Thursday, November 29, 2007

In For a Penny, In For a Pound

My friend Rick often has a unique view of issues, especially as he's an American. Theology and politics can make for interesting debate and I think we've got one going at his blog.

Do obviously wealthy televangelists make you crazy? Me too! Do you think they deserve to be scrutinized? Me too! Should they lose their tax-exempt status? Seems just. What about shutting down tax-exemptions for all churches? Now that's Canadian!

Follow the dia-blog-alogue here!

Man, I just LOVES links!

*We're in yur web - debatin' yur ishyoos!*

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In Search of the Free Lunch

At my friend Lee Distad's blog was a recent comment to an article he published that got my gears turning. You can read the article and the comments, including mine here.

I urge you to do your own investigation into the claims this company is making, if you want to be informed when the media "reports" on this subject. Sadly, you won't be getting useful information from most mass media outlets.

As promised, I am going to spend a few electrons in explaining the Biblical theological truth as to why we can't find an energy "free lunch" in the universe. As I do, remember that people have understood this truth for 5000 years or more, so this ain't news, folks.

In Genesis 3 we find the story of the fall. Humans mysteriously reject God's authority, in spite of having a relationship with Him and fully understanding their position in creation. Both men and women fail, there is no gender bias here unless you want to read it in. Both knew what they were doing was wrong.

God's response is gracious. Instead of wiping the slate clean and starting over, or not starting at all, He allows for hope, but there are immediate consequences. In Genesis 2 God made humans the "stewards" of the created earth. It was ours to care for in partnership with God, and it was easy work because our relationship with God was righteous, and thus our relationship with creation was righteous, too.

The fall and the introduction of sin created a series of events that changed all of that, resulting in humanity's relationship with God and the natural created order being broken. Nature is no longer our partner in life. We are at odds with the universe. But we are still the stewards of earth, though our job has become much, much harder.

In Genesis 2 we are in the garden with a purpose for the garden - "to work it and take care of it". After the fall only "painful toil" will garner us what we need to survive.

Unlike the media image of the "stereotypical evangelical", I'm not an anti-ecology guy. I am deeply concerned for the earth and I am upset by what we do to it. My family met and exceeded the "one ton challenge" and we still seek ways to do better. But I also have no illusions as to whether or not we can come to some Utopian point where we are in complete harmony with nature. Nature isn't even in complete harmony with itself. If there were no humans on the face of the Earth natural pathogens would wipe out massive populations of plant and animal life all on their own. Weather patterns, huge storms, forest and grassland fires, volcanic activity and other geological and climate events would shatter vast eco-systems and destroy natural habitats. Imbalances in animal, plant, bird, fish, reptile and microbe populations would spell doom for thousands of species. In truth, natural processes have brought many, many more species of plants and animals to extinction than humans have in our entire history.

Before we hear the argument that "natural processes" work and that "death" is part of life I must remind you that the Christian, and the more ancient Jewish understanding is that death is bad. That death can serve any purpose that appears to be good is a miracle of God.

Now all of this is no justification for the squandering of natural resources nor the raping of the earth's riches. And humanity will have to answer for that, of that I am most sure. But the path to shalom (which means essentially the "perfectly balanced life" or "true peace") goes directly through our relationships, firstly with God, then one another then the rest of the world. As long as our sinful greed, fear, violence and mistrust are prevalent, any attempts to heal our broken relationship with nature are doomed to ultimate failure.

The truth is that if we were to choose to live in a world where the one rule was to love others - to make a conscious choice of the will to choose the true good for others, all others - our ecological problems would be few.

My hope for the ecology and for humanity rests in Christ. The Bible says "God so loved the world". My faith is in the One who loves everything, crabs and cheetahs, sagebrush and sycamores, turtles and tigers, dolphins and dung beetles - and us. I know that when we live our lives in love with Jesus we will love what He loves - and the more of us who do, the more of us there will be to change the way we relate to the world and it's natural beauty and resources.

We won't find an energy "free lunch" that will allow us to continue to live self-indulgent lives of leisure and indifference. If you really think about it, such a discovery would spell our ultimate doom as the only possible destination for humanity at the end of such a road would be a world so decadent and corrupt that it would implode.

The irony is that Jesus is the "free lunch" we all need and are looking for. And He is free. But don't take my word for it. Read it for yourself.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lost in Translation

No doubt you were aware earlier this year of the publication of the “Gospel of Judas”(Please note: I am always suspicious of any Wikipedia article and you should be too, but the core facts in this linked article are accurate as far as I can determine.) by the National Geographic Society. The practical upshot of the publication of this recently discovered Gnostic gospel was that it purported to portray Judas in a favorable light. The spin went as far as to suggest he was a misunderstood saint, acting out of loving compassion and not at all the sinful tool of those who bore ill will towards Jesus.

Now an acclaimed academic language scholar has put her considerable skills to the task of translating the text and has found that the National Geographic scholars may have not only been rushed in their work to meet publishing deadlines, but may also have been coerced into rendering a translation that produced a much more palatable and thus marketable book. The story of this twisted translation is presented in an article in this weeks’ issue of MacLeans’ magazine.

The following is an excerpt from the article:

“It wasn't long before there was no joy at all in the effort. NG's provocative gospel turns on a handful of phrases, all of which DeConick translated differently. Judas, for example, was not a "spirit" destined for heaven, as NG would have it, but a "demon" with a far different ultimate destination; Judas would "exceed" the other apostles, DeConick agreed, although not in his reward, as NG states, but in the wickedness of his actions. Judas, in fact, was as evil as ever. The Gnostic Christians who wrote the gospel were bitterly opposed to what was already emerging as a core theological concept in Christianity's dominant tradition: the doctrine of the Atonement, whereby God so loved the world he gave his only son for its redemption. To the Gnostics the idea was repellent, no better than child sacrifice. It certainly could not have been God's plan. Judas could only have been acting for the forces of evil.
"I didn't want to write this book," DeConick says. "Some of the NG people are personal friends of mine. But when I mentioned my concerns to another expert, his reaction was 'Oh my God, me too!' The more I talked about what I was doing, I found all this underground support." So how did the eminent scholars on the NG team go off the rails?”

Well I guess MacLeans’ has more than justified my renewing my subscription. As for National Geographic, I’ll be sending them an email and I’m not sure yet whether or not I’ll re-subscribe next year. You might want to send them an email, too. They at least owe us an explanation as to why their scholars’ translation differs so very distinctly from one of their respected peers.


*The label "Made in a Hurry" is NEVER a sign of quality or reliability. - BJM*

Navigating "The Golden Compass"

This is what it sounds like when I try to communicate with my "tribe". Maybe some of you will find this interesting and thought provoking.

It appears that another pop culture anti-Christian conspiracy story is brewing again just in time for the Christmas season. The storm is gathering around the soon to be released film “The Golden Compass”. This conjures up for me memories of the hyper-rhetoric that surrounded the releases of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the “Harry Potter” books and films, the “Narnia” film and other offerings.

I am a strong advocate that Christians everywhere “guard your heart” (Proverbs 4:23). This quote from the OT must be understood to also refer to the mind. Ancient Hebrews did not distinguish between the “heart” and the “mind” as later Greek thinkers did. For the writer of Proverbs the “heart” would have represented the core of a person’s reasoning, intellect, emotions, experience and character. Thus to effectively “guard” our hearts, and minds for that matter, we must use our minds.

The apostle Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 6:12 & 10:23 that the expanse of freedom the Christian has in Christ Jesus is all encompassing, but not everything we could choose to do or experience may be good for us. We have the freedom and the power to choose – so do non-Christians. One thing that I believe regularly turns off non-Christians about Christians is that very often we seem to choose without thinking, or expect other Christians to fall in line with our thinking because we must be inherently “right” in our views on a particular matter. While I do expect ALL Christians to agree on fundamental doctrinal issues (the divinity of Christ, the totality of sin in our nature, the full atonement of the Crucifixion, the supremacy of God in all things, the essential necessity of forgiveness and so on), I think we often stretch our credibility with others when we react – and expect an en masse "Christian" reaction – to things in popular culture which we object to.

Very often these urgings come to us from brothers and sisters who are sincere in their efforts to be helpful to the cause of Christ and who are acting out of honest feelings of love and concern for others. Very often these issues DO require sober consideration on our part. Very often these warnings ARE useful and should be heeded. But we need to proceed from a solid understanding of the issue at hand, and a clear sense of our purpose in regard to our mission for Christ in the world.

In the case of books, movies, TV programs, video games, internet entertainment and other mass media I believe our loving responsibility, to each other Christian or not, is to be informed and be able to speak the truth of Christ into these issues. Some brothers and sisters may not be able to deal with some material without it seriously affecting them adversely – they must know themselves in this regard and refrain. Some media does not need to be viewed to be opposed (pornography, hyper violent fantasy, promotion of bigotry, fascism and other obviously dark and reprehensible themes), however there are, I pray, those who are gifted by God to view, understand and refute these very dark and evil things well. Other media falls into a wider category where we need to be discerning by learning what we can about it, understanding what we may be able to glean from viewing it and using our experience and knowledge of God's Word and will (Yes, you're going to have to do some Bible study here people, but wouldn't it be refreshing for others to encounter some Christians with reasonable Bible knowledge for a change instead of just reactive dogmatism as their basis for argument? 'Nuff said!) to dialogue with friends and family about the Gospel as we talk about it.

As an example, I believe the “Harry Potter” phenomenon has provided untold opportunities to engage a whole generation of young people on the issues of power and its proper use, the struggle between good and evil, issues of morality and character and other ideas that easily lead to spiritually significant discussions. Frankly, I thank God for J.K. Rowling when I think of her, and I pray for her too.

Now we have “The Golden Compass”. The email I received that started all of this had an article attached that was verifiable and from a credible source. I am including the following links to help you broaden your perspective on this issue. Undoubtedly, some of you will view this movie, some of you won’t. Neither is a sin. Why you do or don’t might be though, because God is concerned with WHY we do things. It is the state of our heart (and minds) that He is most concerned with (see Philippians 4:7).

Dear friends please read, then pray, if this issue matters to you – but remember we are all accountable for our choices and decisions, so we should make them as well as we can in the Grace of God.

'The Golden Compass' - Atheist Propaganda for Children?

Director Defends Golden Compass

'Golden Compass' movie opening to controversy

Golden Compass Under Fire

"I'm Not Afraid of Atheists (Or Their Movie)"

Please consider that we can only show the grace of Jesus effectively when we understand what we are being gracious about.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Roll The Bones

Recently a good friend of mine sent me the following email message:

Hi Brian,

How much would you pay for a ticket on a chance to drive a BMW or another fancy car for one year…if only 150 to 200 tickets were sold? Curious.

Aloysius P Tackhammer
(he asked me to protect his identity)

My friend is a Christian as am I so this was my response:

Hi Al,

Generally speaking gambling is frowned upon in Christian circles – has to do with that nasty bit at the foot of the cross with the Roman soldiers casting lots for Jesus' clothes. I know that raffles and other pseudo-gambling activities are often part and parcel of church life. That being said, I guess it would depend upon the cause this "raffle" would be supporting. If I was interested – and the car in question was a Cadillac STS-V (see link below) – then I might get involved.

I guess $100 is the most I'd pay. I hope that helps you out.



P.S. Do you think a Baptist pastor driving a brand new Cadillac V-8 BMW killer is a bit "over the top" – or would it be a good advertisement for following Christ?

As you can see we kid around a bit, but Al didn't leave it there.


It could be the health and welfare gospel that some US TV preachers peddle. Really sad.

Is it biblical or by tradition that gambling is frowned upon? We would call it a contest because that's what a radio station would call it.


So I decided to give him a fuller response.

Hi Al,

It's Biblical. The disciples drew lots to replace Judas Iscariot because they couldn't decide between two candidates, and lots were cast in the OT when leaders couldn't choose between two alternatives that both had merit. These appear to have been moments of allowing God to work through chance, as it were, to affect the outcome of a situation. Basically it's a coin toss between two equally acceptable alternatives. The only scene we see in the NT of gambling for profit is the scene I referred to earlier of the Roman soldiers casting lots at the foot of the cross for Christ's clothing. Lots were probably dice.

The Biblical position is that gambling takes advantage of people by giving one person wealth at the expense of others. Truthfully, only the ones running the games truly benefit. "The House always wins." It is also true that raffles, Bingo and other "soft" forms of gambling have been a cultural part of church life for as long as fund raising has been an issue. The prime motivation for individuals participating in any of these activities is usually the hope of having an outcome that is very beneficial for them. Greed is the issue – or the love of money – which Christ called "the root of all evil".

It is true that I can't point to a specific passage of Scripture that says, "Thou shalt not gamble." However, we are all well aware of the personal and social cost attached to this "vice" that has gone beyond being a "bad habit" and has become a Government and community revenue stream at nearly every level. It's hard to reconcile broken relationships, shattered families and wasted lives with the "good" causes that use and promote gambling as a means to a better community for us all. And don't even get me started about the propensity for First Nations to see gambling as one of, if not the only, way for them to develop a viable economy for themselves – even though one could consider it a cosmic form of "payback" for the abuses these people have suffered.

I know it's hard to imagine children's extracurricular activities being able to exist without "casino nights" or local charities remaining solvent without the income provided by lotteries, raffles and 50/50 ticket sales at local sporting events. But the truth is "there is no free lunch". Somebody wins – many, many, many more lose. The hypocrisy is that gambling – however seemingly benign and helpful for good causes – is only really easily tolerated by the middle and upper classes. For the poor and marginalized it is always a cruel game that preys upon their meager estate and their desperate hope for a bit of the economic freedom you and I take for granted.

If there isn't a passage in the Bible that speaks directly against gambling then at least the miracles of the feeding of the multitudes (yes, it happened more than once) certainly speak against the ethos of the gambling mentality and human selfishness. The economic truth of the Kingdom of Heaven isn't like human economic structures. The Bible teaches us that if we share selflessly in Jesus Christ there is more than enough for everybody. Scripture says that God "owns the cattle on a thousand hills" – an OT image that would have imparted the concept of wealth beyond human comprehension or ability to handle.

You need to know that I'm not judging you or the methods you might use to do good work. Paul also said "everything is permissible" although he also said "not everything is beneficial". Bake sales and rummage sales often won't cut it when it comes to fund raising for critical needs and we need to remember that we also mustn't judge those who don't follow Jesus for behaving as they do. But I think we also need to ask ourselves serious questions about the methods we choose to use in our pursuit of doing what we believe to be the will of God. Sometimes we may have to forgo what seems to be an easy and effective strategy and rely on God to provide what we need. We may have to limit ourselves to what we will do in order to allow God to do what only He can do. Jesus did say "the way is narrow".



And Al replied:

Hi Brian,

So it's not the gambling but the MOTIVE behind the gambling that causes the problem. E.g. Greed. Middle and upper class might donate just because it's a good cause or they might really be greedy. The poor cannot participate. Of course, there's the whole addiction element too.

There is a part of me that would rather just auction the car off...but then only the rich will get a very good deal and get a crack at driving a fancy car while the middle class are driving Corollas.


What do you think?