April 28, 2004

The Gospel and God's Sovereignty

This is a few days late, but what follows is the outline of Sunday's sermon. This is the continuation of the lesson from last week, The Gospel and God's Choice, on Romans 9:1-18.

The Gospel and God's Sovereignty: Romans 9:19-29

As with last week, Paul continues to answer the objections raised by Jewish critics of his gospel message of grace, through faith, for all.

  1. God's right to make saving choices is not up for human review (19-20).

    The objection is raised that if God is sovereign over salvation, then he should not find fault for people being what they are. To this, Paul fires back some rhetorical questions of his own.

    1. The clay doesn't have the capacity to critique the Potter (20).

      This is a no-brainer; after all, clay has no brains. There is a fundamental difference between the potter and the clay. Yet it is we who are the clay (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7).

      This is why Job got into trouble with God. He crossed a line by presuming to correc the Almighty (Job 40:1-2). See also Isa. 45:9. Job went from questioning God to quarrelling with him, from "Where are you?" to "How dare you?"

      None of this is to say we cannot question God or bring our troubles to him. See Psalm 62:8, for example. We can talk to God, but not talk back to him. The clay has no capacity to critique the potter.

    2. The Potter has the right to do what He wants with the clay (21).

      God is sovereign over all that he has made; he does not answer to us, but to his own perfections. Unfortunately, we live in an era that exalts self-esteem when it should be esteeming God.

      Does this mean God is silent about his purposes? No, in fact Paul gives a hint about why God does what he does: to make his glory known.

  2. God's sovereign choices will reveal His surpassing glory.
    1. The glory of His righteous judgments (22).

      This has already happened, big time, in the story of Moses and Pharaoh. See Exod. 14:4: "the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord."

    2. The glory of His great patience (22).

      Why does God allow evil people to persist? Because it shows his great patience.

    3. The glory of His saving mercy (23).

      If we got what we deserved, we would get only wrath. But instead God shows mercy, both to Jews and Gentiles. Paul quotes both Hosea and Isaiah to prove this point.

    Why does God want to display his glory? For us, it is the best thing he could do, because we were created to savour it. God allows us to know him, to come close to him. God's sovereign glory is our supreme good.

In addition, the evening sermon was a followup titled "Questions About God's Sovereignty." Unfortunately I missed it due to another meeting commitment that night, but I snagged the outline on the way out. I think I have done a passable job filling in the blanks.

Questions About God's Sovereignty: Biblical Answers for Head and Heart

Definition of God's Sovereignty: God's right to do anything He wishes in line with His own perfections.

  1. God is sovereign over all things.
    1. Divine Names
    2. Biblical Statements
  2. God sovereignly uses evil without creating evil.
  3. God sovereignly works through evil people.
  4. God sovereignly works in ways that sometimes leave us perplexed.
  5. Responding to a Sovereign God
    1. Talk to Him about what's on your mind.
    2. Accept responsibility for what's in your heart.
    3. Trust Him for what's beyond your control.

April 27, 2004

Bad abortion rights rhetoric, part 2

From yesterday's New York Times:

Daniela Taveras could never have an abortion. Fabiola PeƱa believes it is morally wrong. Estrella Flores shakes her head at the thought. They were raised to view abortion as sin, in Latin American countries where it is illegal.

Just after dawn Sunday, these women boarded a bus with 32 other immigrants in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and left the New York area, many of them for the first time since coming to the United States. They headed to the march in Washington. But they did not go as anti-abortion protesters; they went to march for abortion rights.

"One has to respect a person's freedom and rights," said Ms. Taveras, 40, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic two years ago.

"I think abortion is killing a life," said Ms. Flores, who left Ecuador 11 years ago. But, she added, "The person who is pregnant should decide whether to do it or not."

[Full Story]

Speaking only for myself, I am opposed to killing Hispanic immigrants with stupid opinions, but I think that's something everyone has to decide for himself whether he wants to do.

Update: No less a personage than First Lady wannabe Teresa Heinz Kerry has used this exact argument in the May 3, 2004 edition of Newsweek, saying, "I don't view abortion as just a nothing. It is stopping the process of life." She then goes on to say that if she has to commit herself to one position or another, she is pro-choice.

This seems to be a relatively new tactic in the pro-abort camp: acknowledge that a fetus is indeed "a life," but without committing oneself to what kind of life it actually is. That, of course, would force them to admit that it is, and indeed cannot be other than, human life that they advocate destroying. In reality it's just a new way of repackaging the same old circular assumption that the unborn are not human and can be exterminated at will.

April 25, 2004

Stamp out bad abortion rights rhetoric!

In Washington today, thousands of women (800,000 according to tonights CTV news marched for abortion rights. One of the women quoted in a sound bite extolled the virtues of abortion being "safe and legal."

Swell. I really like my neighbour's TV set. I don't like the fact that attempting to acquire it might get me beat up or shot. Burglary should be made "safe and legal" so I can break into his living room without fear.

Closer to home, in a parallel demonstration, abortion-rights activists presented abortion doctor and activist Henry Morgentaler with a "human rights" award. (Morgentaler is the abortionist who opened the first private abortion clinic in Canada in 1968. Of course, it wasn't legal until 1988, and it was never "safe" for at least one of the people who entered.)

It's ironic that at all the formal abortion debates I have attended, sooner or later it is pointed out to the pro-life advocate (if he is male) that "men can't get pregnant"; therefore, since as a man he lacks the equipment to have babies, he should shut the hell up.

Unless he is telling the pro-aborts what they want to hear, of course. Then he deserves a "human rights" award.

April 24, 2004

Scripture and certainty

I was recently asked on a message forum how I could determine for myself, out of all the myriad of translations of the Bible, which is the correct one for any given reading. What, in other words, is my authority? This is a question that could be (and frequently is) posed (and is) in many different contexts:

  • By KJV-onlyists arguing for the infallibility of the King James Version of the Bible.
  • By Roman Catholics arguing for the infallibility of the Pope and the Magisterium.
  • By pagans (e.g. Muslims, Wiccans, Hindus, atheists, etc.) dismissing Christianity altogether.

Here is my pat answer to that question.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. . . . (Eph. 4:11-12)

God gave learned and wise men to the church, as Scripture says, "for the work of the ministry" and "the edifying of the body." They are there to build us up. When my own understanding is insufficient, then it is to pastors, friends, scholars, commentaries, and theologians of the past that I turn for help. I would be a fool not to, notwithstanding the prevailing attitude amongst many evangelicals and fundamentalists that "history is bunk."

It seems to me that the presupposition driving this question can be formulated like this: Lack of certainty = lack of truth. KJV-onlyists look at the plethora of English Bibles and pronounce them the work of the devil. Roman Catholic apologists point to the 20,000 Protestant denominations (or however many they are saying there are this week) and conclude that Protestantism cannot be right if they can't agree amongst themselves. The atheists note that no one can agree on who or what God is, and conclude that he must not exist at all. (By the same argument, we may as well look at all the differing interpretations of Hamlet and deny that Shakespeare ever existed.)

But why should I accept that presupposition? Is there no such thing as "close enough"? Are the scholars infallible? Of course not. Do I sometimes have to weigh the evidence for competing theories and decide which one (if any) is correct? Of course. That's what God gave us brains for.

Put another way: Slide rule accuracy got men to the moon.

April 23, 2004

What the . . . ? Update

I received an email this morning from Greg A. Tyler, one of the links on my What the . . . ? page of links to wacky weirdos. This is what I said about Greg and his company, Creative Products 2000:

Greg A. Tyler is bitter because he keeps having great ideas for inventions, only to find out that some major corporation has already made millions off of his ideas.

Tyler's rants just go to show that it is far easier to be an armchair inventor. But why is it that the Acme Corporation makes so much money off a widget? Unlike Tyler, they spent some R&D money to build the thing.

Here is what Mr. Tyler had to say, along with my comments. I would like to have responded in person, except that the email address he provided was non-functional:

Subject: about a year later ...

Actually, it's been about six months that my Web page has been up. (Close enough for engineering purposes though, right?)

and the second visitor from your site came to mine

Great! Glad to know my Web pages are providing entertainment. I don't have access to logs myself, so it's feedback like this that is so valuable.

AND YOU STILL DONT HAVE A FUNCTIONING EMAIL LINK TO YOU...PRETTY DUMB

No, pretty smart. Spammers like to crawl Web pages for active email links. I already get something like 100 spam messages a day. That could be worse. Instead, I provide a human-readable email message on all my pages. Sure, you have to type it in, but exactly how hard is it to type m c c l a r e @ n c f . c a anyway? (You managed, didn't you?)

And, as you can see, Mr. Tyler, my email address actually works - unlike yours. My personal response bounced; hence this public reply.

AND ... i now have a line of prototypes and am about to make more money this year than you will make in your life

Cool. I assume that's why your Web page hasn't been updated since 2002 and still looks like vintage 1997. Do these prototypes include a functioning domain name and email address, by any chance? Not to mention shift and period keys?

If you're a third party reading this, do be sure to click on this link or the ones above. Obviously Greg checks his logs to see where people are coming from. Wouldn't want him to miss out on all the attention.

April 22, 2004

Random street scene

As I was walking to church tonight from the public library, I came to an intersection where a woman in a car was attempting to make a right turn. As is the (bad) habit of so many drivers, she had pulled so far ahead that her vehicle completely straddled the crosswalk, making it necessary for pedestrians to cross in front of her (thus risking death in traffic) or behind her (thus risking death by the car coming up behind).

Unless you were the guy coming up the street in the opposite direction as me. He walked halfway across the intersection, stopped approximately opposite the driver's seat, and stared at her. After a few moments she actually backed slowly out of the crosswalk. No kidding. I think she was probably a little bit intimidated, as I am not sure this guy was entirely "there."

Nonetheless, he actually does what I, a perennial pedestrian, have been merely thinking for years. I wanted to buy him a drink.

Tolerance of homosexuals: A one-way street?

Check this out: A gang of homosexual activists calling themselves the "Gay Militia" crashed a fundraising meeting of the Concerned Christian Coalition in Calgary on April 17. The activists, many of whom were dressed in camouflage and wearing bandannas over their faces, disrupted the meeting by pounding drumsticks together and chanting slogans such as "Gay militia here to stay, right-wing bigots go away." The site linked above has video of the event, in both Windows Media and RealAudio formats.

Ironically, the guest speaker at the meeting was lecturing on "Christophobia" - intolerance of Christianity and Christians. To their credit, the attendees did not resist the thugs, but all but ignoring their disruption, held an impromptu prayer meeting.

There is legislation on the verge of being passed, Bill C-250, that would add "sexual orientation" to the list of identifiable groups in the hate propaganda section of the Criminal Code. This demand for "tolerance" of the deviant homosexual lifestyle isn't a two-way street.

Update: The good news is, the Calgary police have received videotape of this incident and are investigating whether charges of mischief or disturbing a peaceful assembly might apply. The "gay militia" might well be hoist upon its own petard.

April 21, 2004

"Christian Identity" nut Pete Peters endorses "Apollo Moon Hoax" theory

I have a theory that no nutty belief can survive in isolation. It requires a small colony of other nutty beliefs for mutual support.

Like many radical religionists, Peter J. Peters, pastor of LaPorte Church of Christ in LaPorte, Colorado, is supporting evidence for this theory. He is best known as one of the spokesgoons for the so-called "Christian Identity" movement, a virulent Christian heresy that combines the beliefs that the Anglo-Saxons are the natural descendents of Jacob and therefore the recipients of all the blessings promised to Abraham), all other races are somewhere on the level of animals, and the Jews are the physical offspring of Eve and Satan. Peters' colony of weird beliefs also includes radical politics (akin to Christian Reconstructionism), "alternative medicine," and "Planet X." Peters, in short, is a flake - but, unfortunately, a flake with a militant following, and his followers have guns and severe apathy for civil government and many people whose skin colour is darker than theirs.

Now we can add the Apollo moon hoax to the mix. On April 14 [RealAudio], the guest on his frequently-broadcast radio program on WWCR shortwave was "Scientist" Jim McCanney, explaining exactly why it is that the NASA moon missions were faked by Nasa with help from Walt Disney.

The "moon hoax" conspiracy theory is actually probably one of the easiest to debunk, given adequate knowledge of physics, engineering, and photography. The best site I have seen answering the conspirinauts is Moon Base Clavius, which addresses various aspects of the moon hoax theory piece by piece. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy also has a very nice rebuttal to the 2001 Fox moon hoax special. And if you are looking for a few laughs, check out Apollo11.

As for McCanney himself, his aesthetically abhorrent Web page provides yet more evidence that competence in one's claimed field of expertise and tasteful Web design are directly proportional. In addition to believing NASA faked the moon landings, he thinks they are faking comet pictures too for some reason. Like Peters, he is a believer in the Planet X scenario. He is part of the Nikolai Tesla cult of personality and believes in "free energy."

Frankly, it's hard to believe there are people who take this crap seriously. It's like the plotline of a bad Japanese sci-fi movie.

April 20, 2004

And now . . . this

From CBC Newsworld's arts news in brief:

NEW YORK - We Built This City by Starship has been chosen by Blender magazine as the worst song ever recorded.

The tune, off 1985's Knee Deep In The Hoopla, tops the magazine's list of The 50 Worst Songs Ever in its current issue.

[Full Story]

Hmph. They should have listened to the whole album. Obviously they missed hearing "Sara."

April 19, 2004

The 2003 Nebulas are in

If you're looking for the critics' choices for last year's best SF, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association has released the winners.

Geez. I am still so enamoured with the "classic" SF I grew up with that I am completely out of touch.

While we're at it, the nominees for the corresponding, fan-selected Hugo Awards, are also out and the winners will be selected at the World Science Fiction Convention in Boston this September.

I also note with some interest that although these are the sponsoring sites of the two major awards given out as often as not for futuristic fiction, their Web design skills appear to have stalled somewhere around 1995. How ironic.

And now . . . this

From Spain:

Muslims across Spain are lobbying the Catholic church in Cordoba to make a symbolic gesture of reconciliation between faiths by allowing them to pray in the city's cathedral.

Cordoba's Renaissance-era cathedral sits in the centre of a 10th century mosque complex, and local Muslims want to be allowed to pray there again. They have appealed to the Vatican to intercede on their behalf.

[Full Story]

Appropriate Catholic response: "Sure, when you allow the Pope to offer Mass at the Al-Haram mosque in Mecca."

I'm not holding my breath though. It's funny how these "reconciliation" gestures are so often one-way streets.

April 18, 2004

The Gospel and God's Choice

Today's sermon was part of our senior pastor's ongoing series in Romans, which he started at the beginning of the year. (The plan, as I understand it, is to cover Romans 1-11, break the series for the summer months, and then return to chapters 12-16 in the fall.)

The text for this morning was Romans 9:1-18. This is, literally, a first for me, as I don't believe that I have ever heard anyone preach on Romans 9 in any church (though I am very familiar with this passage myself and even have a Bible that has been turned here so frequently it opens naturally to that page). To hear this kind of preaching from a pulpit in a nominally non-Reformed denomination was, in a word, refreshing. Here is the outline, including my own annotations:

The Gospel and God's Choice: Romans 9:1-18

Having completed a long dissertation about the nature of justification, it is almost as if Paul is now in the hotseat at a press conference being grilled by hostile reporters. He begins with an opening statement (vv. 1-5) before fielding the tough questions.

The sense you get is that there are those who believe he has been so focused on bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles that he has lost his heart for the Jews. But this isn't the case. Paul is in anguish over his people.

There is an implied question in verse 6: Has God's word failed? Are the promises made by God to Israel still true, or have they fallen flat? This is an important question, because if God's promises to Israel have failed, then it is possible that his promises to the rest of us might fail too. Paul's answer comes in verses 6-13.

  1. Salvation will certainly come to those whom God has sovereignly chosen.

    There have always been two Israels, the physical and the spiritual. Paul is arguing here that the promises have always been to spiritual Israel.

    Paul makes his case with two case studies:

    • Isaac and Ishmael: God choise to send the promises through Abraham's promised son Isaac, rather than through his other son Ishmael (v. 7).
    • Jacob and Esau: The promises went through Jacob, not Esau. Despite the strong rhetoric of verse 13, God was actually very good to Esau, giving him many blessings. However, he did not receive salvation blessings.
    1. God's choice is based on his purpose (v. 11).

      Compare Ephesians 1:11.

    2. God's choice is not based on human works (v. 11).

      The choice had nothing to do with anything Jacob or Esau had done, since they had not yet even been born. Compare Eph. 1:4.

    3. God's choice leads to God's call (v. 12).

      When God chooses, he calls (cf. Rom. 8:30). Those whom he calls are called in such a way that they respond "yes."

    Has God's word failed? No!

    But now a question is raised: Is this fair? Is God just in choosing some but not others?

  2. God has the sovereign right to make saving choices (vv. 14-18).

    Paul cites another case study here: Moses and Pharaoh. He defends God's justice on the basis of God's mercy. Justice only requires that we be judged, not saved. The real issue here is not why God saves only some, but why he saves any at all.

    Verses 17 and 18 are a case study in divine justice. God raised up Pharaoh and hardened his heart for his own purpose and for the sake of his own reputation. Yet Scripture also tells us that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Which is true? Both are. God acted to solidify Pharaoh's natural condition. Incidentally, without divine intervention, all of us have the same kind of heart as Pharaoh.

  3. God's sovereign choice in salvation . . .
    1. Gives you a motivation to keep giving out the gospel.
    2. Gives you assurance that you are personally loved by God.
    3. Gives you confidence that God's salvation promises will not fail.

April 16, 2004

Catching up on some old reading

I just finished reading Frederik Pohl's Gateway (St. Martin's, 1977), possibly for the first time since high school. Pohl has always been one of my favourite SF authors, and that makes This book, the first in Pohl's Heechee Saga (comprising also Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, Heechee Rendezvous, The Annals of the Heechee, and The Gateway Trip) amongst the best of the best. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel in its year, making it both the fan and critical choice.

In the mid-21st century, tunnels and artifacts are discovered on Venus. This discovery leads to the further, and far more lucrative, discovery of the Gateway - an asteroid orbiting the sun outside the elliptical plane, tunnelled out and housing nearly 1000 spaceships abandoned half a million years ago by a mysterious race humans have labelled the Heechee. These ships can hold one to five passengers, are fully functional, and are capable of faster-than-light travel. The problem is, no one knows how to operate the controls. Prospectors have spent their life's savings to travel to Gateway and travel in one of the ships to destinations unknown, in the hopes of making a major scientific or commercial discovery. Some do and hit it big. Most don't. Many don't come back.

Our protagonist, millionaire Robinette Broadhead, is one of the ones who hit it big. We find out two important things about him at the beginning of Gateway. First, on one of his trips he made a major discovery worth 18 million dollars. Second, he is a very screwed-up man; we meet him lying on a mat in the office of his digital shrink, Sigfrid.

Structurally, the novel's chapters alternate between Broadhead's sessions with Sigfrid, and flashbacks to Broadhead's experiences on Gateway. Unfortunately the book's structure is its major weakness. There is simply too much Sigfrid; Broadhead's appointments with the shrink could have been removed by half without harming the story. Besides, reading Freudian interpretation after interpretation of Broadhead's dreams and word choices starts to get monotonous.

It is the flashback sequences on Gateway and beyond that make this novel interesting by far. Pohl has done an excellent job of preserving the mystery of the Heechee. They are never revealed, even at the denouement of the story. Their presence is felt only through the tunnels of Gateway, the rare half-million-year-old artifacts they left behind, and their still-functional spaceships with their cryptic controls, the function of which can only be guessed at (more often than not wrongly). Interspersed throughout the book are page-long sidebars containing snapshots of life on or about Gateway: classified ads, trip reports, academic lectures. In addition to helping create a general impression of the risks of being a Gateway prospector, some of these little diversions provide clues to how the story ends, and are worth reading carefully.

If you're a hard SF fan and haven't picked up Gateway yet, you owe it to yourself. Despite its literary flaws, it's on my list of must-read SF novels.

On that note, on to the sequel: Beyond the Blue Event Horizon.