Saturday, November 23, 2002

Edifier du Jour-Hosea 2:14-17
14 "Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Bring her into the wilderness And speak kindly to her. 15 "Then I will give her her vineyards from there, And the valley of Achor as a door of hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. 16 "It will come about in that day," declares the LORD, "That you will call Me Ishi And will no longer call Me Baali. 17 "For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, So that they will be mentioned by their names no more.
The footnotes of my NIV Study Bible has ishi as "husband" and balli as "master." Hosea's often read as a allegory with Gomer playing the church or the believer (goll-eee). There is plenty of imagry in the New Testement of Jesus being the husband and the church being the bride, and verse 16 points to a difference in how we should be treating God. A slave has little choice of whether they want to be under the control of their master. A wife loves her husband and submitts to him more willing than a slave would. God doesn't want slaves, He wants people who are in relationship with Him out of love rather than fear.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Eyewitness to a Scrub-Just got back from a roadtrip over to Cocoa Beach to ; they watch the shuttle launch slated for 8:15.
NASA halted the countdown at the nine-minute mark after it became apparent that the weather would not improve at either of the two emergency landing strips in Spain. Conditions were ideal in Florida with a picture-perfect, nearly full moon shining over the launch pad.
Yes it was picture-perfect; at least Eileen and I were able to walk on the beach in the moonlight, watching the waves crash onto the beach and see a cruise ship head out of Port Canaveral, lit up and heading out into the Atlantic, awaiting the launch. No fireworks, but nice nonetheless.

Da Big Game-Kevin's got a very solid breakdown of the Michigan-Ohio State game tomorrow. Home field advantage doesn't mean much in this series, so Michigan could easily pull an upset. It's a win-win, Kevin. If Michigan wins, you've got some bragging rights for the year. If OSU wins, the natives will be happy and the Big 1110 has a spot in the BCS championship game for the first time since they let themselves become eligable five years ago.

George W. Antichrist?-This is an interesting piece from a Duke theology prof name Stephen Chapman. I don't know Dr. Chapman's politics other than a left-leaning outfit is posting the piece. Christianity Today's blog linked to it, but they often post some very fiskable pieces from the secular or religious left on religious issues.
In his speech about the Middle East crisis on June 24 of this year, President Bush concluded by quoting Deuteronomy 30:19, "I have set before you life and earth; therefore, choose life." Given that he was calling for the first time ever--for a change within the leadership of the Palestinian people, it was odd (to say the least) that he chose a verse from Hebrew scripture to make his point. Was it any accident that many commentators in the Arabic world thought he had already picked sides with this kind of rhetoric?
That's an oft-used verse in Christian circles (and the inspiration of the "Choose Life" bumper stickers and license plates) and isn't particularly Jewish unless you want it to be. In fact, you had a Jewish women's group opposing the license plates who based their opposition on the fact that it was part of Christian theology. Even though the context of the verse points to following God's commands, Bush was likely using it in its modern pro-life context; westerners of various theological stripes prize life much more than the jihadists. I don’t think Yasser would have like things better if he picked a New Testament passage.
In that example the president may seem wrongheaded but still religiously orthodox. But in his speech to the nation this year on the anniversary of September 11, he concluded with another verse of scripture, this one from the New Testament: John 1:5, "And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it." In John, this reference is to Christ, the long-expected messiah who has now finally arrived to do his unique work on God's behalf. The president, however, was using this verse to refer to the light of the . and how the darkness of terrorism will not be able to extinguish it. (Bush changed the tense of the verse here, making it future instead of past.) The connection could not have been clearer, given that he was shown by all the cameras as standing in front of a brilliantly illuminated Statue of Liberty.
The bookends on this passage in John 1 have Jesus clearly identified as God in verse 1 and as become human in verse 16, so the verse clearly is referring to Jesus.
A long tradition of scriptural figuration exists within American history in which the U.S. is viewed as a kind of new "Israel." Both the Puritan John Winthrop and the Republican Ronald Reagan spoke of our country as like the biblical "city on a hill," the "light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). The implications of this analogy are somewhat troubling to me, but at least the analogy represents a view of national identity based upon the idea of the "people of God" found within scripture. Much more troubling to me, however, is the new and completely unparalleled usage of President George W. Bush, in which the U.S. is described with language the New Testament reserves to Christ alone.
Let’s look at that part of the Sermon on the Mount that he refers to, covering Matthew 5:14-16
14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Is Bush saying that the US is the new Messiah or merely that we reflect His glory? Keep verse 16 in mind as we look at the next paragraph. I’m going to have to take it sentence-by-sentence
The tragedy here is that George Bush considers himself an evangelical Christian, and yet he and his right wing supporters can apparently no longer recognize blasphemy for what it is.
It’s only blasphemy if he thinks the state is the Messiah. If you think that the US is a force for good and working to expand His kingdom in a flawed but earnest way, then we are merely reflecting his light of the John 1:5 reference. If it isn’t a force for good, it’s the tool of the Devil.
In my view, when the state takes on messianic significance, it ceases to be justly authorized (e.g., Romans 13 describes this kind of state) and becomes essentially demonic (e.g., Revelation 13 describes this kind of state).
OK, I’ll bite, let’s see what he’s talking about
1 And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. 2 And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority. 3 I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; 4 they worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, "Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?" 5 There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. 6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. 8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear.
This doesn’t sound like Dubya to me. The whole world isn’t amazed, for one. This bad boy in Revelations lets loose with a stream of blasphemies; please name a few more blasphemous comments from the president if you want to turn him into the Antichrist.
The only possible response for Christians then becomes one of civil disobedience.
If this were such a blasphemous dude, yes. What Chapman doesn’t seem to like is that Bush thinks that he, and the US, are doing the Lord’s work. Are we, on balance, that city on a hill for the rest of the world to emulate? To the left, the answer is no; they would prefer the more secular and socialist European approach. If you think that Bush’s policies are wrong, then his trying to ascribe those policies as godly will rub you the wrong way. Chapman has essentially declared Bush the Antichrist without directly uttering the phrase. Is Chapman urging the religious left (for he'll likely have few takers on the right) to rise in rebellion against George W. Antichrist? First of all, I think few people on the religious left will truely get excited over what is appears to be some slightly sloppy exegesis. We might disagree whether our war on terrorism is what Jesus would do. Would Jesus send the B-1s to Baghdad? No, for Jesus could melt Saddam's (or Osama's) heart if He wanted to; being a mere mortal, Bush has to resort to cruder methods of persuasion. If we take Bush at what I assume his hermeneutics to be, he is saying that the US is the force for good in this struggle, as people in favor of freedom of speech, freedom of worship and of valuing individual lives, the light of God will prevail against the people who want to have a universal Islamic theocracy and will kill any number of people in order to do so. Chapman might disagree on tactics and "root causes," but I think he might agree with the underlying sentiment. Secondly, since there are few premillennialists in the camp, making an allusion to Revelations will fly right over people's heads. The politically-liberal but Biblically-conservative premillennialist market's not all that big.
If George Bush was serious about America having a messianic role to play in world affairs, then he and his view must be opposed by every Christian. We are patriots, but patriots first for Christ.
This focus in on how we define the term "messianic." If we are to go from being the world's policeman (as paleocons like to say) to being the world's savior (as Chapman is implying), then he might have a case. The US has a role to play in world affairs; Bush sees it as expanding free-market small-l liberal democracy around the world as a way to make people around the world better off. That isn't going to directly save the world. This policy will have the side effect of allowing a Christian witness in countries that currently discourage it, but it will not directly bring an Iraqi or Afghan to Christ. Bush by-and-large has avoided making the battle against militant Islam a religious crusade; the world crusade has been used, but in the general sense of a heartfelt struggle for American values of freedom. He is fighting for what we've called Anglospherian value of democracy, free speech, freedom of worship and association and free markets. Those values aren't universally shared; while many on the left hate what the jihadists stand for, they don't quite share Bush's values and are reluctant to choose sides. If Bush's foreign policy helps expand God's Kingdom, then it should be supported. If it doesn't, it should be opposed. Predator drones won't bring anyone to Christ, but neither will passing the Kyoto treaty. Our policies will have the direct effects of making people live longer or shorter, be richer or poorer, be freer or less-free. Only secondarily will the policies bring people to Christ or block their access to a Christian witness. I agree that I'm a "patriot for Christ" first; what comes second? The operative question then becomes whether the current government is working for things that will aid the cause of Christ. It you have a case that his foreign policy is counterproductive, bring it on; we can then take a look at the case you bring and judge whether it has merit.
If George Bush didn't really mean what he seems to have said, then he was intolerably sloppy and has much to learn about responsible speech--from both a Christian and a political perspective.
OK, now that you've compared Bush to the Antichrist and ascribed a messianic complex to him, you leave open the option that he might have just been "intolerably sloppy." Maybe just sloppy; if we change it to "I believe we reflect God's light. That light still shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it" it would be sound theology. As it, it isn't as bad as Chapman says it is. He might not like it simply because it makes Bush look good. It was good, uplifting oratory, but if you don't like the message, you're going to go after the text.

Edifier du Jour-Acts 28:21-24(NASB)[Paul's talking to the Roman Jews here]
21 They said to him, "We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. 22 "But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere." 23 When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. 24 Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.
Doesn't verses 21-22 sound very contemporary? The average modern day person won't have heard anything bad spoken about us personally, but have heard plenty of opposition to orthodox Christianity. Part of our jobs is to break past the stereotypes and present the Gospel to people who have only heard twisted snippets of it. Once we're able to do that through both our daily lives and through direct presentation of the biblical basis for our faith, we can bring some people to a saving faith. Not all, but some.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Conservatives and Liberties-Part II-Make Sure the Patron Saints Aren't Named Byrd or Hoover-There are a number of potential problems with the new Department of Homeland Security, but the benefits of having a unified defense could be worth it. A new department comes with a body of staffers looking to expand their domains and to add to their budget. You could have done much the same thing if you opened up a fourth column to the Defense Department, making it on a par with the Army, Navy and Air Force, but the new DHS will have a stronger lobbying force behind it with a seat at the cabinet table. There are two main fears for conservatives, that they won't do their job well or will do their job all too well. Traditional conservatives worry about it turning into a home for pork barrel spending-they're already lining up a fight as to where to put a research center with Texas A&M being the leading candidate, making non-Texans jealous. The bigger spending may likely line extra staffers’ pockets rather than actually aid domestic defense. Conservatives with a civil liberties streak worry that the government will snoop into too many things and collect too much data. I'm not worried about being accidentally swept up into an al Qaeda hunt, but I could see where average citizens who happen to have friends or neighbors with Islamic links could be harassed. I'm of the school that if I have nothing to hide, the government can look at what I'm up to without affecting my privacy. We need to keep the FBI and other investigators in check, making sure they don't return to the abuses of the Hoover era, but I think that civil liberties constitutional law will keep things from getting too far outside of a legitimate effort to track down terrorists. We have to weigh the desire to catch the bad guys with the desire to be left alone. The ACLU crowd needs to remember that this is 2002, not 1962, and a lot of the investigative abuses of the past are much harder to be replicated today. A slight nudge towards letting government investigators get search warrants and wiretaps a bit more easier might be fair, given the safeguards in modern constitutional law. If the FBI was going over evangelicals with a fine-tooth comb as opposed to Muslims, I'd be a lot more concerned, but we have a system where it's hard to abuse the innocent for long. I'm more concerned about the DHS being a bureaucratic mess rather than a civil-liberties nightmare. As long as the more Big-Brotherish ideas, like the sales-database listed below, are kept at bay, our big concern will be to make sure any extra money spent actually increases the commonweal.

Conservatives and Liberties-Part I-Stopping Big Brother-Josh's mounted his high horse against the Homeland Security Act and is noting the lack of conservative bloggers riding with him. I did mention the passage on the bill as being a big government program but haven't really commented on it in detail yet. However, this seems to be a bit too Big Brotherish-a nationwide purchase-tracking database. Now this is more Number of the Beast stuff than any back-of-hand chip would be. If they would do it right, they would require everyone to have an national ID card to buy anything and all vendors to have the infrastructure to accept that card. That sounds more like Stalin than Dubya, for even the USSR didn't have that tight a grip on sales data. [Update 10:30PM-To Mr. Collins-no, I don't expect them to implement this, but the article did say they wanted to track all sales. So, pour yourself a cold one (or a warm one if you're up north) and take a look with me at the costs of this modest proposal.] First of all, the cost of the system would be in the tens of billions. First, an ID system would have to be implemented, with 300 million people having to be issued cards and all merchants have a computerized system of listing of who purchased what. Just issuing the cards would be a multi-billion dollar endeavor and would likely require a new national infrastructure. The Social Security department might be the likely candidate to oversee the thing, but they would have to have a big crew of temporary workers and offices to issue the new cards not unlike the cadre of census workers in the decade years. If it would cost $10 a card in administrative expenses, we're talking $3 billion. Not every business has such capabilities and even the ones that are sufficiently computerized will have to spend time adapting to the new government standard. The government will also have to spend a pretty penny developing the system and adapting it to existing inventory systems. If there are about 20 million businesses in the US and it cost $1000 to install the system in each (a conservative guestament), then we're looking at a cost of $20 billion. Whether businesses or the government will pick up the tab for the equipment is a good question. If it's up to the business to comply, you might see tens of thousands of small businesses pack it in rather than put in the new system, either out of disgust at Big Brother or the extra cost pushing a marginal business over the edge. We're now talking $23 billion and we're not even counted the personnel needed to implement and maintain the system. Let's assume a $5 billion investment in hardware (they'll need some killer mainframes, terminals, vehicles, office space and plenty of telecom infrastructure) and another $2 billion in staffing costs to get the collection side of the system up and running. To get this running nationwide, I'm guessing a staff of 40,000 at a cost of $50,000 a worker on a yearly basis. So if the internal department expense is $7 billion, we're now up to a $30 billion tab to get things up and running. Next, let's look at the ongoing costs of the system. The government would wind up spending about $3 billion keeping their end of the system staffed and running. Businesses would spend $4 billion a year (I'm figuring about 20% a year in maintenance) keeping the transmitting end running. How about an extra $500 million or so to issue new cards and replacement cards (for we'll get new immigrants and new youths getting cards for the first time, plus these bad boys will get lost) each year? Let's not forget that we're now going to have to scan the card in each time we make a sale. Let's say that for each of us as consumers, it takes an extra minute a day to scan in our cards. That would create a 0.2% drain on our GDP (ballpark figure based on a 480-minute work day). With about a $9 trillion economy, that will make a $18 billion hit on economic productivity. You might see an additional tenth of a percent or two drop in GDP from the businesses who shut down rather than install the new system, giving us a $25-35 billion cost to the economy above and beyond the $7.5 billion direct cost of maintaining the system. You could tack on even more of a GDP drain than that if people stop buying some things if they knew it was being kept track of. That's just the economic costs. The cost in personal privacy would be much greater. Database managers could snoop on neighbors, spouses, significant others, political enemies, etc. Even though there will be laws protecting the database from abuse, those rules will be violated by either trumping up an investigative reason to go snooping or by authorized people using it for unauthorized purposes. The temptation to hack into this database would be huge, for the database would be a marketer's dream. Or a thief's dream. It's a list of who owns what, who bought a gun, who's on birth control pills, who's buying anti-depressants, etc. It might help catch criminals or terrorists, but that is one of the worst ideas the Pentagon has come up with in a while. The DARPA boys might be able to do it technically, but the economics and civil liberties are downright atrocious.

Morning MusingsThe autoboomers are back-11 Israelis died on a bus today as another batch of 72 raisins are served up. An extra point in the polls for Sharon? More from the religion of peace-a Kuwaiti policeman shot two GIs (both survived) and fled to the Saudi entity. This has a truckload of implications. First, any western troops in Kuwait will now have to redouble their efforts in guarding against a fifth column. Second, will the Saudi's extradite the shooter? If not, does that not put them clearly in the "harboring terrorists" category? Will we start to get the death penalty foes complaining about people being too old to be executed? This one in Texas, where a now-66-year-old was executed for killing three people while shooting up his ex-girlfriend's family's house. However, that spree happened back in 1988; it took 14.5 years to work this through the system. This is one of the problems with the system, in which justice takes oodles of time to work. An early goodbye to Phil Gramm-he's resigning at the end of the month, giving incoming Senator John Cornyn an extra month of seniority. This also moves the new Texas state AG, Greg Abbott, in a month early as well. It also gets Gramm an extra month of beaucoup bucks from his new investment-banking job. Oh, the moans from Virginia are just Hokies in mourning from a three game losing streak. However, that sound from further west was WVU kids staging a riot in the winning Mountaineer's honor. I thought southern gentlemen and women had more class than that; guess not.

Edifier du Jour-Matthew 27:50-51(NASB)
50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.
Verse 51 is one that we often buzz over when we go over the crucifixion passage, but there's a lot there than meets the eye. The veil was what separated the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest went but once a year on Yom Kippur to atone for the nation, from the rest of the temple. This was the most holy site in the nation, and it just got busted open that day. We no longer have need of a veil or a mortal high priest to intercede to God for us; Jesus just took over that role. Looking at a mock-up of the Tent of Meeting last weekend, it seemed confining to limit man's access to God to once a year in a small room not any bigger than most of our bedrooms. However, we all now have access to God on a 24-7 basis wherever we are.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

From Antichrist to Ally-First, it looks like David Heddle got to the Dreher piece a day before I did, focusing on the Bible-based nature of dispensational theology. As to Spudlet's question in the comment section-I'm a bit spooked by the implant chip, but it stems more from a combination of a uneasy fear of Big Brother and a general dislike of monkeying around with the body unless needed. The Mark of the Beast ranks third on the list. It would have its advantages, but the civil libertarian in me wants to avoid it like the plague. However, let's get to the meat of what's on my mind; I'm not sure if dispensationalism is what has Dreher and other Catholics negatively juiced over premillennial stuff, or dispensationalists. In modern times, the UN or the EU will be candidates for hosting the Antichrist, but the traditional bad guy for many dispensationalists has been the Pope. Think Bob Jones. Even the mild-mannered Church of God people at Warner Southern have a trace of it; at the Spiritual Life Committee meeting I went to today, the idea of a (solidly born again) Catholic priest doing a chapel service as an outreach to our roughly 10% Catholic student body was politely shot down. The school minister pointed out the COG-Anderson had some of that Pope=Antichrist stuff in its heritage; it's not that bad today and while he wouldn't have a problem with it, enough of the trustees would to make it an unwise career move. We've had Methodists and Baptists give chapel homilies this semester, but Catholics wouldn't be welcome. You also get evangelicals too-frequently referring to Christians and Catholics, as if the two are separate blocks. People who come in contact with devout, born-again Catholics know better, but a low-grade anti-Catholic sentiment is part of the evangelical milieu. It doesn't get to Jack Chick levels, but it's there, especially if someone has little spiritual contact outside their evangelical sphere. The stereotypes get in the way of seeing a surprising number of Catholics who have found the Lord there. Add a history of anti-Catholic bigotry in American history and you'll have a lot of Catholics who are leery of making common cause with evangelicals. Evangelicals were some of the harshest critics of JFK's presidential run. However, fast forward two generations, and their spiritual grandkids are backing Alan Keyes and Bill Bennett. Now that the political fight is no longer Protestant-Catholic but religious-secular, faithful Christians of a variety of creeds have joined together to fight secular liberalism. Parachurch organizations like Promise Keepers or campus groups like Fellowship of Christian Athletes or InterVarsity Christian Fellowship bring evangelicals and Catholics together. Charismatic Catholics interact with their Protestant spirit-filled brethren in many venues. While there are theological differences, the bitterness and hatred of evangelicals towards Catholics that was evident a half-century ago is largely gone. However, a few pockets of bitterness remains, Catholics may only be cast as the Antichrist in the dispensationalist fringe, but they are seen as less-than-biblical at the core of dispensational (and most other evangelical) thought. When raised to a high rhetorical level, it can make the Catholic feel like a heathen. It will take a lot of fence-mending to convince Catholics that your typical evangelical (or even dispensationalist) isn't Bob Jones or Jack Chick. However, if the two camps are going to work together in the political and cultural spheres, we need to get our work gloves on and start mending those fences.

716 days to Thune-Daschle-Let's check this gem from the outgoing Senate majority leader-"Obviously, there was a lot of work left on the table in large measure because the far right chose not to allow it to be enacted." OK, last I check, you can override a presidential veto with 67 votes in the Senate and 290 votes in the House. If I am following his logic, that would mean there are 34 far right Senators and/or 146 far right congressmen. All of the children are above average and over a third of the Senate (I'm assuming that who he's flaming at) is far right.

Midday Musings-Unlike the US Senate, the Polk Country School Board's on the verge of taking a pay cut. I've bashed them in the past, but that's not something that you see everyday. This is the 25th anniversary of Sadat's trip to Jerusalem, starting the modern peace process in the Middle East. We're still not close to settling things on the West Bank, but the fact that we have Israel having chilly-but-normal relations with Egypt and Jordan and a stalemate with Syria is due in part to Sadat's wisdom to go for peace rather than another war he was likely to lose. I remember as a teenage (albeit a politically-aware teenager) being ticked off at the coverage of Sadat's arrival in Jerusalem; it happened on a Saturday afternoon Eastern Time (just after Sabbath dusk Jerusalem time), preempting the first half of the Michigan-Ohio State game. I liked geopolitics, but you have to have your priorities. If you have Concerned Women for America and NOW agreeing to oppose something, it must be bad for all women-they're going after CBS' airing of a Victoria's Secret fashion show. Airing an de-facto infomercial in prime time is tacky enough; having the infomercial be for skimpy lingerie is both tacky and sleazy. Unfortunately, that will give more publicity to the show, getting 13-year-old boys of all ages to watch. CBS used to have the reputation of being the gray-beard network, catering to an older, more conservative audience. Survivor started to breach that rep-it's just gotten fully busted. The era of big government isn't over yet-they passed the homeland security bill. If it's bigger and more effective, good, but bigger and more effective government rings as an oxymoron.

Edifier du jour:Acts 26:14-15 (NASB)
14 "And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' 15 "And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
Paul gives more detail here about his road to Damascus encounter than was given in Acts 8. Two parts of verse 14 strike me. The first was the euphemism "kick against the goads." If Jesus were talking in modern English, he might say "bang your head against the wall," for that seems to be a good analog to the phrase, for it represented an futility of a ox trying to fight the sharp stick used by its master. However, my modern translation doesn't get to the futile fighting of authority (paging John Cougar-"I fight authority; authority always wins") that is in here. The goads are used to guide a beast of burden. We don't like authority, especially as ornery liberty-lovin' Americans (or any other Blogospherian, for that matter) who prize personal freedom. However, those goads that God uses are to keep us on the straight and narrow road. The best modern analogy I can come up with are the little bumps they put in the lane lines on the highways here in Florida; if you go onto the line, you start hearing and feeling a "bump, bump, bump" that tells you you're strayed out of your lane. The Holy Spirit serves that function for the believer, nudging us back into line. The other factoid that was interesting was that Jesus spoke to Paul in Aramaic, the common language of the day in Judea. He was speaking not in Hebrew, the language of the temple, but in the vernacular. God speaks the most clearly to most of us (Tridentine fans in the Peanut Gallery can chill out) when we hear him in our mother tongue. I'm reminded of the history of Bible translation, where people like Wycliffe and Tyndale fought and died to get Bibles into English. God wants to reach us where we are.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

WWJDrive?-Certian church-based environmentalists want to put words in Jesus' mouth, as Messieurs Johnson and Fuhrmann report. People can read a lot of things into the Bible if they put their hermeneutics up front and try to proof-text into the "right" answer. You can make a case for our purchases being frugal yet accomplishing the honorable jobs that we have to do. If you're lugging lots of people and things around, a minivan or a SUV might very well be the best bang for the buck. If they are a bit of a gas guzzler, that is something you have to factor into the equation, but fuel efficiency isn't the predominant reason to buy a car. First of all, Jesus walked most of the places he went, occasionally riding in a boat or riding a donkey. Unlike the Toyota Corolla suggestion that MCJ makes, it's clear that the disciples would have driven a Honda, since in Acts 5:12 "And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one [A]ccord in Solomon's Porch." However, they would have erred on the frugal side. If we put their ministry in an era with modern transportaion, I could see them using one big van rather than three little "rice-burners" if that best served the ministry. Another groaner comes to mind. Grandpa wanted teenage grandson to clean up his act, so he promised him a car if he went to Sunday School and church for six month, got at least a 3.0 GPA and shaved his beard. A half-year passes and the kid became a church regular, made the honor roll, but had yet to lose his beard. "Gramps, I've been seeing pictures of the disciples and Jesus; they all had beards." "Yes, and they walked everywhere they went, too."

The Politics of Premillennialism-Ben gave us armchair theologians a call-to-arms on this Rod Dreher piece on premillennial eschatology.
In 1980, I was 13 years old, and someone had given me a copy of Hal Lindsey's mega-selling The Late Great Planet Earth to read. The Soviets were in Afghanistan, the American hostages were in Tehran, I had become fixated on the fear of nuclear war and — suddenly, thanks to Late Great, the chaos all made sense. There was no need to be afraid. This was all part of God's plan. Accept Jesus as your personal savior, and you wouldn't have to suffer through the worst of what was to come, for you would be spirited away in the Rapture. And if you didn't — well, too bad for you when the Antichrist comes knocking.
In 1980, I was 18 years old, and my college roommate had a copy. I didn't come to the Lord at that time, but knew that I'd have my nose in the Bible taking it seriously if the Rapure did occur.
The premillenial Rapture is the belief, held by many Protestant Christians, that believers will, "in the twinkling of an eye," be taken body and soul into heaven to meet Jesus Christ — this, just as the world is on the brink of seven years of unprecedented suffering and strife, preceding the Second Coming and the end of history. If you think the end of the world is upon us, it's easy to see why believing you won't have to suffer the worst of it would be calming. On the other hand, you might exchange one set of fears for another. When I was in Late Great's grip, I would wake up every morning in a mild state of panic, wondering if the Rapture had happened while you were sleeping, and I'd been … left behind!
Let's do a quick review. Many scriptures point towards a thousand-year era of church rule on the planet; postmillennialists think that that rule will evolve from a complete evangelization of the earth and that mortals will be in charge for that period; Jesus' return will come at the end of the period. Premillennialists point to passages that argue for Jesus' coming and establishing his kingdom and being in charge for that millennial period. You will also see people who don't buy either argument; they are typically called amillennialists, a subset of that is the preterist school of though that many of the verses that both millennialist camps look at have already occurred in history. A common premillennialist theme will have a seven-year tribulation period, where the world will go to hell in a hand basket led by a one-world government of the Antichrist. At the end of the seven-years, Jesus will come to kick butt and take names and establish His kingdom. Somewhere in that tribulation period, the true believers will be raptured, or physically raised, to Heaven and return when Jesus comes back to reign. Typically this rapture will occur at the beginning of the tribulation (pre-trib) period, although some premillennialists will hold to a mid-trib rapture. Both The Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series have a pre-millennial, pre-trib eschatology.
I don't believe in the premillennial Rapture anymore, but it's easy to see why so many people want to. For Christians and others whose religious beliefs predict an apocalyptic final act (even Islam and the New Age have their own versions), these days are unusually anxious. It isn't difficult to find in today's headlines — wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters, plagues, religious strife and technology run amok — evidence for the belief that history is quickening toward some sort of climax.
I still lean towards a premillennial Rapture, although I'm a bit of a mugwump on the details. However, knowing that God's in control of this mess allows people to be less anxious than otherwise.
No wonder, then, that the same sensational theological teachings that excited believers in the 1970s and earlier are more popular than ever. The Left Behind fiction series, whose title refers to those who weren't raptured before the Apocalypse, may well be the best-selling Christian books of all time, not counting the Bible.
I'd think that Pilgrim's Progress would nudge out Left Behind, but the new kid's moving hard on the outside. I'm going to have to take him to task for some factual liberties here
Given the amount of popular publicity given to the Rapture and its attendant doctrines, it may surprise (and disappoint) many Christians to learn that this set of beliefs, generally called "dispensationalism," is not explicitly taught by the Bible, nor has ever been widely held by Christians.
I'll agree with him that it's not explicitly taught in the Bible, for if it were, it would have a greater following among evangelicals and others who take the Bible at face value. However, you can play a lot of games with "widely held." Dispensational thought has a large following in Baptist and other evangelical circles in the last century-plus; it is a cornerstone of most capital-f Fundamentalist (before the term got hijacked to mean anyone who took their faith too seriously) theology. I'd guess that about 15-20% of churches are dispensationalist to varying degrees and make up something of a plurality of evangelical thought.
In fact, neither Roman Catholicism nor Eastern Orthodoxy, which together include most of the world's Christians who live now and who have ever lived, profess dispensationalist eschatology (which means the study of the End Times). The Rapture is also alien to the historical Protestant confessions (as this story from a Baptist newspaper makes clear). Martin Luther had never heard of such a thing, nor had John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, or any other Protestant divine until a pair of 19th-century British small-sect pastors developed the notion apparently independent of each other. One of the men, John Nelson Darby, traveled widely in North America between 1859 and 1874, where his dispensationalist teachings spread like wildfire. (For a more detailed explanation of this theology from a dispensationalist viewpoint, go here and here)
Dreher rightly points out that the early church thinkers tended to be either amillennial or post-millennial and that contemporary premillennial thought is a creature of the last 200 years; premillennialism tends to have a bigger home in the newer evangelical denominations than it does in the traditional European-born mainline denominations. Most mainline Protestant and Catholic churches do not address eschatology (end-times-ology) and thus create a de facto amillennial worldview. However, he continues (as he did in this piece in April) to lump all premillennialists as dispensationalists. While dispensationalists (different verses are relevant only for certain eras of history) are generally premillennialists, not all premillennialists buy into dispensationalist theory. As I mentioned back in April, I've been in a lot of evangelical churches of various stripes who are premillennialist without being dispensationalist. Please note that I am not a dispensationalist, but have a healthy respect for those who are. This paragraph shows some anti-evangelical biases
Given world events, particularly in the Middle East and Europe, the dispensationalist fire continues to roar among Christians, who understandably want to know if today's headlines can be explained and tomorrow's headlines can be predicted from ancient Scripture. Unfortunately, many Christians are under the impression that dispensationalist teaching — on Christianity's theological fringe, historically speaking — is the first and last word on the matter. Most Catholic priests, as well as their mainline Protestant counterparts, downplay or ignore their congregations' natural — and sociologically predictable — interest in the End Times, leaving lay believers open to instruction by those who, however misguided, take it seriously. That's why Paul Thigpen, a Yale-trained religious historian and Catholic convert, wrote The Rapture Trap.
It is a minority position to be sure, but calling it the theological fringe sounds a lot like liberals bashing the "religious right." Dreher's use of Pentecostal-turned-Catholic Paul Thigpen as his spokesman has some built-in biases, such as the tendency to look at any new denomination as something of a cult
"I began to see so many Catholics taken in by this Left Behind stuff, because they've had no religious instruction in eschatology," Thigpen tells NRO. "In so many parishes the homilies are like, 'Love your neighbor, be nice.' If priests never get around to talking about who Jesus is, there's no way they're ever going to get around to talking about the Second Coming." Though he writes from a Catholic perspective, Thigpen, an ex-Pentecostal and former editor of Charisma magazine [a major monthly for Pentecostals /Charismatics-my dad subscribes to it], takes care to demonstrate in the book how none of the leaders of the Reformation believed in the Rapture. He says the "historical myopia" of American culture leaves people vulnerable to those who can exploit ignorance of the past with convincing presentations of vivid theologies. Besides, America has always been fertile ground for apocalyptic religion. "In the early days, the Puritans thought the Kingdom of God would start in North America, in their colony," Thigpen says. "We have several large denominations in America, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, who owe their existence to millennial fervor."
The Puritans, if I recall correctly, were postmillennial in that they were trying to establish that city on a hill for the world to emulate. There were plenty of millennial groups looking for the imminent return of the Lord in the 1800's, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, who have a century-long track record of false predictions of the Second Coming to add to their other heresies. This seems more guilt by association than a serious assessment of what is wrong with premillennial eschatology.
Eschatalogically-focused expressions of faith have swelled in popularity during times of social distress and dislocation, such as after the Civil War, and during the period of rapid industrialization and immigration. There was another great surge of it following World War II, says Thigpen, and again in the 1970s, as a reaction to countercultural upheaval. The dispensationalist apologetic The Late Great Planet Earth was the best-selling nonfiction book of the decade, and though he has never apologized for his erroneous predictions in that book, author Hal Lindsey continues to be considered by many an authority on Biblical prophecy. Being a dispensationalist evangelist means never having to say you're sorry.
One thing that prompted a surge in premillennial thinking post-WWII was the birth of Israel; prior to this, the eschatological scriptures referring to Israel were just theory, now they could come true at any time. The success of Israel in the wars of 1967 and 1973 might have aided to the premillennialist arsenal as the world was headed to hell-in-a-hand-basket with the amorality of the 60s and 70s. I don't take Lindsey's details seriously, nor do most modern premillennialists. Much of his chronology has been overtaken by events. However, his book did popularize the premillennialist cause among the general public; my roommate during the summer of 1980 wasn't a dispensationalist; he was a Dungeons & Dragons loving secularist who had frequent sleepovers with his girlfriend.
Why should any of this matter? As I wrote this past summer, apocalyptic beliefs dictate the behavior of many true believers. American dispensationalists were early non-Jewish supporters of Zionism, believing that the ingathering of diaspora Jews to their Biblical homeland was a necessary precursor for the return of Christ. Though many Evangelicals and other Christians support Israel today for other reasons, no small number of them do so because their end-times belief mandates it. Thigpen is not so much worried that Rapture-expecting Christians will blow up Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock to hasten Armageddon as he is concerned about the spiritual harm that may result from acceptance of dispensationalist beliefs.
Since Israel is a player in the end times, premillennialists (whether they are dispensationalists or not) err on the side of aiding Israel. However, I think Thigpen's off base on the spiritual harm issue; let's look at the next paragraph
When times look tough and threatening, perhaps people find a comfort in believing in the Rapture, that God will help them escape events before they become too bad," Thigpen says. "Ideas have consequences. One, the Rapture doctrine ignores the redemptive power of suffering, which is a powerful Christian theme. Two, the Bible also shows that God chastises His people as well as their enemies; believers share in suffering as well. Three, if people wrongly believe Christians won't be around for the persecution that Scripture tells us will precede the Second Coming, they won't prepare themselves spiritually or otherwise."
If you look at the classic pre-trib Rapture, then the western Church is less likely to get the persecution that many Christians around the world face, but the first two critiques are more true of the Prosperity Gospel folks than of the garden-variety premillennialist. "Take up your cross and follow me" is a verse that is frequently heard in premillennialist churches, albeit less so in the Charisma magazine crowd that Thigpen once dwelt, which has a large minority of Prosperity Gospel folks. As for the third point, I'm going to have to disagree in general. People who go to premillennial churches are more spiritually prepared, for they don't just have the fear of an accidental death in front of them to prompt a immediate decision for Christ, but they have the fear of the Rapture happening without them and having be left to face the tribulation without their church brethren to help them. The pending Rapture also give evangelism an added push, wanting to add as many names to the Book of Life as they can before Jesus' return. It can lead to a certain optimism in financial planning, for they might plan not to be around for any really bad times and be underprepared for a serious financial downturn. However, there are plenty of non-premillenialists who are overly fearful of a serious economic collapse where financial assets are worthless and only real assets like guns, canned food and water and sustainable technology would last. Those people might have a lot of assets tied up in survivalist gear and be more out-of-touch than the premillennialist.
Just because Catholicism doesn't teach the Rapture or focus on end-times prophecy doesn't mean the Catholic world has escaped popular apocalypticism. The particularly Catholic version comes as a mania for apocalypse-centered apparitions and private revelations claimed by contemporary visionaries. The Rapture Trap writes of the spiritual danger of uncritically accepting such claims, and offers discernment guidelines drawn from Catholicism's conservative tradition. "What we're dealing with are people who are scared and confused by what's going on in the world today, and who aren't getting the information they need to separate what's real from what's vain and even harmful speculation," Thigpen says. "As Christians, we believe Jesus is coming back, and we have to be ready for that to happen at any moment. But this game of 'plug the headline into the Scripture verse,' or into the latest message from a supposed apparition, is a losing proposition."
There is a cottage industry in evangelical circle of writers and TV shows who plug the headlines into a premillennial world view. We don't know the hour or the day, and focusing on the details of His return can get in the way of expanding His kingdom today. Many international trends towards globalization are feared by premillennialists, for they can be used to make the Antichrist's world government possible. However, if it will happen someday, people who fight globalization or computerization of things on the grounds that such innovations will make the Antichrist's job easier are missing the point. If the Antichrist is going to come, your efforts to stop him will be in vain. I think that a spiritual Ludditism could derail positive technologies or economic integration that could be use to aid a one-world government; that is more of a threat than financial shortsightedness or a lack of respect of suffering. The premillennialists pro-Israel view will alter public policy; however that pressure seems to be on the side of the angels, since backing the Arab side of the argument is backing an undemocratic and despotic world-view compared to the largely democratic and egalitarian Israeli system. Liberals (small l, that includes most modern American conservatives) will back Israel because it is a democracy in an area of the world where functioning democracies are in short supply. Humanitarians will want to help Israel because the Jews have been crapped on for so long and the Gentile world owes then good treatment. Premillennialists want to help since Israel will be a big player in the End Times. I think all three motivations are correct and worthy of respect. Premillennial thought is a part of most of evangelical thought. Faithful Catholics and evangelicals are two key constituents of the modern conservative political movement. There's an element of condescension in this piece in that premillennialist evangelicals are the equivalent of immature teenagers who are mindlessly rebelling against old-school church authority. That attitude crops up from time to time at the Catholic-centric National Review and irks many evangelicals when it happens. Premillennialists are reading the Bible and drawing a different set of conclusions than either traditional Catholics or the early Protestant reformers did. One of the differences between evangelical and Catholic thought is that the evangelical doesn't have as great a respect for church tradition and willing to scrap traditional thought if it seems to run counter to Biblical teaching. However, such difference of interpretations typically have little application to modern politics. Premillennialists might be a bit too pro-Israel for their tastes, but they’re good fellow conservatives, so cool down the rhetoric a bit, please.

Morning Musings-Interesting football weekend. I got all but one of the NFL games (IIRC) predicted over the weekend, but lost a squeaker in the Blogger Bowl this week, as the Ram's last extra point last night spelled a one point loss for the Blogistas. There's some big ecological damage happening off of the Spanish coast as a Greek-owned oil tanker is breaking apart. They're comparing this to the Exxon Valdez in the amount of damage done It looks like the Turkish army's leaving the new Islamic-leaning government alone, as new PM Abdullah Gul is saying all the right things about being pro-business and pro-western. However, I find some of the European opposition to Turkish admission to the EU a bit disingenuous. The idea that a Islamic Turkey would disrupt Christian Europe assumes that Europe is Christian. Today, most EU countries are more secular than they are Christian, and any religious ethic that Turkey would bring into the EU would disrupt that secular balance. If fact, we might be close to the point in many European countries of having more people in mosques than churches over the weekend, given the sizable number of immigrants from Islamic countries. Nice piece on Canadian Conservatives trying to recruit former PM Brian Mulroney into heading up the party; he's saying thanks but no thanks, let a younger guy head up the party. Right now, heading up the PCs is a fools errand, as the best they can realistically hope for is either a merger with the Alliance party or be a niche secular middle-class party not unlike the old British Liberal party. Mulroney would be foolish to leave a good power-lawyer job to send a few years banging his head against the wall.

The Dove's Dove-It look like the Israeli Labor party just shot themselves in the foot. They are picking the very dovish Haifa mayor Amram Mitzna to head up the party. I heard a NPR piece on Haifa's relatively good Arab-Jewish relations a month or two ago, which was partly a puff piece on Mitzna. Mitzna came accross as an honest but somewhat clueless liberal from the "why can't we all just get along" school. It might work in Haifa, but I don't think it will work nationwide. The swing Israeli voter won't want to trust him to go eyeball-to-eyeball with Arafat. Good news for the Israeli right, for almost anyone they put up will do better than Mitzna at the polls.

Edifier du Jour-Acts 25:13-21(NASB)
13 Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus. 14 While they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul's case before the king, saying, "There is a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix; 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. 16 "I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges. 17 "So after they had assembled here, I did not delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought before me. 18 "When the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, 19 but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 "Being at a loss how to investigate such matters, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these matters. 21 "But when Paul appealed to be held in custody for the Emperor's decision, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar."
How do we investigate such matters? The dispute between the orthodox and heterodox wings of Christendom hinge on this dispute about a dead man, Jesus, whom orthodox believers assert to be alive. That's not a trivial matter, for the core of Christianity isn't in Jesus' life but his death and resurrection. I don't have McDowell's Evidence that Demands A Verdict at the office, but he has this defense of the reality of the resurrection: The Romans or the non-messianic Jews of the day could have settled the matter once and for all by showing off Jesus' body and if the disciples hid the body and said that he had risen, they died martyrs' deaths (legend has all but one of the 12 disciples being murdered or executed for their faith-John died in prison) for a lie. The number of sightings of a resurrected Jesus as well as the uncontested nature of the resurrection gives plenty of first-hand recorded evidence of the resurrection. That's just looking at the direct physical evidence from the first century. We have plenty of indirect evidence from the following two millennia of lives that have been changed. To borrow from one of David Heddle's favorite hymns, "You ask me how I know he lives; he lives within my heart."

Monday, November 18, 2002

Evening Musings-Siegelman finally gave up the ghost in the governor's race and conceded defeat to Republican Bob Riley. That gets it to 26-24 Republican, which was my prediction. Is that a white flag flying over Leahy's office? They passed through two judicial nominations for Dennis Shedd and Michael McConnell by voice vote, getting the two nominations to the floor without putting a particular Democrat on the spot for being obstructionist. My material breach pick of Thursday was optimistic-with the Iraqis sniping at US no-fly-zone patrollers, we could be looking at a quicker movement than that.

"No Free Ice Cream"-Interesting piece on ice cream makers quietly switching from half-gallon containers to 1.75 quart containers; they're keeping the same sized boxes but cutting the contents by 12.5%. As the cost of the higher-end ice creams hit $5 a half gallon and milk prices stay high (thank you, Senator Jeffords), the dairies are getting sneaky to avoid sticker shock. I had to go to the freezer to see if my $3.44/half gallon (Wally-World special) Breyer's Mint Chocolate Chip I picked up this afternoon was really a half-gallon. Yep, it still is, but it might not stay that way. There are a number of industries that are sneaky in their pricing. In the computer industry, prices aren't allowed to go below a given point. For instance, if an Intel chip was wholesaling for less than $100, it had a half-live of a few months before it was no longer available. Same with Western Digital hard drives; the moment a drive went under $100, it went bye-bye and you had to round up to the smallest remaining hard drive or the slowest remaining CPU. There still remains the classic question-why do hot dogs come in tens while the buns come in eights? You either have to get two packages of buns (not prudent) or wrap a piece of bread around the last two dogs.

The Problem With Subsidizing Loans-The hit counter shrugged over the weekend with a mini-flood from the newly dubbed Asymmetrical Information, the new title of Megan McArdle's (a.k.a. Jane Galt) digs, now that she's not longer at the WTC and having to restrict herself to domestic issues with a new job at the State Department. Congratulations on the new job and thanks for the dozens of visitors you sent my way; not quite an Instalanche, but it made for some doggone good weekend hit stats. She has this comment on my Politics of Spending post-
Mark Byron points out that except for the hard core economic libertarians, most of us do favor some social spending: the question is how much. Though I would part with him on some of his favored programs: I think parents shouldn't get a tax deduction, student loans should be abolished, and Medicare should be means-tested.
I'm not sure we're in this much disagreement. I'd be in favor of means-testing Medicare, so that the affluent elderly would fend for themselves. I'd be open to taking away tax deductions for parents if it were part of a overall tax-flattening proposal and I'd consider doing away with student loan subsidies as well as other loan subsidies or loan tax breaks. The government subsidises college loans for the not-quite-poor. Are they encouraging people to go to college or encouraging people to borrow to go to college? If I remember correctly, the amount of financial aid a student is eligible for is dependant on how much they (or their parents if they are dependants) have in savings; the larger the savings, the lower the amount of subsidized loans. Such a framework discourages savings and encourages spending. If you want to support "middle-class" people going to college, why not give then a refundable tax credit? If they want to borrow money, let them do it at market rates. If they've saved enough money to afford to pay for it themselves, reward them for their frugality rather than only reward those who need/want to go into debt. Likewise, homeowners get a tax deduction for mortgage interest if they itemize deductions. Once again, this encourages borrowing to buy a house rather than buying a house. If the government wanted to subsidize home ownership, they could make owner-occupied homes depreciable. Current tax law allows residential real estate to be depreciated over a 27.5-year period, or ~3.64% a year. If taken as the equivilent of a business expense, it would aid the people who saved up and don't have to borrow (or have to borrow as much) to buy a house. This would aid the lower-income home owners who would be taking the standard deduction were it not for their mortgage interest as well as those with lower debt. It would be a tax increase only for people who have a lot of other itemized deductions and have a large mortgage, while being helpful to more people than it would hurt. Why are we subsidizing borrowing for college and to buy a home rather than subsidizing college tuition or home ownership? Most likely due to the political interest of the bankers. They are big givers to political endeavors and benefit from loans. The tax deduction makes the loans cheaper and thus more attractive, thus driving business to the lenders. There would be a revolt if we did away with home ownership subsidies outright. However, if we want to reward home ownership and college education, why not reward it directly rather than indirectly? The banks will complain, but a move towards a more direct subsidy will reward thrift and not encourage borrowing.

Hell Freezes Over Every Winter-They had the first good ice storm of the season in the northern US yesterday; the little burg of Hell, Michigan (roughly between Detroit and Lansing) gets more than its share of photography when it happens; here's a nice snapshot courtesy of Mean Dean blog-sitting for Bene Diction. They don't get shots of Paradise (eastern UP) or Nirvana (western UP) freezing over. We're having our first real cold snap here; however, central Florida’s idea of a cold snap feels more like late September in Michigan than mid November. A constant cold rain (as opposed to the short but hard thunderstorm) hit Saturday; our day trip to the Holy Land Experience with my family was postponed while the ladies of the clan went shopping while the men baby-sat and watched football (sounds too stereotypical, no?). Yesterday felt like Midwest football weather, low sixties and windy; it was the first time I've had to get out my sweatshirt or turn the heater on in our apartment; trooping around the park yesterday in the blustery but clear weather yesterday afternoon had me longing for the sauna weather of a month ago. With temperatures in the 60's, I actually got to wear a sweater to class today. Once my parents get back to Michigan, it'll be time to pull out the industrial-strength weather schadenfreude; a blustery 60 beats the heck out of a snowy 25.

Midday Musings-No posting yesterday; sleeping in before church and a post-church outing in metro Orlando to the Holy Land Experience with my family kept me away from the computer. It was better than Epcot, where we went last Monday. More on that later. It's now put-up-or-shut-up time for Saddam, as the inspectors arrive. What's the over-and-under before a "material breach" occurs? I'll guess Thursday morning Iraq time. I'm working on the assumption that Iraq has things to hide and that they will try to hide them in ways that will split the US and continental Europe once their tactics are seen. The Democrats are becoming the anti-pork party in their fight to stop a bloated homeland security bill? Not really, they don't like GOP-flavored pork, but like the big-city flavored versions. This might be good news for shoppers but will bring out a lot of negative reportage in the weeks to come-department store sales are sluggish this month. Is this due to a decreased demand for goods in general or a shift away from the standard department store fare towards more specialty store stuff? If people are buying more DVDs and game boxes and less sweaters and jeans for Christmas, you could see Wal-Mart and Federated sales drop if the difference is going to Best Buy. However, reporters might not think that deep and go for the "people are depressed about their prospects" spiel you often see when numbers like these come out.

Edifier du Jour-Acts 24:22-27(NASB) [Paul was defending himself from Jewish accusations in Felix’s court in chapter 24]
22 But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, "When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case." 23 Then he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and yet have some freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him. 24 But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you." 26 At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him. 27 But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.
I think a lot of people are like Felix in verse 25. When faced with the idea that they are sinners who can’t get to Heaven on their own, they have four options. Assuming they believe in God at all, they can either (1) take a universalist stance and reject the idea that anyone’s not good enough to get into heaven, or (2) reject the idea, for they think their good works can get them into Heaven or (3) not want to face the idea, knowing that their works aren’t enough but don’t want to follow Jesus or (4) accept the teaching at face value and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Felix is either in camp #2 or camp #3. Many people today have an idea that generally good people get to Heaven; if they are good citizens, they think that they will get a passing score on Heaven’s entrance exam. However, I think Felix knows that he’s a scoundrel, being on his third wife and being a venal politician. He knows he’ll flunk that entrance exam, but doesn’t want to live the right ways and give up his hedonistic lifestyle. He doesn’t reject the need for salvation out of hand, but wants to face the problem later. Later never came for Felix; he needed to see that he would gain far more than they he would have given up by accepting Christ; becoming a believer doesn’t mean living a monastic lifestyle. The reason many people avoid giving their life to Christ is that they think the loss of control and loss of pleasurable sins will make the converted life not worth living. Far from it; I’m not alone in saying that I’ve had more fun as a believer than I did before.

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