Archive for May, 2015

Reading Ramblings – May 24, 2015

May 17, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Pentecost Sunday – May 24, 2015

Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 139:1-12; Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Context: Pentecost was a Jewish celebration, which is why there were so many Jews from so many different places present in the reading from Acts 2. However the Jewish festival was originally known as the Feast of Weeks, detailed in Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10. This was a firstfruits celebration, and it occurred at the beginning of the wheat harvest. Jewish tradition says that this festival also coincides with God’s giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai 50 days after the Exodus. However the fifty is more directly linked to the celebration of Pentecost 50 days after Passover. This was one of three major Jewish festivals that was supposed to be celebrated in Jerusalem if at all possible.

For Christians Pentecost is the beginning of the Church, when the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples, pouring out in them as a firstfruit, a promise of more outpourings to come. Peter promises that this outpouring is to all those who receive faith in Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:39).

Ezekiel 37:1-14 – This vision is not just one of rejuvenation or refreshing. This vision is a promise of life from death. Not a helping hand, but resurrection. When there is no hope to be had, no outside chance, no long-shot, nothing but death and silence, the Word of God speaks and creates life. This reading is traditional for Pentecost Sunday because we say that the Holy Spirit has created life – the Church. He enters into us when we are spiritually dead and brings faith which brings us to life. He fills us with his presence, the breath of God that animated an army of former bones, the breath of life that filled Adam to consciousness. We are blessed to have this Holy Spirit, this breath of God filling us all of our days in faith.

Psalm 139:1-12 – If God the Holy Spirit is within us, there is truly nothing that God does not know about us. There is nothing that can separate us from his presence (other than our rejection of him!). This might frighten us, but the psalmist assures us that this is to be a comfort, not a threat. We are assured that He will be with us constantly, encouraging, strengthening, enlightening, forgiving. He is in a very real sense our life – both the creator and sustainer of our physical bodies, as well as the author of our spiritual life. When I doubt my own faith, when I doubt my own sincerity, I lean on the constant presence of God the Holy Spirit. I cannot keep my promises, but God can and does. I cannot trust myself, but I trust in the God who created me, redeemed me, and promises to make me wholly and holy his.

Acts 2:1-21 – The formal account of the Holy Spirit’s coming to the disciples in power. They had already received the Holy Spirit privately (John 20:19-23). It is the power of the Holy Spirit that allows the disciples to declare the forgiveness (or non-forgiveness) of sin. While it is traditional in some ways to talk of a partial receiving of the Holy Spirit in John 20, now completed in Acts 2, this seems awkward to me. Can the Holy Spirit be partially received? Or is it more likely that the issue is not the presence or power of the Holy Spirit, but the perfect timing of God the Father? Just as Jesus waits upon the Father’s timing for his coming in glory at the end of time, so the Holy Spirit waits for some period of time. It makes logical sense that the Father would wait until Pentecost, knowing how many Jews from how many places would be present. The Gospel Peter preaches is undoubtedly carried back to these distant places, facilitating the start of the Church not just in Jerusalem but around the Jewish diaspora! I am not capable of discerning how much of the Holy Spirit may or may not have been given immediately after Jesus’ resurrection, but I can trust completely that God the Father’s timing is perfect, and that in His time and according to His will, the power of the Holy Spirit is more than enough to accomplish his will!

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 – Jesus clearly predicts the Holy Spirit’s coming and what it will mean for his disciples. It is not their efforts that will spread the Gospel throughout the world, but the Spirit of Truth within them that will accomplish this. Jesus goes on to clearly indicate that He will not remain with them much longer. While contextually this references his arrest and execution in a few hours, it also presages his ascension. Jesus does actually depart. He does actually go to be with his Father. It is his departure that makes the coming of the Holy Spirit possible. Again, our duty here is not to try and decipher some hidden mystery of how God works. Is it only possible or God the Son and God the Spirit to be present separately from one another? Hardly, as Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration both make clear (Mark 1:9-11; Mark 9).

It simply is what it is. Jesus must go, the Holy Spirit will come. This is actually a good thing! As hard as it is for us to accept, Jesus actually states that having the Holy Spirit is better than having the incarnate Son of God in your midst! What an amazing assertion, and therefore what comfort we ought to have! Far from wishing that we could see Jesus, encounter him and experience him as his disciples did, we have the Holy Spirit of God with us constantly.

The Holy Spirit will be at work in spreading the Gospel. But as He does this, attendant things are associated. People will be convicted of their sin, because they will be confronted with the Gospe land will be forced to make a decision about it’s truth and implications. They will be convicted of Jesus’ righteousness, as accounted not just his resurrection from the dead, but his ascension to be with the Father. And they will be confronted with a decision – to accept these things or to be condemned in their rejection, just as Satan is condemned.

We are promised that the Holy Spirit can and does convey more to us than Jesus himself conveyed to his disciples during his short time with them. All of this is to the glory of God the Son and God the Father, and therefore the glory of God the Holy Spirit as well. We will not lack anything, but will receive all that we need as his faithful followers until the day of our Lord’s return. We should not think of this in purely physical ways – as is popular these days in American Christianity. Jesus is speaking about revelation and an understanding of what God has done, is doing, and will do.

Book Review – Where Is History Going?

May 16, 2015

Where Is History Going? by John Warwick Montgomery

Zondervan Publishing, 1969

Another on the reading list for this event this summer.

Having read multiple books by Montgomery in recent months, this book echoes many of the same themes.  That’s good because it should help reinforce them so they come to mind in class, however it makes it difficult to read at times.  The material here is good, although some of it is very detailed responses to major movers and shakers in history and philosophy 50 years or more ago.  While the historical perspective is good and helpful to understand how we’ve reached where we are today, much of that particular material I skimmed.  Unless I am reading that particular historian or philosopher, reading an extended critique of them is difficult at best.

As such, for me, the best section was the last, a brief essay from Avrum Scholl entitled “Did Jesus Really Exist?”  It quickly addresses the main and earliest historical references we have for Jesus, both from Biblical and non-Biblical material.  The information (though presented in more depth in other of Montgomery’s writings) is useful and applicable still today in discussions with people who assume that Jesus is actually a figure of myth rather than a historical personage.

I’m not sure I would recommend this book unless you’re a historian or a philosopher.  From an apologetics standpoint there is too much to wade through for specific information.  However it is useful to recognize that where we stand today in a relativistic culture has roots.  Being acquainted with some of those roots is always a good thing, since we all easily fall prone to assuming that the current way of looking at things is the way people have always looked at them, and in fact is the only way to view them.  This is dangerous and foolish.  Always.

SB277 Update

May 15, 2015

Not surprisingly, SB277, the California bill that would eliminate the parental personal belief exemption for their children’s vaccinations has passed through the state Senate and faces a final vote from the Assembly before going to the governor, who is likely to sign it.  If it passes, California will join Mississippi and Virginia in the distinction of being the only states to deny parents this right.  If it passes, you can also bet that other states will begin looking to pass similar legislation.  Don’t presume this is just an issue for the nutty folks in California!  A few thoughts.

The text of the bill as amended thus far is here.  As always, I encourage you to read it for yourself.  We all need to get better at looking at primary source documents instead of trusting news excerpts.  News reports are convenient but they don’t (and can’t) tell the full story.  Rather than listen to what other people think first, read the document for yourself, formulate your own questions and concerns, and then use these as the basis to go out and listen to what other people are saying.

As I’ve stated before, I believe that the State has the right to determine certain conditions under which people utilize optional services it provides.  If you wish to avail yourself of free or nearly free State education or child care, you should be expected to play by the States’ rules.  A problem comes when these demands are mandatory even if you don’t avail yourself of these services.  The bill as modified allows for the continued use of the personal belief waiver for home-schooled children.  For now.  As a news article I can no longer find made mention of, further amendments to the bill are certainly possible.

This news article claims – as does the preamble to the bill itself – that parents will have the right to exercise the personal belief exemption to opt their children out of future additions to the current list of ten mandatory vaccines.  The bill itself does not say this, however.  I presume that a further amended text of the bill is in process with lawyers right now.

The text of the preamble clearly states that the goal of this bill is to provide for the “eventual achievement of total immunization of appropriate age groups against the following childhood diseases”.  This is the stated goal of the bill.  Which I take to mean that the fight will continue even with the current modifications and exemptions for private home schoolers.  In other words, don’t breathe too easily, too quickly.

The ten vaccines themselves are fairly typical.  But I was less familiar with the third one listed – haemophilus influenzae tybe b.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), this is an illness that affects “about” 20,000 children under the age of five years old each year.  Of these 20,000, “about 3%-6%” died as a result of the infection.  Which means 60 to 120 deaths per year, across the entire nation.  It doesn’t even count in the top 10 causes of death for children under the age of five by the CDC’s own data (unless these deaths are included under the more general arena of influenzae).  Yet we’re going to mandate this vaccine?

This news story touted the limitation of the required vaccines to ten. But the bill text clearly indicates no such limit.  Ten initial vaccinations are specified, with the State Department of Public Health having sole discretion as to what additional vaccines might be required.  While they are to receive input from various scientific boards and agencies, they are in no way mandated to follow such input.

Several of the articles indicated that objections were raised because some of the immunizations rely on biological elements derived from aborted embryos.  Parents are not required to be informed when this is the case.

All of this is, as I see it, just one aspect of increasing pressure to force people into a specific medical model that severely curtails or eliminates the authority of parents.  Parents who refuse vaccines for their kids are labeled as nut jobs and religious zealots.  People who reject suggested courses of treatment for their children are labeled as dangerous and incompetent.  Medical technology increasingly is being pushed as not just something that assists people, but something that must control and dictate to people.

I know many, many fine health professionals and I am grateful for the world class care available to me.  But as soon as that care is no longer optional, a service provided to me and my family for us to avail ourselves of as our beliefs and understanding guide us, as soon as I am required by law to receive it whether I want it or not, whether I trust it or not, and in objection to my personal beliefs, then I have a far greater danger on my hands than a hypothetical health concern, and that is a very real danger from a government that seizes the right to tell me what to do without any guarantee that the outcome will be better than my decisions to the contrary.

History teaches me that his sort of danger is ALWAYS dangerous and often fatal to a great many people.  Easily as dangerous and fatal as any of the vaccinations the State wishes to force my children to receive.  I respect the concerns of those who feel mandatory vaccination is a good thing.  I’m pretty sure they want their children (and mine) to be happy and healthy every bit as much as I want my own children (and theirs) to be healthy and happy.  But philosophical differences matter.  Theological differences matter.  And forcing people to do something is always a very dangerous precedent, particularly when the intentions are good.

Where You Begin

May 14, 2015

Where you begin determines where you end up.  It sounds like a simple enough statement, but it continues to be a pervasive monkey-wrench in human communications and interactions.  Consider this recent statement by President Obama.  He considers Jesus’ statement regarding the reality of continuing poverty to be cynical.  How can this be?

I believe it demonstrates an underlying difference in starting point.  Jesus as the Incarnate Son of God understands very clearly human nature and how deeply it is enmeshed with sin.  As such, our own sinfulness will always ensure that there are poor people.  That sinfulness may be my own sinfulness, my own unwillingness to share what I have with others.  It may be the sinfulness of others who take from me to give to the poor but misappropriate or misapply that aid so that either they are personally enriched or the poor or not substantively helped.  And it might be the sin of the person in need, the choices and decisions they make which ensure that any amount of help they are given will never be enough to substantially alter their state of poverty.  Sin shows up in all places and in all people.

President Obama seems to hold a view of humanity that is fundamentally more optimistic, a view that says that we can indeed eliminate poverty, whether just within our own country or around the world.  In other words, our sinfulness is either non-existent (people are basically good and just need to be shown the good to do) or is not pervasive enough to ensure that poverty is never fully eradicated.  The State becomes the mechanism through which people are shown what the good to do is, and which accomplishes that good either on their behalf or despite their objections.  Any suggestion that this is not possible will be judged as cynical, as it denies the underlying presuppositions about human nature.  Jesus was cynical about human nature and therefore realistic about the results.  President Obama sounds more optimistic about human nature and therefore more optimistic about our potential.

Let’s be clear here – there are Christians who embrace both of these points of view.  There are plenty of people who seek to follow Jesus who assume that sin is not a necessary aspect of our human nature after the Fall in Genesis 3.  The Church has dealt with this assumption for centuries.  In some ways it is an attempt to defend the righteousness of God, by making us capable of choosing obedience or faithfulness on our own, and thereby explaining the pernicious, persistent question of why some people are saved and not others if God is all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful, and desiring that all should be saved.  The only problem with this defense is that it negates the consistent witness of Scripture.  The fact that President Obama appears to take the issue of human sinfulness lightly in his comments does not necessitate the allegation that he is not Christian.

All that being said, there is a way in which the President’s words are true.  It is too easy for Christians to hear Jesus’ words about the poor as an excuse.  Why bother caring about the poor because they’re always going to be there?  Jesus’ description of our sinful state becomes the excuse for continuing in our sinful state.  And that is hardly Jesus’ intent.  There is a lot that can and should be done, and Christians must continue to be at the forefront of those who make this assertion.  We might disagree about whether it should be the Church or State who leads in this regard, but we must acknowledge that in either case, sin will continue to work in and through us.  Poverty will be eased but not eradicated.  There will always be opportunities for Christian charity, for loving our neighbor through seeking to alleviate their physical or financial suffering.

Where you start makes a big difference to where you end up.  In this case, it determines who or what we place our hope in.  I don’t place my hope in government or any other human institution, no matter how well-intentioned.  I place my hope in the redemption promised in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.  I place my hope in his continued and present dominion over all things, and in the future revelation of that dominion.  I am commanded – and privileged – to love my neighbor today.  But only in the plan of God the Father will my neighbor and myself be finally healed.

Wet Bar Wednesday – Rob Roy

May 13, 2015

Again, looking to clear up some older bottles of lesser used liquor, I opted for a drink that involves Scotch.  Scotch is currently enjoying a Renaissance of sorts, and lots of very smart and well-heeled folks I know are ga-ga over this drink.  Which is probably why I haven’t been too interested in it.  With a bottle of lower-end Scotch on hand that I inherited some time ago I decided to try the classic Rob Roy cocktail.

This drink was created in 1894 to coincide with the release of an operetta, Rob Roy.  The drink as described below is sometimes (but superfluously) called a sweet Rob Roy.  Since this is the default mode of the drink, you shouldn’t need to specify.  If you prefer it a bit less sweet, you can ask for a “dry” Rob Roy, made with dry vermouth.  Alternately you could request a “perfect” Rob Roy, which utilizes an equal blend of sweet and dry vermouth.

Rob Roy

  • 1 part scotch
  • 1/2 part sweet vermouth
  • 1 dash of Bitters
  • cherry

Mix the liquids and pour over ice and add the cherry for garnish.  This drink is mostly smoky flavored due to the Scotch, with a sweet edge from the vermouth.  It seems like a good way to utilize Scotch that you probably wouldn’t sip neat.  Enjoy!

What Jesus Did

May 13, 2015

A few years ago there was the big “WWJD” craze – What Would Jesus Do?  Wristbands and bumper stickers galore.  The idea being that we govern our lives and our decision making based on how we might imagine Jesus responding in a particular situation.  I was never really thrilled with this blip on the Christian-Culture radar.  I dislike that it is yet another trend that focuses all my attention on what I’m doing, and even brings Jesus into the picture specifically so that I can focus more on me.

Most days I don’t like me.  Focusing on me is not the safest path to a Christian life, let alone a bumper sticker.  I shudder to think how often people look at me or listen to me and come to the conclusion that whatever Jesus might hypothetically do or say, it certainly isn’t what that schmuck just did or said.  If we want to consider what Jesus did and how it affects our life (and we definitely should!), then this is a fantastic little essay to summarize it.

I work each week with people who are in recovery from addictions.  These are people who are struggling to make sense of their lives and themselves without the substances that have helped them cope or numbed them to the need for self-examination for years.  They find themselves clean for the first time in a while, for the longest time in a while, and they also find themselves being confronted with the Christian faith and Jesus and the Bible.  How do they make sense of it all?  Are they Christian?  Is the fact that they’re still sober evidence that Jesus is real and that they’re Christian?  Why doesn’t their Christian experience look or sound like the Christian experience of their friend?

Lots of confusing questions.  How do you know you’re a Christian?  Do you place your hope and confidence in what Jesus has already done?  Then you’re a Christian.  Maybe you’re a baby Christian and your comfort with that hope and confidence is pretty shakey.  Don’t sweat it.  Maybe you’ve been a Christian a really long time – the essence of your faith, the definition of your Christian life hasn’t changed.  It is bound up solely in what Jesus has done already for you.

Important words to remember on bad days.  And good days, come to think of it.

Higher (Costing) Education

May 12, 2015

A great little essay that examines some of the myths behind the high cost of college education in America.  A major contributing cause?  The explosion of administrative staff positions on college campuses.  Fascinating.

Slow Down, You Crazy Child

May 11, 2015

First of all, if you’re a Billy Joel fan, you should listen to this.  Just because.

Ahhhh.  So much better already.

This article is kind of tragic in that it’s necessary at all.  We constantly marvel at how many parents we know are so uber-booked.  Or more precisely, their children are.  School itself eats up a lot of time, but extra-curricular stuff is now de rigueur for many parents even when their kids are pre-school age.  Slow down, and don’t feel guilty about it.  Enjoy your kids.  Or your grandkids.  You only have them so long.

Reading Ramblings – May 17, 2015

May 10, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventh Sunday of Easter (Ascension Day observed) – May 17, 2015

Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Context: While this is technically the Seventh (and last) Sunday of the Easter liturgical season, I’ve opted to swap out the texts for this Sunday with the texts assigned for Ascension Day, which is technically Thursday, May 14. Ascension of Our Lord often gets overlooked in the liturgical cycle, yet is an important piece in our Christology – what we say about the Son of God. And what we say is that the Son of God does not wander our world still intangibly, spiritually; that He is not in our hearts, but rather that He has bodily ascended into heaven and will bodily return from there again according to God the Father’s perfect timing.

Acts 1:1-11 – Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and then the Acts of the Apostles, detailing Jesus’ life and ministry in the first book, and the early church in this second book. As such Luke overlaps with the Ascension, ending his Gospel with it and beginning his history of the Church with it. Note that even after the resurrection his disciples are still expecting that the culmination of salvation history is going to happen immanently. Jesus makes it clear that this is not to be the case, because the Gospel must reach the ends of the earth. In the meantime, Jesus as well as we await God the Father’s perfect timing for his Son’s glorious return.

Psalm 47 – The sovereignty of God is emphasized in this psalm. His dominion is the entire earth, all of creation, not just the limited domain of his people Israel. Verse 5 is undoubtedly why this psalm is chosen for today. The Lord has gone up is a beautiful description of Jesus’ bodily ascension into heaven. Our king still reigns, but his reign is not fully revealed as yet. The fact that He is not bodily with us does not negate his authority and dominion. Rather, He reigns over all dominion still, from his heavenly throne (v.8).

Ephesians 1:15-23 – Paul concludes his opening remarks to the church in Ephesus with this beautiful thanksgiving. He is thankful for the faithful in Ephesus and for their prayers on behalf of believers everywhere. For Paul, who has experienced hardship for the sake of the Gospel firsthand, these prayers are beautiful and essential to his own mission. He prays that the Ephesians may continue to be blessed with growing wisdom and knowledge. He prays also that they might more fully comprehend the power available to them through their prayers, the selfsame power that raised Jesus from the dead (v.20). But this power extends beyond Jesus’ resurrection to the seating of Jesus in glory and honor in heaven as the one true and final and ultimate king of all creation. His dominion is complete and total – there is nothing in heaven or earth outside of his authority, but the church is to be his firstfruits, the place within creation that acknowledges his authority here and now, before it is finally and irrefutably revealed to all creation. The church exists to testify and live according to the reality that Jesus is not merely resurrected, but remains resurrected and remains active as the King of all Creation.

Luke 24:44-53 – Luke concludes his account of the life and ministry of Jesus with his post-resurrection appearance to his disciples. He opens their minds to be able to see in their Scriptures (our Old Testament) the work and intention of God, the prophecies concerning the future and how Jesus fulfills those prophecies. As witnesses of the unfolding of these events, the Apostles are to bear witness to the rest of the world of what they saw and experienced. Luke was not one of the Apostles, but was a companion of Paul in his missionary journeys.

There is a small chapel at the top of the Mt. of Olives, just outside of Bethany, just outside the walls of Jerusalem. While the site dates back to at least Byzantine times, it has changed hands often, and is currently part of a Muslim mosque. It is unique in that it is the only mosque in the world that allows Christians to worship as Christians in it. Once a year, on Ascension Day, Christians are allowed to worship in this spot. The spot is where Jesus ascended into heaven, and there is a stone in the floor of the small building that allegedly has the footprint that Jesus left on his ascension, almost as though He thrust himself up into the heavens by a powerful kick-start.

Whether it is his footprint or not is by and large secondary to the eye-witness account of his ascension. Jesus lives. He lives corporeally, physically, but not with us for the time being. But He will return physically, corporeally, to inaugurate his physical and corporeal reign, to reunite heaven and earth as the places where God the Father’s will truly is sought and done.

Another Day

May 8, 2015

I never know who is going to show up for Friday morning Bible study at the county jail.  It’s been almost four years now that I’ve been doing this, and every week is something new and different.

The past two weeks a young man has been there.  He’s a biology major at UCLA working through some issues.  This morning the rest of the group was pretty quiet, so he had a lot of questions he wanted perspective on.  He’s new to the faith, coming from a family that isn’t Christian, and I suspect his own faith is tenuous at best, prompted primarily by a Brazilian girl he’s been dating for three months who is a very strong Christian.  Between her and the time on his hands in jail, he’s reading the Bible somewhat and exploring the faith.

He wanted to know my perspective on homosexual marriage, and as I’m more and more inclined to do, I preface my response by clarifying that it really doesn’t matter what my perspective on the issue is.  What matters is what God has to say about it.  That started a wide ranging dialogue between the two of us while the others were mostly quiet and listened.  We covered homosexuality and contraception and sexuality in general before moving into evolution vs. the Biblical creation account.

The other guys may have been bored stiff, but it was a good exchange.  You never know what you’re going to find when you go to jail once a week.