Saturday, March 31, 2007

Holy Math?

The following little gem was in my mailbox as part of a weekly newsletter from a district in the haut south.

An Act of Faithfulness
This past week, I had an opportunity to speak with a young couple trying to decide if this was the time to buy a house. Filled with the anxiety that such a major step brings, I had the opportunity to remind them the ways in which God is blessing them and their response of faithfulness through their stewardship. This holy math that God calls us to be about certainly does not make earthly sense, yet time and again I have witnessed his surprises – just enough to pay the bills, an unexpected gift, the ability to say ‘no’ and wait, the opportunity to respond to a need of another…and all because of putting him first.

Ablaze! is much like this. We are being called to be stewards of all of the creation. To speak with those who have no relationship with the Savior, to join in a concerted prayer effort for the work of the Gospel in this place, and to be generous givers in the partnership of congregational transformation and Kingdom growth. We are being called to put God first, to be generous on every occasion, giving thanks for what God is already about and what he will do.

Xxxxx Xxxxxx, Mission & Ministry Exec,

Holy math? You aren’t kidding are you? Gosh, I missed the part of scripture that says our reward on this side of eternity is a big fat bank account. Maybe I need pull Eugene Patterson’s The Message down from it's spot next to the Book of Mormon and review his paraphrase to get these scales to fall from my eyes.

The only thing I changed was the name of the mission and “ministry” executive. But “X” really needs to be warned that the whole “holy math” concept has been trademarked and is the intellectual property of Joel Osteen. Osteen wrote the definitive book on God blessing us with prosperity, great wealth, success, or good fortune in his book Your Best Life Now. I am deeply concerned that “X” will soon be hearing from Lakewood Church lawyers who I’m sure are looking forward to having their best case now. So, a word to the wise, don't try to mess with Joel's mojo! With all the unpleasantness of lawsuits in our beloved synod, do we really need go this route?

For those of you who don’t know who Joel Osteen is…I don’t even know how that is possible, he is the pastor of one of the largest megachurchs in the country. His little country church seats 16000 people on a Sunday. For those of you who are bad with math, his church is 13 times bigger and therefore more dynamic than your paltry 1200 person congregation. Just so you know...

Friday, March 30, 2007

A Great Discussion On Paedocommunion

There is a great discussion going on over at Pastor David Peterson’s blog CyberStones on paedocommunion. Be sure to stop in and check it out. You should pay particular attention to Pastor William Cwirla comments posted at 08:40:47 on March 30, 2007. Pastor Cwirla not only hits one out of the park, it left the gosh darned planet!
And if you missed it the first time, I linked to a brilliant article on paedocommunion back on March 9, 2007 here.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Death Of Captain America And The Church Growth Movement

Comic book aficionados like myself were horrified to turn on the TV last week and find out that Marvel Comics killed Captain America in issue 25 of the current self-titled comic in a story entitled “Death of the Dream.” The Captain America character was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby way back in 1941. Over the years, over 210 million Captain America comic books have been sold. Read more about Captain America here.

After a miniseries entitled Civil War, a sniper gunned down Steve Rogers exiting a courthouse following a cease-fire between the heroes of the Marvel universe who had been battling it out over the last nine months. Why was he gunned down you ask? It was to sell more comic books. That’s right; to sell more Captain America comic books they killed the lead character.

This is definitely not a new idea. DC Comics tried this stunt back in the early nineties when they decided to “kill” Superman. Remember that? And, truth be told, it did indeed sell more comic books. But only short-term readers and speculators bought into this garbage. Most of the true fans saw this for what it was: a gimmick.

DC Comics during the same period broke Batman’s back and replaced him with a brutal mind controlled killer, killed off the Green Arrow, and made Hal Jordan, the Silver Age Green Lantern, a galactic psychopath that ended up killing all of the Green Lantern Corps. Out with the old ways and in with the new. Again, the fans saw this for what it was: a gimmick.

But these particular gimmicks helped cause the near collapse of the entire industry before the decade ended. Speculators (who knew nothing of the mythology of the heroes) were buying special chromium and variant covers just to be in the “in crowd” (and make a buck) and drove the print runs into unmarketable numbers. Fans who had been reading comic books since the forth grade could no longer recognize the heroes they grew up with. By the time the nineties ended, most of the print runs that were jacked up to meet the speculator’s demand were being sold by the pound just like recycled newspapers. And now we see history repeating itself.

So what does Joe Quesada (Editor In Chief) at Marvel Comics say to all of this in regards to characters dying, "Times are different now. There was period in comics where characters would just die and then be resurrected. And the death had very little meaning and the resurrection had very little meaning."

HYPOCRITE! Under Quesada’s watch Colossus of the X-Men, Captain Mar-Vell, and Bucky, all who died noble deaths, have been resurrected. Under Quesada’s watch Thor, Hawkeye, and Foggy Nelson all died only to be quickly brought back to life to sell comic books. For crying out loud, Foggy died less than six months ago and he’s back. Hypocrite!

All this is different than the explosion that seems to engulf a hero on the last page of December’s issue only to be resolved within two pages of the January issue. Characters are being killed with no respect the long standing mythologies that fan boys like me have grown to love. Alienation is one of the quickest ways to kill readership whether the character be a Harry Potter or a Steve Rogers.

But people like Joe Quesada just don’t seem to care about the fans that care about these characters. All that matters to this bunch is the “let’s increase the sales no matter what the long term cost is.” I guess they figure that if they get ‘em buying the book now and we can worry about keeping them later. Maybe the fans that have kept the book going…maybe they’ll come back, maybe not. Instead of writing good stories paired with decent art, these yahoos have switched to slick Madison Avenue marketing mode.

And so it is with the church growth movement disguised as outreach to the “unchurched” and lost. Their cries are the same as Joe Quesada’s; “get ‘em in at any cost” with no respect to what has gone on before.

Those who promote “church” growth at any cost say we need to abandon the historical church liturgies. We are told to get in the younger unchurched crowd we need to come up with newer hipper ways of presenting “our” message. But the truth is that these young people are savvy enough to know a marketing scam because they have been exposed to this their entire lives.

Those who promote “church” growth at any cost say we need newer hipper songs because the old ones just don’t cause us to feel the emotion that we should be feeling. But the old hymns do cause us to experience emotion as we confess in song God’s Word set to music. By singing our confession we join with all saints of all time and place in doctrinal unity. The difference is that we don’t focus inward when we sing our hymnody. And that younger crowd we are trying to attract, well, they’re smart enough to know that if they hear the same thing playing on the secular radio stations, the chances are it doesn’t belong in church.

Those who promote “church” growth at any cost say the confessions are just dusty old documents left over by some Germanic sect who needed them at the time but are now outdated. But it is the confessional types who say in our postmodern anything goes society that the historical symbols are even more important as the Church is under even more vicious attacks disguised as tolerance and ecumenicalism.

I, as do most other confessional Lutherans, have no problem with outreach. But what we do and what we say in church really does matter. Church is God’s word preached purely and the Sacraments administered rightly as Augustana VII clearly states. When we abandon the very means and places where God has told us He is and will be, we have decided to do things our way, apart from God. And when we have done that, we are no better than those slick Madison Avenue marketers that just killed Captain America for three dollars and ninety-nine cents.

Friday, March 09, 2007

My Personality Type?

Your Personality is Very Rare (INTJ)
Your personality type is logical, uncompromising, independent, and nonconformist.
Only about 3% of all people have your personality, including 2% of all women and 4% of all men.You are Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging.

Hm, do these yahoos really think I'm uncompromising and a nonconformist?

HT Aardvark

A Brilliant Post On Paedocommunion

There is a brilliant post entitled “Paedocommunion, the Gospel, and the Church” by Peter Leithart over at Credenda Agenda. I know there are some that will cringe while reading this article because it steps out on the limb that few wish to deal with. I have long advocated paedocommunion and have stated such in this very blog. The idea that children are a different kind of faithful that we place on lower rung of the Church ladder all the while at the same time we tell all that we need to have a more childlike faith is an idea that makes me cringe. Read the article and judge for yourselves.

A big tip of the hat to Luther at the Movies!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Levels Of Hell

Today I'm going to answer an email question that Tishale had a few weeks back. I was ready to post this last week when I was asked by more than one person to tackle the "lost tomb of Jesus" garbage. Now that that's over...

Tishale, concerning your question “Can we talk about different places or punishment in hell for different levels of sin?” we read in Matthew 11:20-24:

Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”

Christ Jesus in Matthew chapter 11 is condemning all the cities where He has preached and been rejected. He says in these very cities where He has performed great miracles, His word has fallen on deaf ears. Just as Pharaoh hardened his heart when Moses spoke on behalf of the great I Am, the people of Korazin, Bethsadia, and Capernaum have hardened to their promised Messiah. What makes this worse for these cities is that they know the scriptures and they still reject Christ. The citizens of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom were all wicked cities destroyed by God and will certainly suffer in Hell. Jesus tells the Jews they have no excuse as they have seen the David’s greater, anointed Son before them performing miracles. Whole cities have rejected him, and whole cities will suffer a greater punishment because of it.

Later in Matthew chapter 23 verses 13-15, we read:

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves."

Here Jesus focuses on the religious leaders, the rabbis, Pharisees and such. By poor and outright false teaching they lead God’s people astray. And by this poor and false teaching, the people become twice the hypocrites as those teaching them and earn twice their reward in Hell.

Finally, we read in Luke 12:47, 48:

"And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more."

These verses are directed at the apostles of Christ since these two verses are part of a longer answer to Peter’s question “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” Here just as before, because the apostles are entrusted with the keys of kingdom, Jesus is saying they have a greater responsibility. Should they be poor stewards of the His kingdom, the Church, they will be punished more severely.

I remember a conversation I had with someone a while back on this exact topic who thought I was just making stuff up. Because of the strong themes of different levels of Hell in fictional literature, the person I was talking to thought all ideas of this nature were made up. No, the argument I’m making is right out of Scripture. No “wouldn’t it be cool if” about it. While not everything we would like to know is explained to us this side of eternity, some things are revealed.

So what does this mean for us? Well, according to Jesus, there are different punishments in Hell or as some would say there are different “levels” of Hell. Should we start obsessing about these different levels of Hell? Hell no! As faithful Christians we recognize that God’s judgment is just and to that we say amen.

Does that answer your question?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The "Tomb of Jesus"

I received an email from my district president this morning with an attached email from Dr. Paul L. Meyer, a real archaeologist concerning all this nonsense of finding a skeleton in Christianity's closet. Most of the regular readers of this blog will have seen this already. But for those of you who didn't or haven't... enjoy.

February 25, 2007

Dear Friends and Readers,

Thanks for the profusion of e-mails I've received over the last two days regarding the Talpiot tombs discovery in Jerusalem, a.k.a., "the Jesus Family Tomb" story. Some of you also suggested that "life seemed to be following art" so far as my A Skeleton in God's Closet was concerned. Believe me, this is not the way I wanted my novel to hit the visual media!

Alas, this whole affair is just the latest in the long-running media attack on the historical Jesus, which I call "More Junk on Jesus." We all thought it had culminated in that book of falsehoods, The Da Vinci Code. But no: the caricatures of Christ continue.

Please, lose no sleep over the Talpiot "discoveries" for the following reasons, and here are the facts:

1) Nothing is new here: scholars have known about the ossuaries ever since March of 1980, so this is old news recycled. The general public learned when the BBC filmed a documentary on them in 1996, and the "findings" tanked again.. James Tabor's book, The Jesus Dynasty, also made a big fuss over the Talpiot tombs more recently, and now James Cameron (The Titanic) and Simcha Jacobovici have climbed aboard the sensationalist bandwagon as well. Another book comes out today, equally as worthless as the previous.

2) All the names - Yeshua (Joshua, Jesus), Joseph, Maria, Mariamene, Matia, Judah, and Jose -- are extremely common Jewish names for that time and place, and thus nearly all scholars consider that these names are merely coincidental, as they did from the start. Some scholars dispute that "Yeshua" is even one of the names. One out of four Jewish women at that time, for example, were named Maria. There are 21Yeshuas cited by Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, who were important enough to be recorded by him, with many thousands of others that never made history. The wondrous mathematical odds hyped by Jacobovici that these names must refer to Jesus and his family are simply playing by numbers and lying by statistics.

3) There is no reason whatever to equate "Mary Magdalene" with "Mariamene,"
as Jacobovici claims. And so what if her DNA is different from that of "Yeshua" ? That particular "Mariamme" (as it is usually spelled today) could indeed have been the wife of that particular "Yeshua," who was certainly not Jesus.

4) Why in the world would the "Jesus Family" have a burial site in Jerusalem, of all places, the very city that crucified Jesus? Galilee was their home. In Galilee they could have had such a family plot, not Judea. Besides all of which, church tradition and the earliest Christian historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, are unanimous in reporting that Mary, the mother of Jesus, died in Ephesus, where the apostle John, faithful to his commission from Jesus on the cross, had accompanied her.

5) The "Jesus Family" simply could not have afforded the large crypt uncovered at Talpiot, which housed, or could have housed, 200 ossuaries.

6) If this were Jesus' family burial site, what is Matthew doing there - if indeed "Matia" is thus to be translated?

7) How come there is no tradition whatever - Christian, Jewish, or secular -- that any part of the Holy Family was buried at Jerusalem?

8) Please note the extreme bias of the director and narrator, Simcha Jacobovici. The man is an Indiana-Jones-wannabe who oversensationalizes anything he touches. You may have caught him on his TV special regarding The Exodus, in which the man "explained" just about everything that still needed proving or explaining in the Exodus account in the Old Testament! It finally became ludicrous, and now he's doing it again, though in reverse: this time attacking the Scriptural record. - As for James Cameron, how do you follow the success of The Titanic? Well, with an even more "titanic" story. He should have known better, and the television footage of the two making their drastic statements on Monday, February 26 was disgusting, and their subsequent claim that they respected Jesus nauseating.

9) Even Israeli authorities, who - were they anti-Christian - might have used this "discovery" to discredit Christianity, did not do so. Quite the opposite. Joe Zias, for example, for years the director of the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, holds Jacobovici's claims up for scorn and his documentary as "nonsense." Those involved in the project "have no credibility whatever," he added. - Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the conclusions in question fail to hold up by archaeological standards "but make for profitable television." -- William Dever, one of America's most prominent archaeologists, said, "This would be amusing if it didn't mislead so many people."

10) Finally, and most importantly, there is no external literary or historical evidence whatever that Jesus' family was interred together in a common burial place anywhere, let alone Jerusalem. The evidence, in fact, totally controverts all this in the case of Jesus: all four Gospels, the letters of St. Paul, and the common testimony of the early church state that Jesus rose from the dead, and did not leave his bones behind in any ossuary, as the current sensationalists claim.

Bottom line: this is merely naked hype, baseless sensationalism, and nothing less than a media fraud, "more junk on Jesus."

With warm regards,

Paul L. Maier, Ph.D., Litt.D
Department of History
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, MI 49008

Concerning this “lost tomb of Jesus” stuff on the web, the two best posts on the matter, in my ever so humble opinion, are by Chris Rosebrough over at Extreme Theology and Dr. Jeff Kloha over at Concordia Theology.

Horned+Swoggled is reporting that James Cameron died in 1837 and his grave has been discovered. Read more here!