Posted by: gmscan | November 28, 2014

Enriching My Prayer Time

I’ve been in Receive mode rather than Transmit mode for the past few months. It was time for me to just shut up and listen. I’ve been listening to people who know a lot more than I ever will about what Jesus has done and continues to do in our lives.

One of these is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the organizers of the “Confessing Church” movement during the Hitler Regime in Germany. Hitler, of course, insisted that Christian churches swear allegiance to him and reject the Old Testament as Jewish propaganda. In the face of this, Bonhoeffer wrote a very short book, “Prayer Book of the Bible,” that argued the Psalms were essential to Christianity. In fact, he said that the Psalms are the prayers Jesus himself prayed.

Even on the Cross Christ was praying the Psalms. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” are the opening words of Psalm 22. “Into your hands I commit my spirit” is an essential line from Psalm 31.

Bonhoeffer says that, while many of the Psalms may not fit whatever we are experiencing at the moment, we should pray them anyway because in doing so we are praying with Christ, not just to Him. Like the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is showing us how we should pray to the Father, because it is the way he himself prayed to the Father.

Immediately after reading Bonhoeffer, I came across an interview with Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian (PCA) Church in New York City. He has just written a new book, “Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.” He talks about praying the Psalms –

“I came to see that the Psalms are extremely important for prayer. Perhaps that is because I read a book some years ago by Eugene Peterson called Answering God. He makes a strong case that we only pray well if we are immersed in Scripture. We learn our prayer vocabulary the way children learn their vocabulary — that is, by getting immersed in language and then speaking it back. And he said the prayer book of the Bible is the Psalms, and our prayer life would be immeasurably enriched if we were immersed in the Psalms. So that was the first step.”

Keller, like Bonhoeffer, is also very big on meditation. He says –

“(I)t diminishes our prayer life that our hearts are cold when we get into prayer. Without meditation, you tend to go right into petition and supplication, and you do little adoration or confession. When your heart is warm, then you start to praise God and then you confess. When your heart is cold, which it is if you just study the Bible and then jump to prayer, you are much more likely to spend your time on your prayer list and not really engage your heart.”

I’ve always been a little dubious about meditation, probably because I associate it with Transcendental Medication and Buddhism. I thought you had to try to clear your mind of all thought and enter into some kind of trance. But this is not what Keller and Bonhoeffer mean by it. They mean clear your mind of distractions, yes, but think about what you have just read (in this case, one of the Psalms) and listen for God’s further word to you.

In other words, prayer is not just you talking to God, but also listening to what God has to say to you. You need to be quiet and receptive so you will have the ability to listen.

These ideas have transformed my evening prayers. Now I get on my knees, read a Psalm, think about what I have read, and listen for God’s reply. I don’t always get a reply, but it still gives me a chance to absorb the wisdom and emotion of the Psalm. Only then do I speak my own prayer and it is a lot more natural to include those elements of adoration and confession along with thanksgiving and petition.

I feel myself becoming a quieter and more patient man now. And now I look forward every day to the time I have carved out to spend alone with my Father.

Posted by: gmscan | June 26, 2014

The PCUSA Becomes a Parody


UPDATE: “Parody” turns out to be an apt headline. Some of the examples posted on the “Naming His Grace” blog turn out to be just that. To get the latest, go to

Unfortunately all of the rest remains true, alas.


At its recent General Assembly in Detroit, the Presbyterian Church (USA) became a mockery of Christianity. If there is a Lefty cause anywhere, you can bet the ol’ PCUSA will embrace it. But it is more than politics. The denomination has also adopted a 1960s style hippy love-in culture with an “if it feels good, do it” message.

First the politics –

Divestment from Israel.

The Denomination voted narrowly to divest from three companies doing business with the Israeli government — Motorola, Caterpillar, and Hewlett-Packard. By itself this doesn’t sound that bad, although all three are outstanding companies that pay excellent wages to American workers and help our balance of trade problems. But it came in the context of the PCUSA’s distribution of two blatantly anti-Semitic documents – The Kairos Paper, which I’ve written about here,  and the even worse “Zionism Unchained.”

Virtually the entire American Jewish community, even the left-leaning J Street, has expressed alarm and outrage at these actions, but the PCUSA was unconcerned. The rabid anti-Semites in the denomination are complacent about hundreds of Christian girls being kidnapped in Nigeria, about soccer fans being slaughtered in Kenya, about a Christian mother being imprisoned in in Sudan, and Christians throughout Syria and Iraq being executed. It chooses to focus instead on the only democracy in the Middle East protecting itself from terrorism. See this article  and this.

Homosexual Issues

First it was ordination of homosexual pastors, now the PCUSA has overwhelmingly endorsed performing same-sex weddings, violating the clear instructions of Scripture. Sure, attitudes in the United States are changing, but Christians are not supposed to conform themselves to “the world,” but help conform the world to God. Our job is not to make ourselves more popular with the passing fancies of secular society, but to witness to the Word of God, no matter the cost. See this article  and this.


The PCUSA has one of the most radical pro-abortion positions of any organization I have encountered. I have written about this before.  Now it has even refused to support a resolution condemning the murder of babies who manage to survive and abortion – the kind of activity that sent Kermit Gosnell to prison. See this article.

All of this is tragic, but it turns into comedy when we look at some of the groups finding homes under the PCUSA umbrella of “Worshipping Communities.” Viola Larsen cites some in her “Naming His Grace” blog including these –

Bi-Cycling For All

A place to find and know God for the bi-sexual community while emphasizing the unitarian concepts embodied in the primary geometric symbol of bicycles, round wheels, round gears, and a chain connecting the unity of the drivetrain. We will work diligently to advocate for full inclusion of bisexual individuals into the life of the church, including ordination, bisexual marriage equality, and recognition that Jesus was bisexual.


Fellowship for All Species

The Fellowship of All Species gathers to worship the Creator of All— not just the human species. We will work for full inclusion of all animal species into the life and witness of the PC(USA). Our desire is to recognize that every living, breathing creature upon this earth is welcome in the church and can serve the church in varied and unique ways, giving witness to the Creator.

Have I told you how grateful I am that the Spirit came and freed me from this preposterous bunch of heretics?

Posted by: gmscan | May 29, 2014

God and Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking ends his book, “A Brief History of Time,” by writing –

“However, if we do discover a complete theory (of everything), it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists.  Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.”

The problem with that thought is that we already know the mind of God, or at least the part that He is willing to reveal to us. We know it through His Word, the Holy Scripture.

But, then Christians and Jews already knew most of what Hawking reveals in his book. For thousands of years we have known about the Big Bang, we have known that time is mutable, we have known that there was a common mother and father of all humanity, and we have known that there exists a Creator and a Heaven who are outside of our universe and not subject to the natural laws that rule the universe.

Science is just beginning to catch up, and bully for them. But they are coming at the truth reluctantly, desperately trying to avoid the obvious conclusions, as Hawking illustrates in his later book, “The Universe in a Nutshell.” God must be having a grand time watching all this unfold. But, then, He knew it would. After all, He gave us the tools that would lead to these conclusions.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. When I was in the first grade our class discussed what causes the sound of thunder. I proudly raised my hand and gave the answer my mother always told me – it is the sound of clouds bumping into each other! The class started laughing at that stupid answer and I felt humiliated. Many years later I discovered that she was actually pretty close to the truth, it is indeed caused by the movement of air particles. Thunder is produced by the rapid expansion of air resulting from being suddenly superheated by the lightning. My mother had given me a version that a very young child could understand.

So it was with Scripture. God did not provide mathematical proofs – we didn’t know much about advanced calculus at the time. He gave us a narrative and asked us to trust Him. Thousands of years later we are finally coming to understand what He said.

So, let’s look a little more closely at some of these ideas.

The Big Bang.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth waswithout form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.”  (Genesis 1:1-4)

Hawking was one of the originators of the idea of a Big Bang, along with Roger Penrose. This is the idea that the universe is expanding and if we follow it back in time it will collapse into nothing, before which there was no time and no matter. They coauthored a paper in 1970 that “proved” it mathematically. He writes –

“There was a lot of opposition to our work, particularly from the Russians because of their Marxist belief in scientific determinism, and partly from people who felt that the whole idea of a singularity (the Big Bang) was repugnant and spoiled the beauty of Einstein’s theory. However, one cannot really argue with a mathematical theorem, so in the end our work became generally accepted and nowadays nearly everyone assumes that the universe started with a big bang singularity.”

It is notable that scientists, and not just Marxist ones, resisted the idea because it gave credence to the Scriptural explanation. They held on to their “beliefs” because of a nostalgic attachment to the “beauty of Einstein’s theory.”

Hardly sounds like the fearless quest for truth as science is often portrayed. But Hawking includes many similar examples of established scientists resisting new ideas. He even includes a brief biography of Galileo, which indicates it was not the Church as much as “the Aristotelian professors” which were hostile to Copernicanism. Indeed, the Church supported his work in writing and publishing his “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.”

It should be noted that Hawking himself is currently moving away from the Big Bang idea, arguing that using quantum mechanics it is possible that the universe is in a sort of endless loop without boundaries of any kind.  I must say that I don’t find the argument persuasive (as a layman and not a mathematician). He goes into this in his second book, but to get there he needs to invent concepts like “imaginary time” and “infinite histories” of the universe. These ideas may work mathematically, but they defy any kind of sense that I am familiar with. For example, we might have infinite futures, but how can there be “infinite histories” within any definition of the word “history?” History is what did happen in fact. There can be alternate explanations, but there cannot be alternate events.

Hawking himself acknowledges some of the problems. He writes –

“There is no more experimental evidence for some of the theories described in this book than there is for astrology, but we believe them because they are consistent with theories that have survived testing.”

And he gives a fairly lengthy caution about the limits of science –

“In 1931 the mathematician Kurt Godel proved his famous incompleteness theorem about the nature of mathematics. The theorem states that within any formal system of axioms, such as present day mathematics, questions always persist that can neither be proved nor disproved on the basis of the axioms that define the system. In other words, Godel showed that there are problems that cannot be solved by any set of rules or procedures.

“Godel’s theorem set fundamental limits on mathematics. It came as a great shock to the scientific community, since it overthrew the widespread belief that mathematics was a coherent and complete system based on a simple logical foundation. Godel’s theorem, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and the practical impossibility of following the evolution of even a deterministic system that becomes chaotic form a core set of limitations to scientific knowledge that only came to be appreciated during the twentieth century.”

The lesson, to me, of Hawking’s evolution is that he is following the math down a rabbit hole of nonsense. He says later in the book –

“A good theory will describe a large range of phenomena on the basis of a few simple postulates and will make definite predictions that can be tested. If the predictions agree with the observations, the theory survives, though it can never be proved to be correct.”

Given that principle, Hawking has left “good theory” far behind and is now in the realm of pure speculation. That is fine, speculation can be fun, but it is no longer science.

Mutable Time

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2Peter 3:8)

The idea that time is not a constant has been well established for a very long time. Hawking cites an experiment conducted in 1962 that showed that a clock at the top of a water tower ran faster than one at the bottom, consistent with Einstein’s theory of general relativity. A man who went deep into space at near the speed of light would return much younger than his twin who stayed on Earth. Hawking discusses the implication of this on our understanding of God and cites Augustine reminding us that God is not subject to time – “Time is a property only of the universe that God created,” writes Hawking.  God is not of this universe, so He is not subject to the natural laws that govern this universe, i.e. He is “super natural.”

It is interesting that Hawking returns repeatedly to God in his writing.  He says, for instance –

“It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as an act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”

And –

“With the success of scientific theories in describing events, most people have come to believe that God allows the universe to evolve according to a set of laws and does not intervene to break these laws. However, the laws do not tell us what the universe should have looked like when it started – it would still be up to God to wind up the clockwork and choose how to start it off.”

I would comment that God may not “usually” intervene to break these laws, but He does from time to time. These times are what we know as miracles.

But Hawking just can’t quite accept that conclusion, so he continues –

“So long as the universe had a beginning we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither a beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?”

And, again, this is where he gets into concepts like “imaginary time” to wriggle out of the conclusions he himself has arrived at. Is this really so very different than the Soviet scientists who rejected Hawking’s original Big Bang discovery because it violated their Marxist ideology?

There is more to be said here, but this post is getting too long. I will get back to it later.

Posted by: gmscan | May 8, 2014

Bondage of the Will

My men’s group has been reading Martin Luther’s “Bondage of the Will.” The version we have was published in 1957 and translated by James I. Packer and O.R. Johnson.

It’s quite a slog and we have discovered what limited vocabularies we have. I’m afraid the translators also like to show off how erudite they are, using obscure words when simpler one would do just fine. Plus, they use King James for all the Scripture quotations and that is alien to our ears these days. So, in reading the book we needed three hands – one for the book, another for the Bible, and a third for a dictionary.

Still, I’m glad we are doing it. This is one of the most important books of Christian theology ever written. It anchors the Reformation’s understanding of justification and salvation and contrasts starkly with the Roman Catholic tradition then and now.

In fact, just the other day I heard Bill O’Reilly explain that he performs good deeds in order to earn his way to Heaven (that isn’t quite how he put it, but close enough). I would wager that most modern Christians share his view – God rewards you for being good in life. The better you are, the more certain your reward.

It is fascinating that this is precisely the attitude Luther was contending with 500 years ago. His book is entirely a rebuttal of another book, the “Diatribe” by Desiderius Erasmus. Erasmus was a moderate reformer, and thought Luther was going too far, both in theology and manner. As the translators note in their very useful explanation of the controversy, Erasmus believed Luther was a “destroyer of civil, religious and cultural harmony and order.”

And so he was. Luther’s book goes well beyond being just a theological explanation of his views, to insulting and demeaning Erasmus on nearly every page. Luther is a master of sarcasm and he is contemptuous of the “harmony and order” Erasmus was defending.

You can see the sarcasm and contempt clearly in Luther’s response to Erasmus on this very issue of harmony and order. He writes –

“What a fulsome speaker you are! — but utterly ignorant of what you are talking about. In a word, you treat this discussion as if the issue at stake between us was the recovery of a debt or some other trivial item, the loss of which matters far less than the public peace…. You make it clear that this carnal peace and quiet seems to you far more important than faith, conscience, salvation, the Word of God, the glory of Christ, and God himself. Let me tell you, therefore – and I beg you to let this sink deep into your mind – I hold that a solemn and vital truth, of eternal consequence, is at stake in this discussion….”

When it came to speaking the truth of the Gospel, Luther had no interest in sugar coating or sanitizing his views to avoid offending people.

And what are those views? First and importantly, Luther was not saying man has no free will at all. He writes —

“… man should realize that in regard to his money or possessions he has a right to use them, to do or leave undone according to his own free will — though that free will is overruled by the free will of God alone, according to His own pleasure. However, with regard to God, and in all that bears on salvation or damnation, he has no free will and is a captive, prisoner and bondslave, either to the will of God or to the will of Satan.”

In other words, you are perfectly free to decide what you will have for lunch today or what movie you will go to tonight, though God may call you to do something else. But you are completely unable to save yourself from damnation. Only God may do that.

This idea raised quite a bit of debate among our men. Some of us can’t shake the feeling that we have to do something to earn our salvation. At a minimum, we have to answer when God calls. But Luther says, no, not even that – the only reason we say yes rather than no to God’s call is because the Holy Spirit has already infected us and given us the ability to say yes.  Without that, we would go on our merry way and pay no attention to the calling.

What, then is the point of Christ’s command to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth? Aren’t we educating people about the Good News and preparing them to accept God’s call? Yes, perhaps, but we are only the Lord’s instrument. People are receptive to the preaching only because God has already made them receptive. It has nothing to do with us, or our powers of persuasion.

This is so hard for us modern Americans to accept, accustomed as we are to think of hard work as the way to get ahead in the world and enjoying the rewards that come from it. This is why my favorite parable is Jesus’ description of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Some got to work early in the morning, others showed up around noon, and still others didn’t start until just before quitting time, but the boss paid them all the same wages. This would be no way to run a business. It makes no sense in the world. But Jesus isn’t talking about the world, but the kingdom of Heaven. The reward of salvation is available to all no matter how hard they work. It is not their effort but God’s grace that determines the reward.

This difficulty is not confined to modern Americans. Luther quotes Erasmus as asking, “If there is no freedom of will, what place is there for merit? If there is no place for merit, what place is there for reward? To what will it be ascribed, if man is justified without merit?”  Luther cites Paul in his answer – “There is no such thing as merit at all, but all that are justified are justified freely, and this is ascribed to nothing but the grace of God.” 

Now, Luther also says there is nothing wrong with doing good, in fact it is commendable. But it is a grave mistake to think it equates with God’s righteousness –

“I should grant that free will by its endeavors can advance in some direction, namely in the direction of good works, or the righteousness of civil or moral law, yet it does not advance towards God’s righteousness, nor does God deem its efforts in any respect worthy to gain His righteousness.”

And, again –

“We know that man was made lord over things below him, and that he has a right and a free will with respect to them, that they should obey him and do as he wills and thinks. But our question is this: whether he has free will God-ward, that God should obey man and do what man wills, or whether God has not rather a free will with respect to man, that man should will and do what God wills….”

As the beasts are to us, we are to God.

At the end of the book, Luther answers Bill O’Reilly almost directly –

“I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want free will to be given to me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavor after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers and adversities and assaults of devils I could not stand my ground… but because even if there were no dangers, adversities, or devils, I should still be forced to labor with no guarantee of success….  If I lived and worked to all eternity, my conscience would never reach confortable certainty as to how much it must do to satisfy God. Whatever work I had done, there would still be a nagging doubt as to whether it pleased God, or whether he required something more.”

Adam’s (and Lucifer’s) sin was to think he could be like God and make his own decisions about good and evil, right and wrong, salvation and damnation.  Humans still think we can go out and find God of our own effort. That is what most religions believe. Luther knew we cannot, which is precisely why Christ came to us. And that is the essence of Christianity.

Posted by: gmscan | April 18, 2014

It is Finished

Last night at Maundy Thursday services, our pastor read from Isaiah (53:1-10)

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation,  who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

I can’t hear these words without also hearing Handel’s Messiah in my head. Handel intended his oratorio to be performed during Lent, not Advent, and it is far more appropriate for Easter than Christmas.

I have always especially loved the chorus, “All we like sheep,” dancing, bouncing, and carefree, followed by the soaring and mournful, “And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Long before I realized I was a Christian I would choke up when I heard this music.

But it is breathtaking how this prophecy was fulfilled at the cross – “he opened not his mouth,” “he was pierced for our transgressions,” “they made his grave… with a rich man…”

In this town, the YMCA closes for Good Friday and holds an early morning service. This morning, they read from John (10: 10-18)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from my Father.

He did it. God’s prophets predicted it and Jesus fulfilled it. He laid down his life of his own accord to save his sheep from the wolves. It is done. It is finished.

Praise be to God.

Posted by: gmscan | March 27, 2014

God, the Sociologist

An entire issue of  “Modern Reformation” was recently devoted to the question of Holy War,  notably the book of Joshua and Israel’s conquest of the Holy Land. The companion radio show  devotes three segments to the topic, — “The Gospel According to Joshua,” “Is God a Moral Monster?” and “Holy War.”

The core article is by Michael Horton, who writes, ”How can we reconcile the God who commands the extermination of men, women, children, and even pets and possessions with the God we know in the face of Jesus Christ?” He notes that some Christians excuse these “texts of terror” as being merely allegorical, i.e., they didn’t really happen, but are supposed to represent the struggle we all face between the good and evil inside us. Others say that the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New, so we shouldn’t have to defend that mean old God.

Horton rejects both rationalizations. He offers two counter theses. I don’t want to go into detail on his explanations, but he argues, first that Israel was subject to the same judgments and penalties as the Canaanites if they violate God’s covenant, — “It has nothing to do with ethnic cleansing or genocide, but with the fact that child-sacrificing, violent warriors, and unjust oppressors are squatters on God’s land.”

His second argument is that “No modern nation – including Israel (much less the U.S.) can engage in holy war.” He explains –

“This does not mean we can invoke the old covenant holy wars as a literal basis for modern nation-states, including Israel. Not even the church can use the temporal sword to defend the gospel. There are no nations in covenant with God: whether Israel, Britain, or the United States. “Christendom” is a serious error of Biblical interpretation. No nation will ever again be identified with God’s saving purposes in history. “

I have no argument with Horton here. I think he is right on both counts. But I think there is also something else he doesn’t deal with. That is that God is a pretty good sociologist (and anthropologist, too). He deals with us on our own terms, through our own social norms, in the context of what we are capable of receiving from Him, given our current state of development.

God hasn’t changed a whit. The God of the Old Testament is the exact same God as in the New. Both show us a God of love and forgiveness, but also a God of justice and righteousness. Neither book shows us a God who coddles sin. Jesus said he would separate the sheep from the goats on the last day. The Great Commandment Jesus spoke is the same as the one in Deuteronomy (with the addition of loving your neighbor). Jesus constantly quoted from Hebrew Scripture and said he was here to fulfill the prophesies. He did not reject the Old Testament and neither should we.

Mankind hasn’t changed, either. We are every bit as lustful, envious, greedy, and violent today as we were 4,000 years ago. All of the stories of deceit, rape, adultery, drunkenness, and betrayal in the Old Testament are familiar to us today.

What has changed is fashion and social structures. Jesus wasn’t dressed in blue jeans when he roamed Galilee, he dressed in the fashion of the time. If Jesus came today he would not be wearing a tunic and a robe. If he did, everyone would talk about his clothing rather than his message. God comes to us as we are.

In fact, I’ve heard a number of people say that God really screwed up by sending us Jesus when he did. If God were smart, they say, he would have waited until today when Jesus would have had access to the internet and cable TV to spread his message.

It’s an interesting thought because in fact God DID choose the perfect time for Jesus. It was a unique slice of time in which the sociological conditions were just right for Christ’s redeeming work.

The Jews had gone some 400 years without a prophet. They were hungry for it. They had been conquered and occupied several times after the last prophet, first by the Greeks under Alexander in the fourth century B.C, then ruled by Ptolemy in 323 B.C., then Antiochus III took over Palestine in 198 B.C., then Antiochus IV in 175 B.C.

This last Antiochus brutally suppressed the Jews, burning their Holy Books, banning the Sabbath and circumcision, and desecrating the temple. This all had a couple of effects. It made knowledge of Greek almost universal in Palestine, but also resulted in the Maccabean rebellion and the advent of the ultra-orthodox Pharisees, which came into being only about 100 B.C.

The Romans didn’t enter the picture until 63 B.C. when they occupied Jerusalem. They installed Herod as king in 37 B.C. Herod began rebuilding the temple in 20 B.C. [1] Ultimately the Romans would drive the Jews out of Jerusalem and all of Palestine, and destroy the Temple in 70 A.D. So there was a very short time of 90 years in which the Jews and Romans intersected and set the stage for Jesus.

Why was this intersection important? Because elements of both cultures were essential for the propagation of the faith after the Pentecost. Obviously the Messiah was an outgrowth of Judaism, but also the dispersion of the Jews during the Babylonian exile meant there were established Jewish communities and synagogues throughout the world. The Apostles used these synagogues as bases of operations as they spread the Gospel. The Roman Empire meant open borders and good roads throughout the territory they controlled. It was relatively easy for the Apostles to move about, not just the Middle East but southern Asia and Europe as well. And, of course, Rome finally accepted Jesus as the Messiah and spread the Gospel throughout the world.

So God knew exactly what he was doing. He waited until our society was ready before sending us the Christ. It had nothing to do with God’s abilities, but with our capacity to accept God’s purpose. God knows very well, in fact perfectly, what are the limits and capabilities of human society and of each human being. It’s often said that God will not ask us to do things beyond our abilities. The same holds true for human society.

So it was with Joshua. But before we go there, let’s go back to the Exodus.

Here we meet a landless people who had been enslaved in Egypt for 430 years. (Exodus 12:40) Actually they were barely “a people” at all. They had no written scripture, no law, no tradition of governance. They had a common language and an oral tradition, but that was it. This was a massive congregation of people – 600,000 men plus women, children and livestock, according to Exodus 12:37. Through Moses God freed them from slavery in Egypt, but what then? God had to turn them into a nation.

To do that, God made them wander in the wilderness for a generation. He would not allow any of the people who spent their adulthood as slaves to enter the Promised Land, including Moses himself. Perhaps adult slaves are not capable of self-governance, even once they are free.

Those 40 years gave Moses a chance to write the Pentateuch, providing the Israelis with a national history. God gave them the Ten Commandments, as the basis of their law. He gave them specific dietary restrictions and detailed instructions on how to build the Tabernacle. He divided them into a federation of tribes. All of this was to form them into a nation, one that was different and distinct from all other nations at the time.

Finally, we get to Joshua.

So we have some two million people, a new nation-to-be without any history of governance, economics, or warfare, coming upon a land occupied by idol worshipping heathens. God has united them into a people, but not yet a nation as they have no land and no borders.

God needs to teach them how to conquer. What he teaches them is no more than how war was conducted at the time. He was not uniquely brutal. He was attuned to the sociology of the times. The Israelites are triumphant as long as they follow God’s commands, but when one of them steals plunder from Jericho against God’s instructions, they lose the next battle at Ai. Once they correct the trespass, God makes them victorious again.

When Israel takes a city, they kill all the inhabitants, men women and children. Some people take offense at the brutality. But, as we said, none of this was unusual in those times, or for that matter today. Israel killed all 12,000 residents of Ai. But Josephus records that the Romans killed 1,100,000 Jews in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and took another 97,000 as slaves.

Before we get all superior acting about the barbarity of the ancients, let’s remember that the United States killed 66,000 with one bomb at Hiroshima – men, women, and children, all noncombatants. We did the same at Nagasaki and we firebombed Dresden. We would do it again if we thought we had to. War is likened to Hell for a reason.

So, again, God takes us as He finds us. With some notable exceptions we don’t do passive resistance very well. Gandhi and Martin Luther King were successful at it, but they were dealing with oppressors who were capable of shame. The March from Selma to Birmingham was broadcast on television to the whole nation. We were ashamed of the conduct of Bull Connor and it galvanized the rest of the American public to support remedies. Dictators and emperors have no such constraints.

God works through human beings, with all our faults and our sins. It was time to create the Nation of Israel, so that the Messiah would eventually have a place to be born. It was time to establish the Law, so we would know how sinful we are and so that the Messiah’s grace would eventually replace it.

It is all one Bible, all one story. God does what is necessary to build His kingdom within the constraints of human society. We are very slow learners but the Lord is very patient. To him a thousand years is like a day. Two thousand years ago he told us to spread the Good News to every corner of the world and we still haven’t got it done. He told us to love our God with all our hearts and all our minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves. How we doin’ on that one?

Yes, I know, I know. We’re really, really busy, and the kids need to go to soccer practice and the boss wants me to work overtime, and the car needs a new transmission. It’s all right. God knows us better than we know ourselves. We don’t need to make excuses, He knows what’s going on and He loves us anyway. And for that, I thank God every day.


[1] This history is taken from “Intertestamental Period” in “The Reformation Study Bible,” R.C. Sproul, general editor, Lingonier Ministries, 2005.

Posted by: gmscan | March 5, 2014

Prayers From the Food Bank

I’ve been volunteering at the local food bank for the past year. We are privately funded, mostly by local churches. We often invite clients to put in prayer requests. We’re not especially systematic about this, and sometimes forget to ask, but then someone’s desperation is so obvious that we are reminded again.

In looking over these requests from the past couple of months, I was struck by a couple of things –

  • Most of the time, people are not asking for prayers for themselves, but for friends and family members.
  • When they do request prayers for themselves, the requests are extremely modest – find a job, get through some medical treatment, find a better home, get over an addiction. Only one person prayed to win the lottery and that was so he could get his old house back.
  • Very often they are confident that God will indeed help them through their times of trouble. Their faith is strong.
  • These prayers are often answered.

These are beautiful people and I am grateful that I can contribute to their healing if only in a little way.

If you would, please join us in these prayers. I am not using people’s names because I don’t want to embarrass them or violate their privacy, but the Lord knows who they are and what is in their hearts.


January 2, 2014

My son – health & mental help. Let go of demons. God help him.


N—- is having trouble with colon. Please, Lord, I’m praying for healing and your will be done.


D—–, job

A—–, find a job


Thank you, God for all the wonderful people who work here. God bless.




January 6, 2014

S—- W—— has been in York trauma since Dec 21, 2013


J— Y—



January 9, 2014

Please Lord, help C——– with her car troubles and help those shopped here and didn’t want to trust your saving grace and love that you have to offer to those who surrender to you/


Husband’s health and sobriety.

Daughter’s mental health

Friend w/ thyroid cancer

Friend who lost twins


January 10,2014

Pray for my son and girlfriend and baby to get along and healthy baby


O——– going through a custody battle


January 13, 2014

C— addicted to pain medication and in a clinic to get off his addiction!!!!


Touch the heart of employer whom I have put application in with. Bless me with your will in obtaining employment. I need a second job to maintain. Lord, just allow your will to be done in my life. Amen. I am thankful for everything.


January 14, 2014

S——‘s new baby coming. Hope and pray that the child is healthy.



R—— pray to get off her pill addiction, and for R—– going through domestic relations. Help them work things out. No jail for him.



Pray for my son R—— with his court things, child support, and getting his paperwork.


January 16, 2014

C— getting his job at T— for his family and income and pray that he knows Jesus as his personal savior.


B—- D—– family

Motorcycle accident, pelvic broken in 4 places, boys ADHD


Pray for the backpack program (NOTE: this is a program sponsored by the food bank that gives school kids food to take home on Friday so they can eat over the weekend) and the children that have to go through this life style.


Pray for A—- that she stops smoking and that the patches work in her life.

Pray for D— to stop drinking and to know the Lord and surrender to your will.


January 17, 2014

D— K—-

Pray for business D- M—– P—-.



Pray for my grandson & for my daughter. She had a heart attack.


January 24, 2014


Please God, let me find a new home since I had a fire and please let me get a job soon. Thank you!   I—- (son) K—- (BF)


Lord God & Jesus, watch over our good friend in the after life. His name is G—– D—–


Please, God, help me through the situation I’m in. Please bless us with smooth move back to ND, and please help my husband find a job.

Thank you, C—— C—-


Prayer request for D—— H—– need a job and W—– S—-.

D—- S—-


January 25, 2014

P– & N— M—–

Housebound & bed ridden


W—- R——-

Full time help – need a place to live.


My prayers are for all, as well as my enemies. Pray those that must find the Lord and pray 4 forgiveness mean it and change for the better within. I wish all well. Grudges and hatred are not good, forgiveness is to an extent. Amen


Please pray for my family. Our car broke down, my husband lost his job and just found out we are having our 7th child.


January 29, 2014

Pray for K—, T— L—–, having problems in relationship and J—‘s addiction to porn.


January 30, 2014

I need prayer, need to obtain employment.



I pray food help.



Pray for my family and my son and pray that I get to go back to school.


February 10, 2014


Please pray for the family of the funeral she went to for the loss of their family member.



For myself and for a job and a home.


February 11, 2014

V—— for surgery.



Children w/ disabilities. Dad w/ medical issues, my sister w/ medical issues.


A—- in hospital, not knowing what is going on.



B—— E– & B—— G—— please pray for these two people, COPD and stoke.


T—-, Thurs for catheter & diabetes and nerve problems


February 20, 2014

M——‘s mother P—- just lost her father end of last year. Pray that she gets thru the estate sale this weekend.


D— B—–

Money, new job, peace.


S— N——-

Pray for our daughter going to school in Pittsburgh. May God keep her safe and may she keep God close to her heart.


Pray for K—– S—— & her baby to come.


Pray for the E—- Children to stay healthy & their baby brother who is on his way soon.


February 21, 2014

S—– N—–, infant medical conditions


D—–, surgery (bowel resection)


M—, family to get spirit of God in them – go the right way.


L—- & K—-, my grandbabies.


B—– R———-, God knows circumstance. Thank you.


February 24, 2014

That M—— C—– and I win the lottery. Top Prize. Also that I can buy my old house, move back in, and be OK

R—– S—-


February 25, 2014

Lord, Pls grant me a new townhouse to dwell in peace & safety in. You know my heart as w/ other desires for a husband & good health & anything else you feel I am worth of receiving. Thank you for your blessings, Lord.


Lord, thank you so much for the food and people who work here. Also would pray for my family and friends. Very thankful for everything. God bless people who have helped me.

J—- W—-


N—- F— had a heart attack in Sept. having some difficulties. Pray for me and my family, and a little baby named W—— who has cancer at 10 months old. Thank you.


Lord, please help me and my family find a comfortable safe new home, please. Thank you.

B—— S—-, V— B—-


K—- & K—

I just wish she’d respect me and I wish the best for her. I love her.


February 28, 2014

Pray for D——‘ s sister B—-, heart attack.



Pray for employment or extended employment benefits.


Aunt T— continue Recovery!

E—– G——- Port wine stain covering his face. Please pray that there are no health issues to come from it.



March 4, 2014

J—– & A— S——-

Pray for our son, he is going into the Marines.


J—- M——

Please pray J—‘s arm heals fast and keep her steady on her feet to prevent her from falling again! Keep her safe and let God’s grace embrace her.



Posted by: gmscan | February 20, 2014

Pope Francis on the Worship of Money

Last time we looked at The Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation  we focused on the 210 pages that had to do with the joy of evangelism. But the American press focused instead solely on the seven pages that had to do with money and economics. This by itself is quite a commentary, suggesting that Francis was not wrong when he observed that the worship of money has become the modern idolatry.

Below we’ll take a look at much of the reaction, but let’s keep in mind that this section was not a primary, or even important, topic in the paper. It was there mostly to set the context in which evangelism must operate today. The Pope is not an economist and is not even speaking primarily about the American economic system.

The man was a Jesuit priest in Argentina. He has no reason to know the nuances of political discourse in the United States. So when he uses terms like “trickle down economics” it is not because he is endorsing the Democratic Party’s critique of Ronald Reagan’s economic program or commenting on the 1980’s policy disputes between Jack Kemp, Art Laffer and David Stockman.

That the American Left reacted so triumphantly and the Right so defensively is either silly or sad. Although it is also interesting that both sides, secularists all, should be so concerned about the writings of a man of God. Maybe there is hope, after all.

Francis makes some fairly conventional points about how “humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history” and how, while great progress has been made in areas such as health care, education and communications, it is still the case that “the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences,” and that “many people are gripped by fear and desperation…”

These things are true and much discussed across the political spectrum. Moving from the industrial age to the information age is creating great turmoil and economic uncertainty in the United States but even more all across the globe. The educated elite is doing very well while blue collar workers are struggling. The media obsess over the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin incident while ignoring the slaughter of children on the South Side of Chicago. Millions upon millions of Syrian refugees are living in misery in tent cities and the world’s political leaders do next to nothing to help.

Perhaps Francis’ most controversial statements are these –

“… some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

And –

“While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.”

Now some take these lines and distort them to fit their political agenda. Writing in the National Review,  James Pethokoukis provides a stark example –

“Slate columnist Matthew Yglesias, a liberal, approves of how Pope Francis “really lights into libertarian economics” but adds that there’s “lot of stuff about Jesus in his thinking that I can’t really sign on to.”

Imagine – all that “Jesus Stuff” coming from a Pope! He’d be great if it weren’t for that.

On the other hand, writing in The Federalist  David Harsanyi takes just the opposite stance. The Pope’s Exhortation is “a beautiful document and a joy to read…” when he sticks to theology, but when he discusses economics… –

“…the Pope didn’t simply point out that the wealthy weren’t doing enough to help alleviate poverty. He used the recognizable rhetoric of the Left to accuse free-market systems of generating and nurturing that poverty. And these platitudes — things that run wild in the liberal imagination like unfettered capitalism and “trickle-down” economics — were clearly aimed at the United States.”

In other words, the “Jesus stuff” is great but not the economics.

But some people don’t like “the Jesus stuff” or the economics. Writing in Reason Magazine,  Shikha Dalmia takes a tiresome poke at the Church for getting 60% of its money from the United States and being “reportedly the largest landowner in Manhattan (which) puts undisclosed sums into its coffers.” Therefore, “the new Pope needs to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds his institution….” She adds that it is ironic that the Pope “is speaking for an institution that excludes half of humanity—women—from the ranks of priesthood.” (I’m not sure I see the irony, other than just a slam at the Church.)

All of the writers on the right point out that capitalism has done more to reduce global poverty than any system ever devised, and certainly more than the Church has done. The argument is summed up by Harsanyi –

“The World Bank estimates global poverty was halved from 1990 to 2010. In fact, according to the World Bank, the United Nations’ “millennium development goal” of cutting world poverty in half by 2015 came in five years ahead of schedule despite a major global recession. The decline in poverty coincides, not coincidentally, with developing nations embracing more market-based systems.”

But this argument applies only if you misread what the Pope said as an indictment of free market capitalism. He is not disputing the benefits of such capitalism. Writing in the Sunbeam Times, Dr. David McKalip does a sterling job of explaining that the Pope was aiming his criticism, not at “free market capitalism,” but at “crony capitalism” in which a small elite uses its political influence to enrich itself and block potential competitors.  McKalip explains –

“Pope Francis was interviewed in Italy’s “La Stampa”newspaper regarding, among other things, the controversy generated by “The Joy of the Gospel”.  In it, he made clear that he is merely pointing to the Church’s Social doctrine…. That Doctrine … specifically rejects collectivism and socialism by name.  It recognizes that all of society is ordered to the individual and that the individual is not created to serve society….  In short, Catholic Doctrine absolutely rejects all big government, central economic planning, elite groups at the top and anything that violates the individual dignity of human beings.  That is why the Pope offered in that interview “I am no Marxist”.

McKalip goes on to quote from the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church” and the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” —

On True Free Markets

…“If by ‘capitalism’ is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a ‘business economy’, ‘market economy’ or simply ‘free economy’.”

On False “Free” Markets:

“…. But if by ‘capitalism’ is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative. In this way a Christian perspective is defined regarding social and political conditions of economic activity, not only its rules but also its moral quality and its meaning.”

On the Responsibility of the State:

”Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical, or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. Hence the principal task of the state is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can   enjoy the fruits of their labors and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly . . . . Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations, which make up   society.”

McKalip summarizes –

“So to be clear, Pope Francis is attacking the practices of an elite who sit atop an unnatural economic system. That is a system in which the elite set the rules, debauch our currency, and invent wealth redistribution programs ostensibly to serve the poor, but that really serve politicians and the rich. The Pope rightfully points to an economy of “Exclusion” and “inequality”. Such economic problems are present in the one created by global bankers and politicians cause massive economic bubbles in the housing markets that then burst and cause major economic exclusion and inequality which cause massive economic crashes and displace people from their homes or cause them to lose life savings.”

McKalip’s analysis is supported by Donald Devine, also writing in The Federalist.  Devine argues that the Pope’s view of capitalism may have been tainted by his experience in Argentina, which at the dawn of the 20th Century was “among the ten wealthiest nations per capita in the world,” but dropped to 70th one hundred years later, mostly due to the “crony capitalism” (which I would call Fascism – private ownership of state sanctioned companies) described by McKalip. Devine explains –

“In Argentina, Peron created what was perhaps the first comprehensive welfare state, trading benefits to the masses for their political support. Since there never were enough funds for everyone, a state capitalism under strong political regulation was developed to direct benefits to powerful clients such as unions and producers without so fettering the businesses as to deprive him (Peron) of the wealth needed to support his regime. Under Argentina’s many forms of repressive government, capitalists could only survive by being political partners of the state, sometimes its power behind the throne but more often too powerful to eliminate but clearly having to defer to state power to remain in business.”

All of this should be very familiar to an American audience. The extreme reaction from Left and Right is perplexing to me. Those of us who pay attention to politics and economics in today’s United States are very familiar with the idea of Wall Street versus Main Street, with the bailout of big national banks to the disadvantage of local and regional banks: To the obscene subsidies offered Solyndra and other “green energy” companies, and the war on disfavored coal companies: To tax breaks offered to rich farmers who don’t farm and movie studios that produce lousy movies: To a Washington DC area that is now the home of seven of the ten richest counties in the country.

Actually, in The Transom Ben Domenech expresses it better than I can by quoting Richard Reeves

America, in 2014: The affluent, the squeezed, and the entrenched. “At the top, we can see an elite doing well in a labor market offering big returns to human capital. This is perhaps not the just the top 1% (much though politics might be easier if that were so) but, say, the top decile, or 10%, of the income distribution.

“This stratum is not only prospering economically. For the people on this top rung, education levels are high and rising. Families are planned, marriages strong, neighborhoods safe and rich in social capital, networks plentiful, BMIs low and savings rates high.

“Below this affluent class is a broad swath sometimes dubbed the ‘squeezed middle.’ This group have decent labor market participation rates, but wages that are rising slowly. In many cases, two wages are needed to support the family. They own a home, but are not otherwise wealthy. Savings exist for emergencies or one-off expenditures, but run out fast if the household has a serious downward shock to income. Private schooling is rarely an option, financially…

“At the bottom of the social scale are those whose poverty is entrenched. Labor market attachment is weak, with many people in long-term unemployment. Teen pregnancy is still heard of, unlike in most communities today. Poverty is felt in most domains of life – crime, health, education, parenting, drug addiction and housing. The growing economic segregation of neighborhoods further isolates this group from chances of work, better schooling or valuable social networks. Upward intergenerational mobility rates are low.”

Our government is busy picking winners and losers in the economy based solely on political considerations, while median incomes have fallen, jobs disappear, and the people are forced to rely on food stamps to survive. THIS is what the Pope was objecting to. And it is far worse in many of the countries of Africa, Asia and South America. He is right – working people are being trampled under the feet of a self-centered elite, and no one is blowing the whistle on it – except Pope Francis. Thank God for him.

Posted by: gmscan | February 1, 2014

Has the Pope Become a Protestant?

Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation

I have finally finished reading the Pope’s “Evagelii Gaudium” paper. Please don’t take my slowness as a criticism of Francis’ writing. In fact it was a joy to read. But I am a slow reader. I look up Scriptural references and make many marginal notes when I read. What I lack in speed I make up for in persistence.

Most of the reaction in the American press focused on his comments about money. But that was a very small part of what he had to say, taking a mere seven pages out of a 217-page document. I will deal with all that in a future posting, but for now I want to emphasize what he emphasized – the joy of evangelism.

He starts right out with this in the very first paragraph –

“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”

He immediately cautions about the dangers in today’s world –

“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.”

This is less a caution about capitalism than it is about materialism. He is absolutely right. People who are lost and hollow often try to fill that emptiness with possessions, entertainment, drugs, sex. It is easy enough to drown in a sea of “stuff,” and fail to see that our hunger can be filled only by God in the person of Jesus Christ.

I cannot say this better than he does, so let me quote –

“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven.”

And this is where the joy comes in –

“When Jesus begins his ministry, John cries out: “For this reason, my joy has been fulfilled” (Jn 3:29). Jesus himself “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Lk 10:21). His message brings us joy: “I have said these things to you, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). Our Christian joy drinks of the wellspring of his brimming heart. He promises his disciples: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (Jn 16:20). He then goes on to say: “But I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22). The disciples “rejoiced” (Jn 20:20) at the sight of the risen Christ. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that the first Christians “ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (2:46). Wherever the disciples went, “there was great joy” (8:8); even amid persecution they continued to be “filled with joy” (13:52). The newly baptized eunuch “went on his way rejoicing” (8:39), while Paul’s jailer “and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God” (16:34). Why should we not also enter into this great stream of joy?”

With this joy it becomes easy to want to share it with the world. Joy cannot be hoarded, it must be shared –

“’Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others’. When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment.”

Spreading the Gospel is not heroic because the real work is done by the Holy Spirit. A friend of mine likens us to the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. We are happy to do it, it is our purpose, but the crowds are not singing Hallelujah to us, but to Jesus. –

“Though it is true that this mission demands great generosity on our part, it would be wrong to see it as a heroic individual undertaking, for it is first and foremost the Lord’s work, surpassing anything which we can see and understand. Jesus is “the first and greatest evangelizer.” In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit.”

Interestingly, Francis makes many of the same points Bruce Dreisbach makes in his call for Christian witness. In reaching out to non-believers, Francis writes –

“Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy… “

Like Dreisbach, Francis says it is futile to sit in our churches and wait for people to come to us –

“… the Latin American bishops stated that we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”; we need to move “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry”.

Some of Francis’ writing could have been taken directly from Dreisbach’s work –

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.”

“… each of us should find ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are.”

“Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbours or complete strangers.”

Now, one of the things that surprised me about this paper is the Pope’s embrace of “reformation” of the church. In many ways he sounds like a Protestant. He quotes Paul VI as saying –

“Every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling… Christ summons the Church as she goes her pilgrim way… to that continual reformation of which she always has need, in so far as she is a human institution here on earth”.

Many of the lay Catholics I know believe that salvation lies in our own hands, that if we try our darndest to abide by the Ten Commandments God will reward us in the next life. But Francis quotes Thomas Aquinas, saying –

“We do not worship God with sacrifices and exterior gifts for him, but rather for us and for our neighbour. He has no need of our sacrifices, but he does ask that these be offered by us as devotion and for the benefit of our neighbour.”

He adds –

“The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift. God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him.”

He adds that, “an imbalance results…when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.”  He says, “The integrity of the Gospel message must not be deformed”–

“Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.”

Later on he cautions against being too devoted to the rituals of the Church. –

“In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives.”

And –

“In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time.”

He seems to believe there are only two essential sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist in Catholic terminology.

Salvation by grace alone, the primacy of the Gospel, love as the greatest virtue, the two essential sacraments. If this Pope had been in office 500 years ago, I wonder if Martin Luther would have bothered writing the 95 Theses.

Now, I don’t want to overstate this. He is still big on shrines, rosary beads, lighting candles for the dead, and the veneration of Mary. But even there, he devotes only the last six pages to extolling Mary, almost as an afterthought, something added at the last minute.

Next time I will take up his thoughts on the worship of money.

Posted by: gmscan | December 23, 2013

The Duck Dynasty Brou-ha-ha


First, a little Christmas present in case you have not seen Pentatonix doing “Little Drummer Boy.” It’s the best music video of the season.

Have a very wonderful Christmas full of blessings

Now on to —


The Duck Dynasty Brou-ha-ha

“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”

Phil Robertson in GQ

I wouldn’t write about the Duck Dynasty controversy but for the fact that I have yet to see or read anything about it that is true. (Complete article here) One of my (many) pet peeves is hearing people attack other people for things they never said or did. Feel free to criticize others for what they say, but don’t make things up and criticize them for your fabrications.

This applies to Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation as well. People on both the Left and the Right have been taking a couple of sentences out of a 250-page document and spinning them to suit their particular political orientation. I am doing what I expect very few of them have done – I’m reading the whole piece and will comment on it shortly.

In the Robertson case, one of the worst offenders is Bill O’Reilly who has repeatedly condemned Phil Robertson for damning homosexuals to Hell. But Robertson never said that. In fact, as the quote above indicates, he said just the opposite of that.

O’Reilly has also said repeatedly that you can’t change the minds of secular people by quoting Scripture – you have to use reason. That may be true if you hope to change public policy. But that isn’t what Robertson is trying to do. If O’Reilly had bothered reading the article he would have seen this –

When the show runs its course and the production trucks drive off the Robertson property for good, there will be nothing keeping Phil from his greater mission. He could step back if he felt like it, given that he’s now a very wealthy man. He could stay in these woods and live out the rest of his days hunting. But he has a flock now. He and the other Robertson men happily tour the country, giving speeches and hosting Bible studies. I ask Jep Robertson later on if the second generation of Robertson men shares Phil’s views on sin and morality. “We’re not quite as outspoken as my dad, but I’m definitely in line,” he says. “If somebody asks, I tell ’em what the Bible says.”

When Uncle Si went to Conway, Arkansas, recently for a paid appearance, 20,000 people showed up. It led the local news that night in Little Rock. The show is merely the platform. The end goal is to save souls. And the Robertson family is more than happy to sacrifice a little privacy out here in the woods—visitors regularly congregate outside Phil’s security gate hoping for a glance at the family— to spread the good word.

The Robertsons aren’t being political, they aren’t trying to change laws, they are trying to spread the Gospel, and you can’t do that without speaking the Gospel.

Other people have criticized Phil for giving an interview to GQ Magazine. They say he should have known it is a liberal, secular publication. Of course he knew that. The man is not uneducated. He gave them the interview because it is a liberal secular publication. It was a way of reaching an audience that would never have listened to a preacher. He doesn’t care if a majority of the readers were offended by his comments. He’s not running for Homecoming King. He hoped to break through to a few people who are ready to hear about the Word.

What, in your mind, is sinful?

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Robertson was citing very conventional and foundational Christian beliefs. He was not saying that homosexuality leads to bestiality. He was including both as examples of sin, along with adultery, drunkenness, and so on.

And, by the way, it was not a “gotcha article.” The writer, Drew Magary, was not looking down his nose at these rednecks and chortling when they said something outlandish. Mr. Magary was actually quite self-deprecating and talked about how inadequate he felt around these men. He clearly enjoyed their company and the article brought them alive to the reader.

Finally, dear reader, there is the most attention grabbing part where Phil says he thinks a woman’s vagina is more desirable than a man’s anus, but “that’s just me.” It is amusing how persnickety some secularists got over this.  Many of these same people who loved Molly Cyrus’ cavorting on television, who enjoy explicit pornography, and who embrace the demeaning sexual lyrics of rap musicians, are suddenly offended by the words vagina and anus? Good grief. Could they be more hypocritical?

Overall, I am glad this all happened. It provides stark evidence for who is judgmental and who is not, and for who is a bully and who is not.  I will take Phil Robertson over the bullies at GLAAD any day of the week.



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