Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Speck in the Eye

The Fair Tish’s three favorite hobbies are knitting, web-design, and concocting random projects to be performed by me in whole or in part during the first twenty minutes of super-exciting football games. Invariably, either a turnover will be committed by the team I’m rooting against, or a touchdown will be scored by the team I’m rooting for during this span. This causes me to become irritated at the whole idea of doing the project, forces me to complete the project in a haphazard way, and then further frustration is evoked because my team generally does poorly as soon as I start watching.

The preeminent example of this phenomenon was during the Bears/Colts Superbowl. I was cheering for the Bears because their coach, Lovie Smith, is from a nearby East Texas town, where he coached high school football. As I was immersed in the project, Devin Hester returned a kickoff for a touchdown—the only time that’s happened in Super Bowl history. I promptly began doing crummy work to complete the project, only to watch the Bears get obliterated.

Last Monday night, the Cowboys were playing the vaunted Eagles. As providence would have it, I was amidst another light-fixture project. Of course, Dallas was making great plays as Tish and I tried to put the finishing touches on our work. We were just about through when I looked up to assess how much we lacked. At that moment, a little fleck of something dropped in my eye.

Blink. Blink. Blink. Rub. Rub. Rub. Rinse. Rinse. Rinse. No change. The more I blinked, the more I rinsed, the more I rubbed, the more intense the scratching of the foreign body became on my eye. Ever the procrastinator, I decided that it would work itself out, and that I would awake in the morning with a cured eye.

Tuesday came with frustration and ended with me losing my nerve. Alarm sounds at 5:45. One blink. Two blinks. No pain. Three blinks—a bit of a scratch. Four blinks—like sandpaper on the cornea. I alighted from the bed, went to the bathroom and commenced to running a river of water through my eye. I got in the shower, and lined up my eye right in front of one of the streams.

The prior night I’d considered praying about the ordeal, but thought it a bit silly. It’s just a speck, after all. My prior assessment of pettiness to such a prayer vanished like a morning mist, and I started praying throughout the morning.

I arrived at work, and every hour or so would rinse the eye, alternatively with water and saline solution. Nada, nothing, zilch. No change, whatsoever. I tried taking my mind off of it, as it were, by diving into work. But you’d be surprised how often you blink. Start counting how many times you blink as you read this post—it’s incredible. Now imagine that each time you blink your eye hurts. That was me all day last Tuesday.

Being a "man" I kept the speck a secret, not wanting anyone to worry or be concerned. Tish noticed the effects of the speck (i.e., my red, irritated eye) and asked what was the matter. I told her (this is now Tuesday evening) and we called an elder in my church, Dr. Timmons, who is an optometrist. He couldn’t see me until in the morning.

Wednesday morning I immediately went to Dr. Timmons. I’ve never had eye issues of any kind, so no doctor’s ever had to fiddle with my eyeball before. After about two minutes, he said, "Is that better?" The question brought encouragement, but my eye felt exactly the same. No change at all.

Fluid; rinse; fluid; rinse. No change. Dr. Timmons told me there was a fleck of translucent material in my eye, and that he’d gotten it out. However, my eye felt exactly the same. The same pain with every blink. So he sent me to an ophthalmologist, Dr. Wick. I was the only non-octogenarian at his office. The lady I was sitting next to commented, "You’re too young for cataracts." Good call.

Dr. Wick, upon a thorough examination, assured me there was nothing in my eye. The pain I was experiencing was due to a severe scratch on my cornea. It seems every time I blinked while the speck was in my eye, the speck sliced and diced its way across my eye. Good times. The good doctor prescribed some ointment, which is essentially Neosporan for the eye, and I was on my way to immediately fill the prescription.

It is now a week later, and I still feel the effects of that translucent speck, though my eye now only feels awkward and I’m no longer in pain.

The point of this story is that I found myself dwelling on Owens’ Mortification of Sin, and his application of Paul’s admonition to by the power of the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body so that we might live. I went after that speck with tenacity. Ridding myself of that minor irritation was the focus of my life for two days. And even after I flicked the fleck, I suffered from its longer-lived effects, just as a particular sin will have a lingering effect on the Christian, even after repentance.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wilde’s Wisdom and Beauty’s Cause

The wittiest (and sometimes wisest) writers I know are Charles Haddon Spurgeon, William Shakespeare, Voltaire, Mark Twain, and Oscar Wilde. Spurgeon’s wit is ever kissed with the tender and kindly graces of heaven, and evokes both gentle and uproarious humor. Shakespeare’s wit is so sharp and swift that the dull and tardy mind will miss it, and Voltaire's so outrageously cruel that even a righteous man must laugh. Twain is just plain funny. Like Shakespeare and Voltaire, Wilde often uses his wit to make us laugh at, and about, things we shouldn't. One of my favorites is Oscar’s quip,

"It is better to be beautiful than to be good, but it is better to be good than to be ugly."

However, even Wilde occasionally crafts a witticism wise and holy, as in this lovely and profound turn of the tongue,

"You do not love a woman because she is beautiful, but she is beautiful because you love her."

The first clause of Wilde’s witticism, a negative disclaimer, denies a superficial definition of love based upon physical attraction:
"You do not love a woman because she is beautiful."
Wilde conveys that physical beauty cannot be a legitimate catalyst for true love.

Of course, at a philosophical level, one could more than quibble with Wilde’s premise. If beauty is an absolute entity, ultimately spiritual and not necesarily physical, then Beauty inheres and emanates from The Divine and is therefore one with essential Goodness. Thus defined, then Beauty, inherently possessed of Goodness, could indeed move the soul to Love. But such philosophical quibbling would destroy the elegant simplicity of Wilde’s beautiful proverb. What the poet aims to communicate is a simple truth unsullied by philosophical complexity–merely physical beauty, and thus physical attraction, cannot be a true motive for love.

Physical beauty is temporal, "the grass withers" and
The flower that smiles today
Tomorrow dies;
All that we wish to stay
Tempts and then flies.
True Love, not temporal beauty, remains changeless, fixed, and immutable.

But the ultimate potency of Wilde’s proverb derives from the aphoristic juxtaposition of his second clause:
"she is beautiful because you love her."
Here Wilde steals holy fire. Beauty may excite the mind and stimulate the flesh, but love beatifies its object–"she is beautiful because you love her." This is the essence of grace, and the beatific force of Love–it metamorphoses its object, transfiguring the beloved into the beautiful.

Dante would have us remember that Love beautifully metamorphoses both the beloved and the lover himself. Dante’s love for Beatrice indeed transfigured her in his eyes, but equally transfigured him. Like the moon embraces and then throws back to the sun its light, Dante’s love for Beatrice ricocheted back to his very own soul, and thus he describes her as

"she who doth imparadise my soul."

Wordsworth referred to such a transfigurational experience when he wrote,

There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, . . .
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.

Indeed, the man who knows that his wife is "beautiful because he loves her" is a man whose soul has experienced the "renovating virtue" of transfiguring love. As if borne by angels’ wings, the beauty of love transmigrates from his beloved back into his own soul, there feeding "a most vehement flame" that neither the floods of circumstances nor the deep waters of sorrow can extinguish. Moreover, as his Love is constant, so also is her Beauty.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Forgotten Olympian

She would be the first star to shine from China’s athletic galaxy, more graceful than the nimble gymnast Nastia Liukin, more beautiful than the elegant swimmer Luo Xuejuan. Yet we never heard her name. She would be the only solo dancer featured in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics. Already worshiped by her native country China, now the world would see her, admire her, adore her, praise her.

This would be her moment.

Almost from the time she was born her parents detected her natural grace–her delicate ivory hands and fingers floated like feathers in Beijing’s blue sky; her exquisite feet learned their first steps with effortless poise. She never walked or ran–she danced, like a leaping gazelle, a darting swallow, an elegant swan–she danced.

Her rigorous training began in early childhood. Day after day, she spent infinite hours in the grueling discipline of ballet. Swiftly beyond her peers, she excelled in every precise pirouette, simple to complex adagios, bright and brisk allegros, the difficult arabesque, the leaping ballone–she mastered the repertoire. She was ballet.

The People’s Republic of China took notice. She would be their Anna Pavovla, the epitome of Chinese grace, the choreography of a great nation’s collective genius. Beijing’s magnificent stadium, the Bird’s Nest, would be the stage from which she would spread her wings, and the whole world would watch with wonder at her flight.

Brilliant engineers built the platform especially for her, a technological wonder designed to embellish her genius skill and Chinese pride.

On the evening of July 26, 2008, thirteen days before she would be the centerpiece of the Opening Ceremony, she practiced her movements. Her coaches and parents watched her admiringly as she flawlessly performed. Her fellow dancers circled her like bees around a lotus flower. Then the moment came, the moment when she would emerge from the troupe and leap through the air to that special platform built to showcase her matchless talent to the world.

She leapt!

The platform gave way.

She fell!

Twelve feet down into a shaft, she landed on her neck and back.

Fifty minutes passed before the medical team arrived. They rushed her to a Beijing hospital.

"I cannot feel my legs," she said with desperate fear. "I can move my arms and hands, but I cannot move my legs."

The doctor told her parents, "She will never walk again."

Her parents told the doctor, "She will never dance again."

The hospital light danced in the tears that fell, that fell from her beautiful, sorrowful eyes.

Pray for Liu Yan.


To see the forgotten Olympian dance as she will never dance again, follow this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdXVfBoVryw

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Kingdom in the Cave

Consider the following from Book VII of Plato’s The Republic and what is commonly known as The Allegory of the Cave:


Imagine human beings living in an underground, cavelike dwelling, with an entrance a long way up, which is both open to the light and as wide as the cave itself.  They’ve been there since childhood, fixed in the same place, with their necks and legs fettered able to see only in front of them, because their bonds prevent them from turning their heads around.  Light is provided by a fire burning far above and behind them.  Also behind them, but on a higher ground, there is a path stretching between them and the fire.  Imagine that along this path a low wall has been built, like the screen in front of puppeteers above which they show their puppets.  


The prisoners would in every way believe that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of those artifacts.  


When one of them was freed and suddenly compelled to stand up turn his head, walk and look up toward the light, he’d be pained and dazzled and unable to see the things whose shadows he’d seen before...don’t you think he’d be at a loss and that he’d believe that the things he saw earlier were truer than the ones he was now being shown?


Finally, I suppose, he’d be able to see the sun, not images of it in water or some alien place, but the sun itself, in its own place, and be able to study it.  


At this point, he would conclude that the sun provides the seasons and the years, governs everything in the visible world, and is in some way the cause of all the things that he used to see.  


What about when he reminds himself of his first dwelling place, his fellow prisoners, and what passed for wisdom there?  Don’t you think that he’d count himself happy for the change and pity the others?  Wouldn’t he feel, with Homer, that he’d much prefer to “work the earth as a serf to another, one without possessions,” and go through any sufferings, rather than share their opinions and live as they do?” 


In the knowable realm, the form of the good is the last thing to be seen, and it is reached only with difficulty.  Once one has seen it, however, one must conclude that it is the cause of all that is correct and beautiful in anything, that it produces both light and its source in the visible realm, and that in the intelligible realm it controls and provides truth and understanding, so that anyone who is to act sensibly in private or public must see it.  


The ones who get to this point are unwilling to occupy themselves with human affairs and that their souls are always pressing upwards, eager to spend their time above.


While Plato’s analogy is brilliant in its original intent--”compar(ing) the effect of education and of the lack of it on our nature,” it perhaps even better symbolizes the wrongful expectations of the Jewish nation during the arrival of Messiah as well as the errant expectations of our common “Christian” culture today.


Let me explain.


The “shadows of those artifacts”  from which the “prisoners(Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time) could not remove their eyes were “study of the law and good works” and “national restoration and glory” (Edersheim 115).  Their failure to see that “the whole past was symbolic, and typical of the future--the Old Testament the glass through which the universal blessings of the latter days were seen” (115), caused them to live fixated on the physical and temporal, preoccupied with lower “images” andshadowsrather than “always pressing upwards, eager to spend their time above” where matters of eternity are concerned.  As such, their lives were “absent of any deeper spiritual elements” and “the meaning of the whole lost in the contemplation of its details” (115).  


Their synagogue was “in the cave,” and their Savior from above, from the “light,” was one who failed to usher in their long and erroneously awaited national exultation.  In response to His journey down into their cave and His words to press their souls upwards, their reply was much the same as the “prisoners” in Plato’s allegory--“and, as for anyone who tried to free them and lead them upward, if they could somehow get their hands on him, wouldn’t they kill him?”  


But Jesus was sent into the “cave” to be killed  in order to bring prisoners up to the light and give life.  He said, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36).  As Alfred Edersheim explains in his The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: 


The purely national elements, which well nigh formed the sum total of Rabbinic expectation, scarcely entered into the teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of God.  And the more that we realize, that Jesus so fundamentally separated Himself from all the ideas of His time, the more evidential is it of the fact, that He was not the Messiah of Jewish conception, but derived His mission from a source unknown to, or at least ignored by, the leaders of His people (116).  


Many of same temporal and physical expectations which dimmed the eyes of Jewish prisoners during the life and times of the Messiah similarly blind the hearts and minds of “Christian” prisoners today.  Although many embrace an eschatology that keeps them fixed on the shadow of a physical and national kingdom “of this world” falsely anticipating the restoration of a physical, national and eventual Israel, more obviously, our modern caves (churches) are walled with the shadows of dumbed down sermons, empty, repetitive “praise” songs, and enhanced puppet shows that only make the prisoners more comfortable in the cave.  

Rather than point prisoners to the only One capable of delivering them from the cave, most puppeteers are content to dwell in the shadowlands, enamored by their own creations.  Using catchy phrases like “missional,” “emergent,” “relevant” and “real,” their quest to “transform culture” is really just another way of dressing up their own caves to meet their own ends.


But you see, Jesus didn’t come to make the cave a better cave.


Jesus came to take men from the cave (and especially the cave since so many of his words addressed those Jewish cave-dwellers of His time).  


Just as Plato's prisoner "conclude(s) that the sun provides the seasons and the years, governs everything in the visible world, and is in some way the cause of all the things that he used to see," we conclude that the SON not only does the same but also has a higher calling.  His "mission" was to usher in a spiritual Kingdom of God, the only Kingdom “not of this world” led by the only King qualified to set His captives free from the cave.  “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed(John 8:36).  The way of His Kingdom is always to draw men higher, and as Plato tells us from Republic, to make them “unwilling to occupy themselves with human affairs and that their souls are always pressing upwards, eager to spend their time above.”  The Apostle Paul, who was quite familiar with philosophy, said it this way, “set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col 3:2), or in our vernacular here, "not on things in the cave."


So, my friend, where do you and I live?    


Have small compromises caused us to become used to the fetters and chains which bind us towards the shadows and puppetshows in the name of freeing fellow prisoners from the cave?  Does it really work that way?  Sure, you might be sheltered from the wind and storms above while down in the cave, but you'll also never see the full light of the SON, and you'll never help to free any fellow prisoners while wearing chains yourself.  


Oh, to see less of the Kingdom in the Cave and more of the Kingdom of God!


On the Necessicity of the Establishment Clause

I just finished this article, in which the author discusses the devolution of western society (though I don't think he knew that's what he was writing about).



Courts in the Western World are overrun, and have been for decades. To combat this, legislatures in the West came up with something called Alternative Dispute Resolution ("ADR"). ADR works by litigants agreeing to have their dispute heard, and decided, by an arbitrator. The arbitrator's decision is binding on the parties, and can be enforced by a court.



In Britain, the mother of our judicial system, Muslims have taken advantage of the applicable ADR statute by setting up a number of Sharia courts that act under the auspices of ADR. Up until last year, the rulings of the Sharia courts were nonbinding in nature, but after a clever Muslim identified the ADR rules in Britain, the Sharia courts are now making rulings that are enforceable by British courts.

What kinds of cases are the Sharia courts handling? Well, divorce, family violence, disputes among neighbors, and inheritance disputes.

So, what's the problem? Excellent question.

Islam is not merely patriarchal, but it is anti-woman. Wives are treated as chattel, and can even be beaten under certain circumstances. To have a "family violence" dispute heard by Muslim courts is obnoxious. Consider the following from the linked article:

"In the six cases of domestic violence, Siddiqi said the judges ordered the husbands to take anger management classes and mentoring from community elders. There was no further punishment.
In each case, the women subsequently withdrew the complaints they had lodged with the police and the police stopped their investigations."


So a woman gets beaten by her husband, she calls the cops, a religious court says that hubby needs to go to class, and the woman tells the cops to nevermind. Blackstone must be rolling over in his grave.

The Muslims would cite that submitting to ADR is voluntary. But the root of voluntary is volition, meaning the person making the choice is free to choose either way, uninfluenced by another. In this case, voluntary would mean uninfluenced by the wife-beating husband and the larger Muslim community that supports such activity. With all that pressure, and dwelling with a wife-beater, I can't imagine how a woman in that situation can be said to submit to arbitration of her own volition.

The article also cites an inheritance case where the Sharia court awarded male children double the property of female children according to Sharia law, whereas under British law the children would have shared equally.

Historically, there were good reasons for having such inheritance rules, but with the decline of agriarianism those reasons are essentially gone. In any case, what exists is a situation where the Koran and the writings of Muslim clerics (which is what Sharia is based on) are replacing Anglo-jurisprudence.

By the way, as a funny aside, you saw what types of cases the Sharia courts heard, the article notes that Jews have been using religious courts to settle certain disputes under ADR rules for 100 years.

What kinds of cases are they using it for? "Jewish Beth Din courts operate under the same provision in the Arbitration Act and resolve civil cases, ranging from divorce to business disputes."

Britain has no written constitution. The U.S. Constitution is not perfect, but the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses are pure genius, and necessary for a free people to exist. I think the Establishment Clause would act as a firewall, and prevent court-enforceable arbitrations based on religious law, but I'm not certain. (Something tells me that if it was Catholic Canon Law it would be struck down instantly, but an "enlightened" Supreme Court may tolerate the existence of Sharia arbitrators.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Cone of Uncertainty

All of us recognize the radar-based imagery of a hurricane path. As meteorologists track a hurricane, they chart their best educated guess in the form of an ascending cone that broadens ever wider to the north; they call this "the cone of uncertainty," indicating their uncertainty about the storm’s precise path. They are certain that the storm will come, but uncertain as to its precise time or its precise location.

Yesterday Judy and I made a quip trip to East Texas because the cone of uncertainty indicated a strong possibility that Hurricane Ike would blow right through Cherokee county as a Category One hurricane. That means that our house there is directly within the storm’s predicted path. For about an hour and a half we did all we could to prepare for the storm; in Naval terms, we "battened down the hatches." I retied all ropes to my boat and barge, removed potential projectiles near glass – rocking chairs, planters, tables, etc. Once we did all we could to prepare for the storm, we clicked on the television to get an update from The Weather Channel. Originally, we planned to stay through the storm, but the National Weather Service remained unchanged in its prediction that the cone of uncertainty included Cherokee County. So there was only one thing left to do–head back to Dallas and protect our lives. After all, we have insurance.

Life itself is a cone of uncertainty. We know neither when nor where, but we do know that, eventually and inevitably, the storms will come. The hard rain will fall, the torrential floods will rise, the harsh winds will howl, hurricanes will hurl their wrath, tornadoes will spin their fury. The best we can do is prepare ourselves for the inevitable storms with insurance of every kind–hospitalization, life, auto, flood, etc. But insurance has no clause for sorrow, no rider for agony, and no provision for emotional distress and spiritual trial caused by those kinds of storms that weathermen and radar can neither predict nor track: financial difficulty, aging parents, sickness, marital strife, mental illness, gross sin, a rebellious child, and death.

Of course, every astute reader anticipates my conclusion–No cone of uncertainty threatens the home built upon the Rock.

Friday, September 12, 2008

One Thing is Needful

Jesus' words to Martha”one thing is needful”–what if these were Jesus's words to us?

What would that "one thing" be that we needed?

Must we regret that our first response to Jesus' words-"one thing is needful"-will probably be one of material concern and self-interest? "Lord, I need more money. I need a vacation. I need physical healing. I need a better job. I need a new house. I need out of this jam. I need some-thing for me.” But then our problem would be the same as Martha’s problem before Jesus said to her, “One thing is needful.” The scriptures tell us Martha was “encumbered by much” and “careful and troubled about many things.” No doubt Martha thought she understood her own problems and knew just what she needed. She didn’t, but Jesus did.

“Martha, stop what you’re doing, let go of those things in your hands and those worries in your head. Be quiet. Be Still. Sit down at my feet. Listen.”

One thing is needful–that we disengage ourselves from worldly busy-ness, disencumber ourselves from all that stuff in our hands–stop and choose what Mary chose–“that good part”–that better thing: to sit down at Jesus’ precious feet and listen to His Word.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"Slight" or "Sleight" of Hand?

Yesterday, just as I passed through the tollway booth, I simultaneously converged with two dudes on Harley hogs in the lane to my right. The fellow farthest from me retrieved a toll tag from his jacket and held it up for rightful passage; the fellow nearest me, with practised precision and timing, rotated his forearm and elbow backwards and downwards, slyly moved his left hand to a horizontal position just above his rear tire, and covered his tag number as he illicitly passed through the booth.

Since the North Texas Tollway Authority photographs all violators, here's what they'll see-a thirty something, wanna be hippie, with bandana-tied stringy hair streaming in the wind, astride a yellow Harley with red flames (how tacky!), tattooed arms barren, and the palm of his left hand blocking out his tag number which, by the way, is 3LX 352.

Just a little gesture of deception, a neat trick of deceit, that sleight of hand; not "slight," as in "small of amount or degree; of little substance, importance, or influence; trivial, frail, or flimsy"; but rather "sleight," as in "a strategy or device applied with skill and dexterity for the purpose of cunning or deceit."

I wondered, how often do such "slight" gestures occur on the tollway; it must be a well known and popular ploy to avoid rightful debt. More broadly, how many such "slight" sins of various kinds occur daily in Dallas, in Texas, in the world. The number must be staggering. It's a wonder our planet doesn't fly off course or sink into a dark hole with the cumulative weight of such "slight" transgressions.

That motorcyclist thought no one noticed, even that no one could notice his "slight" transgression so subtly accomplished by his "sleight" of hand. But Heaven watched, and no soft angel voice whispered "slight" in its hallowed halls, but rather a sevenfold thunder uttered, "SLEIGHT!"

"In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, and our "secret sins in the light of his countenance," perhaps that cyclist will get a hard lesson in spelling.

Monday, September 8, 2008

He Who Fails to Plan, Plans to Fail

I have been pondering my own education frequently of late, dwelling on both its good features and bad. As an amateur educator, parent, and student, the subject is naturally quite important as I have to take care and fill in the gaps that I currently have. And as my oldest child begins school, the subject becomes more urgent. This week my mind dwells on planning.

It is a good thing that schools plan. After all, if every teacher did something different in a school, each grade ignored what came before and what would come after and nobody cared that the students were getting a well-rounded education, I think we would have little hope for students attending those schools. It makes sense for a 12th grade teacher to teach calculus knowing that students had been able to take algebra before, but not otherwise. It makes sense for a teacher to teach a course on advanced French, but only if there was an intermediate French class the year before. But the planning goes beyond that; there are broad swathes of history that need to be covered before one goes to college, certain books certainly need to be read, and so on. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether the material taught is the proper material and in the proper doses (and both of these I doubt in most cases), all of this should be blindingly obvious to anyone who values having, getting or giving an education. We should be thankful that at least some thought has been put into this by modern educators.

For the same reason I am very glad we do the same in the church and in the Christian care and education of our people. I am glad that our churches plan to make sure those under its watch get everything they need to be a proper thinking and acting Christian throughout their lifetime. It is a good thing churches plan so that the whole Bible is known well by the time kids grow up and go off to college. It is a good thing that Christians generally have read widely in good Christian literature and have reaped the benefits of it. It is a good thing that Christian history is familiar and Christians can both reap the positive benefits personally of seeing God act in history, but can also bring this knowledge to bear when those outside get swept up in foolish ideas about Constantine rewriting the Bible or other foolishness written in popular but ignorant literature. It is a good thing that churches encourage the learning of the biblical languages as both a deeper way to appreciate the Scriptures and a tool for better interpretation. It is a good thing that Christian youth have a worldview informed enough to withstand the onslaught of secularist thinking found at most universities. It is a good thing that Christians have been thoroughly versed in theology so that they can move beyond the most basic of Christian ideas. It is a good thing that, after a lifetime of learning, we can look around out our peers and say “Those around me are for the glory of God the wisest, most educated people around, for they are a part of the church of Christ.”

But, then again, you must realize by now that I have either found a fount of Absinthe from which to drink, I am mad, or that I was not serious. Or perhaps in my sarcasm I show that I am quite serious. We all know the above picture is untrue except in the rarest of cases. The reality is that the church has no overarching conception of education and no big idea other than to just teach some Bible to people on their way to the afterlife in the hope that it is enough. Yet for those who believe that we should honor God with our minds, this seems very odd. After all, we have no problem enrolling kids in kindergarten, twelve years of grade school and at least four years of college, so we apparently have no problem with a basic education. But how much time do we spend thinking about it? Planning? In all but the rarest cases, the time spent must be little.

This problem seems so obvious to me, and after only a little reflection, I hope it seems obvious to you as well. There are a plethora of things a Christian can learn throughout life for his betterment and the advancement of the kingdom. But without a conscious thought or plan about how to be a thoroughly learned Christian, why do you think anyone has much of a chance of becoming one?

But recognition of the problem is but only a small step towards the goal and the easiest part of the race. The next step is a big one, which is the question “Where do I start?” What is the answer to that? Are you going to have to figure it out on your own or can you ask somebody? Perhaps the person you ask will be a fellow novice with no more of a clue than you, but who is still under the delusion that he knows something. Or will you happen to stumble upon a coach?

And continuing with the metaphor, finding a coach is a big part of the problem. One does not wake up one day and say “Well, I am going to coach the Dallas Cowboys” and get hired unless he has the requisite background. But who has it? When several generations drop the ball (this metaphor just goes on forever, does it not?) and fail to pass on the necessary wisdom and know-how, you should not expect to be able to just pick up where the learned left off generations ago. If you start anywhere, it will be from a place of ignorance.

And that is where we find the church. It has many teachers, but how many people does the church have that can really put together what the education of a good Christian looks like? It has its pastors, but can they look beyond the next few months and come up with a good educational philosophy for their people long-term? It has its education ministers, but can they think beyond next year’s curricula?

For some the answer was Christian schools, but the idea in and of itself is just a facile answer that actually fails to solve the problem. The educational dilemma is larger than these this. It is bigger than creating Christian schools, though that is theoretically helpful. It has to do with Sunday teaching times. It has to do with parents and their children. It has to do with developing a culture of learning in Christian adults. It has to do with the rethinking of educational patterns, practices, and structures. It has to do with rethinking, or in most cases, thinking about for the first time, what it takes to make educated Christians.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this for me is that I know I do not have the answers. I feel similarly in this regard as I do with my back and neck pain. I know the problem is there because I feel it every time I move my head. I know some things I can do to make things better like exercise, good posture, and stretching, but what I do does not make the pain go away completely. I know some things that help, but I do not know how to solve the problem myself. That is why I go to the chiropractor. But who will be my educational chiropractor? Who will be that for the church?

So then what is a Christian philosophy of education? We have survived for a while without one but we are not better for it. If we can come to the point of seeing that there is a problem, pray tell, what is step two?


Eric B. Sowell
http://www.ericsowell.com/

Tongue-Speaking Dispensational Kook for VP!

Barack Obama's black-liberation theology and the fact that his "spiritual mentor" is an anti-semitic/anti-American/anti-white loon is troubling. I have no qualm about saying that in a two-man race McCain is far and away the better man.

I also have to say that I've been enamored by Palin. She believes the right conservative stuff, and seems to be Reagan in a skirt, as I heard Glenn Beck describe her the other day. However, just as I denounced Obama for going to a nutty church, I must denounce Palin, too: perhaps even more so. Frankly, I doubt Obama believed anything his church taught him, and that he was just using membership and involvement at a locally famous church to get ahead. Unfortunately, I think Palin probably believes the drivel coming from her Pentecostal pulpit.

You can find the relevant clips here, here, and here. In the first clip you'll see a CNN report where they play a clip from the church where the pastor says that Alaska will be a refuge for people in, wait for it. . . , The Last Days. Muah ha ha! I guess the Antichrist will set up the one world government, and then people will flee to the hinterland up in the great white north.

In the latter two links you'll see a video of Palin herself addressing the church. I linked to the videos showing the full presentation of Palin, including her misapplication of Paul's prayer for the Ephesians to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of Christ (which Palin says will give people the wisdom on how to vote). Further, you'll note that within the videos you can hear Palin describe the Iraq War as "God's plan," and the Alaska pipeline as "God's will."

Now, in fairness, I think she might have been trying to say that she wants our leaders to prosecute the war in Iraq in such a way that is pleasing to God, and thereby enact God's plan. The pipeline thing, though, is kind of goofy. I mean, I'm a providence-believing Calvinist, and will assert that God declares the end from the beginning, but when most peoples ay something is "God's will" they are saying that it is morally endorsed by God. I'm not sure the Alaska pipeline, great as though it may be, can be verified as Jehovah-approved.

Oh, and did I mention her church speaks in tongues? We don't know yet whether Palin has "the fanciful gift of tongues," as my grandfather used to call it, but it wouldn't surprise me if she did, because "if you took women out of the tongues movement it would die before sun up" (quoting my grandfather again).

Actually, if she does speak in tongues, it might bode well for our foreign policy. I mean, it may prevent the Iranian president, for example, from telling the veep one thing in English, and then the mullahs something else in Arabic.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Why Must Jesus Be God?

Two years ago as I was relating to my sister some exchanges between myself and a Jehovah's Witness friend of mine, she asked this simple question. As I stammered through a feeble and less than lucid argument, I came to realize that I didn't have a good answer. I could explain away the hows relating to the deity of Christ but not the whys. It forced me to consider, "am I really that prepared to witness to the average cult following neighbor/work associate/friend or the intelligent agnostic friend explaining why I believe what I do--why Jesus must be God?" So I began searching for an answer.

Scores of volumes have spoken to the mystery of God-man over time. From the blood thirsty cries of Jesus' Jewish contemporaries who accused him of blasphemy to Arius and his modern day followers (known as Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons) who claim that he was some lesser shade of deity and many others, the debate over Jesus' true identity continues today. Certainly, this blog entry will fall short in such a great debate for many reasons. My attempt is not to be comprehensive but rather straight to the point, to provide one clear and practical answer that might prove useful to the reader who wants and answer.

Before I go any further, let me frame this why question other similar how questions in order to (1) bring clarity to the original question and (2) provide a stimulus for conversation with those who deny the full deity of Christ:

How does God save man through any other means than Himself (if Jehovah and Jesus are not One in nature)?
or
If Jesus is not Jehovah God (as any cult would assert) how is his sacrifice sufficient to save men?
or
How can God free man from His own wrath (His desire to punish) without using His own blood and still remain just?

The best resource I found for reasoning through this topic is an old one--Anselm's Cur Deus Homo, which means "Why God-Man?" Anselm writes:

Do you not perceive that, if any other being should rescue man from eternal death, man would rightly be adjudged as the servant of that being? Now if this be so, he would in no wise be restored to that dignity which would have been his had he never sinned. For he, who was to be through eternity only the servant of God and an equal with the holy angels, would now be the servant of a being who was not God, and whom the angels did not serve.”
(Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, 185)

In stating his point, Anselm presents (for the sake of staging his argument) the idea that man’s savior is “a being who was not God,” is less than God, and as such, is one “whom the angels did not serve.” If this is true and it is also true that Jesus Christ, as one less than God in this scenario, is this “being” who “rescue(s) man from eternal death” (as scripture specifically asserts in 2 Tim 1:10 and elsewhere), then salvation through Christ must then necessarily make man a “servant” and debtor to one other than God Himself. After all, how could a man be saved from “eternal death” and not owe everything to the one who has saved him? For one to contend the opposite--that it is possible to not owe life for a “rescue from eternal death”--would bring into question the motivation for the Biblical demand for sanctification (Rom 6:22).

If this scenario of a "savior" who is less than God were true, it would also contradict God’s intended purpose for man in creation—to serve Him alone (“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” Rom 11:36 ESV). Thus, God’s intended purpose for man in creation (to serve Him alone) and the effect of salvation through a "savior" other than God (to be indebted to the savior) would be at great odds with one another. God would contradict Himself, since this scenario does not allow for man to “be restored to that dignity which would have been his had he never sinned” if man is indebted to anyone other than his "active" Creator. (I say “active” Creator here since it is the belief of some who would agree with this Jesus-less-than-God scenario that the Father had an "active" role in creation and the Son only a "passive" one).

If this Jesus-less-than-God scenario were to be true, then clearly God would be at odds with Himself!

His purposes would not stand!

He would be guilty of an inconsistent nature, guilty of violating who He has revealed Himself to be, and guilty of appeasing His infinite nature through created (and finite) means. Therefore, if a Jesus-less-than-God is somehow true and a Jesus-less-than-God somehow saves (in any way, shape or form and to any degree), then God cannot be God. How could God ever be at odds with Himself and remain God? He can't. One thing that God can never do is violate His own nature.

Man, too, in this scenario would be divided. He would certainly have a divided or, at the very best, a confused allegiance between Jehovah the "active" Creator and the Jesus-less-than-God "savior." Herein lies the rub for those who believe that Jesus is not fully God--a divided allegiance. Who do they worship? Is it a little worship to the Jesus-less-than-God and more worship to Jehovah God? Exactly how does that work? And what about glory? Can attributes of the divine nature have degrees? If so, where in scripture is it defined to what degree Christ is worthy to receive glory? How and when do they decide to acknowledge the Lamb as the heavenly creatures do in Revelation?

The conundrum for any believer in a Jesus-less-than-God is the division of a divine nature which cannot be divided.

Such a Jesus-less-than-God scenario as this, whereby “any other being should rescue man from eternal death” than God himself, is therefore impossible. God must be both Creator and Savior, else his purpose for man in Creation and the effect of His Salvation for man are divided, inconsistent and impossible. (See Hebrews 10 specifically for God’s undivided and consistent purposes in Salvation).

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Thinking about baptism

Recently, a friend of mine challenged my thinking on baptism. Specifically, he said that he wanted to ensure that my reading of Scripture in this area is exegetical and not eisegetical. Essentially, the question presented is whether I am a credo/immersing baptist due to study or due to culture.


The gauntlet thrown down, I’ve now immersed myself in a study of baptism (its meaning, mode, and proper subject), and I plan to write a paper on my findings. When engaged in lengthy legal writing I have a proven system; I look for the best positive arguments for all sides of an issue, then for articles critiquing the positive arguments. I then create a spreadsheet with all arguments and counterarguments, and then begin my writing. For legal writing, this mechanical system is an easy way to go about discovering the law. However, for thoroughly addressing the positive arguments for paedobaptism my normal method has proven difficult for a variety of reasons.


I’m fairly well versed, for a layman, in the positive arguments for credobaptism. I’m aware of the etymological arguments for baptizo, as well as the symbolism-argument relying in part on Romans chapter 6, and the historical arguments. (I realize I’m posting this on a blog, the creator of which has written at least two books on this subject—read this with forgiving eyes, please.) http://www.amazon.com/Rickety-Bridge-Broken-Mirror-Paedobaptism/dp/0595438164/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1220756211&sr=1-1


But I know little of the positive arguments for paedobaptism. Generally, when I see a defense of paedobaptism it begins with a sentence like, "baptizo and bapto don’t always mean immerse." The author then goes on to explain how those words can mean "washing," or the like. He then leaps to the conclusion that sprinkling is permissible. (Of course, there are a number of citations to Hebrews, and the Greek translation of the OT, where bapto is used for certain rites.)


But why babies? Hal’s told me before that infant baptism is the result of a misinterpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant. Fair enough, but I want to map the road they take to get to that misapplication. It seems that paedobaptist confessions generally assign an unobjectionable, to me anyway, meaning to baptism. Broadly, it’s a sign and seal of regeneration and the remission of signs.


As most of you know, the paedobaptist claims that baptism is a modern substitution for circumcision. This is more and more troubling to me the further I read. Words have meaning, and for the paedobaptist to be correct no more than three words must be assigned objectively inaccurate meanings: the Greek word baptizo, "church," and "covenant."


I won’t go into detail here, feel free to comment, but I’m just a layman with a lexicon and I know that there are separate Greek words for sprinkle, pour, and immerse, and of those words, only the one meaning "immerse" is used for baptism. (Incidentally, I’ve stumbled upon the best book on this subject: Immersion, the Act of Christian Baptism by John T. Christian, written in 1891. Awesome.)

I also know that "church" only includes members of the church, i.e., the bride of Christ. "Church" is never used for an ethnic or geographically defined people group in the New Testament. Since the paedobaptist recognizes that those baptized are part of the church, his commitment to substituting baptism for circumcision forces a definition of "church" foreign to the Bible, and leads to the creation of paedobaptist terms of art like "visible" and "invisible" church (I guess that’s the "visible bride" and the "invisible bride"). For as the sign of circumcision was given to a certain ethnically identifiable people, the sign of baptism is given to those whose hearts have been circumcised.

"Covenant" must also be redefined to accommodate the substitution theology. For instance, ethnic Israel benefitted under the old covenant by inhabiting Canaan, the promised land. All those who received the sign of circumcision received the blessing regardless of spiritual status. If baptism = circumcision, then all those who receive the sign of baptism should also enter the New Covenant promised land. But perhaps there’s a visible promised land, and an invisible one.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Maitre d’s, Managers, and Maniacs

When I go out to eat, I now specify to the maitre d’–“I don’t want a table by any groups of males; seat us only near ladies or families.” I get stunned looks and cooperative responses. Those in fact were my exact words this evening at Red Lobster, after which Judy and I waited about ten minutes for a table. During that time, I thought several times how the maitre d’ might have interpreted my request, so I approached her and said, “I hope you will not take offense at my request, but when I dine out and sit near groups of males, I almost always hear cursing, and I won’t tolerate it out of respect for my wife; for that matter, I won’t tolerate it out of respect for myself; it’s culturally and ethically wrong. Moreover, did you know that public profanity is against the law, and always borders on disturbing the peace? The fact is, because restaurant managers don’t manage their environments, I have to manage my own environment.” I was astonished and pleased at her response-

“Sir,” she said, “No one's ever made that request, but after I thought a minute about what you said, I understood exactly what you meant; groups of guys are usually just maniacs.”

I laughed and said, “thanks,” and soon Judy and I were (carefully and purposely) seated at a remote table. During our dinner, the maitre d’ checked our environment several times, I presumed to be sure we were unmolested. That’s just fine with me; I don’t mind the extra attention.

Ironically, during our dinner, a blonde thirty-something talked incessantly the whole time. Because my left ear gets completely clogged about twice a year, as it is now, I am often half deaf; Judy thinks that’s a good thing, especially when we eat out, so that I won’t hear things. She says she doesn’t hear what I hear, and wishes I wouldn’t. But when she hears something amiss–well, you can be sure that it’s really amiss. “What are you looking at?” I asked. “That hyperactive woman,” she said; "she has talked non-stop the whole time.” Indeed, she was talking a blue streak. “Has she said anything meaningful?” I asked. “Not a thing,” Judy replied. We both laughed.

Swimming the current of such superfluous verbosity, I usually think of the Proverbs, “In the multitude of words, there wanteth not folly” and “A fool’s voice is known by a multitude of words.” I must also confess that I usually think of the hilarious vulgarity, “Diarrhea of the mouth is a sure sign of constipation of thought.”

In stark contrast to the verbose blonde, a quiet, reserved, middle-aged lady and gentleman conversed at the table next to her. Despite my auditory debilitation, I caught one remarkable comment from the apparently polished, sweet-natured, and unassuming woman–“I wake up every day with only one goal in mind,” she said, “Who can I annoy today?” I laughed out loud, as did Judy. I asked, “Did she say what I think she said?” Judy replied, “Yes, she did!” I immediately retorted, “I want to meet that lady!”