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Saturday, November 02, 2002

Edifier du Jour-Acts 9:10-19(NASB)
10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." 11 And the Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight." 13 But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." 15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake." 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; 19 and he took food and was strengthened.
Reading the chapter, I was more moved by the arrival at Damascus rather than the road to it. hesitant response to going to help Saul; but God tells him to help anyway, that Saul (soon to be rechristened Paul) is going to be doing his work. One thing to remember about zealous people. People who where whole-hog against God make the best converts, for they often apply that zeal to the Lord as well.

Friday, November 01, 2002

Edifier du Jour-Isiah 6:1-7(NASB)
1 In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." 4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven."
God doesn't wash out our mouths with soap, he burns things off with that burning coal. It will burn off anything that is impure and leave behind what is solid and everlasting. Some of us are more impure than others, but all of us have unclean lips before God gets to work on them. Yes, we can do the "we're not worthy" routine with a real reverence rather than a Wayne's World cliche of reverence. However, God makes us worthy in a hurry through the blood of Jesus.

Thursday, October 31, 2002

A Quick Halloween Follow-up-I'm on my way to a record-setting hit day with the buzz from my Halloween and Harry Potter pieces. Brownpau brings up 1 Corinthians 8 about "weak" members who freak out over food sacrificed to idols and "strong" members who know that those idols aren't real and can be safely ignored. I would go back and add 1 Corinthians 6:12 "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything." Some of us have a stricter view of what is permissable; by that standard I could be seen as the weak one in Pauline theology. However, there are a lot of things that aren't profitable; I'll make a strong case that Halloween isn't one of them. However, one should hold back on giving both scriptual barrels to people who took their kids trick-or-treating tonight or who handed out candy to other people's kids. I may think it's a bad idea, but if the family has a living faith in Jesus, it might not be an issue you want to go to the mat over.

Edifier du Jour-Acts 8:1-8(NASB)
1 Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. 4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. 6 The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. 7 For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was much rejoicing in that city.
This is a good example of God using an injustice to expand his kingdom. The church in Jerusalem was scattered due to Stephen's moving soliloquy and following death in Chapter 7. Due to that scattering, more areas were reached by the gospel. This winds up fulfilling Jesus' call to go to Judea and Samaria. Note that it was Phillip, a Hellenistic Jew and one of Stephen's fellow deacons, who expanded the gospel to Samaria. The native Jews might have been less willing to do so, given their historic enmity with the Samarians. It is a fortuitous coming together of events to further the kingdom; remember, if it matters, it ain't luck.

Basketball Musings-To the commenter on Harry Potter; yes, he has a better moral compass than the stereotypical NBA player. Didn't get to see much of the action last night, but the NBA kicked back into gear last night. Detroit managed to get past a understaffed Knicks club, 86-77, with Hamilton filling Stackhouse's spot in the stat sheet fairly well, with 22 points and 6 rebounds. Orlando is looking good as long as Grant Hill stays healthy, winning two nights in a row. The big surprise I saw is Chicago going in and beating Boston. Jason "Jay" Williams was within sniffing distance of a triple-double, but what's with the Shaq imitation (0-5) at the line? Speaking of the big guy, the Lakers are 0-2 without him.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Afternoon Musings-Go get 'em Jesse. The Democrats went from funeral, well past wake, and into pep rally yesterday, and the Gov's ticked. He's thinking of naming one of his backers Senator for the remainder of the term. Here's a fun factoid "A temporary appointee would fill the seat until Tuesday's election results are certified." Now, that would be when in 2003? They're already fighting over getting replacement absentee ballots for people who've already voted. This will keep the political pros busy. Overheared rumor--Once he leaves office, they're planning to name part of I-494 the Ventura Highway. New elections in Israel? Labor's had it with the current government and will vote against the budget, forcing new elections. That might not bode well for Labor, but people have been know to do stoopid things from time to time. Here are some team slogans from ESPN Page 2-I'll only print the funny and printable ones. Dallas Mavericks: "Everything's bigger in Texas ... hairdos, egos, Germans." Isn't Nowitzki actually Tom Chambers Jr? Memphis Grizzlies: "Need a break from truck-related sporting events?" Hey, trade for Tractor Traylor and have Truck Robinson as a assistant coach. New Jersey Nets: "My Kidd is a better ball-handler than your honor student." Phoenix Suns: "Tom Chambers ... Dan Majerle ... Casey Jacobsen ... Our legacy of tanned desert hunks continues." Hey, you can have Chambers and Jacobsen, but leave a fellow Chip alone. Portland Trail Blazers: "We lost more than 300 pounds this offseason!" That means they must have put on the feedbag after trading Kemp. Utah Jazz: "Greg Ostertag: The other white meat." No, the slogan should be "We're moving to Central Florida, so StocktontoMalone can commute from their seniors-only country club villas." Speaking of Utah-has it been 23 years already that they moved from New Orleans? The new New Orleans Hornets are set to retire Pete Maravich's number from the NO Jazz days. This quote from Paul Silas struck me-"For him to come along and do some of the things he did for a white boy was kind of shocking.'' Had Phil Jackson or Rudy T said the same thing about a black player, Sharpton would be in the first plane out of New York.

The Lion, the Warlock and Middle Earth-Commenters on the Harry Potter/supernatural media post wanted to compare Harry to the Narnia series of C.S. Lewis and the Middle Earth series (Lord of the Rings being the best known) of Tolkien. First of all, lest anyone wants to make me out to be some crazed Bible-thumping Potter-basher, I have very little animosity towards the Potter series. It seems to be fairly innocent fun once you get past the magical milieu, and is far better on a moral basis than most of secular youth fiction these days. That doesn't mean I'm recommending it, but reading the books are fairly far down the list of things to chew someone out about. Ideajoy's Dave King recommended this Mike Hertenstein article on the issue, which defends Potter against such contrasts.
J. K. Rowling has lately become associated in the public mind with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien: all are British fantasists, appeal to a similar readership, and use initials for names. Some judge their works of comparable literary quality. Our first concern is that all three, in their stories, depict magic and marvels. Some people just don't like this sort of thing, and, indeed, a few go so far as to suggest fantasy is morally inferior to realism. For those who deem Harry Potter unacceptable, the easiest course is to condemn fantasy literature in toto. But many religious critics of Harry Potter look upon Lewis and Tolkien, both admitted Christians, with too much family pride to be able do so.
In other parts of the article, Hertenstein points out the escapist nature of science fiction as a similar outlet for the urge to fantasize. Such efforts aren't unbiblical in and of themselves, as long as they contribute to drawing people closer to God. The Veggie Tales people have a space-opera3-2-1-Penguins series out, so that tradition continues in evangelical media.
Stated plainly then, such a critic's problem is to make the case that Rowling should be condemned for her use of magic, marvels and pagan references in a way that not also render illegitimate the use of same by their favorite Christian authors. Generally, one finds the critics' instincts (for disliking Harry Potter) outrun their abilities to explain.
Generally. I'll try to be an exception.
Here's a common argument: magical powers in Lewis' Narnia series are depicted as submitted to the rule of Aslan (the God figure), and therefore acceptable, while in the Potter books magic is a trade that must be learned, ergo, "there is no source that defines morality, only instinct and personal preference." Talk about personal preference! This argument only proves that the person making it prefers allegory, with its straight-forward correspondences (Aslan = God) to myth. The fact that J. K Rowling doesn't have a God figure in her stories doesn't make her stories godless; it makes them non-allegorical.
I want to drop back five yards and look at the idea of it being non-allegorical. Allegory is defined as " the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence." Some stories have a bigger message intended, holding "universal truths" as reviewers often say. Even if Harry Potter isn't some overarching stereotype of boyhood, some messages do flow from the books. Some of these messages Ms. Rowling intended, some she didn't. Having to fight evil in an a-theistic setting, a possible side message is that a good person can defeat evil without God's help. You can imply God's help or not imply it at all.
I don't recall any historic controversy over the source that defines morality for Cinderella's Fairy Godmother! Indeed, if a ruling supernatural personality is unnecessary for the magic in Potter, that only proves magic in that world is a mechanical, not an organic, metaphor, functioning much closer to technology than to religion. The learning of magical spells in Harry Potter is the fantasy equivalent of space fiction's scientific or pseudo-scientific technique: on par with Star Trek's making the bad guy disappear with a systematic recalibrating of the whatzit deflector scrims.
No, people didn't gripe much about Cinderella, but I listed it in my first post in how magic is commonplace in the movies. He's hitting upon another danger spot. If you look at magic as merely manipulating the mana in the universe, magic becomes merely applied physics and is no more evil than starting a car's engine. It is often a technique that New Age type practices can try and sneak around theological barriers; if it's simply natural, how can God complain? God could complain by noting that people should be turning to Him for empowerment rather than magic, whatever the source of it. Given the warning against magic in the Bible, working with anything supernatural that doesn't have God's handprint on it is a no-go zone. In the Narnia series (it's been a decade since I read them, so feel free to correct me) the lines between good and evil were more clearly drawn, as Aslan was written as a Jesus-analog. In the Middle Earth series (here we're talking two decades of rust), the world is at best pre-biblical, creating a magical good-versus-evil that transcended traditional theology. My exposure to Tolkien came in my pre-Christian, Dungeons-and-Dragons undergrad era, while I read the Narnia books while running Cedar Campus' bookstore, so I'm still a bit leery of Tolkien; a combination of its pre-Christian universe coupled with the RPG milieu I associate it with makes me less conformable with the allegories. In the Potter series, the magic doesn't have as much of a G-vs-E feel to it, nor does the forces of good have as much of a coherent sense to it. That would make it less allegorical, but the absence of that organized force of good makes necessary for the heroes to go it more-or-less alone, creating a de-facto allegory of its own. Modern fiction is less allegorical, for there is less of an emphasis on clinging to the good and rejecting evil. However, such lack of message of good and evil sends its own message of amorality. To Rowling's credit, Harry and his buddies are good kids who eventually do the right things, so there is more allegory there than Hertenstein would like to admit. However, such a subdued, less moralistic, message can get lost in the magic. I'm not against fantasy or sci-fi as classes, but like my fiction to be edifying.

Freemansons-Laying a Foundation for Opposition-Baggy-Slims pointed out that I used some "Christian conspiracy theorist sites" in my piece on the Masons on Monday. That's the result of some quick-and-dirty Googling; my intent was to quickly grab what I had learned about the Masons over the years, not give free cyber-time to some whack-jobs. For instance, I've not heard anything bad about the Grange, who aren't much more than a farmer's collective society. The sinisterness of the Grange rounds to zero to six significant digits. Today, I'm going to try to keep to more august sources. Let's try the Southern Baptists for starters; not everyone's cup of tea, but not a bunch watching for the black helicopters. Their take on the Masons is here, they had eight incompatibilities with Freemasonry. Some are rather minor, but I'll point out the ones that seem to be important. Number 2 was the "bloody oaths" that run counter to Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:33-37
33 "Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.' 34 "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. 36 "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil.
The SBC document states "The oaths required by Freemasonry are far worse than the examples the New Testament warns its readers against making." In their third item, they mention that various recommended readings of Freemasonry are "undeniable pagan and/or occultic." Rituals at one of the higher orders call upon Egyptian gods, according to the article. The sixth item points out that salvation comes through works rather than via Jesus, while the seventh points out a universalist streak in Freemasonry. The eighth points to racism in some lodges (but the same could easily be said of some Baptist churches). So, the Southern Baptists don't like them. The Assemblies of God has a policy against membership in secret societies; here's their rationale
1- The activities of secret orders demand time and energy that divert the servant of the Lord from efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. 2- The binding loyalty to fellow members of the secret society—many of whom are not fellow believers in Jesus Christ and His saving work—is an unworthy joining together of believers with unbelievers. 3- The spirit, philosophy, and general influence of secret orders channel activities toward improving only the natural part of humankind instead of changing the heart of the spiritual being. 4- Commitment to secret orders and their teachings leads one to a wrong emphasis on salvation through good works and improving society.
Note that they don't limit this to Freemasonry. Here's a Missouri Synod Lutheran take on Freemasonry that somewhat parallels the Southern Baptist piece, laying out the theological problems with Freemasonry. Here's a good synopsis of their critique
Masonry denies that regeneration is only by the Spirit of God working through the Means of Grace. It denies the distinctive character of the Bible as God’s Word. It ignores the depravity of man and denies the consequences of sin, making irrelevant the deity of Christ and His substitutionary suffering the death. It repudiates as narrow intolerance salvation by grace alone, through faith in the blood of Christ. It binds men with oaths more sacred than allegiance to church, family, nation. It buries every one of its members in good standing with the expressed confidence in reunion in the Grand Lodge Above.
This isn't a total overview of evangelical thought towards Freemasonry, but when Baptists, Pentecostals and Lutherans are in agreement that this is bad theology and bad practice, I think that it would take the conversation out of the conspiracy-theory camp and into a less-flaky theological framework. [Update 8:40AM-I'll give the Catholics their say as well-here's the Catholic Encylcopedia's take-it's got more history than you can shake a stick at. The Popes haven't like them one bit.]

Edifier du Jour-Acts 7:46-50(NASB)
46 "David found favor in God's sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 "But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. 48 "However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: 49 'HEAVEN IS MY THRONE, AND EARTH IS THE FOOTSTOOL OF MY FEET; WHAT KIND OF HOUSE WILL YOU BUILD FOR ME?' says the Lord, 'OR WHAT PLACE IS THERE FOR MY REPOSE? 50 'WAS IT NOT MY HAND WHICH MADE ALL THESE THINGS?'
This part of Stephen's speech before the Sanhedren hit me. While most of us readily admit that God goes beyond the walls of the church, it's good to remember that no church building, or no church, has a monopoly on God. He's got a home in Heaven already.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

PQ Leaving the Scene PDQ?-Interesting National Post piece on the meltdown of the Parti Québécois, as party leaders are frustrated at not being able to effectively pursue independence. There is a large independence sentiment in Quebec, but not quite a majority. If the PQ run on separatism and keep failing to deliver, they then need to focus on actually running the province. What's left is a marginally functional statist politics that needs a good counter; IIRC, the Liberals were running a tad to the PQ's right on economics in the last election. This might bode well for the Canadian right, as a free-market Francophone party, Action Démocratique, is now leading at the polls. We saw the local Conservatives wither into the weeds, effectively merging with the Liberals when Jean Charet defected. Could we see the day where the fight is between AD and the Liberals, with the PQ becoming the party of the Francophone left, the NDP of Quebec? The second question is whether AD will start to be a player on that federal level, sending some small-c conservatives to Ottawa? Could a Alliance/AD coalition government be in the cards down the line? This makes a viable anti-Liberal coalition a bit more plausible.

Google Fun-"Santorum 2008"-Someone's thinking ahead. "Mark and Ari Parties"- No such luck, Fleischer's kinda booked right now. "lil pear flowers midland"-that I could help them with-checked that Google hit-I might of sent Lil' Pear Tree, where my mom works, some business.

Souls, Like Other Ag Commodities, Are Cheap These Days-David Hogberg has this keeper, where he notes the Des Moines Register and Cedar Rapids Gazette's endorsement of Tom Harken based on his ability to bring farm-bill money back to Iowa. He asks "Has Iowa sold its soul for federal pork?" Ya betcha. Michigan keeps sending Carl Levin to the Senate; I don't think we even got any pork for it. I'm reminded of the old joke about the [insert ethnic group here] girl- she thought it was a good job until she found out all the other girls got paid.

Moving the Balance of Power?-Via Kaus comes this post from Jacob Levy on Down's Median Voter Theorem. I don't remember Downs in any of my PoliSci books, but the underlying concept is just applied common sense. Parties are torn between nominating people whose views represent them and nominating people who can win over the swing voter. The political center of gravity will dictate who the parties will nominate in a particular area. Parties want someone who will win, but yet can still win 50.1% of the vote. That means that a party's candidates in conservatives venues will be a lot different than the candidates in liberal ones. Rudy Guilani would be to the left of a lot of southern Democrats, but he was a good choice for the New York City GOP, for anyone much further to the right wouldn't of stood a chance of winning. Likewise, Zell Miller would be to the right of a lot of New England Republicans, but he's representative of Georgia politics. How many voters vote not so much on the exact views of the candidate but whether the candidate will move the body in the direction you want it to go? Let's say you want the Senate to move to the right, and you're a moderately conservative person; Bob Dole's about your speed. You have a choice of Sam Nunn or Bob Dornan. Nunn's closer to your views, but he wouldn't move the Senate to the right. If you send B-1 Bob to the Senate, the Senate moves a notch to the right, the median Senator moves from Olympia Snowe to Arlen Spector. If you vote for Nunn, the Senate stays were it is. Now, if you were voting for President or Governor, you might vote for Nunn, since that's an all-or-nothing proposition. However, if it is a legislative seat, you can send a bomb-thrower, knowing that they'll never wind up the swing vote, unless you get a both-ends-against-the-middle fight and your guy has to be talked into a centrist coalition. That might explain how some arch-liberals can keep winning, even if they don't represent the district. If the district is a bit leftist, people would be willing to vote for a Wellstone/Mondale type even if Coleman might be closer to their views, since having the liberal in the Senate will nudge it a notch to the left. That might explain why moderates don't get as much traction as they might otherwise get.

Fun and Games with IR-The NBA regular seasons starts tomorrow, and the tradition of dubious injuries continues. The NBA only allows 12 active players on a roster, but also allows teams to place up to three players on injured reserve. Often, the 13th or 14th guy on the roster will suddenly come up with tendonitis or a bad back when cut day comes, so the team can keep him around. Somehow, when one of the regulars gets seriously hurt, you see faster healings than a Benny Hinn crusade. For instance, rookie Piston Pepe Sanchez is hurt; he's been playing in the pre-season, but is likely the 13th man. Former Piston 13th man Brian Cardinal has assumed the position in Washington. If Hakeem is on the IR, he's really hurt, but Eric Montross could be playing Mr. Baker's Dozen. Why not cut to the chase and allow teams to have a 15-man roster, with 12 suiting up on a given game? That will allow teams to have "healthy scratches," as they would say in hockey, and cut out all the hypocrisy. {Update 10:15PM-My bad -it started tonight. Orlando was an unfriendly host, beating Philly this evening.]

Midday Musings-A false alarm over at the Corner-I see an headline "Byron is Right"-then see that they're talking about NROer Byron York. Hey, I'm still in the top ten for "Byron" in Google, ahead of Mr. York. The feds get into the act, putting capital murder charges against the Beltway Sniper. Who gets to try him might get interesting. The thought that occured to me is that he should plead guilty in Maryland, then fight extradition tooth-and-nail. Good news from Afghanistan-we're not torturing people down at Guantanamo Bay. Some newly released prisoners report good treatment, other than being chained during interrogations.

Death and Taxes-Only a partial take-apart on Krugman today. He has a decent eulogy for Wellstone, then veers back into familiar terrain, going after the estate tax repeal.
On one side, the inclusion of estate tax repeal in last year's federal tax cut is the most striking example to date of how our political system serves the interests of the wealthy. After all, the estate tax affects only a small minority of families; the bulk of the tax is paid by a tiny elite. In fact, estate tax repeal favors the wealthy to such an extent that defenders of last year's tax cut — like Senator Charles Grassley, who published a misleading letter in last Friday's Times — always carefully omit it from calculations of who benefits. (The letter talked only about the income tax; had he included the effects of estate tax repeal, he would have been forced to admit that more than 40 percent of the benefits of that tax cut go to the wealthiest 1 percent of the population.) To eliminate the estate tax in the face of budget deficits means making the rich richer even as we slash essential services for the middle class and the poor. On the other side, the estate tax debate illustrates the pervasive hypocrisy of our politics. For repeal of the "death tax" has been cast, incredibly, as a populist issue. Thanks to sustained, lavishly financed propaganda — of which that anti-Wellstone flier was a classic example — millions of Americans imagine, wrongly, that the estate tax mainly affects small businesses and farms, and that its repeal will help ordinary people. And who pays for the propaganda? Guess. It's amazing what money can buy.
A lot depends on what you label small. It doesn't take much to get a small family farm over a million dollars in assets, or a thriving local business. The problem of "soulless corporations" taking over your downtown happens in part when family business have to sell out to larger corporations in order to pay for the estate taxes. The bigger mom-and-pops can't become brothers-and-sisters that way. If a company is owned by a small set of people, the owners are more responsive and generally more generous to the community than a more widely-held corporation. The large local businesses thus become just another cog in corporate American rather than a neighbor than can be hit upon as a soft touch for the high school booster club or the church food bank. Estate taxes don't hurt Home Depot, but they do hurt Smith's Hardware. The don't hurt Rite Aid or CVS, but they do hurt Community Drug. They don't hurt Wal-Mart, but they do hurt Pat's Supermarket. The estate tax reinforces the move towards big corporations rather than towards smaller, more socially responsive businesses. Is that what the left wants? Possibly. Smaller businesses are less unionized. The management of smaller businesses is more politically and culturally conservative and thus more resistant to "progressive" efforts. Bigger businesses make it easier to implement government regulations, for many programs have special small-business provisions. Many big corporations are allies of the left to keep small businesses shackled with regulations. It wasn't the big-business NAB that raised holy hell over the Clinton health-care plan, it was the small-business based NFIB who lead the charge. Since most of the NAB members have health insurance for their workers already, the Clinton mandatory-coverage plan didn't seem that bad, especially if it raised the costs of their smaller, less-unionized competitors. Could our modern day liberals want to get the kulaks out of the way so that they can deal with just big businesses? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner and Their Kids-Interesting case pointed out by Amy Welborn on this piece which is too weird and over-the-top to be a movie plot line. (1) Homosexual couple has quadruplets via artificial inseminating a women with one of the guy's sperm. (2) Our loving couple wants to have kids baptized at a Catholic Church, promising to raise them Christians. (3) Four-sigma1 conservative, "God hates [insert anti-homosexual word here]" Baptist pastor protests. The question in my mind is how to pull off such a ceremony without making a mockery of it. To the Catholics, baptism is part of bringing the kids into the church. The thought that irks me, and must of set off Rev. Phelps (the gay-bashing Baptist), is the idea of this homosexual duo promising to raise the child a Christian. It brings to mind the scene from one of the Godfather movies of the Don being a party to a baptism as a spiritual godfather, promising to renounce Satan and all his ways, while his hit men are dispatching his enemies with extreme prejudice. How do you have the "parents" come forward and pledge things they have no intention of keeping? The counter-argument comes to mind that we're all sinners and will all fall short of renouncing Satan's ways 24/7. This reminds me a bit of the story this spring about a stripper single mom wanting to send her kid to a Christian school; the school didn't want to have to deal with the child of such an avowed sinner, even if the mom wanted her kid taught in that environment. How do you nurture the kid without encouraging (or turning a blind eye to) the parent's lifestyle? I hate to pick on Andrew Sullivan on this one, but he's both a professing Catholic and a homosexual; a seemingly good, if a bit bitter, guy once you put his preferences aside. If he were to come into my church with an adoptive son in tow, would we welcome them? I would think so. The kid would be welcome with little reservation, while we tried to minister to this guy who is trying to love the Lord despite wanting to ignore the parts of scripture that get in the way of his sex life. The question would become how hard we would try to "straighten" the dad out; if you made too much of an issue of his lifestyle (this would apply to Stripper Mom, too), you might not get to minister to the kid. If you ignore the sins of the parent, you look like hypocrites. "Hate the sin, love the sinner and their kids" is the best way to try and deal with it, so that you don't ignore the flawed lifestyle of the parents, yet try to minister to them lovingly. 1 Four standard deviations from the mean-to the right of 99.997 of the population. OK, maybe he's only 2.5σ

Edifier du Jour-Matthew 7:15-20(NASB)
15 "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 "You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 "So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 "So then, you will know them by their fruits.
I've got a bit of a bad taste in my mouth after going over Halloween and Masons et al, wondering if I had a bit too much bile yesterday. The operative question when you are looking at any group is whether they are showing spiritual fruit; are they helping people draw closer to God and improve their lives? If they are, then they might just be doing God's will. The fruit here is more than just basic benevolence; people of almost all religions look after the needy. Helping the needy is necessary, but it isn't sufficient. It is helping people, body, soul and spirit, that is the mark of a good ministry. Yes, many evangelicals churches fall short in looking after physical needs, but merely looking after physical needs isn't proper, either. So when you look at a groups works, make sure to include the spiritual dimension.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Southern Gospel-Part II-The full Phillip Jenkins piece is up here on theological conservatism in African, Latin America and Asia; I had posted on an interview on the subject last month. I don't think Jenkins quite understands the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The Reformation tried to take the church back to it's Biblical roots and away from the corruption and indulgences (both figurative and literal) of the Catholic church of a half-millennia ago. The Counter-Reformation recognized many of the Reformer's critiques of the situation and helped clean house within the Catholic Church. Here's one paragraph that shows where Jenkins doesn't get this issues.
This move toward individualism, toward the privatization of religious belief, makes the spirit of the Reformation very attractive to educated people in the West. It stirs many liberal Catholic activists, who regard the aloof and arrogant hierarchy of the Church as not only an affront but something inherently corrupt. New concepts of governance sound exciting, even intoxicating, to reformers, and seem to mesh with likely social and technological trends. The invention of movable type and the printing press, in the fifteenth century, was a technological development that spurred mass literacy in the vernacular languages—and accelerated the forces of religious change. In the near future, many believe, the electronic media will have a comparably powerful impact on our ways of being religious. An ever greater reliance on individual choice, the argument goes, will help Catholicism to become much more inclusive and tolerant, less judgmental, and more willing to accept secular attitudes toward sexuality and gender roles. In the view of liberal Catholics, much of the current crisis derives directly from archaic if not primitive doctrines, including mandatory celibacy among the clergy, intolerance of homosexuality, and the prohibition of women from the priesthood, not to mention a more generalized fear of sexuality. In their view, anyone should be able to see that the idea that God, the creator and lord of the universe, is concerned about human sexuality is on its way out.
The difference between the Reformation and this liberal move is that the Reformation allowed people to read the Bible for themselves and then follow it whereas the modern liberals want people to ignore the Bible where it is politically incorrect. Jenkins seems to ignore American evangelicals for the most part in this piece, where he contrasts the liberals in the Catholic and Anglican churches with the theologically conservative southerners. He also tends to dwell upon the abnormal theologies of the south, making the southern theology more dangerous than it is. The quick and dirty bottom line is that Latin America and Africa is become a evangelical, and surprisingly charismatic/Pentecostal, playground. Those churches are offering the Holy Spirit as a hands-on helper in people's lives, something that old-school Catholic churches often don't. There's a growing charismatic movement within the Catholic church as well, that will likely grow if allowed to by Rome. It might look weird to a East Coast guy, but such an evangelical movement isn't foreign to fly-over country. The ~20% charismatic figures for Brazil, Argentina and Nigeria (per Operation World) aren't flukes, and will be a factor in international politics and theology in the future.

The Devil's Playground-Part III-Masons-Free or in Bondage? I might have been a tad over the top in my comments on Josh's site in calling Freemasonry satanic, but it isn't Christian in an orthodox sense. It is generically theistic, but the problem seems to be the denying of Jesus as the Messiah; he was just one of many teachers. This site seems to have a rundown of where Freemasonry falls short of orthodox Christian thought, pointing out a belief in an innate deity in all men. It also mentioned the Mason's treating the Bible as purely man-made, denying it any special status above any other holy book. Another evangelical site here seems to be coming to the same conclusions. [Update 10/30 8:30-This post might have some, shall we say, fringe sites. I've done a more complete post today with Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God and Missouri Synod Lutheran views on the issue.] The idea that there is an innate divine spirit in man is a dangerous idea. That might have started Joseph Smith on his theology of men becoming gods down the line and that God is a very-advanced man. It might also have a hand in a lot of New Age-type thought. Norman Vincient Peale was a Mason; this piece points out some Masonesque heterodox spots in his theology. This wouldn't be a problem for many liberal denominations or nominal Christians who don't care to go to the mat for Jesus' divinity or taking the Bible as God's Word. Both my grandfathers were Masons. I remember my Grandma Kraenzlein telling the story of how he switched over from Lutheran to Methodist when they got married-he wanted to join the Masons and the Lutherans wouldn't allow members to be Masons. The Episcopal church my Grandpa Byron went to must of not taken issue with his membership. However, Catholics are ordered to stay away, as are most conservative evangelicals. I'm not one that buys into conspiracy theories about the Masons, but they aren't a group that any professing Christian should belong to. It didn't thrill me when I heard that Bob Dole was a Mason, (here's a Famous Masons list from the Masons) but I voted for him anyway. There are plenty of Masons percolating through the political and economic system, but I don't sense anything uniquely sinister about it in a conspiratorial sense other than being an old-boy network. However, many of the rituals have very bloody oaths for breaking the code of secrecy. It doesn't seem to be that nice of a bunch, despite the good works the Shriners and other Masonic groups do.

Afternoon Musings-"Dearly beloved, we gather here today to bury the campaign of Carl McCall. The Grey Lady may now dump the first shovelful of dirt." When the NYT endorses a Republican, albeit the RINOish Pataki, it means the Democrat is toast. McCall might have trouble staying in from of Perotgie Tom Golisano for second and be able to keep the Democratic Party in the second spot on state ballots. Opiate of the People?-The gas that killed over 100 in the Moscow theatre siege-breaker was a form of morphine. In too large of quantities, it can cause people to stop breathing. "Shucks, boss. It always works on Star Trek." Pretty precocious for a four-year-old, eh? Happy Birthday, National Post.

Be-Bop-A-Lula The Brazillians went and elected Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva over the weekend, with the left-populist getting 61% of the vote in the runoff. Now, the question will be how far to the left will he govern? This last paragraph of this BBC piece is telling "He founded the PT [Worker's Party] in 1980, but in recent years has moved to the political centre and dropped the anti-capitalist rhetoric which marked his three previous presidential bids." Towards the center or to the center? It looks more like the former than the latter. Lula has promised to respect the foreign debt that Brazil has rung up over the years. The BBC coverage wanted to point out that the financial markets didn't tank today after hearing the news, but anyone who knows how markets works would simply state that a Lula win had already been factored in, since he got 47% in the first round and most of the other losing candidates had supported him. Now the question will be whether Lula can be sufficiently populist and still keep the international bankers happy. I think not. Fast forward to this winter (in the Northern Hemisphere) and we’ll see international debt relief being a front-burner issue.

Howyadoin?-I tend to be the guileless sort who will actually tell people how I'm doing, for better or worse. Jeffery Collins points out the "polite lie" that the question is supposed to be responded with; people don't typically want to hear about your sinus infection or your bum knee (or your neurological problems in Jeff's case) when they ask "How are you doing?" It took me a while, well into my teens, to understand that people didn't actually care how you were doing. I felt (and still feel) like that Southern gentleman in the East Coast bar in the beer ad. All the locals ask "Howyadoin?" and Joe Bob proceeds to tell anyone who asks about his flight into town.

The Devil's Playground-Part II-Wild About Harry-I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, nor have I seen the first movie, so I'm only able to comment via what I have heard and read about the books. In the books Harry and his buddies are generally good kids leaning how to use magic and how not to use magic at an academy for aspiring wizards called Hogwarts. By all accounts, Ms. Rowling has created a fictional world that makes kids of all ages wanting to come back for more. Getting kids (and parents) into libraries and bookstores is a positive side effect. Let me review my three critiques about Halloween listed below. They in large part also apply to the Potter books. (1) It gives free press to the "negative supernatural." (2) It gives the negative supernatural a good name. (3) It encourages people to treat the negative supernatural as a fun fiction. I'm going to try to lay any hypocrisy-looking stuff on the table early. I remember quite a few of the Disney movies I saw as a kid had occultic themes; going all the way back to the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia, the magic carriage in Cinderella, the witch in Snow White or going to more recent vintage, the Witch Mountain series and Beauty and the Beast. It ain't for nothing that they call that joint up on I-4 the Magic Kingdom. It's isn't just Disney. We're used to magic and the demonic as part of our popular culture. Stephen King's made a very good living exploring the dark side. Shows like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Highlander make the supernatural natural in their universes. Unfortunately, this supernatural-endowed world is typically a God-free zone. King has had a lot of demonic/supernatural stuff, but The Stand is the only piece of his that I'm familiar with (King fans can chime in with others if they exist) where there is an coherent force for good. The problem with this is we find ourselves rooting for the dark side, even if we justify it by saying that they are using that power for good. In Beetlejuice, we're cheering on a demon when he says "It's Showtime!" as he proceeds to scare off some unlikable twits. In Highlander, we're rooting for the good immortal McLeod to kill off and gather the Quickening energy from the evil immortals. Other shows in the past and present, like Bewitched and Charmed will have witches as the heroes. As much as these (and other) shows with supernatural themes might be fun to watch, they aren't exactly edifying. Here are three problems I have with the Potter series and how it is used by various people.
(1) People want to look at the supernatural as merely fictional.
The backers of the book will say "it's only a story." Rowling herself pleads that she's not trying to encourage people to get into magic for real. That attitude can actually be worse than having people take the occult seriously. There is a demonic spiritual realm and if the Devil can get us to ignore that, he'll have an easier time of it. Few people are going to be seduced into the occult by Harry Potter. Many more will be rendered non-combatants in a spiritual war. Ignoring the supernatural is also ignoring the positive supernatural gifts that flow from the Holy Spirit.
(2) Most of us are muggles
No, we're not!. God can enable anyone to be gifted in operating in the Holy Spirit and be acting in a spiritual, supernatural dimension. The idea that only a select few can act in the supernatural will keep people from seeking such giftings.
(3) Bashing it is often counter-productive
Going into book-burning mode only make the burners look like troglodytes and gives the series extra press. A Christian response to Potter's influence on kids should include the following (1) Note the powerlessness of youth. Being able to fanaticize about being able to do magical things is an escape mechanism for a middle-schooler with little power in his own life. (2) Show the real power of God to transform things. While the Holy Spirit doesn't typically give kids dragons to ride or allow them to zap their enemies, He can and does change people's lives. (3) Give kids a safe place when they are valued and feel a part of. Any youth program needs to give kids a sense of being an individual rather than just their parents' child. It needs to give them a place where they can be themselves and can express their fears and hopes without fear of rejection. (4) Show them that they are God's child and have a Lord and Savior in Jesus. The Kingdom of God doesn't belong to just a select few-there are no Muggles in the Kingdom. If you can do that, kids will have a better shot of developing a close relationship with God before they hit puberty and all the problems that can crop up in the teen years.

The Devil's Playground-Part I-Halloween-Halloween's coming up Thursday, the next Harry Potter movie's due out next month and Josh Claybourn's wondering why the Freemasons are so bad. I've had a post on the "negative supernatural" cooking for weeks; Josh's post hit the "pour" button. Halloween-This is a night where it is socially acceptable to dabble in the occult and the ghoulish. There are three downsides for the holiday, other than the sugar rushes that the kids will be heading to school with on Friday. The first problem of Halloween is that it gets a week's worth of free airtime to Wiccans and other "good witches." Paganism gets to say it isn't as bad as it's made out to be, is older than Christianity and deserves respect. Some people will be lead astray by this coverage. The second problem is that it gives the negative supernatural a good name. There are two sources of supernatural power, God and Satan. If it ain't coming from God, three guesses where it's coming from? The first two guesses don't count. First Guess--a mana that permeates the universe that isn't evil or good in itself?. Nice try-it gives that power to nature rather than to God. This would lean towards a more pantheistic world view, something akin to The Force in Star Wars. Second Guess-The power of the supernatural lies within us, we only need to know how to tap it? It only appears that way. Third Guess-the Devil? You've got it! The third problem with Halloween is that people will treat the negative supernatural as a fun fiction. If Satan can't get people to worship him, the next best thing he can do is to get people to ignore him, so that he can do his work in peace. If demons, vampires and exorcisms are just something you see in the movies or TV, then you're tone-deaf to the spiritual dimension of life. This is where the casual acceptance of Halloween is problematic for people who look at spiritual warfare as a real and ongoing affair. It would be hard for my Buffy-watching father-in-law to take spiritual warfare seriously. It's hard to get a kid dressed up as a ghost or a demon on Thursday to take the Devil seriously on Sunday. I'm not going to question the salvation of people who hand out candy on Thursday (I've even seen evangelistic Halloween packages at the local Christian bookstore, where the candy comes with a kid-level salvation tract) or go trick-or-treating with their kids, but the underlying theme of Halloween being the Devil's night out makes it something I don't want to be a part of.

Record Week-I had 1022 unique day-visitors last week Sunday-Saturday, a record. The other two times I had cracked four digits was over Memoral Day week via a Instalanche and again during the American 100 thing. This week didn't have one killer post, but Patrick Ruffini's link about the Georgia Senate race helped the most. I'm still waiting for my first 200-person day.

Edifier du Jour-Psalm 51:1-13(NASB) The youth pastor over at the Lakeland Vineyard was preaching on this yesterday; it hit a cord then and hits a greater one now.
1 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your loving kindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin.
One of the first steps to proper relationship with God is to know you need your sins taken away and that God can do so. I like verse two's "wash me thoroughly" part. It harkens forward to Peter at the Last Supper, when he at first opts out of Jesus' foot-washing, then wants to go whole hog and get his entire body cleansed.
3 For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. 4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge.
Knowing that God can forgive sin is one thing; knowing that you are a sinner is another. You may avoid the 'bigger" sins and come across as a good citizen, but everyone from the mass murderer down is still a sinner. Even if something is a "victimless crime" in the eyes of the world, it still hurts God.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
A good way of pointing out original sin; David calls himself a sinner from conception.
6 Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
This is the Holy Spirit in action, reforming our spirit.
7 Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
David just conceived a child out of wedlock, tried to cover up the fact, then had the cuckolded husband killed. If you think God can't clean up your sins, think again.
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
When things are so low you don't see a way out, or you've been down so long the pain and ache becomes normal, God can reach through and provide joy that does not befit the situation.
9 Hide Your face from my sins And blot out all my iniquities.
God does that through the blood of Jesus, which obstructs God view of our sin. It's not as much that the sins are erased but that God view is blocked by their being covered by His Son's blood.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.
I need this today. It's been a rough couple of weeks, and I need my spirit sustained and renewed. When things are tough, we seem far away from God. However, His presence is there for the asking.
13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You.
Once we are transformed by this renewing, we then need to go and tell others what is available through God.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Weekend Musings-The Moscow hostage thing did turn ugly, but it was ugly at the hands of the rescuers; the gas that was used to subdue the captors killed the captives off. Could this be Putin's Waco? Emmitt Smith would up breaking the NFL rushing record today-he even got a touchdown for the Blogistas today. An autoboomer must of been insipred by the I-95 snipter; he went into a gas station and took out three Israelis. Add that to a threat by the Labor party to walk out of the current coalition and they'll be a lot of things cooking over in the holy land. I was having trouble posting this PM-the old suggestion to change the template and change the archive template seemed to work.

Prototype Ad for the Minnesota GOP.Here's one that they can run in support of Norm Coleman now that Walter Mondale is the new Senate nominee. A long instrumental riff from Addicted to Love might be good background music. Or, better yet, Walk the Dinosaur. Add appropriate pictures
There are many good things about the 80s. Winning the Cold War-[show famous Reagan in Berlin clip] "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" The '87 Twins. However, there are some things that are best left in the 80s. Milli Vanilli. Neon clothing. And especially this-[show clip of Mondale's '84 convention speech] "Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I.. He won't tell you. I just did." Yes, some things are best left in the past.
Tacky, but effective. If you run it late next week, you'll get a truckload of free media going to town on the ad making fun of Mondale. It might fly over people's head, but using Walk the Dinosaur would run with Orrin Judd's point that picking Lautenberg and Mondale has the Democrats going to the oldies bin for their replacements when better younger people were available. [Update 10/31-Corrected the Mondale quote-I was going from memory, having it start "Both the president and I will raise taxes." A good paraphrase, but not quite the quote. Thanks to Ben for reminding me of the exact quote.]

Edifier du Weekend-Matthew 6:25-34(NASB)
25 "For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 "And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 "And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 "But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 "Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' 32 "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Yesterday was the first day in months that I didn't post my "edifier" and the topic of this passage, worry, was a good part of it. I spent the whole day once we both woke up, save a quick solo foray to the store for spaghetti sauce, with Eileen; a lot of our conversation yesterday was over worries that we're both too emotional to be good teachers This passage, which most of us could quote from heart, puts the lie to what we were feeling yesterday. The old praise song Concider the Lilies or the Amy Grant pre-pop oldie Jehovah cover this passage. It's a potent one, for it's telling us to play Alfred E. Neuman in the face of doubts about the future-"What, me worry?" That may be a bit flip to bring the Mad cover boy into this theology discussion, but worries aren't of the Lord. Concerns that don't extend to fear, year, but not worry. We do need to plan, but leave the future to the Lord. He will supply our needs and calm our fears. Easier said than done, but true nonetheless.

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