Category Archives: Religion

It is all about us, isn’t it?

Our postmodern world is pulling each individual into a vacuum of self-centeredness, whispering, ‘It’s all about you.’ It’s all about your own pleasure, peace, prosperity, and comfort. It’s all about what you think. It’s all about your own self-actualization, your individual pursuit. It reminds me of the first lie that mankind heard in the garden: ‘You will be like God!’ It is all about us, isn’t it? –Del Tacket, TruthProject.com

Quoted on Your Writers Group.com

I remember a writer, whom I didn’t know then and now can’t remember, saying his biggest hurtle in telling a good story was taking himself out of focus. He wasn’t meant to be the main character of every story.

Smoking or non-smoking?

In my ongoing effort to demonstrate my spiritual superiority and make most of you feel guilty, I’m going to talk about my morning devotional.

(I was pretty guilty about it myself, by the way, until recently. I finally found a way to make my devotions fairly regular. I spend fifteen minutes with the Bible during my first coffee break each day at work. This isn’t a live option for lots of people, I understand, but since I’m the boss, and I can’t leave the office during that time period anyway, it works for me.)

I was in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 this morning. I was using the ESV at work, but I don’t have a copy here at home, so I’ll transcribe verses 11-15 from the NIV:

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through flames.

Occasionally I’ve heard the question asked, “Will Christians go through the Last Judgment?” It seems to me the answer is right here. Christians will be judged, but only in terms of rewards, not punishment.

Paul imagines—or perhaps he once observed—a man going through the ruins of his house after it has burned down. The man sifts through the ashes, recognizing charred scraps of clothing or sticks of furniture, ruined forever.

But in the cinders he touches something heavy and solid. He lifts it up. It’s his savings—a bag of coins. The bag itself has burned up, but the money comes up all together in a lump, because it’s gold and silver. It’s melted together, but it’s all there, and just as valuable as it was before the fire. Because gold and silver are invulnerable to flames.

That’s how it will be at the Last Judgment, Paul is saying. It won’t be like the Muslim Last Judgment. Muslims believe that everyone—Muslim and infidel—will stand before the same court. There will be a balance scale there. On one side of the balance, all the person’s good deeds will be placed. On the other side all his sins will go. If the good is heavier than the bad, the person goes to Paradise. If the evil weighs more, he goes to Hell. Thus no Muslim is ever entirely sure of salvation (unless he’s a martyr, of course).

I suspect a lot of people who think they’re Christians are actually Muslims, at least in this doctrine.

But Paul says that as long as you stand on the Foundation—that is, Jesus Christ—you can’t be condemned in the Judgment. Your deeds, though—all the stuff you bring with you from your life—your achievements and piety—all that will go through the fire. When the fire has had its way, you’ll see (and I’ll see) how much of that was gold, how much was kindling.

A comforting thought, and a troubling one, all at once.

I should practice sleeping out of doors, I think.

Cryptic post

A lot of people have a lot invested in the belief that Jesus Christ was merely a great human teacher, about whom fantastic but fictitious tales were spread after his death. This view permits such people to consider themselves “Christians” in the sense of being followers of “the real Jesus” (about whom, according to this theory, we really can say nothing for sure, but they’re sure they know what He truly meant anyway, and—what do you know? It’s precisely what they already think!). Most importantly it avoids the whole scandal of the Cross thing, which is so tacky.

And that, in short, is what I think of James Cameron and his documentary on Jesus’ tomb. I move right past discussion of his claims and settle on an ad hominem attack.

But if you want a discussion of Cameron’s arguments, I recommend to you this post at Dennis Ingolfsland’s Recliner Commentaries blog, a blog that deserves to be better known than it is.

For a more sinister, humorous take I liked what Dirty Harry wrote yesterday at Libertas blog.

Out of Egypt on the Lutheran Confession

Presbyterian blogger Donovan praises some Lutheran doctrines and criticizes others. He writes, “. . . though I love the first part of the section on Election (and think that the best Calvinist practice is in line with its cautions), find the second part (which teaches the doctrine of resistable grace) to be in conflict with the FoC’s own teaching earlier on, in the section on Free Will. And not in a paradoxical sort of way either, just an out-and-out contradictory sort of way.”

You don’t have to thank me for bringing this to your attention. I blog because I care.

Man, Teach Not The Lord’s People

“10 reasons why men shouldn’t be pastors”

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.

Here’s a bit o’ humor passed from blog to blog which could be a conversation igniter. I’ve gotten my chuckles out of it, and I link to it here despite my fear that it could be fodder for a feminist diatribe on women in church leadership. I don’t want to support that. I’m one of those failed intellectuals who believes the Bible grants church and family authority to men, not to men and women equally. Both genders are equally valuable in all roles of life, but men have the responsibility to lead their families and churches after the example of Christ.

Can’t Imagine It’s Enforced

Blasphemy in Massachusetts: Chapter 272, Section 36. “Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing,” etc.

And if you raise a ruckus in church, section 38 will send you jail too, so watch it.

After posting this yesterday, I asked myself if anyone would want this kind of thing to be enforced. We won’t improve our neighbor’s character by forcing them to keep select vices, like blasphemy, to themselves. Disrupting a worship service is another matter, which I don’t think automatically falls under free speech protections. It is proper for a society to protect places from unruly citizens, so if it were a crime to heckle a minister in my state, I wouldn’t mind. Not that I would press charges on it either.

But common vulgarity or blasphemy as is restricted in Section 36 above shouldn’t be unlawful. Neither should stating that homosexuality is perversion.

Will the Real Jesus of Nazareth Step Forward?

Jared is blogging about Jesus again.

Lest we think “Jesus in our own image” is a sin solely owned by so-called “liberal” academics and historians, we should at least acknowledge the Western Church of the modern world is frequently just as guilty. Just because our Jesus looks different doesn’t mean He’s the historical Jesus.

It was G.K. Chesterton who, in his defense of Christian orthodoxy, said, “I did not make it. It is making me.” Can we say that of Jesus? Can we say the Jesus we believe in, rest in, trust in is the Jesus who is making us? Or is He the one we’d prefer, the one who’s most like us, who’s safer and nicer, who reflects all of our personal or political values and idiosyncrasies? Is Jesus making us, or is he the Jesus of our own making?

Adventures in faith, by a non-adventurer

It’s been weeks (or days at least) since I’ve promoted Andrew Klavan. In this LA Times piece today he analyzes Hollywood’s problem with portraying the War on Terror, and as usual he’s dead on. H/T to Dave Lull for the link.

High drama at my house last night—not the kind that would make a John Woo movie, or even an Edward Albee drama, but the internal kind.

I paid my bills, and there was an insurance bill in there I’d been worrying about. Sure enough, when all was done and I looked at my checkbook balance, a metaphorical hand, cold as a pump handle in February, took hold of my heart. The balance was about the size of the check for a large party at a nice restaurant (not that I ever eat at nice restaurants).

I’ll get paid in a few days, so it wasn’t the end of the world, barring emergencies. But it scared me badly. I’m not a gambler, and I find myself in a game of economic Russian Roulette these days.

Many Christians don’t worry about such things, or claim they don’t. “Jesus promised us our daily bread,” they say. “He’ll always provide for our physical needs.”

I don’t read the Bible that way. Lots of better Christians than me have lost homes, family members and their very lives without Jesus doing anything about it. I think the error comes from mistaking Jesus’ point. I don’t believe He meant to say that we were guaranteed some kind of miraculous minimum wage. I think He meant that we have to orient our spirits to understand that all we really need is Him, and if He chooses to deny us any “necessity,” it’s because it’s not really a necessity. Only He is a necessity.

Which isn’t to deny that God generally provides most of us our daily bread. I know the stories about George Mueller. It’s just that sometimes He doesn’t provide physical needs, and it’s always His choice, for His purposes. We can’t manipulate Him, and we’ve got no right to complain if the decision isn’t one we like.

In other words, God has the right to take my house, and I have to live with that. Rejoice in it, even.

Then, just before bedtime, I picked up the mail I’d gotten that day, and forgotten to open. There was a reimbursement check from my health insurance flex account. I’d pretty much forgotten it was coming. It didn’t entirely solve my problem, but it certainly increased my comfort level.

Frankly that spooked me as much as the low balance had.

The old widow in the smoky house

A relative recently sent me a copy of some pages from an old “kalender,” (actually more like what we’d call an annual) published in 1932 by Augsburg Publishing House in Minneapolis. These pages contained an essay by a pastor (identified only by the initials “Th. F.”), concerning his memories of a particular aged widow he’d known when he was a young schoolteacher in Norway. The article was of interest to me because this widow was one of my ancestors. Her name was Sophie, which was also the name of my grandmother, a descendent of hers—also in her own turn a godly widow.

The essay is called “Den gamle enke i røkstuen,” which means, “The old widow in the smoky house.” A røkstue was a kind of cottage once very common among the poorer classes in Norway. It was a single-roomed house with a plastered fireplace in one corner for heating and cooking. Such fireplaces had no chimneys. The smoke filled the room, then escaped through a hole in the roof. They were sooty and unpleasant places, and Sophie’s living in one was evidence of her poverty.

The author remembered Sophie as a simple, quiet, loving soul who devoted her life to prayer. One time she went down to the river to wash some clothes, and felt compelled to spend some time with God. Because she didn’t like to “pray to be seen of men,” she went further along the river to a quiet spot where she wouldn’t be seen. But just as she knelt down, a stone rolled over on her foot and crushed it, pinning her. She had to call for help to get free, and she was crippled for the rest of her life. She often wondered, the pastor recalled, why God would allow such a thing to happen while she was “approaching the throne of grace,” but she finally decided it was for God to understand and for her to accept.

The pastor felt he knew why. He believed that if the accident hadn’t happened, no one would have known about her secret prayers. He felt the sight of her limping (like Jacob’s limp in Genesis) was a constant testimony to God’s presence in her life.

Such thinking seems insane (not to mention heartless) to us today. But I wonder if it’s possible that we, with our love of ease and comfort, have simply grown unable to understand things that were clear to earlier, tougher generations who took daily suffering for granted.

Or maybe not. I’m not drawing conclusions here. I’m just wondering.

I’ll translate a little from a passage near the end:

And she was not one of those who, while listening to God’s Word, sit and (in their thoughts) share the message generously with others; she applied it to herself, and so brought rich blessings home with her. One time, when the pastor at the altar said, “Let us all pray,” she began to think that obviously not everyone there in church was praying along. How could so-and-so pray, being such-and-such, etc.? And just as she sat and thought that way about others, she realized that she, precisely because of such thoughts about others, was herself neglecting to follow along with the prayer. “I was both grieved and ashamed that the devil should deceive me so,” she said. But after that she was always vigilant in guarding against that temptation….”

We think of our forebears as unenlightened compared with our educated selves. I suspect God doesn’t see it that way.

“What is the greatest commandment?”

I’m eating up leftover pumpkin pie from our Christmas feast, one slice a day (one more slice after tonight).

It amuses me to think back when I was a kid, when my parents sternly commanded me to finish my pie crust, including the fluted strip that sticks up and doesn’t touch the filling. I grumbled and ate it, but it seemed to spoil the pleasure of the thing.

Today I don’t mind pie crust, and would be perfectly happy to eat it. But health experts inform me it’s better to leave it behind.

So the question for me is, is there greater pleasure to be had from defying my parents posthumously, or from defying the experts?

A story my dad told me came to mind last night.

It was about one of his cousins. This cousin was the son of an uncle Dad was fond of, a fellow who owned a small earth-moving business. The uncle’s wife was a harder person to work up warm feelings for. She was a stern woman who believed The Rules Are There For a Reason. All their children rebelled—and rebelled hard—in their teenage years.

This cousin (I’ll call him Cliff) had gone to California and become a musician in a dance band.

You know about that Fundamentalist “No Dancing” rule? It was big in our church. Equal in every way to “Thou shalt not kill,” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

Dad was closing up our house for the last time the last time he saw Cousin Cliff. It was 1979. Dad had sold the farm, and most of his possessions had been auctioned off, including the house furnishings. Mom and Dad had decided to save just a few things, and Dad was packing some of them into a pickup truck he’d just bought (a moving van had already collected the rest). The next day they would drive south to Florida for good.

As Dad was finishing the job a car pulled into the yard. The man who got out was Cousin Cliff from California. Pretty much by accident, he’d chosen just that day to come and visit.

Dad didn’t have any furniture to invite him to sit on, so they sat on the cement front step, looked out over the flat landscape, and talked a while.

Cliff told him a story about his father, who had died a few years before.

His father had taken a trip to California to visit him. Cliff had done all he could to make his father comfortable and to give him a good time.

He’d even bought him a gift—an expensive wristwatch.

His father had seemed to enjoy himself, and they had parted on good terms.

But when his dad had gone home and Cliff had gone to the guest room to clean it up, he’d found the wristwatch lying in an empty dresser drawer.

For all his good will, his dad just wasn’t able to accept an expensive gift purchased with money earned playing dance music.

It still bothered Cliff. And Dad spoke of it to me more than once, so I guess it bothered him too.

Draw what conclusions you will.

“You’ll have to sleep somewhere else”

Important News Update: I have now finished off my Thanksgiving leftovers.

Further developments will be reported as they occur.

Today was road trip day. Marty, a guy from the maintenance crew at work, and I drove a couple hours to a town in western Minnesota, to pick up thirty cartons of books donated to our archive.

The donor is the same guy I wrote about a while back, the one who perpetrated the classic “shrinking turkey in the microwave” Thanksgiving prank.

His name is Marvin, and he is the son of a pastor of the old Lutheran Free Church, predecessor to my own church body.

He showed me a story he’d written, called “My Father’s Best Sermon.”

I think it’s one of the finest stories I’ve ever read.

I’m going to pass it on to our denominational magazine, but I’ll give you a condensed version.

When Marvin was a young teenager (around the 1930s or early ‘40s, I imagine), he asked his father if he could go with the other kids to some entertainment event (he didn’t say what kind). His father said it wouldn’t be appropriate and told him no. Marvin said he was going anyway, and headed out.

“If you go out without my approval,” his father told him as he reached the door, “this house will be locked when you get home, and you’ll have to sleep somewhere else.”

Marvin refused to back down. He left. He enjoyed the event.

That, he said, was the short part of the night.

When he got home he found the house dark, the doors locked. Even that window in the basement that the kids could sometimes work loose was locked tight.

Marvin stood in the dark, thinking about his options. It wasn’t winter, but it was fall and the night was getting cold.

He remembered a sort of loft in the chicken coop which his brother and he had appropriated as a “secret place.” It had a sort of a mattress and a ratty quilt.

He went into the chicken coop and climbed up. The “mattress” was there, but the quilt was gone.

Lacking other options, he lay down on the mattress and curled up in a fetal position. The cold wind blew in through the cracks. The coop stank of chicken droppings. There was no way to sleep. He lay there in the darkness hugging himself, shivering. The hours passed slowly. He wondered if he could make it through the night.

Then, at last, he heard a door open. He heard a creaking sound as someone climbed the board ladder to the loft. Someone put a pillow under his head, lay down and held him close, and pulled a quilt over both of them.

In the darkness, he heard his father say, “Marvin, when I said that if you disobeyed me you’d have to find another place to sleep tonight, I didn’t say that I would sleep inside.”

And so that pastor taught his son the true meaning of the Incarnation.

Wish I’d had a dad like that.

Wait. I do.

Aruging Against the False or the Evil

Is it worse to be accused of believing something false or to be accused of believing something evil? Christianity isn’t true? That’s so last-century. G.E. Veith writes, “It is one thing to oppose religion, but now we have arrived at the marks of dangerous religious bigotry: spreading sensationalistic lies, instigating fear in the public, and promoting paranoid conspiracy theories.”

This reminds me of a radio report I heard several weeks ago on a Christian outreach to a homosexual community. One young man said he felt uncomfortable with the group of Christians, because he sensed negativity from them. He had read the Bible, he said, and there’s no negativity in it.

John Wilson on Evangelicals in Literature and Life

Glenn Lucke points out the NY Times article written by John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture, on evangelicals. In fiction, Wilson says the evangelical is a dope. He continues, “A reader who moves from the fiction shelf to the stacks of reportage and commentary may experience cognitive dissonance. The evangelical buffoons who populate so many novels these days seem hardly capable of organizing a local witch-burning, yet their nonfictional counterparts are said to be on the verge of turning these United States into a theocracy.”