Archive for January, 2019

Book Review – Between the Testaments

January 28, 2019

Between the Testaments by D.S. Russell

This book has some interesting information, though on the whole it is very much an introductory sort of book.  The bibliography is rather brief (and of course 60-some years old).  On the whole it displays what I think of as a typical mid-century approach to Biblical scholarship.  Russell assumes and presents wholeheartedly the idea that the Biblical texts cannot be trusted in terms of their presumed authorship dates (Isaiah can’t really be 8th century BC since, of course, that would mean it’s prophetic about events that will happen much later!) and at times in terms of their content.  Other sources are presumed to be more reliable, particularly if they don’t have a theological bent to them, or at least one that we aren’t expected to take seriously.

While some of the background information is helpful I wanted greater depth and detail.  And of course as someone who takes God and therefore the possibility of prophecy seriously, I reject the basic assumptions that Russell is very comfortable with.  It isn’t that he has better data or information that I’m lacking, he’s just comfortable with a different understanding of God and therefore the Biblical text that ultimately, in my opinion, undoes both.

Reading Ramblings – February 3, 2019

January 27, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 3, 2019

Texts: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13; Luke 4:31-44

Context: The season of Ordinary Time can seem a bit random. Not governed by an overriding event like the other major seasons of the liturgical year, it offers an opportunity to delve into what theologians sometimes refer to as the full counsel of God. The Bible speaks about a stunning array of topics and issues. Sometimes more than we’d prefer, sometimes fewer than we’d hope for. Sometimes in nearly mind-numbing depth, and other times in a cursory fashion that leaves us clamoring for more. Many preachers use this time for a variety of sermon series’ and other means of providing structure. I still prefer to utilize the assigned texts from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) – LCMS edition, but I look for ways to preach on a variety of different topics and ideas. My preference is to look for a theme common to all the readings, but sometimes I prefer to focus on just one. In light of recent legislation in

Jeremiah 1:4-10 – Powerful verses in this day and age, that declare that the Lord is the author of life, and life begins well before birth. If God can know us before we are even conceived, how much more important is it that we should recognize that life – once conceived -as a gift of God and deserving of full acknowledgment and treatment the same as any other human being? In a culture that seeks to redefine life to fit convenience, we can never forget that life is not our creation. The Creator of the Universe works in and through human beings to bring new life, but remains the sole author of all such life. We are bound to acknowledge his sovereignty and power in this respect, and to treat those lives as precious regardless of age.

Psalm 71:1-6 – Most people would agree that we should save others from wicked, unjust, and cruel people. What matters is how we identify perpetrators as well as victims. Ultimately God is the one who saves, and his salvation is not merely temporary or for the span of a lifetime. He alone is able to save eternally, and He alone is able to save even from the grave, even from the worst depredations we perpetrate on one another. When we act to save the innocent and the helpless, we do so guided by His wisdom, and trusting ultimately that He will do what we cannot, and that in Him, there is hope not only for the least remembered and overlooked victim of evil, but hope even for those who perpetrated the offense. For this God is indeed worthy of praise!

1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13 – These verses are popular at weddings. They are full of hope and beauty, capturing the best we can aspire to in our love for one another. But ultimately these verses are not good news about what we extend to each other, but rather condemning verses. Who loves like this? Who can love so perfectly and completely and totally? God alone can. While these verses should serve to inspire, they should also serve to humble. They should also serve as warnings against our pride and arrogance, against assuming that we are justified because we have fulfilled them perfectly while others have not. Love is the necessary basis for all of our aspirations and actions, but love not as arbitrarily defined by us, but as defined by God. God alone as the source and embodiment of love can define how love should properly express itself. All other gifts and particularly spiritual gifts are granted and exercised within the God-defined realm and motivation of love. Anytime we seek to use a gift of God’s for a purpose other than love, we stand condemned and in need of repentance. Anytime we seek to justify our cruelty or unfeeling attitudes towards others in spiritual or Biblical language we are condemned and called to repentance. Love is what will remain when we are brought into the presence of God. First and foremost his perfect love for us, described so beautifully in these verses, and then secondarily and in response, our love for him, which will be perfected and restored to that love of which only Adam, Eve, and Jesus have been capable of in all of human history. How magnificent it will be in that day to love so completely and purely!

Luke 4:31-44 – If we consider the sick or demon-oppressed to be in need of rescuing, Jesus proves that He possesses the authority to do so. While we are prone to think of illnesses in terms of bacteria and viruses, and struggle with the idea of demon-possession, Jesus demonstrates the the intricacies of these matters are no match simply for the Word through whom all things were created (John 1). These are some of the afflictions we are promised release from in the day of our Lord’s return and the resurrection of the dead to new life. Note that the crowds marvel not at the existence of demons, but at Jesus’ authority over them. Note also the distinction Luke (traditionally thought to be a physician) makes between demon possession and illness. The fact that people were readily able to accept the existence of demons doesn’t mean they couldn’t recognize illness for what it was.

Life is a precious gift from God. While sin has brought sickness and all manner of other suffering into our world, God remains the source of healing, both temporally and eternally. It is always appropriate to pray for God for healing while trusting in his good and gracious will in all situations and circumstances.

He Says it Better

January 24, 2019


Wag the Dog

January 23, 2019

I’ve yet to see this movie yet, despite thinking about it over the years.  I remember thinking at the time it came out that it was a brilliant concept, and a frighteningly realistic one.  Fast forward 20+ years and our technical know-how and digital wizardry is leagues ahead of 1997.

President Trump has taken a lot of flack for his skepticism, let’s say, about the press.  His insistence that the press is not unbiased and sometimes outright untrustworthy has raised the cry of many, not the least of which the press itself.  And yet we repeatedly find out that the press is a) not unbiased and b) often untrustworthy.  How related these two are falls into an area of personal opinion that I’d rather not get into but leave for you to come to grips with.  Not everyone with a press badge is unbiased or trustworthy.  The press badge does not confer these qualities upon them.  Nor does owning a media outlet, nor does being the editor-in-chief or any other title confer these qualities magically.

Add to this mix the ability for people holding a phone to put together footage that looks and sounds a certain way and then farm it out to the media for coverage, and you have a perfect storm.  There may not always  be a need to wholesale fabricate events (though I wouldn’t put it past most people/politicians), but there is a very real possibility that something presented in a certain way is not the whole story at the very least.

So we have the latest outrage over alleged mockery of native Americans by a group of teenagers on the National Mall in Washington DC.  Media – social and otherwise – was apoplectic over the jittery footage displaying a confrontation between an older Native American and a crowd of Anglo high schoolers, allegedly mocking him.  After the traditional screaming matches of the past few days, new footage and testimony apparently contradict the initial reports.  Rather than the teenagers surrounding the man and mocking him, he and his group approached their group, apparently intent on some sort of confrontation, possibly spurred on by the fact that some of the youth were wearing Make America Great Again hats.

These clarified reports of the event are bolstered further by reports that this same man – Nathan Phillips – attempted to disrupt Catholic mass this past Saturday evening at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception also in Washington DC.  What  was – and continues to be – interpreted as another tragic instance of white oppression against minorities, and more importantly as further evidence of the degradation of America under President Trump, may in fact be the exact opposite of this.

An unbiased press might have thought twice before rushing in to condemn the alleged perpetrators.  A more trustworthy press would have sought out possible alternative narratives before passing judgment and leading a firestorm of threats against the youth and their school and families.  That’s the sort of press we need, in a day and age where footage can not only be fabricated, but certainly can be recorded in such a way as to obscure what is actually happening, or to exclude details that might put interpretation into a better perspective.  When every person has a smart phone with a video camera in it, the assumption that any such footage must by definition be fully accurate in what it appears to portray is foolish at best, dishonest at worst.

But since I do believe that much of our press is both biased and untrustworthy, here is a basic tip for y’all at home about how to handle this stuff.

Don’t assume that just because you read it online or see it on a TV news report or read it in your newspaper that it’s true.  Certainly not immediately, and when it relates to alleged footage obtained from unidentified sources.  Journalists should be taking care of this sort of filtering for you but they aren’t.  So do it yourself.  Before you react violently on social media, give things a few days to settle out.  Recognize that media outlets are commercial ventures, not non-profit organizations.   They depend on advertising revenues linked to the number of viewers or subscribers they have.  In which case, the pressure to be the first to report a breaking news event is incredible.  Shortcuts are undoubtedly taken in terms of verifying sources, looking for alternative points of view, and other basic unbiased and trustworthy reporting actions.  Therefore the possibility that breaking news isn’t all that it seems is only going to increase.

And for goodness’ sake, before you start screaming derogatory comments about entire groups of people (which is what this story was all about in the first place, remember?), remember your basic human decency.  Even if it turns out that someone is caught doing something abhorrent on video, it does not mean that:

  • Everyone who wears the same clothing brands as that person supports their actions
  • Everyone who voted for the same candidates that person did supports their actions
  • Everyone of the same race or ethnicity as that person supports their actions
  • Everyone with the same accent supports their actions

Take a few deep breaths people.  We live in complicated times where things aren’t always what they seem.  Don’t be the dog wagged by the tail.





Book Review – Gospel Reset

January 21, 2019

Gospel Reset: Salvation Made Relevant by Ken Ham.

I received a free copy of this book a few months ago, likely sent to Christian pastors across the country.  I’m familiar with who Ken Ham is but I’ve not read or listened to any of this material.  I’m sure we have some theological differences along denominational lines, but trust that we’ll laugh about that together some day in glory.

The basic premise of this book is that many Christian churches have made a grave mistake.  In an effort to accommodate secular theories of origin, they have moved away from really talking much about Genesis.  And if you don’t know the book of Genesis – at least the first quarter of it – you really don’t understand anything else the Bible says or why it matters and applies to you.  I resonate with Ken’s insistence that if we are going to make sense of the Gospel to people unfamiliar with Christianity and the Bible, we need to do so not be ignoring or skipping over Genesis as unnecessary or embarrassing, we need to start there as the key to understanding everything else in the entire universe.

Most of this book describes the problem of Biblical illiteracy in American culture, offering some ideas about how we’ve reached this point.  Ken also highlights two different sermons – one by Peter to people who understood most of his terminology and assumptions (fellow Jews) in Acts 2, and one by Peter to non-Christians in Acts 17.  The Church needs to understand this distinction today as well.  We can’t make assumptions, use shortcuts, utilize insider lingo, or otherwise just assume that people with no exposure to the Bible or Christianity or Church will understand what we’re saying.  They won’t.

Unfortunately, the book does a typically good job of summarizing a problem most people in the Church are somewhat familiar with, but not so good in offering solutions.  The last pages of the book draw attention to resources his organization, Answers in Genesis, has created to be of help.  I think it would have been better if he had provided a synopsis at least of some of the main issues in Genesis he sees as foundational.  It would be a big help to folks who don’t know how to talk to non-Christians.  I appreciate that he’s trying to sound the alarm.  Tragically, most  Christians just don’t understand how big the shift in our culture is from when they were young until now.  That’s dangerous for the Church in America.  This book might be a good start in summarizing some of these shifts.

Reading Ramblings – January 27, 2019

January 20, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after the Epiphany – January 27, 2019

Texts: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:16-30

Context: Easter is later this year (April 21), which pushes back the start of Lent as well, so there is a longer liturgical season of Ordinary Time at the start of this year than there was last year.. While the Sundays are notated in context to Epiphany, we’re not in the season of Epiphany any longer (since last week) and the Epistle reading follows the lectio continua tradition rather than linking up as tightly with the Gospel and Old Testament.

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 – Having returned from exile in Babylon, the people of God are gathered together again to hear the Word of the Lord in fullness, with explanation. The Word of God their parents and grandparents had forgotten and fallen out of faithfulness to, leading to God’s discipline by destroying Jerusalem and the Temple and leading his people into exile. But now they are home again. God’s graciousness and mercy has given them another chance, a new opportunity to be the faithful people their ancestors were not. An emotional day, but ultimately a day of joy and celebration. To hear of their special relationship to the Creator of the universe should not be a cause for sadness or fear but ultimately joy. To them was entrusted the Word of God, his revelation to his Creation of his identity, their fallen condition, and his promises to restore creation and all those who would trust in this promise. God’s Word is still as source of joy and strength and peace today when people flounder with no anchor, no base, no sure footing in an ever-shifting culture and world. To hear the Word of God is a privilege and a joy!

Psalm 19 – Some might object that knowledge of a Creator is impossible, that the very nature of such an entity is by definition beyond our ability to grasp. But this is not true, according to God. We can indeed grasp the existence of and even some of the attributes of the God behind creation, as creation itself is a witness to his existence and nature. The way that all of creation works together is a testimony to the coherence of God’s Word, and as God sustains creation in good order, his Word to us can do the same for our lives. In fact, the Word of God ultimately is better than creation itself, more beautiful and worthy than any single aspect of the natural order around us. As we grow to marvel in creation, and as we unlock some of the inner workings of the natural world, we must be careful to not presume that such knowledge is greater than the knowledge of the Creator himself. Such is a serious sin as it creates an idol (ourselves or our own understanding) in the place that belongs by definition only to the Creator himself. God’s Word guides us in the life of faith that can marvel in God’s creation, engage with it intelligently and in the expectation that we can and will understand some of it, and yet ultimately reserve the thanks and glory to God alone.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a – Paul continues his exploration of the nature of spiritual gifts, stressing that rather than competing for certain, more highly prized gifts, the Corinthians should recognize that the varied gifts of their members are for the greater good of the whole community. The creativity of God the Father is expressed in the variety of gifts that God the Holy Spirit is able and willing to bestow on God’s people. The gifts are to be seen for what they are – from God, for his people, rather than matters of individual pride and preference. All are necessary, all need to work together or the body of Christ will not function smoothly. Each gift has value. Each has a function and a contribution to the good of the entire body. To all desire the same gift makes no sense, any more than it would make sense to have a body comprised entirely of a single body part. It makes no sense, and in fact is not what God the Holy Spirit intends. Paul seems to be dealing with a matter of dissension among the Corinthians, trying to set them at peace with one another rather than arguing about whose gift is greater or more desirable. Paul desires the Corinthians to quit squabbling and focus on bigger issues, and ultimately the most desirable gift of all, which is increasing love for one another as an expression of love for God.

Luke 4:16-30 – Once again the reading of God’s Word is the center of the episode. The Nehemiah text featured an audience to whom the Word was new – beautiful and terrible, overwhelming to them. But here we see an audience familiar with the Word, expecting more from both the Word and the speaker. They are not impressed with what they are given. They want more. Apparently they want to see Jesus do some of the impressive things that He has done in Capernaum (Mark 1:21-34). They either want him to prove himself to them, to earn their approval, or they wish to benefit personally from his gifts since He’s a local boy. In any event, Jesus isn’t interested in campaigning for their support or placating them with healings and miracles of their own. In fact, He seems to deliberately provoke them, making it clear that their home-town relationship to him does not entitle them to preferential treatment nor obligate him to earn their approval. As God the Father rejected his own people in the past and showed favor to outsiders, so God the Son can and will do the same. It’s clear from their reaction that they understand his implications perfectly. They don’t believe that He could be the Messiah, and so who is this carpenter’s son to speak so insolently to them? Their reaction does not speak faith or even a desire for faith in this man. In their pride they rush to punish him, to show him who is more powerful and more deserving of honor. But they have no power over Jesus. Whether this is Luke painting a miracle in very muted tones, or whether Luke is simply describing the crowd’s inability to effectively manhandle Jesus, the fact remains that they do not control his identity or his destiny. They may not place their faith in him, but neither are they able to dictate his fate.

The Word of God elicits either faith or disdain, either a recognition of our shortcomings and rebelliousness, or an arousal of our pride and anger. The person who truly hears what the Word of God says is called to a response. But whatever the response, it has no power over the Word itself. It cannot rescind it or alter it or compel it to silence. The Word of God remains, and while darkness and evil people may continue to strive against it, they have not and will not overcome it.

Missed It by *that* Much

January 18, 2019

I was interested in an article reporting how the Pope was asserting that families – parents – have primary responsibility for the faith development of their children.  Pleased at this, I was also perplexed at the reported recommendations related to this admonition.  First of all, don’t fight in front of the kids, and secondly go ahead and breastfeed your children in church if they’re hungry.  It seemed like two odd pieces of advice, so I sought out a transcript of his sermon given on the observance of Jesus’ Baptism, and was able to find this.

First off, I agree wholeheartedly with the Pope’s basic assertion.  God created families in order to raise children in faith.  Long before the Church existed, or the priesthood, the family existed.  From the beginning, in fact.  The Church exists as a resource for parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles.  It exists in part to help the family communicate and explain the faith to children as they grow, but it cannot replace the family.

But in terms of practical advice he could have given in relation to this assertion, I can’t help but lament.  Certainly, children should not have to watch their parents fight incessantly or vehemently.  If fights are particularly heated, or if they become abusive in any way, this is something that children should not have to see and parents should receive professional help to improve upon.  Immediately.

But if parents disagree on occasion, it’s important for children to be able to observe how parents resolve conflict.  So long as it isn’t in any way abusive or excessive, parents pass on valuable skills to their children by allowing them – as they grow older and are better able to process what’s happening – to watch the parents express their disagreements and then work together towards a solution.

As for breastfeeding, this seems to have simply been a contextual comment, perhaps off-script and prompted by the noise of children around the Pope at the moment.

But to help instruct children in the faith, they have to see their parents acting in faith.  Praying as a family.  Reading Scripture together and discussing it.  Bringing the Word of God into other discussions and decision-making settings.  Faith needs to be seen not just as a theoretical thing, but as something breathed and applied.  Not just a Sunday morning thing but part of everything that the family is and does.  If kids think that you get along well and never fight, but also never see you pray, never see you reading the Bible or otherwise engaging in the life of faith at home, they’re still likely to struggle with continuing in the faith as they get older.

Parents need to live out the life of faith so that their children can see it.  Hopefully the Pope will have more to say on this topic in the future!


I Can’t Quit Laughing

January 17, 2019

Nancy Pelosi’s move.

President Trump’s counter-move.

I score this 0-1 for President Trump.  Let’s see what  the next round brings!

More Politics

January 17, 2019

In case you were under the impression that there is freedom of speech and freedom of religion in our country, or that these rights are valued by some and not others, note this little article.  Our vice-president’s wife  is being criticized for teaching at a Christian school that adheres to Biblical principles and requires employees, students, and their families to do so as well.

I love the spin put on this at the end of the article.  A “religion” professor criticizing “the religious right” for making sexuality a  matter of faith.  Um, actually it’s the Bible that does that, not the religious right, and as such has been making a big deal about this for roughly 3500 years.  The Biblical position is nothing new, and prior to just a few years ago, was the normative understanding in most of American society.  And before that in most of Western Europe.  And still today in large sections of South America, Central America, and Africa.  Just to name a few.

Then the second comment about how the school was forcing people to not be yourself or express support for viewpoints and lifestyles contrary to Scripture.  Again, not true.  This isn’t a public school.  It’s a private school that undoubtedly charges tuition – probably rather steep tuition.  Attendance at this school is completely voluntary, and nobody is being forced to do anything other than acknowledge the truths the school is based on and in.  If they don’t like those truths, I’m sure that there are other school options for them to choose from, including completely free public schools.  A halfway intelligent potential customer might even recognize that it is because of the policies and beliefs of this school that it is desirable as an educational institution to people despite its high price.

Expressing an opinion or a belief is only valid and right and fair if it falls in line with what popular culture or activists are demanding at the moment.  The fact that their stance on this issue is at direct odds with one of the oldest sacred texts in the world is irrelevant.  It is the sacred text and those who believe it who must change.

So, freedom of religion and freedom of speech?  Ditch ’em, apparently.

A Political Day

January 17, 2019

I guess this will be a day for political posts.

First up, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially classified those who are uncertain about the efficacy or safety of vaccinations as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019.

They’re not going after anti-vaxxers or those who are hard-core opposed to vaccinations.  Even those who are hesitant are a risk.  Those who are less than certain, or may be concerned only about certain vaccinations while they’re fine with others.  No, there must be no doubt, no misgivings, no reluctance, no hesitancy.  The report officially defines this term to mean the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines.  That’s a pretty broad classification.  I take it to mean that the person who doesn’t want to get the annual flu shot or is uncertain about a recently released vaccine is treated as the same sort of threat as the person who doesn’t believe the small pox vaccine was effective.

An advisory group to the WHO identified complacency, inconvenience, and uncertainty as some of many reasons why people might resist or oppose vaccinations.  I’m sure those are some of the causes.  But the WHO finds these causes – or any cause – insufficient and uncredible.

Despite all-too-recent examples that sometimes the public is deliberately misinformed about things, putting their health at risk (Tuskogee, anyone?).  Despite the insistence of state laws that make vaccines mandatory and provide no means for the public to give consent to or even be informed about what vaccines are included.  Despite a dearth of long-term studies on many of the vaccines already available and those still in development.  Despite even just a common sense sort of concern about what gets put into your body and why.

Nobody must question the powers that be – doctors, researchers, policy-makers – none  of them are to be questioned and are to be trusted implicitly and without any means or expectation of transparency.  Those who criticize religious people for blind faith ought to be a more critical of the faith being demanded by secular authorities as well!  Religion can’t compel  faith, but the rule of law can and increasingly does compel people to cede authority over their bodies to bureaucrats and scientists, well-meaning or otherwise.