A Person’s a Person, No Matter How Small

Until last week’s reading in Galatians, I would have answered the question, “Where was Saul called to be the Apostle Paul ?” with, “On the road to Damascus.” I would have been wrong!

The Message paraphrases Paul’s statement in Galatians 1:15 as, “when I was still in my mother’s womb he chose me and called me”, and I think it’s right. My go to verse about being called while still in the womb has always been Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you:” It would appear that the same can be said about Paul.

I bring this up because those still in the womb are not even considered to be persons by the Supreme Court or many legislators today. In the Roe v Wade decision Justice Blackmun actually said, “The word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn. If the suggestion of personhood is established,…the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed.”

I’m sure we were all encouraged by the thousands who filled to overflowing the state capitol last week to protest the pro- abortion bills that go under the euphemism of “reproductive health.” I wish I could be optimistic about their changing the minds of those who are intent on making our state into the most “progressive” in the nation with regards to abortion, but I’m not.

The Declaration of Independence held that all men were created equal and endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Fifth Amendment made it clear that no person could be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Still, it wasn’t until the Thirteenth Amendment that slaves were given the rights of persons.

It’s my prayer the either the court will change it’s mind and declare that babies in the womb are indeed persons with the right to life, or the Constitution will be amended to make it clear. But whether that happens or not, we know that those in the womb are fully persons whom God has called into being, just as were the prophet Jeremiah and the Apostle Paul.

God Bless, Rick

Tassel Beats Rock

We’ve been thinking a lot about the Law lately. On Sunday mornings our study of Romans has focused on the role the Law played in bringing us to grace. On Wednesday nights James has pointed out the connection between faith and works, and how breaking one point of law makes us guilty of all. On Sunday nights we’ve explored the difference between ceremonial law, civil law, and moral law. And in our daily reading we’ve been reading, or skimming, through laws of all kinds that were given to Israel. Last week I discovered a connection between a couple of laws I had never noticed before.

In the 15th chapter of Numbers we read about a man who was caught gathering firewood on the Sabbath. The people weren’t sure what to do with him, so they kept him in custody until Moses could get word from God on what his penalty should be. They were no doubt shocked by what God told them to do. The people were ordered to stone him to death.

When I read that I assumed God had discerned an unrepentant spirit of rebellion in the man, and thus the harsh judgment. But in the very next paragraph He tells Moses to tell an obviously forgetful people to put tassels of blue on the corners of their garments to remind them of the commandments, and the need to be holy.

Tying tassels on a shirt might seem like a silly law, if that’s what it was. And maybe the people simply regarded it as good advice, or a helpful suggestion. But however it may have been viewed, God’s intent was clear. He didn’t want His people doing things that would require Him to take drastic action. He therefore ordained a helpful reminder to keep them from forgetting they had been set apart as holy.

We no longer wear tassels as a reminder, but Christ did ordain something for us to do on a regular basis. I don’t know if we ought to think of “This do in remembrance of Me” as a command or not, but if we call Him Lord, it is something we must do.

I’ll see you Sunday, around His table.

God Bless, Rick

It sometimes takes a professional theologian

I got an email from Randy Pim last week, assuring me that the Pim’s still read our newsletter, and sharing a message that a delegate from Africa presented at the recent Methodist conference on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

In his address he said, “We welcome all people to our churches; we long to be in fellowship with them, to pray with them, to weep with them, and to experience the joy of transformation with them. Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as…(LGBTQ). We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal. And then please hear me when I say as graciously as I can: we Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to ‘grow up.’”

The good news, and yet the sad news, is that by the relatively close vote of 438 to 384 the delegates managed to keep in place the church rule that said the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

I read something in Touchstone last week that bears repeating here.

“Jesus doesn’t urge Peter to ‘go ahead, betray me, I understand.’ Jesus doesn’t tell the woman taken in adultery, ‘go back to your lover, because your situation is complex.’ Jesus doesn’t tell Zacchaeus the tax collector, ‘actually, keep the money you may have unjustly taken because you need it to support your family.’ Jesus dines with sinners, hangs out with prostitutes and publicans, he evangelizes the much-married Samaritan woman, he welcomes thieves into eternity. But he never confirms them in their sins, or makes nuanced allowances for their state of life; that sort of rhetoric is alien to the gospels…

This is not some complicated esoteric reading of the New Testament; it is the boringly literal and obvious one, which is why it takes a professional theologian to dispute it.”

God Bless, Rick

Azazel or Scapegoat?

Who in the world, or some other world, is Azazel?

If you are reading through The Daily Message with me this year, you may have wondered about that while reading in Leviticus 16 about the Day of Atonement and the sending of a goat into the wilderness. “Then he will set the two goats before God at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and cast lots over the two goats, one lot for God and the other lot for Azazel.” “The goat on which the lot for Azazel falls will be sent out into the wilderness to Azazel to make atonement.”That sounds like God is telling Aaron to send a goat to someone, or something, named Azazel as an act of atonement.

As I often do when reading a different translation or paraphrase, I immediately went to my reliable NASV to see what the text really says. As expected, it simply speaks of one goat being made into a scapegoat to bear the iniquities of the people into a solitary land. It does, however, note in the margin that the word “scapegoat” may be translated as a name Azazel. And that, of course, led to a quick internet study.

I soon discovered that the word “azazel”is a Hebrew word that the seventy-two scholars who originally translated the Bible into Greek understood to mean “the sent away.” They translated it as “scapegoat”, and that has been the accepted translation in most Bibles until recently.

Now several contemporary translations and paraphrases have decided to follow the lead of the apocryphal Book of Enoch, and view it as a proper name. Why the unknown authors of what became the Book of Enoch decided to use the unusual word as a name is not known, but they created quite a mythology about him. They pictured him a fallen angel who taught men how to make weapons of war, and women how to use makeup to seduce angels. He has now become a demonic X-Men character in comic books.

I find it very sad that a beautiful ceremony God ordained to picture sins being carried away into the wilderness, a type of what the Lamb of God would do for us, has been so tarnished under the guise of modern scholarship.

God Bless, Rick