Friday, December 31, 2021

Thoughts on Psalm 46

The Last Judgment - Cranach the Elder
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging (Psalm 46:2-3).

God isn't going to stop the earth from giving way, or the mountains from falling. Not ultimately.

In fact, He is going to cause it to happen on the Last Day, when Our Lord Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. He will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God. The dead in Christ will rise first. Those who are alive at His coming will be caught up to meet Him in the air. "And so we will be with the Lord forever" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

That's when the earth will melt, and the mountains will fall, and seas will foam, and why we won't be afraid.

We don't have to be afraid because we are in Jesus. We are part of His body. We are safely concealed inside the fortress, the God of Jacob, by our baptism into Christ.

This is the help God gives His people at break of day. His city, Zion, wherein He dwells is set apart. It is holy (v 4). When Jesus lifts His voice and the earth melts, the city of God's people will not fall. This is also how He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth (v. 9). He doesn't do it by diplomatic means. He doesn't put a magic spell on everyone to suddenly make them nice. He judges the wicked. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear. He burns the shields with fire.

Knowing the heavens will disappear with a roar, and the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare, we should look forward to this day of God. We should wait for it eagerly, living godly lives that are set apart from the unbelieving world (2 Peter 3:10-13).

But living life soberly isn't being afraid.

We don't need to be afraid. Not of the end of the world. Not of war. Not of economic collapse. Not of disease. Not of our death. Not of anything. We belong to Christ. He bought us with His holy, precious blood, and by His innocent suffering and death on the cross. We will live under Him in His kingdom. We will serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. No more sin, no more death, no more devil.

We will look on from inside His mighty fortress as He carries out His judgment, and throws the devil, death, and all the wicked into the lake of fire (Revelation 20: 7-15).

We will rejoice as He remakes creation anew. ###

Women's Ordination?

Herman Sasse was one of the foremost confessional Lutheran theologians of the 20th Century. Sasse was born in Germany in 1895. He survived service in the Great War and went on to earn a master's degree in theology. He taught at the University of Erlangen in Germany, where he participated in the ecumenical movement. Sasse, Bonhoeffer, Niemoeller, and others opposed the Nazis and spoke out about their mistreatment of the Jews. He survived the Nazi era because he was a popular lecturer, and the dean of the university where he worked was able to protect him. After World War 2, Sasse left Germany for Australia, where he was instrumental in creating the Lutheran Church of Australia. He died in 1976.

Sasse was committed to the idea that scripture is the divinely inspired word of God. Throughout the debates on the role of women in the church during the 1960s, Sasse did not pull any punches. In his essay, "Women's Ordination?", he briefly discussed the development and spread of women's ordination throughout the church in Europe and Australia and why it needed to be resisted.

Sasse wrote that the so-called liberation of women has been good for society. It has also influenced the Church in many good ways. Now there are female teachers, physicians, and women working in a wide range of professions who previously would have been excluded from those jobs by virtue of their sex. Now that women have access to other areas previously denied them, the movement has focused on the pastoral office, something perceived to be one of the last strongholds of male superiority. The office of Pastor, however, is different from other vocations. There is a scriptural prohibition against women holding that office.

In America, groups like the Salvation Army, the Quakers, some Pentecostal, Methodist, and Congregational churches had female ministers. In Germany, the first step down the path to women's ordination was taken with the introduction of female vicars. Their job was "to minister to women in institutions" and assist pastors. However, the female vicars crept into full ministry roles during the war when men were not available.

Acceptance of female pastors happened in the German Protestant church by years and years of decay and compromise and by the loss of Biblical authority. Because of the influence of rationalism and the acceptance of the higher critical method of Biblical interpretation, Sasse says that the pastoral office was changed. It became an academic office instead of a spiritual one. The pastor gradually became something more like a professor or philosopher rather than one who cared for souls. While there were indeed some hold-outs, the matter of women's ordination has been settled in the German Protestant churches for a long time.

In the Swedish state church, where pastors are considered civil servants, there was a disconnect between the bishops, the government, and the laity. They are appointed by the king. Liberal politicians worked to change the law to allow for female pastors. Less radical church leaders did not fight against the changes because they thought such a contentious debate on the role of women would destroy the church. The moderates figured if they could preserve the church's structure, it would remain a means for proclaiming the Gospel, even with women's ordination. This faction consoled itself by believing that the ordination of women did not hinder the Gospel and that only a man-made law was being removed.

Contrary to the Swedish bishops, however, the laity reacted strongly against the ordination of women. Confessional clergymen organized against women's ordination. There was still disunity among the confessional Lutherans and confusion about their actual goals. At the lay level, however, the issue was simple. The average laymen might not have been able to understand precisely how a given heterodox preacher was deviating from scripture and the confessions when delivering his long and erudite sermon. When, however, he saw a lady at the altar in contradiction to the plain reading of God's word, he knew that something was wrong.

This apparent contradiction between the concept of women's ordination and the plain reading of scripture, which was clear to the average layman, is the foundation of Sasse's argument.

It is to this idea which, in good Lutheran fashion, Sasse appeals. He says there is no need to make human arguments against women's ordination. God's word plainly excludes women from the office of the holy ministry. Paul explicitly excludes women from the ministry in his first letter to Timothy. He makes clear that this prohibition is universal, i.e., binding for all Christian congregations of all times, in his first letter to the Corinthians.

To those who would cite Galatians 3:28 to try and justify the ordination of women, Sasse says it is a twisting of God's word. Galatians 3:28 is talking about salvation, not the pastoral office. It does not do away with the difference between male and female, in the sense that the differences between male and female are meaningless and that all roles are now unisex. There is no contradiction between Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 14:32-40. In terms of His saving grace, Christ makes no distinction between male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free, etc. In terms of the Church carrying out its functions of proclaiming the Word and administering the Sacraments, Galatians 3:28 does not apply.

It all comes down to whether or not you believe God's word is true. The words of scripture are plain and simple to understand in the vast majority of cases. The corrupt mind of a sinful man can rationalize any explanation he wants to make him comfortable in his sin. We human beings are adept at twisting God's word to explain why what we do contrary to God's commands is OK. With issues like women's ordination, scripture is clear. The pastoral office is forbidden to them. But we want to ordain women, so we say Paul was a misogynist. We twist Paul's words and make him argue against himself. That was a cultural prohibition, not a theological one. Sure, his words are plain and meant what they said when they were written, and in that particular place, but they don't mean that for us today.

Doesn't that sound like Satan's original lie to Adam and Eve? Did God really say...?

Sasse concludes that female pastors are deceived and misled. He calls on all to pray for them and that Christ would abide with us and cause the light of His word always to shine among us and illumine us.

God can and does work for the good of those who love Him. God can bring blessing from unlawful ministerial acts. However, that does not make the ordination of women contrary to God's word acceptable. We should not count on such a blessing, especially when we deliberately and knowingly act contrary to what God has told us. Sasse warns faithful Christians not to attend churches that have embraced the ordination of women to the pastoral office, even out of curiosity. They certainly should not kneel at their altars for the Lord's Supper.

At who's altar you kneel, their doctrine you confess. ###

Friday, December 24, 2021

I Am the Alpha and the Omega

"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (Revelation 1:8).

This is Jesus telling John that He is Yahweh. Yahweh, often rendered in our Bibles as the Lord, is who we encounter in Genesis 1:1: In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth...

John already knew this, of course. John's Gospel, like the other three Gospels, is littered with accounts of Jesus confronting His people with this fact. Jesus is telling John so that John can continue to tell us.

Jesus told the Jews to whom He came that He was God in many different ways. One way Jesus does this in John's Gospel is by saying "I am". I am the true vine. I am the bread of life. I am the door. Before Abraham was, I Am. This is significant because God revealed His name to Moses as "I Am Who I Am". In other words, He is God, the self-existent one. He is the one who is, who was, and who always has been.

The Jews understood that Jesus was calling Himself God by calling Himself "I Am" and they tried to stone Him for it. That was the penalty for such blasphemy, recorded in Holy Scripture.

Except that it isn't blasphemy if Jesus claims it, because He is Immanuel, God with us. 

This is the same message Jesus and the disciples preached: God came into human flesh as a man and died on the cross for us, as the ransom for our sin, so we could have forgiveness and eternal life.

This message is what Christianity is.

That Jesus is God incarnate is the only reason what He says is binding. If He were not God, His words would have no more weight or authority than those of other teachers. If Jesus is just a man, then His commands are just opinions. You know what they say about opinions.

So, do we listen to Jesus? If He is God, we had better. Jesus' resurrection proves that He is. 

But what He tells us is not a list of rules to follow to please Him. He doesn't give us tasks to accomplish to make ourselves better, or to atone for our own sin. He tells us that He is God, and He has taken away the guilt of our sin by the shedding of His own blood. He offers that gift to us when we hear people proclaim His message, when people are baptized into Him, His death, and His resurrection, and when they eat His body and drink His blood in the Lord's Supper. He empowers us, through His Word, by the working of His Spirit, to believe it, and to turn away from our sin. He makes us who were dead in our trespasses - really and truly spiritually, damned-for-all-eternity dead - alive.

Only God can do that. ###

Friday, December 17, 2021

The Sin and Doom of Godless Men

I read a devotional resource recently which used as the kernel for its brief message Jude 16:
These men are grumblers and fault-finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.
It was a be-a-better-person message recalling the image of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Don't be a grumbler, boasting about yourself like Scrooge. There was redemption for him. He changed to be more likable. Because of Christ's birth, we can be transformed too.[1]

Indeed, we may be transformed by Christ. But what kind of transformation? Christ wasn't born into this world to provide us with a good example to follow, though He certainly also is that. Christ was born into this world to die on the cross as the ransom for many, the sinless sacrifice for our sin. Jesus was born into this world so that we could have eternal life.

The transformation we have in Jesus is from being dead in our sins, to being alive in Him. The being-nicer is a by-product of that, and it certainly isn't of primary importance.

Be advised: I say this, of course, being a cantankerous person.

Anyway, Jude 16 isn't about people who are crabby during the holidays. It isn't about Scrooges being convinced to treat their Bob Cratchets better. It's about false Christians. Apostates. The final judgment. It's about the Christian life in this fallen world and calling us Christians to persevere in the faith in the midst of it.

Jude is talking about the sin and doom of godless men.

Jude is warning the Church about apostates. Jude is reminding all of us of the warnings of the Apostles: that false teachers, false prophets, false apostles, and false christs would come and would deceive many people.

This is the consistent message of all the Apostles: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. He did this for you. Now, act like the new man that you are. Love and serve your neighbor. Gather together to hear God's word. Pray. Baptize. Eat Our Lord's body and blood, proclaiming His death until He comes. Watch your life and doctrine. Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.

The men who are, as Jude calls them, grumblers and fault-finders who follow their own evil desires; who boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.

We can rest assured, however, that these godless men will be convicted of all their ungodly acts when the Lord Jesus returns with thousands upon thousands of His holy ones to judge everyone on the Last Day.

He calls us to persevere. What does that look like? First off, according to Jude, it looks like remembering what we have been told already about the state of things and acknowledging it is true. We have been told that scoffers would come, and follow their ungodly desires. They would divide the Church. Second, knowing and acknowledging this, "build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit." Gather together to hear God's word and to receive His gifts in His sacraments. Call upon His name in trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

End Notes

[1] Gunn, Scott, editor. 2021. "Forward Day by Day: Daily Devotions for Disciples." Devotion for Friday, December 3. Cincinnati: Forward Movement, an agency of the Episcopal Church.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Some Thoughts on the Carnivore Diet

I bought the book, "The Carnivore Diet" by Shawn Baker, MD after hearing Rev. Jonathan Fisk talk about it in episode 011 of his podcast "Stop the White Noise," Pain and Crosses. Overall, it was a good read. I got through it in a couple of days. There is certainly a lot of good information in it for someone looking into the carnivore diet (as I am).

Rev. Fisk has lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 pounds living this new carnivorous lifestyle, and is, according to his own testimony, the healthiest he has ever been.
He's even learning jujitsu now.

By contrast, I'm a fat guy who likes to eat sugar and sit in a chair. I get winded thinking about jujitsu. I knew that before I began reading the book, so I didn't need the hard sell to be convinced my lifestyle wasn't optimal.

It all seems to make so much sense, especially the way Dr. Baker lays it out. He is certainly spot-on in his assessment of how the pharmaceutical industry, along with food-processing corporations and animal rights activist groups, control what our diet looks like today. They all have interests in telling Americans and the world what to eat. That the developed world is being pushed toward a plant-based diet by the powers that be, as Dr. Baker discusses, seems obvious to me as well.

Even White Castle has a version of the Impossible Burger.

That this push toward a plant-based diet has its roots in the religious beliefs of the Seventh-Day Adventists is not as obvious, but the information is there for the reading. Dr. Baker points the reader in the right direction to learn about that interesting development.

The basic premise of carnivore is simple. Human beings don't need to eat plant material. We didn't evolve to digest fiber. All we need is meat, fat, water, and salt. Dr. Baker goes through the science of the carnivore diet theory. He answers common objections to the diet in a rational way, and casts reasonable doubts on the settled truths of the nutritional community. He also confronts vegetarian and vegan opponents head-on about the health claims they make for their respective lifestyles. I'm not going to get into all the arguments. I encourage anyone who is interested in these things to buy the book. It is interesting and worth the time to read.

There are a couple things I just can't get my head around, though.

Foremost is the issue that the human digestive system is more similar to that of cats and dogs, in that it isn't designed to process plant material (fiber). Along with that is Dr. Baker's belief in evolution being responsible for this. To be clear, Dr. Baker says that humans are able to extract some nutrition from plant material, but we weren't intended to use plants (i.e. fruits, vegetables, and grains) as our primary source of nutrition. That role is supposed to be filled by meat. 

While discussing nutrition, Rev. Fisk said that it is amazing that God would use two things that are poisonous to us - alcohol and bread - to save us. Perhaps it is a bit of hyperbole and I'm just taking it too literally. Certainly, we eat too much carbohydrates. I'm not sure I am ready to classify bread as poisonous.

Clearly, plants, including bread made from grain, have been integral to man's diet throughout history. This is what scripture records both before and after the flood.

According to the Bible, man started out as a vegetarian. First, God put man in a garden after He created him. He gave Adam and Eve "the trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food" (Genesis 2:8-9; 16). After the Fall, because of the curse man had to eat the plants of the field by the sweat of his brow, "through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life" (Genesis 3:17-19).

After the flood, however, God gave man animals as food: "The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything" (Genesis 9:2-3).

God did, of course, give some rules for the eating of meat. But I don't think God's covenant with Noah indicates that we were changed so that we couldn't eat plants and had to only eat meat.

Notably, God feeds the Israelites with the bread from heaven, manna, while they are in the wilderness during the Exodus. He also gives them meat in the form of quail when they complain about having to eat the manna. This certainly was miraculous, and God could have also miraculously made them able to digest bread without a problem, just as He caused their clothes not to wear out. Maybe today's bread is different from our old-fashioned breads from Bible times. Obviously, manna is different from the loaf of pre-sliced Butternut white bread that we buy at Walmart. And, maybe manna is called the bread of heaven in a figurative sense, and it is really some other substance entirely. It is definitely a symbol of Jesus, who is the true bread from heaven. This is what He explains to His followers in John 6 that causes them to abandon Him.

Jesus also feeds the multitudes with loaves of bread on two separate occasions. Jesus calls Himself the bread of life. "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world" (John 6:51). All of these things seem to indicate that, rather than changing mankind from being an herbivore to a carnivore, God made us omnivores after the flood. We are able to digest both bread and meat.

Is our American diet screwed up? For sure. Are we being manipulated to eat processed crap which isn't good for us so corporations and politicians can make money and have power? I think so. Is sugar a powerfully addictive drug? Yes. I had a much more difficult time quitting tobacco than going 24 hours without a candy bar, which was stunning to me (I wish that was an exaggeration).

Of course, if you believe, contrary to the laws of thermodynamics, that the universe created itself spontaneously out of nothing, and man evolved upward from a state of simplicity to states of greater and greater complexity contrary to entropy over a period of millions of years, you more than likely disregard what the Bible has to say about many things, including man's diet.

Anyway, if you are interested in nutrition things, check out this book. It was interesting. ###

Friday, December 3, 2021

Notes on “COVID Vaccines and Fertility”: An Issues, Etc. Interview with Lyman Stone

Summary: Lyman Stone, of Demographic Intelligence, discusses the issues of COVID-19 vaccines and whether or not there is evidence they affect fertility. Mr. Stone suggests that, after collecting data for more than nine months, there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines negatively affect fertility, or cause miscarriage. Mr. Stone believes that contracting COVID-19 is a bigger risk to the health and survival of a baby in-utero than receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. There are ethical concerns surrounding the vaccines since fetal cell lines are used in their development, manufacturing, and testing. For this reason, individuals should be careful to look at all the available data regarding the vaccines and should be allowed to make their own choice of whether or not to be vaccinated.

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is a public database to report adverse reactions after receiving a vaccine. VAERS only became widely known during the pandemic. It has existed for decades. There is, however, no verification process for claims. People can report that anything happened.

To pharmaceutical companies, vaccines are important, but they don’t make a lot of money on them. They are often “loss leaders.” Pharmaceutical companies pay into a fund designed to pay out for adverse reaction claims. There is a low standard of evidence for adjudicating these claims.

Hospitals are legally required to report to VAERS. The database has experienced a rise in private reports during the pandemic.

The general public has expressed concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines and their possible effects on fertility and pregnancy. This is probably because people remember the problems surrounding drugs such as Thalidomide. These issues were horrific, highly publicized, and deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness. Also, drug trials are generally not conducted on pregnant women for ethical reasons, so data is lacking. In April 2021, before the vaccines were widely in use, these concerns were reasonable.

As of November 2021, there are dozens of studies examining COVID-19 vaccines and their effect on fertility. During randomized control trials, all the involved pharmaceutical companies were required to report miscarriages among the population of pregnant women who were vaccinated. The study showed that incidents of miscarriage were lower among vaccinated pregnant women than among non-vaccinated pregnant women. Approximately 60,000 women took part in these randomized control trials. About 24 became pregnant.

Since COVID-19 vaccines have been in use, there has not been an excess of miscarriages. In fact, Mr. Stone says that there has been a slight baby boom from the pandemic.

VAERS included 2,000 reports of miscarriage. There have been between 200,000 and 300,000 pregnant women vaccinated since the vaccines received emergency approval for use. That works out to a miscarriage rate of approximately 1%. The regular rate of miscarriage for the general population is about 15%.

It is harder to test whether or not the vaccines affect a woman’s ability to become pregnant. One of the reasons is that such a study would need approximately nine months to a year of follow-up. Enough time to properly assess this issue has not yet elapsed. There have been roughly six studies at IVF clinics that examined the survival of human embryos implanted in vaccinated women versus those implanted in un-vaccinated women. So far, there has been no difference in the survival rates.

The vaccine can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle in the short term. Usually, those using hormonal birth control or hormone therapy for other reasons are affected. The data shows that these groups can experience a disruption in their menstrual cycle for a month, but it subsequently returns to normal.

Moreover, according to Mr. Stone, none of the COVID-19 vaccines contain synctocin-1 or similar chemicals, which have been of concern to those skeptical of vaccines.

COVID-19 itself has risks for pregnancy. According to a large population study out of California, COVID-19 infection in pregnant women increases the odds of low birth weight and early delivery. This makes sense for a respiratory disease that has the tendency to reduce blood/oxygen levels.

COVID-19 is not good for babies in the womb. After more than a year of vaccinations and increasing data, there are fewer concerns about the vaccines harming fertility. People should take care not to follow bad advice from the internet, but they should be allowed to make their own decision on whether or not to be vaccinated.

Mr. Stone believes that the United States should leave the World Health Organization. He says that the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control are not trustworthy. When deciding whether or not to become vaccinated, he advises individuals to cite studies and look at data, not just what the CDC says. One must look at actual data and where it came from.

Mr. Stone is concerned about abortive cell lines in vaccine production. A lot of other vaccines, however, also use abortive cell lines. This usually means that the vaccine was tested on fetal cells, not that the vaccine contains fetal cells to be injected into a person’s body. Mr. Stone admits that such testing is a huge ethical problem. It equates to the dismemberment of children for medical research. We can’t, however, have a double standard, Mr. Stone says. If we are going to refuse the COVID-19 vaccines, for this reason, we must also reject the others, like the chickenpox vaccine.

Mr. Stone unequivocally stated that the harvesting of fetal cells should stop. The cell lines used to produce these vaccines, however, are old. “It’s not like they were harvested yesterday,” Mr. Stone said. None of the cells were inside a human being. In fact, they are approximately 80 generations away from the aborted baby. While this is ethically worrying, Mr. Stone says that it is not the same as abortions performed today. While we should ban fetal cell harvesting, Mr. Stone questions whether existing fetal cell lines should be abandoned.

Chinese vaccines contain fetal cells. mRNA vaccines use them in research, development, and testing. The Lozier institute provides a comprehensive list of all the vaccines and their connection with fetal cell lines.

There are alternate versions of many vaccines which do not make use of fetal cell lines. Pharmaceutical companies also do not want to use fetal cell lines for many different reasons. Chief among those reasons is that they are hard to work with. Their use also comes with a lot of bad press. They use them, however, because they are effective. mRNA technology is a big step in doing away with using fetal cells in the production of pharmaceuticals. ###