Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The sin God doesn't understand

If there’s one thing that God understands, it’s sin …. yours, and mine.  He’s been dealing with it for a long, long time.  And, before you and I came along, He dealt with it in the lives of millions of other people.

And what makes the God of the Bible unique, among all the world’s “deities,” is this: He understands sin.  He never condones it, or excuses it, or considers it “just a part of life,” the way some Eastern religions do: He is not Buddha, sitting placidly, saying that sin and righteousness are merely “yin and yang.”  On the other hand, He is not a remote, unfeeling tyrant who looks for opportunities to punish and torment individual sinners: he is not the bloody, merciless “Allah” who demands that sinners be dismembered or gang-raped.  The Biblical God is absolutely unique, in that He hates sin … but He understands it.

You remember the story, in chapter 8 of John’s Gospel.    A woman is caught in an act of adultery with a man.  She is immediately dragged away by the self-righteous “religious leaders” of her day - - - who, for reasons of their own, violate their own law by letting the male adulterer get away.  She’s dragged to the feet of Jesus Christ, and the “religious leaders” demand that she be stoned.  After putting them in their place with a few well-chosen words, Jesus looks at the woman, and asks, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?”  She looks around, sees that the crowd is gone, and replies, “No man, Lord.”  Jesus, in that unique way of speaking that made the people hear Him gladly, offers her mercy, and a second chance: “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”  He doesn’t excuse her sin; He doesn’t say, “If you loved the guy, it’s all right;” He doesn’t say, “Everybody makes mistakes, no big deal.”  He says, “Sin no more.”  But first, He says, “I don’t condemn you.”

God never, ever excuses our sins, or calls them by another name; He never minimizes the seriousness of sin.  But He is ever willing to forgive, if we seek His forgiveness, because He understands our sins.

God created man and woman, male and female, and made them sexually attractive to each other.  You think he doesn’t understand when people fall into sexual temptation, like this woman?  I didn’t say He approves of it, or that He regards it lightly, the way we do: I said that the Author of human sexuality understands the sin.  God created a world full of succulent foods and herbs of every type: do you think He doesn’t understand gluttony?  God imbued us with a sense of right and wrong, a sense of “fairness,” a desire for justice: so, He even understood the self-righteousness of the Pharisees who wanted to stone the adulteress.  He didn’t approve; He’ll never approve of sin.  But He understands.

Whatever your sin is, big or small, fleshy or intellectual, He understands it, and is waiting to help you get rid of it.

He understands any and all of our sins … except for one.  And you’ve committed it many times - - - and so have I.

Perhaps it would be best to let Jesus speak for Himself:

And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. (Matthew 8:24-26)

On another occasion: And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
(Mat 14:28-31)

And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread. Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?
(Mat 16:5-8)

It’s possibly the most common sin in the Christian experience, and even the Lord Jesus Christ didn’t understand it: lack of faith.

We don’t always call it that, of course.  We call it “worry” or “concern,” and try to make it sound respectable.  And for an unbeliever, it’s very understandable: if you don’t know God in the first place, if you have no experience with Him, how can you be expected to trust Him?  But Christians aren’t in that position.

Look at it from the standpoint of God as our loving Father.  If you’re a parent, you’ll see the absurdity of the sin very clearly.

From the time our children are born, we take care of them.  We feed them; we clean them up when they get dirty; we give them clothes to wear and a bed to sleep in, and toys to play with.  And we do this not once or twice, but every day of their lives. They come to expect it; and they’re right to do so. 

Not all parents are good parents, of course.  But if you’re a good parent, and you take good care of your children, what would you think if your little boy or girl started worrying and fretting about everything? 

“Daddy, are we gonna have anything to eat tonight?  I’m gonna get  hungry, Daddy!  Aren’t you gonna feed us?”

“Why yes, baby, we always feed you.  Don’t we always feed you?”

“Yes, Daddy, but this time, I’m scared that you won’t!”

Wouldn’t that make you, as a parent, wonder what was wrong with your child?  Or: “Mommy!  Mommy!  You’re not gonna make me go to school naked, are you?”

“Of course not, honey!  You’ve got a whole closet full of clothes, and drawers full of clothes!  When did we ever make you go anyplace naked?”

“You never did, Mommy, but I worry about it!”

God takes better care of us than any human parent ever could, and not just in the matter of food and clothing and shelter.  He also carries us through the most unbearable of life’s crises, from cancer to divorce to the death of a loved one, and He never abandons us (Deut. 31:6, 8 ; Psalm 27:10, Isaiah 42:16).  He hears our prayers before we think to pray them (Isaiah 65:24). And He spares us a thousand heartaches and horrors, that we never even know about: the automobile accident that you didn’t have last week; that horrible disease that you didn’t contract, when you could have; the things that could have happened to your loved ones … but didn’t.  God blesses and cares for us in ways seen and unseen, and gives us a Bible that’s full of promises we can claim, and accounts of God’s miraculous deeds in the past.

We read about the wonderful things that God did in the Bible, and we profess to believe them.  We believe that He parted the Red Sea; but we don’t trust Him to enable us to pay our heating bill.  We believe that David killed Goliath, but we fear that, if we witness to our boss, we’ll get fired.  We believe in the literal, physical resurrection of Christ … but we worry that our parent, or our spouse, or our child won’t come to Christ.  We have every reason in the world … and every reason in Heaven … to have faith in God.  But we worry, instead.

I know that God is omniscient, and knows all things.  I believe that God understands the sins of my flesh, and the pride of my intellect, and the foolish mistakes I make.  But, in light of all that He’s done for His children, from the Old Testament to the day after tomorrow, I can’t believe that He understands our lack of faith.

I know this much:  when He was on earth, He didn’t understand it.

 But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief (Mark 6:4-6)

If you get drunk, God will understand, and forgive …. although you shouldn’t do it!  If you commit fornication or Sodomy or murder, He’ll understand, and forgive … if you ask Him to!  If you commit a thousand and one different sins, God will understand, although He will not approve or excuse you … and He’s always ready to forgive.

But if you doubt Him … if you don’t trust Him … if you don’t believe His promises ….

Well, He’ll even forgive that.  But don’t expect Him to understand.  Not after all He's done, and is doing, for you!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Beauty from ashes

If there's one thing that the Jews of Israel understand, it's taking the Bible literally.  (They don't always do it, but they understand those who do!)  So it should be no surprise to find an Israeli artist who has found (or been shown) a way of creating "beauty from ashes" (Isaiah 61:3), and turning the horrors visited upon Israel by her enemies into little trophies of grace and peace.  This is an operation worth supporting.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Studies in Islam: Wife Beating 101

And now, courtesy of the "religion of peace," we have a few quiet, sensible, and civilized words on the subject of why and how women should be beaten.  You didn't think that Muslim men just brutalized "their" women for fun, did you?  Certainly not, my friend: they have good reasons, and very scientific methods. Here, see for yourself: courtesy of MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute), Egyptian "cleric" Sa'd Arafat explains the proper rationale for, and etiquette of, wife beating:


And, for your further edification, the "scientific proof" that women cannot think and talk at the same time, as provided by Yemeni imam Abd Al-Majid Al-Zindani (if you like, you can just call him Al):


Actually, after a while, it's not very funny, is it?  But we might as well face the facts: this is how women are regarded, and treated, in places where the Bible is rejected.  Countries that forbid the Bible produce this sort of thing. Countries that maintain some tenuous relationship with the Bible produce Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Jane Austen, Kim Campbell, Jeanne Kirkpatrick  .... and the last woman or girl, whoever she was, who looked you straight in the eye, without apology.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The noble muscadine

Spring is officially upon us: the temperatures climb, the days lengthen, and the beauties and bounties of nature strut their stuff after winter's sad and enforcèd modesty.  As Tennyson said, "the lights begin to twinkle from the rocks," and soon the fireflies and summer meteor showers will interrupt this world's cruel darkness once again.  And then there's the muscadine.

The muscadine!  The truly American grape, the sweetest of the sweet, the most generous of all the grapes in her astonishing antioxidant, anti-aging ingredients!  Underneath her deceptively coarse hide, the green muscadine grape (or her purple sister, the scuppernong) offers delights and benefits that beggar description.  Primarily found in the American southeast, the muscadine takes its name from the same root as the Italian muscatel grape: and, in truth, homemade muscadine wine is one of the glories of our Southern heritage, albeit one that cannot be discussed openly, lest the Feds come around to investigate.  But how charming is the humble muscadine, and how overlooked by those in search of more "sophisticated" treats! 

Hail to thee, blithe muscadine!  Pinot Noir thou never wert! 


Monday, March 21, 2011

In praise of Melanie Phillips

Less than a month ago, a Jewish couple, and three of their children, were brutally, mercilessly stabbed to death in their home on what is called "the West Bank."  The killers, needless to say, were Palestinian Muslims, who resented the Jewish family's presence in "occupied territory."  The slain children were aged eleven, four years, and, unimaginably, three months: Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy, who restricted their attention to adult victims, and who could not hide behind "the religion of peace," must have looked up from Hell in rapt admiration.  When word of the murders became public, neighboring "Palestinians" celebrated by passing out candy and dancing in the streets.

A British columnist, Melanie Phillips, writing on the Spectator website, had the temerity to describe the murderers as "savages" who displayed "moral depravity." Predictably, the adherents of Islam protested her remarks angrily, with Inayat Bunglawala, chairsavage of "Muslims4UK,"  playing the race card:  "Her words went far beyond just denouncing the killings. It was a far more generalised racist outburst against Arabs as a whole."

What had Ms. Phillips, pictured below, said to incur such an outburst?  "The moral depravity of the Arabs is finding a grotesque echo in the moral bankruptcy and worse of the British and American 'liberal' media. Overwhelmingly, the media have either ignored or downplayed the atrocity – or worse, effectively blamed the victims for bringing it on themselves, describing them as 'hard-line settlers' or extremists .... To the New York Times, it's not the Arab massacre of a Jewish family which has jeopardized 'peace prospects' – because the Israelis will quite rightly never trust any agreement with such savages – but instead Israeli policy on building more homes, on land to which it is legally and morally entitled, which is responsible instead for making peace elusive. Twisted, and sick."

These were the "racist" words that so disturbed the Muslim apologists, who were probably still picking the celebratory candy from their teeth. Did Ms. Phillips' employers back her up, or defend her "freedom of expression?"  Not so far: despite repeated inquiries, mum's the word from the Spectator.  However, Ms. Phillips' comments are being formally investigated by the British Press Complaints Commission.

Because she told the truth, and the Muslims didn't like it.  They never do.

Ms. Phillips is not exactly a heroine: she was just an honest journalist expressing herself forcefully.  But if the sub-humans who committed these murders, and their apologists, are going to attack her, then we will cheerfully stand with her.  God bless her; she will be in our prayers.

For those who think that Ms. Phillips' words were excessive or "inflammatory," I reluctantly and apologetically submit the following evidence.  The survivors of the slaughtered family have authorized the release of this video, which contains some very graphic images from the crime scene.  If you want to understand Islam, the "religion of peace," please watch it: but be warned of the very gory content.  After all, we're dealing with Muslims, not human beings.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Corrie Remembers

As a longtime admirer of Corrie ten Boom, the heroine of The Hiding Place, I was unaware of the existence of a one-woman dramatization, in which Corrie's reminiscences of her experiences in Nazi Germany are recounted by a gifted actress, Susan Sandager.  This presentation is sponsored by a very fine organization, Bridges for Peace.  For those who already know Corrie's story, or for newcomers to the subject, this presentation should be both fascinating and challenging.  Those who sneer that Christians only care about Jews for "prophetic" reasons, would do well to overcome their bigotry long enough to consider the ten Booms.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

From Canada, a heroine

It's unusual to see this sort of grace, intelligence, and courage at such a young age, but it's wonderful when it happens.  At the time of this speech, I believe this young lady was 14; she's been speaking out on this subject for several years.  As an American, I'm very jealous: we need her in Washington!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The warrior

The movie only told half the story.

The 2010 film The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, was, by all accounts, an excellent portrayal of the early years of Welterweight champion “Irish” Mickey Ward.  However, the film stopped short of the definitive moments of Ward’s career: his classic trilogy of fights, in 2002 and 2003, with the late Arturo Gatti.

Ward certainly deserved a “biopic;” but someday, perhaps, such a film will also be made about Gatti - - - who was one of the bravest, gutsiest fighters ever.  His death in 2009, under circumstances which are still disputed, was a major loss to the sport of boxing.

Arturo “Thunder” Gatti was a Canadian, born in Italy in 1972.  His amateur career included his inclusion in the Canadian national team, scheduled to participate in the 1992 Summer Olympics.  Prior to the Barcelona Games, however, Gatti turned pro, and began an impressive career that included championships in the Junior Lightweight and Super Lightweight divisions. Although he was defeated by Angel Manfredy and Oscar De La Hoya, he beat such fine fighters as Joey Gamache,Tracy Patterson (Floyd Patterson’s adopted son), Wilson Rodriguez, and Gabriel Ruelas.  His bout against Rodriguez was nominated by The Ring magazine as “Fight of the Year” in 1997.

But the highlight of Gatti’s career was his series of matches with Mickey Ward.  The Gatti-Ward series is regarded by fans and experts alike as one of the greatest trilogies in boxing history. All three contests were pure action, fast and furious, and as equal a match of opponents as the sport ever saw.  Gatti lost the first fight by majority decision, and won the second and third  by unanimous decisions.  Neither fighter scored a knockout in any of the fights.  The second and third bouts were each  named “Fight of the Year” by The Ring, and trainer-commentator Emanuel Steward called Round 9 of the second fight “the round of the century.”  Outside the ring, Ward and Gatti were very close friends, and remained so until Gatti’s death.

Gatti was a magnificent fighter, but perhaps not a truly great boxer.  Boxing fans will understand the difference.  His career was impressive, but not spectacular; he was a hero of the sport, but not a superstar.  His career record was 40 wins (31 by KO), 9 losses. A “bleeder,” Gatti seemed to spout blood if the wind hit him the wrong way, but it never slowed him down.  He had far more heart, the one thing that no trainer can instill, than such superior fighters as De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., or Floyd Mayweather Jr.

He will always be remembered as a true warrior, and one of boxing’s noblest champions.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Place your bets! The four possibilities

 It’s one of the most persistent, universal questions in all human experience: “Just where did all this stuff come from, anyway?”

By “this stuff,” we mean the visible universe itself, everything that is material and perceivable to our senses.  Everything from the nebulae, to your child’s face, to the cricket that chirps on the back porch - - - and the sub-atomic particles that make up the back porch.

Where did it all come from?  Philosophers call this “cosmology,” but whatever one calls it, it’s one of those questions that nag a man or woman, at some point in their lives, until they either abandon the question, or resolve it to their own satisfaction.

But when you strip away all of the many individual theories of origins (and we’re talking about the origin of the universe itself, not just the origin of life), there are only four possibilities.  All explanations or theories can be fitted into one of these: there are no exceptions.  Take any pet theory you’ve heard, and you’ll find that it’s included in one of these explanations.

1.       The universe came from nothing, naturally. 

This, not surprisingly, is called the “naturalist” position, and it goes back as far as Thales (c. 600 BC).  But it remains one of the two most popular explanations in the 21st century.  It simply means that “nature,” the observable, empirically proven universe, is all that exists: and so, in this view, the universe came into existence through purely natural or material processes.  (This can also be called “materialism:” Marxism is a type of materialism.)  What’s observable to the senses is all that exists, and all that has ever existed.

To boil it down to common language, it means this: that everything we see simply came into being through a series of events that nobody saw, and nobody can explain: the universe simply happened to happen one day.  That’s all there is to it: there was nothing, and the next minute there was something, and now there’s everything (until something more shows up).  The so-called “Big Bang” is an example of this approach.

The obvious question, which even a child would ask immediately, is: “What preceded the beginning?”  Nobody knows.  You’re not supposed to think about that.  You’re supposed to believe the scientists who tell you, with all the seriousness of a tree full of owls, that everything simply popped into place one day, like Cinderella’s Carriage.  No, come to think of it, that’s not right: Cinderella had a Fairy Godmother.  The materialists say that everything happened entirely by accident, with no Fairy Godmother or Creator or anything else.  Just …. boom.  And that’s considered a sane explanation.

Even some of the goofiest, most hilarious theories advanced in recent years belong in this category.  The idea of a universe being shaped by “aliens” from another dimension, for example, is so far-fetched as to be a parody of itself, but it is a “naturalistic” explanation.

2.      The universe came from nothing, supernaturally.

This is the explanation of every “religious” (i.e., halfway sane) person in history.  It’s not a Christian or a Muslim or a Native American explanation; it’s not restricted to Jews or Hindus or just plain “deists.”  It is the explanation of the vast majority of the human race for 95% of recorded history.  It simply states that once there was nothing; then an outside force, a Creator or Prime Mover or whatever, called everything into existence.

This brings up the issue of a “closed system” vs. an “open system.”  Really modern scientists believe that the universe is a “closed system:” that is, nothing exists outside it, or apart from it.  Classical scientists, whether they believed in a personal God or not, believed that the universe was an “open system:” open to some force or influence from the outside.  That’s what “religious” people believe.  Modern pseudo-scientists and fifth-rate “philosophers” sneer at anything having to do with “creationism” or “intelligent design:” they believe (or claim to believe; it’s hard to take such dogmatism at face value) in an utterly closed system.  The only thing that is really closed, of course, is their minds.  A waif playing in a mud puddle in Nigeria, or a first grade Sunday School child in any Baptist church, understands these things better than Stephen Hawking or Richard Dawkins.

That’s the explanation:  nothing existed - - - really nothing, except for a supernatural Being of some sort Who decided to create something called the universe.  Hard to believe?  Perhaps; but are the other explanations more sensible?  We’ll see.

I don’t like to call this the “religious” explanation, because “religion” has been the source of so much of the world’s misery; but the term cannot be avoided.  And this explanation need not be feared: after all, those ghastly, Bible-thumping Christians aren’t the only ones who believe it.  Just relax, use your common sense, and see if it works better than the other explanations.

3.       The universe has always been here.

This one is pretty self-explanatory.  The beginning of the universe wasn’t “natural” or “supernatural,” because it had no beginning: it has always existed. In cosmology (the study of the universe), this is usually referred to as “the eternity of matter,” and was maintained by such naïve blowhards as Aristotle.  There are various subdivisions here, as there are in all of these explanations: some think that the earth and solar system (and life) suddenly appeared or slowly evolved, but that the rest of the universe had always been here; others believe that everything, including you and me, has always been here (whatever “here” means) in some form, and merely changes form over time.  In a closed system, there’s an element of truth to this: as Newton said, basic matter can be neither created nor destroyed.  But that’s as close to sanity as this concept gets: because the mind simply rebels at the idea that anything tangible and visible and “real” has always existed.  “Eternity” is not a thought that nestles comfortably inside the human brain, at least not by nature. It can be learned, however, if one has an open mind.  Not completely understood: but grasped.

4.       The universe isn’t here: it’s an illusion.

 This is what Buddhists claim to believe, as do certain other eastern mystical traditions, but there are probably very, very few people who actually believe it.  Buddha was vastly superior to the Western philosophers, in that he recognized that man’s perception was not to be trusted; but that’s a far different thing than saying that “all is illusion.”  One can pretend to believe it; and it certainly rids one of many inconvenient truths, such as God, judgment, right and wrong.  But the most devout Buddhist will have a hard time believing that “all is illusion” when he’s suddenly awakened by an abscessed tooth.  If a woman or man really believes that the universe does not exist, and that everything is an illusion (including ones’s self and one’s perceptions), then that woman or man is simply as crazy as a rat in a coffee can.

So, there are the four basic explanations for the nature of the universe. There are plenty of specific theories, but they all fall intro one of these four. Which one makes the most sense to you?  Be very careful: you have the right to pay your money and take your choice, but the consequences - - - both now, and eternally - - - are unimaginably important!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Flow of Materialism

In 1977, a series of television films were made to accompany Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer's book How Should We Then Live?  The following clip, discussing the nature of materialistic thinking, is part of that series.