Thursday, January 31, 2013

Government no authority in religious matters

"For we do freely profess that our lord the king has no more power over their consciences than over ours, and that is none at all. For our lord the king is but an earthly king, and he has no authority as a king but in earthly causes. And if the king’s people be obedient and true subjects, obeying all human laws made by the king, our lord the king can require no more. For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure. This is made evident to our lord the king by the scriptures." -- Thomas Helwys, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Selling counterfeits

Some engage in deliberate proliferation of counterfeits. The average Bible teacher is more often only guilty of failing to distinguish between the genuine and the fake. After mining for and finding treasure, it is important that we authenticate that treasure before trying to pawn it to others. Value is in the genuine article. Too often we are so set on finding "something new" that we do not spend the time to authenticate it -- that is, we don't study enough, pray enough, and set it out for inspection by trusted brethren. We just put it on the shelf for all the world to buy. God help us. This is a dangerous game. Teaching is a sacred trust and a formidable responsibility.

Since man by sin has lost his God,
He seeks creation through;
And vainly strives for solid bliss,
In trying something new.

The new possessed like fading flowers,
Soon loses its gay hue:
The bubble now no longer stays,
The soul wants something new.
("Something New" From The Southern Harmony, p. 254)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Anna, a prophetess

Luke 2:36-38 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

5 things about Anna the prophetess:
She was old (84+7+ca.14=ca.105) verse 36.
She was a widow (had been a widow 84 years) verse 37.
She had been faithful in youth ("from her virginity") verse 36.
She had been faithful in marriage. ("lived with an husband") verse 36.
She was faithful in old age ("served God with fastings and prayers")  verse 37.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Panetta's parting shot

On Wednesday outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta fired a parting shot at the United States generally, and its women in particular. He removed a ban on women serving in the front lines of combat. The front lines of combat are not a place for women, job promotions and certainly not for experimenting.

Christians in previous ages and most nations historically have held that combat is a responsibility for its men.* Evangelical historian Harold O. J. Brown wrote, “Within both Judaism and Christianity, indeed almost universally in all human culture, the military profession has been reserved for males.”The very idea of sending sisters, mothers, daughters and granddaughters would have been shameful thought. Not so in enlightened 21st century America.

Being a soldier is not a constitutional right. Questions of physical strength and the thrusting of men & women together in close combat situations are concerns that have been raised, and rightly so. But what about from a biblical standpoint? Is it a violation of scriptural principle for us to send our women into combat, or are we merely succumbing to our emotions and traditions?

Whether or how much Christians should engage in military service is a valid question that deserves serious answers. But I will not deal with that here. For now I wish to engage the coming issue -- American women will be serving on the front lines of the battlefield.

My views arise from within the general context of Christian complementarianism -- the biblical idea that men and women have "different but complementary roles and responsibilities," whether it be in marriage, family or religion.

One biblical case can be shown where an Israelite woman led men into battle, recorded in Judges chapter 4 (It cannot be shown that Deborah physically engaged in the battle.) Nevertheless, this was clearly outside the norm of Jewish life and predicated on men being reluctant to rise to the occasion. Under the law given by God to Moses able men above 20 years of age filled the normal and expected role of soldier (Numbers 1:2-3 ...every male by their polls; From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies. Cf. verses 20, 22, et al.). Deuteronomy 20:1-9 gives God’s rules for exemptions and exclusions of certain men as well. Certain family considerations had priority over the military (Deut. 24:5), and the fearful were considered incapable of serving. Verses 13-14 of that same chapter indicate that even among enemies, it was the men who were considered combatants. In Joshua 1:14 we read that the men of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were continue with the other tribes over the west side of the Jordan. The army did not include their wives or their little ones. The women and children stayed at home while the men fought. (Cf. also Deut. 3:18-19; Josh. 23:10; 1 Sam. 4:9; 1 Chron. 11:10-47; Neh. 4:13-14.)

The New Testament emphasis is not on a physical seed of Abraham which might at times wage war on its physical enemies. It emphasizes rather a spiritual seed of Abraham in a spiritual battle whose weapons are not carnal, but wielded through the gospel, the word of God and the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless principles within its pages would certainly frown on men sacrificing their women on the altar of emotions, experiment and expediency. Rather, the sacrificial love of Christ is our example: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it...” (Ephesians 5:25).

As a whole even Christians in the United States seem to have lost the sense that men are to protect and provide for women, and that women own a special place of love and respect as wives and mothers -- a place far from the front lines of combat.

* Some believe no Christians, whether male or female, should engage in combat.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Born again from above

John 3:1-12 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

Jesus's words to John -- "born again" -- have been the fodder for many a theological discussion. One of the discussions is whether "again" (Gk. anôthen) means "again/a second time" or "from above" (some translations use "anew"). I have always thought it meant "again/a second time". According to Strong's Concordance anothen is translated "above" 5 times, "again" twice, and a couple of other ways. The person speaking to Jesus face to face -- who spoke the language in which they were conversing -- understood the word to mean "a second time". Jesus did not correct the "numeric succession". In verse 4 it is recorded that Nicodemus asked, "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" The puzzled question of Nicodemus shows that he thought Jesus meant "again" (Cf. deuteron, verse 4). Nicodemus did not understand the spiritual concept, but why imply he did not understand the meaning of the word itself? Jesus responds "numerically" in His explanation -- there are two births, "That which is (1) born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is (2) born of the Spirit is spirit. That does not contradict the fact that the birth was also "anew" and "from above".

It is quite common today to teach that anothen means and should be translated "from above".* I was intrigued by a new angle I read brought into this discussion recently -- that the "again" reading is problematic for those who oppose abortion. Assuming the salvation of infants, if the births were to be numbered sequentially, babies aborted from their mothers' wombs are never born "again" (i.e., spiritually being the second time). So, it is said, their spiritual birth must be a birth "from above" and cannot be a second (numerically sequential) birth. The "second birth" (so to speak) of aborted babies would be when the body is expelled from the mother's womb.

Do you believe life begins at conception? If so, do you think the "again/second time" understanding of John 3:3-7 creates any difficulty in reconciling Jesus's words with a pro-life position? Perhaps this is more about using the pro-life position to discredit the "again" wording?

* Nevertheless the Greek is evidently sufficiently ambiguous that many standard translations (older and newer than the KJV) use or keep the "again" reading -- English Standard Version, Geneva Bible, Holman Christian Standard, New American Standard, New International Version, Phillips, Wycliffe. The Greek alone, without context, is insufficient to determine the definition.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Anniversary of death

On Friday December 14, 2012, a shocked and saddened America watched as media continuously reported on the cold-blooded murder of 20 children in Newtown,  Connecticut. A nation mourned together and President Barack Obama stated in a Sunday prayer vigil, "This is our first task, caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right. That's how, as a society, we will be judged...Can we honestly say that we are doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm...Can we say that we are truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance that they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?"

Flash forward to January 22, 2013. A nation united on the horror of the murder of 20 small school children is a nation divided on the murder of millions of children in the womb. Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of two landmark and highly flawed decisions of the Supreme Court. The decisions issued in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton effectively meant that the unborn in the United States are not protected from death by an abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Based on numbers reported by the Guttmacher Institute 1973-2008 (and estimates thereafter), that judicial travesty has resulted in nearly 56 million abortions by its fortieth anniversary. 56 million!! Oh, that our President, our Congress, our judges, our people would rise up with resolve to give all the children of this country the chance that they deserve to live.

Readings related to abortion, Roe v. Wade, etc.
“3801 Lancaster”: Don’t turn away from this horror
9 Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade
A mother’s instinct collapses under the culture of death
Crushed with regret after an abortion
Feminist says baby is “a life worth sacrificing”
Fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade
Forty Years after Roe, Human Dignity Hangs in the Balance
Is feminism more important than the deaths of 55 million children?
NBC reports Roe v. Wade decision (January 22, 1973)
Pew Research Center survey report on Roe v. Wade
President Obama’s Pro-life Message
Religious Groups' Official Positions on Abortion
The Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade, and Abortion Law

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Job, the ideal realist

A realist is someone who views things as they really are. An idealist is someone who views things as they should be. A few weeks ago I heard someone say that we need more realists and fewer idealists. This may or may not be true, but it nevertheless made me think. 

Job might be the ideal realist. He blessed God for all that was taken away. (Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.) He also took a broken piece of pottery and scraped his flesh because of the pain of the sores from head to toe. (Satan...smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes. Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.) The glory of God and the pain he felt were both very real to him.

A. J. Kirkland used to advise that we have to deal with things as they are, not with how we want them to be. Great advice, as long as we don't forsake pursuing going from the way things are to how they ought to be. And as long as we remember that both how they are and how they ought to be and how they will be are worked together by God for the good of those He loves.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Choosing the broken and mending the chosen

As I listened to a radio preacher speak of Joseph and his brothers, the thought struck me forcefully that on the whole the chosen family -- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- might well be described today as a dysfunctional family. A dysfunctional family is "characterized by a breakdown of normal or beneficial relationships between members," or a family in which conflict, misbehavior, neglect or abuse occur regularly. I'm not sure when "dysfunctional" entered into common use -- gives its first recorded use as 1949. I don't recall hearing of a "dysfunctional family" until I was well into my adult years. In a sense we're all dysfunctional, though some much more so than others.

Having a mainly Christian readership, I feel it is not necessary to go to great lengths to establish the fact that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were chosen by God. We might turn to Genesis 12:3 or Genesis 26:24 or Genesis 28:14. We read in Isaiah 41:8: "But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend." Of all the people on the face of the earth, why did God choose Abraham? Abram (his shorter name before God changed it to Abraham) is briefly introduced in Genesis 11 followed quickly by the record of God's choice in Gen. 12:1. This appears to be somewhat arbitrary. It highlights God's sovereignty. These men and their descendants were not chosen because they were stronger and better than any others (Deut. 7:6-8; 9:6; 14:2) God rejected the status quo of the oldest sibling favored above the younger. Abraham is not the oldest son of Terah. The line passes from Abraham to his younger son, Isaac, and then to Isaac's younger son, Jacob. Reuben, the firstborn of Jacob and Leah, is also rejected in favor of a younger son, Judah. Notably, the idea of one God, monotheism as opposed to polytheism, was made known to the world through Abraham and his descendants (Cf. Gen. 18:19). Jewish Rabbi Louis Jacobs writes: "The world owes to Israel the idea of the one God of righteousness and holiness. This is how God became known to mankind."

The New Testament emphasizes the faith of Abraham, a man who was fully persuaded that God was able to perform His promises. We do well to emphasize that. Even today people of faith and considered "Abraham's seed." But it without question that God threw no veil over this chosen family to mask its faults, but rather presented them "warts and all." We do well to also consider that. The Genesis account of the families demonstrates the "dysfunction" of God's chosen people. God both chooses the broken and mends the chosen! 

Abraham was called by God to leave his abode and his idolatrous family (Josh. 24:2) for a land God would show him. He left behind a friends and family, but carried dysfunction with (and within) him. Nephew troubles (Gen. 13:5–14:16) may hint of larger family issues, but that is mild in comparison to other problems. In traveling to this unknown land, Abraham struck a bargain with his beautiful wife to introduce her as his sister. On two occasions Abraham's lack of fortitude -- but for God's intervention -- put Sarah in danger of adultery with Pharaoh, king of Egypt (Gen. 12:10-20) and Abimelech, king of Gerar (Gen. 20:1-18). Though trusting God for a promised seed, Abraham fell victim to his wife's suggestion that he impregnate her handmaid as a surrogate mother (Gen. 16:1-16). This led to haughtiness in the surrogate, Hagar, and bitterness in the barren Sarah. Later this same mistake would lead to sibling jealousy and the oldest son, Ishmael, was expelled from the home (Gen. 21:1-21).

Like father, like son, Isaac's home was also plagued with dysfunction. Though Isaac was not even born when Abraham and Sarah encountered Pharaoh and Abimelech, he struck a similar bargain with his wife Rebekah and passed her off as his sister. Favoritism by the parents (Gen. 25:27-28; 27:1-10) fueled jealousy and rivalry between their sons (Gen. 25:22-26; 29-34). Rebekah and Jacob schemed to steal Isaac's blessing on Esau. Esau's heart overflowed with murderous thoughts and Jacob had to flee for his life (Gen. 27:41–28:5).

In Jacob's flight he went to his uncle Laban seeking for a wife. Dysfunction in Jacob's home rose to greater heights than his father and grandfather before him. The home started on a shaky foundation with the trickery of Laban saddling Jacob with a wife he had not chosen (Gen. 29:21-30). Within a short time he had two wives, two concubines and 12 children (Gen. 29:31–30:24). Two wives are a recipe for trouble, and these two wives were sisters who were jealous of one another. Jacob's preference for the wife he had chosen -- Rachel -- stoked the flames of discontent. Not only did Jacob play "favorite wife," he had a favorite son of his favorite wife and made no bones about it (Gen. 37:1-4). Everyone knew. This fanned hatred that would not end until the favored son, Joseph, was sold into slavery (Gen. 37:4-36) and Jacob told that Joseph was dead. There is more. Simeon and Levi wielded treachery and murder in Shalem (Gen. 34:1-31) because the prince had lain sexually with their sister and wanted to marry her. The oldest son of Jacob, Reuben had sexual relations with Bilhah, Jacob's concubine (Gen. 35:22; 49:3-4). Judah (of which Christ is the Lion of the tribe of) had sexual relations with his daughter-in-law Tamar. Judah has refused to give this widow to another son under the levirate marriage law. To catch him unawares, she posed as a prostitute and became pregnant with her father-in-law's child (Gen. 38:12-26).

Stop we must, and draw for now a curtain over all these sordid affairs, lest we become proud in our own conceits! Should we not rather mourn? Are we not children of this same family? ...if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:29).

1. Considering the brokenness and dysfunction of God's chosen people should remind us of the nature of God's purpose. God’s purpose is glorious, omniscient, sovereign and immutable. It does not depend upon the merit of the receiver but rather the grace and purpose of the giver. 2 Timothy 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, (Cf. Eph. 1:9, 11; 3:11).

2. Considering the brokenness and dysfunction of God's chosen people should awaken us from the lull of our complacency. God’s people are not pure and right simply because they are God’s people. Romans 13:11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. (Amos 6:1; 1 Cor. 15:34; Eph. 5:14)

3. Considering the brokenness and dysfunction of God's chosen people should assure us of the availability of God's mercy. God’s people may become despondent and imagine themselves beyond the grace of God and without the hope of forgiveness. But His mercies are sure and new every morning! Lamentations 3:22-23 It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. (Cf. Gen. 32:10; Isa. 55:3)

4. Considering the brokenness and dysfunction of God's chosen people should encourage us in the fulfillment of our calling. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were men of like passions as we, yet still used by God. We should not be satisfied to be as dysfunctional as we can be. We should not "sin, that grace may abound." We should sorrow, repent, and press forward. Philippians 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Cf. Eph. 1:18; 4:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Hebrews 3:1; 2 Peter 1:10)

God has chosen the broken -- for we are all broken -- but, praise Him above all, He also chooses to mend the chosen! Through a "broken family" God chose that all the families of the earth be blessed.

Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

Friday, January 18, 2013

County Line Singing, January 19

The County Line Sacred Harp Singing will be held, Lord willing, tomorrow, Saturday January 19, 2013 at the County Line Primitive Baptist Church. The church building is located on County Line Road (FM 3081) near Cut and Shoot, Texas (see map below). We will start singing at 10:00 a.m.

We would love to have you attend if you can.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Song that Saved a Soldier

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last.

In his book Songs of Glory, Bill Reynolds relates the 19th century "Civil War" story of Levi Hefner. Hefner was a Confederate courier, "sent one night by his commanding officer, Gen. Robert E. Lee, to take a message through an area partially occupied by Union troops. As he approached a bridge, his horse balked and reared nervously. Hefner dismounted and attempted to calm him. In the darkness Hefner began singing softly an old familiar hymn, 'Jesus, Lover of My Soul.' In a few minutes the horse became quiet. Hefner mounted him, crossed the bridge without incident and completed his mission. 
"A number of years after the war, Hefner attended a reunion of soldiers from both sides. They gathered in small groups to share experiences they remembered from the war. A Union soldier from Ohio remembered standing guard one dark night at a bridge. He had been ordered to shoot anyone approaching from the other side. During the night only one rider came his way, and he raised his rifle to shoot as soon as he could see the form in the darkness. The horse balked, however, and the rider dismounted. To calm the horse, the rider began singing softly an old hymn, 'Jesus, Lover of My Soul.'  The Union soldier told the circle of old soldiers that the sound of the hymn so touched him that he lowered his rifle and quietly turned away. He said, 'I could not shoot him.'
"Levi Hefner jumped up and embraced the Union soldier, saying, "That was me!'  He realized for the first time that his singing that dark night had saved his life." (From Songs of Glory, William J. Reynolds, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990, pp. 151-152)

We experience the loving hand of God in our lives each day, but we can never know all the mercies of the God Who does "exceeding abudantly above" all we can ask or think or know. Once in awhile, though, God draws back the curtain--as He did for Levi Hefner--to reveal to us a little taste of how He acts on our behalf while we are unaware. Years after the fact, Levi Hefner realized for the first time the means that God had put together on his behalf -- a dark night, a nervous horse, a Christian soldier, a touching hymn. "If the Lord had not been on our side..." (Psalm 124:1) These things we grasp as God's dear providences, and certainly we should. But might we better learn that all things together are as George Macdonald calls them, "one grand providence."

Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.
(Hymn by Charles Wesley)

Sunday, January 13, 2013


"Jesus didn't call us to popularize the gospel, but to preach the gospel." -- Lamar Denby

"People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care."-- John C. Maxwell

"To be kind is more important than to be right. Many times what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks but a special heart that listens." -- Unknown

The Miser's Epitaph (author unknown)
Here lies a miser, who lived for himself; 
Who cared for nothing but gathering wealth.
Now, where is he, or how does he fare?
Nobody knows, and nobody cares! 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

An East Texas look at "Bernie"

Truth is stranger than fiction, and so says the movie Bernie’s tagline: “A story so unbelievable it must be true.” "Bernie" was released April 2012 and stars Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and Shirley MacLaine. The story is true, though the movie is a fictionalized documentary-style account of it. In Carthage, Texas in 1996, assistant funeral home director, singer and lay minister Bernie Tiede killed Marjorie Nugent and hid her body in her deep freeze for nine months before the plot was uncovered.

The movie is styled a "dark comedy."

I didn't know Bernie Tiede, though I might have seen him at Hawthorn Funeral Home. It is in a town about 30 miles away, but is not a place where we make frequent trips to funerals. Everyone in the area knew something of the surreal murder mystery, even if they didn't personally know the participants. A brother-in-law of mine didn't know him well, but had sung at nursing home singings where Bernie was also singing. I was curious about the film. We watched it over the Christmas break.

Local people and local places
One thing that intrigued me about the movie was the locals. There were a couple of people we knew -- knew of, not close friends -- so we were aware that some of the people that were "interviewed" for the "documentary" were from the nearby area. Because of this I searched for information about the interviews. Did the movie just use impromptu material from the locals? "No, it’s scripted," said director Richard Linklater, "but they kind of put it in their own words, quite often. I looked at a lot of people and found people that could be themselves, doing material and throwing in." Comparison of the movie dialogue with Skip Hollandsworth's Midnight in the Garden of East Texas shows that often the scripted dialogue is based on real comments by real people. In an interview with  of National Public Radio, Hollandsworth said that a lot of it "came straight out of my notebook." At times interviewees are actors rather than locals -- and in a few cases actors who are or were locals (e.g. Matthew McConaughey and his mother Kay lived in nearby Longview, Texas). Hollandsworth said that 21 of the "gossips" were "genuine East Texans who've had little or absolutely no acting experience whatsoever." Real or imported, the folks on "Bernie" sound like East Texans.

Most of the movie was not filmed in Carthage. According to Wikipedia, blogs, and so forth, much of Bernie was filmed in Bastrop, Texas -- as well as Smithville, Austin and San Marcos. Daddy Sam's BBQ & Catfish and Jalapeno Tree are real Carthage restaurants where we have eaten. I don't think Jalapeno Tree was opened in Carthage until after Mrs. Nugent's murder, though.

Truth or fiction
"Bernie" is based on a true story, contains much truth and some fiction. Many of the names of locals are changed, some facts are left out, and the story is told mostly from the point of view of Bernie Tiede and locals who liked him. District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson said, “The movie is not really about the murder. It’s more about the life of Bernie.” The community outpouring toward Bernie was very real, but the movie skews the fact that there were others in the community who viewed this as a heinous crime, regardless of what they thought of Mrs. Nugent.

In How My Aunt Marge Ended Up in the Deep Freeze, Mrs. Nugent's nephew, a journalist who no longer lives in Carthage, wrote, "There are little things in 'Bernie' that aren’t exactly true, bits of dialogue, a changed name here and there. But the big things, the weirdest things, the things you’d assume would have to be made up, happened exactly as the movie says they did. The trial lawyers really did wear Stetsons and cowboy boots and really were named Danny Buck Davidson and Scrappy Holmes. Daddy Sam’s barbecue and bail bonds, just a few blocks from the courthouse in Carthage (population: 6,700), really does have a sign that says, 'You Kill It, I’ll Cook It!' And they really did find my Aunt Marge on top of the flounder and under the Marie Callender’s chicken potpies, wrapped in a Lands’ End sheet. They had to wait two days to do the autopsy. It took her that long to thaw."

Local reaction
Local reaction to the movie is varied, from those who love it to those who hate it and all points in between. "The movie does not tell her side of the story," objects D.A. Davidson. He is certainly correct. Others object to a comedy -- even a dark one -- being made about the tragic death of a local resident. Carthage resident Toni Clements said, "If it was fiction it might be funny, but this was a real person in a real town and no, I don't think it's funny at all." Hollandsworth recognized this concern is his NPR interview, saying, "I think there was always the concern that people would think we were making fun of a death or we were parodying the people of East Texas."

Some thought it made Panola County residents look bad, but others disagreed. The Hawthorn Funeral Home allowed the movie to show a front view of their building, but did not allow the name of the funeral home to be used. Nevertheless, Carlton Shamburger, current owner of the funeral home, felt that the movie didn't make Carthaginians look bad. "If you are worried about us looking stupid, we don’t." He felt the people were the same on screen as they are every day. But he further added, "I wouldn’t recommended the [Nugent] family to look at the movie."

Concluding thoughts
One of my first reactions to the movie was that this might make us East Texans look stupid (but then again, you've got to be able to laugh at yourself). On further reflection I think that the movie doesn't really say anything more (or worse) about East Texans than it does about anyone anywhere else. Director Richard Linklater is an East Texan himself -- well, Houston, but that's just East Texas gone to town. He says "East Texas is 'where the South begins'."

To a large degree, "Bernie" is a story about people believing what they want to believe. East Texans are no more or less this way than others. Just look in the mirror for your own reflection of truth. One person can believe the moon landing. Another sees a vast conspiracy. As recently as the coverage of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre some have seen conspiracy where others see tragedy. Evidence may demand a verdict, but more often we are satisfied to approach life as we see it. Not only do we create our own reality, but also our own morality. It should not be lost on the viewer that in this conservative town where most folks would view murder and homosexuality as sins, Bernie Tiede confessed to one and was suspected of the other and was still held in very high esteem.

"Bernie" drives home the point that in some ways we are not who we are, but who the community grapevine says we are. Gossip may not be true, but it often what is believed. It not only drove the perception, but drove a district attorney (rather than the usual defense attorney) to ask for a change of trial venue!

Murder in general is not funny. Neither is the tragic end of Mrs. Marjorie Nugent. But events that are just too bizarre to be made up will likely strike a dark comedic chord that resonates with most of us. Tragedy and comedy really are two sides of the same coin.

Things to read and watch
Bernie Tiede
Carthage residents react
Carthage residents react (YouTube)
How My Aunt Marge Ended Up in the Deep Freeze
Kay Epperson
Local reaction
Midnight in the Garden of East Texas

Friday, January 11, 2013

Giglio and the prayer gig

Big news today on the religion front is Louie Giglio withdrawing from praying the presidential inaugural prayer due to homosexual protests against his religious belief that homosexuality is a sin. Because of time constraints, I'll keep my comments brief and link to a news story and some Baptist blog posts. President Obama has a right to choose (and unchoose) whomever he wishes to pray the inaugural prayer. Interest groups have a right to protest (I suspect some Christians might have protested had he chosen a Muslim imam). Giglio had a right to withdraw, whatever his reason. I think the bigger news is this. The religious belief that homosexuality is a sin appears to be becoming a minority belief in the U.S.A. When you stand with a majority it is easy. But how will you stand when your beliefs become unpopular?

Inaugural pastor withdraws over anti-gay remarks
Are Evangelicals No Longer Welcome in the Public Square?
If You Had Any Doubt, Evangelicals Are Now an Unwelcome Minority in America!
Louie Giglio and the New State Church
The public inauguration of a new Moral McCarthyism

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

What meaneth...turning the other cheek?

Jesus addresses "turning the other cheek" in two sermons -- the "Sermon on the Mount" (recorded in Matthew's gospel) and the "Sermon on the Plain" (recorded in Luke's gospel).

Matthew 5:39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Luke 6:29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also.

What does Jesus mean when He commands us to "turn the other cheek"? What does He not mean?

First, He is not speaking universally of all forms of evil at all times. The Lord's churches are in the business of resisting spiritual evil. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but [we do wrestle] against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph. 6:12, Cf. also Jas. 4:7; I Pet. 5:9; II Cor. 10:3-4) Further, He is not abolishing governmental resistance of evil and punishment of evildoers. The Bible teaches this, for example, in Romans 13:4 -- "For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." Finally, Jesus is probably not excluding all instances of self-defense (Cf. e.g. Luke 22:36). "Resist not evil" refers to the kind of evil in the context.

"Turning the other cheek" falls within the context of Jesus addressing misconceptions and misapplications of the law by the Pharisees. Jesus is not come to destroy the law, but is fulfilling it (Matt. 5:17). One must have an understanding that exceeds the hypocritical righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, which "righteousness" is legalistic and misinterpreted (5:20). Jesus's listeners had heard the Pharisees quote the law and teach on it, but He contrasts what they said with "I say unto you."

Jesus sets forth what the listeners have heard: "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." Such a judicial policy in the law was clear and equal. But personal applications of retaliation lay outside the law. Revenge is not legal justice. In fact, says Jesus, "resist not evil," and gives three personal examples of it -- an insult to one's person, an injury to one's estate, and an injustice to one's autonomy. Verse 41 relates "whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain." Matthew 27:32 shows one situation when a person might be compelled -- Roman soldiers compelled Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus's cross. One compelled to go a mile can freely go the second mile. The man sued at the law may receive the injury to his estate, and then give more rather than counter-sue (v. 40).

In the Sermon on the Mount, remarkably, Jesus says, "whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek." Too much or too little may be made of this. One interpretation that makes too much of it can be seen in this example: "In Jesus time and place in history, the left hand was used for 'unclean' purposes. You wouldn't use your left hand to purchase food, shake someone’s hand, OR even strike someone.  It would be a shameful act to use your left hand for these things." Followed through (see link), such an interpretation posits that if someone hit you on the right cheek you offer him the left, forcing him to acknowledge you as equal (that is, by slapping you with his right/clean hand). This goes too far and clouds the simple lesson. If Jesus so intended, why did He not mention the right hand in the Sermon on the Plain as well? But the mention of the right hand is a clue that shows us that an insult is intended -- as opposed to physical assault. In a predominantly right-handed world, a back-handed slap would normally be required for a right-handed person to strike another person on the right cheek. Clearly, though, the spirit of the command does not depend on which cheek is smitten.

Retaliation only escalates and multiplies the amount of evil. In following Christ, we choose not to retaliate. Revenge is deferred to the realm and oversight of God (Romans 12:19), while the Christian follows the example of the Lord Jesus Christ "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (I Peter 2:23). Such follow-ship is direct evidence of kinship to the heavenly Father (Matt. 5:45).

God settles all accounts.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Good movies, good revenge

Many Christians, especially older ones, decry the constant menu of sex and nudity, vulgarity and violence that is hurled at the viewers of the modern motion picture screen. They long for "the good old days" when there were "good movies" with the likes of John Wayne.

No disrespect to John Wayne, but a recurring theme in old westerns and thousands of other type movies we call "good" is revenge. A well-written script and well-directed movie will make you feel it, believe it and cheer it. You know the theme. The bad guy kills, injures, or otherwise inflicts insult of the family of the good guy. The good guy tries to avoid retaliation, welling up in the viewers to want it all the more. Finally, yes, finally and joyfully, the good guy kills the bad guy. Revenge is sweet. Justice is served. Yes!!! (Sometimes it's not even that subtle and we still like it.)


And then we read the words of Jesus Christ and Paul: 

Matthew 5:39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Romans 12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

Who can fully believe those exortations, when we've felt the inner joy of just retaliation? It must be right. It feels right! It must be right. But, Christian, whom will you believe? Screenwriters and directors or the words of Jesus Christ and His apostle? Someone has said, "Revenge permeates our culture because it permeates the human unconscious." If true, how much more must the word of God permeate our conscious and unconscious?

Vengeance is best left in the hands of the Lord because:
1. Retaliation and revenge is a never-ending cycle. The movie always ends once the good guy has gotten revenge. All is well. In real life there is no end to the cycle. One retaliation breeds another...and another...and another. There will never be an end until someone turns the other cheek.
2. God is all-knowing. He knows when and how to punish. He knows how much to pay. We humans cannot see all or know all. We don't know the motivation of the smite to the right cheek, or even our motivation for striking back. We don't know when to stop or how to right the wrong. 

Let us be right by rendering good for evil instead of evil for evil. When we render evil for evil, there is just that much more evil in the world. When we repay good for evil, there is one small glimpse of heaven on earth.

Romans 12:17 Recompense to no man evil for evil.
Romans 12:21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Fight or Flight: the Battle of Pease River

A short review of:
Myth, Memory, and Massacre: The Pease River Capture of Cynthia Ann Parker. Paul H. Carlson and Tom Crum, Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, October 10, 2010. $29.95 [Hardcover] 216 pages. 978-0896727076

Through a gift on Christmas Day 2012, I added to my collection of Parker family related materials Myth, Memory, and Massacre by Paul H. Carlson and Tom Crum. This book is part of the 'Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest'.

From the back of the dust jacket:
"In December 1860, along a creek in northwest Texas, a group of U.S. Cavalry under Sgt. John Spangler and Texas Rangers led by Sul Ross raided a Comanche hunting camp, killed several Indians, and took three prisoners. One was the woman they would identify as Cynthia Ann Parker, taken captive from her white family as a child a quarter century before. The reports of these events had implications far and near. For Ross, they helped make a political career. For Parker, they separated her permanently and fatally from her Comanche husband and two of her children. For Texas, they became the stuff of history and legend."

Carlson and Crum re-examine the story of the recapture/recovery of Cynthia Ann Parker by Texas Rangers and federal troops at Mule Creek/Pease River in 1860 in Foard County, Texas. The authors find a story full of discrepancies -- some of which were related by the same person but at different times, and varying stories told by different people. Their conclusion posits that the truth is found in the confluence of events found in the earliest reports made by participants who were at Pease Creek. Variations and exaggerations of the story come with time, forgetfulness, yarnspinners, and subtle motivations to spin the truth of the events for personal profit.

The book is well written, with the inclusion of maps and illustrations to enhance its worth. As one interested in the subject, I was moved along in such a way that I didn't want to put it down until I had finished (though I was a little wearied by the litany of "bad books" in the concluding chapter). After establishing the context in chapter one, the authors present and examine the various reports and stories of the Battle of Pease River over four additional chapters. In chapter six they "explain the myths" -- what is false and revealing what they believe constitutes the core of truth surrounding the Battle of Pease River and accidental rescue of Cynthia Ann Parker.

This is a needed work. Several books on this event do not even examine all the documents related to it. Most "official" versions of the story get the date wrong. It is important to call attention to possible errors and falsifications and seek to find the truth of the stuff of which legends are made. Carlson and Crum rightfully call for the historian to "hold himself absolutely free to be led wherever the facts carry him (p. 105)." Nevertheless, I felt a little uneasy that these authors began with some advocacy of a particular outcome, early-on stating that "(t)he book is part of a historiographical trend that is changing perceptions of how people view the history of Texas. Through that new historiography a different past is emerging, one usable by a more inclusive society (p. xiii)." So, is their objective to be led by the facts, or to sort the facts so they are more "usable by a more inclusive society"?

Despite this minor reservation about the authors' motivation, I highly recommend the book to any and all who want to learn about the Battle of Pease River and recapture/rescue of Cynthia Ann Parker. Read it with both eyes open and make up your own mind.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

When was Jesus born?

One week ago a large portion of people, Christians and otherwise, celebrated a day set aside in recognition of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. When was Jesus born?

Year of birth
It is possible to get close to the year of Jesus's birth more so than the day, though pinpointing the exact year has some problems. Two approaches from the Scriptures help us estimate when it took place.

The birth narratives
Matthew 2:1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea...

Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

From the birth narratives we find that Jesus's birth took place while Augustus was the Roman emperor (27 BC- 14AD), while Herod the Great ruled in Judaea (37 BC-4 BC), and during a taxing of the people under Cyrenius. This later reign of Cyrenius creates some difficulties with the secular record that has been passed down to us.

The baptism of Jesus and beginning of his ministry
Luke 3:1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, 2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness...23 And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age...

At the time of Jesus's baptism by John, he was about 30 years of age. This was during the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (circa 29 AD). This would place His birth at what these calendars would call 1 BC.

The building of the temple
John 2:20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?

One other method of calculation figures 46 years of building the temple before the beginning of the ministry of Jesus at 30 years of age, then adds sixteen years for the year of Jesus's birth. The problem here is knowing exactly when the building of this temple began.

My view of Scripture holds the New Testament records as accurate and the secular dates as relatively accurate to sometimes unreliable. Seems the best comparison of all the data would record the birth of Jesus sometime around the years our calendars would recognize as 6 BC -- 4 BC.

Another approach to figuring the year of Jesus's birth from strictly biblical chronology could work from the seventy weeks of Daniel.

Day of birth
Many people are happy celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25, even though no Scriptures provide us that information. Circa AD 200, Clement of Alexandria discusses different days suggested for the birth of Jesus, but does not mention December 25. One of the earliest sources to give December 25th as the date of birth of Jesus is Hippolytus of Rome (early the 3rd century). Hippolytus arrived at this date by assuming that the conception of Jesus took place at the Spring equinox. He placed it on March 25th for that year and then added nine months. This is related to others who believed that "our Lord was conceived...on the same he suffered (that is, the conception and crucifixion took place on the same day of the month)." Chrysostom (late 4th century) held the December 25th date based on the timing of the conception of John the Baptist. He assumed the offering of incense recorded in Luke 1 was the offering of incense by on Yom Kippur. This would have been in early October. So he counted six months for the time of John's conception to that of Jesus, then nine more for the birth of Jesus.

Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. 8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,

Others using a method similar to Chrysostom (determining the day of Jesus's birth based on Luke 1) have arrived at a different date -- late September to early October, or around time of the Feast of Tabernacles. Recognizing that John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus, this assumes that Zachariah, a priest in the division of Abijah, was on duty at the temple in late May to early June. Add to this 15 months to figure the birth of Jesus. This requires numerous assumptions, including that the division schedule of the temple always assigned the first division on the first week of the Jewish calendar, and that each division served one week. 

The biblical record of shepherds tending their flocks at night (Luke 2:8) is possible evidence that Jesus was not born in a cold month of like December. Many think sheep would have been corralled in this cold period and that shepherds would have been out among their flocks by night during the spring lambing season. As with all other ideas this involves some assumption and speculation.

Finally, some have tied the "sixth month" of Luke 1:26 to the sixth month of the Jewish calendar and counted nine months from there. This a mistake, since the sixth month refers to the sixth month of Elisabeth's pregnancy.

The biblical information sets the birth of Jesus within a narrow time period, but does not try to pinpoint either the day or year of His birth. Once we have tried and found this to be true, it behooves us to cease trying to date the birthday of Jesus Christ. Read and understand the information given? Yes! Go beyond it? No! The birth of Jesus Christ is an important event in human history. Not because of the birth of one more baby among millions of babies, but because God took on human flesh, came to seek and save that which was lost, and gave His life a ransom for many.