A Pointless Article

“When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.”

So wrote Winston Churchill, explaining the elaborate courtesy with which, on behalf of the British Government, he declared war on Japan in 1941.

Intellectual combat, like actual warfare, benefits from politeness. And in this respect, C.S. Lewis provides us with a notable example.

In his ripe, late work, An Experiment in Criticism (1961), Lewis guns down one of his Cambridge colleagues. But you will not learn the name of Lewis’s target from the pages of his book; he never mentions it. Why make your opponent’s fate worse by brandishing his identity before the public? Play the ball, not the man.

In An Experiment in Criticism Lewis sets out to discover what makes a book good. (We may usefully apply his findings to films and plays as well as books.) He concludes that what makes a book good is whether it “permits, invites, or even compels good reading”.

Very well. And what is good reading? Good reading is reading which does not use the book, but receives it.

Using a book (or a film, or a play) means interpreting it so that it serves some pre-existing agenda of your own, turning it to account, making it do things for you. Receiving a book is something quite different. Receiving means surrendering to it, allowing it to work whatever degree of authority it can attain, and paying respect to it on at least two levels, not just as ‘something said’ – that is, something with a social or political or religious message, – but also as ‘something made’ – that is, a work of art, a work of beauty, with its own internal logic or design or pattern.

In its capacity as a work of art, a novel, for instance, may be received as a carefully constructed object, a skilful blending of imagery and allusion and characterisation, of pacing and balance, of repetition and variation, of sharp-focussed foreground events and mistier background perspectives, not to mention all the other qualities that a genuinely artistic novelist will deploy in the making of this object. It is these qualities that we mean when we talk about a novel’s beauty, as distinct from its message. The message might be bad, but the book could still have beauty of a kind.

Lewis is not intending to suggest that beauty can be ultimately separated from goodness. Beauty, to be sure, has a moral dimension just as it has a spiritual dimension. Nevertheless, beauty, although inseparable from goodness, can be distinguished from goodness. The beauty of a thing is not precisely identical with its goodness – or, for that matter, its truth.

Lewis wrote An Experiment in Criticism after he had moved from Oxford University to Cambridge University to become its first Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English. The English faculty at Cambridge in those years was dominated by a figure called F.R. Leavis. An Experiment in Criticism never mentions Leavis by name, but he and his followers appear in Lewis’s book under the guise of ‘the Vigilant Critics’. The Vigilant Critics are readers who, in Lewis’s view, are incapable of really and truly reading books because they are always either intent on putting books to use or else interested in receiving them only as something said, not also as something made. Lewis writes:

‘[The Vigilants] labour to promote the sort of literary experience that they think good; but their conception of what is good in literature makes a seamless whole with their total conception of the good life . . . Nothing is for them a matter of taste. They admit no such realm of experience as the aesthetic. There is for them no specifically literary good. A work, or a single passage, cannot for them be good in any sense unless it is good simply, unless it reveals attitudes which are essential elements in the good life.’

This is a word in season for many Christian scholars and artists today, I think. We are apt to betray ‘Vigilant’ tendencies in our own approach to art, either as makers of it or as critics. We tend to create and to approve only those works of art that reveal attitudes we consider to be essential elements in the good life. If a book (or a film or a play) has “a Christ character” or a “redemptive ending” or a “moral outlook”, it will be approved. If it doesn’t, it won’t.

Thus art devolves into being little more than propaganda. It’s there to propagate a message; it’s a tool by means of which a Christian ethic can obtain leverage in the public discourse. And a tool needn’t be beautiful; it only needs to work. Genuine art, in which beauty, style, tone, balance, pattern, and so forth are necessary ingredients, – all of that is exchanged for a pot of message.

When there is so much apologetic work to be done in a world desperate for the good news of God in Christ, it may be asked what could be more important than to strain every sinew in the service of the Gospel – and to forget luxuries like beauty and think only of utility. Isn’t beauty an extravagance? Shouldn’t we think only, or at least chiefly, of effectiveness, of usefulness?

Questions worth asking, to be sure. But what is the Gospel? It is not just a message, something said for the achieving of a particular utilitarian purpose. It is also a life, indeed ‘life in all its fulness’, something made by God to be received and enjoyed by us for its beauty, as well as for its goodness and its truth.

If we ask what’s the point of beauty, we are in danger of falling in with very dodgy company. It was Judas Iscariot, remember, who asked why the precious ointment was not sold and the money put to use. It is the servant, not the son, who thinks only in terms of utility, of how much money his work will get him from his Master, rather than how all his life contributes to a relationship with his Father. Work, however necessary, is not the end of life, only a means to an end, and the end we have in view includes beauty and sheer extravagant enjoyment. Six days God worked, but on the seventh day He rested and enjoyed what He had made.

In other words, it is part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to make room for the aesthetic category. Pointless, ‘useless’ beauty is essential to the good life lived under God. When one comes to think of it, pointlessness is almost the definition of beauty. For as long as something has an obvious point we can describe it as useful, strong, effective, efficient, et cetera. But as soon as we observe something that has no obvious point and is yet still pleasing, we resort to calling it beautiful. If books and films are not to degenerate into mere tactical manoeuvres in the culture wars, we must retain space for aesthetic assessment, for consideration of a film or a book not just as something said, but also as something made, – something with its own beauty, however faint.

Lewis again:

‘All criticism, no doubt, is influenced by the critic’s views on matters other than literature. But usually there has been some free play, some willingness to suspend disbelief (or belief) or even repugnance while we read the good expression of what, in general, we think bad . . . One could admit that Housman’s ‘Whatever brute and blackguard made the world’ hit off a recurrent point of view to a nicety, while seeing that in a cool hour, on any hypothesis about the actual universe, this point of view must be regarded as silly. One could, in a measure, enjoy – since it does ‘get the feeling’ – the scene from Sons and Lovers where the young pair copulating in the wood feel themselves to be ‘grains’ in a great ‘heave’ (of ‘Life’), while clearly judging, as if with some other part of the mind, that this sort of Bergsonian biolatry and the practical conclusion drawn from it are very muddled and perhaps pernicious. But the Vigilants, finding in every turn of expression the symptom of attitudes which it is a matter of life and death to accept or resist, do not allow themselves this liberty.’

And it is liberty that is at stake. The outlook which Lewis espouses here frees us from the ever-turning treadmill of propaganda into the spacious realm of art. Admittedly, it involves a certain loss of rigour, but then life after prison will always seem somewhat broad and latitudinarian to a jailbird. The gains, however, are immeasurable, – literally, immeasurable. We move beyond the precise calculation of effect, the exact calibration of ‘the message’, and are released into a sabbath rest. We escape the circle, the ever-tightening circle, of incessant strenuous computation.

In this freedom, we can begin to enjoy books (and films, and plays) for their own sake rather than for an end to which they can be put. We become freemen, rather than slaves. As Lewis points out in Studies in Words:

‘Free study seeks nothing beyond itself and desires the activity of knowing for that activity’s own sake. That is what the man of radically servile character – give him what fortune and leisure you please – will never understand. He will ask, ‘But what use is it?’’

In the West today, we have more fortune and leisure than any people on earth. Will we exercise our freedom to enjoy a world in which, in addition to work, there is art? Or will we retreat into a jailhouse of constant politicking?

The sort of cultural small-mindedness that Lewis exposes in his attacks upon Leavis and the Vigilant Critics could well be described as ‘Puritan’, in the popular sense of that word. Puritanism has indeed come to mean a sort of life-denying, over-serious, tub-thumping vigilance. But, as Lewis observes in his English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, the first Puritans were not like that at all. The original Puritans rejoiced not in works but in grace, not in how much use you could be put to, but how much gratuitous plenty you could receive.

When it comes to art, I would argue that Christians should be prepared – every now and again – graciously to waste their time noticing the aesthetic merits of non-Christian stories and films, even anti-Christian stories and films. It may seem pointless, but retaining the category of pointlessness is the very point at stake.

The art with which Lewis tackles Leavis is itself an example of beauty. No need to splatter his brains out and crow loudly over the corpse. When you have to dispose of a man’s ideas, it costs nothing to be polite.

What does the King have to do with an election?

The minor election cycle (i.e. the two-yearly) is barely over and the major one (four-yearly) has started ramping up so that we have something to think about for the next two years. Just after the election I happened to be driving across the city with news radio on to alert me to traffic problems to avoid. It was interesting to hear both Republican and Democrats speaking about their plans to “get something done” in the next Congress, as well as to learn that those Democrats and Republicans were elected with the lowest percentage voter turnout since the early 1940’s. Each side was talking about its priorities and, not surprisingly, there was no mention of themes that had been big during the election especially when addressing religious groups: abortion and/or reproductive rights, marriage, whether defense of or equality of, moral issues of any type. 

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ALVIN PLANTINGA, BARACK OBAMA, JONATHAN GRUBER AND THE HEART OF AMERICAN DARKNESS

It is not often when I’m reading a tome of analytic philosophy that I am stopped in my tracks by a passage that reads like a penetrating diagnosis of what’s wrong with contemporary America. But that happened recently, and I have not been able to get the passage out of my head. The passage appears in Alvin Plantinga’s 500+ page volume Warranted Christian Belief in a chapter where he is discussing how sin distorts our ability to see the truth.

Prior to the passage that arrested my attention, he noted that it is a matter of common sense that we are naturally disposed to accept the idea that there is such a thing as truth. Moreover, the notion of truth assumes a certain sort of relation between our beliefs and the way the world actually is. The truth accurately depicts a world of objective reality.

Unfortunately, however, some environments can be so toxic that our notion of truth can be smothered and squelched to such an extent that we end up with no concept of truth at all. Plantinga went on to give a concrete example of this phenomenon, and this is the passage that left me pondering for days.

“It is said that one of the most serious results of the long Communist tyranny in eastern Europe was just such a suppression of the idea of truth. The truth was officially perverted so often and so cynically (for example, the official organ of the Communist party devoted to the dissemination of propaganda was ironically named Pravda, i.e., truth) that people came to lose the very idea of truth. They were lied to at every level in utterly shameless and blatant ways; they knew they were being lied to, knew that those who lied to them knew they were lying and that those to whom they lied knew they were being lied to, and so on; the result was that the whole idea of truth tended to evaporate. One said whatever would be of advantage; the question of whether it was true no longer arose” (Oxford University Press, 2000, p 216).

Anyone who has even remotely been paying attention for the past few years can hardly fail to note the similarity between Plantinga’s description of Communist tyranny in eastern Europe and a similar pattern of indifference to truth in contemporary America.

For instance, after the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, members of the Administration, including the President, repeatedly stated that the attack was a spontaneous demonstration in protest of a video that was deemed offensive. But they knew better all along, as evidence that emerged later made clear. Another example: as evidence emerged that the IRS was targeting conservative groups, the President, when asked about the matter, looked his interviewer straight in the face and emphatically insisted that there was not even a “smidgen” of corruption in the IRS.   Neither incident generated much attention from the press or public outrage.

But “exhibit A” of the cavalier attitude toward truth is the President’s oft repeated promise when campaigning for Obamacare that if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your current insurance, you can keep your insurance. Again, there is good reason to believe he knew better, even as he reiterated that promise over and again.   Moreover, it is highly doubtful that the bill would have passed if he not misrepresented the truth as he did. Indeed, in each of these cases, the administration said “whatever would be of advantage” to promote their agenda.

Such disregard for the truth also reflects, at another level, a disdain for the persons who are lied to. This was demonstrated very recently in the tapes that have come to light of Jonathan Gruber, an MIT professor and one of the alleged “architects” of Obamacare. In these tapes, Gruber all but boasts of the necessity of misleading people about the actual content of the bill for the sake of getting it passed, and expresses a thinly veiled (if veiled at all) contempt for those who were taken in by the whole process.  Here are his words from one of the videos.

“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. So it was written to do that. In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you get a law which said healthy people are gonna pay in — you made explicit that healthy people were gonna pay in and sick people get money — it would not have passed.… lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically — you know, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever — but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

Here is what I find amazing, and deeply troubling. Relatively speaking, few even know who Gruber is, and even fewer care. After all, this is just one more instance in a growing litany of well executed deceptions that achieved their purpose. And relatively few think this is even newsworthy, let alone worth getting worked up about.

And this is why the passage from Plantinga is so chilling. Is our culture so desensitized to lying that we have lost any sense of truth, let alone a passion for its reality and the importance of holding people to it?

Of course, the whole concept of truth has been undergoing a steady deflation for centuries now. In pre-modern thought, Truth is a matter of awesome significance because it ultimately resides in God, an omniscient being of impeccable character, and our world was created by the One who is the Way, The truth and the Life.   The modern period downgraded this majestic conception of truth to the measure and capacity of human reason, but still retained a deep conviction about the reality of truth and its vital importance.  Somewhat ironically, this downgrade prepared the way for the postmodern mindset that is typically suspicious of both pre-modern and modern notions of truth, and tends to see claims to objective truth as disguised power plays masking personal agendas.   One of the most notorious of these postmodern deflationary definitions of truth is that of philosopher Richard Rorty, who has famously said that “truth is what our peers will let us get away with saying.”

In view of this, we can hardly place the blame for the contemporary indifference to truth on the Obama administration. His administration is hardly the first to lie, and it will not be the last. But perhaps it is fair to say that seldom, if ever, has an administration so artfully and successfully lived by the dictum that “truth is what we can get away with saying.”   And perhaps never in the history of the American public has there been so little concern about lying or so little passion to insist upon the truth and hold our leaders accountable to it.

To be sure, the recent election registered a strong rejection of Obama’s agenda and the direction he has been leading our nation. It is clear the voters are concerned about the economy, lawless immigration, the threat of Isis and ebola, and they disapprove of how these issues have been handled. But what remains far from clear is how much a concern for truth was reflected in the election. What was clearly registered was dissatisfaction with a stagnant economy and concern for America’s decline as an economic and military power. But again, that is far from registering a deep conviction that our government leaders must keep integrity with the truth.

So I am left wondering: have we become so skeptical about truth and its importance that we now think lying is simply the norm? Have we lost any sense that there really is a moral high ground to be taken, and that it requires fidelity to the truth? Is there really no principled ground resolutely to refuse to let people get away with saying whatever they want in order to press their advantage?   Is that what we think is really going on every time someone makes a truth claim, and therefore we cannot muster much outrage over lying? Is the outrage over the cover up of Watergate that brought Nixon down in the seventies perhaps the last vestige of a national ethos that deeply believes in the reality of truth and its absolutely essential role in civic life?

This brings me back to what is perhaps the most disconcerting line in the passage from Plantinga. He says that the eastern Europeans for whom the truth was suppressed under Communism “knew they were being lied to, knew that those who lied to them knew they were lying” and so on. Notice: the very notion of lying is parasitic upon the notion of truth. Only if we have a robust sense of truth and its profound importance can we recognize a lie as a lie, and recognize it as the violation that it is.

The really disturbing possibility here is that we no longer have the moral clarity to recognize that we are being lied to and why that matters. And that is why we do not care.

Is There a Better Word than “Lord”?

Recently, I gave the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  My topic was “Paul’s KYRIOS Christology.”  Kyrios is a Greek word most often translated “Lord” in English Bible translations.  Paul uses the word about 200 times in his letters to refer to his Lord, Jesus Christ.  On a few occasions he used the word in reference to God, the Father. The word can be used of people as well who possess some sort of recognized, superior status, a king, a master of slave, for example. logo_kyrios

One night after the lecture during the Q&A time, someone asked a good question. It had to do with the English word “lord” or “Lord” as a translation of Kyrios.  The fellow knew about The Voice translation and he appreciated that we had tried to find new words and associations which communicate well to a modern audience.  We translated words like Christos as “the Anointed” rather than “Christ.”  We translated apostolos as “emissary” rather than “apostle.” So he asked, is there a better word than “Lord” to translate kyrios?

The word “Lord” was used first to translate kyrios and other biblical words for English-speaking audiences in the middle ages when the upper classes were referred to as “my lord” or “my lady” by those who occupied lower status.  Given the sensibilities of the modern world, the fellow wondered whether there was a better word.  Though those titles are still used in some societies, they are rare in many countries including the United States.  They have lost currency in many places. The use of “Lord” is restricted to religious language most often referring to God, Christ or, in some cases, the Holy Spirit.  For some “Lord” functions as a name or title for God.

Well, I had no answer. No one had ever asked me that question before so I had never thought about it.  I’m embarrassed to admit I had no response given the fact that we rethought so many of the other key religiously-laden words. I’m still puzzling over it.  I’d be interested in your thoughts.  Is there a better word than “Lord” to translate kyrios in modern English? It would have to have the right meaning and sets of associations. It would need to convey the idea that the person holding the title had supreme authority and power.   Since it is most often used in the New Testament as a title for Jesus linking him with the One, True God, it must be an appropriate honorific (fancy word for “title”) for the Liberating King. I’m hard pressed to come up with anything. If we put our heads together, I bet we can think of something.  Then again, maybe not?!

Josef Pieper on True Leisure and Festivity

As the fall semester winds down and the holidays draw near, I thought it fitting to offer a couple of book recommendations for the upcoming season of leisure and festivity; books about, well, leisure and festivity!

In Leisure the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper argues that Western society has virtually abandoned, to its great detriment, the practice of genuine leisure, defined as time spent in contemplation of higher things. There has been a great shift, he says, in the conception of mankind and the meaning of man’s existence towards a bankrupt philosophy of total work. In this view, man “is essentially a functionary, an official, even in the highest reaches of his activity.”  But this worker-of-the-state life cannot contain the whole of human existence, one which includes activities that are valuable for their own sake. For example, reading and discussing great works of literature, philosophy, theology, and poetry; the quiet consideration of a beautiful painting or live landscape. These are the things that highlight the meaning, truth, and beauty in what Pieper calls “the whole of creation.” They are activities that are worthwhile even if they aren’t “for” some pragmatic end. True leisure prevents us from being “half-hearted men with flat souls,” as Fr. James Schall would say.

Pieper’s assertion about the necessity of true leisure resonates with our intuitions, conscious or not, about the nature of things, including ourselves. The lynch pin of his thesis, nota bene, is the metaphysical assumption it is based upon. After all, a creator God must exist for the idea of “the whole of creation” to be coherent, for there to be any transcendent, immaterial truths to serve as objects of contemplation. “Philosophy…is not the loving search for any kind of wisdom; it is concerned with wisdom as it is possessed by God,” he argues. Furthermore, man must be more than a material entity for true leisure to occur and have significance. The increasing secularization and materialism of Western culture is at the root of the current dysfunctional relationship between work and leisure and the misconceptions about the essence of the latter; yet, Pieper spends little time discussing this. In some ways, he addresses it implicitly, but the reader is left wishing Pieper had pressed this point much further, and had more powerfully contrasted the meaning found in theism with the alternative: the nihilism of godlessness.

With that said, Pieper’s In Tune with the World serves well as a supplementary companion text, particularly because he fleshes out this crucial element a bit more. He explains that true festivity, genuine festivals, are dependent upon worship of the divine; otherwise “the root of both festivity and the arts is destroyed…Nietzsche says that all festivals are nothing but ‘spectacles without spectators, tables full of gifts without recipients.’”  “Can we festively celebrate the birth of a child” Pieper asks, “if we hold with Jean Paul Sartre’s dictum: ‘It is absurd that we are born’?”

Our deepest convictions about ourselves and our desire to celebrate meaningful things causes a mental revolt against such hopeless nihilism, and the only absolute, final solution is God. Because of what we are by virtue of the divine grounding of the world, there is objective meaning and value in humanity; birth, life, love, and death are not absurdities, but sacred elements of an inherently precious human existence.

Mark Lanier: Christianity on Trial TOMORROW (Nov 6)

You’ll definitely want to mark your calendars because our good friend Mark Lanier will be giving the A.O. Collins Lecture for this fall. He will address his recently published book Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith.

This free lecture will take place on November 6 at Belin Chapel here on HBU’s campus (in the Morris Cultural Arts Center).

His lecture will begin at 7:00 pm and there will be snacks and a book signing afterwards.

We hope to see you there!

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The Spooky Interior Life of Religious Hypocrites

photo(43)The American holiday of Halloween has become one that, at times, is hotly contested in Christendom; especially among evangelicals. Pastors may preach 1 Thessalonians 5:22, “Stay away from every kind of evil,” or even reference 1 Corinthians 10:21, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot share in the Lord’s table and the table of demons,” in reference to not participating in Halloween activities like ‘Trick or Treating.’ Without getting into the exegetical understanding of these passages—though I cannot deny my heart has greatly desired this (Galadriel, The Lord of the Rings)—I want to point out a reminder on this Halloween: evil applies to much more than the explicit imagery associated with Halloween. Continue reading

Paul’s Conversion and Name Change: Separating Fact from Fiction

It’s an oft-told story in Sunday School classes and pulpits: when Saul was converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus, God changed his name to Paul. Just one little problem: it’s not true!

st-paul-conversionTo begin with, it’s probably inaccurate to say that Saul was “converted.” Typically when we use conversion language, we are referring to changing from one religion to another, e.g. from Christianity to Islam. This is certainly not what happened to Saul. When Saul met Jesus on the way to Damascus, Christianity was not a distinct religion from Judaism (don’t get me started on the enormous problem of whether ‘religion’ was even on the first-century conceptual radar!). Jesus and all his earliest followers were Jewish. Early Christians were considered to be members of a Jewish sect (“the Way,” according to Acts), not a new religion.

It may surprise you to realize that Paul continues until his death to identify himself as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; 26:5). He follows the Jewish law (Acts 21:17–26), makes sacrifices, engages in purification rituals in the Temple (Acts 24:17–18), and observes the Jewish festivals (Acts 18:21; 20:16)—even after he has become a follower of Jesus.

I don’t mean, of course, in any way to undermine the radical change that occurred when Saul met Jesus. His life was certainly turned around, as he amply attests in his letters. A more helpful way to understand Paul’s experience, though, may be as a prophetic call. Many of the Old Testament prophets, like Saul, were “Shanghaied,” so to speak, into proclaiming God’s message. For example, Jeremiah found that he had to speak God’s word, since it was like a fire in his bones (Jer 20:9). Moreover, like Paul, many of the OT prophets experienced a vision of God’s glory or presence when they were called. Think of Moses at the burning bush, Isaiah in the temple, or Ezekiel’s vision of the chariot-throne.

Now, what about the name change? This is simply mythical, a part of Sunday School lore. If we read Acts, we find that Luke calls the apostle ‘Saul’ long after his encounter with Jesus (all the way up to Acts 13:9). It’s not until he has begun his first missionary journey that the apostle is first identified as ‘Paul’ (Acts 13:9). And here there is no indication that he has changed his name. Luke’s statement “Saul, i.e. Paul” (Σαῦλος δέ, ὁ καὶ Παῦλος) suggests that ‘Paul’ may simply be another one of Saul’s names. Paul is a good Roman name, which is probably why Paul began favoring it when he began his travels throughout the Roman world. On the other hand, Saul was a Hebrew name (think of King Saul in the OT), which would have emphasized Paul’s foreignness. Also, ‘Saul’ in Greek (σαῦλος) probably had negative connotations, as it described someone who strutted or swaggered, perhaps in an effeminate way, i.e. prancing. It simply would not do for Paul to begin his preaching to Greek and Roman audiences by introducing himself as “Prancer!”

If you’re interested in separating Sunday School myth from Scriptural fact, you might considering enrolling in one of our degree programs at HBU. We offer numerous courses in the Bible, with an emphasis on understanding the Bible in its first-century Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts.

Forget Not All His Benefits

When we read, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2), many of us are quick to say that we are in no danger of forgetting our Lord’s blessings. Similarly, we read about how ungrateful the Israelites were to God in their wilderness wanderings and we simply cannot picture ourselves being such ingrates. It is instructive to note that the Hebrew word gemul, that is translated “benefits” in the King James Version, can also be translated “dealings” or “recompenses.” There are actually many ways in which one can forget about God’s blessings, dealings, or recompenses, and it is sobering to realize that almost every one of us is guilty of one or more of them. Here are some to ponder on.

You can forget God’s blessings:

1. When you refuse to remember any of His blessings
2. When you choose to forget all His blessings
3. When you fail to remember His blessings (by omission, just not getting around to it)
4. When you do not remember enough of His blessings
5. When you are pre-occupied with many things [in a way similar to what our Lord scolded Martha for (see Luke 10:41-42)]
6. When you focus on your circumstances, instead of focusing on the God who is bigger than, and who controls, your circumstances
7. When you focus on your job, instead of focusing on the God who gave you that job in the first place
8. When you focus on your achievement, instead of focusing on the God without whom you would have no achievement
9. When you focus on what you have not achieved, instead of focusing on the God whom you need to enable you to achieve those things
10. When you focus on what others have achieved, instead of focusing on the God who has your master plan to prosper you, not to harm you
11. When you keep on living for the next miracle, instead of thanking God for what He has already done for you (the Israelites perfected that in the wilderness!)
12. When you remember God’s blessings but refuse to be thankful
13. When you remember God’s blessings but fail to be thankful
14. When you remember God’s blessings but thank Him only a little
15. When you remember God’s blessings but thank Him only sometimes
16. When you feel that the Lord ought to have done more for you (forgetting that God does not owe you or me anything, for we are the ones who owe Him what we cannot repay)
17. When you do not realize that God recompenses you for your faithfulness.
The way to guard against stumbling in any of these and other ways is to practice what the palmist says in Psalm 34:1: “I will bless the Lord at ALL times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (emphases added).

Paganism Rising

America is known for being a melting pot. We have people from all over the world, from every culture, nation and religious system. We are a haven for the persecuted and a delight for the imaginative, who need only an opportunity in order to do great things. We are a land of opportunity because we believe “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Yet as of late we’ve watched as many of these rights appear to be slipping away. We’ve watched our country go from a respected world influencer to one of extreme debt that is mocked by foreign nations. What has changed? What has caused this cultural shift? While to be sure there are a multitude of influencers, I believe one of the key reason is because we have lost our foundation.

I am an avid lover of archaeology, because it is a snapshot of the past. In the world of archaeology the culture is static and frozen. The people have long since passed. The places and cultural ideas are no longer shifting and changing. They are the perfect subjects of study because they stay put and do not talk back. Yet as I’ve delved deeper into archaeological study I’ve found that it is also of great insight into modern culture. Because the subject of study is static and frozen, one can view the whole picture from beginning to end, as one views a painting or the story line of a book. The plot has already unfolded and one can see how the changes affected the culture at large, and ultimately the end of a particular way of life. In this way archaeology is instrumental in apologetics, because we are able to see the end results of a particular worldview as it has already played out in another culture. Continue reading

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