Hey, it cuts down on the number of in-laws

My wife’s three brothers married three sisters from another family. It seemed unusual when I first heard of it, but we’re all used to it. The story was recently in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. What is even more unusual is that have all stayed married. Each of them (plus their two sisters, including my wife) have been married for over 20 years!

When was the New Testament written?

bible.jpgThere are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about how and when the Bible was formed. Some liberal historians try to date the Gospels and other New Testament writings as far from the death of Jesus as possible because it supports their hypothesis that they were largely made up. Of course, if the Gospels really were dated 70 AD or after, there is no reason they couldn’t still be the inspired Word of God. Yet a late dating obviously plays into the hands of heretics who strive to discredit the authority of Scripture.

But the facts point to all or nearly all of the New Testament books being written within 40 years of Jesus’ resurrection. Consider the following:

  1. Jesus died and rose again around 33 A.D.
  2. The Apostle Paul was killed in 64 AD. This is a well attested historical fact. All his writings obviously occurred before then, and 1 Corinthians and Romans were written well before then. Paul testified that Jesus rose from the dead, among other things, and he did so within 20-30 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  3. The book of Acts, written by Luke, ends with Paul was in prison in 62 AD. Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke before he wrote Acts, so it was presumably written in the late 50’s.
  4. Most scholars agree that Luke was not the first Gospel. Therefore, the earliest Gospel must have been written no later than the mid to late 50’s. If Matthew and Luke used the ‘Q’ document (a lost early church writing) as a source, then of course ‘Q’ would have been written even closer to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  5. If the Gospels were all written after 70 A.D., why wasn’t the destruction of Jerusalem mentioned anywhere (especially in Matthew)? This was one of the most dramatic events in history, and was predicted by Jesus.
  6. Since these accounts were written within 20-30 years of Jesus death and resurrection, it is highly unlikely that they would have been myths. There would have been too many people alive to dispute the findings. And keep in mind that many thousands of people died believing these words to be true. Martyrs will die for a lie if they think it is true, but I don’t know of anyone who knowingly dies for a lie. If Jesus didn’t really have a bodily resurrection, why would the disciples live unnecessarily hard lives and die horrible deaths for something they knew to be a lie?

Also see Debunking the DaVinci Code

Hat tip to Stand to Reason for much of the above. Click here to learn lots more about the origins of the Bible.

Ruth 1-2

This reading is Ruth 1-2.

There are many things at work in this seemingly simple story, so I’ll just pick out a few to comment on.

Naomi was obviously quite bitter about losing her husband and sons. In hindsight we can see how splendidly things worked out for her, but it is hard for us to understand the fear and pain she would have felt in that society. Widows often had no one to care for them.

Naomi had great relationships with her daughters-in-law, who had been married to her sons for over 10 years. Ruth had seen enough about the one true God that she had no desire to leave Naomi’s family.

The gleaning process was an Old Testament version of welfare, where landowners were instructed to leave some grain at the edges of the field so poor people could come pick it up. It was entirely legal to go on someone else’s property and do this.

I like how Boaz interacted with his employees. In our politically correct times, living out your faith at work is a constant challenge.

Ruth 2:4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The LORD be with you!” “The LORD bless you!” they called back.

It isn’t like you can walk down the hall at work passing out Gospel tracts. That would be ineffective and would shorten your career dramatically. There are many ways to encourage other Christians at work and to see where you can get involved where God is working in people’s lives, but you have to be intentional about it. I’ll write more on that on the 4Simpsons blog some other day.

Note how God in his sovereign will takes the free will decisions of humans and works them together to accomplish his mighty plans!

Feel free to comment on what stood out to you about the story.

The next reading is Ruth 3-4.

Mmmmm . . . bacon

Daughter #2 once wanted to be a vegetarian. Then I informed her that vegetarians typically don’t eat bacon or Chicken McNugget’s, both of which she loves. They also tend to like vegetables, which she does not.

One day when she was four, I was making some bacon for her after church. I pointed out that Jesus was Jewish, so He wouldn’t have eaten bacon. She paused, then thoughtfully replied, “That’s too bad, because I think He would have really liked it.”

Moral schizophrenia

This is a rerun from 2006.  Long time readers: Try to look surprised.

carenet-walk-05-55.jpgIf you haven’t seen the video and story of the boy with autism who got to play in a high school basketball game and proceeded to score 20 points in 3 minutes, you need to watch it. It is truly inspiring.

When I watched this, I couldn’t help but think about the bizarre extremes our society goes to when it comes to the disabled. Consider all the positive and noble things done for the disabled:

  • Handicapped parking spaces, accessibility to buildings, etc.
  • Celebration of their accomplishments in events like the Special Olympics and the story above
  • Countless technological aids to help them use computers and work
  • Fund raisers and ministries to find cures and to provide care and encouragement

Yet what is society’s general attitude towards unborn humans who may be disabled when born? The current climate is that it is OK, and often preferable, to kill them before they are born. For example, abortion occurs roughly 90% of the time in pregnancies where Down Syndrome is diagnosed. Some babies are even aborted for correctable problems like club feet or cleft palates.

Jocylen Elder, former Surgeon General of the U.S. said abortion “has had an important and positive public-health effect” because it reduced “the number of children afflicted with severe defects.” She pointed out that “the number of Down Syndrome infants in Washington state in 1976 was 64 percent lower than it would have been without legal abortion.” She meant this as a victory of sorts, but what message does this send to the disabled and their families?

Of course we don’t wish medical problems on anyone. There is always an element of tragedy when they occur. Yet what about all the joy and life lessons they bring? And disabled people are less likely to commit suicide, so they aren’t necessarily less happy. We may rationalize that we are “helping” them, but who are we really trying to help?

Parting thoughts:

  • How long will it be until insurance companies pressure people to abort potentially disabled humans?
  • If autism could be detected in utero as Down Syndrome is, how many fewer autistic people would be with us?
  • I know several people who were encouraged by their doctors to have abortions because problems were suspected. Yet the children in question are alive and healthy!

I wrote about prenatal testing for Down Syndrome and one of our World Vision sponsor children who has it here.

Further reading on how our culture is continuing to warp: A Perfect Child

Ruth overview

This reading is the book of Ruth. We’ll do an overview of the whole book today, then take a little closer look at it the rest of the week.

I heard a great sermon on Ruth when I was in Singapore a few years ago. It was humorous when the preacher kept saying, “Ruth 3,” only it sounded like, “root tree.” That was one of my all-time favorite worship experiences. The facilities would not have looked out of place in the U.S. It was a fairly large church. It was 95% Asian, of course, so it was nice to be the minority for once. There was an intensity about the worship that is hard to describe. Many people stayed afterwards praying in their pews. Singapore has religious freedom, but I imagine that many of those worshiping came from countries where they had been persecuted.

Synopsis: Ruth’s husband and father-in-law die, and she elects to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi. She eventually meets and marries Boaz, a distant relative. Boaz is attracted by Ruth’s purity and devotion. Ruth was very loyal to Naomi and sought after the one true God she saw in Naomi’s life. Throughout the book you’ll see how God does great things through the least likely people.

As you read it, try to think about which character(s) you are like. It may be a different character at different times.

Ruth trivia facts:

  • Along with Esther, one of the two books of the Bible named after a woman.
  • Ruth was from Moab, not Israel, yet God did amazing things in her life.
  • She was the great-grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus.
  • Boaz was a descendant of Rahab, the former prostitute from Jericho.

Famous verse: Ruth 1:16 “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

The next reading is Ruth 1-2.

Death taxes are ghoulish

money2.jpgWhile the estate tax debate is typically framed as a soak-the-rich proposition, I find the whole concept to be immoral. If the government desperately needs those tax revenues it should find them somewhere else. It is simply wrong for the government to profit from the death of anyone, rich or poor.  If actions such as earned income or sales transactions generate taxes, so be it.  But dying should not be such a catalyst.

I like it better when governmental and business entities root for me to stay alive, such as in the case of life insurance. Note that I don’t expect to benefit if the estate tax is eliminated permanently; I just think it is wrong. 

Keep in mind that the rich folks who come out in favor of estate taxes may not be quite as noble as they appear. Some of them buy businesses on the cheap because families must sell them to pay estate taxes.

The “really rich,” whom the government wants to soak, typically find loopholes to avoid paying taxes. The “sort of rich” are the ones paying most of the taxes.

As George Harrison of the Beatles sang in Taxman, “And my advice for those who die . . . Declare the pennies on your eyes.” As a life-long fan of Beatles music, this is one of the few times I agreed with their politics.

James 5

This reading is James 5.

The opening passage should challenge almost anyone living in the U.S. Even if you don’t consider yourself “rich,” you are probably in the top 1-2% of the wealthiest people on the planet, and certainly in the top 1-2% of people who ever lived. Just glance back out how touch life was 100 years ago for most Americans. This isn’t to say that money is all bad. The thrust of the passage is about justice and fairness. While saving for retirement, emergencies and such is prudent, have we hoarded wealth, or shared it?

As an aside, note how Job is referred to in verse 11. I find it interesting that many people assume that Adam & Eve, Noah, Job, Jonah and other Old Testament figures were fictional, but when they are referred to by Jesus, James and others it is always in the context of them being real people.

Verse 16 commands us to confess our sins to each other and to pray for each other. Note that we don’t necessarily have to confess to a priest, but we are to confess to others in addition to God. There is something spiritually healing about it.

I thought the closing of James was interesting. No long good-byes, just an encouragement to point people to the truth:

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

Thanks for reading along with the study of James!

The next reading is the book of Ruth. It is a short book – only 4 chapters. I recommend reading the whole book in one sitting, then going back through in a little more detail. I think I’ll break this into three lessons – an overview, chapters 1-2 and chapters 3-4. Ruth is a great love story with a lot of lessons for us all.

I’m not sure where we’ll go after Ruth, but I’m open to suggestions. My family started doing a weekly study a couple months ago and I have been following what we’ve been reading together.

National Council of (liberal) Churches

According to this article entitled Exploiting Fallen Soldiers, the National Council of Churches (NCC) has organized a campaign so that “This weekend, leftist churches are expected to ring their bells to note the 2,500th U.S. military death in Iraq.” As the article notes, this is basically a political exercise.

If they really care about unjust deaths, they should have these left-wing churches ring their bells for the 3,000+ humans killed each day via abortion – a procedure the NCC fully supports.

Veggie Boy

I’ve been making health shakes for 30 years and have now achieved the state of the art. Here is the used-to-be secret recipe for my un-patented Veggie Boy protein shake. (For you Cheers fans, you’ll remember this is the name of the health drink Woody was hypnotized into liking. “You can really taste the kale!”)

  • Milk (preferably whole milk, though not much chance of that unless I’m doing the shopping)
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Any other fruit we’ve got. I’m not picky.
  • Whey protein powder (The Vitamin Shoppe has good deals. GNC is more expensive)

You need a pretty powerful blender to chop up the carrots. I got a 2 HP Waring blender with a 64 oz. jar so I can make big batches to last a couple days.

The good news: It is really, really healthy. Vitamins, protein, fiber, low fat, etc. A couple glasses for breakfast and you can eat Snickers the rest of the day.

The bad news: It is green, or possibly brown, depending on how the ratio of the ingredients and the flavor of the whey powder. I’m used to it.

Don’t tell CPS, but when Daughter #1 was young I told her one Halloween that she could eat all the candy she wanted if she had a small glass of Veggie Boy first. I thought she actually liked it (it is rather sweet tasting), but I learned years later that she choked it down. I would have let her eat as much candy as she wanted anyway. Fortunately, she is the forgiving type.

P.S. I never understood the juicer concept. Seems like you are throwing out all the good stuff.

James 4

This reading is James 4.

This short chapter is chock-full of important teachings. Some of the verses are so short it is easy to gloss over them.

We fight and quarrel because of our wrong desires. Verse 3 helps explain why some prayers are not answered: We ask with the wrong motives.

“Friendship with the world is hatred towards God” speaks volumes. The Bible uses “world” in three senses – the planet, the people in the world (as in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world . . .”) and the system and practices of the world. This verse uses the last meaning. This is a strong call for us to be different from the world. How tragic that according to many surveys, the average “Christian” doesn’t give much more than non-Christians, the divorce rate isn’t much different, etc. We aren’t supposed to be “holier than thou” different, but authentically different.

“God oppose the proud but gives grace to the humble” (v. 6) is a quote from Proverbs 3:34 and is also quoted in 1 Peter 5:5. Every verse matters, of course, but if something is repeated three times perhaps we should heed it!

Verse 8 contains a great promise – “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” As Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Verse 10 promises that if we humble ourselves before the Lord, He will lift us up. Humility is often mentioned in the Bible, but it is nearly always in the context of humbling ourselves. It doesn’t say, “Be humble.” It is not our natural state, so it takes effort to be humble.

Verses 13-16 remind us that we should thank God for every day and every breath. We may live fifty more minutes or fifty more years – it is all up to Him.

We tend to think of sins as things we do that we shouldn’t have done (the sin of commission), but James closes this section by teaching that not doing the good we know we should do is also a sin (the sin of omission).

The next reading is James 5.

Hot topics

The issue of gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender “rights” is ever present in our societies and in church, so I plan to write on it from time to time. But I want to say a few things up front. First, I completely agree with and support the United Methodist position as documented in our Book of Discipline:

Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

I must admit that I was predisposed to hope that the Bible would not state the homosexual behavior was sinful. However, after careful study of the Bible, there is no way to come to that conclusion. 100% of the verses mentioning homosexual behavior label it as sin in the strongest possible terms. 100% of the verses referring to God’s ideal for marriage and sexuality refer to a one man / one woman covenant marriage. And 0% of verses refer to homosexual behavior in a positive or even benign way. Biblically speaking, this is not the grey area some want to make it out to be.

But that doesn’t mean we should treat gay people unkindly. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. When I meet someone who is gay, I don’t try to change them. I just try to build a relationship with them the same way I would with anyone else. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share the Gospel with them if they haven’t heard it yet. If they ask me what the Bible says about it, I tell them the truth. But I don’t grandstand on it.

Note: The acronym GLBT stands for Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender. I sometimes add an “X” and refer to it as GLBTX because it is just a matter of time before something new is added. My guess is “P” for polygamy in 2008.