Tampa councilmen walk out on atheist’s invocation

July 31, 2004

Here’s an item from Floriduh:

Three Tampa city council members walked out of chambers rather than listen to an atheist give the opening invocation.

Council members Kevin White, Mary Alvarez and Rose Ferlita left their seats Thursday rather than listen to Michael R. Harvey, a member of Atheists of Florida who had been invited by council member John Dingfelder to offer the invocation.

[Full Story]

This raises an interesting question. What, exactly, does an atheist invoke? Himself? the almighty Nobody? the memory of St. Madalyn of the Oil Drum?


God’s Will for Your Life (a side comment)

July 29, 2004

Apropos my study on the will of God, I picked up a couple of books at my church library this weekend. Church libraries being what they are, both books are pretty old; one hailing from the 70s, and the other – the more interesting one, frankly – published in 1946.

The latter book is God’s Will for Your Life by S. Maxwell Coder, who at the time was Dean of Education at Moody Bible Institute. The book begins:

One of the most practical and inspiring subjects to be found in the Bible is the revelation that God has a plan for every life. When that plan is discovered and followed, it brings greater happiness and success than could be achieved in any other conceivable set of circumstances. This teaching of the Scriptures has an especially strong appeal to Christian young people with life still before them.

Certainly it is true that young Christians are concerned with knowing God’s will. Experience bears that out. I do question whether the Bible teaches that God has a “plan for every life,” if by that Coder means what yesterday I called the “itinerary” view, in which God’s plan is like an agenda it is up to us to discover and follow. to remain in “the centre of God’s will.” (More on this in time, however.)

Here’s the table of contents for the book:

  1. God Has a Plan for Every Life
  2. Why It is Important to Know God’s Plan
  3. Some Personal Tests
  4. The Steps of a Good Man
  5. The Threefold Rule of Earth’s Wisest Man
  6. Christ and the Will of God
  7. Important New Testament Teachings
  8. Discovering God’s Will
  9. Difficult Questions
  10. Opportunities for Triumph

I found that last chapter the most intriguing, because it touches on some practical applications for the teaching. Coder discusses the morality of:

  • the movies
  • theatre and opera
  • dancing
  • card playing
  • smoking

Note to grandparents: Here is a good reason not to dismiss your grandkids’ complaints out of hand. It turns out we are sometimes right when we call your moral code outdated, because Coder’s catalogue of heinous lifestyle sins hasn’t withstood the test of time awfully well. The stage is now entertainment for the wealthy, the price of theatre tickets having gone beyond the reach of the great unwashed. While it is true that the moral tone of the movies themselves hasn’t improved greatly (it’s quite revealing that the worst thing Coder can say about Hollywood is that it glamourizes female smoking), today’s multiplex is no longer the dark, smoke-filled den of iniquity the movie house once was. Corporations now rent out the comfortable, clean auditoria to hold business meetings! By “dancing,” Coder of course means ballroom dancing, the discotheque and dance club still decades in the future. Notwithstanding its original raucous reputation, the waltz is now regarded as one of the high points of the Romantic movement in music; and jazz has largely left the seedy nightclubs and become the music of choice for many intellectuals and music students. Serious jazz fusion such as Bill Bruford’s Earthworks is simply inaccessible to many average listeners. And while tobacco’s addictive nature was known in the 1940s, the link between smoking and lung cancer had yet to be established, so Coder has a “hit” with smoking nearly by accident. Simply put, practical morality ain’t what it once was.

This is why I appreciate a book like Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God so much. It spends a good number of pages discussing practical issues from a Biblical perspective – marriage, money, vocation, ministry, and so forth – and largely ignores the dated moralizing of this older book.

To be four again . . .

July 29, 2004

This just in, from Norway:

A four-year-old boy caused chaos at a Norwegian airport this week when he hopped aboard a luggage conveyor belt as if it were a merry-go-round.

Ole Tobias crawled onto the belt next to an unmanned check-in desk Monday, continued unnoticed through a trapdoor along with bags and suitcases about his size, then passed through an X-ray scanner and into the luggage hall.

[Full Story]

It’s not fair. This kid’s living out my juvenile fantasies.

The secular brownshirts on the march again

July 29, 2004

Yet another flap over separation of church and daily life, this time in the very offices of the governor of Florida:

Walk into the Capitol offices of Gov. Jeb Bush’s top lawyer, and one of the first things you’ll see is a small American flag with one significant difference: Instead of just stars and stripes, there’s a bright white cross emblazoned over the blue field.

To critics, the message is simple: America is a Christian nation.

“To me, it’s offensive and hurtful,” said state Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston.

[Full Story]

Ignore the headline: “Capitol Flag Under Fire Over Cross.” It’s got nothing to do with a flag. Where is this horrible, dangerous cross that will be the end of the world as we know it?

The image is on a greeting card and is posted on a bulletin board among personal family photos of the receptionist, and does not appear to imply official state policy.

Good grief. These days, even an office admin becomes a Constitutional crisis if she puts up a greeting card in her personal space along with pictures of the kiddos.

Nonetheless, you had to know that this self-loathing excuse for a “Christian minister” had to poke his nose in:

“This appears to be a promotion of a particular religious viewpoint,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a minister in the United Church of Christ. “In a government building, it’s inappropriate.”

No, bonehead, it’s a personal effect, and it is wholly appropriate, as would be a potted plant, a picture of the family dog, or a postcard from a co-worker’s vacation.

Another officer of the Secular Thought Police chimes in:

Judith Schaeffer, deputy legal director of the People for the American Way Foundation, said the image was not only inappropriate, but divisive.

If a lawyer who is Muslim, Jewish, some other religion or non-religious came in to do business with Rodriguez, “he or she might well feel like a second-class citizen,” she said.

To listen to the spokesdroids for Americans United for Separation or People for Our Way or the Highway, you’d think these poor Muslim and Jewish lawyers can’t even walk past a church without fainting violently at the sight of the emblems of that fanatical religion, Christianity. Earth to Lynn and Schaeffer: You’re projecting again.

Finding and Doing the Will of God: Prolegomena

July 28, 2004

Two parables:

  1. It’s the big day. Only an hour ago, the girl of your dreams, a beatiful Christian girl from a wealthy family just became Mrs. You. Your father-in-law, the CEO of a successful local hi-tech company, momentarily takes you away from the throng of congratulatory crowd.

    “As we discussed,” he says, “I have taken the liberty of making the arrangements for your honeymoon. As you know, my daughter has always wanted to visit Banff.”

    He hands you an envelope. “Here are your train tickets. I have reserved a suite in your name at the Chateau Lake Louise. Your train leaves at 10 tomorrow morning. Have the time of your lives, and I’ll see you in three weeks.”

  2. It’s the big day. Only an hour ago, the girl of your dreams, a beatiful Christian girl from a wealthy family just became Mrs. You. Your father-in-law, the CEO of a successful local hi-tech company, momentarily takes you away from the throng of congratulatory crowd.

    “As we discussed,” he says, “I have taken the liberty of making the arrangements for your honeymoon. As you know, my daughter has always wanted to visit Banff.”

    He hands you a slightly thicker, heavier envelope, which you open. A set of keys on a leather keychain fall into your palm. You recognize them as the keys to your father-in-law’s Mercedes-Benz CLK cabriolet. Also in the envelope is a cheque for a considerable sum; the memo line reads “For gas and accommodation.”

    “The car is yours for three weeks,” your father-in-law says. “Use it as you wish. Enjoy your trip.”

Consider the ramifications of these two scenarios. In scenario 1, you and your bride get three weeks of connubial bliss, in addition to the innate romanticism of travelling cross-country by train.1 Your only obligation is making sure you get to the train station on time. On the other hand, that one obligation can get to be a bit of a constraint. Suppose you miss the train? You’ll still get your honeymoon, but you’ll have lost two days waiting for the next train, not to mention the one-way fare you had to spend out of your pocket money. It’s still a pretty good trip, but to a certain extent you’ve missed out.

In scenario 2, on the other hand, you have far more freedom. You and your bride take the Mercedes west en route to Banff. You take it easy, making occasional stops at various roadside attractions on the way. Somewhere around Thunder Bay you mutually agree that taking the trip is more fun than arriving at the destination, and instead of heading to beautiful Banff you elect instead for a roadtrip that takes you into the American Midwest and parts of New England, until you re-enter Canada in Quebec’s Southern Townships. You trade off a little luxury in your accommodations so you can eat in better restaurants. After all, your rich father-in-law did tell you to have a good trip, and what could be better than a road trip with the love of your life and a luxury convertible?

I told all those stories to ask this question: Which one of the two scenarios is most like finding God’s will for your life? I suspect that most people would identify with the first. God’s will is something like an itinerary, which is up to you to discover and obey. This is accomplished through various means: prayer, Bible study, wise counsel, and the interpreting of circumstances, inward impressions, inner peace, and so forth. In non-moral matters, decision making is an exercise of determining what choice God has already made for you. We have all heard the catch-phrases that come with this view:

  • I felt that God was leading me to . . .
  • We are going to pray and seek the Lord’s will in this matter.
  • I want to know what God would have us to do in this situation.
  • Be careful not to run ahead of the Lord; after all, you don’t want to settle for God’s second best.
  • I want to stay in the centre of God’s perfect will.
  • God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

I submit, however, that it is actually scenario 2 that is closer to the Biblical view. The Bible contains certain moral principles and precepts which we are bound to obey; however, within those limitations, we are free to act or choose as we wish. In non-moral matters, decision making consists of applying the principles of Scripture and God-given wisdom to make the best choice available, and submitting to the outcome of Providence.

This idea of free choice within the boundaries starts with creation:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Gen. 2:16-17)

It is reiterated in the Old Covenant:

And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household. . . .

And in the New Covenant:

The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. (1 Cor. 7:39)

I hope to discuss various aspects of the will of God and decision making on a somewhat regular basis, hopefully weekly on Wednesdays. Subjects I plan to cover, in no particular order, include:

  • The history of the “itinerary” view
  • Phrases such as “led by the Spirit” or “the will of God” as used in the Scriptures
  • Does God have a personal, individual plan for my life that I am expected to discover and follow?
  • Examination of some of the proof-texts used for the “itinerary” view
  • Gideon and “fleeces”
  • Making decisions according to God’s revealed will, especially on the “big” questions such as marriage, work, missions, and so forth.


1 Purists will have already noted that the Canadian doesn’t stop at Banff or Lake Louise, but goes north to Jasper. Try to suspend your disbelief just for a few minutes. [go back]

See also

Part 1: God’s guidance: A voice from the past

Part 2: God’s “perfect will” and Romans 12

Part 3: Fleece, peace, and the “still small voice”

Part 4: God’s guidance and “open doors”

Those horrible, dangerous, nasty, just-barely-Reformed Baptists

July 23, 2004

It turns out, according to the “reformed Catholicism” crowd, that everybody in Christendom gets to be “Reformed” except for the Baptists:

The Reformers recognized their historical connection with Rome and the Catholic Church, whereas it seems that contemporary Evangelicalism is courting the favor and casting its lot in with a version of Christianity which lacks any meaningful sense of its indebtedness to, and continuity with, the Church of Rome. How is it that the sectarian spirit of Anabaptism has managed to invade the camp? Could it be that the ease with which Presbyterians get along with Baptists in our Evangelical culture is a sign that something is desperately wrong?

[Full Text]

The amazing thing to me is that the term itself was never something that accurately defined a Baptist position. In fact, it’s a common joke in Presbyterian circles that the term “Reformed Baptist” is an oxymoron quite apart from any talk of Reformed Catholicism!

[Full Text]

Well, I guess I’ll just have to go out back and eat worms.

Pet stores stop selling mailman-shaped dog biscuits

July 23, 2004

OK, so it’s not only the British. From Toronto, practically my own back yard:

Dogs chomping on mail carrier-shaped treats is no laughing matter for Canada Post.

The unamused Canadian postal service — whose carriers endure more than their share of real dog bites — convinced Pet Valu Inc. stores to stop carrying Bark Bars, dog biscuits that come shaped like cats and letter carriers.

“This is not in any way, shape, or form funny for us, and to make light of that … I don’t see that as funny at all, not even in the least,” said John Caines, Canada Post’s national media relations manager.

[Full Story]

Wanna bet it’s not funny? Some people are so thin-skinned it’s a wonder they don’t explode in the heat.