Friday, July 31, 2009

Creative Financing

One of the biggest factors that contributed to the housing boom and bust was the federal government's attempt to make housing "affordable" for everyone.

Members of Congress from both political parties have urged federal regulatory agencies to press banks and other lenders to lower mortgage loan requirements, and have passed legislation to that end and to subsidize or guarantee loans made under lowered standards. (p. 30)

Banks and other lending institutions have learned by experience that certain standards must be met by borrowers in order to protect themselves against the risks of default. Traditionally, one of these requirements has been a substantial down payment, usually in the neighborhood of 20 percent of the total cost of the home. This down payment protects the lender against loss if the borrower should default. It protects the lender in two ways: (1) It makes it less likely that the buyer will simply walk away from the home and the mortgage (since the buyer will lose a substantial investment in the home); and (2) the bank will have an easier time selling the house after foreclosure without losing money.

Say a home costs $100,000, and the bank requires 20 percent ($20,000) as a down payment. A buyer comes along and pays the $20,000 down and takes out a mortgage for the remaining $80,000. Very few buyers are going to simply walk away from the home and lose such a substantial investment (the down payment). But if it should happen, and the bank forecloses, it has an easier time unloading the house for $80,000 than for $100,000 (if no down payment had been made). The down payment insures the lender against the risks inherent in lending.

But Congress has passed various pieces of legislation to subsidize or guarantee loans made with lower down payment requirements. Banks and other lending institutions don't ordinarily make such loans on their own because it's too risky. But our illustrious Congress has come to the rescue by offering to assume the risk on behalf of lenders. They encourage "no-down payment mortgages" for the poor. And what happens if the poor can't keep up with their mortgage payments? Remember Congress guaranteed the loan. Lenders will get their money back from Congress. And where does Congress get its money? You guessed it, working stiff taxpayers like you and me.

How the West Was Lost

I've recently posted an article on the church web site entitled Understanding the Times: How the West Was Lost. This is the first installment in what (Lord willing) will be several articles explaining how the West has lost its once great Christian heritage.

What About Hell?

Describe hell.

It’s hot. How’s that for brevity?

Believe it or not, a pastor friend of mine once preached a sixteen week series on hell. His people probably felt like they had been there and back again by the time he was done!

Actually, the Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about either heaven or hell. There are some general descriptions, but not a lot of detail. From what is mentioned about hell, however, we can gather that it is a place of unimaginable horror.

The most common Biblical image of hell is that of fire. Jesus referred to it as “the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). In the book of Revelation it is called “the lake of fire which burns with brimstone” (NASB, Rev. 19:20; cf. 20:14-15), where sufferers are “tormented day and night forever” (Rev. 20:10; cf. 14:10-11). Jesus told us about a certain wicked man who died and went to hell, and described him as being “in torment” (Lk. 16:23). The man cried out, “I am in anguish in this flame”, and pleaded for someone to “dip the end of his finger in water and cool [his] tongue” (Lk. 16:19-31). At another time, Jesus described hell as a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”, and said that it would be better to be maimed and crippled in this life than to go to hell in the next (Mk. 9:43-48). Elsewhere, Jesus spoke about those who go to hell as being “thrown into the outer darkness. In that place,” he said, “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 8:12)

Concerning the eternal punishment of Judas Iscariot, whom Jesus described as a “devil” (Jn. 6:70), and “the son of destruction” (Jn. 17:12), he said, “it would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matt. 26:24).

In one of the most solemn scenes in the Bible—the final judgment—the dead are gathered before the throne of God, the books are opened, and the dead are “judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” Another book is also opened: the book of life. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-15).

Hell is a very sobering reality. God never does, and never can do anything unjust. Therefore, the fact that the impenitent sinner is justly punished with hell, is a testimony to the awful guilt of sin, and God’s utter hatred of it.

A consideration of the nature of hell should have at least four effects. First, it should cause us to flee from sin. If sin deserves hell, how awful must sin be. Second, it should cause us to cling to Jesus Christ. It is only by union with Christ that anyone can escape the just sentence of hell. Third, it should cause us to rejoice in our salvation that we have been delivered from so terrible a punishment. And fourth, it should create in us a desire to live a life of grateful devotion to God.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Creative Genius at Work

Thought you might get a kick out of this one.

What about Suicide?

Is a person who commits suicide beyond the hope of salvation?

It all depends upon whether or not the person who commits suicide is a Christian.

Let us be very clear at the outset: everyone who dies outside of Christ—regardless of the manner of death (whether suicide, murder, or death by natural causes)—is beyond the hope of salvation.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).

And the apostle John said, “Whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn. 5:12b).

Likewise, Paul said, “There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

And of course it is only in this life that we have the opportunity to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ by faith, because our eternal destiny is fixed at death. In Hebrews we’re told, “It is appointed to man to die once and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

So, if a person departs this life outside of Christ, he has no hope of salvation. This is true regardless of whether or not he died by his own hand.

But what about a Christian who dies by his own hand? What about a Christian who commits suicide?

Someone might ask, “Is it even possible for a true Christian to commit suicide?”

Well of course it is. A Christian is not immune to temptation. Some of God’s choicest saints have fallen into some very grievous sins, but were not forsaken by God.

Think of David. He betrayed Uriah, a very close friend, by committing adultery with his wife. And when she became pregnant with his child, he attempted to cover it up by arranging for Uriah’s death in battle. He committed adultery and an act that was tantamount to murder. But he was not forsaken by God. God brought him to repentance.

Or think of Peter. Three times Peter denied the Lord Jesus Christ; but Christ did not abandon him. Rather, our Lord labored to reclaim him, and brought him to repentance.

There is no temptation to which the people of God are immune just because they are the people of God. It’s quite possible that a Christian might be tempted to suicide, and not only be tempted, but also fall to the temptation.

Think of a person who is overwhelmed with grief over the loss of a loved one, or someone who is perhaps even partly responsible for the death of a loved one—say a parent who backs the car out of the driveway and accidentally runs over a child. It’s easy to understand how he might think the grief too unbearable to continue to live. He could very well be tempted to suicide.

Or think of a Christian who has a mental illness or some trauma to the brain or a thyroid condition that leads to chemical imbalances in the brain. The moods of depression that sometimes lead to desperate acts, like suicide, are not entirely under their control.

Now please understand that I’m not saying suicide is right. I’m not saying it’s excusable. I’m not saying it’s not a sin. I’m saying it’s a temptation which would be understandable even for a Christian under such circumstances.

And the question is, if a Christian succumbs to the temptation and ends up taking his own life, is he beyond the hope of salvation? Some would say “yes” because there is no possibility of repentance in this life.

But are you sure you want to travel down that road? Must a Christian depart this world with all his sins properly confessed and repented of if he hopes to be saved? What if there are some sins that you have forgotten about and have never properly confessed before you die? Or what if you die suddenly, say in an accident, and you have not had the opportunity to confess your sins? Does that mean that you have no hope of salvation because you have died with some sins un-repented of? Is that how God deals with us? I don’t think so. What matters is whether or not we are united to Jesus Christ by a true and living faith.

Where there is a true and living faith there is a desire to please the Lord, and the mercy of God flows toward us in the forgiveness of sins when we stumble and fall.

Let me summarize. Suicide is a very grievous sin, to be sure. Only God has the right to determine when a human life might be taken; and he has not given us the right to take our own life. But a Christian who is overwhelmed by excessive sorrow or fear, or who is moved by mental illness to take his own life, is more an object of God’s compassion than of his condemnation.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Housing Boom

Sowell begins chapter one by chronicling the housing boom, as reflected in the rise of the median sales price for single-family homes by one-third from 2000 to 2005 ($143,600 to $219,600).
In some places the rise was even sharper. Over those same years, the median home price in New York rose 79 percent, in Los Angeles 110 percent and in Sand Diego 127 percent. In coastal California, the rise was especially sharp--and so was the later fall. (p. 1)
Then he presents the cast of characters that play an important role in the housing market. Obviously there is the local bank from whom the home buyer gets the money to purchase the home. But behind the local bank is a complicated web of other players. (1) The Federal Reserve System that regulates the banks across the country and can take actions that affect interest rates and the money supply. (2) The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac). These are...
two government-created, but privately owned, profit-making enterprises that buy mortgages from banks. By selling these mortgages, banks get money from a 30-year mortgage without having to wait 30 years for monthly payments from home buyers to pay off their debts. With the proceeds from these sales to Fannie Mae aor Freddie Mac, or to other financial institutions, the banks then have money to lend again to create more mortgages from which to profit. (p. 3)
(3) The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which has authority over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (4) Wall Street firms which "buy mortgages, bundle them together and issue stocks and bonds based on the value of those mortgages."
Wall Street firms have sold these bundles to investors across the country and around the world. Although a California home buyer might borrow the money from a local bank to buy a house, the ultimate source of that money might be in New York or London or Tokyo. (p. 4)
With such a wide range of players with very different interests and incentives it becomes a somewhat complex process to follow how the housing market soared to such heights only to plummet to the depths we have seen over the course of the last 18 months or so. But Sowell does an excellent job of untangling the web of responsibility. And not surprisingly, the chief culprits are not the lending agencies, which politicians love to blame, but the politicians themselves who ignore sound economic principles.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Tenth Commandment

Let us examine ourselves this morning in light of the tenth commandment, which is:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor (Ex. 20:17)
To covet, means to have a strong desire for something that doesn’t belong to you.

The tenth commandment illustrates what we have said before concerning all the commandments: they not only have to do with our deeds, that is, with our works or our behavior—what we do with the body; but also with our inward desires and affections—what we do with our hearts and minds.

The gist of the commandment is that we not be envious or jealous of our neighbor’s good fortune, but guard ourselves against all improper affections for what belongs to him, and that we be content with what we have.

How is it with you? Do you have a godly contentment? Or are you constantly looking at what other people have and finding yourself discontent with your lot in life so that you devise ways to acquire for yourself what rightly belongs to someone else?

Sotomayor's Evasions

Joel McDurmon, a colleague of Gary DeMar at American Vision, has some important observations about Sonia Sotomayor's testimony concerning her "wise Latina" comment.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Health Care Canadian Style

President Obama has held up Canada's socialized health care system as a model for the U.S. So what does Canadian style health care look like? Take a peek.

(Unfortunately, I am having trouble sizing the embedded video.)

Plenty of Blame to Go Around

As I mentioned a few posts back, I intend to post some quotes from, and comments, on Thomas Sowell's latest book, The Housing Boom and Bust.

One of the things I have appreciated about reading Sowell over the years is that he is not partisan in his assessment of the economic tomfoolery that our politicians are prone to. He subjects the policies of both Republicans and Democrats alike to scrutiny. Truth be told, however, the Democrats' big government approach to everything has hurried our economic collapse along faster than the Republicans' smaller big government.

Smaller big government?

Yes. The Republican party as a whole (although there are a few exceptions) has the same basic approach to government as the Democratic party - government involvement in education, healthcare, the economy, etc. is necessary, just not on quite as large a scale, and not quite in the same ways, as what the Democrats propose.

Back to Sowell. He points out that our current problems did not arise overnight.
There was no single dramatic event that set this off, the way the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand set off the chain of events that led to the First World War or the way the arrest of political operatives committing burglary at the Watergate Hotel led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. A whole series of very questionable decisions by many people, in many places over a period of years, built up the pressures that led to a sudden collapse of the housing market and of financial institutions that began to fall like dominoes as a result of investing in securities based on housing prices.
More to come...

The Ninth Commandment

Let us examine ourselves this morning in light of the ninth commandment, which is: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16).

The commandment specifically envisions giving false testimony in a court of law—and even more specifically, false testimony against an innocent man, which is designed to lead to his condemnation and punishment.

We ought to understand, however, that although the commandment has a very specific focus—protecting the innocent from unjust condemnation—it applies equally to protecting the guilty from just condemnation: lying so as to help a guilty man escape conviction.

All false testimony in a court of law is prohibited under the ninth commandment. God is very much concerned about the integrity of the law courts. He is concerned that justice be done, so that the innocent are protected and the guilty are punished appropriately.

But there is even more to the commandment. Traditionally, it has been interpreted (and rightly so) as prohibiting all slander and libel—that is, both spoken and written defamation of character. The most valuable thing anyone possesses is a good reputation. God sees to it that a good reputation is protected by the ninth commandment.

We can generalize the principles of the ninth commandment even further as prohibiting the speaking of lies, whether the lies attack a person’s character or not. The most essential ingredient for any relationship is trust. But there can be no trust unless the parties to the relationship are both committed to speaking the truth—being honest with one another.

We summarize by saying that God’s will for us in the ninth commandment is that we never falsely accuse anyone of wrongdoing in a court of law or anywhere else, nor speak lies, but rather love and tell the truth.

The Eighth Commandment

Let’s examine ourselves this morning in light of the eighth commandment, which is, “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:16).

The commandment forbids us to appropriate for ourselves what rightfully belongs to someone else.

While the commandment perhaps conjures up images of a masked gunman robbing someone at gunpoint, or a burglar dressed in black breaking and entering into someone’s home by night and making off with his treasures, we should understand that there are many, many other ways in which the commandment can be broken. None of us, I suppose, are too likely to break the commandment in either of these two ways.

But what about in other ways? What about honesty in the work place? Do you pilfer items from your employer? We’re told that hundreds of millions of dollars are lost by companies each year because employees steal from their employers, and not just in the obvious way of embezzling funds; but in taking little things, in small amounts, for personal use: postage stamps and envelopes, and other office supplies; tools; etc.

Is that you?

We’re told that hundreds of millions of dollars are also lost because of employees being idle when they are supposed to be working: slacking off when the boss isn’t around; taking longer and more frequent breaks than what is allowed; not working with sufficient diligence and care so as to avoid quality control issues.

Do any of these things hit home with you?

It is not only employees, however, whose dishonesty in the workplace can violate the eighth commandment. Employers also can break it by failing to pay their employees what they have agreed to pay them, or by failing to pay them on time.

Another form of stealing takes place when we borrow an item and never return it, even if the failure to return it is simply due to negligence or forgetfulness, rather than due to a plot to steal it—because the result is the same, we have deprived some the use of what rightfully belongs to him.

A word or two should be mentioned here also about state-sponsored theft. The eighth commandment presupposes that people have a right to the exclusive use of their possessions, which of course, illegitimates all forms of fascism, socialism, and communism as economic systems. It is not by accident that it has only been after we have departed from a biblical basis for a just society that we have even entertained the notions of a welfare sate, of government intervention in the market place, and of the re-distribution of wealth.

I must tell you that if we vote for candidates because they promise to tax others so that we might benefit personally—that is in order that the money that is in other people’s pockets might find its way into ours by some government program, then we are guilty of participating in government sponsored theft.

In short, any appropriation of someone else’s money or property by stealth, fraud, coercion, or force, is forbidden by the eighth commandment.

The Seventh Commandment

Let us examine ourselves this morning in light of the seventh commandment, which is: “You shall not commit adultery.”

Adultery is a violation of the covenant of marriage, either one’s own, or someone else’s, or both. It is one of several different kinds of sexual sin, and its prohibition in the Ten Commandments ought to be understood as a prohibition of every kind of sexual sin: not only adultery, but fornication (which is pre-marital sex), and homosexuality, and every other kind of intimate relation other than between a lawful husband and wife.

But the commandment goes further than simply forbidding illicit sexual acts. It forbids everything that leads to or accompanies them.

It forbids all immodesty in talk, dress, and behavior. It forbids flirting with anyone other than one’s spouse. It forbids forming emotional attachments with anyone other than one’s own spouse. It forbids fantasizing about being with someone other than one’s own spouse. It forbids lustful thoughts. And of course it forbids all use of pornography.

Jesus shows us something of the scope of the commandment when he says in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28).

Now more than ever, it seems, we must take these words to heart, and stand very careful watch. We live in the midst of an ever increasingly sex-obsessed culture. We live in a time when marriage vows are lightly made and easily broken, and no one seems to care. We live in a time when sex is no longer an exclusive expression of loving commitment between a husband and wife but simply a cheap and casual form of recreation. And we are paying a staggering cultural price for it.

Solomon said a long time ago, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). In other words, guard your heart! Don’t allow yourself any thought, feeling, or affection that would lead to any kind of sexual impurity.

What About Abortion?

What’s your view on abortion?

The whole question hinges upon what it is that is in the womb of a pregnant woman. Is it a living human-being? Or is it something else? And this is not a difficult question to answer…even though the president has said that it’s beyond his pay grade.

Of course that which is in the womb of a pregnant woman is a living human being. What else would it be? It’s a living human being at an early stage of development. It’s a child, a baby.

It’s not uncommon for those who call themselves pro-choice to refer to the pre-born child by some other term such as “a product of conception,” or “a mass of cells,” or (depending upon the stage of development) an “embryo” or a “fetus.”

But these terms are often used simply to obfuscate the issue—to confuse and mystify the subject. We are all “products of conception.” Everyone who has ever lived is a product of conception. Last time I checked, that’s how a human being comes into existence.

Likewise, we are all a “mass of cells.” Our bodies are made up of tens of trillions of cells.

And as for the terms “embryo” and “fetus”, these simply refer to developmental stages of human growth in the womb.

So let’s not be confused by the terminology and be led to think that what is in the womb of a pregnant woman is anything other than a living human being.

We should note that many have wished to change the terms of the debate. Instead of arguing whether or not it’s a living human being in the womb—because they’ve already lost that argument—they talk instead about “personhood.” Sure, it’s a living human-being (they say now), but it’s not a person, and especially not a person protected under the Constitution.

And how do they define a “person”? Well, Peter Singer, professor of ethics at Princeton, argues that personhood involves things like: “self-awareness, self-control, a sense of the future, a sense of the past, the capacity to relate to others, concern for others, communication, and curiosity” (Practical Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 86). In other words, he defines “person” not in terms of what a person is, but in terms of what a person can do—what activity a human being is capable of. And since a pre-born child does not have his rational powers developed and is not cognitively aware of himself, cannot meaningfully relate to and communicate with others, does not have a sense of the past and the future…well then…he’s not a person.

What does this do for their argument? Well in addition to providing what they think is moral justification for abortion—a rather dubious claim to be sure—they also think it provides a legal justification for it, because the Constitution doesn’t guarantee rights to human beings, but only to persons, which is to say, you don’t find the words “human being” in the Constitution. Instead, you find the word “persons.”

So they conveniently redefine “person” so as to exclude unborn children. Peter Singer, by the way, would also exclude newborns, and has argued for the right of parents to kill their children up to the age of one month, at which time he thinks they may begin to take on at least some of the characteristics of personhood.

We should to ask ourselves the question, “What do the Scriptures teach about the unborn?” Clearly the assumption is that the unborn child is a living human being, a person.

When Isaac’s wife Rebekah was pregnant with twins, we’re told, “The children struggled together within her” (Gen. 25:22). Notice that they are called “children” while they are yet in the womb.

Job speaks about how both rich and poor, both slave and master have been fashioned by God in the womb (Job 31:15).

David speaks of this also. He says to God, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:13-14a).

He also says, “Upon you I have leaned from before my birth” (Ps. 71:6). This shows that even unborn children may know God and have spiritual experiences.

Remember what God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).

Consider also that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb, and even leaped for joy at the sound of Mary’s greeting (Lk. 1:15, 44).

The Scriptures in many places and in many ways teach that it is a living human being, a person, a child, a baby, that is in the womb. And this is why according to the law which God revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai, when a man strikes a pregnant woman so that her child is born prematurely and suffers some harm, the rule is: “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” This means that if the child dies, the man who struck her is to be put to death. The killing of an unborn child is treated as murder under the law (Ex. 21:22-25). And this law ought to be the basis for abortion law in the United States.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why Did God Seek to Kill Moses?

Why did God seek to kill Moses in Exodus 4?

Well, let’s read the passage. This is after God had appeared to Moses and called him to deliver the people of Israel from Egypt. Moses had spent forty years shepherding the flocks of his father-in-law in the land of Midian. Now he is returning to Egypt to deliver Israel from bondage to Pharaoh. And so we read:
At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death.

Now this comes out of the blue. What in the world is going on here? Why did God seek to kill him? Well, as we continue reading we get some clues.
25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it [some translations say, threw it at Moses’ feet] and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.

Remember, this occurred when Moses was on his way from Midian to Egypt to fulfill God’s commission to deliver Israel. He was called to be the leader of Israel, but he had failed to obey God by applying the sign of the covenant to his own son. This was a very serious failure on his part.

In the New Testament, St. Paul wrote concerning the qualification of elders, “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5)

Moses had been called by God to be Israel’s deliverer and law-giver, but he himself had failed to carry out the law of circumcision with respect to his own son. He had not managed his own household well, and therefore was not fit to “take care of God’s church.”

God was about to bring Israel out of bondage for the sake of his covenant with Abraham, and to confirm that covenant with his descendants. We read in Exodus 2:24, “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” God was acting for the sake of the covenant. But Moses had neglected the sign and seal of the covenant. This was a serious offense. God had told Abraham, “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Gen. 17:14).

We may wonder how it was that Moses could have been guilty of such neglect. I would venture this as an explanation: Moses had two sons whom he took along with his wife back to Egypt (cf. Ex. 4:20; 18:3). When God confronted him, his wife Zipporah circumcised just one of their sons. It says that she “cut off her son’s [singular] foreskin.” This suggests that the other son had already been circumcised. My guess is that after the circumcision of Gershom, the firstborn, Zipporah (who was a Midianite and not accustomed to the practice of circumcision) was unwilling to have the bloody and painful rite repeated on her second son, Eliezer. Her reaction indicates a revulsion on her part to her son’s circumcision. And Moses, in weakness, caved in to his wife’s wishes and didn’t circumcise his second son. But before he could proceed with the fulfillment of his mission (not to say his life!), Moses had to comply with the command of God and apply the sign and seal of the covenant to his second born.

While his second born was left uncircumcised, Moses showed that he had more regard for his wife’s opinions than he had for God’s command. How could he be thought fit to lead Israel? How could he be Israel’s lawgiver? How could he be the messenger of the covenant? How could he enforce obedience to God’s law, if he was himself neglectful of so basic a command of God?

Besides, if Moses couldn’t stand up to his wife, how was he going to stand up to Pharaoh?!

Now the text doesn’t say so, but it seems probable to me that God had talked to Moses about this previously. Obviously God knew when he called Moses that his son was uncircumcised. My guess is that he told Moses that he better get his house in order by circumcising his son before he left for Egypt, but Zipporah objected and Moses failed to act. Maybe he hoped God would forget about it. Maybe he hoped God wasn’t serious. I don’t know. But for whatever reason Moses failed to obey. So God comes to him and says, “Look, Mo, unless you do what I say, you’re a dead man.”

I’ve always imagined that God had Moses pinned up against the wall, and Moses called out to his wife and said, “Honey get the knife and circumcise little Eliezer, because if he doesn’t lose his foreskin, I’m going to lose my head!”

And as soon as Moses complied, God let him live.

What About Cremation?

Is it sinful to be cremated?

The Bible doesn’t expressly forbid the practice of cremation, but the examples we have in Scripture of the people of God caring for the remains of the dead are decidedly in favor of burial. And of course the burial of our Lord Jesus Christ serves as an example which Christians have generally wished to follow.

Normally in Scripture burning the dead was a sign of a person’s having died under God’s curse. It was a punishment inflicted upon the corpse of a particularly egregious offender. We see this punishment commanded, for instance, in the case of Achan (in the book of Joshua). By the command of God, Achan was stoned for his offense of stealing from God, and his body was burned (Josh. 7:15, 25; see also Lev. 20:14; 21:9).

A number of cultures, both ancient and modern, have at different times practiced cremation for various reasons—some for practical and others for religious reasons.

Burial seems at first to have been the usual custom among the ancient Greeks, but later cremation became widely practiced, especially in times of plague, or after a battle in order to prevent enemies from disgracing the corpses of the Greek warriors, or in order to more conveniently bring their remains home for burial.

The Romans (at least members of the aristocracy) also at certain points in their history practiced cremation.

It’s well-known that the Vikings practiced cremation; and Hindu’s still do.

One thing that will be noticed here is that all these cultures that have practiced cremation have been pagan cultures.

It’s interesting that wherever the Christian faith has been introduced and taken hold, the practice of cremation has been replaced by burial. The care of the body by means of burial has always been thought to be more consistent with the Christian’s hope of the resurrection.

Did you know that it’s the traditional Christian practice for graves to lie lengthwise from east to west, with the head of the deceased toward the west and the feet toward the east? This is in anticipation of the resurrection at the second coming of Christ, so that when the faithful are raised up they will be facing the east so as to witness the coming of Christ to Jerusalem. Even in burial the faithful Christian is giving a witness to Jesus Christ.

Non-Christian and post-Christian countries have very high cremation rates. The rate in Japan is 97%; in Great Britain its 70%; in Scandinavia it’s 65%.

About a third of those who die in the U.S. are cremated.

Some who choose cremation do so as a very self-conscious way of rejecting the Christian faith, particularly Christian teaching concerning the afterlife. They want to make a secular statement. They want to say by their cremation that they deny life after death; they deny the resurrection. It’s interesting that the cremation rates are highest in the most secular states of the country: 67% in Hawaii and Nevada and just at or above 60% in Washington, Oregon, and Arizona. Throughout the Bible belt, however, the rates are under 10%.

"The first cremation in America took place in 1876, accompanied by readings from Charles Darwin and the Hindu scriptures." (Timothy George, Cremation Confusion).

Now of course not everyone who chooses cremation does so to make a secular statement. Increasingly people are choosing cremation for simple economic reasons. Cremation often runs between ¼ to ½ the cost of burial.

But is it sinful to be cremated? The Bible doesn’t expressly say so, but the pattern of Scripture is certainly instructive, and I think ought to be regarded as normative. And the pattern of Scripture is clearly in favor of burial as the only honorable disposal of the remains of the dead. Certainly, the care of the body in burial accords well with the Christian hope of the resurrection and it serves as the last testimony the Christian can give to Jesus Christ.

It is not at all surprising that as unbelief in the church increases, so should the acceptance of cremation as a viable alternative to burial.

Let me summarize by saying, although we have no express command in the Bible forbidding cremation, the universal practice of the saints in Scripture ought to be regarded as a normative principle. In other words, we ought to be content to follow the example of the saints of Scripture and be laid in the ground to await the resurrection.

An Ounce of Prevention?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes. So how does this figure in to the debate over government provided health care? Mark Steyn offers this critique of Obama's rationale.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Housing Boom and Bust

I wish it were in my power to make Thomas Sowell's The Housing Boom and Bust required reading for every politician, or perhaps even more importantly, for every voter.

Excerpts and comments coming...