one more second, she would have fallen to the ground," Ortiz said through a Spanish interpreter, recalling the Oct. 13 incident. Arlington, VA, has awarded him a certificate of recognition for his heroism and quick thinking. But it wasn't his first time at being a hero. As a teenager in Guatemala, he helped save a woman from drowning. It's good to see someone who cares enough to get involved.


Anybody that knows the cartoon Dilbert will recognize the name of its creator, Scott Adams. Adams has a blog. He entitled this one "Good News Day".

Adams was suffering from Spasmodic Dysphonia. The unusual condition causes the vocal cords to spasm, making speech impossible. There is no cure for the condition. It was possible to get Botox injections into the vocal cords, but that was extremely painful and only temporary. So he suspended the Botox injections and just lived with the problem, all the while trying his own methods of fixing his problem.

One day he discovered that, while normal speech was impossible, he was able to speak in rhyme. (The theory is that the brain maps speech processes, and that this condition blocks that process. Using unfamiliar speech processes could cause the brain to re-map the process.) Scott repeated a nursery rhyme over and over out loud and found, to his surprise and joy, that his speech returned.

Scott Adams is not sure if the change is permanent, but being able to speak again after a year and a half of lost voice is good news indeed.


Just thought it would be nice to see some pleasant, uplifting news stories.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Santa Claus Is Not Coming to My House

There's something I've never been able to quite figure out. At this time of year you will find a whole host of movies, stories, and people who argue for the existence of Santa Claus. It's as if some folks believe that prior to the Santa Claus myth, "Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men" didn't exist. Now, to be fair, I suppose I can imagine why those who have no real belief in God or faith in Christ would need this tool. What I don't understand is the number of Christian parents that perpetuate this story to their children as if it is real.

Perhaps after this admission I have no right to comment, but that won't stop a blogger, will it? I grew up believing that Santa Claus was a fictional character. I was taught that he was modeled after Saint Nicholas, a historical character, and that the current Claus was an embodiment of all that Americans thought of as "nice" about Christmas coupled with some snazzy marketing from Macy's and the like. I even received gifts at Christmas marked "From Santa", but I never believed it was from Santa. That was Mom and Dad's way of giving us an extra gift, and we all knew it.

As a father of my own children, I passed on this same concept. You see, it was my belief that a parent should not intentionally lie to his children. And, further, it was my fear that if I did perpetuate a lie about a mythical character that brings good things to good children as if he was real, when my children discovered it was a fabrication, what would they think of my tales of a Savior born 2000 years ago offering salvation to children who believe in Him? So my kids grew up believing that Santa Claus was a fictional character and they understood that any gifts under the tree labeled "From Santa" were not actually from Santa.

I was somewhat surprised at the conflict this caused. When my sons went to a private Christian school (thanks to the generosity of a kind "Santa"), they told their friends at Christmas, "There is no Santa Claus." They were reprimanded by the teachers and complaints were filed by angry parents who didn't want some faithless child propogating this kind of truth on their children. The belief that Santa Claus was a real character rather than a nice story was imperative, and I was evil for suggesting to my children that this wasn't true. The next thing I'd be teaching my poor children was that there was no Easter Bunny! The nerve of some parents!

Santa Claus used to represent good things. He represented generosity and good cheer and caring for those who have little. That was his "origins". Today he represents getting and greed, a materialistic Christmas where I can ask for whatever I want and get it. There was always that "better be good" caveat, but who has ever really used that one? So we have shifted this "jolly" representative of good to so many bad things about our society ... and then get offended if someone denies his existence??

I've never been able to quite figure it out. Why do Christians try to convince their children that Santa Claus is real? Why do they offer a poor substitute (a lie) for the truth, which is the Gospel? I understand we wish to spare our children the harsh realities of the real world, so we don't pour all that out on them, but this isn't the same thing. A mythical Santa will not bring any good thing. How is it beneficial to continue that falsehood? I don't suppose that it's my task to correct the intentional lies parents wish to foist on their children, so I haven't made it my mission in life to tell children of all ages that there is no Satan Claus (ever notice that rearranging the letters produces a frightening result), but outrage aside, I won't be handing lies to my kids and call them "good".

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mount Hood

I'm sure most are aware of the drama and tragedy at Mount Hood, Oregon. Three climbers were climbing the mountain when they ran into foul weather. They were trapped on the mountain in a life-threatening storm. A few days ago the weather lifted enough for rescuers to get a closer look. They found the body of Kelly James in an ice cave. His two companions are still missing.

One of the most interesting side notes of this story is the media's repeated mention of the intense religious faith of the climbers and their families. What you may not have known is that Kelly James was a member of a PCA church in Dallas. His brother, who has been on TV commenting for the families on several occasions, is Frank James. Dr. James is the President of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL and a professor of Church History.

Please hold these people with "intense religious faith" in your prayers as the search continues for the other missing hikers ... and those without "intense religious faith" as well.

An Inerrant Bible

The debate about King James Version Only (KJVO) rages on despite all the time spent in the debate thus far. The complaints are many. Those evil translators of the NIV are trying to deceive us by removing the Trinity (evidence 1 John 5:8, missing in the NIV). They've moved stuff around (as in Rom. 8:1 where the phrase "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" is now only found in verse 4). Their wording is offensive (such as "May it never be!" in Rom. 6:2 rather than "God forbid!" or "your spiritual act of worship" rather than "your reasonable service" in Rom. 12:1). Those blasphemers! They're out to destroy biblical theology!

In the words of my dear mother-in-law ... oh, piffle! The debate only tells us that we've run into a snag in the original concept of the inerrancy of Scripture and people are arguing a point they don't actually understand. Let's see if we can look at some of the pertinent issues here.

There are basically three types of Bibles out there: 1) Paraphrases, 2) translations, and 3) original manuscripts.

The paraphrase is someone's idea of what the text says. Typically, a paraphrase comes from the translations available in the language (as opposed to coming from the original manuscripts). The easiest form of paraphrase is what most of us do all the time. "The Bible says _____. That means _____." When we explain what it means, we have paraphrased it. A Bible paraphrase, then, is someone taking the time to reword the entire Bible in their own terms. The goal is to make it more readable, more applicable, more pertinent. Two obvious examples here are The Living Bible and The Message. The advantage of a paraphrase is obvious. Someone has made it more readable, more applicable, more pertinent. The disadvantage should be equally obvious. No one is 100% accurate in their understanding of Scripture, so no paraphrase will be inerrant. To use a paraphrase to illustrate a point because it says it well is acceptable. To argue a doctrinal issue from a paraphrase alone is unwise. Paraphrased Bibles are not inerrant.

Translations are another issue. These are supposed to be a direct conversion from the original texts to the language of the reader. There are two basic types: Dynamic Equivalence and Word-for-word. The dynamic equivalent presupposes that language has meaning in phrases, not just words. Thus, the translation would have to take into account the entire phrase rather than simply the words. It attempts to make a translation that is more fluent, more idiomatic. The NIV is a dynamic equivalent translation. The word-for-word translation, on the other hand, simply translates the words as they come, producing a pure equivalent in the reader's language. The advantage of the dynamic equivalent is that it can often take into account phrases and their meanings that the word-for-word version won't. The disadvantage is that a dynamic equivalent is fed by the translators understanding and, as such, may be subject to error. A dynamic equivalent is not as readable as a paraphrase, but is more accurate. A word-for-word is more accurate still, but less likely to be as readable. The most accurate is the word-for-word (literal equivalent). This one may not be as readable as the others, but it will simply substitute the reader's equivalent word for the original text's word.

A difficulty with all translations, however, is more subtle than we realize. The truth is converting from one language to another is problematic at the surface. There are certain words and/or phrases that have meaning in the original language that has little or no equivalent in the target language. One of the most obvious examples in the case of Bible is the term "only begotten". The Greek is monogenes. "Mono" refers to one, and genes is our root for "genus", meaning "type". "Monogenes", most accurately, would be translated something like "one of a kind, unique, the only one of its type." But that is stilted language, so the translators stick with the King James's "only begotten". You can see, then, that there is a problem with translations. They are limited by 1) the ability to transfer the original text to the target language, and 2) by the ability of the translator(s) to understand the words in the first place. As such, translations are much more reliable than paraphrases, but not inerrant.

What do we know about the King James Bible? The King James is a literal equivalent, word-for-word translation. It is, in this way, more reliable than paraphrases and more accurate than a dynamic equivalent. It was translated from the Textus Receptus. Now, many people think that the Textus Receptus was the original Greek text, but this isn't quite accurate. The Textus Receptus was a Greek manuscript put together by Erasmus. Erasmus used as many Greek manuscripts as he could find for this version, but the Church at the time didn't have manuscripts for all the Bible. Consequently, Erasmus filled in the gaps by translating Latin texts into Greek where Greek manuscripts were not available. Already, then, we have an introduction of a problem -- a translation. The other problem is that the existing Greek manuscripts were, in many cases, quite new, relatively speaking. They were copies of copies of copies. The originals were long gone. Therefore, there was another problem -- potential copy errors. The King James Version is an excellent translation, but it is a translation of existing Greek manuscripts plus translated Latin manuscripts. That, added to the necessary lack of knowledge regarding Koine Greek and ancient Hebrew, means that the King James Version is a very good translation ... but not inerrant.

Other translations we have today enjoy new manuscript data. Older manuscripts were found. Comparisons were made to find out where possible copy errors could have occurred. Gaps in Erasmus's text were filled with actual manuscripts rather than translated Latin. According to those who know about such things, we can be quite confident that the manuscripts we have today reflect the original manuscripts better than 99% of the time. Our modern translations still suffer from the ability of translators to understand the original words. Some of the words in the Hebrew portion, for instance, aren't known at all. No one is quite sure what the Hebrew word for livyathan means. Many translate it "leviathan". Others think it means "alligator". The Hebrew for behemowth is equally elusive. Some translate it "behemoth", while others think it is "hippopotamus". Exodus 28:15-20 lists a series of stones for the priests' breastplate, but no one is absolutely sure what all those stones actually mean. So while today's translation enjoy the luxury of better information, it still cannot be said that today's translations are inerrant.

What, then, are we saying when we argue for an inerrant Bible? The Church has always held that the Word of God is inerrant and infallible. But the Church has always held that with a caveat: "In the original texts." The position has always been that when God inspired them and the authors wrote them, they were inerrant and infallible. The Church has never held that the copies or the translations were equally inerrant. This is a new concept, surfacing recently in the battle between the KJVO and all other English translations.

What can we conclude then? Are we to say that we don't have a reliable Bible? Not at all! (Or, "God forbid!" for the KJVO types or "May it never be!" for the rest.) The translations we have available to us today are closer to the original manuscripts than ever before. The level of confidence that the texts from which they were translated are equivalent to the originals has never been higher. And the level of scholarship of the translators is ever improving with new finds and studies of ancient Greek and Hebrew languages. There is little doubt that the Bibles we read today contain the same information that the original manuscripts intended. And where there are variations from the original for whatever reason, they are never in the realm of any significant issue. It might be that scholars will some day determine that the "jasper" mentioned Exo. 28:20 is actually a different precious stone, but that doesn't change the intent of the passage. Perhaps, if we are clear enough on the real issue -- that the Bible is inerrant and infallible in the original manuscripts -- we can begin to set aside our petty squabbling over King-James-Only-type things and settle into reading what it actually intended us to read.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Grinch Blogger

In the spirit of "confess your sins one to another" (James 5:16), I have a confession to make. I don't like Christmas very much. My wife knows this. I suppose my family seriously suspects it. But I am not a "Christmas fan."

There is more than one reason. And there is, in some sense, no reasons. By that I mean that some of it is simply a gut-level dislike. I set aside that gut-level side or, better yet, call it "inspiration" because of the reasons I have.

I don't like gift-giving. Don't get me wrong. I like giving gifts. What I don't like is the extortion and entitlement that is Christmas. You see, in other instances I have the option to give or not. Those gifts are my idea. They're "from the heart". I try to give when it's not necessary to do so just so people can know I intended it. But at Christmas, there is no option. If you don't give gifts, you're a "Scrooge." Well, I don't want to be disliked, so I give gifts. I don't give them because the wise men gave gifts to Christ; I give them because I'm supposed to. I don't give gifts because the people who are near and dear to me can use them; I give them because I'm supposed to. To avoid being disliked, I give. That's extortion. And it's not cheap extortion. A local radio station is running an ad from a mortgage company that says, in essence, "Don't get stuck with all those credit card bills buying Christmas presents ... take out a second mortgage!" And because I give because I'm supposed to, the recipients are, often, ungrateful. Why? Because they're supposed to get a gift. They're entitled to a gift. So ... they get it, and that's that. Why be grateful? They simply received what they were owed. And, I have to say, that tie he got wasn't what he really had in mind. And, seriously, did you really think she would appreciate a new vacuum cleaner? And, come on, was that really all you could afford to spend on the oldest son? So, no thanks to me, there is no thanks to me. And, oh, hey, did you forget that your sister-in-law sent a nice gift basket last year? You had better get on the ball and send her something nice this year. Extortion and entitlement.

Now, to be fair, I don't like receiving gifts. You see, I'm quite contented. There is nothing I need that the Lord hasn't provided, and I can't think of anything I really want. So people who love me ask, "What do you want for Christmas?" and I can't think of a thing. It's not my fault. I'm content. So they'll give me stuff. Stuff I don't want or need. Stuff that it would never occur to me to buy. I appreciate the heart that goes into such things. I appreciate the love that they carry. But, I gotta tell ya, I hadn't the slightest thought of ever in my whole life buying a nose-hair clipper. I mean, thanks, really, but ... yuck! And why is it that new shirts are always in colors I won't wear or styles that I can't stomach or 4 sizes too small? (I mean, really, folks, I appreciate it that you don't see me as fat, but let's be real here.) And I end up one of those very same people I complained about just a paragraph ago, the ungrateful ones. I don't like receiving gifts.

I don't like Christmas decorations. Oh, don't misunderstand, I like seeing them ... well, some of them. That guy at the end of the block has overdone it a bit. But I just don't think that the benefit outweighs the cost. These things aren't cheap, you know. We are deforesting areas for trees to be cut down and thrown away in a month. We risk our lives climbing up ladders to hang lights on houses. We spend money on sparkling, twinkling, flashing, color-changing, shiny, moving things to hang about the yard and house. The electric bill for December rivals the summer months with the air conditioner fighting 100° heat. There are ribbons and bows and pretty paper to put around things that go under trees. There are stockings that no one can wear and wreaths of dead plants to hang. The work that goes into all this is only equalled by the work that goes into cleaning it up afterward. You will risk your life again to bring those lights down, defy physical laws wrapping up lights in the hopes of untangling them and using them next year, and fill three times the normal trash space with colorful paper, ribbons, and bows now devoid of the gifts they surrounded. You will need to put all this in places that won't be seen again until next year. Yeah, good luck with that. When it comes to cost comparison of time, money, and effort, I don't like Christmas decorations.

The biggest reason I don't like Christmas is the pointlessness. My daughter was born on Christmas. Several years ago, while she was a teenager, I gave her a cartoon of a little girl, sitting in her room, moping. "It sucks being born on Christmas," she says. Jesus, standing behind her, says, "Tell Me about it." You see, many of us give lipservice to "Jesus is the reason for the season," but we don't very often actually mean it. We often make little or no connection to the things that are "Christmas" and ... Christ. We might tell the Christmas story at our gathering of the day. We might have a Nativity on the lawn. We might even put up a "Jesus is the reason for the season" sign. But, let's face it, for the most part we leave Christ out of Christmas. He doesn't get our gifts like any normal birthday person would. He isn't central in our planning and decorating and all that goes into Christmas. He doesn't get our attention; friends, family, and the trappings of Christmas do.

I tried once to change all this. I gave it a shot. I suggested that we alter our entire approach. Let's not give gifts to one another. Instead, let's give gifts to Christ. Maybe we spend some time helping out at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen. Maybe we give gifts to Christian organizations such as mission groups or the Salvation Army. But if the birthday being celebrated is Christ's, then shouldn't He get gifts instead of us? And how about if we don't decorate with the standard fare. Instead, let's try things that say, "We're celebrating Christ's birthday!" We could use the constant reminder ourselves. Or maybe we skip Christmas altogether? You know, the early Church never celebrated Christmas. And the Puritans who first settled this country believed it was wrong to celebrate Christmas. Maybe they were right? I had other suggestions, but you know none of this would fly. The kids, who didn't really appreciate the gifts they got, would appreciate "no gifts" even less. The message -- "Let's focus on Christ, not bright shiny lights and getting gifts" -- would be misinterpretted as "Dad doesn't want to buy us anything, and we all know he doesn't like Christmas anyway."

So, here I sit, my hat in my hand, confessing to you, my readers. I don't care much for Christmas at all. I apologize for that.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Under Attack

It's Christmas time once again. And what's Christmas without some good, old-fashioned complaining? You know the ones -- dedicated Christians who are appalled by the treatment of Christian by our society, or those special Christians who are offended by Christmas's pagan connections. Look around a little, and you'll likely find both. I'm not sure I get it, and on several levels.

Hard as it is to imagine, the Christian celebration we call "Christmas" is not in the Bible. Oh, I know, the birth of Christ is in the Bible, and all that is incorporated in that, but the command for such a celebration isn't there. We are told the celebrate His death and resurrection which we do in the Lord's Supper. But I can't find a single command to celebrate His birth. How odd! So ... why are we so upset about it?

Jesus told His disciples, "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you" (John 15:18). Paul said, "The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God" (Rom 8:7). And we Christians are offended when we find out that the world is hostile to us and our beliefs. I would say, with Peter, "Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you as though some strange thing were happening to you" (1 Peter 4:12). In all honesty, the fact that they put "XMAS" rather than "Christmas" on their signs barely qualifies as a "fiery ordeal". The fact that some businesses won't allow "Merry Christmas" isn't really something I'd call "persecution". And while, logically, I think it's nonsense that the ACLU works to remove all Nativity displays from public arenas, that really can't be considered inhumane, can it? I don't get it when Christians complain that Christmas is under attack because we were promised that the world would hate us just as they hate our Lord. Surprise! He was right.

Then, of course, there is the simple yet painful fact that we are often just like the ones about whom we are complaining. "They aren't celebrating Christmas!!" Well, are we? What part does an evergreen tree that is brought into a home and is decorated with lights and colourful ornaments have to do with celebrating the birth of Christ? Don't misunderstand; I'm not saying it can't have anything to do with Christ. I'm simply asking what most Christians think of such a tree? How about gift-giving? How is that a celebration of Christ's birth? (To illustrate, try this. At your next birthday celebration, make sure that you celebrate by having everyone give gifts ... to everyone else, ignoring you completely.) We are just as guilty as "they" when it comes to greed, ignoring Christ, and inaccurate "Christmas". Take, for instance, the standard Nativity. It always includes three wise men or kings. Why three? Well, our Bibles don't list three; they list three types of gifts. And what are they doing there? Biblically, they didn't arrive until later -- perhaps up to two years later -- and they weren't at the manger. (See Matt. 2:11 -- they entered the house.) So how accurate are we with our Nativity scenes? Indeed, almost everyone knows that Christ wasn't actually born in December. (Shepherds in Palestine don't have their sheep out in the winter.) So we're ignoring accuracy and succumbing to the worldly "Christmas" about which we are complaining.

I'm just as disturbed about the complainers of pagan origins. But what really disturbs me is the Christian propensity to be upset about things that, to me, shouldn't upset us at all. So, here's my Christmas wish for you all: "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful" (Col 3:15).

Saturday, December 16, 2006

News Flash!

Hey, Christians, here's a news flash! Christianity is in danger. According to Jay Bakker and Marc Brown, if Christians don't avoid political trappings, the very survival of Christianity is threatened. Now that's news!

Bakker (the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker) and Brown wonder "when did the focus of Christianity shift from the unconditional love and acceptance preached by Christ to the hate and condemnation spewed forth by certain groups today?" Instead of urging people to be what they should be, we are supposed to "love others just as they are, without an agenda." One of their big complaints is the "screaming", angry Christians, reflected in words like "spewed forth".

I was not aware of this problem in Christianity. I wasn't aware that we were required to offer "unconditional love". Christ didn't offer "unconditional love". Ask the Pharisees. Ask the moneychangers at the Temple. God doesn't offer "unconditional love". Ask those who choose Hell over Heaven. Or, easier yet, ask Esau. "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Rom. 9:13). This is not to suggest that we ought to "hate and condemn", but I think the concept of "unconditional love" isn't quite accurate. Nor was I aware that Jesus had no agenda except to love others just as they are. Again, He seemed to have a message for the moneychangers that was not "just as you are". He seemed to suggest that the Pharisees were headed in the wrong direction. And when He met the woman "caught in adultery" (we can debate that another time), He didn't say "Just go on as you are." He told her to change directions: "Go, and from now on sin no more" (John 8:11).

This account of the woman is an excellent example of what I'm suggesting. Bakker and Brown have suggested two extremes. Either we "love unconditionally" or we "spew forth hate and condemnation". Obviously the second is wrong. We must do the first. While Jesus didn't "spew forth hate and condemnation", neither did He simply nod at sin. He told the woman, "Neither do I condemn you" followed by "Go, and from now on sin no more" (John 8:11). The two concepts -- a clear handle on what is right and wrong, recognition of sin, and avoiding hate -- are not mutually exclusive.

I think the boys are right when they call on Christians not to "hate and condemn". I think they're right when they warn against "screaming" Christians. I think they're right that we should be able to talk to believers and unbelievers alike without cruelty, anger, or hate. And I think they're right when they say we're not doing that well. In many cases this is true.

But I have a couple of problems with their suggestions. The first problem I have is in the notion that we should have no agenda. We are commanded to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20). That is not "no agenda". It is, instead, a huge agenda. It doesn't include "beat sinners over the head to make them good people." It doesn't include trying to force a "Christian society". But it is not "no agenda".

The second problem I have is the biggest problem. The very survival of Christianity is threatened by bad Christians. Assuming this is true, it is my opinion that Christianity ought to go away. Apparently it is only a human force, operating under human power, existing only as long as it is "acceptable" or "worthwhile". That's all well and good ... but it is not TRUTH. As such, it is not of any ultimate value on the field of ideas. On the other hand, if Christianity is what we believe it to be -- God's Truth -- then what possible action on the part of Christians, good or bad, could advance or decline Christianity? If Christianity is God's own, then it does not depend on Man. If Christ was right about His Church, He said, "I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).

We can agree, I think, that many people do bad things in the name of Christianity. I don't need to list them -- others have done an admirable job. I think we can even agree that many Christians today are not doing a good job of displaying the primary factor that Jesus said heralded our discipleship -- love (John 13:35). Most of us would agree that we don't need to "spew forth hate and condemnation." Most of us would agree that this very act among Christians is getting too much press and, as such, too much validation. But I would hope that most of us wouldn't fall for this "death nell" plea that if we don't stop being bad Christians, Christianity is threatened. God doesn't need our proper following to maintain His truth. Even Hell cannot defend itself against this truth. And the real "Christianity" isn't about political involvement, unconditional or even conditional love, "no agenda", or morality. The real Christianity is about knowing or rather being known by God (John 17:3; Gal. 4:9), a relationship that changes hearts and lives (1 John 3:9, etc.). It doesn't depend on us.

PC Merry Christmas

I wanted to say, "Merry Christmas", but we all know that's offensive, so here's my attempt at offending no one.


At this time of the start of winter in which we gather lights and gifts and wish each other well, I wish to convey to you my wish that you have a happy day noted on the standard calendar as "December 25th" and that your new year that follows would be good.

Note that "happy" in the above wish is not to be construed as a promise or even narrowly defined as what I would consider "happy". It may include a positive outlook on anything at all or even a non-negative view on something. It may include the religion of your choice or it may include no religion at all. Perhaps you will receive gifts from friends and family or perhaps you have a non-standard definition of "friend" and "family". Indeed, "happy" should not be construed to mean anything at all, but only what you intend it to mean. If this intended meaning is not legal, I have the right to withdraw any and all connection to this wish.

Note that "good" is subject to similar conditions. Perhaps it is reduced stress or socially productive or improved income. "Good" is not intended to be defined in merely the terms that I understand "good", but may be whatever "good" you wish it to be. Again, if this intended meaning is not legal, I have the right to withdraw any and all connection to such a wish.

Should any of this wish be considered offensive or pejorative, I retain the right to cancel my wish on your behalf without notice. No insult is intended, nor is any real content suggested with this "wish".


There ... much better, right?

(For a more "professional" one, this was quite good.)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Jesus Didn't Say

Thursday night on Anderson Cooper 360° on CNN, the last hour was consumed with a report on "What is a Christian?" It was an interesting report, fairly balanced, and covering several areas such as Christianity and politics, Christianity and environmentalism, end times, the Word Faith movement, and Unitarians. Several times during the show, Mr. Cooper interacted with a panel of three. Richard Land is pastor and president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Jim Wallis is the author of "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It." He's also the president of Sojourners, a progressive Christian ministry. The Reverend Dwight Hopkins is an American Baptist minister and professor of theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Mr. Cooper asked the three what a Christian was. Of course, there were varying answers. Reverend Hopkins suggested that Christians were to be primarily concerned with "what Jesus Christ says in the four gospels of the New Testament." In context, it seemed innocuous, but there was a method to his madness. When the subject of homosexuality came up, Mr. Cooper asked what each thought. Reverend Hopkins fell back on his mantra. "Jesus never spoke on the issue of homosexuality. So we're at a loss as far as what Jesus has to say."

This is a standard "defense" against Christians who argue that homosexual behavior is against the Bible. I would hope that a mere moment's thought would shoot this one down in flames. "Jesus never spoke on the issue" of rape, torture, incest, child molestation ... oh, lots of things which we all agree are against the Bible. This is no form of evidence that homosexual behavior is a biblically sound practice.

The real problem for me, however, is not merely this defense. It is the further ramification. Reverend Hopkins has managed to eliminate nearly 94% of the Bible. If the primary concern of the Christian is 4 books out of 66, we've lost a lot. We've lost the wisdom of Solomon, the worship of the Psalmists, the morality of the Law, and the history of Israel. We've lost the prophets and the apostles, the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20). Without Paul, we've lost the entire explanation of redemption, justification, and sanctification. Without James we wouldn't know that faith without works is dead. It is only John who tells us that the one born of God cannot make a practice of sinning. And while we may have a good idea of things like the Deity of Christ from the gospel of John, the concept is filled out in Paul's letters and in Hebrews. Let's face it. If Christianity is only concerned with the four books of the Gospels, Christianity is anemic and baseless (Eph. 2:20).

Homosexual behavior and its sinfulness aside, we dare not limit our Christianity to "what Jesus said". Too many things are at stake. We need the whole counsel of God as contained in the whole Bible. And basing our Christianity on what Jesus did not say will put us in a nightmare realm. Let's not try to push limits by removing truth.

Take Back Christmas

Let's take back Christmas. That's what I say. Consider the facts.

"Christmas" means "Christ's Church". So ... why are all these non-Christians celebrating "Christ's Church"? Seems somewhat insincere, doesn't it?

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. Very, very, very few actually celebrate the birth of Christ. Why should they get gifts, trappings, and a holiday out of something they sharply deny?

Christmas is about the coming of the Savior ... the Savior that most people refuse. Why should they get any benefit out of a celebration of someone they refuse?

Christmas is full of imagery intended to point to Christ. The tree is supposed to represent eternal life. (Originally it represented the Christ child's conquest over Satan, believe it or not.) The lights on the tree were originally put there to glorify God in His creation. The gifts are supposed to remind us of the gifts the wise men gave to the Baby. The angels represent the angels who told the news to the shepherds. The stars represent the star that led the wise men to Him. Even Santa Claus is premised on Saint Nicholas who characterized Christ-like giving and generosity at Christmas time. Why should any of this apply to people who have no interest in Christ?

We call it a "holiday". The idea behind the word is "holy day". How can people who have no concept of the holy be allowed a holy day?

I say, let's take back Christmas. It shouldn't be a holiday. It shouldn't be a day off or a week off. There shouldn't be all the lights and trees and gifts and all. It should be a quiet celebration afforded only to those who actually wish to celebrate Christ, His coming, and His Church. Any pretenders ought to be slapped with a fine and have their gifts and lights removed.

Okay, it's all tongue in cheek, but sometimes I wonder ...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Joy To The World - Verse 4

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.
“He rules the world with truth and grace.” Somehow, this seems an understatement. Abraham asked, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen.18:25). The implication is, “of course!” Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus is The Truth. In Isaiah we read, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given . . . He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (Isa. 9:6-7). We have seen that truth and justice are not the operating mode of America, but they are ever-present in God’s government. He is not merely truthful; He is Truth. He is the essence of integrity.

“Truth and grace,” the song says. We can only begin to sing the wonders of God’s grace. Paul says in Rom. 9:14-16 that there is no injustice in God, but all of salvation is completely dependent on God’s mercy. Paul claims that it is the grace of God that made him what he was (1 Cor. 15:10), a laborer for Christ. In Eph. 1:5-6 we read that God “predestined us to adoption as sons” according to His own kind intentions “to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” We know from Eph. 2:8-9 that our salvation occurs by grace, and in Titus 3:7 he merges the two concepts, saying that we are “justified by His grace that we might be made heirs.” Grace, in fact, is the focal point of our lives, according to Peter. We are to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10).

The hymn goes on to say, “and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.” First, I’m fascinated by the phrase, “makes the nations prove.” It is this same concept in mind in Rom. 12:2. Paul says we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can “prove what the will of God is”. The concept is also carried forward in both the Old and New Testaments. Isaiah quotes God as saying, “To me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance” (Isa. 45:23). Paul echoes the prophet in Rom. 14:11 when he says, “It is written . . .” But in Phil. 2:9-11, he more fully explains the process. “God highly exalted Him (Christ), and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Although we are currently in rebellion, there will not be a rebel on the Day of Judgment. There will only be rejoicing or acquiescence.

What will the nations prove? The glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.

We don’t seem to recognize the glory of righteousness. We see the wickedness of sins. We despise the evils we read and hear about on the news daily. But just as we don’t recognize the depths and horror of sin in our own lives, we don’t seem to grasp that righteousness is glorious. Those who appear to be righteous we ridicule as “goody goodies”. We almost revel in our humanity, our fallenness. Who hasn’t said, “Nobody’s perfect?” We all know the phrase, “to err is human.” What is the completion of that phrase? “To forgive, divine.” But the song says we will all prove the glory of His righteousness. Prov. 14:34 says that righteousness exalts a nation. Isaiah says that God makes righteousness the standard by which all else is measured (Isa. 28:17). Elihu warned Job that his righteousness could never exceed God’s (Job 35:2). The Psalms love to proclaim the righteousness of God (Psa. 7:17; 9:8; 22:31; 35:28; 36:6; etc.).

Nor can we comprehend the wonders of His love. Paul’s fervent prayer for the church at Ephesus was “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19). John says that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). In that statement of love as an attribute of God, we see that all God is and all that God does is tied up in love. That is, in His grace, He is loving; in His wrath, He is loving; in His mercy, He is loving; in His justice, He is loving. Now that is a wonder. Who can comprehend that kind of love, the kind that expresses itself in the midst of hate (Rom. 5:8)? Who can understand a love that cannot be broken (Rom. 8:38-39), that is new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23)? God will make the nations prove, that is, demonstrate, all this.

Joy is to be the way of life for us. Joy should mark our paths. The joy of the Lord shouldn’t be “in our hearts”, but in our lives displayed. We have a King, a ruling Savior, who is adored by nature itself, who will free us from the very essence of sin. We have been saved from slavery to sin! We have a Sovereign who rules with integrity and unmerited favor, who is the highest example of righteousness, and who loves us beyond our comprehension. It is the coming of this King that we celebrate at Christmas. JOY TO THE WORLD!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Joy To The World - Verse 3

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.
“No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground.” “Here’s an impossible task,” you might conclude. “Who can prevent sin from growing?” Remarkably, Paul echoes the same theme: “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires” (Rom. 6:12). So what does it mean to “not let sin reign”, or to “no more let sins . . . grow”? To the believer, the one with the new nature (2 Cor. 5:17), we have died in Christ (Rom. 6:2-11) to sin. We are putting to death the flesh (Rom. 8:13). We are no longer cultivating sin, but fleeing it. (Eph. 4:27; 1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22).

Why is this an issue? Because of the depths of sin. In Gen. 3, after mankind took up arms against God by transgressing His Law, God cursed the participants. He cursed the serpent (Gen. 3:14-15). He cursed the woman (verse 16). He cursed the man, and in it he cursed nature (verse 17-19). The thorns that mar the loveliness of the rose are a product of sin. Paul says that creation itself groans under the weight of our sin and decay, joyfully anticipating redemption (Rom. 8:19-22).

We don’t tend to use this language in our discussions. We tend to think of “sins” rather than “sin” as the problem. It is those things we have done to transgress God’s Law that we need to repent of and be saved. But the real problem is not “sins”, because these are just the result of “sin”, the natural state of the human being. Sin is the condition of the flesh into which we are born. Sin is the natural hostility we bear to the Creator. Sin is the Cosmic Treason we harbor that prods us to rebel against our Sovereign. It is this from which we need salvation.

This is in sight when the song says, “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.” How far is the curse found? It extends to nature itself, to the thorns and thistles, to death and decay - to our very nature. In this is the great joy brought to the world. The King, the reigning Savior, is bringing release from the curse!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Joy To The World - Verse 2

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
“Joy to the world! The Savior reigns.” In America, we have sprung from a stock that says, “We will serve no sovereign.” Above all else, we cling to freedom. So it comes as a shock to us that “the Savior reigns.” This is a difficult concept for us to grasp and even harder to accept. Yet, in light of who the Savior is and what He has done, this ought to be a point of great joy for us. As David says in 1 Chron. 29:11, “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” There is no more joyous place to be than in the safe control of the Savior.

“Let men their songs employ.” What does it mean to “employ”? It means to put to work, to use something or someone to accomplish a particular task. This song calls on us to “employ” our songs. Paul calls on us to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19) and “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). Work those songs. Put them to good use, and use them for their intended purpose – the praise of God.

This working of songs to demonstrate the joy of having a reigning Savior is picked up by all of nature. “While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.” This is the same thought in Psalm 96:11-13: “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.” All of God’s creation echoes His praise! Imagine it when the vast crowd in heaven sings praises to God! “After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God’“ (Rev. 19:1).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Joy To The World - Verse 1

It's Christmas time. I'm going to do a Christmas carol. Well, actually, I'm going to take several days to sing a Christmas carol. I'm planning on taking four days (four verses) to examine and expand Joy To The World. Let's see what we can learn from a classical Christmas hymn.

Joy to the World!
From Psalm 98, Adapted by Isaac Watts

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.
Psalm 98 says, “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth and sing for joy and sing praises” (v 4). “Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord” (v 6).

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is the natural result of the recognition of God’s care for us (Psa. 98:1-3; 100). It is commanded repeatedly (Phil. 2:18; 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16). Joy to the world!

It is disconcerting to hear secular singers belting out this song because of phrases like this: “The Lord is come; let earth receive her King.” Even we who believe have difficulty calling Him Lord and King, but the song calls on us to “receive” Him. This is the same word used in both a positive and negative sense in John 1:9-13. Negatively, “His own did not receive Him” (v 11). Positively, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become the sons of God” (v 12). Our normal term today for becoming a Christian is to “accept Christ”, but the biblical term, “receive Him”, carries a fuller connotation. When you “receive” a TV signal, it is processed and displayed. When you have a “reception” for someone, it is to honor him. We are to “receive” our King, to open ourselves to Him, to appropriate and display Him, to honor Him.

“Let every heart prepare Him room.” Luke records that when it came time to deliver Jesus, “there was no room for them” (Luke 2:7). Jesus moves only into places that are vacated for Him. For us to receive our King, we must prepare Him room in our hearts.

The last line of the first verse repeats the phrase “and heaven and nature sing.” We live in a world that has divorced science and religion, the natural from the supernatural. We have divided out God and His world, and classified things as secular or sacred. God doesn’t see it as such. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, His detractors told Him to silence His disciples. He replied, “I tell you if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out" (Luke 19:40). The language of Scripture includes nature in adoring God (for example, Isa. 55:12). All of nature and all of heaven sing for joy at the coming of the King.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

In the Word

People are always trying to come up with some method of reading their Bibles in meaningful ways. Often they go to Bible study books with nice fill-in-the-blank type questions and such or they'll find their favorite teacher's latest and greatest study on Ruth or Ecclesiastes or whatever. While I'm sure this is all well and good, I think it is a good idea to study for ourselves. So I am going to recommend the technique I was taught years ago. It has served me well, and for those to whom I have passed it on, it has served them well, too.

The method can be remembered using the acrostic, 2PROAPT:
P - Pray.
P - Preview.
R - Read.
O - Observe.
A - Apply.
P - Pray.
T - Tell.

It's not a difficult approach, but it encompasses all the major aspects. So, let me explain it a little.

Open with prayer. What you're looking for is God's presence as you read.

Preview the passage you will be reading. Scan it. Look it over quickly, maybe even as a larger view of a smaller section you intend to cover.

Read the passage. Maybe it's a paragraph, maybe a chapter, maybe a book. Just read it.

Having scanned it and then read it, make some notes. What do you see in the passage? "Just the facts, ma'am." What are the who, what, when, where, why, and hows of what you just read? What strikes your attention?

Now you've made observations ... hopefully things that God has impressed on you. The next step is to apply it. You're looking for specifics. Something measurable, verifiable. "Today I will _____." "For the next week I will ____." What does the passage ask you to do? Maybe it's an action. Maybe it's a thought process. Maybe it's a change of attitude. But God is speaking to you. What is He telling you?

Having noted what you believe God is telling you specifically, pray again. Make the observations and application a matter of prayer.

This final step is difficult for some, but you won't believe the value. Tell someone. Maybe you can tell a spouse. Maybe you have a "prayer partner" or an "accountability partner" you can tell. Maybe you have a pastor or friend. Maybe it's not always the same person. Just tell someone. "This is what I learned, and this is what God asked of me today." This will help motivate you and include others in what you're learning.

Packaged studies are fine, but when the Word becomes God's speaking to you, something you treat with reverence and with respect, something intended for you, perhaps the packaged studies and applications won't be what God has in mind for you. Try it. You'll like it.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Good 1955 Wife

A friend sent me a copy of a Housekeeping Monthly article dated 13 May 1955. The title of the piece was The Good Wife's Guide. It was sent for the laugh factor. No one could actually think this was a good idea.

The article had "helpful" ideas on how to be a good wife. Some were good like "Be happy to see him" or "Try to make your home a place of peace, order, and tranquility." Nice. Some were mundane if not dated like "Have dinner ready" or "Clear away the clutter." Others were offensive to the modern American wife. "Catering to his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction." "Remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours." "Don't ask questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity ... You have no right to question him." And the ultimate insult: "A good wife always knows her place."

Looking it over, there really isn't much of any value to today's wife. It's about a time gone by when women actually thought they were supposed to submit to their husbands. It presupposes that husbands were supposed to love their wives. It actually believes the ridiculous notion that love believes the best of the one loved. Well, the whole idea is preposterous.

But I enjoyed the fantasy. I wondered what it would be like to live in a world like that. I imagined a home where the husband is working at loving his wife as Christ loved the Church (Eph. 5:25) and the wife is submitting to her husband as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22). I dreamed about a marriage where two people consider each other as more important than themselves (Phil. 2:3). I thought about a husband who was deeply concerned with washing his bride in the Word (Eph. 5:26) instead of having a "show wife" and a wife whose goal was to adorn herself with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4) rather than a good career, family, figure, and "stuff".

Ah, yes, nice fantasy ... but reality is back. Husbands (Okay, men in general) are the bane of society and wives have to be "all" to their families while still working to get what they want out of life. That fantasy world probably didn't even exist in 1955, even though there was someone who thought it should. No, we're much more enlightened now. The war of the sexes is much better than that fantasy world ...

Friday, December 08, 2006

No Swearing Please

So, Keith Ellison wants to swear in on the Koran rather than the Bible. What's the big deal? I mean, consider the facts. Congressmen are sworn in as a group without any book present at all. The "Bible swearing" is a "photo op", a statement by the congressmen after the actual swearing in and isn't binding in any way ... since they were already sworn in. It's just so they can get their picture taken, and lots of them choose the Bible because it's the standard thing, whether or not they believe in the Bible. And there is that fact. How many atheists or, at least, practical atheists have done this "swearing in" thing (which we've already determined isn't a real swearing in) on a Bible that they don't actually believe? Is that a good thing? Isn't it better if Ellison, the first Moslem elected to Congress, does so on a book he values? Besides, religion isn't a test of office and we have a separation of Church and State here, so why would this be any issue at all?

I'm going to toss my two cents into the ring (just to mix metaphors). I think it is an issue.

Why is the Bible used for these events? It is because it is the standard -- it is what has always been done. There is no denying that the founders of America founded it on biblical principles. Even those who weren't "Christians" respected the principles of the Bible. So it is natural to include it. Doing so doesn't violate the 1st Amendment because there is no enforcement or demand made to honor it. It simply recognizes the roots of the country and the values of the values therein.

But there is more. We often hear of "multiculturalism" without actually thinking about what that means. A culture (in these terms) is defined as the common behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular group. "Multiculturalism" is a denial of culture. That is, if there is an American "culture", it is predicated on commonality, not diversity. The areas in which we are diverse are not "culture". They're not bad, but they're not culture. Thus, "multiculturalism" is an embrace of the destruction of commonality. It says, "America cannot have a culture." On the other hand, if we were to speak of what America has in common, what would that be? Well, there is the geography (which, given the vastness of this country, isn't much in common). There is a Constitution and a Bill of Rights, but most civilized countries have similar documents, so that isn't strictly "American." One of the keys, one of the undeniable facts, is that a vast majority of Americans label themselves as Christian. This isn't a legal label, but a cultural label. The majority may not follow Christianity or the Bible, but they consider it worthwhile to some extent. Our laws are often based on Judeo-Christian values found in the Bible. There is much in our culture that has at its roots (perhaps deeply and sometimes obscurely) the Bible.

Enter Congressman Ellison who decides to substitute the Koran for the Bible in his ceremonial (not actual) swearing in. What is the purpose? The original purpose for all such events is to make a statement: "I'm your new congressman and I want you to believe that I will do my job." What is Congressman Ellison saying? I can't imagine a clearer way of saying, "I want to set aside the normal beliefs and the common culture of America and substitute my own." I cannot imagine a more obvious way of saying, "I want to replace the Bible in American Law with my own beliefs." This is only exacerbated by the fact that many Moslems view the Bible as a largely good book, ironically more so than many of the elected officials who have posed for their picture with one. Yet Congressman Ellison is unwilling to allow that possibility, wishing instead to force a statement against the Bible and American culture.

Go ahead ... rant and rave about racism and bigotry and islamophobia and the like. Complain that Christians are trying to violate the Bill of Rights and make our religion the American religion. I can't imagine what any of that has to do with this. It seems to me an obvious statement that the Bible has to go and the Koran should replace it. I understand the arguments that I offered at the outset, but I think there is more going on here and I am concerned about the effects that such arguments don't take into account. Are we really ready to toss out any basis for American Law and culture? Or is it a good idea to shift the basis from the Bible to the Koran? Is that really where we want to go?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Is God Just?

One of the common objections to God is this one: "God's sentencing of the imperfect humans to an eternity in hell for a mere mortal lifetime of sin is infinitely unjust." I have to be honest. For a long time, that one bothered me, too. I was told the standard fare. I knew "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." I knew "The wages of sin is death." Fine. But ... why? I mean, when I transgressed my parents' rules, they didn't kill me. The wages of violating normal rules around my house was variable, but never death. So why death?

The first problem in my thinking was the temporal limitations. The phrase "an eternity in hell for a mere mortal lifetime" suggests that the time of the offense should determine the time frame of the payment. Now, we know at the start that this is nonsense. It would be like suggesting that a person can only spend as much time in jail as it took them to commit the crime. "Hey, that robbery only took me half an hour to plan and execute." "Okay, you will spend the next half hour in jail." Ridiculous! No, the time frame of the payment isn't determined by the time frame of the offense, but the severity of the offense. A drunk driving offense isn't as bad as an armed robbery offense, which, in turn, isn't as bad as a murder offense. Each offense has a time frame of payment that correlates to its seriousness, not the time it took to commit it.

The second problem in my thinking followed from the first. If it is the seriousness of the offense, exactly how serious was the offense? Well, transgressing, for instance, my parents' command to get home before midnight clearly wasn't the same as transgressing, say, the federal law against murder. What I tend to do, however, is to equate human violations to divine violations, as if my parents' commands are equal to federal law. In truth, for the creature to violate the Creator is vastly larger than any human transgression.

The third problem in my thinking was the companion of the second. The nature of the violation determines the nature of the payment. But disobeying my parents is not the same as disobeying God. When we examine the nature of the violation, it exceeds "petty crimes" and spans to a much larger transgression. Given that this is the creature defying the Creator, what we have is Cosmic Treason. I have set aside the rightful commands of the Creator and said, "No! I will be my own god!" I have overthrown the rightful government of my life.

Putting these together, I finally found the thinking processes I had been missing. In any normal country with any normal rules, the common penalty for treason is death. Given that the "country" that is violated, the "government" against which my treason was committed is an infinite, perfect, right government, it is reasonable that the violation merits eternal death. Treason against a country merits physical death. Cosmic Treason against the Most High merits spiritual death. Finally I see that "God's sentencing of the imperfect humans to an eternity in hell for a mere mortal lifetime of sin is perfectly just."