Please, Just Sit Down.

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This showed up in my Tumblr feed. It amounts to a flippant joke about the serious, life-ending procedure of abortion. The responses to this joke demonstrate a tragically shallow grasp of rhetoric and ignorance of reasons for opposition to abortion. I wish we’d start teaching logic in schools again; clearly this was not an argument in any meaningful way and since it ignores opposing views, it isn’t even an adequate way to describe abortion.

The assumption is that abortion is a personal choice just like having children is a personal choice. But in an abortion, someone dies. Every time. I hope I made that point in my comment at the bottom: “Or stand up comedians. But thankfully, we’re not allowed to kill them.”


Inventory Issues

arkofthecovenant

There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of Egypt. (2 Chron 5:10)

[T]he ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. (Hebrews 9:4)

This has got to be one of the many contradictions in the Bible we hear about, right? Not really. It is a contradiction only if you read the Bible flatly. By ‘flatly’ I mean if you read it as if it were one book written at one time by one author. That is, if you expect it to be written the way humans tend to write. The reason this is not a contradiction is because there are two different authors writing at two different times, in two different languages, relating actual history from two different time periods. That describes writing that is much less flat, much more nuanced, don’t you think?

The chronicler, writing in Hebrew probably around 400BC, is telling about when Solomon built the first temple and brought the ark into it. The author of Hebrews, writing in Greek probably around 60AD, is talking about the tabernacle just after it was completed. The time difference between these two events is about 500 years and an awful lot happened in those 400 and something years. To understand the inventory problem with the ark, we need to look at its history with an emphasis on what went inside it.

IMAGE-Ten-Commandments-Tablet-Movie-Prop-Christies-2001It all starts in Exodus 25 where God tells Moses how to build the ark. In verse 16, God says, “And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.” The “testimony” here is the Ten Commandments that God wrote on tables of stone. They were placed inside the ark once it was constructed.

URNThe first thing listed in Hebrews is the urn of manna. In Exodus 16 God gave Israel manna six days a week. It was a miraculous food that formed on the ground overnight. Any manna that was kept overnight spoiled except on Friday since Saturday is the Sabbath and none was given. In verse 33 Aaron is told, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations.” Now, at this point, the ark hasn’t been constructed yet; as a matter of fact, God hadn’t even told Moses that an ark is to be constructed. Exodus 16 is about six weeks before Mount Sinai where God verbally gives Israel the Ten Commandments and another month of so after that till he gives the instructions for the ark. At this point, the jar was kept but not in the ark.

53271_almond_tree_smThe next thing in the list from Hebrews is the rod of Aaron that budded. In Numbers 16, the sons of Korah challenged Moses’ and Aaron’s authority. God’s response was to send a fire to consume the rebels who stood before him and to open the earth under their tents. It wasn’t Moses and Aaron they were ultimately challenging, it was God and the rebellion didn’t stop once Korah’s children were gone. The next day the people complained along the same lines, “You have killed the people of the LORD.” (Num 16:41) In order to authenticate who God had chosen to lead Israel, Moses took a staff from the leader of every tribe and he put them in the tabernacle. The next morning they found that Aaron’s staff had budded and sprouted almonds. In Numbers 17:10 God directed Moses that to put “the staff of Aaron before the testimony”.

So each item that Hebrews mentioned was associated with the “testimony” in some way. Does that mean it was inside the ark? Clearly the tablets of the Ten Commandments were in there, they were called “the testimony” to begin with. Aaron’s rod was to be “before the testimony” which could mean that it sat in front of the ark but that seems a bit odd. There wasn’t a table in there to set the rod on and “the testimony” (i.e. the tablets) were inside the ark. If the rod was before the testimony it could have easily been inside the ark. Why not?

Likewise, the jar of manna was to be “before the LORD“. God’s presence was between the cherubim on top of the ark so the best place for the jar would be there. Again, there was no table to keep this stuff on so placing it inside the ark makes sense. Also, consider that they had to pack all this stuff up and move it around quite a bit before they came to the Promised Land. It would just make sense to put it in the ark.

But that leaves us with an inventory problem when we get to Second Chronicles since “there was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses put there.” We don’t know for sure what happened to the other things since the Bible doesn’t say anything about them but there are hints. If we track the history of the ark in the Bible we see some opportunities for things to get lost.

"Could someone set up Dagon the all powerful again?"

“Could someone set up Dagon the all powerful again?”

Surprisingly, there is no mention of the ark being lost in Judges. The people were so superstitious at that time that you’d figure they’d would have drug it out all the time. Nope, they were able to hold off losing it till 1 Samuel 4. When the Philistines came out against them, they pulled out the ark like it was an idol or something. The Philistines captured it in battle. However, things didn’t go so well for the Philistines. They put the ark in the temple of their god Dagon who kept falling over in front of it. Then the people broke out in boils so they decided it would be best to return the ark to Israel. When they did, some Israelites decided to take look inside (1 Sam 6:19 NIV, KJV, ASV). If Israel decided to take a peek, I’ll bet the Philistines did too. After all, for the Philistines it was the spoils of war. When the Philistines consulted their priests and diviners to try to figure out what to do with the ark, their wisemen told them, “do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering” (1 Sam 6:3). That could mean “empty” as in “without a guilt offering” or it could mean “we took stuff out and it has become obvious that we’re guilty and need to make an offering.” A golden urn? There’s some cash value. A stick that budded (assuming it was still spouting)? Sounds like magic! Keep that! Big old stone tablets with Hebrew writing on them? Yeah, leave that.

Years later David would split up the articles of the tabernacle. The tent was at a high place in Gibeon with the bronze alter but David moved the ark to Jerusalem (2 Chr 1:4-5) and he put it in a tent he’d had built for it (1 Chr 15:1). When the contents are mentioned in 2 Chronicles 5, we’re down to just the tablets. And it is interesting that the author would mention specifically that there was nothing else in there but the tablets. He might do that in order to confirm, yes, there was nothing else in there, just as it was supposed to be. On the other hand, he could also be commenting that the other stuff had gone missing and all that was left was the tablets.

Do you see how bumpy and nubbley a reading of the Bible has to be? Nothing flat about it! The Bible spans a great deal of time and so you can’t read it like a column in a magazine where all the pertinent history is gathered together for you. You have to take a lot more into consideration. God is bigger than a magazine editor and his story spans generations. Expect his writing, both in history and in the Bible to be huge.


A Scientific Need for Philosophy

Let’s pause and consider Dr. Tyson’s statement.

I have heard atheists explain that they don’t believe, they know. Belief, they claim, is not based on evidence but knowledge is. That statement in itself is loaded with difficulties but let’s let it slide for the moment. Does Dr. Tyson have a “belief system” and is it grounded in “objective reality”? If it is, is it still a belief system? Isn’t it knowledge?

Since this tweet appears to be Dr. Tyson’s opinion, it is subjective and no longer objective. Therefore, Dr. Tyson should not be making this decision for other people.

Does Dr. Tyson believe his statement to be true? What portions of “objective reality” lead Dr. Tyson to this conclusion? There are countless examples of people making sound decisions for others whose belief systems are based on things Tyson would, no doubt, claim are not founded in objective reality. Christian or Muslim or Buddhist doctors successfully make decisions for others on a regular basis, for example. Did these get included in the “objective reality” that lead Dr. Tyson to his conclusion? I rather doubt it.

If we accept Dr. Tyson’s statement as true, that means that only those who have a belief system founded in objective reality can make decisions that affect others. Parents whose belief systems don’t meet Tyson’s criteria would be excluded from making decisions for their children; others would have to do it for them. The same goes for care givers of elderly parents or the mentally ill.

In the end, this statement is nothing more than a bald-faced power play. While organized religion is often presented as the boogieman who wants to control how you think, this form of scientism actually has that goal in mind. Were Dr. Tyson and others like him really in favor of free thought, this notion would never have occurred to him. Don’t be mislead, scientists are human too and subject to the same foibles as others, hubris and desire for power included.

What troubles me is not so much that Tyson said it, it is that at the time of my writing, 20k+ people agreed with him.


Hold the Ham

When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
“Cursed be Canaan;
a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
He also said,
“Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem;
and let Canaan be his servant.
May God enlarge Japheth,
and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
and let Canaan be his servant.” – Genesis 9:24-27

It can be surprising what you can learn from seemingly simple passages like this. This is just Noah getting ticked off at one of his kids and praising his favorites, right? Not by a long shot. There is nothing that says Noah was being prophetic here but he was. He was, after all, a “herald of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5) and though Jacob isn’t called a prophet, his blessings on his kids proved to be prophetic (Gen 49) since the scepter didn’t depart from Judah, for example.

In the past, some in the church have talked about “the curse of Ham” and “the mark of Cain” being upon different people groups, whom they refer to as ‘races’. This was then used to give Biblical justification to treating those ‘races’ as less-than-human. Obviously, Cain’s mark was on Cain and not anyone else. Cain complained that once others found out what he’d done, they’d kill him (Gen 4:14). God’s purpose in putting his mark on Cain was to prevent that (Gen 4:15). After the flood, God had a different solution for murder: execution (Gen 9:6) not Cain’s mark. Besides, Noah was from the line of Seth (Gen 5:6-28) not Cain’s so if the mark was genetic, it died in the flood.

Well, what of the curse of Ham? Ham’s descendants settled in Africa so the theory goes that the children of Ham bear his curse. Except, Ham didn’t get cursed. Noah/God cursed not Ham, for that would be a third of humanity at that point, but he/they cursed Ham’s son Canaan. Canaan’s descendants didn’t make it to Africa, they settled in the Promised Land (Gen 10:15-19). God endured with them not for only 400 years while Israel was in Egypt (Gen 15:16) though that would be significant. But more than that, God endured with that cursed people from the days of Noah! Their deeds were exceedingly evil (cf. Lev 20:2-5) and yet it took that long for the full measure of their sin to equal the full measure of God’s patience with them.

What happened was that Ham was not curse. Nor was he blessed. He was simply cut out. The blessing to Japheth was that he be enlarged. It is a play on Japheth’s name which is the same Hebrew word as “enlarge” but it is more than that. Japheth will, one day, dwell in Shem’s tents. Shem who’s God is Yahweh. Those tents. We can see this idea of Ham being ignored again in the genealogy of Genesis 10. When we get to Shem’s descendants, Shem is introduced as “the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth.” “Eber” is where we get the name “Hebrew” and Shem is his father which is where we get the term “Semite” as in “anti-semite”. Also, Shem is the elder brother not of Ham and Japheth, but only Japheth. Moses is pointing out that Ham’s descendants will be included in Japheth’s blessing (he will be enlarged) and only Canaan will be cursed.

Seem thin? Let me fill it in just a bit then. Back to Genesis 10 but let’s take a look at Ham’s descendants for a moment. One is Nimrod, a mighty man and a mighty hunter. He founded two important cities, Nineveh and Babylon. These become very important later in redemptive history when God judges Israel and Judah for their faithlessness. Nebuchadnezzar is the king of Babylon and God repeatedly refers to him as “my servant” in Jeremiah (Jer 25:9, 27:6, 43:10). In Daniel 3 when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are delivered from Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace he makes the proclamation that “Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (Dan 3:29). Then in chapter 4, where Nebuchadnezzar himself seems to be the author of inspired scripture, God doesn’t destroy Nebuchadnezzar for his sin but sends him a dream and Daniel to interpret it. He then causes Nebuchadnezzar to go mad for a time so that when he is restored he praises God. Sounds like this son of Ham is dwelling in Shem’s tents. Also, God sent Jonah to Nineveh and extended his mercy to them.

Another son of Ham is Egypt (Gen 10:6). When God brought Israel out of Egypt he judged their gods, not them (Ex 12:12, Num 33:4). God later calls Egypt “my people” and Assyria “the work of my hands” (Isa 19:24-25). And these two sons of Ham will surely be among the “strong nations” that will lay hold of the robe of a Jew and say “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zech 8:22-23). Again, that sounds like they are dwelling in Shem’s tents.

I’m not saying that these men or nations were eternally saved, but they had an encounter with Yahweh that the Canaanites didn’t. That isn’t to say that God didn’t extend opportunities for repentance to Canaan, he did, but he didn’t take the extraordinary steps he took with others of Ham’s children. Caleb’s father, a Kenizzite (Num 32:12, Gen 15:18-19), turned to Yahweh. Rahab and her family heard about Yahweh’s might and turned to him (Josh 2:8-13). When God’s wrath fell on the people of the land of Canaan, these were saved so even in his judgment, God saved some. In the end, Japheth is enlarged and dwells in Shem’s tents while Ham is pretty much ignored.


You Don’t Have to Pick

Which one do you like better? The cranky God of the Old Testament or mild mannered Jesus of the New Testament? You actually don’t get that choice.

Back in 2008 I attended the Wheaton Theology Conference on Rediscovering the Trinity: Classic Doctrine and Contemporary Ministry. One of the speakers was Edith Humphrey. I just stumbled across my notes from her talk and found this interesting observation.

We often assume that the Old Testament is the era of the Father, the New Testament is the era of the Son, and the church age is the era of the Spirit. Humphrey suggested an alternative. The Old Testament is the era of the Son incognito and the New Testament is the era of the Son revealing the Father by the Spirit. She referred specifically to John 1:18 to support this version.

As I’m preaching through Genesis, I find this to actually be a better description of what is happening. Of course the Father is present and active in the Old Testament but what we’re seeing more of is Jesus there. Pictured and promised but there he is.

To add to the strength of this, consider this from an older post of mine:

So my act of rebellion was to see “the LORD” and read it as “Yahweh” every time. After a bit I got worried that I was just being proud and clever; never a good thing. But then I thought about how the New Testament handles this…

And that’s when it came together. What I was actually doing was what the church had been doing. Seeing “Yahweh” and thinking/saying “Lord” for whatever reason; theological persnickety-ness or honoring God. But in the New Testament “Lord” is applied to Jesus. So when I read in the New Testament “Jesus is Lord” and hear in my head that habit from reading “Lord” in my Old Testament as “Yahweh” I’m actually doing the right thing! Jesus is Yahweh!

What I’m getting at is we read “LORD” and think “God the Father” but in reality we should be thinking “Jesus” since the New Testament applies “Lord” to Jesus. That would mean that the God we see in the Old Testament, the one everyone says is cranky and mean, is actually Jesus. On when he came did he reveal God the Father.


The Impossibility of No Sabbath

The Sabbath was a holy sign of the covenant bond between God and His people. It was as much a part of the order of creation as was creative labor, and in being obedience in the work and rest, Israel would demonstrate its total allegiance to God.

As the Sabbath (like work and marriage) is rooted in the nature of creation, it is certain that the Sabbath (like work and marriage) was part of the cultural expression of Eden. While we have no explicit mention of human observance of the Sabbath in the first chapters of Genesis, the arguments made in passages such as Exodus 31 about the nature of the Sabbath indicate that God’s sanctifying of it (Genesis 2:2ff.) was from then on part of how creation functioned. The intimate fellowship between God and man in the Garden presupposes that man would honor what God had established as holy. Since the Fall is the first occurrence of human disobedience to the divine order established in creation, it is impossible that man would not have observed the Sabbath in the original culture of Eden. – Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes


Push Back the Crowd


The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to the other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, strong, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the the right parts of us. – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


Why I’ve Remained Silent on the Situation in Ferguson, MO

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. – Ecclesiastes 3:1,7-8

I read the following discussion on Twitter about the unrest in Ferguson, MO.

Thabiti Anyabwile wrote a blog post about evangelicals exercising theological and practical leadership on this. The twitter thread is a bit of a rebuke of evangelicals who’ve remained silent. I’m one of them and so it prompted me to ask myself why I have chosen to remain quite. Here are some of my reasons:

1) Privilege. I am a white, middle-class male in my 50s. The only reason employees in a store watch me closely when I walk in is because they are working on commission and want to make a sale. When/if I ever get pulled over it by the police they worst they will suspect me of is drunk driving. I cannot imagine what the situation on the ground is in Ferguson because of my privileged position in American society. This leads to:

2) Ignorance. I have never been to Ferguson, MO so I don’t know what the conditions are there. I don’t understand all that transpired between a white, well-armed cop and a large, unarmed black teenager and so I am profoundly unqualified to comment upon it. The only thing I can say that would be acceptable due to my privilege would be to condemn the shooting of yet another black man. I condemn that since every human life is precious. But which reason for the shooting shall I condemn? Systemic racism in the police force? Unyielding economic oppression of blacks in America? Generational un/underemployment and an American society that perpetuates huge obstacles to changing that situation? The militarization of local police forces? Yes, all of these but I have no idea what the mix of these factors and others are at play in Ferguson.

3) Room. Because of the above two factors, I believe it is best for me to keep my mouth shut and allow the protestors and the Missouri government to surface the real issues at play there. My voice, privileged and ignorant as it is, will not contribute to that process. My social-media-fueled opinions, if they were even to matter or be heard, cannot help. The protestors need to keep the pressure on the government and the police need to be allowed to complete their investigation. Twitter and Facebook will not help and may actually hurt. It would be good if Ferguson were not in the 24-hour news cycle but were only reported on when something important happens. The media need to be there to add pressure to what the protestors are already applying but the rampant speculation and knee-jerk commentary that fuel the news cycle won’t help. My feeble contribution won’t help either.

4) Prayer. Since I am ignorant and my opinion is slanted by my place in society, I am uniquely unable to help. But I know someone who knows the intimate details of what happened down to the thoughts and intentions of every heart involved. He is sovereign over the Ferguson police and mayor, even over the Justice Department and president. He holds sway even over the crowds of protesters and scandal-hungry media. And he commands me to pray to him, to ask him to grant us peace, and for him to give our elected officials, his ministers in all of this, wisdom. Prayer is not not doing anything. It is appealing to the greatest, wisest, most benevolent power in the universe to move in human affairs. My best course of action to do something that can actually help, is to pray that God will bring justice to our divided, conflicted, drifting nation. Including and especially Ferguson, Missouri. And so I am doing the best thing I can do.

All of this does not mean that I am not interested in racial justice in America. I am sorely aware of the twisted justice system and racist economic system in this nation. The problems confound me and the solutions elude me but I do long for justice and peace and freedom to come to this place. I long for the day when slavery and its ugly shadow will be lifted from out nation. I want everyone in this nation to be able to improve their lot in life by hard work and by enjoying the fruit of the labor of their hands. I want the police to once again “serve and protect” and not be a revenue stream for municipalities. Where I can see clearly, I will speak when I believe I have something to add. Wisdom in this case seems to be for me to hold my tongue and pray.


God Moves in Mysterious Ways

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God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain. – William Cowper