Month of Sundays: Temptation

Once more the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms in the world and their glory. The devil said to him, “I will give you all this if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! Scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.'” Then the devil left him, and angels came to take care of him. (Matthew 4:8-11)

The term “Faustian bargain” means a deal with the devil (literally or figuratively) which has a stiff payback. In English literature the story has its debut in Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, written about the time of Shakespeare and the King James’ Bible. When Mephistopheles (Satan’s agent) first appears, Faustus asks him why he wants so many souls for his kingdom (Hell.) Put simply, Mephistopheles’ response was, “misery loves company.”

Talk of heaven usually turns on it being the place where we will see our loved ones again. Unfortunately there are those of us who have the sinking feeling that some of ours have sunk to the other place. One pastor performed a funeral for a motorcycle gang member whose gang called itself “Hell is Our Home.” They left no doubt where they intended to meet for that last bike ride.

Company or not, misery is still misery. Eternal misery is dreadful; it’s referred to as the “second death. (Revelation 20:14). Just because we think those we like in this life are there doesn’t mean that we should follow them.

Jesus, as God, knew the emptiness of the devil’s promise of being given the world in exchange for the worship of Satan. The evil one knew the Scriptures, and knew this was included: “The earth and everything it contains are the LORD’S. The world and all who live in it are his.” (Psalms 24:1) But that didn’t stop him from trying.

He still is trying, and tempting us to turn our backs on the God of the universe so we might have a little “pleasure” in this life. But the payback is eternal and unbearable, no matter who else is doing it.

Will you yield to his temptation? Or serve the real Master of all?

Boomer Christianity: A Victim of Its Own Leadership

George Barna lets us know that Boomers’ enthusiasm for church is waning in their old age:

Meanwhile, as Boomers have aged, they have been slowly distancing themselves from both conventional religious behaviors and beliefs – the typical expectation-breaking pattern we have come to expect from Boomers. (Just as they are reluctant to accept 65 as a reasonable or required age for retirement, so are they bucking the religious system regarding what to believe and carry out their beliefs.)

It’s amazing that a generation which is approaching eternity more rapidly than ever would ostensibly bail on their only hope out of it.  But that’s the Boomers for you.

Although Barna attributes this to the Boomers’ counter-intuitive ways, there’s another culprit that needs to be identified: the simple fact that Boomers have run the church for all of these years.  Or better, perhaps, they have run it in the ground, the same way they’ve done with the country at large.  After a strong opening with such things as the “Jesus Music era,” they’ve gone on with such things as Gothardian authoritarianism (and that includes covenant communities), grandiose building schemes, prosperity teaching, misuse (or non-use) of emerging technologies, excessive accommodation of the culture to inflate membership and revenue, and endless attempts in one way or another to “take the city (or the country) for Jesus,” none of which were backed up by sufficient conviction to finish the job.  The result we have now is a church that is in serious financial straits, clueless as to how to address its current situation, and now abandoned by members of its own generation which created the problem.

If we cannot hold our own generation, how can we expect to hold the ones down the road?  The first step is to do now what Jimmy Buffett did in Margaritaville a long time ago: finger the culprit.

Les Reflets: De l'abondance du coeur, la bouche parle (Out of the Abundance of the Heart, the Mouth Speaks)

When we think of “contemporary” Christian music, most of us restrict ourselves to the US, or throw in the UK for good measure.  But the revolution in Christian music in the 1960’s and 1970’s went far beyond the Anglophone world, and this album–from France–may be the best example of that.

It’s conventional wisdom to characterise Christian music of any kind as “not quite as good” as its secular counterpart.  That conventional wisdom needs to be thrown out with this one: it’s a fantastic representative of European folk music, up to the including the recited Poème, where one feels like reaching for the beret.  That’s evidenced by the fact that secular people struggle with the album: they love the music but the lyrics drive them crazy.  But that’s what happens when we always follow the “conventional wisdom” (cf. 1 Cor 1:18)

The songs:

  1. L’océan
  2. Ma vie
  3. Le navire
  4. Ecclésiaste 12.3
  5. La barbe
  6. Stopotan
  7. L’amitié
  8. La vérité
  9. Poème (Jean Peysson)
  10. Romance
  11. O Seigneur !
  12. Un aveugle à Jéricho

For all of our music click here

Barack Obama: Will the Caudillo Rise to the Occasion?

Sounds like he’d like to:

“The idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. I promise you, not just on immigration reform. But that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written,” Obama said at the National Council of La Raza’s annual conference.

Back in the years after the Spanish Civil War, the dictator Francisco Franco emblazoned his image on the coinage and the words “…caudillo of Spain by the grace of God.”  Although secularist supporters of our President would like to skip the part about God, the truth of the matter is that he was elected with messianic attributes and expectations, neither of which have found their fulfilment but both of which are appropriate for a caudillo.

Barack Obama has discovered that we are in a political system that has two opposing poles, neither one of which can be ignored and where the aspirations of neither can be fulfilled in a strictly constitutional manner.  He had his chance on immigration reform when he had an overall majority in Congress.  But instead he chose health care reform as the place to spend political capital, which is why so many of the other interest groups of his party are unhappy with him these days.

Now he knows that only unilateral action is left to him, be that on the debt ceiling mess, immigration reform or just about anything else.  And it’s tempting, especially in a country where a large segment of the population is on one form of the dole or another and where real civics knowledge is not well disseminated.  But Barack Obama is no Andrew Jackson, who ignored Supreme Court decisions when it suited him.  He’s not even capable of “community organiser” type of mass mobilisation to get his idea to stick.

Will he initiate serious unilateral action in the end?  It’s hard to tell.  Barack Obama is certainly cold-blooded enough to initiate it, but where he falls short–up to now–is his willingness to deal with the blowback.

Are We Defending a Faith or a Civilisation?

This question has been on my mind for some time now.  Much of what I read comes from the Anglican world, so the response is in some measure to much of that, but I see the same kind of thing in Evangelical circles also.  The difference between the two is that the Anglicans usually have some idea of where their idea comes from while Evangelicals aren’t much on stopping and examining the origins of things other than to appeal to “It is written…” That’s fine if it really is written, but in many cases it is not, we only impose our idea on what we read.

The question has additional urgency because of the massacre of the Labour Party Norwegians by their own countryman Anders Behring Breivik.  The media are characteristically quick to emphasise the fact that Breivik was a “Christian” although he had disaffiliated himself with a church some time back.  The same cannot be said for the Masonic lodge; the Lodge had to disaffiliate him after the slaughter.  It’s another good reason to keep church and lodge separate.  In his online presentations, he used crusading and anti-immigrant imagery, both of which have a religious cast to them.

The problem Christians in the West face is the simple fact that we are to a large extent the victims of our own success.  Western civilisation owes a great deal to its Christian roots, so it’s easy to turn to Christian imagery when we rise to defend our civilisation.  But there are several facts we must face:

  1. Christianity wasn’t founded as either a civilisation or a political system.  In this it’s different from Islam.  It’s easier to make the argument that Christianity was founded in opposition to the whole idea that our happiness in this life and the next is dependent upon something other than political considerations, which puts it in opposition to liberalism as understood in the West these days.
  2. Christianity was designed to transcend ethnicity.  That’s underscored by this “new” understanding of the Apostle Paul:
    • The problem in the early church, therefore, was not the temptation toward legalistic works righteousness. They faced the communal challenge of incorporating non-Jewish converts into the historically Jewish people of God. First-century Judaism didn’t have a legalism problem; it had an ethnocentrism problem. The first followers of Jesus were all Jewish, and had difficulty imagining that the God of Israel who sent Jesus Christ as their Savior could possibly save non-Jews without requiring them to convert to Judaism. This is the issue in Acts 15, when Christian Jews from Judea urged the Gentiles in Antioch, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).
  3. Jesus Christ came to establish a new blood line in his own blood–and second birth–that transcends our earthly origins.  As David “Spengler” Goldman pointed out several years back in what is IMHO his best piece:
    • The blood of the pagan was his life; to achieve a life outside of the blood of his tribe, the pagan had to acquire a new blood. It is meaningless to promise men life in the Kingdom of Heaven without a corresponding life in this world; Christianity represents a new people of God, with an existence in this life. That is why Christianity requires that the individual undergo a new birth. To become a Christian, every child who comes into the world must undergo a second birth, to become by blood a new member of the Tribe of Abraham. Protestants who practice baptism through total immersion in water simply reproduce the ancient Jewish ritual of conversion, which requires that the convert pass through water, just as he did in leaving his mother’s womb, to undergo a new birth that makes him a physical descendant of Abraham. Through baptism, Christians believe that they become Abraham’s progeny.
  4. We have to face the reality that those who own and operate the West these days have decided to do so without Christianity.  In the context of our present money favouring pseudodemocracy anything we do to “defend” Christian values in that civilisation is only a delaying tactic.  The nearly two score of war over abortion should have taught us this, but now we have same-sex civil marriage to remind us again.
  5. We must realise that those outside of our “civilisation” who share the name of Jesus are closer to us than our own ethnic kindred.  The most spectacular demonstration of this is the African rescue of what I call the “Anglican Revolt” against the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada, and now the Church of England itself.  We’re seeing the concept of the centre of Anglicanism–whose name itself speaks of a land and a people–being seen as moved to another continent and race.
  6. We must ultimately be prepared to see the dissolution of the “system of things” here in the West–and the blurring of our own ethnic homogeneity–if that leads to the advance of real Christianity in this world.  We need to be Christians first even if that bothers everyone else.  And I’m not talking about a revolution either: as I’ve hammered before and will again, our elites are so singularly unable to lead this mess that they will do the job of destruction for us.  In some ways that’s what we saw in Late Rome, a state whose centralisation led to it collapsing by its own weight, certainly in the West.

It’s not going to be pretty and it’s not going to be fun, but if we keep “defending a civilisation” that doesn’t want us any more, we’ll end up losing both the faith and the civilisation.

Month of Sundays: Suffering

What credit can you claim when, after doing wrong, you take your punishment for it patiently? But, on the other hand, if, after doing right, you take your sufferings patiently, that does win the approval of God. For it was to this that you were called! For Christ, too, suffered–on your behalf–and left you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:20-21)

Back in the 1970’s I attended for a brief time a church whose pastor was one of the foremost “prosperity teachers” of his day. One constant refrain in his sermon was his making fun of those who claimed they were “suffering for Jesus.” His idea was that Jesus didn’t make anyone suffer and that, if they would adopt the “God kind of faith,” they wouldn’t be suffering any more.

Evidently he hadn’t thought through a few things.

Reading the scripture above should put an end to the idea that Christians never suffer. Our Lord did so while on this earth and promised that his followers would experience persecution and suffer for being his followers, just as he suffered for being who he was.

But the truth is that, although some in the congregation were really suffering, others weren’t. They lived in a prosperous Texas city; had they driven far enough south, or even in parts of their own metro area, they would have seen real poverty and suffering.

And for those who were suffering, we must ask: were they really “suffering for Jesus?” Or were they doing so because of their own mistakes? Were they experiencing poverty for the Savior, or were they just careless with their money? As the scripture says above, we can’t take credit for suffering for bad things we’ve brought on ourselves.

Too much of what is taught these days tells us that we can live a pain-free life. But Our Lord never made such a promise.

“I have spoken to you in this way, so that in me you may find peace. In the world you will find trouble; yet, take courage! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

To Stay Out of Purgatory, Read the Bible

While out and about on holiday earlier this week, I purchased at an antique store a copy of a family Catholic Bible from the early 1950’s.  In addition to translations that have fallen out of favour (even in the RCC) it contains several fascinating aspects that you don’t see any more.

First, it gives an overview of Roman Catholicism in that era, which I found interesting since I didn’t convert until 1972.

Second, it used for its illustrations the paintings of J.-J. Tissot.  These also were used by the very non-Catholic author William Simmons (well, he used to be Catholic) in his book Peoples of the New Testament World, which I reviewed a few weeks back.

Third, at the very start it quotes from the Enchiridion (Handbook) of Indulgences (694) as follows:

To the faithful who read the books of Sacred Scripture for at least a quarter of an hour, with the great reverence due to the divine word and after the manner of spiritual reading:

an indulgence of three years is granted.

In the Catholic encyclopaedia in the back, indulgences are defined as follows:

The remission granted by the Church for the temporal punishment due to sin that has already been forgiven.

Protestants tend to equate “temporal punishment” with the blowback that comes from a sinful life.  But in Catholicism that punishment involves the penance that believers are required to do as part of the absolution obtained via the sacrament of Penance.  The penance needs to be done either in this life or the next, i.e. Purgatory.

So what about the time granted in an indulgence?  The Catholic Church, before and after Vatican II (when the rules were revised somewhat) has always hedged on this, speaking about the change in the penitential system relative to the Roman Empire church, when people put off baptism to avoid the harsh penitential system.  Let’s assume for this study that all of the penance is being carried forward into Purgatory (sounds like the U.S. tax code!)  The Church has taught that the time granted in an indulgence isn’t equivalent to actual time saved in Purgatory.  But for those of us of a Dantean mindset, Purgatory is a place for penance, penance takes time, so why shouldn’t the time of the indulgence be equivalent to time saved in Purgatory?

Back to Bible reading…let’s see.  If a Catholic, keeping up with the system of absolution laid out by the Church, read his or her Bible fifteen minutes a day, over a year’s time they would obtain an indulgence of 3 x 365 = 1,095 years.  As a manner of comparison, Dante had the near-pagan Statius out of Purgatory in ±1,300 years, so that’s not bad.  (Obviously we could extrapolate the increase in indulgence over, say, ten or more years, but then again that’s just more opportunity for sin, so that cancels itself out.)  So Bible reading alone would move someone up the mount of Purgatory at a brisk clip.

While rolling up indulgences, a Catholic who read the Bible would be absorbing the content.  If they got stuck, they might ask the priest, who would probably give them an explanation they would not understand.  If push really came to shove, they might ask their Baptist friend, a supreme act of desperation for Catholic and Pentecostal alike.  But in the long run one of two things would happen.

The first is that they would adopt a very Scriptural type of Catholicism like a Jaques-Bénigne Bossuet.

The second is that they would leave the Catholic Church, in which case the need for indulgence would become moot.

Students of the Reformation obviously recognise that it was the sale of indulgences that lead to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the break with Rome.  The Bible reading indulgence would have been another way to counter Tetzel’s money making scheme.  In addition to his advancement of Augustinian theology, Luther had one other major obstacle in the Bible reading indulgence: most people in his era were illiterate, something that the Protestant propagation of the Scriptures helped to counter.

Order of the Engineer: We Still Need Divine Guidance

This past weekend I attended the Leadership Summit for the Geo-Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers.  The Geo-Institute is one of eight institutes within the Society which deals with specialties within civil engineering, in this case soils and foundations.  Part of that meeting was an induction of some of the attendees into the Order of the Engineer, and I was one of those inductees.

The Order of the Engineer has its roots in Canada, instituted in the wake of recurring tragedy during the building of the Quebec Bridge over the St. Lawrence River in the years around World War I.  It came to the United States in 1970.  There are two key elements in the induction: the “Obligation of an Engineer” (as opposed to an oath) and receiving the iron (actually steel) ring.

In advance of the ceremony, the inductees were given a small card with the Obligation on it, which reads as follows:


I am an Engineer, in my profession I take deep pride.  To it I owe solemn obligations.

Since the Stone Age, human progress has been spurred by the engineering genius.  Engineers have made usable Nature’s vast resources of material and energy for Mankind’s benefit.  Engineers have vitalized and turned to practical use the principles of science and the means of technology.  Were it not for this heritage of accumulated experience, my efforts would be feeble.

                                                                    As an Engineer, I


pledge to practice integrity and fair dealing, tolerance and respect, and to uphold devotion to the standards and the dignity of my profession, conscious always that my skill carries with it the obligation to serve humanity by making the best use of Earth’s precious wealth.

As an Engineer, in humility and with the need for Divine guidance, I shall participate in none but honest enterprises.  When needed, my skills and knowledge shall be given without reservation for public good in the performance of duty and in fidelity to my profession, I shall give the utmost.

After an extensive overview of the history of the Order of the Engineer, we the inductees were asked to repeat the Obligation above.  In the course of going through it, our leader skipped the italicised words.  This was a momentary show stopper: we were not expecting it, but eventually we caught up and finished the Obligation.

The atheists have struck again, I thought.  The invocation of divine guidance in one form or another had been a part of the Order of the Engineer since it was started north of the border (or at least that’s the impression that came out from the overview we received).

Contrary to what is fashionable these days, my own view of the matter is as follows:

  1. God set the universe in place with an orderly system of physical laws within which same universe operates.
  2. He endowed us with intelligence to discover and make best use of same ordered universe.
  3. He expects us to do so responsibly and with integrity, an idea that started with Genesis 1:28.  We are to neither worship the creation nor run roughshod over it.

One of the important differences between engineers and scientists (and one that sometimes gets blurred due to the overlapping nature of their activity) is that if a scientist, say, comes up with a new theory of the origin and subsequent course of the universe, the universe will be essentially unmoved by the right or wrong of the theory.  If an engineer misapplies what theory or experience he or she has at hand, the results can be disastrous for all involved.

That being the case, I think the invocation for divine guidance is a reasonable thing to do, and I will continue to do so.

It’s probably just as well that, if the invocation of divine guidance is excluded, the humility goes also.  Atheism is a system that on the one hand degrades the place of the human race by its view of the origin of the species and the vastness of the universe away from the planet and on the other inculcates pride and arrogance amongst its devotees as being far superior to everyone else.

Month of Sundays: Strength

This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: The LORD God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the world. And he has ordered me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem (which is in Judah). May God be with all of you who are his people. You may go to Jerusalem (which is in Judah) and build a temple for the LORD God of Israel. He is the God who is in Jerusalem. All who choose to remain behind, wherever they may be living, should provide the people who are leaving with silver, gold, supplies, livestock, and freewill offerings to be used in God’s temple in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:2-4)

King Cyrus was on top of the world. From mountainous Persia he ruled a vast empire; he was secure enough to allow the Jews to return to their homeland. In doing so he was God’s instrument, doing his will.

But Cyrus had other choices to make, too. A man named Artembares had an idea: that the Persians abandon their mountainous homeland and settle in a richer part of their new empire, probably what is now Iraq. Cyrus told them that Artembares and his friends could do what they wanted, but that he wasn’t going anywhere: “’Soft countries,’ he said, ‘breed soft men. It is not the property of any one soil to produce fine fruits and good soldiers too.’ The Persians had to admit that this was true and that Cyrus was wiser than they; so they left him, and chose rather to live in a rugged land and rule than to cultivate rich plains and be subject to others.” (Herodotus, The Histories)

The Jews returned to their land and began to rebuild their temple. Cyrus’ descendants would rule from their rugged land for another two hundred years. And Cyrus’ decision still works: one reason why the U.S. attacked Iraq and not Iran (Persia) was because of the rugged terrain from whence Cyrus came.

We always want the “easy way” out, and our lives to always be smooth sailing. But rugged terrain—physically and in life—can build character and endurance in a way that nothing else can. Jesus Christ won us freedom on an old rugged cross: don’t throw it away for easy street!

Month of Sundays: Storms

So, when a light wind sprang up from the south, thinking that they had found their opportunity, they weighed anchor and kept along the coast of Crete, close in shore. But shortly afterwards a hurricane came down on us off the land–a north-easter, as it is called. The ship was caught by it and was unable to keep her head to the wind, so we had to give way and let her drive before it. Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we only just managed to secure the ship’s boat, And, after hoisting it on board, the men frapped the ship. But, afraid of being driven on to the Syrtis Sands, they lowered the yard, and then drifted. So violently were we tossed about by the storm, that the next day they began throwing the cargo overboard, And, on the following day, threw out the ship’s tackle with their own hands. As neither sun nor stars were visible for several days, and, as the gale still continued severe, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. (Acts 27:13-20)

In the ancient world, ships were built with long cables that extended from one end of the vessel to the other. In times of storm, these would be tightened so that the ship would hold together until the storm passed, when they would be loosened and the ship could sail normally. That is described as “frapping” (the correct term) in the passage above, and on board was their prisoner—the Apostle Paul.

Too many people sail the sea lanes of life with no idea of preparing for the storms that will come, or even avoiding them, as Paul tried to do before they set sail. But come they will. The questions that then come up are this: do you have the rigging in your life to hold together during times of trouble? And who is your captain?

It’s so easy to be either self-sufficient or careless about living when times are good. But bad times will wreck both. And that leads to our captain. We say that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our life when we get saved. But do we really mean that? Are we dependent upon him? Do we follow his commands for living? Are we his disciples, having internalized his gospel instead of just giving it lip service? The time to do all of this is now, before the storms of life break up your ship and you find yourself with only a plank to hold on to.

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