Saturday, July 22, 2017

Lord's Day 13: How are we "God's Children" and What Follows from the Answer to that Question?

Here is the text from Lord's Day 13, which is our Sunday School lesson for tomorrow.  As you can see, it is made up of Question 33 and Question 34 of the Heidelberg Catechism.  As you may recall, we are in the part of the HC that addresses the matter of "God the Son."
(Be sure to read the scripture references, if you have a chance.  I also have some questions further below, after Questions 33 and 34.)

Lord’s Day 13
Q & A 33
Q. Why is he called God’s “only begotten Son”
when we also are God’s children?
A. Because Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God.1
We, however, are adopted children of God—
adopted by grace through Christ.2

Q & A 34
Q. Why do you call him “our Lord”?
A. Because—
not with gold or silver,
but with his precious blood—1
he has set us free
from sin and from the tyranny of the devil,2
and has bought us,
body and soul,
to be his very own.3

1.  In what way are we, as children of God, not like Jesus as God's child, in terms of our nature?

2.  How are we like Jesus in terms of our relationship to God.  And not like him?

3.  Is everyone a "child of God," as people are often fond of saying?  What do people mean when they say, "We are all children of God?"   (How do we deal with Hitler and Stalin?  Do we simply say that they were "inhuman" and go on?)

4.  What use is it to be a child of God?  Why should anyone care?

5.  Does it seem odd that in QA34, "gold or silver" is contrasted "with his precious blood," in terms of what liberates us from "sin and from the tyranny of the devil?" Isn't gold and silver a path to liberation?

6.  Why should we want to  be the Son's "very own" or, the "very own" of sin and the devil, which seems to be the default status?  Are those really the only choices?  (And, besides, many of us seriously doubt that there is  even a devil, even those of us willing to concede at least an "historical" Jesus of some sort.)

7.  In fact, why can't I be my very own? Why can't I belong to myself alone?  Isn't that really the current project, to be one's own?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"As Long as They're Nice About It."

I had the very good fortune of knowing former Senator George A. Smathers, now deceased, and even of being one of his law partners in the firm of Smathers & Thompson.  I became an associate of that firm in 1972 and a partner five years later.  By the time I went to work full-time for S&T in 1972 (I was a law clerk during the summer between my second and third years of law school), Senator Smathers had retired from the Senate.  By then he was active in two firms that he had founded.  One of them was in Washington D.C., which was mainly a base for his lobbying, and the other his Miami-based firm.  To call the Miami-based firm "his" is a bit of a stretch, because there was a set of senior partners and then there was the rest of us, but the question of his ultimate control was one that no one really wanted to test - although a crisis did arise during the 1980s.  But this post is not about that.

What it is about is the friendship that "the Senator" and I had, or one aspect of it, and that was the lunches he and I had together, usually on Fridays and usually at a place called "the Miami Club."  Often those lunches had one or two others with us, but many times it was just the two of us.  He was very open about many, many things, and I learned a great deal about, well, just how to behave.

One of the things he said to me that I will never forget and that I often recall, is this: "Paul, it doesn't matter what people do to you, as long as they're nice about it."

Now of course that is hyperbolic, but there is so much truth to it.  Having spent most of his adult life in the club called "the Senate," not allowing one's self to hold a grudge was the path to success, as he saw it.  If you were going to cross him, and people often did, then they needed to be nice to him, because he knew (and his colleagues in that chamber knew) that at some time in the future, they would need his help on something that would mean much less to him than it would to them.  So people in the Senate - at least at that time - knew to be nice.  He would not have fled the field after a set-back.  He would still be there, cordially welcoming an approach.  Thus and similarly, he was "nice" to others, even when others gave offense.  He was a master at dealing with angry, self-centered people.  That was simply part of one of his several his over-arching gifts: he was a master at dealing with people of all sorts.

How sad it is that President Trump has no idea of the power of the idea that "It doesn't matter what people do to you, as long as they are nice about it."  In one sense, I think that President Trump is the exception that proves the rule.  His being "not nice" reaches the angry center of many people so unhappy with the American Situation.  But ultimately, I think, this will make the President an unsuccessful one.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

It's All About Displacement

The headline of a recent article in the New York Post beckons as follows: "Two Bisexual Women and Their Husband as Threesome."  The article features a photo of the apparently happy, young people, which I've posted.  The photo appeals to one's prurient interest, especially, a male's.  The three people are sitting on a king-size bed, and daddy (these are parents, we learn in the article) is sitting in the middle.  The hands of each person are not simply posed, they are poised.  In another era, this would be scandalous.  But now it is simply interesting.

What could we say that is wrong with this relationship and be able to say it without moralizing.  A question comes to my mind immediately, and it is, "How does this work?"  I think an accurate response to that question must be that most modern of all non-answers, "It's complicated."  Another non-answer, but probably as truthful as the prior non-answer is, "It probably doesn't."

But what puzzles me is the extra time this must take for all concerned and how they will deal with that problem.  We have it in our cultural memory: "Three's a crowd."  Assuming that gender matters (as I do), these three people are not the same.  We have two females and one male.  In the group, the male is special in a technical and, finally, practical sense.  But one could persuasively say that each is special, unique, one of a kind.  How does the male parcel, how does he measure, himself out to the other two?  How does each woman (the women are described as "bi-sexual") parcel herself out to the other two. How does one of these people not displace one of the others in all sort of essential ways at any given point.  The most essential way is simply time, it seems to me.

And if a relationship is displaced by someone else, then it is less nurtured.  I don't think this arrangement can work, simply speaking.  It won't work.  This is a snap shot, but I can imagine the movie and how it ends.  In fact, I don't have to wait for the movie, I already saw the play.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Keep On

"The problem is that a normal reading of the English suggests Jesus is talking about a single ask, a single attempt at seeking, a single knock on the door. Of the three, the meaning of “seek” is most likely to be heard as continuous .  .  .  , but “ask” and “knock” sound punctilear."  Thus, Bill Mounce writes in a blog-post entitled Aktionsart and Ask, Seek, Knock (Matt 7:7-8).

("Punctilear" sent me to my Webster's SecondIt is the the adjective form of "punctilious," which means "scrupulously exact in detail or form.")

So this is a one-off event: we ask, we knock, Kirk out.  Bill says, no, and explains why in his post.  I would like to think Bill is right.  Jesus has other places where he says, "Keep on asking."  My mind jumps to the widow and the judge, sometimes called "The Parable of the Persistent Widow,"  Luke 18:1-8.   We are never to give up asking of God, seeking of him, knocking, knocking.

But isn't it a characteristic of friendship that our friend need not even be asked?  He sees our wants our needs, approximately simultaneously if he really loves me, or at least he certainly should.  I have a law partner whose way of dealing with people who are important to her in this respect is to tell them, "Tell me what you want!"  She doesn't want to make a mistake; she understands the limits of her "sensitivity," that is, her ability to read minds; she is more than busy.  "Tell me what you want."  And if you know what you want (that itself is often a question), she'll give it to you.  But God has no excuse.  He is all knowing, etc. Why should I even have to ask.  Or keep asking and asking, as Bill Mounce suggests is the more accurate translation of Matthew 7:7 - 8.

If we keep on having to ask and if God is our friend, then maybe the asking is good for us.  "How do I love thee.  Let me count the ways."  Seems to belong here.  Ways he loves us is getting us to rephrase the question again and again.  We grow with each effort.  We begin to see ourselves as God or the other person may see us and we begin to examine our felt-need.

So we engage, we wrestle, we don't turn away, we keep asking and knocking, with everyone, our friends, our enemies, and with God most of all.  See also Gen. 32:22 - 29.

Thank you, Bill Mounce.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 3

Today in the class we discussed the questions and answers of the Heidelberg Catechism that pertain to “Lord’s Day 3.”  (The Heidelberg’s 129 sets of questions and answers are divided into 52 sets, one for each Sunday of the year.  Today is not really Lord's Day 3 on the Reformed calendar.  But it is for our Sunday School class.)  Today’s sets of questions and answers were numbers 6 through 8 (“Q&A6 through Q&A8”).  These sets pertain to the miserable situation in which people find themselves without Christ.  (The Heidelberg’s 52 sets are themselves divided into an “introduction” followed by three “parts.”  We are now in “Part I: Misery.”)  We learned last week that people are in a state of misery because they cannot live up to the requirement of God’s law perfectly.  As a result, the answer to last week’s Q&A5 includes this statement: “I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor.”  (Note the use of the first person format here, an approach that makes the Heidelberg uniquely personal among confessions.)

Lord's Day 3 of the Heidelberg addresses the matter of God’s accountability (or lack of it) for our situation.  Q&A6 asks whether God created people “so wicked and perverse,” giving the answer “No,” but then going on to describe how God did create people:

 God created them good and in his own image,
      that is, in true righteousness and holiness,
so that they might
      truly know God their creator,
      love him with all their heart,
      and live with God in eternal happiness,
      And live with God in internal happiness,
to praise and glorify him.

It is important to note that the Heidelberg adopts the view that, when our first parents were created, they were created with what some theologians describe as “original righteousness.”  They were not, then, created “morally neutral.”  In other words, they were not put on earth with simply “free will,” that is, the ability to make a choice between the right thing and the wrong thing.  Like God, they had “choice” or “free will,” but they also had a righteous moral nature that would inform that choice.  That’s what makes the sin of Adam so very significant, much more significant that simply being given “free will” alone, and then making the wrong choice.  When the first parents made the wrong choice, they went against the very righteous nature with which God endowed them.  As a result, they lost that aspect of being made in God’s “own image,” but not necessarily all aspects (a discussion for another time).

Q&A7 asks whether we are so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and totally incline toward all evil.  The answer is “Yes,” but with this stipulation: “unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.”  That answer this morning took us to the question of whether a person without Christ, having lost original righteousness, has the free-will to choose to follow him or whether a person is so helpless and miserable that God must act affirmatively.   

The Reformed faith holds that God must act affirmatively first.  This distinguishes Protestant faiths that hold to that view (Presbyterians among them) from other Protestant faiths, such as Methodists and certain Baptists, once known as “Free-Will Baptists.”  We will discuss these distinctions further, but the idea of “original righteousness” and its loss will inform our discussion of later Heidelberg questions and answers.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Using an Old Portable Radio as an iPhone Docking Station

We have a couple of old, pre-iPhone portable radios, neither of which has an external port that would accept and amplify an iPhone's audio.  What do you do in such a situation?  You google the problem.  Lo! I found a fantastic You-Tube video on the subject by "The Post Apocalyptic Inventor," and here it is:

This brings out the, right now, completely frustrated amateur radio being that lives inside me, and so I am going to see if I can modify the two radios I have on hand.  I will update this blog post as I proceed with the project.

At the threshold, I want to mention that I pulled out one of the radios from a trash pile a couple of weekends ago.  (Raiding trash piles is a Stokes-male tradition in our family.)  Our church was having one of its "work-days" and people were plundering the vacant Sunday School rooms and piling it all on a trash heap next to the rear parking lot.  This radio (photo to be supplied) was among them.  It had no electric cord and was full of batteries that were dead and bleeding acid into the battery compartment.  So I took it home to nurse it back to health.