Archive for February, 2019

Logical Conclusions…

February 13, 2019

For those of you with kids or grandkids or great-grandkids.  Or for you, yourself.  As we try to justify doing things a way we know isn’t ultimately right or healthy, it’s always wise to see whether our justifications make sense when carried out to logical (and only somewhat tongue-in-cheek) conclusions.

For your consideration, one such extrapolation on the popular argument of living together before marriage to make sure it will work out.

Book Review: V for Vendetta

February 11, 2019

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore & David Lloyd

Back a few decades, my best friend started to get into graphic novels.  The genre was really beginning to explode, but it never interested me.  I felt then – and still do – that you either have to focus on the art or the story but it’s difficult to do both.  Inevitably, the visual tends to overshadow the literary, and while some might argue that this is why it is a separate or unique genre, it just doesn’t work for me.

Part of the fun of your children getting older is that as they enter their teens there’s an opportunity for them to begin sharing with you some of the things they’re discovering.  Musically, this can be a challenge as my oldest son really likes rap!  Fortunately though, I grounded him in the classics of rock and roll as well, and so we can talk about what he’s listening to.  Similarly with books.  And while the kids really enjoyed various comic-style books over the years (Asterix & Obelix, Bone, etc.), for the first time I’ve read something more substantive that my son picked up at the library the other day – V is for Vendetta.

I watched a good chunk of the movie without sound on some plane flight at some point, but didn’t realize it came from a graphic novel.  I can’t say that I was overly impressed, and therefore my opinion of graphic novels as a whole remains the same. The story line is interesting, but predictably (to me) the story and character development is rather shallow.

The setting is in the 1990’s in a post-apocalyptic Britain that has become a totalitarian state in the aftermath of atomic warfare that  wiped out most of Europe and Africa.  The titular character – V – is never unmasked in the novel, but wears several different masks, the most common of which is a lightly colored Guy Fawkes mask.  He saves a young woman from police brutality and disciples her in the ways of anarchy.

However it’s a very idealistic anarchy, to say the least.  V is strong, resolute, moral in a brutal sort of way.  He’s literate and enlightened thanks to forced drug therapies at a concentration camp years earlier that probably also contributed to his physical prowess.  He wages a one-man war against the totalitarian government, leading towards a breakdown in control and the beginnings of a popular uprising against the State.  V’s murderous violence is clothed in the righteousness of a holy warrior against a completely evil and unjust State.  He opines that anarchy has two elements, one destructive and one creative, and that the destructive element should be renounced and abandoned as soon as the status quo is overthrown.  But we don’t see that in the book – much as we don’t see it historically or in real life, either.  The truth is it’s hard to put away the bombs and the bombers, as they often find themselves as the new government.  While V does not find himself in this predicament, it’s a historical reality.

There are bad systems that should be raged against, undoubtedly, but the book doesn’t dwell on the reality of the human condition – that I identify as sin – which ensures that no matter how virtuous or benign the ruling system may be, it will inevitably become corrupted and co-opted by people driven to utilize the system to achieve personal ends and needs.

The novel glorifies the fight, and pictures it as inevitably victorious.  But it doesn’t deal with the aftermath and the struggle to replace a corrupt system with something better.  Nor does it deal with the individualistic nature of anarchy, which means that just because one system is overthrown doesn’t mean there will be a mutually agreeable replacement.

I’ve enjoyed talking through the book some with my son and hope to do more of it.  I look forward to his continued explorations in literature and the world around him.

Reading Ramblings – February 17, 2019

February 10, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany – February 17, 2019

Texts: Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:1-20; Luke 6:17-26

Context: I expanded the Epistle lesson to include the first 11 verses of chapter 15, which were noted as optional, but which I feel are essential to the line of reasoning in the next eight verses. The message of the Church is not desire of heaven nor fear of hell but rather Christ crucified and resurrected. The message of the Church is not merely inspirational, not merely devotional, not merely practical, but all of these things and more grounded first and foremost in the historical assertion that a man who claimed to be the Son of God and claimed to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin and claimed He would rise from the dead after three days actually did rise from the dead after three days, which means that all those other things He said need to be taken very, very seriously. It is easy to go to church these days in many places and hear many things, learn many things, even study the Bible but not focus on the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as the core reason for our being there. If it happened, everything has changed. If it didn’t, nothing has changed. There is no Christianity without the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. He would not be worthy of our devotion and praise for any other reason or on any other account, no matter how wise or gentle or good He might have personally been. To place our hope in a mere person, as Jeremiah asserts, is foolishness. Our hope can only be anchored in God if it is to be worth anything at all.

Jeremiah 17:5-8 – There is much talk politically about how to best care for one another. How do we best ensure the happiness of diverse people? It’s a pertinent topic to be sure, and one that does deserve and require our careful consideration and evaluation. But all such plans – which must be implemented to some degree, should be viewed ultimately with skepticism and a recognition that the best laid plans and noblest aspirations almost always devolve at some point into far more sinister things. It is not within human power to solve the ultimate problems that we face. Not as a nation, not as a species. While we can and should endeavor to improve the condition of as many as possible, it is dangerous foolishness to presume that we can do so for long, or that one solution, one candidate, one party will be able to deliver on everything they promise without any of the attendant problems and abuses that will ultimately undo their efforts. This may sound pessimistic, but it ought to be realistic. We must always be on guard against the seeds of destruction that inevitably lie within any human plan of salvation. We will not be able to guard perfectly. We should enjoy the benefits we are able to provide for one another while recognizing that ultimately God is the only sure hope of real, lasting, and perfect peace and care for all his creation.

Psalm 1 – The introductory psalm lays out the basic premise for the entirety of the psalms. God’s Word is the source of wisdom and benefit to all who ground themselves in it. In God’s Word alone is the power and comfort necessary to weather the difficulties of life and to withstand the constant allure and pressure of evil. God is the ultimate judge of all things and all people, and those who ground themselves in his Word need not fear that judgment. It places our hope completely outside of ourselves and one another, and makes God’s Word the baseline for every aspect of our lives. Failure to utilize this one and only reliable baseline will result in uncertainty and error, which inevitably will lead to evil and sorrow. God’s Word bestows what is most needful to us – God’s blessing, and the state of blessedness it creates in us.

1 Corinthians 15:1-20 – One of the most powerful of Paul’s passages, he here focuses the Corinthians on the center of the Biblical and Christian message – the proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth crucified and resurrected from the dead. This single event in human history, witnessed by hundreds of people, is the center of Christianity’s claim of Truth. It is popular in some quarters of modern Christianity to treat the Resurrection of Jesus as an afterthought, a footnote, or even an unnecessary thing. There is a desire in some quarters to spiritualize the meaning and disassociate Paul’s words here from applying to anything so palpable as a bodily resurrection. But this is exactly what Paul points to. It was the center of the message he preached to the Corinthians originally. He told them not simply to trust his word, but directed them to literally hundreds of others who could validate his claim. If Jesus was actually resurrected, then his identity and purpose as the Son of God is validated, and we have real hope that our faith in his identity and purpose will translate into our own resurrection from the dead. If Jesus was not resurrected, we have no such hope, no such reason for expecting anything. At best, Paul and the Corinthians (and by extension you and I today) would continue to be faithful Jews, following the Mosaic Covenant and awaiting the promised Messiah. This passage – particularly vs.3-11 – is also important because these particular verses are acknowledged as Paul’s even by skeptics who claim that most everything attributed to him was not written by him. While this claim is spurious, at least in these verses there is a common ground to acknowledge that Paul’s message was Christ crucified and resurrected, and this was not something added to the Gospel message by later Christians.

Luke 6:17-26 – While these are understood by many people to be words of great beauty and comfort, imagine if they were not being said with authority. How presumptuous and, at best, idealistic! They only have the power to comfort if they are actually true rather than wishful thinking. Likewise, Jesus’ warnings to those enjoying the benefits of creation at the expense of others would be little more than the threats of a child, if Jesus is not actually the Son of God, fully divine and therefore capable of warning of a judgment that truly is coming! If we remove the resurrection from Jesus’ story, then Jesus becomes just this guy, and his words become at best ineffectual, and at worst outright lies or at least inane chattering.

But if Jesus truly is the Son of God, if his death does accomplish real reconciliation with God, real defeat of evil, real forgiveness of sins, then these words become some of the most beautiful in the world, as they can be trusted. Trusted even when evil has the upper hand and it seems that it will never be stopped. Trusted even when our personal experiences don’t reflect these promises fully. There is truly hope, evil truly has been defeated and that defeat will be revealed one day. Nobody will be lost or forgotten or overlooked who placed their trust in the Son of God and his words.

Book Review – Miracles

February 5, 2019

Miracles – by C.S. Lewis

 

In this book, C.S. Lewis lays out the claim that Biblical (or even non-Biblical) accounts of miracles should not  be ruled out a priori as impossible.  He begins with this basic issue – the philosophical assumption – often masked as scientific – that everything we know is a closed system dependent totally and exclusively on causal relationships.  That there is, by definition, nothing outside this system, and therefore nothing and no one to interfere with the purely cause and effect progression of events within the system.  The universe – and in multi-verse theories or multiple dimensions the sum total of all universes/dimensions – exists in essentially a snow globe, where outside interference or activity is impossible.

Lewis seeks to undermine this by arguing that human consciousness, the ability to contemplate the system, is just such an example of something outside the system, as it could never develop purely from the causal relationships of a closed system.  This opening section is perhaps the most difficult part of the book but also the most important, as everything after hinges on the reader either agreeing, being convinced, or suspending disbelief of this premise in order to contemplate those that follow.

Lewis’ further explorations of miracles is also interesting, though perhaps not as detailed as many would like.  He is dealing with the concept of miracles, less so with specific miracles.  He offers some helpful reflections on how Biblical miracles differ markedly from miraculous events in other systems of mythology, retaining an essential synchronicity or flow with the created order.

This is a helpful book for those who struggle with the idea of miracles.  I imagine that, although Lewis is a Christian and this is his focus, the book would be handy for anyone of any belief persuasion trying to make sense of why or how anyone would believe in something that is, by definition, so rare and difficult to corroborate.  I doubt this book would convince a hard agnostic or atheist to reconsider, but for those less pre-disposed in their convictions it could be very helpful, and should be very helpful to Christians who might feel a bit embarrassed about the supernatural elements of Christianity and the Bible.  Definitely worth a read!

Reading Ramblings – February 10, 2019

February 3, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 10, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 14:1-33; Luke 5:1-11

Context: It’s popular parlance to talk about searching for God, or asking someone have you found Jesus? In reality, searching for God is not something we are able to do, as though God were playing hide and seek with us like a giggling child. God’s Word tells us that despite the abundance of pointers to him (Psalm 19, Romans 1), it is He who continually pursues us. As we come into relationship with him we recognize our unworthiness and unpreparedness for this relationship. We who have rebelled against the rightful King discover that the King wants us to be his friend, and is willing to work with us and within us and at times despite us to replace our rebellion and hate with obedience and love, conforming us back into the image we have rebelled from and against.

Isaiah 6 – Isaiah is a prophet in the late 8th century BC, speaking to leadership in Jerusalem over the course of four kings and several decades. Here in chapter 6 we have Isaiah’s commissioning, his formal and divine preparation to deliver the Word of God. This isn’t necessarily predictive of every prophet’s experience, but Isaiah is affirmed in his role as well as in his readiness to perform it. Brought face to face with the holiness and majesty of God, Isaiah on his own merits can only despair, aware of how improper it is for him – a sinful man – to be in the presence of the divine. God does not exhort Isaiah to purity, but rather provides it to him. God does what Isaiah cannot do for himself. Thus emboldened, Isaiah can attend to the difficult task of calling for penitence and faithfulness from leaders bent on self-reliance.

Psalm 138 – God is to be praised for many reasons. As the creator of all things, for his enduring presence and power, and here, for his love and faithfulness. In a world where truth is subject to regular reinterpretation or subjective rejection or acceptance, where people change their minds and identities like outfits, where technology outpaces our ability or even desire to keep up, let alone to think meaningfully about the implications of our automation, God’s faithfulness and love are unique and distinct in their enduring nature. There is no time at which God does not love his creation and seek to restore it to proper relationship with him through the death and resurrection of the Son of God. There is no one to whom God does not extend the offer of amnesty and forgiveness. We can know that whenever we reach out to God in prayer and praise, He is there and listening. This faithfulness and love should be the wisdom upon which human understanding and application is built. Good leaders ought to not simply emulate God’s faithfulness and love but actually lean upon it and promulgate it, leading by example in their recognition and praise of God’s love. And because God is not fickle, we need never worry that He is distracted or disinterested, and that even when we are enduring difficult situations, He is with us and will deliver us ultimately, strengthening our hearts to face whatever is necessary. His enduring faithfulness is the grounding and baseline and rationale for our own limited and flawed efforts to improve ourselves and one another and the world around us.

1 Corinthians 14:1-33 – I expanded the assigned reading to include Paul’s full teaching on this topic rather than just part of it. This chapter continues the flow of Paul’s thoughts from Chapter 12, and fits within the overall scheme of the letter in drawing the Corinthians back into unity in Christ rather than division among their own ideas. God the Holy Spirit is the giver of all gifts, and He gives gifts that are varied in nature, but always for the end goal of building up the Church (Chapter 12). All are to be grounded in and submissive to the overriding, greatest gift which is love (Chapter 13). The Corinthians appear to prize speaking in tongues more than other gifts, but they need to ensure that this gift – like all others – is acknowledged to be from God and used for the blessing of his people. Paul paints a picture of spiritual gifts that are rarely – if ever – given beyond our ability to control their use. We who are granted a particular gift must determine the best way to apply it.

Paul begins by distinguishing who speaking in tongues benefits. Firstly, it benefits the individual speaker (vs.1-5). In this respect, prophecy is to be desired more than speaking in tongues because it more directly builds up the body of Christ. Speaking in tongues benefits the body only if the gift of interpretation is also given, so that those present might know what is being said (vs.6-19). The mere fact that somebody is speaking in a different language is secondary to what is being said! So Paul desires that the Corinthians keep their focus on the community rather than the individual (v.12). Paul concludes by indicating that the gift of tongues is primarily for the outsider, rather than the community. The outsider who can be spoken to in their own language will take note (Acts 2). However this effect is counteracted if everyone is so busy speaking in tongues that it appears to be a circus act rather than God the Holy Spirit at work. The outsider may be compelled to faith by finding someone who can speak her language. But only insofar as what is said is meaningful in itself, and in this respect Paul once again highlights prophecy, which encompasses more than just speaking the future, but speaking the Word of God. It is the Word of God that convicts, creates faith, and draws the hearer into repentance and grace through the good news of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

Luke 5:1-11 – Jesus does not audition disciples. There are not eager people flocking to him seeking to be his followers. Nobody has found Jesus, so to speak. Rather, He finds them. John 1 makes it clear that Jesus had already met these men near the Jordan River, outside of Jerusalem, at some time previously (perhaps a matter of a few weeks). There is a relationship already, but there is not faith. Faith only can make it clear to Peter that he does not belong in the presence of Jesus, similar to Isaiah in the presence of God. It must come from God to assure us that He has made it possible for us to be with him. He makes us worthy, rather than waiting for us to become worthy so He can approach. They are able to leave behind everything to follow the one who makes it clear that He has everything to offer. Not simply fish and sustenance as here, but ultimately eternal life (John 6:68). We need never wonder or worry if we are good enough for God. The answer to that in our own strength is always no. But we are assured by the gracious faithfulness of God that He always comes to us to make us worthy. As such, there is no past so blackened that it cannot be wiped clean and restored to innocence in the blood of Christ. There is no cry for forgiveness that is too far gone to be answered. If you wonder if Jesus can be for you, hear his words, that He has come that anyone who trusts in him will be saved (John 3:16).