16 Hold Your Tongue!


hold_your_tongue_by_gunslingergirlThink of what it must have been like to grow up with a brother who never lied, never sassed His mom, never gossiped, never told a naughty joke, never complained, never tattled, never swore, never reamed anyone out. Ever.

James grew up with a Brother just like that, so he knows exactly what he’s saying when he writes about the control of the tongue:

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. (JAM 3.2)

Control

The real evidence that I am in control of my body is not how many reps I do, how much iron I lift, how far I run, how many carbs I eat, how many hours I sleep, how often I floss. It is whether or not I am able to control my tongue.

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. (JAS 3.3-5a)

Size

James goes from controlling my own body to controlling the body of a horse. Although a horse is a large animal, it can be controlled easily by a small device in its mouth. Even a huge ship can be steered by a rudder–a relatively small component of its design. In the same way, James reminds us, the tiny tongue has great power.

Destructiveness

From the tongue’s comparatively small size in proportion to its power, James moves to the destructive capacity of this little member. A cigarette butt tossed carelessly out the window of a passing car can ignite a fire that will destroy thousands of acres of forest, burn expensive houses to the ground, kill animals, and even result in the loss of human life. In the same way, my tongue can, with only a few words, set the course of my life–or someone else’s–because of its capacity to destroy. It is like a fire coming from hell itself.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (JAM 3.5b-6)

Untameability

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (JAM 3.7-8)

We can control horses with bits and bridles, we can guide enormous ocean-going vessels with rudders, and we can domesticate and train all manner of animals. But without the aid of the Holy Spirit, the tongue is untamable.

Duplicity

With the same tongue we bless God and curse others. A spring does produce both fresh and salt water, James says. A fig tree does not bear olives, nor a grape vine figs. One cannot find fresh water in a salt marsh. In the same way, the tongue that blesses God ought not to curse people.

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (JAM 3.9-12)

The tongue will get me into a world of trouble unless I learn to use mine like Jesus used His.

Eschewing the Seeds


seed-spitting

I like jam.

Not jelly, jam. I don’t want something on my bread that jiggles. To me, there’s not much better than starting my day with a cup of strong, black, freshly roasted coffee and a thick slab of my wife’s freshly baked whole wheat bread, slathered with butter and a generous portion of home-made jam. I’m especially partial to raspberry.

Finding real jam in the stores these days is becoming a challenge. Either one has to settle for insipid “fruit spread”–made with fruit juice instead of sugar–or a seedless concoction passing itself off as jam when it’s really just jelly. I have found that the best selection of real preserves is in Middle Eastern stores, places that sell British imports, or farm markets.

I put seedless “jam” in the same category as decaffeinated coffee, pulpless orange juice, and silk flowers. But that’s just my opinion, and you couldn’t care less. What I find interesting is the theological aspect of eating seeds, if one wants to call it that, and its relationship to our culture.

At the end of creation week, God said to Adam and Eve,

“Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” (Genesis 1.29,30)

Why would God mention seeds to us if He didn’t intend for us to eat them? Obviously, telling the animals about this would not have been especially productive, since they couldn’t understand Him. And I’m not sure animals spit out the seeds of fruits and vegetables. I’ve never seen that myself, but then I don’t spend a lot of time watching for it.

Seeds, especially fruit seeds, contain a vitamin that isn’t found in many other things–Vitamin B-17. This amazing compound seeks and destroys cancer cells by releasing a small dose of cyanide once it has penetrated the membrane around the cell.

The seed with the highest concentration of Vitamin B-17 is the apricot pit. Recent studies have shown that coffee has some powerful cancer-fighting properties–and coffee beans are seeds. Nuts are seeds, as well. Flax seeds are excellent for our health, but only if they are ground–or chewed.  Other fruits, such as apples, contain a precise dosage of Vitamin B-17 which, if ingested, immediately undertakes its seek-and-destroy mission in the body. In fact, if one were to simply save the seeds from a pile of apples and eat a bowl full of them, the result would be cyanide poisoning! But eating the seeds with the fruit may indeed be what God intended as a way to maintain health. “An apple a day…”

The problem our coddled culture has with seeds appears to be twofold: they are a nuisance and they don’t taste good. Seeds are generally bitter, and bitterness is not something we normally enjoy. Either is inconvenience. We don’t like it in life and we don’t like it in fruit, so we engineer seedless fruits and manufacture seedless jam. I wonder if we’re doing ourselves a disservice.

I have been eating the seeds of fruit for years–apples, oranges, grapefruit, watermelon, grapes–and have found that they don’t really interfere with my enjoyment of the fruit itself.

Who knows–I may one day die of cancer. But for me, eating seeds can be a lesson in life. One takes the bitter with the sweet, and the bitter shows just how sweet the sweet can be.

Image from 9-poeticfingers.org

 

 

God, Religion, and the Law of Self-Contradiction


adam-touching-gods-finger-sistine-chapel

“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.’ ” ISA 44.6-8

Yesterday I was working on my book in my favourite library, and I re-read this passage from Isaiah with great interest. It is such a rich text–one could mine it for a long time to great profit. But even a simple second reading yields a great deal of truth to contemplate.

GOD’S SELF-EXISTENCE

LORD refers to the “I AM” who challenged Moses from the burning bush at Mt. Horeb, in Arabia. After introducing Himself to Moses in this way, God declared, “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (EXO  3.15b) YHWH–written as “Jehovah” in English and as LORD in the English translation of the Old Testament–is the Everlasting God, the Self-Existent One. Eight times in John’s gospel, Jesus Christ also declares Himself to be, “I AM.”

GOD’S CONDESCENSION

God is the “King of Israel and his Redeemer.” God chose to involve Himself in human history by giving birth to a nation–a unique covenant people–who, despite God’s steadfast love for them, forsook Him and turned to other gods. And when “I AM” came to dwell with them, “his own people did not receive him.” (JOH 1.11b) He came as their Redeemer, and they scorned Him. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (JOH 1.12,13) God’s plan for Israel has not yet been fulfilled, and the existence of the State of Israel today is clearly foretold in the Scriptures. Regardless of one’s perspective on the Jews, God chose to use them as the conduit of redemption–He “appointed an ancient people.” One day the Davidic kingdom will resume, and the true King of Israel will be known and worshiped by the whole world–He who is also known as the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Son of God, “I AM.”   

GOD’S ETERNALITY

YHWH declares Himself to be “the first and the last.” The Bible is an ancient book–the Old Testament was begun between 1400 and 1200 years before Christ and completed in 400 B.C. The New Testament was completed before the end of the First Century A.D. Are there older books? Yes. But in the Bible, God describes not only the beginning of history, but also the end. He was here before it started, and He will be here after it’s all over. The Bible is metanarrative, and over-arches everything that comes between creation and what theologians call, “the eternal state.” Many false gods have been invented and worshiped by men throughout human history, but YHWH, who has no beginning and no end, supersedes them all.

GOD’S UNIQUENESS

The LORD also says, “besides me there is no god.” That pretty well locks it up. Either He’s telling the truth, or He’s not. There is no middle ground. The Law of Self-Contradiction comes into play here, doesn’t it? If YHWH says there is no other god besides Himself, the world’s religions must answer His challenge: “Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me…”  Either both are wrong, or one is wrong and one is right. They can’t both be right.

GOD’S RELIABILITY

God even offers a means of comparison between Himself and the false gods of the earth: “Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.” One of the best proofs for the veracity of the Bible and the reliability and authority of Jehovah is fulfilled prophecy. Hundreds of prophetic statements have already been fulfilled to the letter–history attests to things like the decree of a king named Cyrus, predicted by Isaiah 100 years before Cyrus was even born; the destruction of the city of Tyre, which took place exactly as Ezekiel had prophesied hundreds of years earlier. The birth of Christ alone fulfilled 300 Old Testament prophecies! The State of Israel–regardless of what one thinks about it–exists today for only one reason: God said He would bring the Jews back to the land from every corner of the earth where He had scattered them in the diaspora. And there they are.

About the re-establishment of Israel as a nation, Isaiah even asks, “Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?” (ISA 11.11) 

Short answer: YES!   The modern State of Israel was established in a moment at 4:00 PM on 14 May, 1948. Just like that. And whether we love them or whether we hate them, they’re here to stay. How can we know that? Because the same God Who said He would bring the Jews back to the land said He would preserve them. If Mr. Netanyahu, Congress, CNN, and the rest of the world would read and believe the Scriptures, they would understand that Iran is not who Israel needs to fear. They need to fear Jehovah Himself, as He will hold them to account for their unbelief in the Messiah He sent to redeem them, and He will judge them severely with the whole earth in what the Old Testament calls the “Time of Jacob’s Trouble”–seven years of horror the likes of which the planet has never seen. And the events that precipitate it could begin before I finish typing this post.

Jehovah challenges the gods of this world to match His record of absolute reliability. None can. He even told the Hebrews that if a prophet makes even one prediction that is not fulfilled, no one needs to pay attention to anything he says. (DEU 18.15-22)

GOD’S COMFORT

Finally, God encourages us by telling us not to be afraid. If I didn’t know Him, but still knew what I know about what’s coming down the pike, I’d be very much afraid. I wouldn’t sleep, and I might not enjoy eating as much as I do. But God urges us to remember His past record–He has told us from the beginning!–and to understand that there is no other God, no other Rock, but He.

I can sleep on that.

Culture in Canuckistan: Shacking Up, Ontario Style


IMG_20150225_082749 This morning I spent an hour or so theogling on Trail 10, where I was also able to resurface the entire eastbound lane in one fell swoop (it was clearly not a government contract.)

When I reached the bank of the Ottawa River at Shirley’s Bay, I decided to satisfy my curiosity about ice fishing–a pastime which, despite our 24 years in Canada, I’ve never tried. (We lived in Nova Scotia for 19 years and I never learned to sail or went lobstering–the latter failure literally constituting a sin of omission.)

From the shore, it looked like this shack was occupied. But what appeared to be a Ski-Doo from 350 m away was actually the fisher’s discarded Christmas tree! So I skied three-quarters of a km extra and still don’t know how to ice fish.

Out in western Ontario, on Lake Nipigon, where our friends live and work, the commercial fishermen use jigger boards to shoot whitefish nets under the ice. Pretty ingenious, and very lucrative if you have a mind to commute 18 km each way out onto the lake every day…

The dots in the background of my photo are other shacks, none of which looked very inviting and all of which looked very far away.

I think everyone was home frying up yesterday’s yellow perch.

15 Teaching: The Scariest Line of Work


magellan23n-5-webThe American Psychological Association reports that each year, about 250,100 teachers are assaulted by students in the public school classrooms of America. A September, 2014 article in Britain’s The Guardian states that every day, an average of 878 students are expelled from school for classroom violence. Another Guardian headline reads, “Millions Paid Out to Teachers for Classroom Assaults and Accidents.” Just last month, the CBC reported that in Winnipeg , hundreds of assaults on both teachers and staff occurred in the city’s public schools in the last two years alone.

Public school classrooms, once the bastions of order and discipline, are out of control. Teaching is becoming a scary line of work.

But James, the younger brother of Jesus Christ–Who, as God in flesh was the World’s Greatest Teacher– points out an even more perilous aspect of teaching in James 3.1:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

The real hazard of teaching, James says, is not assault. It’s assessment–and not assessment not by parents or peers or school boards or HR committees. The real hazard of teaching is assessment by God.

While James is speaking primarily about teaching the Scriptures, the indictments for teaching falsehood will be countless in the Judgment. In Evolution vs. God, his masterful exposé of Darwinism in the university classroom, Ron Comfort repeatedly asks students why they believe in evolution.  Their answers are always, “I believe what the experts tell me,” or, “I believe my professors.” One of those professors actually says on camera, “Of course humans are fish.” This is a Ph.D. in a scientific discipline in one of America’s prestigious universities, and his students believe him! Shame on them, shame on him, and shame on their teachers–especially their parents–who neglected to instruct them in the art of critical thinking.

And while we’re talking about parents, allow me to point out that they are a child’s first teachers, and the ones who most profoundly influence his or her intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development. Do you think God will judge parents for what they teach their children? No? Think again.

And we haven’t even mentioned the teachers of the soul. I recently heard it said that to understand a religion–any religion–one must simply examine a country in which its adherents constitute the majority. Interesting observation, don’t you think? In most of Europe, it’s either raw secular humanism or secular humanism tossed with either Roman Catholicism or liberal Protestantism just for good luck. In the Middle East, it’s Islam (and don’t forget Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic country.) In Haiti, it’s Roman Catholicism mixed with voodoo. In most of Latin America, it’s Roman Catholicism mixed with any other -ism the user deems appropriate. In Israel, it’s Judaism. In North America, it’s pluralistic, materialistic secular humanism and cultural Christianity. And look where it has gotten us. Globally, nations are descending into anarchy, brutality, tyranny, and chaos. And who do you think God will hold ultimately responsible?

Teachers.

Teachers in homes who tell their children there is no God, that the Bible is untrue, and that the world’s most important person is I . Teachers in universities who tell their students that humans are fish. Teachers in churches and mosques and synagogues and cathedrals–and even under trees–who teach people to trust gods that don’t exist or teach them that they can somehow please God on their own, by doing this and not doing that.

Think carefully about what James says here. Anyone who aspires to be a teacher–and most of us are teachers of something and someone just by default–must recognize that God will hold teachers accountable for what they teach.

This is especially true of those who teach the Scriptures. In 2 Timothy 2.15-18, Paul admonishes Timothy,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

Peter’s indictment against First Century false teachers in 2 Peter 2.12,13a is spine-chilling:

But these [false teachers], like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing.

Teaching is a very scary line of work.

Image is from lipstickalley.

 

 

 

14 How to Work Your Way to Hell


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Which is worse–works without faith, or faith without works?

Yes.

Paul of Tarsus tells us a lot about works without faith–his own, for starters:

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that comes from faith–

A lot of people practicing a lot of religions are just like Paul. They think they can work their way to heaven when they’re actually working their way to hell. Paul reminds us here in Philippians 3.4b-9 that neither his impressive pedigree, nor his religious affiliation, nor his sincere effort could ever produce what pleases God–perfect righteousness. Absolute holiness. The only thing He will accept as a visa into glory.

I recently read an article by a scientist–one of the world’s leading chemists–who makes molecules. Even if all of us could do that, and even if holiness could be measured in such a way, none of us has the capacity to offer God even one molecule of our own holiness.

At about the same time he wrote to the church at Philippi, Greece, Paul explained to the congregation at Ephesus, Turkey, that

…by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (EPH 2.8-10)

When Adam fell, we all fell with him. Hard and flat. Sin is a leveler. The people in prison did not all commit the same crime, but they all view the world through the same vertical lines.

But James, Jesus’ little brother, looks at the faith-and-works continuum from another angle. In James 2.14-17, after his short treatise on the sin of partiality, he writes:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Twice, the writer of Hebrews mentions “dead works.” (HEB 6.1, 9.14) Now, James writes of “dead faith.” In the subsequent verses of Chapter 2, he mentions that even the demons believe in God–and tremble before Him!–so simply believing facts about God is not saving faith. James then cites two Old Testament characters whose faith was demonstrated by their works: Abraham, the Iraqi father of the Jewish nation was not content simply to tell God he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. He unsheathed his dagger and was about to plunge it into Isaac’s belly when God stopped him and provided a substitutionary ram. Rahab the whore did not stop at believing that God was conquering His enemies through the Israelites–she protected their spies, knowing the awesome power of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

James concludes his discussion by writing,

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

On some occasion, James probably heard his Brother say that God is glorified when we prove we are His disciples by producing fruit. (JOH 15.8) He came to understand that principle clearly, as the second half of James 2 demonstrates: just as it is vain to think that my works–religious duty, outward devotion, social activism, neighbourly consideration–could possibly get me to heaven, so also is it vain to suppose I am truly a child of God while my life manifests nothing of my faith. As Jesus said, a fruit tree with no fruit is cut down and burned.

The terrible truth is that hell–a real, dreadful place mentioned far more often in Scripture than heaven–will be populated by people whose works were dead or people whose faith was dead.

Both roads lead to the same place.

13 A Thing for Bling


A gentleman comes to your door. He’s wearing a fine suit, a silk tie, spiffy Italian shoes and a Rolex. His cologne smells expensive, and he leaves a new luxury car purring in your laneway. He says a friend gave him your name and he’d like to get to know you.

5edc721b872ed444622a1986b310159fAnother guy comes to your house. He smells like a dumpster, he hasn’t shaved in days, and he’s wearing mismatched, ragged clothes that don’t fit him. He says the same thing, but in an accent you can’t place.

Which man are you more likely to invite in for tea and scones? If your answer makes you uncomfortable, keep reading.

We have a thing for bling. If people are well-off, we seem to want their friendship. Even King Solomon, who was well-offer than just about anyone who has ever lived, understood this tendency:

The poor is disliked even by his neighbor,
but the rich has many friends.
(Proverbs 14:20 ESV)

Surprise, surprise. Not a lot has changed since 950 B.C.

Is it because rich people are nicer? Easier to get to know? More loyal? More compassionate and understanding? Treat our kids and pets better? No, it’s because they’re rich. And we want them as friends because it does our egos good to be seen with them, to drop their names, and possibly to be on hand to administer first aid in case they experience a fit of magnanimity.

Jesus’ little brother James watched the Saviour minister compassionately to the poor–He could easily relate to them, being poor Himself–and berate the wealthy Jews who were trusting on their riches to settle their accounts with God. He may have heard Jesus say, as Matthew, Mark, and John tell us He did, “For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (JOH 12.8 ESV)

Many years later, James addresses the issue of favouritism in his letter–in fact, the first half of the second chapter deals with this issue alone.  In the first three verses, he paints a picture of a First Century gathering of believers attended by two visitors: an obviously wealthy man “wearing a gold ring and fine clothing” and “a poor man in shabby clothes.” (JAM 2.2 ESV) He tells his readers (vv. 4-9) that if they pay attention to the rich guy and give him the best seat in the house, but neglect the poor man and make him sit on the floor or off in a corner, they have done three things:

  1. They have made distinctions among themselves, becoming judges with evil thoughts.
  2. They have dishonoured the poor man.
  3. They have committed sin are are convicted by the law as transgressors.

Whew–that’s harsh. It’s also true.

James then asks his readers some pointed questions:

“Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he promised to those who love him?”

“Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and drag you into court?”

“Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you are called?”

These are rhetorical questions aimed at First Century followers of Jesus in the midst of horrific persecution. The answer to each of them is, “Yes.” Is James saying there is something innately wrong with being rich–or with being poor, for that matter? Absolutely not, even though Jesus told his disciples, and maybe James himself, that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (MAR 10.25)

And that’s the point. If being rich isn’t any better than being poor, why should we show partiality to the rich? If being rich makes it harder to trust God and easier to mistreat people, why do I want to be that way?

James says the “royal law” (v. 8) is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If we show partiality, we violate that law and become lawbreakers. He makes the point that the same God who commands us not to commit adultery also commands us not to murder. So if we do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, we are still lawbreakers. One need only commit one offense in the criminal code to become a criminal. In God’s eyes, showing favouritism to the rich at the expense of the poor is a criminal offense. I may not kill my neighbour or sleep with his wife, but if I don’t love him–especially if he is poor–I violate the law of God because my love for others reflects my love for Him.

James concludes this section with these sobering words:

For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2.13 ESV)

Have a seat. I’ll plug in the kettle.