Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bad Friday

This coming Friday is set as a day of remembering the crucifixion of Jesus. As a reminder that this is not a spiritual horror story, to be told in whispered tones around a campfire, but an event rooted in history, I offer the following from Jerusalem: The Biography, by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

Crucifixion, [the favored form of public execution in the region], said Josephus, was "the most miserable death," designed to demean the victim publicly.... Victims could be tied or nailed. The skill was to ensure victims did not bleed to death. The nails were usually driven through the forearms - not the palms - and ankles: the bones of a crucified Jew have been found in a tomb in north Jerusalem with a 4.5-inch iron nail still sticking through a skeletal ankle. Nails from crucifixion victims were popularly worn as charms, around the neck, by both Jews and gentiles to ward off illness, so the later Christian fetish for crucificial relics was actually part of a long tradition. Victims were usually crucified naked -- with men facing outwards, women inwards.

The executioners were experts at either prolonging the agony or end­ing it quickly. The aim was to not kill Jesus too quickly but to demon­strate the futility of defying Roman power. He was most probably nailed to the cross with his arms outstretched as shown in Christian art, sup­ported by a small wedge, sedile, under the buttocks and a suppedaneum ledge under the feet. This arrangement meant he could survive for hours, even days. The quickest way to expedite death was to break the legs. The body weight was then borne by the arms and the victim would asphyxiate within ten minutes.

Truth is...it was a horrible way to die; a picture of how horrible my sin is and how great God's love is.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

This Is Relatively True

You know what frustrates me? It is very frustrating to be reading a book, and really gaining a lot from it, and wanting to pass along some of that good stuff, but knowing that simply sharing an excerpt won't do it.

In other words, there's a reason why Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek wrote the book, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. It needed to be a book because there's just so much clear, precise reasoning to be shared...an article or single blog post just couldn't do it.

But in hopes of enticing you to read the whole book, let me share a few paragraphs from their chapter about relativism and the Moral Law, "Mother Teresa vs. Hitler."

The idea of there being no moral absolutes (relativism), and by extension, no god to provide them, is spoken against with a series of declarations, one of which is "Our Reactions Help Us Discover the Moral Law (Right from Wrong)."

A professor at a major university in Indiana...was teaching a class in ethics [and] assigned a term paper to his students. He told the students to write on any ethical topic of their choice, requiring each student only to properly back up his or her thesis with reasons and documentation.

One student, an atheist, wrote eloquently on the topic of moral relativism. He argued, "All morals are relative; there is no absolute standard of justice or rightness; it's all a matter of opinion; you like chocolate, I like vanilla," and so on. His paper provided both his reasons and his documentation. It was the right length, on time, and stylishly presented in a handsome blue folder.

After the professor read the entire paper, he wrote on the front cover, "F, I don't like blue folders!" When the student got the paper back he was enraged. He stormed into the professor's office and protested, "'F! I don't like blue folders!' That's not fair! That's not right! That's not just! You didn't grade the paper on its merits!"

Raising his hand to quiet the bombastic student, the professor calmly retorted, "Wait a minute. Hold on. I read a lot of papers. Let me see...wasn't your paper the one that said there is no such thing as fairness, rightness, and justice?"

"Yes," the student answered.

"Then what's this you say about me not being fair, right and just?" the professor asked. "Didn't your paper argue that it's all a matter of taste? You like chocolate, I like vanilla?"

The student replied, "Yes, that's my view."

"Fine, then," the professor responded. "I don't like blue. You get an F!"

Suddenly, the lightbulb went on in the student's head. He realized he really did believe in moral absolutes. He at least believed in justice. After all, he was charging his professor with injustice for giving him an F simply because of the color of the folder. That simple fact defeated his entire case for relativism.

The moral of the story is that there are absolute morals. And if you really want to get relativists to admit it, all you need to do is treat them unfairly. Their reactions will reveal the Moral Law written on their hearts and minds. Here, the student realized there is an objective standard of rightness by how he reacted to the professor's treatment of him. In the same way, I may not think stealing is wrong when I steal from you. But watch how morally outraged I get when you steal from me.

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Truth is...this is just a chip off the tip of the iceberg of this book.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Singing Yourself to Death

Speaking as a guy who has not only sung but taught a large number of silly old camp songs throughout the last 50+ years, I burst into tears when I read these opening paragraphs from Carolyn Arends' article/blog, "Going Down Singing." You can read the whole thing here: http://angelwrestle.blogspot.com/2011/04/going-down-singing-why-we-should.html

The day before he died, my father wore what his doctors called the "Star Wars mask"—a high-tech oxygen system that covered most of his face. Pneumonia made his breathing extremely labored, but that didn't keep him from chatting.

"Pardon?" my mom would ask patiently, trying to decipher his muffled sounds. Exasperated, he'd yank off the mask, bringing himself to the brink of respiratory arrest to ask about hockey trades or complain about the hospital food.

After several hours, he gave up on conversation. He started singing.

"What are you humming?" my mom asked. My dad repeatedly tried to answer through the mask before yanking it off again. "With Christ in the Vessel, I Can Smile at the Storm," he gasped. "Wow," murmured my mom, before singing it with him.

My dad learned "With Christ in the Vessel" at Camp Imadene in 1949, the summer he asked Jesus into his 8-year-old heart. Six decades later, hours before his death, that silly old camp song was still embedded in his soul and mind, and he was singing it at the top of his nearly-worn-out lungs.

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Truth is...there are far worse things to have permanently fixed in one's brain than "We Are One in the Spirit" and "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Mighty Fortress Prosified

In the not-so-distant past, some friends treated my wife and I to a concert by Steve Green. One of the most moving moments of the evening was when Steve sang the hymn, A Mighty Fortress, much as he does in the practically-ancient video clip posted below. No instruments, no auto-tune, just a man with a voice and a passion for God.

Not being accustomed to the word "bulwark," I thought it might be a good idea to prosify the lyric of Martin Luther...though for the full emotional impact, I invite you to experience the video.

Our God is like a strong fortress, a protective wall that will never fail. In the midst of earthly woes that threaten to overwhelm us, He is our overcoming helper.

And we certainly need God's help, because our oldest enemy, Satan himself, is working hard to grieve us much. He is strong and tricky and expertly handles the weapons of hate. There's no one on the planet like him.

If we tried to fight Satan on our own, just trusting in our own strength, we'd be without hope. We absolutely require the help of the Righteous Adam: God's chosen champion. In other words...Jesus Christ. He is the one we rely on: the Lord of Angelic Armies, who never changes and never loses.

And even though this evil-filled world threatens to totally do us in, we won't be afraid, because it is God's unshakable will for His true power and love to have its way, both through us and in us.

The Prince of Darkness may seem awful and grim, but he doesn't scare us. We can live through his present anger and rage because we know what his future is...doom. One simple word from God will destroy him.

And God's word lasts forever, no matter how the powers and principalities of earth may try to abolish it. God is on our side and He gives us both spiritual gifts and the gift of His Holy Spirit.

Possessions don't matter. Ultimately, our physical families are not what's important. Even our own lives shrink in significance to the abiding truth of God. His kingdom is forever.

Truth is...The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the [consistently] righteous man [upright and in right standing with God] runs into it and is safe, high [above evil] and strong. Proverbs 18:10 (Amplified)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Brit Comic Speaks Truth in Bed

Russell Brand got famous by being irreverent and seemingly drunk, but last week, he got plastered all over Facebook and other social media outlets for being bold enough to talk about pornography and its negative effects on him as a person, males as a gender, and the world as a place to live and love.

He speaks frankly...and he speaks truth.

Truth is...If it took Fifty Shades of Gray to bring this to America's attention, then I'm glad the movie got made.