Saturday, February 28, 2015

Confusing the Bride and the Dress

I saw yet another article last week conflating the institutional religious organization with the Bride of Christ, in this case an article titled Does Your Youth Ministry Mess With Christ's Bride?. The point being a concern that youth ministry takes away from the "mission of the local church", i.e. Christ's Bride. I am not much of a fan of most of what passes for youth "ministry" but this article misses a bigger point.

Jesus did not die for First Baptist of Dallas and their $130,000,000 "campus". He didn't even die for your local Presbyterian church. He died for His Sheep, for His elect people. Not to put too fine a point on it but He died for people, not for religion. That doesn't mean that all forms of local gatherings are inherently bad but it does mean we miss what ought to be a pretty clear distinction between the people and the trappings.

It is probably not unexpected. In our culture we place an enormous amount of emphasis on the wedding day and all that goes along with it, getting just the right dress and having just the right caterer serving just the right meal. What is missed is the marriage. Ask couples twenty years down the road of marriage if they would rather have had the perfect wedding and a miserable marriage or a small, simple wedding and a solid marriage. You know they answer for anyone not named Kardashian. The church tries but needs to do a better job of preparing young people for a lifetime of marriage rather than helping them plan for one day. In fact it might be appropriate for elders to pull a couple aside and suggest they spend as little as possible on the wedding to instead prepare the foundations for a financially responsible marriage.

Perhaps that same mindset is what leads us to focus on the trappings of religion rather than on the people of the church. When a pastor talks about his "vision" and urges a capital campaign to raise funds to build a fancy new building (that mainly benefits the donors), people trip over themselves to give money. When a family in the church is in need they are often too embarrassed to ask for help and if they do the request is often looked at with suspicion. It is so much easier to place our emphasis on that which is flashy and obvious rather than that which is often messy and uncomfortable. In doing so we miss the reality of the Bride of Christ and substitute an empty imitation.

Jesus didn't die for a wedding garment. Let's keep that in mind and focus instead on what He focused on, His actual bride, His people.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Terror Of Convenience

The news is splashed with the latest dire warning from our benevolent overlords of a new terrorist threat. This time it is a warning about threats to the Mall of America in Minnesota. Emphasis mine:

A new video from Al Shabaab purportedly shows the terror group calling for an attack on Mall of America, in Bloomington, Minn.

According to Fox 9, the mall is one of three similar targets the terror group specifically names, including West Edmonton Mall in Canada and the Oxford Street shopping area in London.  

The video purportedly shows 6 minutes of graphic images and the terrorists celebrating the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed more than 60 people.

The narrator, his face wrapped in a black-and-white kaffiyeh-type scarf and wearing a camouflage jacket, spoke with a British accent and appeared to be of Somali origin. He accused Kenyan troops in Somalia of committing abuses against Somali Muslims.

He ended the video by calling on Muslim men to attack other shopping malls in Western countries.

An image of the Mall of America is shown in the video, alongside its GPS coordinates. The mall says it is ramping up its security in response.

U.S. authorities said there was "no credible" evidence suggesting a U.S. mall attack was in the works

No credible evidence of an attack being in the works. Just what sounds like a fairly random terror video. (By the way, every time I hear Al Shabaab I have to fight the urge to sing it over and over like the refrain from a doo wop song.)

I am quite certain that there are new threats and warnings on a near daily basis. So why does this one warrant so much media play and why now, especially since it doesn't seem to be an imminent threat? Well it turns out that there might be an ulterior motive based on a funding squabble for the Department of "Homeland Security"...

A top Obama administration official warned several times Sunday about the potential, far-reaching perils of Congress allowing the Department of Homeland Security to run out of funding in several days and got some Republican support in the Capitol Hill stalemate.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans are in a standoff over legislation that will fund the agency through late September but also roll back President Obama's executive action on immigration.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said allowing the agency to lose its federal funding after Friday could jeopardize the U.S efforts to thwart a domestic terror attack by the Islamic State and will result in 30,000 employees being furloughed.

So. We have a political squabble where the House has sent a DHS funding bill to the Senate that seeks to also undo the President's despotic and unconstitutional fiat that gives a pass to millions of illegal aliens. What is the connection? It comes at the bottom of the story....

Johnson on Sunday also linked the purported Mall of America warning from the Africa-based al-Shabaab terror group and other recent terror alerts to what he described as a "new phase" of challenges by extremist groups abroad that have used alarming Internet videos and social media to gain adherents in the U.S. and potentially prod some to action.

If I were a suspicious person I might wonder at the timing of this latest scare tactic. Now it might very well be a legitimate warning. It more likely seems to be a way to force political action in a way that frightens the American people and likely costs a bunch of employers money as shoppers stay away. I am all for people staying out of malls as there is essentially nothing you can buy at the mall that is a necessity but I am not in favor of using the "terror" threat to extort more money for a bureaucracy that does very little involved in security.

On a daily basis, really even on a minute by minute basis, we are being manipulated by base emotions: envy, greed, lust, fear. The government is every bit as active in doing this as a Manhattan advertising agency. We get played all the time and are told it is for own good. There is a desperate need for some critical thinking in this culture, especially among the church which seems to be more susceptible and even enthusiastic in having our base emotions played upon. It is pretty much impossible to carry out the work of the Kingdom when we are spending all of our time cowering in fear, sending others off to kill on our behalf because of that fear, greedily accumulating wealth and possessions or whipping up class envy and resentment. Pavlov and his dog have nothing on frightened, affluent Americans and cable news.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Next Up On My Reading List

Having finished a few books I am plunging into a couple more.

The first is one I have been eager to read since I heard a conversation with the author on NPR. The book is God's Bankers: A History of Money and Power At the Vatican by Gerald Posner. You can get a good flavor of the book by checking out the interview on NPR, From Laundering To Profiteering, A Multitude Of Sins At The Vatican Bank. As Posner, who considers himself a Catholic, points out:

It us not about faith, belief in God, or questions about the existence of a higher power. Instead, God's Bankers is about how money, and accumulating and fighting over it, has been a dominant theme in the history of the Catholic Church and often in shaping its divine mission.

I am already seeing some applicability in the cautionary story for the Christian church. Money is a demanding task master and there is a reason why warnings about love of money abound in the Scriptures.

The second book I am getting ready to read has a lengthy title: The Hutterian Brethren, 1528-1931, and The principle of nonresistance as held by the Mennonite Church by John Horsch. It is so old and obscure that it doesn't even show up on Amazon! It will probably go to the back of the pack as I have other books I want to read first and it is a topic I have read a lot about recently but it still looks to be a good read.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Review: Separated Unto God

As I mentioned yesterday, I read a lot while on vacation. One book I finished up was pretty meh but the second was mostly irritating and disquieting, not because it was wrong but because it struck a little too close to home. Below is my review.

The main failing of much of Christendom today, however, is not the development of a neolegalism, but of unvarnished worldliness. 

- J.C. Wenger, Separated Unto God, p 144

Nestled in a lengthy book, the above quote from John C. Wenger in 1951, makes a point that was true in the middle of the 20th century and is even more true today. In spite of frequent dire warnings of the "legalism" boogeyman, the greater danger in the church is and has always been a compromised posture toward the world, an attitude that sees progressive surrender to stay one step ahead of the world's displeasure as the safest path. For the vast majority of the church the time to make a stand has passed but in some places there still is a healthy appreciation for the need for the church to be a separate and distinct people who do not look, think or act like the world.

J.C. Wenger's comprehensive look at separation, Separated Unto God, is perhaps the gold standard on the topic from an Anabaptist perspective. Granted that many contemporary "Anabaptists" would be shocked and horrified at what he describes, I nevertheless find far more of value in what Wenger wrote six decades ago than I do in most of what passes for Anabaptist literature today. While some of what he wrote seems archaic and even quaint in our "enlightened" culture, even in the church, I found virtually every page to be convicting. I also found it unsettling because too often I recognized where I was likewise engaged in cultural compromise, often without giving it much thought.

For virtually every subject from how we dress to involvement in war, Wenger goes to the Bible and makes a compelling case for simple non-conformity. It is a refreshing change in an era of compromise at breakneck speed from most corners of the church apart from those that are still trying to tilt at the windmills of the culture wars. It is important to note that Wenger approaches this entire topic as a positive separation toward God rather than away from the world. The difference might seem quibbling but it is an important difference to understand.

Wenger also touches on one of the (or perhaps the) major weaknesses of the separated, conservative Anabaptist tribe, namely their tendency to bunker up, rely on tradition and eschew the evangelistic zeal of their Anabaptist forefather. Speaking of the Pennsylvania Mennonites, Wenger quotes the following:

Their Christianity was not that of "radical" Christians; it had settled down to a comfortable, conventional, denominational type. There was no thought of evangelistic work, no need of any kind of mission work, or occasion to alter any of the set patterns of worship. The faith and practice of the immigrants was good and satisfying, why change?

From Mennonite Life, quoted in Separated Unto God, p. 80

That rings true even today and it is a major issue but compared to having conversations on accepting "gay marriage" it pales in comparison and is an issue that can be fixed.

If there are weak points they come when Wenger turns to certain church traditions like close (although not closed) communion and church membership. In spite of these flaws I found very little to disagree with. The writing style is a bit archaic and dated but that is quite common among books written in the middle of the 20th century. It is not an easy read but it certainly is a worthwhile one, not just for Christians who embrace Biblical separation but for any Christian who looks around at the race to compromise and wonders if that is what God really has in mind for His church.

Amid the confusion of the church culture we live in and a redefinition of "Anabaptism" that looks suspiciously like run of the mill "progressive evangelicalism", Wenger's writings from so many years ago is a refreshing change and even more necessary today than it was in the 1950's. May God's people recover a healthy separation, not so much from the world but unto God along with a vigorous zeal for evangelism. The world desperately needs it.

Love out of the corner of my eye

Today my wife and I celebrate 23 years of marriage. That seems like such a long time when you say it but looking back it appears as the blink of an eye.

We are past the gazing longingly into each others eyes stage. At least I am which is probably not to my credit. Twenty three years is a long time, more than half of my life. Today I as often as not see my wife out of the corner of my eye. Or hear her voice from the next room. Or just know that she is upstairs sleeping. She might never know just how comforting that is to me, how much of a desperately needed anchor that provides me. As a guy I understand that might not make much sense to a woman with their longing for more direct and overt connection but for me there is little more comforting than seeing my wife out of the corner of my eye, always there just on the periphery.

Twenty three years. Eight kids. All those moves, all those places we lived. No matter what, whenever I think back on the years gone by as I went from a haughty 20 year old who had it all figured out to the place where I am today, my wife is always there, sometimes right there in front of me but often just nearby. Regardless of the trial or the trauma she was there, even before I came to faith in Christ she was there modeling what it meant to love someone self-sacrificially. She submitted to my often deeply flawed leadership in our family long before I knew what that meant but I understand and am humbled by it now.

I do love and cherish my wife. Not as Christ loved the church, no husband has ever loved in the same way our Lord loves His Bride, but that is what I aspire to do. Our first meeting and our blossoming love was as unlikely as you could imagine but I am as certain as I am of anything that God's hand was guiding it.

Today we are in the midst of a transition of our family. Three of our kids are adults and the rest are growing up fast. Perhaps marriage for our children, children-in-law to welcome into our family and grandchildren to love are not far down the road. Whatever happens, until one of us goes home to the Lord, we will be together. She will always be there out of the corner of my eye.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review: A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor's Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace

While I was in Florida for the last week I read. A lot. I finished two books and made decent progress on a couple of others, here is my first review.

Given that I am an orthodox, evangelical believer who holds to a position of non-resistance, I came at Brian Zahnd's book, A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor's Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace with a mix of hope and trepidation. I was hopeful because it purported to be written from a viewpoint I am sympathetic to, one of a more traditional evangelical coming to a place where support and advocacy of militarism and violence was not compatible with the Kingdom. I was cautious because of some of the things I had seen about Zahnd in social media. I came away with pretty disappointed.

From a stylistic standpoint I found Farewell to Mars to be a disjointed and rambling book. Brian didn't seem to have thought through what we wanted to say other than war is bad. I also found it excessively self-referential. I understand that it is a book about his own personal journey but it would have been a little more useful in convincing a skeptical reader of the value of the non-violence position if he spent less time talking about himself and more in engaging the text. Not that he doesn't but his engagement was not terrible strong in my opinion.

I intentionally didn't do much studying of Zahnd before I read Farewell to Mars but I found his constant allusion to politics and his incessant references to "empire" and Jesus as a "victim" really undermined the book. I know it is hip to talk about "empire" and I guess it is integral to his thesis but it rang hollow to me and made the book less about non-violence for the Christian and more about trying to be a contemporary John Howard Yoder. To reach an audience of evangelicals with the message of Jesus on non-violence it is not helpful to bury non-violence in your own political agenda. Maybe that is not what he was after, if he was looking for affirmation from people already in his camp then perhaps he succeeded but as a message to the broader church on a critical and misunderstood topic it missed the mark by a wide margin.

For a better treatment of this topic without all of the less than subtle progressive talking points, check out Preston Sprinkle's book Fight. You can read my review of Fight here.

Toto, I don't think we are in Kansas, er, Florida any more....

Hey, at least it is sunny!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why I Am A Lake Person Rather Than An Ocean Person

I wrote last week about my love for Black Lake, Michigan as a place of comfort and respite. For the last week I have been in Florida visiting my parents on the east coast of that state, right on the ocean. The ocean is quite different from a lake and I have never spent a lot of time at the ocean but after being next to it since Sunday I have concluded I am a lake kind of guy rather than a ocean person.

I find the ocean unsettling and disquieting. Unlike the lake I am familiar with where I can see the other side, the ocean seems endless and vast. Rather than the (usually) gentle and welcoming lake, the ocean seems angry and disrupted. Knowing that the ocean goes on and on over the horizon is not comforting to me at all. Perhaps it is a symptom of growing up going to a lake rather than growing up near the ocean. Certainly not being a swimmer has something to do with it.

While I understand intellectually that the ocean is finite, it certainly doesn't seem that way when standing on the shore. Vast and endless it seems to be, a threatening barrier rather than a welcoming source of recreation. It is mind-boggling to me that men in ages past, before GPS and modern navigation not to mention weather forecasting, would set out from the shore and into what is largely the unknown. Of course the ocean also has all manner of fauna that can sting or kill you, a far cry from lake minnows that nibble on your toes.

As I head home from sunny (although kind of chilly today) Florida to my frozen home state of Indiana I look forward to warmer weather and visits to Black Lake. You can keep the ocean, I will take the lake any day of the week.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Friday, February 13, 2015

Finally A Voice Of Reason

Had enough of the Crusades kerfuffle? I didn't think so!

Trevin Wax posted on the topic, President Obama and the Problem Of Religious Conviction, and he hit on the key point. There was a lot wrong with President Obama's speech but the Crusades comment wasn't the real issue. The really telling statement was that for the President and a lot of modern religious progressive pontificators, what they really dislike is confidence in your faith or as Trevin writes: For President Obama, faith is not the enemy, but confidence.

Our society is moving to a place where the only sin is believing too seriously. As Trevin also points out, believing in Christianity too seriously, being too confident was not the problem of the Crusades. Rather they were not Christian at all.

My point is this: you don’t deal with violent expressions of faith by pretending that confidence is the problem and content doesn’t matter. 

 And yes, sinful humans have committed atrocities in the name of Christ, but in each of these cases, the problem was a failure to be true to the content of the Christian faith. It wasn’t certitude and confidence in Christianity that led to the Crusades, but the idea that Jesus could be coopted by a political and military endeavor. The crusaders weren’t “holding too tightly” to the content of Christianity; they weren’t holding tightly enough. How else can we explain the transformation of a Savior suffering for His enemies into a warring king charging into foreign lands?

Thank you, finally someone who doesn't feel the need to respond by claiming that the Crusades weren't all that bad and after all those darn Muslims started it! Just because something has a cross on it, we are not obligated to defend it when the actions are antithetical to the Gospel.

This event has exposed a serious flaw in our thinking as the church and it is long overdue that we stamp it out. The more serious we are about out faith, the less willing we should be to use the means of the world rather than following the way of the cross.

A Must Read! (Book Review)

Eric Carpenter posted his review of Preston Sprinkle's book, Fight, and it is a book and a review you ought to read:A Pilgrim's Progress: A Must Read!. I read Fight about a year ago and posted my review here. Here is what I wrote in part:

Unlike many modern advocates of non-violence, Sprinkle has a largely orthodox set of beliefs. He recognizes the reality of hell (he co-authored the book Erasing Hell with Francis Chan, see my review here) and speaks without apology of God's wrath. I fear that it is too easy to dismiss many writers as leftist cranks without genuine interaction with their concerns. Unfortunately a lot of the literature on non-violence is muddied by authors who subscribe to heterodox positions like open theism. This makes their argument convenient to dismiss out of hand. After all if someone can get those kinds of issues wrong why would anyone give credence to much more complex questions.

This is a powerful book and a desperately needed book for a church that prides ourselves on being "biblical" while ignoring what the Bible teaches on one of the most important topics for the church. Give Eric's review a look, perhaps read mine but definitely read Fight.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Rotten Fruit Of Zionism

You can always count on the John Hagee's of the world to say cringe-worthy stuff on a regular basis. His latest pronouncement? God will destroy America because the President of the United States is not meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his visit to the U.S. in March. Keep in mind that this is a completely secular political squabble. The invitation comes from the Congress as a poke in the eye of the President over the differences in opinion with how to deal with Iran. Still this is a prime opportunity for false prophecy. Behold...

So let me get this straight. A purely political situation where one unbeliever is not being invited to meet with another unbeliever on a specific date will cause God to intervene and re-institute a thousands of years old covenant promise that has been obsolete for almost two millennium. That seems reasonable.

The exegetical gymnastics required to take this passage...

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:3)

...and from that apply a specific promise to a nation that no longer exists under a covenant that is obsolete to a nation that does not have any sort of covenant promise are breathtaking. They are also dangerous and blasphemous. I do not say that what he said is blasphemous lightly but there is not really another way to describe a statement that attributes to God something God Himself has not said. This is perhaps a very extreme example but it is still somewhat representative of the error of the Zionist/Dispensationalist school of theology. Of course there are plenty of teachings in this school that are erroneous but few quite as troubling as this one. While the Rapture is a largely harmless and silly doctrine, the Dispensational notion of dual covenants sets the entire New Testament on its head.

I absolutely believe that the Old Covenant, God-directed nation of Israel held a special and unique place in the plan of redemption. I also believe that the Jews by and large violated their end of the covenant agreement and rejected the Messiah. They no longer have a special claim under the Old Covenant which is made obsolete in the cross and they have the same access as a gentile to the New Covenant. Nor should we want to revive the Old Covenant when we have a New Covenant, a covenant that is infinitely better, giving believers a true King and an eternal Kingdom rather than fallible kings and a dusty land.

I am quite confident that this land where God has placed me is under no special threat based on who does or doesn't have tea in the White House, just as I am sure that John Hagee is speaking presumptuously and treading on some very dangerous ground. We don't stone false prophets anymore but we do and should call them out for what they are, false teachers and wolves among the sheep. I have never found Dispensationalism or Zionism or any other iteration to be compelling. They all fail the sniff test and violate the clear teaching of the New Testament (and yes, there are some teachings that are plain and clear and they can be and should be universally recognized). When someone like John Hagee has a huge audience for his particular brand of error it is incumbent on the church to point it out.

Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn't need the Church to defend him against the big, bad President. What Benjamin Netanyahu needs is the same thing Barack Obama needs which coincidentally is the same thing that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the leaders of ISIS, and every other person who is not born-again need: they need saving faith in Jesus Christ. They need to be born-again, regenerated, dying to self and rising again to newness of life. The Kingdom doesn't need its subjects to take sides in a geo-political squabble or a thumb in the eye of the President inflicted by the Congress. Don't get sidetracked by the world and its petty concerns. We have a much bigger mission that leaves us no time for silliness and no room for false prophets.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Probably A Futile Gesture...

...but still....

The President is asking for broad and intentionally vague authorization to wage war against a fairly hard to define group in hard to define ways with impossible to define condition of success or victory. While I appreciate that in a rather stunning act completely out of character for him he is actually including the Legislative Branch in a decision (likely to give himself cover for the future when this latest military escapade inevitable goes badly), the language, terms and goals are so vague was to make this yet another open-ended authorization of military action. I sent the following to each of my Senators, Donnelly and Coats, and my House Representative Marlin Stutzman. I am pretty sure it was a complete waste of time, especially as it pertains to my Republican elected officials but I still felt it was necessary to go on record.
Dear XXXX This week President Obama proposed a formal Authorization for Use of Military Force to the United States Congress, a proposal that if passed would give the President broad authority to wage the latest chapter of our seemingly endless war against various Islamist groups. We are writing to urge you to oppose yet another escalation of military intervention in the Middle East. 
After a century of attempts to manipulate the events of this region it is apparent that in spite of our efforts, enormous spending and tragic loss of life among both the American military and the civilian population of this region, the Middle East is less stable and less friendly to the U.S. and our interests. While our desire to see liberty and freedom in the Middle East may be driven by pure motives, the results have been overwhelmingly negative. The citizens of the United States are less secure and the people of the Middle East are generally more oppressed with each successive intervention. We cannot justify spending untold billions that we do not have, adding to the trillions in debt already inflicted on future generations, and wasting more lives on a fruitless quest to subjugate a people only to create more resentment and hatred. There is no compelling national security threat and no reasonably defined objective in this Authorization and we urge you to reject it in any form.
 Thank you for your time and consideration.
Meaningless form letter reply incoming..... 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Real people serving a real God by serving real children.

A quick break from my normal ranting to bring you a brief video from The Haiti Orphan Project. This is what the Gospel looks like lived out, not sitting in a pew surreptitiously looking at your watch but holding a child that has lost her parents in a land that cries out for Jesus. Please consider supporting this work in your Kingdom giving.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

What We Do from Haiti Orphan Project on Vimeo.

Being unequally yoked with our persecutors

The latest evidence of culture war, fear driven unequal yoking with unbelievers is taking place on social media as many Christians are gravitating toward a reflexive position of screaming about the President making a "moral equivalency" between the Crusades and the burning of a Jordanian fighter pilot by ISIS. First it would be helpful if the majority of people ranting about this perceived injustice would listen to President Obama's actual comments and second if they knew what the term "moral equivalency" means, because clearly they don't. As I posted previously in my post Obama Is Almost Always Wrong....But Not This Time, what the President said was uncharacteristically not completely off-base and/or insane. That hasn't stopped the "conservative" corners of evangelicalism from rallying to the side of Rome to defend  the Crusades with a elementary school playground argument (They stated it!). In the midst of this I have seen a lot of posts referencing token Crusades apologist and Roman Catholic Thomas Madden. Case in point, I have read posts appealing to Mr. Madden or penned by him in the American Enterprise Institute, National Review and even Kevin DeYoung writing for The GospelCoalition. Mr. Madden is certainly a qualified academic in every respect and a guy who knows more about the Crusades as a historical event than I ever will.

Having said all of that, keep in mind that Mr. Madden is a Roman Catholic and an apologist for not only the Crusades but also for the Inquisition. That is not a joke. An essay from a few years ago, The Real Inquisition, is full of choice quotes like these:

Its most startling conclusion is that the Inquisition was not so bad after all. Torture was rare and only about 1 percent of those brought before the Spanish Inquisition were actually executed.
Heresy, then, struck at the heart of that truth. It doomed the heretic, endangered those near him, and tore apart the fabric of community.
The Inquisition was not born out of desire to crush diversity or oppress people; it was rather an attempt to stop unjust executions.
As this new report confirms, most people accused of heresy by the Inquisition were either acquitted or their sentences suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed. If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely left the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to secular authorities. Despite popular myth, the Inquisition did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense, not the Church. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.

Read further and you see Madden suggesting that the heretical Reformers made the Inquisitions seem far worse as a way to cover up "the 15-century gap between Christ’s institution of His Church and the founding of the Protestant churches". So in nutshell Madden argues: "Well sure some people were tortured and murdered but it wasn't as bad as it seems!"

We are apparently supposed to believe that the Roman church was an innocent by-stander serving to protect "heretics" who repented under the practice and threat of torture and murder. The Inquisition was actually a net positive that has been turned into a horrible myth by those darn Protestants who have no answer for why a vicious religious regime that tortured and murdered dissenters and kept the Scriptures as far away from those without a vested interest in perpetuating the system didn't have a lot of dissent to deal with. It is the same sort of risible logic used by those who feel the need to defend Calvin for the murder of Servetus. The difference of course ought to be obvious. I can recognize where Calvin was correct in matters of theology while not feeling the need to defend his actions regarding Servetus or some of his less charitable writings but for Thomas Madden there is a need to defend Rome no matter how heinous the behavior because considering the alternative undermines the entire house of cards.

For my fellow Christians, something to consider. Someone who defends men who persecuted the church and cheerfully murdered Christians for beliefs that most evangelicals commonly hold is someone that the church should be very reluctant to use as a source. What Madden seems to miss is that if even one person was executed by the state acting at the bequest of and as proxy for "the church", it is blasphemous and sinful. As far as I know Adolf Hitler didn't kill a single Jew but no one doubts his culpability for the Holocaust. In the same way hiding behind the subcontracting of your killing to control people and silence dissent by sending the state to do your dirty work doesn't absolve popes and inquisitors alike for their pronouncements which were de facto death sentences. Had the pope declared that murdering people for heresy was sinful and worthy of ex-communication I would imagine it would have stopped. Instead they chose to act as judge and jury while leaving the executioner part to the state. Since the state and the church were essentially indistinguishable other than a prohibition on "priests" actually doing the killing themselves, the argument that Rome was trying to save people is laughable on its face. So unreservedly quoting Madden by someone like Kevin DeYoung makes as much sense as using a pope as an authority on the Reformation. It would be nice to see some conservative brethren pointing out that the Inquisitions were evil, that the Crusades were a blasphemous co-opting of the name of Christ and that we should be seeking to love Muslims rather than finding excuses for sending yet another misguided and theologically bankrupt crusade to the Middle East

So really church, of all the issues to get critical of the President over (his devotion to legalized infanticide, his hypocritical flip-flop on marriage, his expansion of executive power, year after year of trillion dollar deficits, Obamacare, etc.), this is not one of them. It once again cements in the minds of those we are called to the Gospel that the church and the Western states are at war with them. That serves a lot of causes, mostly pagan causes, but does nothing for the cause of Christ. Our tendency to be perpetual aggrieved is unbecoming and juvenile. Maybe a thicker skin and greater humility is in order, along with a recognition that we shouldn't expect unbelievers like the President to understand the Kingdom.

As a final note in honor of Thomas Madden I present Mel Brooks on the Inquisition, one of my favorite movie scenes of all time (with some coarse language):

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Clarifying Storm

For virtually all of my 40 plus years I have spent time at my favorite place in the world, along the shores of Black Lake in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. As a child we went every year around the 4th of July and stayed in a small, rather rustic log cabin owned and built by a dear friend of the family, the very man I am named after. It was kind of boring as a child, with only rudimentary TV reception and just adults to hang around with. I spent a lot of time reading, which was true no matter where I was as a child, and playing quietly next to the lake. The cabin consisted of a common room combining the living room, dining room and a corner where bunk beds were kept; a small bedroom for my parents; an equally small kitchen and a tiny bathroom. Like I said there wasn't much to it but looking back it is an incredibly special place for me.

When I got older my parents bought their own place on the lake, a much larger house that soon enjoyed such amenities as a microwave, satellite TV and eventually internet. It was about this time that my soon to be wife and I began dating. We often went to the lake after we were married and started having kids. For my kids the lake house is "grandma and grandpa's house" but it is still special. For all of us, especially my siblings and I, the lake is our place of refuge as much as it is a place of relaxation. In a world that is often tumultuous the lake house has long been a constant for us, a place that has taken on far greater meaning than just somewhere to go for a week to relax. I go to the lake when I need the lake and it has always been there. It is also a link to the past. The home I grew up in has long since been sold. My grandparents are gone. The lake remains. Some day the house at the lake will be sold and that anchor will go with it, leaving behind memories and pictures but until that day it will always be there waiting for the next time I need it.

Summertime in Northern Michigan is a work of God. It seems that nowhere I have ever been is more ideal for summertime than Northern Michigan and Black Lake is just the right size to enjoy it, not so large that it never warms up but big enough that you don't feel like the rest of the Midwest is vacationing right on top of you. Being north of the 45th parallel the days are very long in the summer, with lots of bright sunshine and warm temps that are usually not too warm. The nights are usually cool and breezy and along the lake the breeze means the gentle sound of the waves rolling in. Nothing is better for a good night of sleep. While there is not a lot of rainfall up north it does occasionally rain and even storm. When it storms, it is powerful, especially when the storm rolls over
The shores of Black Lake
the lake and you can see it coming. I recall one storm as a child where the lake itself was sloshing back and forth, the water level on the dock rhythmically went up and down as the entire lake rocked like a cup of coffee. After an angry storm clouds rolled away the lake was always roiled up, the normally placid waters dirty and turbulent. It just looked unsettled.. What always seemed weird is that later on when the sun came out the lake seemed even more clear than before. The contrast of the storm tossed waters and the newly settled waters was amazing. Perhaps it is an optical illusion but the lake always seemed more clear after the storm than before it. Every stone, every ridge in the sand is in stark relief.

That is all very lovely but so what? I was thinking about the church today, as I so often seem to be doing. By any measure we are experiencing a season of storms. This season for the church in the West and especially America is not without precedent. There have always been times like this in the church, notably the Reformation but the church has survived. We will survive again. I also believe that like the lake after a storm, once the clouds roll away and the waves stop crashing we will see more clearly than before. Who the church is, what the church is and why the church is, those big questions that we face, will be more readily answered. We have gotten lost in the culture rather than being a contrast to it. Our mission has been clouded by privilege and wealth to the point that we no longer even know who we are. We are either entrenching ourselves against the culture that suddenly seems hostile or finding new opportunities to capitulate in the hopes of retaining our favorable position for a few more years. Yet we are experiencing tumultuous storms, a roiling of the waters that I hope will clear away many of the factors that have interfered with our vision.

Storms can be daunting and even scary but the storms always end. What the church desperately needs is to refocus, to simplify and even to be humbled. What is left after the storms may very be washed clean and be seen clearly, the debris of culture religion washed away. We are desperately need of clarity and simplicity. Maybe a storm is just what the Great Physician ordered? Instead of huddling in fear perhaps we ought to embrace the storm, confident of what is to come afterward. Christ said that His Church would always stand but He never said it would be easy or comfortable. History has shown that the church is often the healthiest right after things looked the most grim.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

When Is It OK To Kill?

There is an interesting discussion going on at Eric Carpenter's blog: A Pilgrim's Progress: Could You Ever Kill? Would You Ever Kill?. Jump over, check it out and join the conversation!

Friday, February 06, 2015

Obama Is Almost Always Wrong....But Not This Time.

No one is going to find more fault with the current President of the United States than I do. However it might be OK if we didn't knee-jerk respond to every single thing that he says in ways that make evangelicals look dumb. Case in point the kerfuffle over what President Obama said at the National Prayer Breakfast. Thanks to the ridiculous reaction to the President I forced myself to listen to part of his speech. Now I am going to ask you to do the same.

Here is the offending sentence:

"During the Crusades and the Inquisition people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ."

That is one of the least controversial and most accurate things that this President has ever uttered and yet people who claim to champion religious liberty flipped out. A couple of quick points.

First, the President was not drawing a moral equivalence between the burning of a Jordanian fighter pilot in the 21st century and the Crusades and Inquisition. His point apparently was that people have always done evil in the name of religion and yes both the Crusades and the Inquisition were examples of this and they were both evil and anti-Christian. That is a true statement. Take a stroll through the history of religion through much of European history and you will see atrocity after atrocity committed while blasphemously invoking the name of Christ. He also called the Islamic State a "death cult" which doesn't sound like he is an apologist for their actions.

Second, in the rush to reflexively disagree with Obama and of course include the obligatory claim that he is a Muslim or at least a Muslim sympathizer (I don't believe that he is a Muslim nor that he is a Christian), many evangelicals have tripped over themselves in touting the Crusades as a godly response to heathen aggression and hey the Inquisition wasn't that bad after all. It is embarrassing and shameful. The same religious organization and the same mindset that led to Christians being burned to death for the heresy of proclaiming the Gospel also championed the Inquisition and the Crusades. It makes as much sense for an evangelical Christian to defend the Crusades as it does for us to defend the burning at the stake of so many brothers and sisters throughout history. If you are a Christian then what you hear from the pulpit and in your Sunday school class (hopefully) would be enough to get you tortured and murdered by the Inquisitors. I understand why Roman apologists have to try to gloss over history. They have no choice if they are to perpetuate the myth of an unbroken line of succession. But Christians? Come on.

But the Muslims started it!

Yes the Crusades were responding to Muslim aggression. Certainly from a secular standpoint they can be, if not justified, at the very least understood as a reasonable response in that cultural context. What separates the Crusades is the historical perception, although not the reality, that the Crusades were a war between Christianity and Islam. What it was in truth was a series of wars led by pagans and unbelievers on both sides that callously manipulated people by perverting their faith, most especially by the "popes" and others who sent men off to war with an emblem representative of the means by which Christ laid down His life emblazoned on tunic and shield. Don't we tell a child who hits another child and tries to defend their action by saying "He started it!" that it doesn't make it right to hit? I guess when adults go to war because "he started it!" it suddenly becomes justified.

The Crusaders were not serving Christ and very few of them were likely Christians in the first place. There are no "holy wars" fought by "Christian soldiers". There are no "holy lands" that demand that followers of the Lamb go to war. There is no call to smite the infidel in the name of Christ. There is no weapon in the war we fight but the Word of God. There is no escape clause in the commandment of Christ to love our enemies that excuses and encourages us to kill our enemies because they invade "our lands" or control "our holy places" or even because they kill and enslave us.

Oh Lord, how your sheep have lost their way because they have stopped listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

More On The Minimum Wage

Mike Rowe, formerly the host of Dirty Jobs and currently doing...well I am not sure what besides making a ton of sense on social media, posted something today on his Facebook page that was pretty brilliant in regards to raising the minimum wage. Here is a snippet and it is awesome (emphasis mine):
My exact words were, “Some jobs pay better, some jobs smell better, and some jobs have no business being treated like careers. But work is never the enemy, regardless of the wage. Because somewhere between the job and the paycheck, there’s still a thing called opportunity, and that’s what people need to pursue.” 
Opportunity. That is what we should be after, not clumsy and shallow pandering. I loved it, read the whole thing. Like Mike I look back on my first job and realize that the skills I learned were more valuable than the paycheck I brought home but people don't want to bother with that today, they want to skip the time and hard work and move right to the getting paid more part. It doesn't work that way, it can't work that way and it shouldn't work that way.

What About Speedos? Or, Are Liberty and Libertinism The Same?

The yoga pants kerfuffle continues to rage on social media. Somehow it seems that suggesting that sisters in Christ running around in pants that are little different from body paint might be inappropriate on a number of levels has gotten a lot of people pretty upset with cries of Puritanism and mind your own beeswax. In some ways I don't get it and in others I really do.

Even granting that I have never and will never engage in yoga, I am pretty sure that it is not necessary to wear yoga pants while actively engaged in yoga, much less while going to the grocery store (unless the intent is to fool people into thinking you are coming from or going to a workout based on wearing workout clothes and running shoes. Here's a hint, you ain't fooling anyone.).Likewise I am pretty sure that playing volleyball doesn't require wearing shorts so tiny and tight that your butt cheeks are hanging out of the bottom of them. If guys can play basketball at the highest level wearing shorts baggy to the point of being ludicrous, I am pretty sure that high school girls can play volleyball without turning it into a peep show to draw in spectators. Unless of course you also think that women's beach volleyball gets so much airtime during the Olympics because of the riveting level of play rather than the non-existent uniforms. Try suggesting that certain articles of clothing that are designed and marketed to show off your hind end are maybe not in good taste and especially inappropriate for women who are followers of Christ and you have a crap storm on your hands.

Imagine flipping this around. Would anyone get upset if a wife suggested to her husband that going out in public wearing a Speedo, flip flops with black dress socks and a cut off t-shirt emblazoned with "Hot Stuff" might be inappropriate? I doubt it. Men ought to be dressed appropriately and even modestly. If I ever decided to trot down the street wearing this, please for the sake of humanity stop me. I would have no issue with a man or woman in the church writing about this topic and exploring why a Speedo is not a God honoring choice for men to sport in public.

Why do people get so incensed on this topic? I am not really all that concerned specifically here with the particulars of one item or clothing versus another. I continue to believe that this topic, which seems kind of silly (my wife and daughters don't wear anything like this in public so why should I care?), speaks more broadly to how believers who live in America approach issues differently than our predecessors or even our contemporary brothers and sisters in other cultural context.

There is an egalitarian autonomy in America that has bled over into the church, an attitude that co-opts the American Revolution era Gadsden flag and raises it as the banner of the church. We often approach it as a matter of liberty but I think it really is reflective of libertinism. For our reference:


A lifestyle or pattern of behavior characterized by self-indulgence and lack of restraint, especially one involving sexual promiscuity and rejection of religious or other moral authority.

Obviously I am not someone who is big on ecclesiastical religious authoritarianism. That doesn't mean and has never meant that I advocate an "anything goes" Christianity. Quite the opposite. I think that it is easy to let someone dictate to you the rules in a top-down religious setting. It is much harder to monitor yourself and think through questions on your own with the aid of the Christian community to help guide you through your personal blind spots. It is especially difficult when you live in a culture where the idea of an unchanging external authority is abhorrent. So the question I bring up is this, does the church broadly speaking as a family and community, have a voice in how we relate to one another and the broader world? Further does the church have the standing to speak authoritatively on certain issues or is this a "everyone does what is right in his own eyes" situation? I think Proverbs 12:15 and Proverbs 21:2 are applicable here.

When it comes to pornography I think generally speaking no one questions that the church should speak out against it in broad terms. When it comes to yoga pants all of a sudden people freak out. Is it a gender issue? Is this a backlash against centuries of repression of women, whether that repression was real or imagined? Maybe but I think that along with the perceptions of repression we are dealing with the combination of American notions of independence and contemporary libertinism creating a toxic mix that demands that my own opinion, my own desires are the highest authority on any topic. It is often remarked that men need to govern their own behavior and not blame women for dressing in an enticing fashion. Fair enough but I would ask yet again what motivates women to wear clothing that is intended to entice and further to ask all of us if we reject the role of the church as a whole in speaking to issues from a perspective that often (and necessarily) runs contrary to the prevailing cultural norms.

Minimum Wage, Maximum Malarkey

As a people we have lost the ability to think critically about an issue or perhaps to think at all. Case in point, the magical minimum wage.

The President of the United States has been scolding the American people for some time now about the need for a "minimum wage hike", a completely arbitrary pay raise that maliciously and falsely purports to make the lowest skilled employees in our economy suddenly able to support a family. Although the new Republican dominated Congress has flaws aplenty, at least there is virtually a zero chance of a minimum wage hike being passed (I changed that to "virtually zero" rather than "zero" because you would be hard pressed to get a single real conservative if you combined almost every Republican in Congress together, with a few notable exceptions (Senator Paul, Representative Amash, to name a few)). This entire issue is just part of the political theater designed to mollify the masses and keep the true believers on both sides engaged, voting and sending money in, just like the token attempts to overturn Obamacare or Obama's unconstitutional executive action on illegal aliens or the President's ludicrous $4 trillion budget that won't even get a cursory hearing. Regardless it is one that demands some substantive interaction because an awful lot of people think that it is the solution to "income inequality". It isn't. People hear "We should pay people more" and all they think is "Yeah, that's right!" without giving a second thought as to whether it even makes sense. It doesn't and here are a couple of reasons why.

First, the government has no right and no obligation to tinker with wages in order to promote "fairness" and anyone who thinks that the Interstate Commerce Clause was intended to put the Federal government in charge of every single transaction where money changes hands is either completely ignorant of the Constitution or a flat out liar. Now I realize that the idea of constraining the Federal government within the boundaries of the document that actually created said government is sooooo 18th century. We are far too advanced to worry about such things today. We really should be concerned about it because our system doesn't work unless government is limited. It was designed specifically to limit the reach of the government and when those restrictions are removed our system of government becomes a mugging in an alley writ large. With each passing year we abdicate more personal responsibility and autonomy to the government and it is hard to argue that we have not made things immeasurably worse in virtually every possible situation where the government has tinkered. The cries of "income inequality" that are allegedly behind the constant, empty clamor for a further inflated minimum wage are aimed at the base emotions of envy and resentment. Rather than encouraging and equipping people to seek to do the hard work of moving up  the ladder by virtue of their effort and performance, the income inequality crowd wants to make wages the financial equivalent of a participation ribbon: everyone gets a raise whether they deserve one or not, simply by virtue of showing up. A mediocre slacker who makes minimum wage gets a raise just as does someone who works hard. Whether that is good policy or not is something to be dealt with later but it certainly has no basis in the powers carefully designated for the Federal government.

Where does it end? No one seriously thinks that raising the minimum wage is going to magically eliminate income disparity. Making $10 or even $15 an hour is not going to make the bottom echelon of wage earners suddenly closer to the sort of wealth that Warren Buffet or a Hollywood star possesses. What it does do is create wage inflation for everyone else. It drags down many, many people who have worked hard to get a decent wage to the level of a 16 year old burger flipper. The cold reality is that a minimum wage hike for some is a serious wage decrease for others. Not in terms of actual wages of course but it the sense that it means that someone who has worked themselves to a wage higher than the minimum would suddenly find themselves at minimum wage. Unless of course the minimum wage laws were going to call for hourly increases to all workers. They don't.

Second, the minimum wage is not designed to be a "living wage". That is why it is the "minimum". It creates an artificial floor where all low skilled workers get lumped together, from a 16 year old high school student working their first job to an adult down on their luck. As such it artificially creates a floor so jobs that are understandably paid more than the minimum will need to rise commensurately. If I work a job that is more demanding than minimum wage now and get paid $3/hour more than minimum wage, why would I continue to work at this more demanding level if I suddenly find myself making the minimum or slightly above it? Wages should run along a scale from a very low wage for the least qualified and experienced workers to a very high wage for those with the most education and experience. A 16 year old kid flipping burgers in his first job while still in high school ought not get paid very much, in fact the experience is probably more valuable that the pittance he makes. On the other hand a cardiologist with a very rare combination of intellect and training ought to make a comparatively higher salary as befits the investment in time and the value of the work she does. Competition for workers should drive wages, those more rare and in demand should get more than those that are not. If we want to help lower wage workers make more money we should be encouraging them to work hard, seek education (which is essentially available for anyone who bothers to get it) and earn their way to higher wages, not just arbitrarily giving them more money.

Third, no one gets paid minimum wage for very long if they don't want to. In 2014 I went through kind of a weird time as far as jobs go, doing a lot of stuff that is pretty far removed from the bulk of my vocational experience in professional, office environments. It was an interesting experience and taught me that if you a) will work relatively hard and b) regularly show up to work and on time, you can make a lot more than minimum wage with absolutely no education or experience. I am not exaggerating, almost anyone can get a job paying 150%-200% of the minimum wage and start in less than a week. Employers with predominantly low wage employees are not spending their time figuring out ways to pay their employees less, they are mostly concerned with keeping positions filled with people who will come to work when scheduled and punch in on time. Let me say again: anyone who wants to can get a job that pays a lot more than minimum wage. We already have tons of jobs sitting vacant or being filled with illegal immigrants because Americans "won't do that job". Harvest Public Media reported that dairy farms are largely reliant on "immigrant" laborers to operate. Yet we have millions of people drawing unemployment and welfare and many more underemployed. Isn't the better solution to encourage people to take the higher paying jobs that are already available instead of making jobs that should be low paid slightly less low paid?

Fourth, labor is one of the few controllable factors for employers that employ low wage employees (fast food, retail, etc.). A store manager for Wal-Mart can't control the weather, the economy, how many customers come into his store, etc. but he can control labor. Thanks to Obamacare a lot of part-time workers are already getting fewer hours than they want to keep them below the magic threshold where they are considered full-time, yet another unintended (or not?) consequence of the risible and ironically named "Affordable Care Act". You can be sure that a higher minimum wage will mean higher prices, which will disproportionately impact the people who are supposed to be helped by this, and also fewer people employed. It is not a huge technological leap to get rid of order takers for fast food joints, they are already doing it and this will accelerate. Making low skill workers more expensive than they are worth means they won't be hired at all. Policies like the minimum wage don't happen in a vacuum, you can't tinker with wages and not see a ripple throughout the economy, one that is going to hurt a lot of people.

The minimum wage is presented as a Willy Wonka-esque Golden Ticket that will magically make lives better for the least skilled, lowest paid workers in our economy. Don't fall for it. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a fantasy tale and so is Obama and the Magical Minimum Wage Hike.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Ironic Twitter Followers

I got this notification from Twitter the other day...

I am guessing whoever runs that Twitter account hasn't actually read anything I have tweeted. Ever.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Mutilation Is Not Transition

This is such a weird story in our generally bizarre and perverse pop culture but it for some reason struck a nerve with me. I saw the story on the cover of People magazine the other day and the celebrity news rags have been awash ever since with the news that former Gold Medal winning decathlete Bruce Jenner is "transitioning" into a "woman"....

His changing look has been a much-buzzed-about topic for months, and now PEOPLE has confirmed that Bruce Jenner has been quietly making a very personal change. The former Olympian will soon be living life as female.

"Bruce is transitioning to a woman," says a source close to the family. "He is finally happy and his family is accepting of what he's doing. He's in such a great space. That's why it's the perfect time to do something like this."

And according to a different Jenner insider, the 65-year-old reality star is filming his momentous journey, to be shared with viewers on a docu-series this year. "It will air when he is ready to be open about his transition," the source tells PEOPLE. "But he's acting more and more confident and seems very happy."

Allow me to cut through the politically correct, insane Hollywood mumbo jumbo. He is not "transitioning", he is defacing his heritage as an image bearer of God even if he refuses to acknowledge Him as God. He is mutilating himself in the same way as someone who cuts themselves. This is not something to celebrate, this is something to be broken hearted over. This is not just "a choice", it is a mental illness that is being turned into a show of "bravery".

I don't know why this bothers me. It is so over the top ludicrous and yet it is so completely expected from the world of celebrity narcissism. Perhaps because Jenner was, if not a hero, at least a respected figure when I was pretty young. He was on the Wheaties box for crying out loud and yet here we are nearly 40 years later hearing about Bruce Jenner for his illness that is publicly celebrated. A man does not "transition" into a woman. You can't become a woman through the wearing of make-up or women's clothing or even surgery to mutilate and vandalize your flesh. That I even feel the need to point this out speaks volumes. 

Pray for Bruce Jenner. Pray for his family and friends who encourage this deviancy. Pray for all those who are less publicly drawn to defacement and defilement of their very identity. 

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Some Links For A Snowy Sunday

Thanks to the decidedly un-fiercely named Winter Storm Linus there is not much going on around the area so we are, for a change, home and not fielding calls from Amish looking for a ride every five minutes. So how about some links I have been sitting on for a while?

I actually just read this one today, The Way We Eat Now. I appreciated the author's look at some of the issues surrounding the "organic" food snobbery in America. She is responding to another article that defines the food wars as somewhat a class issue, sort of like what we see in the movie Food Inc. Her point is that eating decent food is less an issue of money than it is a lack of time and knowledge. People don't think they have the time to eat well by preparing food and fewer and fewer families have someone who knows how to prepare food from scratch. In our haste to avoid any thing that looks like traditional gender roles we have an entire generation or more of women who are utterly unprepared for traditional motherhood so they subcontract out the basic tasks like child care to daycare centers and meal preparation to pre-prepared food that tends to be cheap but also not terrible nutritious. We can eat better than we do but it is going to take some time and some effort to relearn the art of making decent food from basic ingredients.

An Ohio parent was banned from high school sporting events for berating students who were, in his opinion, insufficiently respectful during the national anthem. He of course is getting praise from many people who weren't at the actual event. I would have probably have agreed with this parent a few years ago, people who didn't stand or remove their hats as a gesture of respect at events would irritate me to no end. Now? The whole thing smacks of collectivism and fascism. You are required to provide a show of loyalty to the state by following a particular observance which includes standing at attention for a flag. As someone who values liberty I can think of little less in line with liberty than people being forced to make a largely empty public gesture toward a piece of cloth. As a Christian I find the idea to be at odds with following Christ alone as King. The Pledge of Allegiance, which when you think about it has kind of an ominous sound to the title, standing at attention in a quasi-military posture in front of a flag, along with other required cultural shows of obedience to the state, really have no place for me anymore.

Recently Jorge Bergoglio, aka "Pope Francis", visited the Philippines. Ahead of his visit there was a parade where a statue intended to look lie Jesus Christ was paraded through the street. The results were horrifying in multiple ways.

A raucous Roman Catholic procession in which up to a million Filipinos packed the streets of the capital for a chance to get close to a centuries-old statue of Jesus Christ left two men dead and about 1,000 hurt, officials said Saturday, in a prelude to a much larger turnout expected during next week's visit by Pope Francis.

Huge crowds jostled for 20 hours Friday around a carriage carrying the wooden Black Nazarene with a cross along Manila's streets. The faithful threw small towels at volunteers on the carriage to wipe parts of the cross and the statue in the belief that the Nazarene's mystical powers to cure ailments and provide good health and fortune will rub off on them.

One volunteer accompanying the statue died of a heart attack. Another man was found lifeless on the ground, apparently pinned by the people's massive surge toward Quiapo Church at the end of procession before dawn Saturday, said Francis Tolentino, chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

Nearly 1,000 were treated for cuts, bruises, dizziness and hypertension, said Gwen Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross.

That is simply primitive paganism on display. My heart aches for those deceived into adoration for a carved idol. I pray for workers to take the true message of Christ to these lost souls and for the Holy Spirit to draw them out of paganism dressed up as the Way and into the light of Christ that needs no rituals or idols.

Three great posts from Dave Black I wanted to share: Discontinuity Old Testament To New; Applying Amos and How Those Who Have Should Give. I really liked all three of these, especially the first one. I think a great deal of the differences between the various denominations and streams of the church can be pegged to how each understands the continuity or lack thereof between the Old Covenant and the New. I would say, speaking rather broadly, that most of the high church, infant baptizing parts of the church tend to overlook the discontinuity of the two. Dave agrees (or perhaps I should say I agree with Dave in deference to his having been studying these questions longer than I have been a believer). I liked his inclusion of Anabaptist Pilgram Marpeck's view of the two covenants:

Marpeck’s point is that revelation was progressive and partial before Christ. He felt that the Reformers had mistaken the foundation of the house for the house itself. Marpeck’s two-covenant theology was based on Paul’s letter to the Galatians and the Epistle to the Hebrews, which taught that the highest court of appeal for all teaching concerning the church was the New Covenant. In short, he argued that the Scriptures must be interpreted Christologically.

Exactly, All Scripture is of equal worth and value but how we apply the text under the Old and the New is different and failing to distinguish between the two causes all manner of problems. Check out his essays, the essay on Amos and on finances are likewise quite convicting. 

An interesting post in an unexpected place, Biblical Reasons to Doubt The Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods. Justin Taylor writes for the Gospel Coalition on the topic of six-day, young earth creationism and suggests that perhaps the Scriptures don't give us a literal 6, 24 hour day series of events. This is unusual in that creationism is usually a line of demarcation. Liberals reject it, conservatives embrace it. I hold to a six 24 hour day creationist position and I don't find Justin's arguments to be terribly persuasive but I appreciate that his approach is based more on Scripture than the lame attempt to not be thought ignorant typically seen from "progressives". The only compelling case I have come up with for an "old(-er) earth" position is not one I have seen in print anywhere, although I am sure it is somewhere, that Adam and Eve were in the garden for an indeterminate length of time prior to the Fall. I don't think it totally makes sense that God creates Eve from Adam and then a few hours or days later the Fall happens. Pre-Fall they would have been essentially immortal so who knows how long they were in the garden? Anyway I think it is a better hermeneutic to accept the six days as actual days rather than starting off the Bible by explaining why it doesn't say what it says. 

This is a pretty good essay from what is probably an otherwise sketchy source: Putting Away the Sword of Self Defense: Scriptural Reflections of a Pentecostal Pacifist. I am not anyone's idea of a Pentecostal so I assume that a lot of what this guy writes and thinks I would disagree with but this was a pretty decent post on the topic of the sword and self-defense.

Enjoy and stay safe in the face of the fury of Winter Storm Linus (unless you live in the South)

Well that looks ominous

I am glad I am not obligated to go anywhere today....